On this first anniversary of Nana, I find the memories of him starting to unclog, as if they were stuck somewhere down there in the system, and refusing to come out as memories, tales waiting to be told and retold by him. But now he can’t verify them.
Being his daughter, I was subjected to some fierce protectiveness and love (not that his sons were spared the same).
A tale he loved to tell and which I distinctly remember, is how I once cried because a teacher hit me in class. I cried at home. The next day he was in the classroom and asking me which teacher hit me, while I pointed at her. I don’t know who was more mortified, the teacher or the six year old me. But nonetheless, I think I was relieved because I do remember she was a terror. I was shifted to another section.
When I first went to school by cycle, he would reach there as the bell rang and ride by me on his scooter!!! The same continued when I came back home after hostel. He would be at the bus stop to fetch me home, even if I was all of 23.
Some other persistent childhood memories are of him coming home by scooter and we would be waiting by the window. We were used to his booming laugh, his overall generosity and huge heart, also his quick temper! But he never ever raised a hand to anyone. He had his fancies. He had bought a car even before I was born, and there are so many tales about that vehicle, I think my elder brother, who had the privilege of riding in it, would be able to do justice to it. He got a Colour TV just as they started producing them and which made our house popular in the neighbourhood, he took us on annual vacations when my parents went for their conferences. He loved all those new experiences. By the time I was 11 years old, we (my brothers and I with my grandmother accompanying us) had seen most of India, literally from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
He was a familiar figure on his scooter at the Mangalabag junction, where he stopped for his daily paan. Stories from many people about him would include, how he dropped them behind at Mangalabag, forgetting they were riding pillion! He was eccentric that way, and many other ways! Relatives remember his running after them, insisting they give blood, urine samples, so he could get them tested for whatever disease his medical eyes would have detected. I have not seen a more intuitive or genuine doctor. All our life, except the last few years, we just needed to tell a problem over the phone, for the correct diagnosis to reach us. We became quite blasé, expecting the same level of commitment and knowledge from every Doctor.
He went to work as a Surgeon at Libya for some time. The warm family man that he was, he could not last there for long. But he made the most of that time. He had a long tour of Europe on his return. He had a host of Libyan stories to tell. As a Doctor and the Chief Surgeon, he was hugely respected. For the most part the patients treated him like God. However, there is one incident which he told that gave us the chills, a patient running after him in his pickup due to some perceived grievance. He ran to the police station, and the police were very helpful. He however had significant success as a Surgeon over there and made some lasting friendships.
Other incidents come to life, as I start to write. His being desolate on retiring. He was not much a private practicing person. He gave his all to his job and rest to playing his beloved bridge, and family matters. Clubbing was not for him. Then as he got his pension dues, he picked up a project, building his beloved house. Till then we were always staying at quarters or rental accommodations. He went into the house project with the same zest he reserved for anything.
As his house got completed, and the family started staying there, he got into another project. The SCB 51, a reunion of his batchmates from medical college. From 1995, till 2018, before the advent of mobile phones till the days of all pervasive media, from heights of success, to kids marriages, grandchildren, retirement sojourns, illnesses, and lately, the last few years, deaths, the group met with clockwork regularity, monthly, then bi- monthly, quarterly, annually. The kind of seriousness, intent and formality and of course love each and every member brought to these meetings were lessons for all of us. My father was forever serious about these meet-ups and was an important cog in this wheel of reunions. My mother, a Doctor with two DMs to her credit, was always by his side, supporting his every decision, and acting on them.
He was a very curious man, always wanting to try out new things. To that end he even took computer lessons to understand the intricacies of word and excel. Anyone who got caught by him needed to explain how all the facets of a mobile phone worked. He also used his need to be on top of things, to his health. Ravaged by many diseases, he was always on the lookout for the latest cure. From applying the latest stents in 2002, to a cyber knife treatment that he had discovered that apparently worked best for prostrate cancer, he went fearlessly into the operation theatre. Maybe all those hours in the OT had given him an appreciation of how much of a saviour a surgeon is, as well as removed any fear of a surgeon’s table. It is fitting that he spent his last days in the ICU. But what a fight he gave! And what torture it was for us.
The biggest memory I would forever carry of my father is his ruling the drawing room, people coming to visit him forever at all hours, everyone from the driver or the cook’s brother to respected doctors or managers, to relatives, being accorded the same respect, the same chairs to sit, pakoda, cold drinks, tea. And respect to my Mom for providing it, the tea and pakodas.
May he carry his huge heart and egalitarian principles to whichever World he is now!