Saturday, July 30, 2005
The time was 1:30 PM. Date 8th of July. We were in the middle of a lunch gathering with some Indian invitees. The muffled, yet distinctive ringtone of an ISD call from my mobile rang from deep within my trouser pockets.
My wife was on the other end from India. The line was disturbed and so was her voice.
I went up to my boss and muttered the news. He nodded gravely.
"When do you want to go?"
"Is it that bad?"
"They are putting him on the ventilator now."
At 3:00PM I had the police clearance for travel. At 4:45 I was home and stuffing 4 sets of clothing into my baggage. At 5:30, a young man was waiting with my tickets at Sylhet airport. 7:00PM I was in Dhaka. And that was that. No connecting flights to India available before the morning!
9:00PM, my father-in-law breathed his last. 78 isn't an early age, but he used to be a fit, strong man. At close to 6 ft with square shoulders, he had impressed me with his figure when we first met 8 years back. We held each other in mutual respect since then. With similar frames and similar viewpoints on most issues, we vibed well. He quit smoking when my daughter was born 6 years back. That was a major inspiration for my quitting smoking last year. We used to drink together at least once during my annual visits to his place. He was the first to wake every morning and would prepare bed-tea for everybody in the house. By the time I would make it to the breakfast table, he would return from the market with the daily vegetables. Irrespective of extreme climatic conditions of summer, winter and rain, he would step out innumerable times for running small errands, especially for the children. He loved to dress in style and always looked younger than his age. He always seemed specially fond of the dark shirts and light cotton trousers we used to gift him every year during "Durga Puja" celebrations. I envied his athletic frame which fit into checked cotton shirts as nicely as into long "kurtas". In fact, residents of his hometown, Purulia, were more shocked by the sad news due to the lasting image of good health that he projected. Most remembered seeing him strolling in the market days before he fell sick. The sickness too was very brief. 10 days. The last three in an ICU in Kolkata. An alien in an upmarket posh private hospital in the big metropolitan, far from his slow, laid back native town where every walking soul knew him. Far from the 108 years old huge bungalow that he so fondly maintained through the years for his brothers and cousins who spent their working lives in cities and abroad with the assured option to return after retirement. He was the Big Brother to all of them. His very presence radiated an aura of assurance to all who knew him. A feeling that is felt most now in his absence, a vacuum, a darkness, uncertainty, a bleak, gloomy feeling.
Yes, I will miss him. And I will have to try very, very hard to compensate, even partially, for the insecurity she feels. No one can replace a father.