In a haze of the past

In a haze of the past

Musings on everyday life

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 30 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 30 Aug 2019, 11:57 AM

"Dad, where are you?"
It wasn't my daughter or son. It was wifey. She is like that. She's never called me anything constant. She called me 'you' when she was angry, a 'boor' when I talked about my growing up days in a fishing village, a 'politician' when I talked only positively about my people, a Casanova when I happened to mention my old flames. But 'Dad' is the word she resorted to whenever she choked on love. She called me Dad even when her Dad was alive.
"Dad, are you there?"
"In the washroom, darling."
"What are you doing?"
"Cooking some daal fry."
"Shut up. Come quick."
"What happened?" The aftershave burned my cheeks as I hurried to her.
"Come, sit beside me," she said, pointing to the couch where newspapers lay dismembered. She was reading the front page of Khaleej Times.
"Any idea how long we have been married?" she probed.
"Let's not talk about tragedies so early in the morning."
"Cut the crap. I am serious."
"Thirty-seven long years." I rested my head on her shoulders.
"Honey, did you read this story? It's going viral - a wife in the UAE is seeking divorce because her husband loves her too much?"
"Listen, I have a different take on this. She never loved him. It's a clean-cut case of one-way love. Had I been the judge, I would have granted instant divorce."
"She's so unhappy that he never yelled at her," wifey continued to read.
"Despite my yelling, you haven't filed for divorce, because you love me."
"Don't take me for granted, my dear chum. Hey, tell me this: Having lived 37 years together, what's your biggest regret in life?"
"You know we both could not peak the education levels we could have. We got married at the age of 22. We were in a hurry to conquer the world. Student activism cost me dearly. I was unable to attend classes because of political violence. I acquired knowledge from the writers, intellectuals and journalists I rubbed shoulders with while my peers attended classes."
"Yeah, I still remember how I frequented your hideouts for a glance. Comrades came to my college to pick me up. I knew you guys carried arms on your body, but fear never occurred to me. You were my Che Guevara. You had the same beard and you smoked Wills. In times of peace, you pedalled past my home on a red bicycle. It was like a chariot of love." I could see a play of varied shades on her face which were hard to read.
"Do you remember how I came to say goodbye before I vanished from Kerala? It was past 10pm. I had no choice. My mother preferred to live in the hope that I was alive somewhere in the world than live in the perpetual fear of losing me to mindless violence. I was on short notice from my rivals: leave or get killed." Fear still runs in my veins when I think back on my activist days.
"Yeah, your departure cost me my education. I skipped college to be away from the limelight. I was doing my MA with scholarship," she reminisced.
"In Mumbai, where I surfaced, I did three things simultaneously. I studied law in the morning, worked in the day and studied journalism in the evening. My day typically started at 5am and ended at 10pm. Finally, I had to give up law."
"And when you left for Dubai, I again had to give up my PG in Bombay University. You were restless. You loved to disrupt lives."
"Life has since been a journey to acquire knowledge," I reasoned.
"And when you sent your children away at a young age to acquire knowledge, you were wrenching them from their mother. That's the biggest regret in my life. I could not live a full life with my kids. Look at all our friends, their children studied here and now work here. They all live together happily. Both our children left for medical school at the age of 18 and they never came back, except for a week every year." Tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You can't be selfish, dear. To educate children is our dharma. It's parental selfishness if you don't let them go. The choice is your comfort or children's future," I tried to reason.
"Do you remember when was the last time you saw your daughter?"
"Maybe six months ago."
"Dad, it's more than a year now. Poor girl was crying last night."
"Listen, Anamika is waiting. She is a person of fewer words. I can't go on like this. About the lady choking on love, we'll talk next time."
Wifey got up with all the cushions she could grab. "Anamika? Who's she?" Her eyes reddened. Cushions hit me like a barrage of rockets.
"She is my WKND editor, damn it. And she is waiting for my column. Let me file this now." And then we burst out laughing to hide the agony of missing our children.

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