The Day of Parting!
by Sarika Tyagi
I could never forget the fateful day I got the phone call. It is etched so clearly in my memory that nothing else measures up to it. The sheer shock was so overwhelming and exasperating. The worst thing about that day was the unexpected suddenness of the events. Or maybe I should say, the event. The one incident that changed our lives forever.
The day started like every other day. My older son had gone to school and the younger one was at home due to fever. My husband had already left for his office and I was trying to help my sick son gulp down something giving him all the reasons in the world. Just then my phone rang. It was my dad. I had spoken to him in the morning and he had been very concerned about my son’s health. I thought he had called again to inquire about him. But I was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice on the phone.
“Hello” he said. I was taken aback, but I thought that maybe my dad had given the phone to someone else to speak to me. He often did that. But something that day made me very uncomfortable. “Is this Sonali?” he asked. “Yes. But who are you?” I was already beginning to feel agitated for no apparent reason. “Do you know Mr. Tyagi?” he asked me. “Yes. He is my father. You are calling me from his phone. Where is he?” I was clearly angry at that point. He almost sounded apologetic when he said, “I am a doctor. And I am calling from the hospital. Your father was in an accident and where are you staying?”. “Noida” was all I could muster myself to say. I was shocked beyond belief. “How is he? Is he badly hurt?”I asked to which his reply was a short, "He is in the ICU. Please come at the earliest”. After which he disconnected the phone and did not pick up when I called again.
Sick with worry, I called up my brother, my sister, my mother and nephew, but strangely nobody picked up. Not a person to lose heart easily, I was surprised to find myself crying inconsolably. And I myself could not understand why was I crying. Dad was in an accident and I needed to be with him. To take care of him and do whatever I could. This was a moment of taking a hold of myself and not lose it like this. But even I could not control myself for reasons beyond my understanding.
I called up my husband, Saurabh , and told him what had happened and also that I was driving to the hospital and leaving my son with the neighbors. Knowing that I was a very new driver and to make matters worse, I was so clearly emotionally unstable, he immediately objected offering to come home and drive me himself. But how could I wait? The only image my mind kept conjuring was that of my dad lying in a bed in a hospital waiting for me to come and take care of him. He could have been badly hurt for he had not been able to call himself. Saurabh gave up and promised to reach the hospital at the earliest. I opened my cash box. Grabbed a handful of money, you never know it might be needed, and started towards the hospital.
I drove like I never drove before. The roads were jam packed. I was over-speeding with one hand constantly on the horn and window rolled down shouting at everybody and anybody who did not move out of my way fast enough. Saurabh called me again and again, scared that I might do something rash and end up in an accident myself. I shouted at him to not keep calling me and let me drive. My heart was beating frantically, my head felt as if it would burst and my whole being was shrouded in a mysterious dread. Something bad had happened. I knew it in my bones. But I told my mind to stop. Of course! My father was in an accident and that was the bad thing. My car raced faster than my heart.
I was midway to the hospital when I suddenly got a call. I checked. It was my brother. I picked up thinking he might have some news on dad. And he did. “Yes? How is dad?” I asked him. And he told me the one thing my soul knew
and my mind was refusing to even consider. “Sona, papa is no more”. He was crying and I shouted at him, “What the hell are you saying? Do you know what you are saying?" His answer was just his cry. And I knew it was over. My mind went totally blank. My ears could not hear a single sound. My eyes stopped seeing the road. All I wanted to do was to shout at the top of my voice. What came out was a howl. A howl full of pain and anger. The passersby must have looked at me in surprise. A woman shouting, crying aloud and driving like crazy. Now I think they would have known it was something terrible. I drove on to catch a glimpse of my dad. Hoping somewhere inside that maybe he is not gone yet. Maybe he will be there when I reach. Maybe I will be able to hold his hand and say my goodbye. Maybe I will be able to see him smile. Maybe the doctors were wrong. Maybe I was in a dream too surreal.
Saurabh’s call brought me back to the world and hit me with the reality of it all. I picked up and managed to blurt out “Saurabh, papa”. That was all that he needed and he knew immediately. “Please Sonali. Please be careful. Drive carefully and don’t do anything rash. Hold on. You are all we have.” Saurabh was trying his best to control his own anxiety and to make me realize I was needed and that I had to control myself and keep out of harm’s way. I disconnected.
I parked in front of the ICU and the first thing I saw was a dead body covered in a white cloth being wheeled out of the ICU. I was completely broken to see my nephew and mother come out behind the stretcher, crying inconsolably. I followed the attendant to the mortuary and begged him to let me have a look at my dad. The moment I lifted the cloth over my dad’s face, I knew the doctors had messed up. My dad was alive! Perhaps in a coma, but alive all the same. Because even though his eyes were closed, he was smiling his all too familiar smile. I felt his face. It was so warm and so soft. As I was lifting the cloth a little more, the attended immediately stopped me, “please don’t see the legs. It is bad”. And I stopped right there. I did not have the courage to see his legs. But crying and calling him over and over, I somehow was sure that it was all a big mistake and that he was alive. The attendant insisted on taking him inside the mortuary. I was shocked! How could they take him to the mortuary when he was still alive!! He needed medical attention.
Immediately! I ran like a crazy person to the ICU and argued with the doctors there. But they only pitied me and confirmed what was our fate! My dad had moved on! He had left us all here. No questions asked. None answered. No complaints. I was told that it all happened within moments for him. The truck hit his scooter and he was unconscious even before he fell to the ground, being dragged under the wheel for short distance. He did not suffer I was told. But I knew much more. I knew that he had no regrets for he had lived an honest and pious life. He had never hurt or cheated anybody. He had helped everybody. Even people who only hurt him in return. There was only joy for what lay ahead of him. Perhaps he had seen it coming. Perhaps he had seen God himself come down for him for his pure soul deserved to be taken by Him alone. That’s why he was smiling even after he had long left his body behind. He was at peace with everybody. With life itself. He had gone, the way he had lived – happy and peaceful!
I miss my dad today. But I also know that he is around me. Watching me constantly with the love and care he has always had while I could see him. I just wish I had said this one thing to him while he was still here but I will say it now because I know he is listening. I love you dad and I am so proud to say that I am your daughter!