An all-time favourite photo. Graduation, May 2016
Grief has caught me unawares, sneaking up on me on a day on which I’ve felt strong and independent, driving myself around for the first time. It crashes in on me, engulfing me in that wrenching sorrow that comes with the fresh awareness of the finality of loss. As I press my knees closer to my chest, I think: I will never see the most beautiful smile in the world again. And I will never call anyone Nanna again.
And today it is not enough. It is not enough to have memories. It is not enough feel the remnants of his love. It is not enough. I want to see him and hear him and breathe in his cologne. I want to see him in his meticulously pressed blazers and starched shirts with his overnight suitcase. I want to see him in his monochrome pyjamas as he obsessively tracks the stock market. I want to groan as I hear the strains of one of his favourite songs through the door, for the millionth time, although I find it endearing, his ever-fresh pleasure in the things he loves, like a child for whom a thing once wonderful remains forever so. I’m like that too. I love a song the same whether I’ve heard it once or 500 times. I love my books to pieces in that same way too. I probably have swathes of them unconsciously memorized.
Who will I discuss my grand plans with now? Who will understand the thrill of my outsized ambition the way he would have? Who will burst with pride when I finally take that place in the world that he staunchly believed was rightfully mine? Would it even mean anything, to achieve these things, in his absence?
Because I know I will do them. I know that I am meant for great things, that I have a sharp and unusual mind, a deep and searing empathy, a gift for language and the arts.
My faith in the goodness of people is his legacy. My prompt willingness to help is his legacy. A naivete that has been tempered through exposure, age, and experience – but that will never completely die; that is his legacy. I don’t have his unfailing optimism; but I am an idealist. I have been loved by my parents so completely and love is a foundation that will carry you through anything; I am in agreement with JK Rowling on this.
I am his legacy. He was inordinately proud of me, of every little achievement. I might have forgotten who I was, that I was a class topper and that I wrote well, but he never did. And he never missed an opportunity to let people know these things about me, even when I shied away from drawing attention to them, and myself. He thought I wasn’t confident enough, that I underestimated my skill and intelligence. He was right, of course. He genuinely believed I could do anything, be anything; I could be Prime Minister, I could be in the Planning Commission or the Niti Aayog, hell, I could conquer Wall Street if I wanted to (he was definitely wrong about that last one. Somehow I doubt that my “down with the 1%!” philosophy would sit too well with Wall Street).
My dad would eventually come around on almost anything if he thought it would make me happy, even if he didn’t entirely agree or understand. As long as I was sure, as long as I could justify why I wanted to something, he’d show up, with his wallet if he could.
My dad was one of the most alive people I have ever known. He loved life. He loved work. He loved friendship. He loved fun. He loved music. He started out in a tiny job with an insignificant polytechnic degree and climbed through the ranks of various jobs to hold CXO positions. He gave us a lifestyle we never could have dreamed of: vacations in Europe and Thailand, expensive foreign educations.
He believed firmly in merit. Education was the golden ticket. A prestigious education at a name-brand university would give one a huge leg up. I was his academically gifted daughter who confused him with my choices, my socialist proclivities. It made him impatient; be a capitalist first, and then a socialist, he used to say. Meaning: secure yourself financially, be independent, and then you can be as altruistic as you like.
He never could refuse me anything. I rarely asked for anything, but when I did, the answer was invariably yes. Yes, you can. Yes, enjoy yourself. You’re young, now is the time to have a good time with your friends and see the world.
I’ve been told that when I was a baby, I would sleep on his chest. When he left on business trips, I would cry non-stop. Even when I got older his chest remained the most comforting spot in the world. I knew that as long as my dad was around, I was safe. He would take care of me. I was safe.
For days after it happened I could feel him around me. I felt it so strongly, his presence; a blanket of love that enveloped me and comforted me, assuring me that he was watching over us, that he would never really leave me.
It’s hard to believe that he’s really gone. It feels like so little time has passed since we last heard his voice. I wonder if all those long business trips we grew accustomed to prepared us somehow for this strange, sudden, so final a departure: maybe there’s some part of us waiting for him to come in that door with his blazer and briefcase, with stars in his eyes about the people he’d met and things he’d seen.