The younger of two girls, I was always my father’s pet. All those times of Baba making me practice mathematics with oceans of patience, walking me to school, instilling values in me are indelibly etched in my memory. I’ll never forget what he told me when I was ready to go out and work. He said, “A woman’s best friend is her bank account.” All that I am today, all the principles I hold dear – it’s all because of him.
The year was 2012. I was living and working in Bangalore. It was Wimbledon time and I was deeply into tennis as usual. One evening I got a call from Ma asking, “Who was that left-handed tennis player with curly hair? Baba’s asking…” after many guesses we stopped at John McEnroe. My father, who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of almost every sport and practically everything, had forgotten John McEnroe. I knew there was something wrong. It was the beginning of the end.
Next time, I was back in Calcutta. Baba went out to buy a newspaper and didn’t come back for two and a half hours. I didn’t know where to look for him. I ran around on the roads of Calcutta frenetically. Assuming the worst, (desperately trying not to believe it) I went to the police station. There I was told that they could not start looking for him unless he was missing for a full 24 hours. I wasn’t going to wait that long. I went back home to tell my mother not to expect me back till late. I rang the bell and there he was, looking a little harassed. I was relieved but prematurely, as it turned out.
This is what had happened. He had intended to come back home after walking for a few minutes. He had forgotten all about the newspaper. He thought he was homeward bound when he looked around and suddenly found himself way beyond the Park Circus, No. 4 Bridge. He had lost time and had no idea how he came to be there. Luckily, he remembered the way back home still and retraced his steps. All of this took him two and a half hours. I decided not to return to Bangalore.
Over the next couple of months, he became severely depressed – the same man that nothing could bring down. He would simply sit in his chair all day and stare at the TV. No newspapers, no crosswords, no witty repartee. It was as if someone had sucked the life out of him. A brain scan revealed shrinkage of the brain. It was Alzheimer’s.
He could no longer go out alone; he who had taught me how to walk, to go out into the world and fight my own battles. He could no longer remember how to use his inhaler. His muscle memory started to go. A self-sufficient person, he had never needed any help. Now, he had to be bathed and clothed.
Slowly, he forgot about people and places. He would just quietly do whatever he was asked to do. But even in his last conscious moments, he didn’t lose his sense of humour. That was my father. Now he’s gone but he will forever be in my heart. Here’s to my best friend, philosopher and guide; my mentor – the only man whom I have ever loved and who has loved me back, unconditionally – my shelter from the storm, my hero. Happy Father’s Day, Baba!