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Published: June 19th 2016
Life is a journey. And we all make that journey in one form or other. Today I want to share a journey with you, - no, it’s not my journey. It’s the journey of my father. His last journey. It’s the journey that touched a chord of my heart and made me write this story. I submitted this story earlier in a contest, but in a slightly different format.
As some of you may have read my profile, my father has been a big influence in shaping my life,- how I see this world, how I feel about the people I meet, how much I love to absorb the Nature around me. To me, he has always been bigger than life. He inspired me to settle in life the way I wanted, to do things I always wanted to do. He hasn’t traveled much, but he traveled through my eyes. He could paint the world looking through my eyes, his vision was wide enough to capture the universe.
Why did I write this story? Well, I know there are certain debts in life that one cannot pay back, but acknowledge them only. My debt to my father also I
cannot pay, I will continue to acknowledge only. And this story is a tribute to my father on Father’s Day.
The characters in the story have been modified for the sake of storytelling. Some locations are changed, some circumstances were modified. But that’s all about it. And the story was drawn from real life.
I wanted to share this story with many of you. Whoever does read it, my sincere thanks to them! Hope you would like it. If you do, please share the link with others -http://bit.ly/1UVncLv . Oh, and one more request! If you feel sentimental reading the story, if it brings back some memories of the past, please drop a line in your comment. And that would be the true sharing!
The Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong touched down at the Kolkata airport just after the midnight. Rumi was tired. She hardly had time to stretch her legs after a long fourteen hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong. The flight to Kolkata announced boarding within an hour.
It had been a rough twenty four hours since she received a call in the middle of the night from
her elder brother Ashim in Kolkata.
“Rumi, this is Ashim.”
A premonition rippled through her mind. “Is everything alright, Dada?” Rumi used to call Ashim ‘Dada’ in the traditional way.
“…umm, Baba is not doing so well, Rumi.”
“What happened, Dada?” a shadow of anxiety grabbed Rumi in an instant.
Rumi grew up studying in a local school in Phuldungri, a Ghatsila suburb. Her mother taught Rumi the values in life; she used to love her mother dearly, but her ‘Baba’, Animesh was her best friend. Rumi didn’t get to see much of Ashim. He was finishing his University in Kolkata and used to visit his home during his vacations. Lately, his visits became infrequent as he was busy finishing his studies. To Rumi, her ‘Baba’ was everything.
“Baba took a fall and hit his head,” Animesh said.
“Go on,” Rumi was holding her breath.
“Well, I didn’t know…he didn’t phone me or something.”
Rumi knew that is typical of ‘Baba’…he would never complain to anyone about his health.
“Nihar uncle next door phoned me and I brought him and Ma to Kolkata. He was doing fine initially, but he
has started losing his balance now.”
“And?” Rumi was becoming impatient.
“He has a clot in his head. He is admitted to the hospital.”
Rumi didn’t delay a single moment. It was late fall. She had completed her Ph.D coursework and just finished her exam. She phoned her professor and let him know. She quickly packed her suitcase, took care of the travel documents, and went to the ATM machine to get some cash. By 9:00 am, she called the travel agent and they booked her on an afternoon flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong with a connection to Kolkata.
It was a long, strenuous flight. She hardly ate anything on the plane.
“Are you alright, Ma’am?” the lady air crew showed her concern.
Rumi gave her a smile, ’Yes, Ma’am…I’m fine, thank you.”
Rumi was thinking of her father and her good old days in Phuldungri. She could not separate one from the other. She also thought of her mother. There was a Tulshi sapling in the courtyard and a little altar. Her mother used to light ‘diya’ in the evenings and offered her ‘arti’ to the altar, her saree wrapped around
her neck, “Om Jai Jagdish Hare…” My Lord, you are the savior. During Lakshmi puja at home, her mother used to paint rangoli on the floor. Animesh used to perform the puja. Rumi used to sit down patiently until the puja was over, then they used to share the offering to Lakshmi Devi.
She was reminiscing about her days of yesteryears. Animesh used to work in the Ghatsila Railway station. The evenings were pleasant in the winter time. Rumi often used to go out with her father after Animesh came home from work. Sometimes they would go to the Suvarnarekha River. The water level was usually low at that time of the year and small streams of water used to make their way through the rocks and stones like a dancing little girl. Animesh allowed her to go in the water and play. Sometimes, they used to sit down by the river side and Animesh used to tell her,
“Rumi, it’s a river which flows like a poem, it has many tales to tell if you want to listen.”
Rumi asked, “What poem, Baba?”
“Listen carefully, Rumi. It has a rhythm that
matches our life, - yours, mine, Ma’s, all of us.” Rumi was little, she couldn’t understand everything that Animesh said, but she tried hard to believe it.
The plane flew into air turbulence. The seat belt sign came on. It’s pretty common on this Pacific route. Rumi’s chain of thought was lost momentarily. Once settled, she dived again into the ocean of good old memories. She cannot forget Phuldungri. Her roots are embedded there and will remain there forever. As she grew up, Rumi slowly built her world around Animesh. All this time, her life was revolving around ‘Baba.’ Whatever she did, it was his inspiration.
“Learn to dream, Rumi; and live your dream. The whole world is waiting for you,” Animesh would tell her.
After she finished her Master’s, when Rumi got a scholarship to pursue her Ph.D at the University of British Columbia, Animesh was over the moon. He was more excited than Rumi herself.
Animesh didn’t want to move to Kolkata after his retirement. Both Rumi and Ashim stayed in Kolkata at that time. Ashim had accepted employment with an IT firm and Rumi was at the university. Whenever she pestered Animesh about
moving to Kolkata with her ‘Ma’, he would say,
“My roots are here Rumi, here in Phuldungri. This is where your Ma offers her ‘arti’ in the evenings; this is where you all grew up. Every bit of Phuldungri is in my blood. Where shall I go? This is my home. This is where I belong.” Rumi knew that. She had her own roots there too. Rumi understood.
The landing announcement broke into her thoughts. She fastened her seat belt.
Every time Rumi came to Kolkata, she used to bubble with excitement before landing. The coconut trees, the halogen street lamps far below, - they all reminded her that she was home. No, not this time though. The last four hour flight from Hong Kong was a stressful one. She was afraid…afraid of the worst!
She came out of the terminal after the immigration formalities. Ashim was waiting outside. She saw him. She suddenly felt her knees were giving away.
“Dada…,” Rumi almost broke down.
“Rumi, don’t worry…doctors are making all the tests.”
No, Rumi would not cry. She made herself steady.
“When are we going to visit Baba?”
morning. Let’s go home now.” Ashim picked up her small suitcase and they drove to Ashim’s apartment in South Kolkata.
The next morning, they waited in the Hospital lobby until they were allowed to visit.
“You go first,” Ashim told Rumi. Rumi walked in the room. Animesh was sitting on his bed.
“Baba,” Rumi ran from the door towards Animesh.
“Rumi, when did you arrive?” Animesh was astounded. There was total surprise in his eyes. Rumi lifted his arm up and pressed it to her cheeks. Ah, it feels the same as in the old days. Rumi used to listen to his stories while pressing his arm to her cheeks and go to sleep. The good old days in Phuldungri! Rumi could not talk. Animesh felt the dampness on his arm.
“Why are you worrying Rumi? I’m doing fine.” The same old ‘Baba’, never complains! No, she won’t cry. She would be strong.
“Tell me about your studies. Hey, have you visited any new places lately?”
“No Baba, I was busy with my studies.”
“Once you have a chance, make sure to see new places.”
“Yes Baba, I will.”
“And don’t worry about me; Next time you come to Phuldungri, we will go to Suvarnarekha together.”
“Of course, Baba. You get well first. Then we will go together.”
That trip to Suvarnarekha never happened! Three days later, Ashim woke her up around three in the morning.
“Rumi, Baba is no more.” It was a dreadful night that Rumi would ever remember.
Rumi was rendered speechless! She didn’t ask how it happened, when it happened. What is the point of knowing those details? The eternal truth has been announced, - ‘Baba’ is no more. That says it all. She felt that her world of Phuldungri is crumbling. With Animesh, her roots in Phuldungri are gone forever. Animesh was the last thread. The little girl that Animesh nurtured so lovingly, so caringly, is now getting uprooted. People came to visit in the morning. She was not really listening to anyone; she could not feel the people around her. She was following everything mechanically, like a robot. The only truth she knew is that her ‘Baba’ is there no more.
It was three weeks later that Ashim told her,
have to go to Ghatsila in a day or two.”
“Why Dada?” Rumi was still in a daze.
“I have talked to Nihar uncle. We have to settle the Phuldungri property. There is no one to look after the house.”
Rumi knew it was coming. But she didn’t want to think about it. Phuldungri house was her last contact with the world that is disappearing fast from her life, her world of childhood.
“I would like to come with you Dada.”
“But, don’t you have to go back to Canada soon?” Ashim wondered.
Ashim could see the monsoon in her eyes.
“Ok, Rumi. Come with me then. But I am just going there for a couple of days only.”
The train dropped them at Ghatsila station and then it disappeared beyond the rolling hills of Jharkhand. It was the same station where Rumi came hundreds of times with Animesh. And this will probably be the last time. They took a rickshaw from the station, crossed Ghatsila College and came to Phuldungri. The evening was setting in. Ashim opened the door and they crossed the courtyard. Rumi touched her finger to
the Tulshi leaves and stood there for a moment. Ashim went to talk to Nihar uncle. Rumi entered the living room. She looked around. Everything is the same, nothing has changed, except one thing….her life. It is changed forever.
Nihar uncle and Bhabi came. Bhabi gave Rumi a tight hug. They held each other for a long time. No, Rumi won’t cry now. This is not the time. She will have all the time in the world to cry later. Now, she wants to be alone with her home, and feel the bond for the last time. She wants to absorb the feeling in every molecule of her body so that it stays with her forever. Bhabi asked them to join for supper. When they came back after the supper, it was late in the evening; Phuldungri has long gone to sleep. Rumi was tired. She hugged her favourite set of pillows with the embroidered pillow cases. Ma made those. Her memories were haunting her, her emotions wanted to bring out tears. No, Rumi won’t cry now. She remembered the days when they had a tin roof. In the monsoon time, the downpour used to make a rhythmic “rum-jhum-rum-jhum”
sound in the middle of the night. With the symphony of the midnight rain, with the comfort of her simple universe of childhood, Rumi used to slowly drift into the world of fairy tales and go to sleep. She buried her face in the pillow. It smelled ‘home’. And she was home.
Rumi woke up before sunrise. She looked outside the window. The soft morning light was kissing the flowers and the leaves in the garden. Birds are already working out their daily plan. Everything looked so peaceful. Still, she was restless. She knew the house would be gone soon, with this garden, with the Tulsi sapling, everything. With that, her roots in Phuldungri would be gone forever. Rumi sighed! No, Rumi won’t cry now.
She came to Animesh’s bedroom. His pajamas and kurta were still hanging from the hook. Rumi folded them with affection and kept them in the closet. She entered the garden. She touched the hibiscus leaves softly and they asked her, “Where have you been?” She whispered in their ears “did you miss me?” They replied, “Yes, we are sad; and no one waters us anymore.” Rumi watered the hibiscus and went to the
mango tree. Animesh and Rumi planted the tree together when she came home two years ago. The tree has grown a bit now. She touched the tree gently, “look at you, you have grown so big”. The tree felt her sorrow and said, “Rumi, you look so sad; don’t be sad Rumi, we will be fine.” Tears came to her eyes. No, Rumi won’t cry now. She wiped the tears and said softly, “miss me no more; I will think of you all the time.”
Her Dragon Air flight took off from Kolkata at 3:20 am. Ashim came to the airport to see her off. Every time she flew back to Canada, Rumi felt depressed. One more year wait to come back home again. But this time Rumi felt a void. She was burning inside. It was a feeling of loss of everything. She lost her father and her best friend. When she arrived here few weeks ago, she had anxiety. But she also had a hope. At the end, she lost the battle; she could not take her ‘Baba’ back home to Phuldungri as she had promised. Now, her roots would be gone forever.
The flight touched
down at the Hong Kong airport in the mid morning. Rumi hadn’t slept on the plane and her eyes were burning. She rinsed her face and stood near the glass pane in the transit lounge with a cup of tea. She looked outside. Everything out there looked the same as it was when she left. Only her life has changed forever. On the chessboard of life, everything else seemed to be intact, - the King, the Queen, the Knight….only Rumi has lost her trusted, precious pawn…gone forever. She was now standing in a lonely world with a big void which would never be filled again!
It was a sunny afternoon when the Cathay Pacific flight landed in the Vancouver international airport. Rumi took a taxi to her apartment near the university campus. Once inside, she stood in front of her favourite window overlooking the park. The red and golden maple leaves were scattered across the park in a crisp fall afternoon. Rumi closed her eyes. She could see the sun going down behind the distant hills of Ghatsila, shadowy in the twilight. A somber evening was settling in Phuldungri. The hariyals have called it a day and were flying
to their nests crossing the Suvarnarekha River. Her mother lighted ‘diya’ on the altar and was singing,
“Sangachhadhwam samvadadhwam samvo manaansi jaanataam.”
May we march together with a common goal, with an open mind, to work in harmony.
She looked at the sky. It was crimson red. Rumi saw Animesh was smiling at her.
“Rumi, go on with your life. Don’t be stuck holding the memories. Celebrate life. Travel the world. I couldn’t do it myself, but I will see it through your eyes.”
“Baba, will you stay by my side?”
“I always did and I always will.”
Rumi let tears run down her cheeks silently. She leaned against the window in total surrender.
The last rays of the setting sun were kissing the tree tops. A tranquil evening announced the end of a beautiful day.
**** Some Clarifications:
Rumi of my story is my own reflection. My brother in Kolkata is my younger brother, and not the older one.
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