Monday, April 15, 2013

Remembering Papa

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every Sunday morning, after attending Mass at the Little Flower church at Kochi, my daughter, Sneha, goes to pray at the grave of her grandfather. I am always surprised when I see this. Sneha is ten years old. My father-in-law (Papa) died when she was two-and-a-half. How does she remember him? I cannot recall any memory before five years of age. After she prays, Sneha touches the grave with the tip of her fingers and then we go home.

Sometimes, when Sneha prays, I visualise Papa lying in his coffin. What is left now? A few bones and the skull, perhaps. The person no longer exists, except in our hearts.

But what was most unforgettable, for me, was the day Papa died: July 25, 2003. He was in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. At 8.30 a.m., in his bedroom, he suddenly sat up, his eyes bulged out, his frail body shook, and it seemed as if he was about to die. Mummy said, “Please don’t go.” My wife begged him to stay.

As for me, I was tongue-tied because I sensed a power in the room. It pressed against all of us. It seemed to be kind-hearted, and was observing us very carefully Was this God who had come to take Papa away?

Time stopped. Finally, there seemed to be a resolution. And, looking back, I have no idea whether it was Papa or God who felt that he should live, so that he could meet all the family members. Suddenly, the energy vanished. I started breathing again, and Papa came back to life. Immediately, we rushed him to the hospital.

By this time his children – four daughters and a son – arrived, he lay, with moist eyes, on a bed and gently held their fingers. It was his way of saying goodbye.

At 9.30 p.m., Papa breathed his last.

In life, Papa was a banker. And like most middle class people he was an honest man, devoted to work and family, and always tried to help the less fortunate. 

And in his many years of service at the bank, he observed one law which played out in family after family. The first generation struggled and made the money. The second generation took it easy and had a lavish style. By the time the third generation came along, they were lazy and spoiled and destroyed the wealth. When he told this to me, a journalist, I said, “Papa, I have good news for you! I have no money to pass on to any generation – second, third or fourth.” Papa laughed heartily by what I said.

He was a man who smiled easily, even though he had a hard life. His own father died when he was 16 and as the eldest child, he assumed the burden of looking after his three sisters. He built his career from scratch, made a nice house in posh Panampilly Nagar, and ensured that all his children were well-settled. And he always told me, “Be honest and sincere, and God will do the rest.” 

Thanks to my daughter, on Sunday mornings I think of Papa and my own mortality. I know that in a few decades, unless God wills an earlier exit, I will also lie six feet under, like Papa, in some corner of a cemetery. 

I wonder: will my grandchild, if I have one, do the same thing which Sneha does – touch my grave and ask for my blessings on a sunny Sunday morning?

To be remembered after we die – isn’t this every human being’s deepest desire?

(The New Indian Express, South India) 

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