A phone call in the late night, a broken music box, a dusty chair, and one hysteric priest…
No matter what you’ve heard, depression exists. It’s like air. You can’t see it, but you can feel it. There are no visible symptoms of depression, but it’s very much around. It’s an epidemic, but a silent one. And the people who suffer from it, are mostly ignorant of it, or are scared that they must be going crazy. If you’re suffering from depression, especially in India, you don’t need me to tell you that life is hard.
Life is hard anyway. But with depression, it becomes harder. And that is a situation; no one in their right mind would willingly enter.
The night before my father passed away, he somehow managed to convince the nurses at the hospital to let them talk to me. Even though, at the time, he was in the ICU, and clutching to the oxygen pipe for sweet life to breathe in.
He had called only to talk to me. When he said “Hello!” over the phone, I could sense guilt and regret in his voice. I can’t prove it scientifically, but I trust my guts a little bit more than what the textbooks tell us.
The call lasted for barely a minute since he could barely sustain himself without the Oxygen pipe. He had only one request. He just wanted to see me once. I tried to assure him that I’ll visit him as soon as he gets better. But he was adamant, even though he could be so for only a few seconds. “Please come and visit. I just want to see you once”, was his last words to me.
After I informed my mother, and my grandfather, they told me I could go and visit him on Saturday which was day after tomorrow. They were hesitant because a girl of my age is usually not allowed to visit patients in the ICU. But to them, my father’s request mattered more than the hospital’s regulations.
I received the call on a sultry Thursday November Night. My mother was going to take me to visit my father on Saturday morning. He passed away on Friday night, without his last request to his daughter being fulfilled.
The next time I saw him was when his cold, lifeless body and I were accompanied by our relatives to the crematorium. It was also the very last time when I was ever going to see him.
It has been over a decade now. I can’t remember my father’s face, unless I see him again in photos. But I vividly remember the wooden torch, crackling under burning flames, the priest had given me to set my father’s body on fire.
He had said, since the electric ‘chullahs’ have come in, that I don’t need to set his entire body on fire. I only needed to make sure that there are burn marks on his face, a proof that I’ve done my duty as his child.
I don’t know how I did it. I remember not thinking of anything, just blindly following what the priest and my relatives were telling me.
Women are usually not allowed in crematoriums but in this case, I was allowed since my grandfather, grandmother, and my mother couldn’t come. Surrounded by relatives who I’ve perhaps met two or three times in my fourteen years of existence, and them telling me how they understood my loss, I chose to be numb, completely numb.
Post the rituals, my father’s body was loaded into the ‘chullah’, and I remember seeing his feet before the doors closed on us. 45 minutes later, I was asked to go behind the challah, collect his bones (I don’t know whether it was his, or somebody else’s) and submerge them in the river.
I did as I was told without shedding a tear, and came back home and slept for ten hours.
Six months later, during writing an essay on his favourite film, I howled and I cried for the first time since his death.
My mother is a strong woman. And that I do not simply say because she’s my mother. I say this because I’m acutely aware of the courage, stable-headedness, and guts I do not have, unlike her.
She is my rock.
The night my father passed away, she broke down in front of me but only for a minute. Her immediate concern was to call the relatives who were not there in the hospital, and inform them about the situation. Next, she made sure I had something to eat and asked me to go and sleep while she by herself started to arrange for all the ingredients needed for her to become a widow.
I don’t know what she did or what she felt when I left her along with my grandparents and my women relatives back at the house, for the crematorium. When I had come back, she was already dressed in white, her bangles gone, and her ‘sindoor’ washed away. She very calmly asked me how I was doing, and told me not to get scared. “I’m here with you and we’re here with each other”, she whispered in my ears. Then she held me tightly and said, “He’s at a better place now, I know it”. She didn’t cry.
Three days later, when my mother and I were preparing our special lunch, as we were not allowed to have normal food with any sort of vegetables or meat and we could only have boiled rice and dal once a day, I noticed a small music box lying in a corner on the table. A small black rectangle, it was always kept in the showcase. I didn’t know who had taken it out, especially when no one in the house was even in a state to talk to each other.
Curiously, I left my lunch, washed my hands, and took the box in my hands. I opened it. The small ballerina with one broken foot started swirling with the music. I shut the lid, when she completed her turn. And I opened the lid again. There was something about the music that was so enticing. A music that is so simple, and innocent. I wanted to hear it, again and again.
I must have been playing with it for quite some time, when I realized I could hear someone sobbing. I looked up. It was my mother. Sitting on the floor, with her unwashed hands on her head, she was crying. “I miss him, I miss him so much but he’s never going to come back. I’m never going to see him again” is all she could say when the tears rolled down from her red eyes and flushed cheeks.
I stood there, utterly at a loss for words, not knowing what to say. It was the first time in my life, when I felt that I’m an utter waste.
My grandfather was a quiet stubborn man, who had always known what he wanted from life, from his family, and from himself. Unfortunately for him, life gave him some unexpected and shocking turn of events.
When my father was alive, my grandfather could only criticise him for not being proactive, for not taking up responsibilities, and for not fulfilling his dreams, both his own and my grandfather’s.
When he passed away, all my grandfather could talk about was how my father had a way with words, how much compassion he had for the elderly and the poor, and how much potential he had as a human being.
There were no visible changes in him since my father passed away. He dutifully completed his responsibilities as a husband, and a father-in-law. He didn’t cry when he heard the news. Instead, he focused on me, and told me all the things I should stay away from if I wanted a better life. He seemed calm, and quiet, like his usual self. But when they brought my father’s body to our home for one last time, he broke down. He couldn’t register seeing his only child, leaving the world before him. But dignified as he was, he grabbed hold of his emotions soon after, and saw us off as we headed towards the crematorium.
I can still remember, even after all these years, him standing surrounded by grieving women, staring at the assemblage of ambulance and cars, carrying my father away to his last journey. At that moment, to me, my grandfather seemed particularly lonely. And in my heart I knew, he had no one to talk to anymore. Days later, I would see him, all alone, sitting on a dusty chair on the terrace, looking at the stars. He showed no signs of wanting to talk, and I had no intention of breaking his reverie.
This was the second time when I again felt completely hopeless.
My grandmother was perhaps the only one among us who could display her emotions without any inhibitions, since my father’s passing. An aging and grieving mother, it took almost all our efforts to make her eat and sleep on a daily basis, post the cremation.
She would howl in the middle of the night and wake up with a bad throat next morning. In about a week, she had lost almost 5 kgs, and there were hideous dark circles underneath her eyes. She didn’t care though. She spent her days calling up the local priests and asking for their blessings desperately.
There was one among them, who claimed that he had seen my father in his dreams. My grandmother would spend hours with the priest, soaking him in food, tea, and money. “How did he look like? Is he okay? Does he miss me? What did he want to tell Nandini?” her questions to him were unending and relentless. In his turn, the priest became hysterical day by day, and would go into trances in order to talk to my father, and bring in messages from the netherworld.
After a week of this shenanigan, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went up to my grandmother, and asked her why is she doing this, when she herself is getting hurt the most by the answers.
She looked at me, and for the first time I could see no tears in her eyes. In whispers she uttered, “It makes me feel good that someone is trying to reach out to him, and I can still talk to him, somehow.” I was enraged. I tried to make her see the irrationality behind it. In response, she held my hands real tight and begged me, “Please! Please don’t take this away from me, this is all I’ve left of him”.
I stood transfixed, for the third time within a week, completely clueless about what to say. As the priest went into another trance, I stood outside the door too afraid to look in and finding myself to be disappointed after all, by his lies.
I have inherited a lot of my father’s traits, both physically and emotionally. I have inherited his sense of guilt, fear and worthlessness, and in turn he has left me his legacy of depression.
I know depression exists. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what my father must have gone through when he took those steps. But in a horrifying way these days, I somehow can. Earlier I judged him for taking his own life. Now I sympathise and empathise both. And that is scary.
I have vivid dreams at night, of sitting across a table from him, and asking ruthlessly, “Why? Why? Why?”. He never responds. He just stares blankly at me, and that further escalates my rage, my desperation, and my fear.
In the morning, when I look at myself, I realize I’m never going to get an answer. Never. Ever. And then I feel like giving up and follow his path. But I stop myself then and there.
I get up and fight. I cry and fight. I take my medicines and fight. In the middle of the night, I wake up from my nightmares and fight. I fall down every day and I get up and fight again.
Because now I know the torment of inheriting loss.