The view from my room today evening was like this. A few minutes ago, distracted, I had hung up rather impatiently on Teja. I called him back and said, “I had a room with a wall near my window. I wanted to change it. Now I have a pool, a canal and a river outside my window. And fields. And lots of palm trees. And elephants even.”
Whenever something like this happens, I think of one breakfast I had with Daddy, a few days before he died. He had been admitted for some tests, and the evening before we had been told that it was bad. I stayed in the hospital room that night and listened to him breathe.
It was nothing new. I often did that when I went back home, listened to my parents’ breathing, sleeping in the same room as them.
The next morning, in the hospital room Daddy said, “The breakfast here is terrible. Let’s go out and eat.”
We walked to the gate to the small Udipi restaurant just outside. I wanted toast butter. The waiter said they didn’t have it, there was no electricity. I nodded my head and looked at the menu for something else to order. My father said to the waiter, “Why can’t you get her toast butter? Just toast it on gas.” The waiter agreed. My father said to me, “You must insist on getting what you want. You can get it most of the time.”
That day came after many years of a slight distance between my father and me. It’s not that he was angry with me, but so many of the life choices I had made were beyond his comprehension or approval, so he had just withdrawn himself from me, though available when I needed him.
Somehow that breakfast, when the two of us were alone, without the rest of the family, always seems to me his way of telling me that he forgave me, that he wanted the best for me. It made what came later a little easier to bear.
Today standing in the balcony of my hotel room, I felt happy that I had insisted on my room being changed, instead of staying in the one that I had been given, as I was inclined to do. Later, I walked to the market and ate in a restaurant and listened to a rock band, ‘Almost Famous’, instead of ordering room service.
I also bought an aubergine bag at the airport today, while waiting for my flight. And I got a phone call which was a signal on the verge of going green for my new children’s film script.
It’s not always like today. I more often than not stand ready to give up things, rather than claim them. My “Mother India” syndrome, Dhanno calls it.
But maybe one day, Daddy, I will learn not to be ‘Mother India’. Before I am too old. Before it’s too late.
Edited to add: Of course, while I could hear that breath, I did not really care if my father was upset with me or if we had a fight. I just went about doing my own thing, secure in the sound of that breath.