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Sep 2014
Unruly crayon marks,
ketchup stains
and ***** handprints
held an affinity for
the newly painted white walls.
Half-chewed nails dug into the soil,
tender feet splashed into puddles of joy.
Laughter echoed through the hallway
and the sweat on the forehead
was a sign of happy times.
The hardest decision of the day was
to find a place away from mother’s prying eyes;
torture was confined to the glass of milk
that she forcefully tried to make me drink.

Speaking of which,
I remember her screaming at me,
over her shoulder, as the milk boiled
to spread on the kitchen slab and turned to vapour,
“You are a mess”
and I always wondered what the word really meant.

There was a corner in my house
that I called my own- a bench for two,
often occupied by one,
unless ‘Baba’- what I knew my father as,
would come over, hiding,
what he called “magic”,
the same glass of milk that I had been avoiding.
I would cover my mouth
with my little hands
as he would begin to sew a thread of words into rhyme,
I often found myself lost,
weaving a meaning,
after I was done licking my milk-mustache,
it was magic, indeed, I thought to myself.

His biceps always were the right size of pillow,
the songs he hummed was
all I that I needed for a good night’s sleep;
the tickle in his fingertips as
he pulled my cheeks
was an affirmation that I was his favourite one
and how firmly I believed that I was prettiest of all,
even with the shabbiest of the braids
he managed to tie that morning.

Even on lazy Sunday mornings,
my mother, out of habit,
would draw open the curtains
for the blazing sunlight to disturb my sleep.
It was continued by irritable faces and whines,
lectures about management of time,
when Baba would somehow convince
mother that it was important for me to dream.
On regular weekday evenings,
I would sit by the attic window,
stare at the front gate,
wait for him to return from work.

He walked me to school,
locking his little finger with mine
and waited for me at 1.25 pm sharp
outside the school gate,
a balloon in his hand
and a glint in his eyes.
For hours together,
he made me repeat my mathematic tables-
5 times 3 is 15,
5 times 4 is 20,
5 times 5 is 25
a million times.

I was sixteen
when it first “skipped his mind”
to pick me up from school.
That didn’t change anything between us
until the night he called me up
to ask me the way back home
from his office because he was “too stressed”
to remember it on his own.
I remember him
entering the house at 2.06 am,
asking me who all were home, then
and also,
that I giggled at that question of his.

From then on,
for months together,
I woke up to my father
screaming at my mother
for not arranging his socks in pairs,
for being disorganized and careless
even when the third drawer from the right,
in his cupboard was the place where
he would end up finding all his belongings.

I was coming to terms
with the fact that my father
was too much under the pressure
of work
because that pretty much explained
why he stammered
before recalling his “to-do-list”,
had difficulty in meeting deadlines
and skipped family time.

I am 21 years old,
my father doesn’t seem to get any get younger day by day.
Last month,
on a sunny day during awkward monsoons,
I saw him sitting by the window,
tracing droplets of rain race
down the glass for hours.
He left the room without
saying a word when I asked him
if he wanted to play football beyond the bars.
“Gaah, he must have been preoccupied”, I still convince myself.
Around the same time,
we were invited
to his best friend’s marriage anniversary-
he was thrilled
so he narrated the story
about how they first met
thirty two and the third time;
introduced himself to my boyfriend
twelve more times, that same night.
“Fathers”, I just rolled my eyes.

Some time back,
one afternoon, at 3.16pm,
I saw him flip through sheets
of a calendar dated 1985.
When I asked him
to fill his details in a form,
he, without second thoughts,
scribbled “8” in the box
that enquired about his age.
The same night, mother
must have called out his name
eight times to join us
for dinner but,
he didn’t respond to a single one
nor did he come out of his room,
his excuse being that
he couldn’t move.

He doesn’t talk much to us, anymore-
just blurts out vague and irrelevant
words like Screws, Notes, Coffee and News
at irregular gaps.
mother understands it all
and chooses not to discuss the facts.

Few weeks back,
on a lazy Sunday,
he entered my room,
squinted his eyes at the curtains
that were drawn open and
flexed his arms to draw them close.
He left without saying a word.
When I asked him about it,
he replied, “No talk strangers”
and kept quiet for the rest of the day.
He walks to places,
jogs back home
with a balloon tied to his little finger, sometimes.
And when he is not asleep,
he repeats mathematical tables
from 2 to 13
in a monotone for hours together.

The good side of it
Is that Baba and mother
do not fight
over lost pairs of socks or belt and wallet;
Baba just calls them “Things” generally,
and fiddles through all the drawers in the house.
And he proudly says “Stuff”
when mother asks him about
what he would like to eat.

Doctors say,
Baba has been suffering from Alzheimer’s.
I believe he is not.
Cheryl Mukherji
Written by
Cheryl Mukherji
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