No, not my age. Although I am getting dangerously close to it. Tomorrow marks the 42nd wedding anniversary of my parents. The first one without Appa. Stuck in traffic on my way to work this morning, I found myself reminiscing about that last month in 2010 that I spent in Chennai. That last month with Appa.
It was surreal to hear of Appa’s illness. Appa was like a rock at 72, with people constantly remarking that he looked at least 10 years younger. He was the picture of good health – walking for miles, bounding up stairs, sitting lightly on the floor and scrambling back up with such agility as to put 30-somethings to shame. And such a dear, dear person, who I knew had a soft corner for me. Who, despite being known for his quick temper (not Kaushika gothram for nothing!), had never directed an angry word at me. Who had pulled things together for me just earlier that year when my confidence was at its lowest ever. A man who had never made a cup of coffee for himself learnt to make snacks for my kids, play with them, and take care of them when I was getting initiated into a new, exciting, and more demanding job.
Appa had worked at Indian Airlines. To me, the airport was synonymous with the man himself. No waiting outside in the waiting area for him. Each time we visited India, Appa would be standing right by the escalator once we stepped out of immigration clearance with his delighted face showing just how very glad he was to see us. After learning of Appa’s illness, we left for Chennai that week to spend a month with my parents. I was half expecting to see Appa at the airport when we landed, but of course that didn’t happen. When I saw Appa an hour later when we got home, he looked so frail and so much thinner than when I had last seen him, a mere five months before. We hugged and held onto each other for a long time. By that point, Appa had started having breathing issues, due to fluid filling up around his lungs. Still, he tried to focus on the kids and play ball with little A even though his breathing was labored.
That morning, Appa was hospitalized. The next day, I offered to sleep on the guest bed at the hospital to give Amma a break. Perhaps the result of jet-lag, too much coffee, or a worry-addled brain with finally some time to think, I was wide-awake that night. Appa slept in fits and starts. Each time Appa woke up, he saw me sitting right by his bed looking at him, which, come to think of it, probably just freaked him out! I am really glad we had that night, just him and me. The fluid around his lungs had been removed the previous day and Appa was in better relief. That night, things were stable. Precariously so, but stable. So we talked. We talked about everything and nothing. We gossiped about our extended relatives, and recalled fun times from our Cape Cod vacation that summer. We talked about Appa’s favorite topic, his grandkids, and I told him how it meant everything to me that he took such good care of the kids earlier that year, and really gave me the confidence to find my footing in my career in a big way. Appa was very glad to hear that, and said that it made him feel like he had accomplished something in his life. I was so touched. I reminded him of the numerous times that he and Amma had both dropped things in their own life at very short notice to come help out either me or my sister.
A very short four months later, an older relative remarked to me a few minutes before Appa’s funeral, “Avarukku avaroda rendu ponnugalum daan olagam” “His two daughters were his whole world”. As I listened to her, too numb to respond, I realized that that really said it all in a nutshell about Appa, and in fact, about both my parents.
Miss you, Appa. February 15th will never be the same without you.