August 28, 2020
It is often believed that people can’t estimate their threshold unless they face an appropriate competition or a befitting competitor. A state of uncertainty brings forth one’s firefighting instincts that usually surface under extraordinary circumstances. I, too, had found myself in such a situation when I thought the ground was swept away from beneath my feet without any prior intimation. I emerged as a changed person after that phase. Acquaintances who came to know me after the phase have seen a radically different version of me.
However, before getting into the nitty-gritties of that phase, I want to share a little bit about my childhood. My parents dedicated their entire lives to the upbringing of their only child. Although I grew up in a middle-class family, I never saw the face of scarcity. My father provided me with the best lifestyle, one that would be conducive to a healthy childhood. However, don’t for a second think that I was spoilt. My parents disciplined me well and, for that, I am grateful to them. It never culminated into resentment and I never felt unloved as I was never chided without a reason. They prioritized my education above everything and, maybe, due to the pressure of their expectations, I was a nervous child. Examinations were always a nightmare, although I fared quite well and always maintained the top position in my class. The fact that I ranked first every year added onto that pressure. You could say I was a nerdy bookworm who didn’t like talking unnecessarily during recess or after school as I considered that part unproductive. It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends or that I didn’t have hobbies, but I just wasn’t talkative. It is difficult for a lot of my friends to imagine the changed person who came into their life later.
Now, let me introduce you to my parents, who play a huge role in shaping the person I am today. I have inherited a lot of my characteristics from them. My mother is the youngest of seven siblings and has a twin sister who is older than her by three minutes. Maa is a major in Mathematics and has spent a lion’s share of her life as a teacher. She is someone who is never deterred by anything that life throws at her. She bravely prioritized motherhood over her higher studies, for which I will always remain indebted to her. However, a staunch believer of the ideology “it is never too late,” she went ahead and completed her master’s degree in Mathematics and received a Bachelor of Education degree after the age of fifty. Her hobbies know no end. She is a singer, an actor, and a theatre director, and currently holds the position of the cultural secretary of our colony. She has a knack for interior design—she could have easily pursued a career in that—and has a terrace garden with all types of house plants. I will never be able to match her level of youthful energy and her eagerness to learn new things every day, be it operating new smartphones or using tripods to record videos. Let me also add that she had two miscarriages, fought against and conquered Hepatitis B, and battled clinical depression. The darkness from which she has pulled herself out is unthinkable, yet she remains the unnerving light in my house who does not stop showing the world what living means.
My father, the eldest of four siblings, faced hardships since he was young. His mother passed on when he was just seven while his father took to be an ascetic and forsook all responsibilities. So, my father and my aunts, the youngest only two-month-old, were, in all sense, orphaned. It was his aunts who sheltered them, for which he remained grateful till his last breath. He always taught me to be humble, loyal and, above all, grateful for what I have. But childhood without parents was jarring and he had to miss out on many opportunities as he could not afford them and could not expect his relatives to spend on him after all that they had already done for him and his sisters. This entailed losing his chance to complete his higher education even after securing an opportunity to study medical sciences. Struggles that you or I will shudder to imagine was his everyday life. As a child, he used to spend Holi inside his house out of fear of ruining his sole good shirt. Hence, to become an established bank manager in one of the leading institutions of the country, after coming from such a background, was more than he could dream of. I don’t think I have to emphasize that I am an extremely proud daughter of a self-made man and value hard work above everything.
Naturally, when my father, the strongest person I had ever encountered, someone who had never even caught a cold, was diagnosed with the last stage of cancer, it was nothing less than a bolt of lightning from the blue. It was in the month of October in 2009, a few days after Diwali, that he visited our family doctor as he perpetually felt tired and was abnormally losing weight. Few tests were prescribed. The CT scan identified lumps, in one of his lungs, that turned out to be malignant. As I have already mentioned, struggles had always been a part and parcel of his life. Maybe, that’s why he didn’t pay much heed to his discomfort while the malignant tumours started nurturing inside him. The following few weeks were akin to a nightmare. Like any other eighteen-year-old who had just started college, I too had left home for studies for the first time with lots of hopes and dreams for my future. Destiny, howbeit, had planned something different for me. My whole life was turned upside down in the span of a month.
Well, we all know what “cancer” is. But until it hits someone close to you and whom you care for, you don’t understand how devastating and draining this disease can be, not only for the patient but also for the entire family. My mother was told by the doctor that my dad hardly had six to ten months left as he was diagnosed at the last stage. My father refused to undergo chemotherapy as he realized it would only add to the pain and wouldn’t cure him. My mother was a warrior, as she always has been, through those days; my father was a hero till the very end. I never heard him cry or whine although he was in pain day in, day out. Naive as it might seem, I strongly believed we would get him back and life would again go back to being “normal.” I prayed a lot during that time as I had full faith in God. However, my father didn’t have to suffer for long, and on Wednesday, November 25 2009, he passed on. I became the unofficial head of the family.
I promised my father that day that his struggles would not go in vain and that I would take care of the family as he had done throughout his life. Another thing changed that day. I lost faith in God. I don’t pray anymore. I don’t believe that the omnipresent will solve all our problems. From that day, I realized that everything that happens is predestined and is not in our control. No amount of prayer will change it, so why bother God?! Instead, divert all that faith into yourself so that when life plays tough games with you, you stay strong and collide head-on without thinking of the outcomes—as did my parents against cancer. I don’t believe we lost against cancer as it has failed to dampen our will to live a vibrant life. On the contrary, it made me stronger. Anxiety doesn’t freak me out anymore because I don’t rely on miracles to happen. I trust in myself and believe that I can handle anything that will come my way. Both my mother and I believe that my dad hasn’t left us. He is always there to show us the path and guide us to happiness and peace.
My father’s death brought me face to face with the real world and I knew I needed to learn to protect myself. Nothing is permanent. You can’t be dependent on anyone for long, as people move on once their purpose in your life is fulfilled. You should learn to get up when you fall rather than searching for a hand to pull you up. My parents are my inspirations, be it in life or in death. I have learned to never give up, to always feel there will be light if you persevere, and that spirit has helped me through all my struggles so far. I appeared for my first semester examinations in college five days after my father’s death. While others suggested I should skip it and repeat a year, I knew my father had sacrificed so much for my education and he wouldn’t have settled for anything less.
Let me elaborate on some prominent changes that appeared in my personality after my father passed on. I started talking more. I started interacting a lot more with people and made many friends. I started talking about my father with my friends and family; it very well could have been a coping mechanism or a way of remembering him, however you want to perceive it. Talking about my father meant keeping his memories alive and sharing it with more people. But I want to clarify that I never did this to arouse any sympathy as I didn’t want people to pity me. It was an inevitable mishap and I can’t deny that it created a huge void in my life, but it is something neither can I blame anyone for nor can I change. It is a part of my life and I must deal with it. I didn’t allow it to break me. One must accept that life is not always kind. However, I feel I was fortunate to have proper shelter, food, clothes, and all other luxuries of life that my parents always provided for me. Baba had completed his tenure and our well-being wasn’t hampered after his demise.
I evolved into a more practical person. I don’t get surprised a lot with uncanny events or news anymore. After being hit with such a stark change within a month, I realized anything can happen, no matter how bizarre it sounds. Truth is stranger than fiction. And above all, I started to accept that death is ineludible and the most real thing in life, and one must not ponder over whether someone’s death was timed well or deserving. I don’t think I have become uncaring or cold, but I have become more accepting of the weird whims and fancies of destiny. I still get a bit nervous before examinations or interviews, but during such moments, when I start losing trust in my abilities, I remind myself that I have gone through much worse and nothing can be as difficult as living and smiling without a parent.
The last and the hardest thing to overcome was to accept that this loss will forever remain in my life and I should not expect anyone to fill it. A father is like the shade of a banyan tree—you can rest in peace underneath knowing it will not let any harm touch you. I tried to look for that shade in friends, family, and prospective life partners, but soon realized that it was a futile search and somewhat unfair towards the other person. I also learned not to dwell in negativity. Instead, I try to relive those good memories with my father and keep him alive in me. Every milestone in life now seems to have one part missing as I can’t share it with my father and can only imagine what he would have said had he been there. I miss those debates when our opinions would clash. Now that I have become wiser and know more about the worldly affairs, how fun it would have been to discuss economics, politics, films, and sports with my father. And above all, I miss my banker dad the most when I have to file my taxes or plan my loan EMIs. My father was loved by one and all around him. Even now, whenever my family gets together, somehow, something he said or did pops up in our conversations and we relive those beautiful days. As I have grown up, I have lost a lot of close people—both family and friends—and there is no denying that it is something I wish could be undone. However, I have slowly but surely learned to stop fighting the past and live in the present. I try to keep those I lost alive in my memories, in my learnings, and in my day-to-day experiences. What I am today is an amalgamation of the learnings I have got from all those who have had any impression on me along the way and a part of them shall forever remain within me.
It would be wrong to say that it was an easy transition and that I didn’t see dark days. Everyone has their own ways to deal with hardships and so did I. Whenever it got hard to communicate the pain I was going through, I used to write my thoughts in a journal and found it to be an amazing way to express myself. It is very important for everyone to learn to accept the reality and try to gauge the best options ahead. Life is beautiful and gives you new opportunities every day. There will be struggles along the way, but I am quite assured from my own experiences that the struggles make you stronger for the road ahead.
Back in 2009, smartphones were not abundant like the present times, so there weren’t a lot of videos of my father except some videos during family weddings and a few recorded conversations during such gatherings. Sometimes it feels I might forget how he sounded or the way he walked but then I close my eyes, and he appears in front of my eyes, ever healthy and smiling, assuring me that there is no way a daughter can forget her father in her lifetime.
I think it is clear that I can go on for ages talking about my father, but, for now, I should stop. If anyone is going through a tough phase in life and feels that there is no road ahead, please feel free to connect with me and, maybe, I will be able to help you. At the end of the day, this is what life is all about.
Manami Talukder is currently adapting to the Work from Home norms while quarantining at her hometown—Kolkata. She studied Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur; worked as a Technology Consultant; and completed Post-Graduation from the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode before entering the mythical world of Management Consulting in 2018. She got married in December 2019, in a traditional Bengali-Tamil style, before the trend of attending weddings over Zoom became the new standard. She loves to spend her time learning new sketching and painting techniques, and utilized the initial periods of lockdown perfecting her baking and roti-making skills. She likes to spend time at home and hasn’t yet lost her sanity because of the pandemic-induced isolation. She is also a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and tries to learn new choreographies during weekends. Manami is mostly a nocturnal being and finds it hard to sleep on time, and hence has recently got addicted to audio stories to accompany her long nights. Her recent interests include solving puzzles, playing carrom, and revisiting Bengali classic novels and movies. Manami spent the first nine years of her life in Siliguri before migrating to Kolkata for most of her student life before work and higher studies pulled her to places like Mumbai, Kerala, Pune, Bordeaux, Hyderabad, and back to Kolkata. She likes to express her opinions strongly but isn’t unwilling to hear others out and is always up for a healthy argument.
She can be contacted on [email protected].