About Grieving (Ten Years Too Late)

I have never seen death up close.

I have never lost somebody very close to me in front of my own eyes. I’ve heard stories of others losing a parent, a grandparent, a close relative, a friend, right before their eyes. But I have never seen it upfront.

In fact, up until I was ten, death seemed like a myth to me. It was just ridiculous. How could somebody just cease to exist? I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all.

When I was ten, I lost Boroma.

Boroma, translated from Bengali to English, means ‘elder mother’. She was my maternal grandfather’s aunt but only a few years older than him. She’d led a very rough life: she had not been educated, then she got married, the marriage was difficult and she chose to walk out of it and then she lived with my grandfather. She had no children, and nobody else to call family. These were not the things I knew through her though. These were things that my mother, father, and grandfather told me. The Boroma I knew was not somebody worn out by a tough life at all. She was a completely different person.

Boroma loved me. I think there were few people in the world that Boroma loved as much as she loved me, and there are definitely very few people in the world who will ever be able to love me like she loved me. When I was a baby, she bathed me and fed me. I have childhood photos of myself, sitting in a small tub, and Boroma looking at me proudly. When I grew up a little more, she made some of my favourite dishes. I loved aloo bhaja (potato fry) and whenever I would arrive at my grandfather’s doorstep, my first demand from her would be some aloo bhaja. And she always, always had some ready. She would tell me stories about the hanumans (grey langurs) in our locality. She would talk about how clever they are and how they could interact with humans. Boroma made me feel happy and warm in a way that I rarely feel anymore.

Boroma’s rough backstory caught up with her as she grew older. She had fallen and dislocated her hip joint, which had to be replaced. After that surgery, she never really walked properly again. And I think this led her to feel like she could not really contribute to the family anymore, like she was a burden. That’s what I think now, anyway. At that age, I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that she was Boroma and I loved her and that she could never possibly be a burden to anybody in the whole wide world.

When I was nine, going on ten, Boroma fell again and dislocated her other hip and had another surgery. Doctors discovered bedsores. When they discovered them, it was already quite severe. Without doubt, Boroma was not going to survive.

My mother explained this to me in the gentlest way she could. I never really grasped it. We weren’t in Kolkata when the bedsores were discovered and we were not going to back for almost another ten months or so. But I wasn’t worried. I’d seen Boroma that summer, hardly two months ago. I was confident I was going to see her again. Everybody had always told me Boroma was really strong, really resilient, that she was a fighter. She didn’t have a single unhealthy cell in her body: perfect blood pressure, no cholesterol, no sugar, no problems at all. How could something as insignificant as sores take her away from me?

I was wrong. With each passing update from my grandfather, it seemed like Boroma was getting worse. The sores were horrible. I heard about them: the way there were gaping holes where her skin was supposed to be. Yet I was convinced that Boroma would survive this. She is a fighterFighters do not die.

But fighters do die, and so did Boroma. That morning, I was woken up a little earlier than normal for school. My mother informed me that Boroma had passed away. I listened in shocked silence. I didn’t really react. It didn’t seem real. Boroma couldn’t go away. She would never leave for anywhere where she wouldn’t be able to see me.

I went to school, went about my day, and life went on. We did not go to Kolkata for the funeral. I never got to say goodbye.

I never shed a single tear.

The next summer, we went to Kolkata. Boroma’s regular space on the bed was empty. Her walking stick wasn’t there. A real, living, breathing person had once taken up this space. And now she just was not there anymore. It was one thing to see her spot empty. It was quite another to have other people sitting there. My heart would leap into my mouth with only one thought swirling around my brain: “That’s Boroma’s place. You can’t sit there.”

During that Kolkata visit, I recalled the previous year, when I’d last met her. And I remembered an incident that I carry with me till date, something that haunts me over and over and over. Boroma, in her later years, had begun throwing tantrums. My mother and grandfather could not understand them and at nine-and-a-half, neither could I. At that age, I was quite cranky myself and Boroma’s daily tantrums had been driving me crazy. And one night, when she was throwing a tantrum before dinner, I shouted at her. I told her to stop creating a fuss, I told her to eat her dinner, I told her to stop creating a ruckus every single day. She didn’t even fight back. She listened.

I am sure that before I left for Muscat a few days after that incident, I hugged her and I touched her feet. But I never forgot that I’d shouted at her. I’d raised my voice at somebody a good seventy years older than me, somebody who had always treated me with tenderness and affection. I never forgave myself, more so, because I never got a chance to ask her to forgive me.

Nobody really talked to me about death. Nobody helped me deal with Boroma passing away. And I never talked about it. I allowed myself to be immersed in everyday life, without paying too much attention to the ache in my chest. I never really dealt with her death at all. I just pushed the the pain it caused me far, far away, hoping that it would never catch up with me. I thought if I would run away from my hurt, it would not be able to find me.

Around two months ago, I began preparing a speech for a contest in my Toastmasters club. Having spoken to many senior members about how to write my speech, I decided that a simple message with a personal story would strike the right chord. And somehow, Boroma sprang into my mind. My speech’s message was about not waiting to tell the people you care for that you love them. My personal story was about how I never really told Boroma that I loved her.

It was a simple enough story. I gave it flawlessly at my club and came first. I represented my club at the Area Contest and gave the same speech and came second. I received lots of comments on how important the message of my story was and how well I delivered it.

Nobody knew how many times I’d cried in the shower while practising that speech. Nobody knew how many times the words had choked in my throat as I practised. Nobody knew that ten years after Boroma passing away, I still hadn’t really grieved enough to move on.

2 April 2017 was the Division Contest. Having come second in the Area Contest, I had gotten the chance to represent my area at the division level. It was a big deal. Winning this would mean going to Mumbai for the next round, speaking in front of Toastmasters from my District. I was really excited.

Somehow, with the lights, with the audience, and maybe with the lack of sleep the previous night, I fumbled. For the first time while publicly delivering the speech, I felt my words choking in my throat, my mind going blank, and my body aching for Boroma to wrap her arms around me. To most of the audience, I looked fairly composed. I work well under pressure so the stage doesn’t frighten me. But inside my head, I was falling apart. The moment I left the stage, I was in tears. I had told so many people the story of Boroma and with each retelling, I had been forced to say out loud that she had passed away, something I had refused to accept despite not having seen her for the last ten years. And so now, ten years too late, I am allowing myself to grieve.

I am allowing myself to remember the way her curly black and white hair looked, pulled back in a bun. I am allowing myself to remember the way her face looked when she smiled her nearly toothless smile. I am allowing myself to remember the wrinkles on her skin. I am allowing myself to remember how I would wrap myself around her lovingly and receive aloo bhaja in return. I am allowing myself to remember how she would lovingly run her fingers through my hair. I am allowing myself to remember that once upon a time, she was here, and she held me and hugged me and told me many stories. And most importantly, apart from everything else, I am allowing myself to cry. All the tears I never shed ten years ago have come tumbling forth now. I am allowing myself to feel the emotions I didn’t let myself feel for all of these years.

It’s true when they say that ‘when someone you love becomes a memory, your memories become treasure’. I may not get any more time with Boroma ever again, but I will treasure the fact that I got the chance to feel her unconditional love for me for the first ten years of my life.

I really, really hope that no matter who I become, I always remain someone that Boroma would have been able to look at with love and say, “Aamaar shona Bibil.” (My dear Bibil).

Boroma

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On the Same Boat

It was a large, unending ocean. And in that ocean was a single boat, small and weak, with a lone girl in it. Her hair was matted, her eyes sunken, and her arms and legs covered in scars. The waves would toss the boat dangerously and sometimes, the water would splash onto her, causing the salt to sting her wounds. She spent most of her days curled up into a ball, wanting either to die or to be found by somebody else in the desolate ocean.

The boat had been stuck in this ocean for months. She didn’t know where exactly she was. She didn’t know which way land was or how far she was from it. She didn’t even know how she’d landed up here. Everything before her life on the boat felt like a hazy dream.

It was just another day. There was still no sign of help. She wasn’t sure if anybody missed her and was worried enough to actually look for her. She looked out into the never-ending grey sky and sea and suddenly, spotted a speck in the distance. She couldn’t believe her eyes. All these days, she had let the water toss her around. Upon seeing the speck, she got rowing. She had to get to the speck in the distance because for the first time in many months, she felt a flicker of hope.

She rowed furiously and as she got closer, she realised that, after what seemed like a lifetime, she was not alone. There was another boat in the ocean, with another person in it.

He was exhausted when she found him. His hair was dishevelled, his eyes barely open, and his clothes hung loosely from this thin frame. When she extended her hand to hold his hand to remember what it felt like to touch another person, he recoiled. Confused, she retreated to her own boat but she was determined to not let this boat out of her sight. She wasn’t going to be alone again. Most importantly, she wasn’t going to let somebody else be as alone as she had been.

“I’m tying your boat to mine,” she said. He looked up and watched as she tied their boats together so that they could not drift away from each other. She couldn’t have been happier. She still didn’t know which way land was or how far it was but she knew now that there was somebody else who was with her and they could look for it together.

Every day, she talked to him, passed him snacks from the supplies she had, and sometimes she sang him her favourite songs to pass the time. As days went by, he began to sit up and take interest in what she was saying. Some days, he talked back. Some days he ate what she offered. Some other days, he even sang.

Sometimes, one of them would get seasick and cry. One would cry while the other would talk. But he never let her touch him. He never let her hold his hand. And so, she didn’t ask.

And then one day, her boat sprouted a leak. She woke up in the morning, her clothes wet, and she looked around and panicked. Quickly, she began to untie her boat from his. He woke up, confused. “What are you doing?” he asked. She gestured towards the water in her boat. “This boat won’t last. It’s too risky to stay together. You can find land on your own. I’ll give you my supplies.”

He stared at her. In the days that they had spent time together, it had never occurred to him that one day she might not be there and he would have to be alone again. They had never crossed into the boat of the other because they were afraid but now, there was no option. He would either have to call her over, or let her go.

She threw her supplies over to him. “When you find land,” she said, “write down what it’s like. Toss a bottle into the sea with a letter telling me all about it.”
“Are you insane?” he asked.  “I am not letting you go. Let your boat go down. You don’t have to go down with it. What’s the point in finding land if I can’t find it with you?”

She looked at him. “Are you sure? You won’t even let me touch you. How will we live on the same boat?”

“I don’t know. It’ll be difficult. But all I know is I can live without finding land and living on this boat. But I can’t live with finding land if you aren’t with me to find it. Come over, come over, come this side.”

She looked at him for a few minutes. And then, in a quick motion, she jumped over to his boat. Without speaking a word, he untied her boat and they watched as it sank. Slowly, hesitantly, she took his hand in hers. And for the first time, he didn’t withdraw. They were on the same boat.

Babli: Turning Sixteen

28 February 2000. I was informed I have a little sister.

29 February 2000. I saw the forty-five centimetre little human being that was my sister in a little cradle for the first time, with only one thought in mind: she is so tiny.

Flash forward.

28 February 2013. I wrote a list: 13 things you should know about being thirteen (Buzzfeed should employ me for this). It was her first birthday without me and I sent her an intricate video with “Ek Hazaaron Mein Meri Behna Hai” playing in the background.

28 February 2016. Away from home for the first time on her birthday, my sister hits Sweet Sixteen. I don’t have a list of sixteen things that she should know about being sixteen. But I do have much to say about the sixteen years that she’s been in my life.

So, dear old-head-on-young-shoulders, this one is for you.

I don’t know where to begin. Could it be the day you got your head stuck in a chair? Could it be the day I took you to the slide for the first time and you fell off the top while peering down at me, instead of sliding down like normal children? Could it be the day you told me you were going home and then went to the neighbour’s house instead and gave everybody a heart attack?

But I know what I want to talk about today. And it’s none of these notorious things that you’ve done. It’s something else entirely, something that is far more important to me. It’s about how you are, in so many ways, a part of me.

When I was about five years old, I came home late after playing and Ma locked me out of the house. You were too young to remember this but I do. You were on the other end of the door, banging and crying and trying to force open a lock you didn’t know how to operate.

When I was about six years old, I was walking on a freshly cleaned floor and I slipped and fell. You were at the door, and you saw me as I got up quickly and sat on the couch, trying to figure out if I’d hurt myself. You burst into tears and toddled towards me on your pudgy legs, wailing about how I had hurt myself.

When I was about ten years old, you quickly cleaned up after all my messes so that Ma wouldn’t get the chance to scold me.

When I was thirteen years old, you would be my alarm clock in the mornings, wake me up, and make sure the bus waited for me while I attempted to hold shoes, socks, a tiffin box, and a comb in my two hands.

When I was fifteen years old, you would pack my bag for me while I announced my timetable from the bathroom while bathing to the point that you knew my timetable better than I did. I’ll never get over you asking me if I have my lab coat with me while I entirely forgot about lab-days.

When I was seventeen years old and in boarding school, you sent me cute songs that you would record so I could listen to them and then show off my talented sister to the entire dorm.

A few months back, at nineteen, I was upset and crying because of horrible things that people spoke about me behind my back and you picked up the phone and gave them a piece of your mind. But when you called me, you cried more than I did because you were in boarding school, while I was here, in college, and you couldn’t be with me.

You’ve been my constant for all of the sixteen years you’ve been around: right from the day you lay fast asleep in your cradle in Duliajan till right now, as you read this from your dorm in school. In this world, there is never any guarantee for who will stay and who will leave, but you, I know, are well and truly forever. People might think that that’s because we are sisters and related by blood, so we have no choice. But there’s a saying on the wonderful Internet that says: chance made us sisters, choice made us friends. And in that context, you are my best friend for a lifetime, right since you were in your diapers.

Our friends and random strangers who have seen us together know that together, we indulge in more public displays of affection than any love-struck couple does. Hugs and kisses, tickling, giggling together – people are always confused by how two sisters can get along this well all the time.

It’s not like we haven’t argued. I can’t even count the number of times I threatened to fill your schoolbag with rocks while you slept. The gullible little child that you were, you diligently checked your bag in the mornings to make sure that your books hadn’t been replaced by rocks. We tossed things at each other (I did the tossing) and shouted and cried (you cried more). But these things couldn’t last. One of us would always relent quickly and we would be back in action: choreographing intricate dances together, playing games in our made up worlds, and faking loud fights to confuse Ma.

I know I am the elder sister, and I am supposed to look out for you and be your source of advice. I always feel like Google to you: the first thing you look at for the answers to all the questions in the world. But what is more important is that you being younger hasn’t made you any less responsible for who I am today. You held me through nights of tears, you listened to me plan elaborate lies about my marks when I messed up, and you took my side even when Ma and Baba picked on me. You helped me make good decisions, and you let me make my own share of bad ones but stood by me for their consequences, never once saying ‘I told you so’. You wrapped yourself around me and slept, making me feel like I was in the safest place in the world. You listened to my ridiculously long stories and didn’t get mad at me for dominating conversation shamelessly like the talkative person that I am. You were patient with my faults and encouraging about my strengths. Nobody has ever motivated me like you have. Because you may be only sixteen, but your mind is filled with insight that I can only hope to have someday.

So, this birthday, I don’t have advice to give you. I have only love, appreciation, and gratitude. With each passing birthday, I am becoming more and more painfully aware that my role as a caretaker has diminished. But that’s okay. I know that I don’t have to follow you around to ensure that every step you take is the right one. I am here, and that is enough. I am proud of who you have become in all these years and I am proud to say I was there to see it happen, and that I will have the good fortune to see you change and grow more each and every day. I told you when you turned thirteen, and I’ll tell you again: life’s a car and you’re at the wheel, steering. But if you ever get lost, I am sitting shotgun to give you directions. All you have to do is ask.

Dear Babli, happy birthday. Celebrate your existence today because I know I will. 28th February is the most cherished date of my life because it marks the occurrence of the best thing that has ever happened in my life: your birth. I may not be next to you (especially because I have class from 1PM to 6PM on a Sunday; can you believe it?) but I am always right there, party hat on my head, ready to dance with you endlessly to all the Bollywood songs you can think of.

When I asked you on the phone what you wanted for your birthday, you said you wanted my happiness. You said me being happy was all you wanted. Here’s your gift then. I am happy. Every single day that I wake up and know I have a sister as wonderful as you, I am happy. Every single day that I know that I have a little ball of joy excitedly looking forward to the details of all of my follies, I am happy. And most importantly, every single day that I know that you are happy, I am happy.

Remember when we were little and I was mad at you and made a list of all the things and people I loved more than you? I said you came way after tenth (or was it fiftieth? Hundredth?) on the list of people and things I loved. But I love you more than I love my pillow cover, phone, laptop, and every other human being on the planet. On that list, baby, you’re always going to be number one.

Love

Didi

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Good Time

My beautiful family made a music video along with me and it was so much fun. So I am beginning to live life a little more. You can watch it here and maybe tell me if it makes you smile. It’s a music video of Good Time by Owl City and I actually had such a good time making it with my family.

You are worth fighting for.

A few days ago, I tried to overdose on Valium. I’ll say it: I was a coward who was too afraid to live, and a coward too afraid to die. I drank a little bleach and the taste was so terrible that I decided that an overdose was a better way to go. So I stood in the afternoon, little packets of Valium in my hand, and started popping them one by one. I’d hoped that my father would leave some alcohol at home but there was none otherwise I’d have ensured death because I wasn’t sure there was enough Valium to kill me. I really, desperately wanted to die. But I am glad I didn’t. I am glad I was sobbing while popping those pills because my sister was upstairs, napping with my mother, and she heard me. I am glad she ran down those stairs and took everything away from me and let me sit on the floor, dizzy and crying. I am glad. As somebody who has wished for cars running me over or somebody mixing poison in my food or just about anything to happen that could stop me from existing, I want to say to everybody: Don’t do it. Don’t try to commit suicide. Don’t kill yourself. Don’t do it. You think you’re not worth fighting for but you are. I thought I wasn’t worth fighting for but I am. Stop and read and I’ll tell you.

I was a model student, a good daughter, a loving sister, a loyal friend, and all in all, the kind of person everybody loved. I was talented and smart and intelligent. I had everything going for me. To the whole world anyway, that’s what the story was.

I was sexually abused at the age of five by a man almost fifteen years older, later abused at different stages of my life until I turned twelve, and then fell into self-harm and depression. Until I was fifteen I didn’t tell my parents about the abuse, and until my Grade 11 was almost halfway done, I hadn’t even received a medical diagnosis of anxiety and depression. I was just there. I was trying to figure my way out, trying to figure my body out, trying to figure out what went wrong. How did I go from being the life of every conversation to struggling to make it out of my bed to brush my teeth? It felt wrong. And yet, to most people, I was still just fine. I was avoiding meals in college because I had to sit with other people that I didn’t have the courage to speak with and I fainted from lack of food and water for two days but I was ‘fine’. I was crying under my desk with a blanket because I was lonely but I was ‘fine’. I was calculating how many classes I could miss even for my favourite subjects but I was ‘fine’. I was always ‘fine’.

Psychiatrist visits became monotonous and taking medication irked me. I had nothing to say to the doctor that was different from any previous visit. I didn’t feel any better. I didn’t have anything to tell my friend. My life had no meaning. And all I wanted was somebody to just sit next to me. I didn’t expect somebody to understand. I didn’t want somebody to magically give me words of wisdom that would turn my life around. I just wanted somebody to know that I was trying desperately to reach out to the person that I know I used to be but that I needed a little help getting there. But my biggest problem was that I never voiced out this need. I mentioned how I was struggling and things were not always great to my parents, to my sister, to my boyfriend, and to some of my closest friends. But I always tried to cushion it for them. I had to live. Not for me, for them. I had to live because I couldn’t let them down.

And then when I finally decided to pop those Valium pills, I’d decided that I had already let them down. All I could think of was the medical bills coming at home for my monthly psychiatrist trips and medicines, how much my sister had to ignore her own needs to take care of her elder sister, how much my boyfriend quietly endured just to ensure I wasn’t unhappy, how much my friends had to look out for me to make sure I was okay. I had wanted to be self sufficient. I had wanted to be the person that could support others. Instead, all I could think of is how much support I needed and how it seemed to be leading nowhere. And it all got to my head when a person I had thought was a friend said that he’d only ever talked to me because he thought I’d die if I didn’t. He didn’t like me. He thought I was weird. He just didn’t want to feel guilty or responsible for me dying. In that moment, he killed a little part of me inside. Just like that. I concluded that this was what everybody was doing: playing along just to give me a reason to live. I was sure that if I died, everybody would get over it just like people get over deaths of all the people in their lives because they have no choice but to get over it.

I was wrong.

While my father called a driver, my mother and sister tried to ascertain how much Valium I’d taken. They called my best friend over and she held me in her arms, listening to me sob about how I didn’t want to live because each moment felt like a moment that I wasn’t able to use. Her mother came as well and held me tightly and told me that she wasn’t going to let anything happen to me. My parents and my best friend came to the hospital. Nothing happened to me. They thought I’d sleep it out.

I came home, clutching my best friend’s hand and trying to remember when I had last felt like the people around me genuinely needed me. When we reached home, my sister was there, with her best friend, my best friend’s sister. The four of us danced and sang and laughed. They all held me tight. They didn’t have to say anything to say that they really wanted me there. This was not guilt. This was them telling me that I mattered. This was their way of saying that all the plans we’d been making for our futures together for twelve years were going to materialise with every one of us intact. This was their way of saying that I had been there when they fell down and that they would hold me up till I could walk again.

That night I didn’t want to talk to my family about what had happened. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings, or my frequent lack of them. But talk we did, and till two in the morning. There were tears, there were accusations, there was anger, there was pain. And through all of that, I found meaning. My father said how the most important part of his day was talking to me, how he waited for my WhatsApp status to show me online. There’s nobody he talks to as much as he talks to me and yet, for some reason, I had convinced myself that all I was to him was a collection of medical bills. My mother said how she loved hearing me talk about my day, how she loved it when I wanted to cuddle with her like I used to when I was a child. I had convinced myself that all I had been was a failure as a child. My sister said that I had been her idol forever and I had been convinced that I had utterly failed to care for her as much as I could have. They wanted me. I didn’t have to do anything big to hold importance for them. They loved me, all of it, and they were willing to love every part of it – including the broken parts. I had been trying to make them happy with me but they had been happy with me all along. The only person unhappy had been me.

I could have died. I could have found more pills. I could have found some way. I could have died. My father would have never gotten to talk to me about all the things he loves to talk about. My mother would have never gotten to cuddle me and then listen to me complain about classwork. My sister would have never gotten to tell me about her crushes, her bad hair days, her homesickness in boarding school, or any of her achievements and failures. And they would have had to move on with their lives but every single day, something would have reminded them that once, there had been another person to share their lives with.

You are important. You are important to others. You matter. And most importantly, you matter to you. I thought my self worth depended on how much I was contributing to the lives of others who were looking out for me. It doesn’t. You are already contributing to the lives of the ones who love you. You need to contribute to your own. You can’t do that by taking your life away.

Maybe we don’t know each other, maybe we do, but whatever be the case, if you’re reading this, I promise you that you are important. The words that you say and write, the thoughts that you think, the way you laugh and the way you cry, the books you like to read and the board games you like to play – it’s all important. You need to know that it’s important and that it’s important to you. I was so caught up in trying to love others that I forgot to take care of myself. But if you don’t love yourself, then you don’t know how to love at all. You can’t nurture others unless you can nurture yourself.

It’s hard. Some days are worse than others. It’s an awful battle. I won’t deny it, because I’ve been there and no words were enough to tell me otherwise. But you can fight it. I promise you that you can fight it. There’s only prize and it’s you and your life ahead. And that prize is worth fighting for. That prize is something you control. You can take it in your hands and mould it as you like but don’t throw it away.

I don’t expect you to magically feel empowered and inspired because I wrote a badly worded piece with more emotions than it should have. I still take medicines to stabilise my mood, to let me sleep well at night, and to keep me okay. But today, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die after years of having wanted to. It’s a start. It’s my start. It can be yours too.

Wherever you are, just hang in there. Hold on. You will rise. You will be fine. You will not want to die, you will not feel sucked out of life every single day, you will not feel unwanted or unloved, you will not always panic at the thought of speaking to somebody. You just need to fight and believe that you are always going to be worth fighting for, and that’s the motivation you need. Live for yourself first, and the rest will begin to fix itself.

Baba.

Tone-deaf people sing in showers but he, he recites Math formulae. I learnt ‘alpha plus beta is equal to minus b by a’ and ‘alpha into beta is equal to c by a’ long before I knew what they meant because very often in the mornings, I would hear him say this aloud from the bathroom.

After a busy week, people relax during the weekend, allowing themselves the luxury of sleeping till noon but he, he wakes up at half past four every morning. It wasn’t a screaming mother or alarm clocks that shook me awake on Thursdays and Fridays (and now, Fridays and Saturdays) but savory aromas that tickled my nose awake every weekend.

Well-meaning parents send their children to innumerable tuition classes either because they cannot teach or do not have the time to but he, he never sent us to a single tuition. My friends learnt Physics, Chemistry, and Math from different teachers and struggled with Social Studies on their own; he turned our kitchen into a lab, drew colourful maps with me, taught me the concepts of formulae that had previously looked like another language to me. Five subjects, and I had only one teacher.

In this busy fast-paced life, a message on Whatsapp and a ‘like’ on Facebook seem like the only ways to keep in touch but he, he calls his best friend in the other half of the world once every week. His laughter echoing in the house reminds me that twenty years from now, this is how I want to keep in touch with my best friend too. Apart from this, he reminds me of the importance of caring for those who stand by you through everything when no matter how busy he is, he always makes the time to call his mother.

People like to spend their hard-earned wealth pampering themselves occasionally with the expensive shirt or branded perfume but he, he likes to pamper everybody else. I cannot even count the number of times he decided to surprise us all with unplanned visits to the movies and elaborately planned game nights that involve Scrabble, Ludo, Hangman, 20 Questions, to name a few.

He is absolutely ridiculous and yet the most sensible person I know. It amazes me how the same man can crack Santa-Banta jokes off the top of his head just as well as he can explain integration by parts. It melts my heart when the same man who shoulders the responsibility of the entire family without complaint breaks down to Taare Zameen Par and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. It makes me smile when he tells us to strictly follow routine because sometimes he tries to avoid brushing at night because he’s sleepy. It amuses me when after a tiring day at work his only complaint is that his daughters consider themselves too old to play ‘Doctor-Doctor’ and assign arbitrary creams as medicine for all his aches as we once did. It makes me laugh when he does silly things such as respond to my ‘post your earliest memory of me’ status with a picture of a significantly younger me being cuddled by a significantly younger him.

He sings ‘humein tumse pyaar kitna‘ in the worst tune I’ve heard anybody sing but he sang me to sleep with a personalised lullaby that became my first full sentence when I was a baby. He doesn’t eat a whole lot of sweets but he always bought me a lot of fancy chocolates from all his trips abroad. He is a vegetarian but he cooks mouthwatering non-vegetarian dishes for everybody, especially for me when I return for vacation. He hasn’t always had things going for him but he has always done his best to make sure that my life is perfect; he’s the reason my book is out there for the world to see. He believes in managing time efficiently but ends up talking to me for over two hours after bidding goodbye more than five times.

I love that I can be unreservedly myself and he never complains. Whether I am cribbing about an all-nighter or referring to twenty odd friends whose names he will forget, he listens to it all. Our conversations jump from topic to topic; we could start with how my day in college was and end with a discussion on the reservation policy in India. With every conversation, I emerge a little happier, a little wiser. And it flummoxes me that I once thought that the man behind the warm, chubby, baby-like face would never be a friend to me, just a figure of authority. I suppose that the day I realised that he was a lot more than just a bank that funded my day-to-day life, I grew up a little.

I was little once.
When he had more hair on his head.
I guess I grew up a little
All grown up!

Father. Daddy. Dad. Papa. Pop. I don’t know if any of these words can summon the affection, the love, the respect that I have for him. The only word that can sum up the myriad of roles he plays in my life is ‘Baba’.

Happy birthday to my first love, favourite superhero, best teacher, 24/7 helpline service, crazy comedian, and creative cook. Happy birthday Baba.