I looked up at the skies wondering what the tomorrow holds for us as a family. I know she is playing peek-a-boo with me, nestled amongst the trillions of stars scattered around the velvety black skies. Why did she leave me alone? I didn´t have any strength left in my being anymore.
Mystifying are God´s ways, I tell you! He extinguishes the light of the world and leaves it darker each time with his inexplicable decisions. God will protect and save you for the rest of the days of your life. That was her ardent prayer and belief. Little did she know that the same God that she prayed to would betray her and all of them in the most gruesome way imaginable.
I wake up abruptly every night as the happenings of that eventful day play in slow motion in my head. I still get shudders recalling the images of her unconscious body, lying in a pool of blood,. I remember how it was only a couple of minutes back when we were contented souls after our spicy Hyderabadi Biryani lunch downed down with Thums-Up. Life couldn´t have been any more perfect for us as we headed our way back home. She sat on the pillion beside me and hugged me tight as I zipped through the by-lanes of the city. She was chirping her personal trivia into my ears. I couldn´t catch the words that were lost in motion but her ´Joie de vivre´ spoke a fluent language of its own. In a flash of second, something hit our bike hard. I jammed on the brakes in quick reflex, tightening my grip on the handles. I looked in the mirror and saw nothing. I felt something whiz-by us but my perturbed mind didn´t register the details. All that I was desperately seeking in that moment was Swati.
The following days spent after the tragedy were the most trying times of my life. From losing Swati in a freak hit-and-run accident to fighting a losing legal battle against a politician´s transport company, I lost every bit of faith, hope and strength that was left in my being. I had lost everything – the love of my life, my wife and failing to find justice.
Many advised me to move on and look out for a life-partner. But, marrying again was simply not an option for me. I couldn´t imagine anyone else in Swati´s place. Her memories were sufficient to live the rest of my life. But what about our daughter, Priya? Would memories be suffice for Priya to move on from this tragedy? Especially at her tender age of twelve.
What made me anxious was the fact that I was never the ´hands-on´ father. I entrusted most of the parenting responsibility on Swati´s shoulders. I was the cool Dad who spent his weekends treating his daughter to whatever her heart desired – candies, ice-creams, dolls, gadgets. You name it, she got it! In contrast, Swati got the rough end of the stick. She woke up early before sunrise and got things moving smoothly for all us. She handled every task thrown her way like a true Indian goddess with multiple hands. Looking back, I was her second kid as she handled me and my mercurial tantrums with a saintly demeanour. Swati was a living angel and her death has left us totally shattered.
How I wish I were in Swati´s place instead! I wished Swati was the survivor of this grave tragedy as she was the optimistic and courageous of the two of us . She believed in seeing the glass half-full and moving on in life. Unlike me who was looking at blankness all around him and feeling completely lost right now!
At the same time, it tore me to watch Priya drifting into slow oblivion without an anchor. Would I stand a chance at filling into Swati´s tall shoes? A bright twinkling star caught my eye. If Swati were in my place, she´d only need that faint spark to look at life in its dark eye and beat it at its own game.
I don´t know how and when the transformation began. All I remember now is taking one small step forward at a time. There were many times when I wanted to retract to my old self. But every time I felt my spirit being crushed, I remembered Swati and my mission impossible to be her.
I befriended the early mornings and made the kitchen my second home. From someone who went from not knowing how to crack a boiled egg to mastering all of Priya´s signature dishes, life took a 360 degree turn. All credit goes to my mother-in-law who let the cat out of the bag.The old me would take the easy route and outsource all academic learning. But, the new me took Swati´s hard approach. Swati detested the idea of tuitions as her focus was to make Priya an autonomous life-long learner. In the beginning, it was difficult to get into the shoes of being a stern but fun teacher but with time, I enjoyed playing that role. Another challenge for me was to listen to Priya, fighting the urge to be her problem solver. I know Swati would lend her a patient ear, gently coax her see things in a different light and let her make an informed final decision.
And so a decade flew by since Swati´s fatal accident. But, not a day goes by without thinking of her. It´s like she never left us. I wondered how Swati made parenting seem like a breeze. To my awakening, it is one of those ´shot in the dark´ jobs in the world. I have anxiety attacks about matching up to Swati and if she would approve of my upbringing of Priya.
But there was something else that was eating me up like cancer. I feel guilty for being the one who drove Swati to her death. I was meant to be her protector and I failed her that fatal night. I failed both Swati and Priya. I failed to protect Swati´s life and robbed Priya of her mother. This will remain a constant pricking thorn in my life.
Priya awoke me from my listless thoughts with a warm embrace as she tucked a card in my hands.
´This is for you, Appa! But, please open it only after I´m gone.´,she said before giving me a light peck on my cheek and heading out to her college.
I opened the envelope to find a beautiful handmade card. Priya strung together memories of our father-daughter bonding in a collage. Inside the card, her message read bright, loud and clear –
´Happy Mother´s Day, Appa! Thank you for keeping Amma alive! I love you.´
I didn´t realize the stream of tears flowing down my cheek but it felt like a big stone was lifted off my heart. I could finally breathe easy and rest awhile. Priya gave her verdict in my favour.
Happy Mother´s Day, Appa!
Those words were ringing in my head like it were a soothing morning bhajan. The sun was shining with an extra dash of brightness that day. The birds sang in a sweeter tone than usual and everywhere I looked, I saw shiny happy people walking with an extra spring in their step. Was it just me or was it Swati´s way of joining in my happy dance?
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