Saturday, 20 August 2011

Laughter in deathbed

This is something that happened three or four days before my father's death in September 1981. He had been in the hospital for nearly one-and-a-half months, aged 68 and sinking slowly to his end following a liver condition that was never treated. He carried the condition for a long time, swallowing aspirin tablets to control the pain, until it became so bad that he had to show it to a doctor, who put him in the hospital "to complete the final lap to death" (as he himself used to describe it).

Word spread that he was nearing his end and there was a steady flow of friends and relatives to the hospital to see him. My father was a journalist and a writer of short stories. He used to get his stories published regularly in English magazines those days. He wrote without any pretensions and the only purpose was to earn an extra Rs.100 or so to help keep the wolf a few more steps away from the door. He had a very large circle of friends in the town. Some of his friends were in the room on that evening when this incident took place.

The friends, as they are wont to in a situation like that, were cracking jokes, making things seem natural and casual, as though Unnithan Chettan (as they used to call him) would tomorrow step out of the hospital and join them for a couple of drinks at the club.

He was a person renouned for his sense of humour, but he was too tired that day and just lay there on the bed propped up with pillows, listening to them with no particular expression on his face, apparently too weak to join them in their light talk. He seemed to be under a cloud as well, which was quite unusual of him. It was as though he was weighed down by thoughts about his life coming to end within a few more days, or even hours.

Just then, Babu Chettan, one of my cousins a few years older than me, opened the door and came in. Only after he had stepped into the room did he realise the room was already crowded, that too with people who had the VIP label pasted all over them. In fact, they were among the dignitaries of the town--politicians, cultural personalities and such people.

My cousin brought with him the flavour and fragrance of a thousand boat race nights into the room (you should have lived in Alleppey, my home town, to know what this means), for he had treated himself liberally at a toddy shop en route to the hospital.

Everyone noticed the change in ambience. There was silence in the room for a few minutes and my cousin, rather self consciously, moved to the window and stood with his head dangling outside, as though inspecting something he had come to inspect from that vantage position.

"Babu," my father called, breaking the silence. His voice was that of a person addressing from his deathbed someone who is very dear to him, someone to whom he wanted to say goodbye with a catch in his throat. Everyone in the room was expecting an emotional scene as my cousin reluctantly obeyed him and came and sat on the side of the bed.

"It's such a long time, Babu," my father said, holding my cousin's hands. And he had that catch in his throat as he continued, after a pause: "Don't go away. Please sit a little closer... Let me enjoy the fragrance of it for some more time."

Then he closed his eyes to better enjoy the fragrance surrounding his nephew, with the air of a person having his final wish fulfilled. And the room erupted into thunderous laughter.

*****

16 comments:

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

What a gesture, a great soul, indeed! And you know what, I read about a Sufi saint the other day who took his habit of laughing out loud to his deathbed. Loved the post.

P. Venugopal said...

He was sort of a Sufi saint himself, Arun. I am only beginning to grow up enough to understand I had an unusual father.

rknair said...

Very touching, indeed! Me too would like to go in the same fashion :)

P. Venugopal said...

That's the only way we should all go!!!

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

Actually I would like to go with a chuckle and a wink :)

P. Venugopal said...

I am sure you could manage that, Arun. I have heard a great story about Basheer in his deathbed, as narrated to me by a senior journalist friend, who claims he had heard it from MT. But it should be written by someone who knows it first hand, perhaps by MT himself.

My Thoughts and I said...

"....Please sit a little closer... Let me enjoy the fragrance of it for some time."

Priceless, Mr V!!! I enjoyed reading this! Still chuckling as my ever vivid imagination conjures up a vision of the event!!!

:D

Once more, do think about penning these memories; they're inspiring!

P. Venugopal said...

Thank you, my thoughts. I find myself flowering in my memories.

Balachandran V said...

Nothing could have been better! Reading it, I seem to catch that fragrance of ' a thousand boat races'... :-D

P. Venugopal said...

There is that 'thai thithithara thithithai' grace to the gait of the revellers on the boat race night in Alleppey. You should imagine that also as part of the whole ambience about my cousin, Balan.

Deepa said...

Hello Maashe ...

been away from blogs for a while. Read this incident and the 'goli' incident too.

Heh heh heh ... talk about the "mallu-kallu" bond .. eh ??!!!

I bet your dad's spirit was watching you write this, and grinning out loud watching all the comments. Way to go Unnithaan Maashe !!

Deepa said...

... and super writing Venu Maashe

P. Venugopal said...

Thank you, Deepa, thank you. My pop would enjoy this piece, I am sure. He had once written a short story entitled 'From Father to Son' in The Hindu Sunday Magazine in which he had visualised me taking his legacy forward. That was when I was in school, long before I too came into the writing profession like him.

Prabhakar said...

Beautiful

Prabhakar said...

Beautiful

P. Venugopal said...

Thanks, Prabhakar...