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Mother, writer and daydreamer. Also chocoholic and chick-flick lover. But mainly mommy. To two boys, at that! When not escorting my Elder One (EO) to karate class, I'm trying to get in as many cuddles as possible from my Younger One (YO). And when not doing either, I'm hard-at-work trying to maintain a steady relationship with my laptop. And as for the Man I Married (MIM), well, let’s just put it this way – even though we share a bedroom, our most meaningful conversations are held over the cell-phone!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aar Ek Cup

We've all heard the story about the devout man whose faith in God was so strong that when his village was flooded, he turned down a raft, a boat and a helicopter by saying, "God will say me." When he drowned and went to heaven, he wailed, "God, I had dedicated my whole life to You, and yet, in my hour of need, why did You not save me?" God smiled sadly and said, "My dear child, I tried to save you three times, but you turned me away each time."

Just remember this tale when you get to the end of this little narrative of mine.

I you had ever spent a night in my parents' homes in Bangalore or Kolkata, and if you had ever slept in the bedrooms near the kitchen, then chances are, you would have been woken up in the morning by a rather terrible clanging and clashing. Not even a pillow over one's head was enough to drown out the quite-deafening sounds of the pestle and mortar being made to work by my father, a couple of hours after sunup. Every morning, without fail, my father would crush a combination of herbs, spices and ginger to brew with a spoonful of tea leaves for his early morning cuppa. This trusty concoction, he claimed, was his health tonic, and in my twenties, I got hooked on it too.

Tea. My father's absolute favouritest beverage in the world. And I don't use the term 'favouritest' lightly. Any time was tea time for my father and he could happily have ten or twelve cups of the brew throughout the day. Even though my silent, introvert of a father didn't say much when friends and family were over, he looked forward to them coming with great delight and an air of anticipation. We'd tease him saying that it was because he was guaranteed another cup of tea on their arrival.

My mother would often get exasperated with my father's frequent demands for "aar ek cup" through the day; not that her irritation bothered him...if it was tea he wanted, it was tea he would get. My father credited tea with many things. He claimed that tea was the reason behind his fair complexion and that drinking tea in the summertime kept the body cool. My mother would snort in disbelief, but maybe the man had something? After all, he was incredibly fair and also the most even-tempered man that I've ever known in my life; uncomplaining, humble and never, ever given to fits of rage. My mother? Well, beautiful, wheatish and passionate about everything and everyone in her life. Also, not a tea lover. So...

I love my aadaa-chaa, elaichi-chaa and flavoured teas as much as I love my cafe latte and hazelnut-flavoured cappuccino. But often I would ask for a cup of tea in my parents' home whenever I went to visit, just so that my father could have another cup. I wonder if he knew that?

I made my father his last ever cup of tea while he was still in the hospital; in the ICU. I had said my goodbyes for the day and visiting hours were almost over. A friend of my father-in-law's was with Baba while I waited in the lobby. He came down and said that my father was calling me. With just a few minutes to spare before the guards came around asking visitors to leave, I ran upstairs as fast as I could. My father was sitting propped up in bed, a flask of hot water, an empty cup and a tea bag kept on a tray in front of him. I asked him if he was feeling alright and whether he needed anything. He shook his head and just asked me to make him a cup of tea. Relieved and happy, I not only made him his tea, but I fed it to him as well, spoon by spoon; the security guard even gave me ten extra minutes to do so. Baba relished each and every drop and let out a sigh of contentment after we were done.

That night he was put on the ventilator. Three days later, he died.

I swore off tea forever. I couldn't even look at a cup without feeling the twin emotions of absolute anguish and irrational rage.

Well-meaning family and friends tried to get me to change my mind. I was stubborn in my refusal. My mother, however, understood.

The fourth day after a parent dies, according to Bengali-Hindu customs, a married daughter as well as her children, perform a puja for the departed parent in the daughter's marital home.

In accordance with these traditions, I woke up, had a bath, shampooed my hair, wore a new sari and fasted until the puja. Certain things are supposed to be given to the departed soul for his journey to the after-life...such as rice, fruits, vegetables and other things, like a bit of bhoomi (earth), an umbrella, some loose change, and five items that the person was fond of eating, amongst other things. Of course it may vary from one household to the next.

I saw all these items placed in front of my father's garlanded photograph. Yes, there was a packet of tea leaves there as well.

After the puja, whilst I was mingling with my family and friends who had gathered round me in my time of grief, I was given something to eat and drink. Famished, I wolfed down the food on my plate and drained the contents of my cup within minutes.

It was only after everyone was gone, while I was sitting with my sons, playing back the mornings' events in my mind that I realised what had been in the cup...tea!

I burst into tears. Not tears of grief at my father's memory or tears of remorse for a broken promise, but tears of awe and wonder.

It was my dad.

It was my dad's doing. He made me have that cup of tea. It had to be. No other explanation will do. How could he bear his beloved daughter giving up something that he loved so much? And that too, for him?

When I told my mother what happened, tears streamed down her face and she softly said, "He's fine. Your Baba is fine."

I am sure he is. And I am sure he is having "aar ek cup" while watching over us from wherever he is now.

It's three months today, Baba, since you've left. And even though I know you're fine, I'm not. But with you watching over me, I kow I will be. Eventually.

Raising a cup of tea, brimful with my tears, to you.


Doli said...

Hugs to you! I'm so touched my this post...

Passionate Goof said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

@ Doli: Thank you for that.

@ PG: Yes, I know without a doubt that he's watching over me, but sometimes, the overwhelming desire to run over and hug him is enough to kill me...

Sagarika said...

Hugs... Tight hugs to take your breath away.... I know what you would feel like trust me I do... I lost my grandmother and swore never to touch jackfruit (our eternal fav) again... nobody forced me to have it that summer... but just as the summer was weaning off a jackfruit landed at my doorstep from the most unexpected sources on my birthday... I knew who had sent it :) ...As for your dad.. he's fine and wants you to be... there's a bright star in the sky these days :)

R's Mom said...

Wow...I choked after reading the post...guess parents are really God...they know what is the best for their children :)

Sue said...

Reminded me of the FIL. He loved his tea too. I make tea for Baba with just that extra care now.


Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

@ Sagarika: Thank you for sharing that story with me. It was so lovely. A prayer for your grandmother.

@ R's Mom: My dad is my God now. I speak to him daily...

@ Sue: Make your dad a cup on my behalf, re. And one for V as well, because of his dad.

Arundhati said...

Hugs! Am touched.

Hang in there, time is the best healer, sounds cliched I know but it is true

Anonymous said...

Hugs M4. I am sure he is watching over you. You and he are so lucky you could make that cup of tea for him. This post moved me... Hugs.