Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee led an intensely active life until the early hours of Sunday, 16th September when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhagic stroke. The night before, it being his wife's death anniversary, he had arranged a musical soiree at his residence. As in the past three years, friends and family members attended the occasion, the house was fragrant with the smell of jasmine, music filled the hall and Baba attended to each guest in his own unputdownable style, urging people to eat one more fish orly, just that one other dessert. So how could we ever imagine that less than twelve hours later, that man would be lying comatose in an hospital bed?
Oh he did not go gently. He raged against the dying of the light. For a short while we saw a glimmer of hope as on the eighth day he regained some consciousness but then again we watched as he suffered setback after setback, valiantly fighting until one by one his organs failed him. We sat by his side, keeping silent vigil. Day after day after day bled into one, our lives stood at a standstill until on the morning of 5th November he passed away quietly, with my husband and me on either side of him, holding his hands as he slipped away into the good night. His face slowly relaxed into a smile. It shone with new found peace and bore no trace of the struggle he had faced for the last fifty days. Only our lives fell apart.
So what can I say about the man who stepped into my father's shoes from the first day I met him? It's easy being a parent, I realize that now. It's easy to love flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood. But to love a completely strange adult girl you have never hitherto met, whose views are different from your own, whose trust has to be won, whose love has to be earned.... how many men can be a father to such a child? I always say that it's not easy getting married. All of a sudden after a peculiar round of rituals that you do not really register you are handed a rather long list of aunts uncles and an assortment of relatives and told that this in your new family. The in-laws. That dreaded word. I too was wide-eyed when I first met them all. And wary. Today, cocooned into the heart of this extra large family I have realized one thing: it must have been just as frightening for everyone else as well. For they too must have been wary of this strange short girl with unruly curls and an even more unruly tongue when I stepped into the household. But they made me comfortable. My parents-in-law never once let me feel I was a stranger in their home. I was welcomed. I was loved. I was allowed to grow, to find my own way, to forge my relationships with the people around me. And because I did not have my own father by my side, Baba tried to be that too. I wish I could say I welcomed it and made it easy for him, but I did not. But he did not give up on me, he managed to chip away at my armour till today my two fathers have blended into each other, where I cannot say where the love for one begins and the other ends. Many unfortunate people go through life without a father. I have been blessed: for I had two.
Justice UC Banerjee was a tiger in the Courtroom. I learnt that the day I stepped into the High Court as an intern. Each day I would find my way into his Courtroom to watch the proceedings there. Lawyers who raged in the corridors outside were torn apart, Justice Banerjee was renowned for his strictness and sense of justice. I have watched with glee as one lawyer got shouted at for not being properly attired and another berated for making noise: little did I know then that one day I would end up marrying his only son! In private and at heart, Justice UC Banerjee was a family man: a good husband and an indulgent father: a man with simple needs who only wanted his family to be happy. And that heart was wide enough to embrace me as I was, warts and all. Baba was my cornerstone, my sheet anchor. He made me feel safe. Today with him gone even the sun feels that much harsher, the night is deeper and the stars do not shine so brightly any more.
The rituals are over. The house, our lives, now limp back to normal. I shall be returning to work and the haphazard routine of our lives will fall back into motion. Only there will be no one calling me in the middle of the day to ask me if I'm feeling okay just because I had a headache in the morning. No one to plan a surprise for my husband with. No one to buy me that brick red suitcase set just because my eyes glowed when I saw it. No one to arrange for Chinese food to be delivered to me in Court just because I felt like it. No one to take such pride in my writing and egg me on to write more. I shall miss the gold of his voice, the comfort of his arms and the strength I derived from the knowledge that he's nearby. I shall miss our jaunts to Salt Lake where I now dread to return to his bedroom and find that he is not there. I shall miss our holidays together when he would sportingly climb on the precarious rocks on the Treshnish Isles or uncomplainingly shiver through the bitter cold of Bhutan in January. I have so many happy sun-kissed memories that my heart is full. I am lulled by the knowledge that I can draw on them at anytime and he will be with me.
For Baba is here with me now. Peering over my shoulder trying to read what I've written urging me to scroll down so he can read the rest. And there are times, trust me, when I feel that I only have to turn and he will be standing here : immaculately attired, every hair in place, a smile on his face and a gleam in his eye and he will cock an eyebrow at me and say 'bye'.
I dare not turn. I cannot say goodbye.