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A drizzle greeted me as I emerged from the car. It made no difference to what I had come for. But my heart beat did. In fact, it skipped many beats as I walked away from the car. My unsteady self was not ready for what I was going to meet ahead. Holding myself as uptight as I could, I made my way through the gates kept wide open and found myself at the bottom of a terraced cemetery.
The Kohima war cemetery.
Not exactly a place I would give preference to visiting over a siesta on a wet Sunday afternoon. But some things do happen literally out of the blue- and then, you end up responding to the impulse within. This is what had happened with me too.
Aunt had called up that morning. She wanted to meet me.
\"Haven't seen you in a while.\" she claimed.
This was true. I could recollect her only faintly. She was related from Dad's side, so much I was sure. Apart from that, all that I could remember was, I last met her at Dad's funeral.
Dad was buried on a normal, bright morning. Nothing about it was particularly mournful. Not even the thought that I wasn't there at those last moments when he had said,\" Giggle Pot, do read\" filled me with grief. Read, I always did. And when I didn't, he used to read to me. I am not sure how much I enjoyed those reading sessions; but for some reason I felt that, his eyes were filled with gratitude every time I let him read to me.
Prior to my arrival that morning, there had been some debate regarding the conduct of the final rites.
After all, he was a 'firangi', a foreigner. Mother was 'desi', native. So there hadn't been any confusions regarding her cremation. By the time I had arrived, all was set for the final ceremony. With Dad, there was much argument. It was here that I made the announcement that Aunt would decide. So she did.
People around me were talking. Rather, they were wondering how I was taking it. Seeing no reaction from me, there was a general assumption that I was not as affected' as I should have been. After all, there was very little that they could claim was very firangi' about me. My accent, my upbringing and now, the coldness with which I was bidding farewell to Dad. That was all to my list of firangi-ness'. But it was this third 'trait' that seemed particularly 'firangi' to them.
I knew better.
First of all, I knew that I was neither numbed by any grief nor was I under any emotional pressure. Also, I knew what I was feeling inside. It was a feeling that finally, a strange relationship has come to an end.
The relationship that bound -Dad, Mother and Me.
Dad was the extrovert trying out new things and getting excited over every little thing that I did. But strangely falling shy of getting Mother to join him in his endeavors. Mother on the other hand, never opposed his doings nor did she have anything of her own to suggest. The response was always ,\" If its ok with you, its fine with me too.\"
I once tried to get her to oppose Dad, just for the fun of it. She was alarmed by the idea. But apart from that, there was no other reaction.
At moments like these, I felt that we were strangers who were trying to bond like a family.
I could have explored this possibility, of course. Unfortunately, I was sent off to boarding school. From there on, started the time, when I was a visitor to my own home. But even during those visits, I found little improvement in our threesome relationship.
And with Dad and Mother passing away within a month of each other, it had started to become a thing of past.
When Aunt had come visiting that morning, I had supposed that she wanted to discuss something family matters. The sort elderly relatives like to talk about when they feel that the bereaved person is now ready to take it on. I despise such discussions and therefore, wasn't too welcoming of her. Fortunately, there was no such talk. We chatted for a while, had tea and then, Aunt left. \"Your bag of goodies, giggle pot.\" she said with a mischievous grin, knowing very well that it was her cookies and cakes that I always had my eyes on. She never failed to get me box loads of them, when she came visiting.
I grinned back.
My eye caught an envelope peeping out of the bag. It didn't look like any card or an invite. A letter? I found that strange. After all that talk, she still had something to tell me. I was curious.
It was indeed, a letter.
\"Dear Auggie,\" began the letter. The handwriting was familiar.
It was Dad! He had written to me in his last hours!
I suddenly had this feeling that I know what is in the letter and yet, I should read it.
My long hidden suspicion came true. He was my Step- Dad.How then , could anything be more ' firangi ' than my accent and upbringing?
My Father was long dead. Rather, killed in the War. While he was defending the borders, fighting like a true soldier, Step Dad had come to the battleground simply because his country had directed him to. Father had died a martyr.
The letter didn't mention how. Neither did it mention how he met Mother.
However, he went on to say where my Father lay buried in the Kohima War Cemetery.
A sudden thrill of meeting a long lost friend came over me and I couldn't wait to dash off to the cemetery.
The drizzle was no obstacle, considering that I was about to meet my Father after years and years of silence and ignorance. With a little help from the Visitor's Book that revealed that Step Dad had been visiting this place every year till his last, I managed to get to the grave.
\"See You, Daddy!\"
Killed In Action , April 21, 1944, aged 29
I felt foolish reading the plaque. I had lived all my life till now completely unaware of his existence; while in the cemetery, I was present all along bidding him an optimistic bye.It wasn't the time for tears. I knelt down and resting my head over the plaque said,
This time, I knew it was for real.