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Dying Wish

Sidharth gets a message late at night that his father has passed away. Though he feels sad, he doesn’t shed a tear as his relationship with his father has always been complicated.


“Dying Wish” by Santhosh Annabatula tells the story of a boy who was never told the truth until it was too late. It shows how choices against society were vilified and how innocents were victimised.

 
Cover Photo by Pankaj Tottada

Sidharth rubbed his eyes to recheck his message. It said the same thing, “Your father expired last night. Planning his last rites today. Please come asap.” It was his maternal uncle who texted him from Bengaluru. It was late at night in Pittsburgh, and he got up from bed. Later he woke up his wife and told her he would leave immediately. She tried to comfort him, but he said he wasn’t feeling anything. This is just his duty as a son. He told her to take the next day’s flight along with Rohan, his 5-year-old son. Very soon, he was on a long flight to Bengaluru.


It was evening by the time he reached his house. There was a large gathering of people on the porch, and the mood in the hall was sombre. He had to meander his way to his room inside with people patting him and trying to comfort him. “It was a heart attack,” his uncle said. They took him to the hospital, but it was too late. His father’s relatives and friends were few, and some were wailing inconsolably. Many of them looked stern and indignant at Sidharth for not shedding tears for his father. His aunt pulled him near and told him the ashes had to be spread in the Ganges as per his last wishes. But he brushed the thought away. In a few hours, the last rites were completed, and Sidharth longed to return to the US.


On the way back to his home from the burial ground, he was lost in thoughts. He recounted the number of times his father met him during his childhood. His mother passed away when he was just two years old. Sometimes, he longed for his father, crying for hours together, but he wasn’t there for him. He grew up at his maternal grandmother’s place, and they said his father was away working at some faraway place. His early years were painful and desolate, watching other children at school with their parents.


There were customary meetings when his father occasionally came to meet him, but they were marked with stoic silence. Gradually he resigned to his fate and gave up all his feelings for his father. His father tried to meet him later during his college and profession, but he would refuse. He wouldn’t even tell him about his marriage and his kid. The car horn disarmed him of his thoughts, and he got down and walked into the hallway. The crowd had trickled off except for a small group of relatives. Then an elderly gentleman walked up to him and said he wanted to talk.


“I am sorry. Do I know you?” Sidharth asked the stranger.


“I need to tell you something important. It is about your father. Can we sit and talk in private?” asked the stranger. “I am Mr Mehta, by the way,” he added.


Sidharth took him into his old study room and sat opposite Mr Mehta. He realised that he was carrying a gift package and some papers.


Mr Mehta said, “I was very close to your father, and he wanted me to hand you over this signed will and the details of his accounts, bank balances and life insurance.”


He then handed over some of the papers. Before Sidharth could react, he went on, “This is actually embarrassing, but I need to tell you the truth. That man deserves this at least,” pointing to his father’s picture. He went on, “Your father had this...”


He stopped with a sigh before continuing, “Attraction towards other men...”


Again he paused for a moment before continuing, “Since his adolescence. He got married to your mother against his wishes. But then he cared for her and loved you since you were born. Just when he was consigning to his normal life, fate took away your mother heartlessly. He was devastated, and that is when we met each other. He needed me for emotional support, and we became very close. Eventually, we moved into my place. Your mother’s family was shocked, and his own family disowned him. Worse, they tried to shield you from him and took you away. The stigma and the pain grew worse over the years. Amidst all this, your father missed you the most. He was always in a state of despair and longing for you. He pleaded to be allowed to spend some time with you but was denied.”


Sidharth looked at him, shell-shocked, as he continued, “He loved you above everyone else. He said he was content to watch you from a distance and was happy that you were doing well. Later he tried to contact you when you were in college, but he was distraught that you were not interested to see him anymore. He wanted to tell you all this himself, but you never gave him a chance. He thought you would understand, and more importantly, he wanted you to accept him...”


Sidharth was shocked and bewildered and did not know what to speak. All the years that have passed by came back rushing to him. He was staring blankly at this stranger.


Mr Mehta gave the gift package to him, “Your father wanted to give you this.” Then he stood up and got ready to leave. He was trying to fight back his tears and said, “I have known you for so long, but I never thought I’ll have to meet you like this. Take care.” He then left.


Sidharth felt dazed and slowly opened the gift package. There was this first painting which he had made on the top. Dipping in different colours, he created a colourful kaleidoscope of impressions with his fingers. He remembered it and smiled. Then there was his first letter, first essay at school, and report cards, followed by many such memorabilia.


He knew his father was a professional photographer, but he never got to see his work. There were a large bunch of photographs of Sidharth taken when he was young. All of this without him ever knowing about it. There was a photo of him on his first bicycle, his first stage performance, his prize-winning pictures and many more. Sidharth was overwhelmed with emotion and memories. Adding to these was a box in the package, which he opened to see an old Kodak 35mm film camera. He took it out and knew it must have been his father’s camera. He held the camera tight and close when his son Rohan came running inside the room.


He quickly brushed everything into the package and hugged his son. He missed him dearly and held him close to his heart for a few minutes. His wife walked up to him and patted his back silently.

A week later, he was on a river ghat in Varanasi. After the customary rituals, he took the clay urn and scattered his father’s ashes in the Ganges. The sun was setting in a brilliant shade of orange and lit up the river as the ashes spread. Then for the first time in many years, Sidharth wept desperately for his father.

 

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Credits

This contribution is edited by Sreekar Ayyagari & photographed by Pankaj Tottada.

 

Product

This flash fiction is available in paperback & ebook.




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