Friday, May 11, 2007

Waiting for Father

Can a 'family film' traumatize a child? Well, this one did. I had tagged along with my mother to see an Ashok Kumar film. I don't remember what the film was called and I don't remember the storyline. I just remember that it was a family drama in black-and-white, typical of the family dramas produced by Gemini Studios. And I remember too well the single sequence that absolutely traumatized me.

It is late night and the hero (played by Ashok Kumar) has not returned from work and his wife and child are waiting anxiously at home for him. The child catches the mother's anxiety, without actually knowing why her mother is anxious. The mother's face is taut and she rises hopefully every time she hears a sound in the street. Now she paces, now she tries to console the child by holding it close, now she dozes off to wake up with a start. The entire restless night passes away and the father doesn't return. The next day they learn he has died in an accident.

May be it was because I was about the same age as the child in the film, may be because I knew my father ran a factory with large machines or may be it was the fact that my father often came home late at night...that scene from the film seared my consciousness. Every time my father was late I was convinced he wouldn't come at all. I was convinced he had been run over by a cab while crossing the road or been injured by the monstrous machines in his factory.

That is when I took to waiting in the balcony for his return. As the evening dissolved to night I would stoically take position by the balcony rails, my lips tasting the painted wood and my teeth gnawing reassuringly into the railing. I would stare blankly at all the passerbys right from one end of the lane to another, looking for the familiar figure in white gabardine trousers and sandals. And as the night grew, so would my anxiety. This will be the night when it finally happens, my heart would dread.

I had once heard an aunt say that when someone hasn't come home, you should place an empty tumbler upside down. "It always it and you'll see the person walk in through the door in no time," she had said snapping her fingers. So I mentally created a deadline. If my father wasn't home by then I would furtively go to the kitchen and turn a tumbler upside down. As back up, I would fervently begin mumbling a prayer my mom had taught me: shri krishna sharanam mamah, shrikrishna sharanammamah, shrikrishnasharanammamah, shrikrishnasharanammamah, shrikrishnasharanammamah...

And then, when my mind was reconstructing scenes of mourning I had seen in the film, I would get a glimpse of him enter the lane. I wouldn't say a word to anybody, just dash wildly down the two storeys of the wooden staircase, out into the gas-lit street, straight into his arms. Before he could recover from his pleased (and later, anticipated) surprise, I would have grabbed his brown leather office bag and dashed back up home, beaming from ear to ear. This amused everybody at home. Often they would learn of my father's arrival from my desperate dash.

Of course, they all saw it as a touching demonstration of my love for my father.

Nobody knew that it was more than love. It was sheer relief. The anxious kid's prayers had been answered. His father was back home, for now.


ramanamayi said...

Beautifully written!

shival said...

Can't get over this - "His father was back home, for now.". By writing that "for now", the narration not only gave impression of the relief, but also some more anxiety....