It was the smile he had smiled when I received him at Varanasi railway station in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. He hated traveling out of hometown Guwahati, the capital of Assam. But I had insisted he came to Varanasi for grandfather’s pind-daan – Hindu ritual to release spirits from worldly attachments – before I was transferred out.
I was never close to father. He was too much of a perfectionist for company. His face often wore a frown, he was short-tempered and almost always preoccupied with his office work. But he had a big heart — we took a long time realizing that — and was the best person to go to for English lessons.
For someone who studied in a ramshackle Bengali-medium school, he had this remarkable capability of churning out optimistic, pessimistic and neutral substances of every Tennyson, Wordsworth or Longfellow poem in our syllabus. And drafting letters that had in three two-sentence paras more content and punch than a three-page memo.
Baba (Bengali for father) and I somehow never communicated beyond the formalities. The longest – precisely 11 minutes – we had conversed was the day I left for Varanasi to become The Indian Express’ Eastern UP correspondent.
During the five days he stayed in Varanasi, father was uncharacteristically reticent. “When are you coming home?” he asked after boarding the Guwahati-bound train. “Soon,” I replied as the train began to move.
The soonest I could manage a home posting was five years. Father smiled when I stepped through the door. He kept on smiling, and I failed to understand why mother said he was unmanageable. I came to know in 24 hours.
For the next five years until his death in December 2004, I was closer to father than anyone else. But he never felt it.
Guess no one with Alzheimer’s does. Not yet.