I called my father in the afternoon. His phone rang for a while, almost three rings, before I could hear his voice. Usually he takes my calls after a single ring. I was at office, filing a copy about “shortage of 7000 teachers in Delhi government schools” when suddenly I was reminded of him. His lean frame, his whitening strands of hair, his odd spectacles which I always hated on his face, his smile, his smell, the way he sits in the kitchen sipping his tea, his favorite song that he still whistles when in a happy mood, his way of disagreeing to an idea (He will repeat no, no, no till the other person stops saying anything). I remembered his old rusted trunk full of yellowed books and hand written notes which later became my first library. I read Mother by Maxim Gorky secretly when I chanced upon the trunk once. That shaped my idea about my father. A book about a revolution. I began thinking of my father as a revolutionary.
I was checking my emails for an old story when I came across an email from my father. I was gripped by my memory of him. Each detail becoming clearer. This happens to me. Almost always. I might be in the middle of a story, writing it, thinking about the thread, the structure, the officials I might have to get on record, the deadline, when suddenly, memory of home, mother and father returns to me.
The text on the screen made no sense. I was again missing home, missing father, thinking of the afternoons I spent in my room, reading his novels or old magazines. I have no room of my own now, neither can I get back those lazy afternoons. Then, holidays meant listening to father recalling his college day adventures, his activism days, and his rendezvous with leaders of the day. Now holidays are a struggle to get laundry done. And afternoons are never peaceful. Stories, phone calls, checking on routine, PTI briefs – in fact, by afternoon, the newsroom is a mad house. I kept punching the keys.
I had to call home. I had to call father. I went outside office, in the open to speak to him. I often break down on phone. In fact, I am a cry baby, crying in the office washroom, while walking a crowded street, in the bus, in the hostel room, anywhere, anytime, even waking up at three in the morning I sob for no reason at all, at the same time making sure my roommate is not awakened. It is a strange feeling being a perpetual foreigner. I miss home often. I miss father, to be honest more than I miss mother. I did not want my colleagues to see me crying. Often I find my friends telling me “Grow up Maroosha.” I try. But nothing helps.
The phone rang and I waited, not knowing what to say. I heard three rings before he took the call. I had called in the morning as well, talking about the same things. His voice was weak. Maybe he was asleep or watching TV or reading op-ed pages in Greater Kashmir. I asked, once again, "Abu, How are you?” in Kashmiri of course. He sensed something. He replied, "Am fine darling (Be ha chus theek zuva). How are you? Are you taking care of yourself?" He says this every time we speak. Yes, I lied.
We talked about the same things. Restrictions imposed, mamma’s mood these days, food cooked at home, about his health (to which he always says ‘I am perfect’, though I can’t help noticing him getting thinner in each photograph they send me), about grandmother, her cataracts operation, about Farhan and his studies. He repeated his advices to me. “Be careful, stay strong. Pray whenever you get time.” I wanted to tell him “Abu, I miss you. I miss all of you.” But I never can. I can never utter these three words to my father, to my hero. I keep telling this to my friends, almost every day. “I miss you my every single waking moment,” I say this to my friend back in Kashmir. But I never can tell my father how much I love him. I can never even say a thank you. He told me, “You must finish your work now.” I said okay. And he dropped the phone. And I listened to the silence afterwards.