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The Clarity Of Dying

28/05/2016 12:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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My father is dying. I watch him in his hospital bed, his face alternately contorted in pain and peacefully asleep. He has lost 10 kilos in the last year. The needles leave dents in his skin and every day, another machine wheels in and clicks on, taking another part of my father.

I look for clarity everywhere. In newspapers, in magazines, in books, in the Gita, the Dhammapada, the Bible, the Koran. But I don't understand any of them. I just sit here looking at my father looking at me.

I can't decide if he wants to say things to me or if he is content to simply look at me. I want to explain things to him, but how can I when I am not clear on what to say? My father is the god, after all, who set clarity as a goal, clarity as a mantra, clarity as a life principle. But he has never clarified dying to me.

My father... set clarity as a goal, clarity as a mantra, clarity as a life principle. But he has never clarified dying to me.

The hospital we are in does not allow my father to be left alone for a minute. My sister, mother, brother in law and I take turns on the couch in my father's room. It is a difficult policy when there are just four of us to do the care-giving but in my heart I am comforted by it. It must mean that they think our presence matters.

Not much matters to my father these days. He sleeps for long hours. On good days he jokes with us. I am in a soup he whispered to my sister yesterday when she cajoled him to have hospital-issue pea green soup in a flask. To I let, he said suddenly to my mother the other day after gazing intently at the sign, TOILET, on the bathroom. To let. They are letting my own bathroom to me. His eyes are bright when we get the joke.

I thought I would spend the long hours being reflective, being deep. But mostly I spend them wondering about my job, my loneliness, whether I had remembered to put my pyjamas in the wash. I look at the lines on my father's face, how deep they've grown, how quickly they've spread.

Talking to the doctors is a daily battle. I demand clarity. They offer none. What does this mean? I keep asking my father's cardiologist.

Talking to the doctors is a daily battle. I demand clarity. They offer none. What does this mean? I keep asking my father's cardiologist. I want him to paint me a picture but he only looks at me with pity. Every day things change. One day it is his lungs, the next day it is his liver and the third day all the vitals are normal and the doctors crowd around his bed confused. My father can't move much but he gives them a thumbs up.

I want to explain the little I know to my father, who has always been unflinchingly honest with us. I want to tell him that we don't know how many days he has left. My mother does not want to tell him. He's a proud man, she says. He will think it's weak to die. When she goes home, I show him my notebook where I've written down bullet points in tight sections of evidence-based observations. My father doesn't open his eyes but he holds my hand. Its warmth comforts me.

I want to explain the little I know to my father... My mother does not want to tell him. He's a proud man, she says. He will think it's weak to die.

The test results go up and down. One day the sodium is up, the next day the sodium is down. One day the carbon dioxide in his blood is dangerous, the next day he is sitting up without any masks on his face. None of it makes sense to me. I feel angry with the machines and the huge file filled with numbers drawn from my father's blood. How can science do so much and give so little? I want certainty but all I have is a piece of paper on which the doctor had drawn my father's prognosis as a downward sloping line. I stare at it for hours thinking that my geometry teacher had taught me that a line is infinite. It will go beyond the page and the desk and the classroom to where my pencil can't follow. I want to follow my father.

The tests that bring results raise more questions. We look back on the tiredness over the last months, the relinquishment of walks, of talk, of sleep, of appetite. I lay it all out accusingly to the doctor and demand explanations and timelines. He shakes his head and pats my shoulder.

I have so much to say, so much to clarify but all I can say as his breathing becomes laboured is, it's okay daddy, it's okay daddy, it's okay daddy.

One night I wake up to find my father sleeping peacefully, his head turned to one side. He has slipped off all the gadgets and devices and he looks -- I think -- almost normal. I sit at his feet and weep because the cursed hope never dies.

In between the loud beeps of his machines, my father's eyes follow me hungrily around the room. I worry that he is not ready to leave me and I bring to the hospital books on dying so I can say something intelligent to him. I make a list of the things I want for him: to be without pain, to feel loved, to not worry about me. I have so much to say, so much to clarify but all I can say as his breathing becomes laboured is, it's okay daddy, it's okay daddy, it's okay daddy.

The night before my father died, I sat in the deepening gloom and looked at him. He looked at me. I thought about the days he will not see anymore, the food he will not eat anymore, the children he will never see. My father smiled and closed his eyes. And after years of striving for clarity, I realize that its absence is a kindness from a universe that gave me my father and then took him away.

Antara Ganguli's novel, Tanya Tania, is out in September 2016 with Bloomsbury US.

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