My father was a chronic worrier. He worried about things that he read about in the newspaper and watched on television. He worried about the welfare and safety of his family members, his own health, inclement weather, the incompetence of the government and his bankers, and about paying his advance income tax on time. In fact, he worried so much that a cousin once joked that if my father had nothing to worry about, it would cause him acute anxiety and worry. My father not surprisingly, worried most of all about my mother, my sister, and I. When we went out of our home, and did not come back at the time we had specified, he would work himself into a frenzy of worry, imagining that we had been caught in frightful scenarios, when in reality, we had probably been so engrossed in our own activities that we’d forgotten to keep track of the time. This was of course, before the arrival of the ubiquitous mobile phone in India.
Once the mobile phone appeared, and my father got the hang of how it worked, he was well and truly hooked to its charms. To my father, a mobile phone was not an instrument to chat with others – it was merely an efficient way to assuage his worry by keeping close track of his family members. In fact, my mother stoutly refused to own a mobile phone for years, because she knew that whenever she went out of the house, her main caller would be my father, enquiring solicitously about her whereabouts, and then asking her testily when she was coming home. My mother eventually became a mobile phone owner when she was gifted a phone, but the gift hardly filled her with joy. But she, being quite resourceful herself, soon found a way to prevent my father from using the dratted instrument to keep tabs on her. When we went out, she would bury her mobile phone so deep in her handbag, among piles of sundry odds and ends, that even its most insistence rings would be muffled.
My father was not clued in to the uses of sms text messages when the service was initially launched in India. However, he soon realized that text messages were a valuable tool to help him keep track of errant family members who were unable to phone him, (or refused to do so) when they insisted on wandering far from the family nest. When we flatly refuse to call to give details of our whereabouts when we were travelling, we were graciously told that we could ‘send an sms,’ instead. As the years passed, and my father became older and frailer, he ventured out of his home less and less. His window to the world was his television set, and as he watched the sensational, high voltage stories of terror and violence that it beamed, night after night, his worries grew. He became extremely anxious every time any of his family members went out, and we were always told to send him an sms to announce that we had reached our destination safely. We sometimes baulked at this, not because sending an sms was difficult, but because, as we explained to him, ‘we were not children anymore – we were in our fifties and were grandmothers ourselves, and could reasonably be trusted to look after ourselves.’ He was most displeased to hear this, and we finally came to a compromise (partly to bring relief to our mother who bore the brunt of his worried outpourings about our safety.) Whenever we went anywhere, when we reached our destination, we would not call, or send lengthy text messages, but would send a one word sms to reassure him. The message would simply read ‘reached.’ This became standard operating procedure, and when I was travelling, I would automatically send the sms saying ‘reached’ to him before doing anything else.
On February 24th, 2015, I spent the day with my father, who was living in my sister’s home. As I left in the evening, he gave me a cheerful wave and reminded me, as usual, to ‘send an sms’ when I got home. I did this automatically before getting on with my other, routine chores. Two days later, on the morning of Thursday the 26th, my mother called me to say that my father had collapsed while he was having breakfast. I hurried to the hospital where he had been taken, but his eyes were closed, and the doctor told us gently to inform our close relatives that he was sinking. By twelve thirty, his heart stopped beating, and he was gone.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, our family set out to immerse the little urn that contained my father’s ashes in the ancient Banganga Tank in Walkeshwar. As our car sped long Marine Drive, there was a light drizzle, and it was gloomy. I wondered sadly where my father was, and worried, just like he used to do, if he was safe and well. He was a person who planned all his journeys carefully, paying meticulous attention to the last detail. In the days before liberalization of the aviation sector opened up Indian skies, and we travelled by train, our family would always be the first to appear at the railway station. Led by my father, we would be ready and waiting long before the train chugged into the station. When journeys by air became the norm, we would always be among the first customers when airport check-in counters opened. Now I wondered anxiously how my father had managed his final trip to eternity. I worried, just like he used to worry about us, whether he had had a smooth journey. Then suddenly, my young niece let out an shout.
“Look!” she cried excitedly, pointing upwards. We all turned to look, and there, arched across the sky, in magnificent luminescent colours, was a beautiful rainbow. As my niece quickly photographed the splendid sight, I smiled through my tears. From his new location, my father had found a way to send us the trademark message that he had always been so particular about - ‘Reached.’