“Dr. Saheb, Zindabad! Dr. Saheb, Zindabad!” Young Mini, about fifteen years old, sitting next to her father in the car, felt overwhelmed as she heard these loving shouts given out by children of all ages, as the car entered the crowded road where her doctor father had his clinic. These children were running along with the slowly crawling car, waving at her father, who would lovingly, with a smile, wave back at them. Many elderly persons were sitting in the sun, on charpoys, cots made of string, and they would wave and bless her father too, who would fold his hands in their direction, to show them his respect. This would happen all along the road, till he reached his clinic. Her father was a general practitioner, practising in that area for many years, and the people around simply doted on him.
It had been a usual practice for Mini, for the last few years, to come with her father to his clinic at least three days a week, during her summer vacations. She simply loved being there. She would watch her father talk to his patients, give them medicines and injections. She was always amazed at the compassion and empathy shown by her father, to his patients. No wonder that she would see such blind faith and trust of the patients, in him. Over the years, like a sponge, she kept on soaking all that she could, from him. She had endless questions and her father answered all of these, patiently. Somewhere along the way, perhaps even unknown to her, she had instinctively decided that she would become a doctor when she grew up.
One very important characteristic that Mini had imbibed from her father was, hard work and dedication. She had always seen him completely committed to work, a complete workaholic. His patients always came first. Be it freezing cold, or burning hot, he would go to work as usual, undeterred. He would always teach Mini to be focused and diligent. He was quite demanding of her too; academics was always his prime concern. Through all his busy schedule, Mini always found him taking time out for her. It was not unusual to see him suddenly outside her classroom, talking with Sister, enquiring about her progress at school. Never did he miss her Sports Day. In fact, even in college, when the inter-college meets would go on, Mini always saw him walking through the gate, late afternoon, post his clinic, to come and get updated on her events.
Mini’s father was always very strict. His word was the law in their house. Any disagreement would be nipped off in the bud by her mother, who would say, “Your father said so; ask him”. And the matter would be closed. Mini would fume in anger, because she always believed in asking for and getting explanations. Gradually, as she grew up, she started having conversations with her father about everything. Her father too started enjoying the conversations, and Mini’s logical mind started to grow.
Every other day, while Mini’s father was leaving for his clinic, be it in the morning or in the evening, someone or the other from the neighbourhood would come running to talk about some ailment of someone in the family. And her father would patiently hear them out and then prescribe some medicine, and also advise about diets and about precautions to be taken. Some elderly person in some family, would send a message to come and see him/her; Mini’s father would always go. Mini’s father was the one who had pierced the ears of almost all the girls in the neighbourhood. In those days the ear piercing was done by doctors or goldsmiths, with a needle and a thread or a string! He loved all children and as he was very particular about studies, the ones who were good at academics would even come to her father, to show him their report cards. Her father would see these with full interest, and would bless them lovingly.
Mini’s father adored Mini. She was his trusted assistant, his ‘Man Friday’. Be it helping him change a flat tyre, or carry some heavy load home from the car, or help him in fixing the cooler, and endless such jobs, had made Mini proficient in diverse tasks. Helping him in his small odd jobs gave Mini immense pleasure. Mini remembered once, when she was about eighteen years of age, she had taken ill. Her room was on the ground floor and the rest of the bedrooms were upstairs. She was sleeping, when suddenly she felt being carried up, and she woke up to see her father carrying her in his arms, all the way up the stairs, to their room. Carrying an eighteen year old, tall and well-built girl was no joke, but her father did so with so much ease.
Mini was a great music enthusiast, just like her father. Her father had an enviable collection of music and, especially on Sundays, the mornings before going to work as well as the evenings, would be filled with soulful music. Her father would play the songs and she, along with him, would either sing or whistle along. The whole house would vibrate with the beats and it would be a different world for the father and daughter. She learnt to play the harmonica from him. Even now, Mini would love to play the same song that her father had played at his medical college festival, as a first year student, and had supposedly brought the house down.
Mini suddenly realised that she was humming the same song. She looked at her father, lying there on the bed in the ICCU. He had an oxygen mask and quite a few tubes going in and out of his body. He was all of ninety. Due to an impeccably disciplined life, in every manner, he suffered from no disease. Just that, because of his age, his heart had become very weak and so had the other organs. All his life he feared pain, and that fear kept him strictly disciplined in all his habits. Looking at him now, Mini could only pray to God to spare him that very pain and suffering. She smiled, even as drops of tear rolled down her face. She looked at him lovingly, with all her heart, and she stretched her hand to touch his face, as she whispered,
“Baba, I love you; I really do.”
Suddenly she felt she could hear her father’s soft, clear voice read out a few lines written by Khalil Gibran, the ageless, mystic and philosopher:
“It is said that before entering the sea
A river trembles with fear.
She looks back at the path she has travelled,
From the peaks of the mountains,
The long winding road crossing forests and villages.
And in front of her,
She sees an ocean so vast,
That to enter
There seems nothing more than to disappear forever.
But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.
Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.
The river needs to take the risk
Of entering the ocean
Because only then will fear disappear,
Because that’s where the river will know
It’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
But of becoming the ocean.”
Mini realised her father was becoming the ocean. Then her father opened his eyes and looked at her, and smiled his last smile.