In about 9 days from now, my father would be dead for 14 years.
Black October. That’s what I used to call this unfortunate month when I was younger. At some point, I forgot that name. Just like I forgot to mourn his death anniversary.
Two or three years after his death, a journalist wrote a book called Avinasham. The protagonist of her story was modeled on my father. She even came to visit us at our home, not long after the book was published. I remember her only vaguely. I only remember that my aunt was choked up and that my mother was empty.
I tried to read the book then but most of it must have gone over my head, for I remember next to nothing. Strangely enough, I have not attempted to read it afterwards. I have often seen it sitting on our library shelf at home. Once or twice, I have reached out to take it, but hesitated. I was afraid that it would be too depressing. Depressing! As though the death of one’s father were not enough! As though one had to read about it all over again!
During my late teens, my father re-appeared in my life as a raw, gaping hole that I could not fill. I did not know enough about him. He was like the edge of a fading memory. Sometimes, I thought I could hardly remember him. But he came back in the form of a stranger’s moustache; or soft fingers with blunt nails; or a signature made in Malayalam. And I would remember his voice, his smile, the smell of coconut oil and sandal powder.
In those days of desperately wanting to know more about my father, I should have turned to that book. Tried to discover him through a stranger’s eyes. But I never did. And my father was reborn through my imagination and lies.
A few days from today, that book is being translated to English. I have been invited to its publicity event, where I can meet the author. She has sent me a touching personal mail. The moment I got it, I Googled her name. There were numerous articles, interviews… most of them mentioned my father. After all, he was her first muse.
“Her tryst with writing began when she worked in Thiruvananthapuram as a sub-editor in a Malayalam newspaper. One day at the night desk, she passed the obit of a writer named T.P. Kishore. It was a small, single-column report, while other newspapers carried detailed stories on the writer. “I was berated for the lapse,” she said.
Kishore left the world scribbling a note that read: ‘Maranathinappuram enthennariyamennulla ahanthayode’ (With the arrogance that I know what lies beyond death.)
“She authored it during a few months of painful seclusion that she forced upon herself as she struggled with an inexplicable inner unrest provoked by the suicide of a stranger, writer T P Kishore.”
“My protagonist, Avinash Suvarna was modeled after TP Kishore, who apparently lived an ordinary life and died an extraordinary death in proof of his extraordinary self.”
“A deeply philosophical novel about the trials of a writer, it revolves around a one-line suicide note left behind by a small time writer and how it reveals to a young journalist, the mysteries of living and the travails of creating one’s masterpiece.”
My father whose masterpiece was his suicide note. My father who lived an ordinary life and died an extraordinary death.
About 24 people commit suicide everyday in Kerala. What my father did, is it then, so extraordinary? I have not acknowledged it till today. But someone else has. Many others have.
Inexplicably — for I have tried my best to not become sentimental where he is concerned — I am stung by the repeated references to ‘a small-time writer’ that are splashed across the web. The phrase hints at an insignificance that I am unwilling to accept in him. I would like to shake his shoulders and scream at him,
“Is that all you were? Tell me! Tell me!”
Because, in my mind, he is much bigger. A complicated man with many dimensions. A sphinx. A leprechaun at the end of my rainbow. My secret source of smiles and sandalwood scent.
I can now see it — his self-deprecatory smile. The clink of beautiful liquor bottles. The sheets and sheets of A4 paper covered in his writing. This is what he wanted to escape. The words and days of judgment. The stifling need to prove his self. I am almost sorry for him.
And a little ashamed of myself.
What is the need for so much drama? Why not write a couple of lines in polite acknowledgement and attend the event? Tell her quite firmly that I don’t remember much about my father. Tell her that I am sorry, but I’ve not had a chance to read her book. Applaud, shake hands, walk out. Another chapter closed.
Prove to everyone that Gowri N Kishore is undamaged and whole. Not an emotional wreck. There are no skeletons in her cupboard. She is not a failure. She will not end up as one of the 24 Keralites.
I do not believe that ghosts walk among us. They merely draw up a chair and keep watching you from afar till you walk out and join them.
With the arrogance that you know what lies beyond death.