"Papa, please don't smoke."

25th Feb 2012. Morning 1:30 AM. 
NH4, somewhere near Kolhapur.

I was on my way to Bangalore. My close friend was getting married. A happy occasion and we were all going there to celebrate this occasion, with him. He was going to start a new phase in his life. 

For him, it was one of the most important days of his life. For us, a reason to bless the new couple and celebrate.

25th Feb 2007. Morning 1:30 AM. 
Palliative Care Unit, Jubilee Memorial Hospital, Trivandrum.

Mom woke up with an instinctive call. As if someone woke her up. It had been more than a month since we were staying in that hospital room, taking care of Dad. Checking on him and ensuring his comfort, every one hour - irrespective of night or day. He was in Palliative care, which means a care given to patients whose end is certain.

He had stopped breathing. The day which we dreaded, had finally arrived. He was not responding to our calls. She felt his body. It was still warm. She woke me and my sister up. Asked me to check. I realized the emergency and rushed to call the nurse on night duty. "He... is not ...res...responding." I said in a choked voice. She hurried into the room and gave an emergency call to the doctor on duty.

It took 2 minutes. And then the doctor was there, checking the pulse. "I am sorry. He is no more." And in the same monotonous, un-punctuated voice he said to the nurse, "Note the time of death : 1:28 AM."

For him, it was just another day at work. For us, it was the most devastating day of our lives. 

Tears trickled down my eyes, as if, it was bidding the final goodbye. We knew it was coming. And logically we should have been prepared for it. But there are some things in life, no matter how hard we try, we can never be fully prepared. And that day, definitely classified in that category.

The coldness in his voice had transcended into numbness in our limbs and mind. I struggled to look clearly into the mobile phone screen. The tears were blocking my vision. I couldn't see the numbers clearly. I didn't like it. But it was only after 5 more minutes, that I could dial the first number. I wanted someone to take over from here. It was too much for me, and too soon. 

Who do I comfort ? Myself, my sister or my mom ? There was another set of relatives coming down. It was for the first time I was experiencing something like this so close. And let me tell you, unlike movies, there were no loud cries of people beating down their chest. But there were almost-silent flow of tears that engulfed each person in that room and a rush of memories of all those times spent together.

That fateful day

It had been around 4 years since the day we went to Hinduja Hospital. Dad was not able to speak properly. A part of his face was, as if paralyzed. He was posted in Guwahati, Assam. The doctor there had diagnosed it to be "Facial Paralysis". We still wanted to go for a second opinion. And so it was. From one of most distinguished Neuro-surgeons in the country - Dr. P.P.Ashok, a keralite in origin.

I was in 2nd year of my engineering and had skipped my classes. This was important. An urgent CT scan in Juhu and another followup appointment with him, in the evening was enough to change the course of our lives, for ever. "It is a tumor in the brain. It is huge and definitely malignant. You need to get operated within a week. Or max 10 days. I will talk to the hospital authorities to expedite your case...Do you have insurance... You need to get a letter..."

It was brash, hard-hitting and the most life-changing statement anyone had ever made to us. And there was no pause. We were still in his clinic at Andheri. How could life be so cruel? I prayed for some space and time, to come in terms with the announcement. Rest of the appointment was spent in forcing our numbed minds to listen, remember and later make sense of what he was saying.

For him, it was just another day at work as well. For us...

We reached home. Dad was quiet in the entire return journey. Mom was trying to cheer him up but crying within for the dreaded fate. I was emotionless. Directionless.

My dad. 50 years old. A hard working guy, a loving husband and a caring father. He was also a chain smoker and now, a cancer patient too. Trying to "quit" smoking for the last 20 years, he smoked his last cigarette that day. 

Sadly, it was too little. And too late.

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