My Visible Gods

Achan and Amma

     It was a bright, balmy Saturday afternoon in Kochi, the bustling city in the enchanting state of Kerala, nestled on the western coast of south India. The date was May 25, 1986. That is the day when my father passed away. After seventeen years, the event remains vividly painful to date, with every detail etched into my aging memory. As I recall the incident, I get immersed with an overwhelming sadness of loss, yet I should admit that deep within, there is an element of relief, a certain sense of comfort in reminiscing the bereavement.
     Before I am accused of insensitivity or callousness, I may be allowed to explain the premise on which comfort evolves from the loss of a parent. After about fifteen years of life in the United States, enduring the arduous training and settling down with a comfortable, thriving practice, I felt the urge to ‘return home’. The objectives that motivated me for such a daring, rare move were simple; to use my training for the benefit of patients in India, to expose our children to our rich heritage, but most of all, to be near my aging parents.
     With a lot of planning, we relocated from a comfortable life in Houston to start a new chapter in Madras. I joined the newly established Apollo Hospital, where I set up my own department. The elaborate move was exceedingly exhausting but once we found the right strings the going got smooth. My professional exposure was challenging yet rewarding and soon, evolved to be gratifying. Patients from almost every state of India came to see me and thus justified one of my reasons for the move. But as we were comfortably settling down in India, I was unable to sever connections with the US. The appalling real estate climate in Houston prevented the sale of our house and consequent dealings of our financial obligations. We were left with no options than to return to America. So, our attempt to reshuffle life terminated as a moral accomplishment, but a practical disaster. If our mood on the move to India was one of adventure mixed with anxiety, the return trip was punctuated with passive acceptance.
     The most disappointed about the reversal of our plans were my parents, especially my father. Even though he was convinced that I had no other choice, he was quite disheartened with the turn of events. I overheard my forlorn father expressing to one of his visiting friends that he wanted to ‘leave’ before I left.
     Before our departure to the US, we went to Kerala to spend a few days with my parents and others in the family. It was an enjoyable time, even though there was subdued sadness soaking the atmosphere. Then the fateful day arrived; the day before we were to leave for the US. The morning was clear and crisp. The house was bustling with noise, the clutter of searching, packing, and people visiting. My father was in his room, sitting on his bed, talking to us family members, visiting relatives and friends. Around noon, he repeatedly asked us to have lunch, but in all the excitement, most of us ignored the request. Then, quietly he lied down, stopped talking and calmly entered into a sleep, which turned into a stupor, eventually slipping into unconsciousness. All the available medical heroics were of no avail and within an hour he bade us farewell, serenely and peacefully. My father made his final exit as he had willed, precisely as he wished to ‘leave’, the day before I left for the US.
     My reference earlier about feeling comfort reminiscing my father’s death is from relief that I did not leave the day before and Providence granted me the opportunity to carry out my sacred duty. I count my blessings to have been by his side at the time of his death, to be present for the last rites during his cremation, to take his ashes to the nearby sacred river and to be totally involved with all the final rituals, as dictated by ancestors and practiced for generations. Being the eldest son, it was customarily my responsibility to lead my siblings through the traditional observance. When it was all done, there was tranquility, a tremendous sense of satisfaction and a privileged feeling of fulfilment.
     My father was the only son to his parents but lost his father when he was eight years old. Growing up with a stepfather had its limitations and it did affect his life and his ambitions. Very accomplished in his studies, circumstances did not privilege him with higher education. Though he had to be content with modest employment, he succeeded in realizing his dream by providing education to all his children. My father was a chronic pulmonary patient, never conclusively diagnosed but thought to have bronchiectasis, chronic bronchitis, or cystic lungs. As he had never smoked, my guess is that he sustained damage from some untreated childhood infection before the era of antibiotics. Despite his chronic ailment, he somehow managed to shoulder life’s responsibilities in an admirable manner. He died a very happy, contented person, seeing all his children well settled and in harmony. I start and end my day offering a silent homage to my parents and am constantly aware of their sacrifice in my success. I consider my father to be the most honest and proudest person I have known, and my mother the simplest and most unpretentious. They have struggled and strived to do the right things in life and set us an example by living it. Beyond all the achievement and every accolade I have gained in life, the loftiest honor is to have been born the son of my parents. Humility is the comfort of confidence when you are endowed with a splendor that no one can ever taint. (February 1, 2004)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: