STATUTRY WARNING: This piece has nothing to do with finance and banking.

An old colleague of mine has found the last piece on this platform on my tryst with Kolkata banks in 1990s interesting. He says the nostalgia article is a short story and I should write more such pieces.

While confined at home, let me try another piece. I won’t call it a story – a narration of a real life event. And, there is some connection with the previous piece.

More than three decades back, in late 1980s, when I was working for a national daily in Mumbai, I got a call from home (West Bengal), and got to know that my father had a near-fatal accident.

None was sure what had hit my father (could be a car or even a two-wheeler) but he was found lying on the road, unconscious, with two books held closed to his chest. A retired “government servant”, he was returning from a public library where he used to go every day to read and take home books, mostly detective novels. Bomkesh Bakshi and Sherlock Holmes were his favourite heroes.

Those were the days of “load shedding” in West Bengal; most evenings were dark. His white dhoti and kurta-clad body was lying on the road, visible even in darkness.

The femur, his thighbone and the longest bone in human body, got fractured. In those days (1988), the surgeons were unwilling to recommend operation for a 71-year old man with high blood pressure, sugar and history of a heart attack.

When I saw him, my father smiled at me and told me firmly that he would rather die and not suffer the pain. The doctors attending to him told me that it would be extremely difficult to treat him as he had lost the jest for life. “We can’t do much for a patient who does not want to live,” one doctor told me candidly.

It was a matter of few weeks, they said, because my father was not willing to take medicines and even eat.

The challenge was to make him willing to live.

My father was a typical middle class Bengali who loved his mutton curry on Sundays, daily dose of Rabindra sangeet and books. In his youth, he used to write poems and short stories in ‘Shanibarer Chithi’ – a weekly literary Bengali magazine (which later turned monthly) and act in plays (like all Bengali used to do or probably even now does in adolescence and youth). He was a non-smoker and a teetotaler.

His only weakness was astrology. His closest friend, an employee of a municipal corporation, was an amateur astrologer. Both used to spend time over an evening adda — at least twice a week — at our home. For most family decisions (such as my sister’s marriage or selling a plot of land belonging to my grandmother), my father used to seek his astrologer friend’s advice. The friend had died a few years back.

Once I stumbled upon an old letter of my father’s astrologer friend tucked away in one of the books borrowed from a library, I found the solution! That was my Eureka moment.

I casually mentioned to my father that a sadhu-baba (saint) has come from the Himalayas and people have been saying that he can predict future.

By that evening, my father was curious and asked me whether I can bring him home (my father was discharged from the hospital as the doctors gave up on him). I firmly told him there’s no point in trying to get the sadhu-baba home when he does not want to live.

By late night, my father desperately convincing me why I should bring him home – at least once.

Reluctantly, I told him that I would try but there’s no certainty that the sadhu-baba would come home. I looked at the pain on my father’s face, his frail body and knew for sure that this is the last chance to save him.

I got in touch with an amateur actor who I knew well, briefed him about my father’s past in detail, took him to a makeup artiste and brought him home in evening after electricity went off (load shedding). A great fan of Dilip Doshi, this gentleman was a cricketer – a spinner and featured in the team of probables a few times but never got to play for West Bengal.

My mother and aunt wiped his feet, conch shells were blown and there was only one lamp in the room, dimly lit, tucked in one corner.

The sadhu-baba started reeling out my father’s past — he had an accident, fell from tram once and had 10 stitches on head; he had a heart attack at 56 and so on…(I briefed him well) in broken Hindi… My father started crying and tried to get up from his bed, first time after his accident.

“What should I do now?” he asked, tears rolling down his cheeks.

The sadhu-baba put his hand over my father’s head and told him firmly that the time has not come as yet for him to leave this world. He must eat and start taking medicines. He also gave my father an amulet and asked him to tie this up on his right arm by someone who is closest to him, on a Saturday morning before sunrise.

Once the job was accomplished, I pushed him out of the house as I was scared that the lights could be on any moment. He left, chanting “bom bom”.

That night, my father ate and had his medicines. First time, after many days.

That was a Thursday. The next night he asked me to get up early on Saturday and tie the amulet around his arm.

He lived five years after that. He had a peaceful death in his sleep. At the funeral, I saw the amulet that I had tied around his right arm.

Post Script:

My mother lived for 12 years after my father’s death. She died of a heart attack. When I went to see her in hospital, she told me that her days were over and I should not try to play any prank like I had done for my father! She died a few days after this conversation.

I never knew that my mom all along knew about my best kept secret!

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