The mood had been set and Mother Nature aided us in the process. The morning sky was a peaceful blue, absolutely perfect for the events that would be unfolding in a short while. Weather was pleasant and the people I wanted to participate in the reunion were ready. Finally, a daughter was on her way to meet her father. Yes, it was time for us to heal, something that I had wanted to happen since ages.
We both reached the place where Manu, my husband, was waiting for us. We were meeting him after years. Manu was a stickler to time and so were we, especially Anya, our twenty year old daughter. On reaching the entryway, Anya looked at me. I understood that she wanted a private audience with her father. I also knew she did not want me to be present. So I nodded my head in acceptance, left the two of them together and silently walked away. After all, it was their special time, and knowing how my husband really adored his precious angel, I decided to be a mute spectator from far.
I walked a few metres away, stood at a distance and quietly watched the father daughter duo holding a conversation. Were they really conversing or was our warrior princess finally expressing her grievances through her ranting, I wondered. Yet, at that moment, I was happy because this is what I had been wanting for years. I had always wanted two of the most important people in my life to have a heart to heart talk, sort out their differences, and see eye to eye. To be honest, it was getting difficult for me to handle both of them in isolation. Manu loved his daughter and obviously the feelings were mutual. Yet somewhere down the line, as years passed, things changed and the distance between them grew. Generation gap, one might say, but I knew better.
Manu was a helicopter pilot with the Air Force first and my husband thereafter. He lived and breathed in his green overall. In fact, as a newly wedded bride I would pull his legs saying that his first love was flying and not me. However, after Anya’s birth things changed a bit. Anya was the apple of his life thereby equating his first love with her charm. On the other hand, Anya was a Daddy’s Girl. She was totally spoilt and completely pampered much to my chagrin. As far as she was concerned, her father was all that she needed in her world. In fact, there were days when Anya barely saw him. Yet, the moment Manu reached home, from that moment on, he was hers. To be honest, Anya was Manu’s replica and I loved watching the two of them together. Sadly, Daddy and his Girl slowly started drifting apart. I tried my best to bridge the gap but could never succeed. I would keep raking my brains as to what had gone wrong between the two. I finally realised that it was one decision which we took that changed everything. After that, life, like a clock, kept ticking away.
I really wish I could turn back the clock of life and bring the wheels of time to a stop. I wish I could have intervened at that point and tried to stop the change from happening, but I was helpless. From that fateful day onwards, a small child started growing distant from her father, the man she had idolised for everything. I have had people walk up to me every now and then saying that she was only five years old when it all happened. Hence, she was too young to have got affected and that I should have taken care. I did not feel like responding simply because, as a mother, I knew what the truth was.
What could I tell insensitive people? Nobody could have understood my predicament. In fact, how could I say that I was dealing with two people who were right in their own place? One was an air warrior who never shied away from his call of duty. The other was our daughter in whose life the father’s absence created a void no one else could fill. Though father wanted to be available during every milestone of his child he could not because his presence at workplace was priority. Daughter, on the other hand, felt cheated, the first important man in her life ceased to be by her side. She wanted him to be there for her during all her successes and failures. When she found him choosing his work over her, she started nursing a discontentment that only kept increasing as she grew up. Torn between the two were I, a wife and mother, who could neither afford to take sides nor hurt either of them.
I still remember the day when all these started. It was a sultry morning. Anya was in school and I was in my office when I was called into the office of my Commanding Officer. I went expecting a discussion on a project I was heading but the scene that met my eye told a different story. Manu’s Commanding Officer was present, which was quite unusual. He was the first one to break the news to me. Manu had got posted to a place where any means of communication ceased to exist. There was no internet connectivity and no possibility that letters could be written and exchanged because the address was not to be divulged. It was a long term commitment but could not be refused. Manu had never said No when he was vested with responsibilities. So, when this transfer came Manu’s way, there was no possibility of stopping him from going. In any case, how could he not have gone? After all, he was one of the Chosen Ones specially selected by the Supreme Commander for this particular assignment. As an air warrior, service was always placed above self; hence, duty came before everything else. At that point of time I did not know how to react. My only thoughts revolved around Anya. How was she going to take it?
Since that moment our world turned upside down. As parents, our hearts went out to our five year old daughter because she started feeling Manu’s absence the most. Yet; there was nothing that we could do about it. Anya had to bear the brunt of it all as she grew up. She had to put up with sarcastic remarks from all quarters. Every now and then people around her would walk up to ask where her father was, why he never attended any of her milestone events or whether she really had a father. All these statements made her withdraw into a cocoon. Her resentment and unhappiness was justified because these are questions that could hurt even the strongest of people and she was only a child learning to take fledgling steps in a world that was already unkind. Her bitterness grew manifold day by day. Though I, on my part, tried consoling her but the fact I stood in support of her father justifying his absence made her resent my actions too. Maybe, I had failed somewhere down the line. I was probably letting my personal battles overpower my duties as a mother.
My frustrations were evident. I really was in a dilemma. On one hand was our child, who was growing up with disappointments building up against her father. On the other hand, was my husband a desperate father. How could he be held responsible for never being a part of his doll’s growing up years for no fault of his? If only the communication lines had existed! Things would have been so very different! While trying to sort out their issues, I was having problems of my own. Being a single working parent, I became a favoured subject among relatives for their taunts. Some men even had the audacity to walk up to me and try cajoling me into indulging in ‘fun night stands’. After all, I was an easy prey. I was a single woman with no husband around, young and financially independent. The only things that constantly helped me retain my sanity were the thoughts of how much my Manu loved me and Anya.
When I now look back, yes, that was a real difficult phase in my life. However, things improved with the passage of time. Anya did come to terms with her father’s absence. However, she would keep telling me that she would pour her heart out whenever she met her father. I had agreed back then. A lot of water kept flowing under the bridge of time. Anya soon grew up to be a confident, independent and sensitive adult. The whole of her childhood and teenage years passed without Manu being physically around. Yet, I was glad. I was happy that our daughter had finally learnt to face life, an absent father no longer made a difference in her growth. In fact, when the time to choose a profession came her way, I was the happiest person around because she chose to join the Air Force as a helicopter pilot; she wanted to follow her father as a professional with similar job profile. Also, nothing could beat my sense of contentment when she received her wings and became a commissioned officer. Icing on my cake of happiness was when she suggested meeting her father immediately after her commissioning. Anya had finally got to know where she could meet her father. One of his frequented whereabouts was disclosed after years and, I felt, she was desperate to meet him.
A sudden sound brought me back to where I was standing. Wasn’t the power of a human brain amazing? It let one travel all over the countryside, indulges in time travel, and discovers uncharted corners all in the blink of an eye. I looked around for Anya and my gaze fell on a scene in front. There she was sitting beside her father. Looking at them both, I felt happy. I realised, this rendezvous had made them express themselves with brutal honesty. I could sense that both Manu and Anya were finally at peace. What else could I have asked for in life? Finally, the two of my most important people had vented out and got over their negative emotions. I really wished I could freeze this moment and frame it for eternity to hold. While I looked at her, Anya turned her head and our eyes met. This was my cue to join them both. Holding the bunch of roses I had with me, I walked towards them both.
I sat besides Anya and, trust me when I say that together we made a perfect picture. Anya was wearing her father’s green overall, I was wearing my blue uniform and Manu, or rather Manu’s name, written in gold was there etched on a black epitaph. Anya’s hand was on her father’s name. Here lay a father who had died on that fateful day in a mid-air collision between two helicopters: A husband who had thereafter, joined God’s elite force of Angel Copter Squadron in Heaven as a Helicopter pilot.
I placed one hand on hers, and with the other, kept the flowers down at the bottom of his memorial. Together we sat, we with tears streaming down our eyes on earth and he with watery eyes in heaven. There was nobody around except the three of us, two bodies and three souls, and... Silence...