Sunday, November 29, 2020

Over a month ago, when my grandfather was first hospitalized, I sported short nails. I had filed them just before Navratra began and painted them Cerulean. It's a shade I don't quite enjoy wearing much and thus reserve it for once a year, and it stays for 6 days, until my next round.  

He stayed in the hospital for close to 10 days and changing my nail paint was the last thing on my mind. When he returned home, the first order of business was getting back to pending work and classes. Mind you, this was the festive season and our biggest reason to celebrate whatever crumbs we could salvage to find was all related to him. He was back, without a trip to the ICU, defying his own premonition, "If I go to the hospital, you'll be coming home with my death certificate and not me."

He had been chanting that for a month. He and I fought each day for a fortnight leading to his appointment. He was sure he wouldn't survive it, and I, that we wouldn't have him with us for long if he evades this trip. He finally agreed to the hospital and the doctor only when I beat him in an argument, "if you are fine, then why are you hesitating to see a doctor?"

Anyway, he came back home after all that drama and the period where I was living from prayer to the next. I celebrated that with half a bottle of gin, diluted in 400 ml tonic. I wolfed down a pack of chips along, all that just to celebrate the little joy, we were going to get through this together. Another Diwali of misquoting bhajans together and giggling through it all, another Diwali with our masked selfies, another year of him fussing over how I need not worry about not being in a capacity to fund anyone but myself. "I'm your Reserve Bank of India." he would say. 

Before I could remove the Cerulean, he was back in the hospital again. 

It started with bloating which was followed by swelling. There was uncontrolled nausea and finally, it was something huge. He couldn't urinate for half a day and we deemed it serious enough to return to the hospital. My dad had sat me down earlier that evening before any of this had happened telling me to be brave and be prepared for anything. I wrote that off as banter, one of those things that people say without thinking much, after-effects of drinking on an empty stomach. 

The night this happened, we had rushed him to the ER. His doctor had told us that this was a minor inconvenience borne out of the catheter and that removal would mean the passage would clear. An hour into the ER trip, I received a call that he has pneumonia and that he couldn't breathe. He needed to be hospitalized. 

I was sick in my stomach and cried for hours straight. Our last interaction before he was rushed to the ER was me trying to rationalize this hospital trip. "You'll be back in an hour. Mom's spoken to the doctor. It's nothing."

The next morning his doctor told us how his recovery won't be easy and that his kidney functioning has been compromised completely. My mom had called me crying and my dad was evading all conversation. "He's not okay."

He was shifted to the ICU soon after and the visits were limited, two people per day, for half an hour each. A day after this, during one such visit, he started sinking and they had to revive him with injections and CPR. My sister saw that happen and she was immediately asked to leave the ICU. I was home alone and it was complete pandemonium. I just remember a lot of crying and insecurity of being left-out and not having met him, not enough, and certainly not at a point where he was swinging between life and death in this motion and I was barely able to comprehend the pace of this. 

From that day up to the day he passed away, there was a terror. A complete and utter horror story that the four of us lived through together. With every ring of the phone to every action, it was stretched, painful, and terrifying, that trauma is something we are all carrying deep in our veins now. 

Naturally, Diwali was nothing like I had imagined. We slept at 9 pm, empty stomach after a brief family ritual that we carried out. It felt like death even though he was alive, very much so, and undergoing dialysis in the renal ICU while being on the ventilator through the evening. 

At some point between this trauma building, I began to normalize my life. When my grandmother was detected with cancer, the trauma we all carried turned into our lives. We all normalized her chemo-cycles and radiation days and our lives were compartmentalized into her pain vs our collective lives. On the days she would be in despair, none of us would really do our jobs well and on other days, we'd scrap through. All of us spent four years in this routine and we got accustomed to living our lives with the burden of seeing our family members go through so much. For the most part, we were alone in our grief and each of us still bears the marks in our personal lives. 

I had imagined our lives to go back to that. We would spend 12 hours in the car parking together and speculate on the dialysis routine or how long it would take for things to go back and fix themselves. During those days, my dad refused to shave and I refused to take my nail paint off. It seemed like a marker for change and we weren't ready to make any change that was to change things radically. Changing my nail paint seemed radical. What if I were to lose him and his last bits, would our last memory be attached to the erased Cerulean? I didn't want to imagine a life where he wouldn't see my nail paint colour of the week. Especially not when things were bleak. 

It was some form of morbid fear that internalized over those long afternoons and walks around the hospital ground. My hands carried with me the last of his memories and I did not want to tamper with them in any way. 

It took a week and lots of individual breakdowns for me to convince my dad to shave. Consequently I decided to take things in my hand, change my nail paint and visit him in the ICU. I'd sit meters away from the ICU door and not have it in me to see him in the state he was in. 

The day before he passed away, I visited him in the ICU with fresh nail paint—lavender and gold. It occurred to me later how I'd worn the same on his birthday and we have photographs together with me wearing that colour. There was no planning, no thought. I just wanted to break out of my stupidity, my dumb thoughts about holding the last of him in my skin and my memory in this way. Doing a change would mean that his memory would be above all this cursory shit. 

We held hands and I felt like things were in control. It was heartbreaking to see him like that but he'd been a fighter all his life through adversities and some dumb kidney couldn't break this man down. He was active and conscious and I told myself later how he would fight through it. 

That last change of nail paint has seen one cremation, a memorial service and nearly over 10 days in, it's down to chipping. It's at a point where the corners have come off and it is screaming for a change. 

Yet, I can't get myself to do it. I'll be erasing the last of him from my skin and doing so, I'm afraid, might just wreck me completely. 

The most unfortunate bit of all of this is, he was right. We did come back without him, we did leave him there and instead got a death summary back. 

About two days back, we picked his death certificate from the hospital. It was devastating. 

Every minute feels like an hour. Every time I see a piece of news that seems like something we would discuss, I feel alive for a second, until it hits me that I have lost that person. We can no longer discuss how India lost the ODI to Australia or how the farmer agitation will affect the supply of garlic in the city or how Biden is going to be better for India. 

Each day as I spend time in the living room, watching TV or streaming crap on my phone, I'm conscious of the sound level. It would disturb his sleep if I heard it this loud, only for me to realize seconds later that he's no longer sitting in his room to get disturbed by my nonsense and there won't be anyone to complain about it. 

There is so much on the cursory level that seems to have settled—immersion of the last of him and the phone calls that no longer mean anything—and yet there is that unending grief, a sense of vacuum and the feeling where your chest tightens with sorrow when you realize how hopelessly alone you are in all of it. Everyone and everything is meaningless and how we are all counting our time down until our end. 

And yet, I can't get myself to change my nail paint and lose the last of him. 

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