Thatha

Sanjana Rajagopal

At Indraprastha Apollo in New Delhi, where birds fly free in the grand hallway, untouched by fear and forecasts, my grandfather received treatment for his non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Radiation therapy only lengthened his life by a sad inch but did not manage to kill his light. When my mother— a Daddy’s girl through and through— visited him from the United States, she was instructed to stuff an entire suitcase with books for him to read in bed. He guffawed at the slapstick humor of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat and diligently made his way through Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray. He drew up astrological charts and taught Dhananjai mathematics. On good days, he carried a sulking Nitya through the Faridabad marketplace as I followed on foot, eager for Tootsie Rolls. He wrote his only daughter long letters and followed television murder cases with rapt attention. He worked for the Indian Railways, a fact my grandmother still notes proudly when she collects her pension decades later. He put himself through night school. He was a scholar. He was an orphan. The ghost of my Thatha always loomed large. He was assigned the same hospital room as my aunt’s father and had the same name too. He shared a birthday with my sister, a child he never got to see. His dream for me was that I would go to Harvard and become a doctor. Little did he know that I would set myself on course to become a doctor—one who practiced philosophy and not medicine—though perhaps, philosophy is a kind of medicine for the lonely soul. Little did he know that more than two decades after he passed, I would be admitted to Apollo myself: for severe food poisoning; and that I too would pass the days reading under a blue blanket. My Thatha wasn’t around to see the way the world changed, the way iPhones took over existence, the bombing of the Twin Towers, the Russians hacking the election on Facebook. He wasn’t around to see my meticulous journals, fashioned after his own—the ones my uncle notoriously sold to the neighborhood kabaadi. He wasn’t around to see his daughter and her daughter take up his interest in photography, rushing into the rose garden at noon to capture a fluttering monarch butterfly. He wasn’t around to see the day my students first addressed me as professor. He wasn’t around to see me live a double life, spending my summers in India, and my school years in New York City. He wasn’t around to see the sale of the home Thathi sold her jewels to buy. He wasn’t around to see herbs climb up those hallowed walls—oh, how they climbed! —as our family falls. Instead, he became one of those birds—soaring with the winter wind—untouched by pandemics and the perils of modern existence.

Sanjana Rajagopal is a graduate student studying philosophy in New York City. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetically Mag, The Augment Review, Northern Otter Press, The Confessionalist Zine, Anser Journal, Glitchwords Zine, Ayaskala Mag, Perhappened Mag, and L'Éphémère Review. You can find her on Twitter @SanjanaWrites, and on Instagram @astrangecharm

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