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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Holiday

She was only 18 and had never seen the Taj Mahal. He loved her to death and promised her that he would take her there. That summer, he decided to fulfill the promise.

With much excitement and anticipation, they set off on a long train journey to the northern part of India. They had decided to visit Kulu-Manali, Shimla, and Agra, the final destination. This was the first time that she was taking such a long journey, and the first one for him in a long time. It was not very pleasant as the compartments reeked of something stale and the heat made it worse. With frowns and glares, they looked ahead with pessimism, counting the number of hours it would take for them to reach. She, especially, was not too pleased. But there was no looking back now.

They were a part of a tour and the people were quite obnoxious, nosey, and old-fashioned. They both did not seem to quite fit in and wondered all the time, if they had indeed made the right choice in choosing their travel plans. Much to their chagrin, the hotel rooms too were not quite upto the mark. Kulu-Manali and Shimla were beautiful but somehow something seemed to be amiss. She sensed it all the time. She knew something was not right about the entire holiday and began counting the days to when they would return back home.

Into the 5th day of their 15 day tour, she started waking up in the middle of the night to check if he was asleep. He always was sleeping peacefully. She would then pray a silent prayer to God before falling asleep again. She always awoke in the morning with delight that another day had begun bringing home much closer. And run out with her camera hoping that today would be better than the past few days had been. Sometimes, it was. Sometimes, it wasn't. But they always tried to had fun, him and her.

The day they reached Delhi, on the 27th of May, they only had one more day left in their tour. They were happy to be getting rid of the annoying people; even happier that they would visit the Taj Mahal the next day by themselves. True to his promise, the very first thing that he did was book a bus to the Taj Mahal the moment they checked into their hotel. Then, in the scorching heat of Delhi, they went shopping with everyone else. She went berserk wanting to buy everything fancy that she saw on the streets. He tried to calm her down and asked her to control the expenditure. She threw a fit and decided not to talk to him the rest of the day. He didn't either. That evening, for the first time, he decided not to join her for dinner while the rest of the tour mates hogged on a special feast that included his favorite, fruit salad. She thought about him the entire time praying that he changed his mind but he did not and decided to retire early that night.

At about 2 am, he awoke coughing and she awoke with a start.

"What's wrong?", she asked.
"I don't know", he said.

When he was unable to control his coughing, she knew something was wrong, and called the front desk. They told her to call the hospital across the street and ask a doctor to come over. He refused and said that he would walk over. Even though she objected, he was stubborn, as he always had been, and calmly walked over with her hand in his.

At the hospital, he was wheeled into a room and she was asked to wait outside. She was not afraid of being there in a hospital surrounded by unknown people in the middle of the night in a strange city that she had never been to before. She was only afraid for him while the doctor walked in and out making calls, not making any eye contact with her, and mumbling something under his breath.

At around 3 am, the doctor came out and asked her to start praying to God. With a heavy heart, she asked him what that meant. All he did was lower his gaze and say, "He is no more. He has died due to congestive heart failure."

That girl was no other but Solitaire and that man was no other than her beloved grandfather who loved her more than he loved anything or anyone else in the world. My precious grandfather died years ago while trying to show me the Taj Mahal on my very first visit to Delhi. Needless to say, it was the last time I visited the place and will probably never visit it again. At 18, I had called relatives back home to find out what I should do now. I did not shed a single tear then for I had to be strong. I sat by his lifeless cold body for hours before another hospital would open at 9 am and take him in for enbalming so that I could fly him back for his funeral in Ahmedabad. I held on to his cold hands while the ambulance took me and him to that hospital, holding his hands so that they did not fall from one side to the other on the bumpy roads. When I finally found the help, his lips had turned blue. I was shooed out of the room as I noticed them tearing his shirt off. It was a shirt that I had so lovingly bought for him in Singapore. And then I went to my uncle's business partner's home to spend the rest of the day there. Throughout the entire trip I had wished that we would not have to take the long dreadful train journey back home. My wish had come true. I was flying back home that evening, me in a seat, him in a coffin. And little did I realize that all these days, I had been counting the days to his death, not the end of the tour.

I am sorry Dada for having hurt you on your last day. I wish that I had had a chance to tell you that I love you. I never knew you would be gone so soon. I only want you to know that I love you a lot and there is not a single day that I do not think about you. I am what I am only because of you and I hope that we meet again someday to be together forever.

Thank you friends for being with me on this day. The 27th of May is the last day he spent on this earth. Can you please say a little prayer for who was once the most important man in my life?