Prismatic Memory

“I’ll clean up Papa’s medical files this afternoon.” I informed Mummy one morning a couple of weeks after he’d passed this summer. It was more of a directive to myself to get the task done.

“Thanks, I don’t know if we need all the records, you see what’s best.” She responded timidly. Belying her strength and referring to the meticulous journals we’d kept noting his vitals, feeds and output over the last 25 months.

I sat in the narrow space between the bed rail and the cabinets in the room Papa had occupied with all his medical equipment that had now been reorganized. It felt like a betrayal.

A stark reminder how our presence is linked to the geographical layout of the spaces we occupy.

The hissing and sucking of the oxygen concentrator and suction machines had punctuated his silent presence. A clicking sound the voice coach was able to coax from Papa became our dialect. His days had marked time by the comings and goings of nurses, physical therapists, prayers, music, tea, laughter and fresh mango pulp.

Frozen in time…

Papa had miraculously survived a massive brainstem infarct for over 2 years. As I willed myself to the present task of cleaning.

Two hours later, still sitting in a puddle of paperwork, journals, bills, envelopes and surgical supplies. Every piece of paper had been a silent witness as I piled them up. Keep. Recycle. Donate.

“Come have some tea, how much time are you going to spend with this task?” Meena, my oldest sister asked as she came down the hallway to check up on me to ensure I had not fallen through the hole we all felt in our hearts.

“Coming, Didi. Do you wonder how Papa’s brain may have worked before the stroke?” I asked holding up a large MRI slide from the pile.

“No, I don’t think of that.” Meena responded astutely, indulging my propensity for eccentric questions, steering me away from my maudlin self.

She left me sitting there, dry eyed, wondering how our brains worked, how beautiful his must have been. Like a prismatic head, that of the Nikon FE he had owned and given to me when he could still comprehend the world.

Examining the black and white slide I slipped into a more vivid time. Back again at the edge of his bed during the short winter afternoons of my childhood in Northern India. Light had dappled the pale blue walls with shadows cast by the magenta bougainvillea outside his bedroom window.

“Hand me the cloth.” Papa requested referring to the square piece of mummy’s old blue silk saree next to me. His hands deftly spooled film, released the shutter, fogged filters and cleaned invisible dust.

macro flower
Vivid memories in macro…

“Come, see how the reflex head works.” Papa encouraged me to scoot onto his lap. Keeping the shutter open he showed me the mirror inside the SLR. Fingers careful, not touching the prismatic head. Those quiet memories interspaced by the click and winding of reels, moved smoothly along the sprockets.

Releasing the memories I blinked back at the MRI slide. Tracing the outlines of his final frailty. This was the brain that had created all those pictures through the viewfinder, been an engineer, played the accordion, painted and gone about the business of being alive. Firing millions of neurons for over 80 years. It was the first time I was looking at the prismatic head of my father, tracing his inner geography.

With unsteady fingers I wiped away invisible dust from the MRI slide with a piece of Mummy’s old cotton saree and slid it back into the flat blue envelope and placed it on the Keep pile.

8 Replies to “Prismatic Memory”

  1. Sumi,
    You are a fabulous writer!!!!! OMG! I loved the Prismatic Memory. It was like a eulogy to your father. It was so beautifully and lovingly expressed that I felt it came directly from your heart. WOW! If you would be willing to share this very personal glimpse of your father and your relationship with him with the public, I think it should be submitted for publication like in the Sunday NYT magazine section, or the New Yorker Magazine or Newsweek’s “It’s My Turn.” Or, add it to some other essays you have written, and make a book out of it. Name it something like Prismatic Memories along with other short essays you have written. I’m just so impressed, Sumi, and know that there is a definite market for your introspective and heart warming writing. You definitely have talent, my friend. Thank you for sharing your blog with me. I’m over the moon with this story and your talent.
    PS Don’t worry about dropping off that cookbook which I hoped inspire you to writing that cookbook you mentioned. I will meet you in person soon.
    . . ,

  2. Lovely di, the visions of life’s such minuteness that you remember. Idris, the bougainvillea tree behind the bedroom. Keep writing, I will read on and in my head will think about what my pa would be doing that time, you take us back in time, you’re my timemachine. sanju

  3. Suman, this is lovely, and your photos are stunning. It was a pleasure to meet you, and I look forward to reading more from you!

    1. Thank you Amy, it was wonderful meeting you too and I am really enjoying your blog Tiny Farmhouse, what an inspiration!!

  4. Kashmira Vora says: Reply

    Beautiful Suman. A story so wonderful to share. Be blessed and feel happy that you were always there. You are an inspiration. Look forward to reading more articles from you.

  5. Never before have I read such a beautifully expressed vivid narration .Suman hats off fall short of words in appreciation. Mira aunty.

  6. Thank you everyone for the encouraging feedback and taking the time to read the posts.

  7. No words to express the amount of courage and love required to write this so wonderfully…it’s amazing how well you can pen down your thoughts so beautifully…keep it up !!! Love you

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