Death of my father left a lasting impression of pain, hurt and sorrow on my young mind. The kind of feeling that is uncontrollable, I could feel the knots in my stomach. It felt as if I was falling slowly from a very tall building.
There is no heartache bigger than seeing your father, an embodiment of strength, lying helpless on a hospital bed waiting for his time to come. Bauji had a massive heart attack. Maybe the responsibility of such a large family took its toll on him.
As soon as I came to know about the news, I rushed to the hospital on my second-hand bicycle, paddling as fast as my feet would allow me. The distance between Lodhi road and Safdarjung hospital seemed to take a lifetime. As I entered the ward, there he was, my father, who's word was the holy gospel in our house, lying on a hospital bed with eyes full of tears. He shakingly took his hand in mine and rubbed it affectionately. Then he said, " You are growing into a fine young man. Once you get a good job, our troubles will be over". He did not let go of my hand even after he had finished speaking.
I nodded my head with tears stinging sharp and it was at that moment I realized that he trusted me enough to leave me with the responsibility of the whole house. I promised him that I would take care of Matti and the my brothers and sisters for as long as I lived. A mere boy of 14 years, at that time I did not know how I was going to do this. But I had given my word to my father and that meant the world to me.
Next day, as I entered the hospital ward, my father's bed was empty. For a moment, my heart was elated to think that they must have taken him for some tests. It meant to my young mind that he must be getting better. The doctor on ward duty informed me that my father had passed away in the night. Just like that, in a moment, the spine of our family was broken forever. He advised me to go home and inform the family. My whole world crumbed around me. The only words echoing in my mind were ‘bauji was no more. I rushed home and informed my mother about my father's demise.
The funeral was over by the evening. The world went about its usual cycle as if nothing had happened. The last rites were performed at Lodhi Road Crematorium. As is the custom, sons automatically take over responsibilities of father. Now the biggest question was, how will the house be managed since the sole income earner of the house was no more. God was kind and Bauji's good karma accumulated over his lifetime probably prevailed, so even central government acted quite fast. My brother Shyam had learnt the art of stenography and typing by now, and he was asked to appear for a test at Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). He qualified and continued in the job till his retirement. With this job, we were allotted a small house in Netaji Nagar. Our address for the next 11 years remained F-504, Netaji Nagar, New Delhi.
Initially, none of us liked Netaji Nagar house. We often referred to the house as a one room pigeon hole. It was a huge downgrade for all of us from the big three-room house with a servant quarter that was allotted to my Bauji two years before his death. But this pigeon hole proved to be our lucky mascot. All eight bachelor brothers and sisters got married in this house. It proved specially lucky for me, as I got selected in army as the Emergency Commissioned Officer from this house only. I was given the rank of a Second Lieutenant, a gazetted class 1 post with a salary of 640 rupees a month, a princely sum in those days. All my sisters finished their education in the years that followed and started contributing to the family. Things had finally started looking up.