Praveena, a Sri Lankan expat bid good-bye to her father at the end of a six-week holiday in Colombo with mixed feelings this time. She could feel her father’s drawn, emaciated frame trembling. Her eyes filled with tears but then, leaving her family and returning to London after a glorious holiday in Sri Lanka, was always painful.
EVERY YEAR, PRAVEENA, MADE IT A POINT TO VISIT SRI LANKA AS HER HOLIDAY DESTINATION
Although she had fulfilled everything in England; from higher education, a happy marriage and social, financial status, expensive motor cars, detached houses, a loving family and all the imaginable material comforts in London, she always felt that inexplicable vacuum within herself when she thought of her childhood, spent in Sri Lanka. True, it was basic, simple and an unsophisticated lifestyle, yet the nostalgia was too dense and, it always hit her back like a boomerang!
THIS TIME PRAVEENA’S HOLIDAY WAS DIFFERENT
Not worried about restrictions on travel subsequent to terrorist suicide bomb attacks in Colombo during the LTTE war, spanning over thirty odd years, her concern was only in the six-week period she spent time together with her parents. Her father’s mental and physical status had deteriorated before her very own eyes, and she felt her leave-taking was to be her last priority.
A fortnight after Praveena returned to her London flat, her bedside telephone screamed early one morning, warning that her father had been rushed to a private hospital with a serious heart condition and to undergo a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) operation.
FLYING BACK AGAIN
She was once again flying SriLankan airlines homebound, desperately hoping to reach her father’s bedside but, not to be. Praveena felt a sense of hopelessness overcoming her. “ Those of us who have lost our parents invariably say that we regret, for not having said all the things that needed to be said. If only we could have had those last few days, or weeks, over again, even if for just a few hours”. Praveena thought.
PRAVEENA’S FAMILY – A MINI UNITED NATIONS
Her brothers and sisters too had already become Sri Lanka expats and were living abroad. The term “Abroad” still had a social prestige, she thought. After so many years of independence on the Island Nation, we need years all over again to reconcile ourselves to the lives we lead and the people we have become, she thought.
During the ‘1960s’ moving abroad to study was the goal of every AMBITIOUS student! Or, more to the point, the driving force behind every anxious parent! Her father was keener than most. Inevitably, she left Sri Lanka in pursuit of higher education in a London University to obtain a degree in English literature. According to the family astrologer, Ronald, she couldn’t have been kept in Sri Lanka “even if she was bound with chains!” Her path, therefore, had to lead to England, The “Mother Country” and the source of education!
Praveena was soon able to quote Keats and Milton effortlessly, but how little of Gurulugome or Maurapada! The English history, the Tudors, the War of the Roses, The Spanish Armada, any such detail was crystal clear in Praveena ‘s photographic memory, but those of Gira Sandesaya or Guttila Kawaya, Hansa Sandesaya or Ummagga Jathakaya (the Sinhala Classics) and Sri Lankan history were very hazy.
SRI LANKAN HISTORY WAS VERY HAZY
Praveena’s brothers & sisters too had left home in turn to various parts of the world, and the parents remained in a large, empty house with their ambitions fulfilled and their pride in their off-springs demonstrated by family photographs that filled heaps of albums, some of which were now becoming discoloured & defaced.
The aging parents felt a sense of family togetherness on the days when air-mail envelopes dropped through the red coloured letter-box on the front gate. In time, the family photographs were augmented by those of the grandchildren. Praveena’s parents continued to glory in their extended family, which included sons and daughters-in-law of various nationalities.
The reality of all of this didn’t strike Praveena until those last few weeks with her parents. Her father had been in good health since he retired. Both parents had visited their children living abroad, several times and they loved every trip that took them to different parts of the world; London, LA, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada.
Two years after her father’s retirement, he showed an ambition to immigrate to the UK. Naturally, Praveena ’s parents would have loved to be with their
Her father, a man of immense dignity, respected, revered by those who knew him as a ‘cultured, educated and an imaginative man‘, would be another “Coloured immigrant” ridiculed by England’s hooligans, perhaps even hated or resented in some quarters, thought Praveena. She would, therefore never consent her father to endure that. Yet, her father would never have understood how much emotion could be generated in the “mother country,” thought Praveena. Her father finally accepted her advice and continued to become frail, while her mother began to sink under anxiety.
LAST SIX WEEKS
During the last six weeks with her father, Praveena noticed how his mind wandered from time to time. But, there was a certain truth, in those wanderings, that was mainly too painful to bear. She noticed how blurry the details of her father’s life emerged, whilst his mind wandered, and how the generations over-lapped, so that Praveena ‘s mother and father’s mother merged occasionally. During such wanderings in his mind, one theme became crystal clear. He saw himself always as the head of the family in her father’s fantasy. He spoke of his family settled in a large single compound with acres of land, a stone’s throw away from Thalawathugoda junction, with sons, daughters and dozens of grandchildren close to hand.
Wanderings of the mind were vividly real to him as he “saw” his grandchildren growing up, their futures shaping according to their interests & characteristics. In his imaginary family compound, he offered Praveena & her sibling’s money to help them acquire adjoining lands and even doing the supervision of new construction of houses by himself.
During Praveena’s holiday, she had been talking to her father gently for many hours in those weeks. She let him become a part of her father’s waking dream, his family together, and close at hand. One day when his mind was clear, and he was back in the painful world of the present, Praveena asked her father whether he would encourage his children to leave home and go abroad, in search of education? If he had his time over again? His answer unhesitatingly was “YES”!
FLIGHT BACK TO LONDON
Returning back to London, after her father’s funeral, Praveena was engulfed in a wave of deep sadness. During the long flight from Colombo to London, her mind turned into a mini cinema screen, for she could visualise detailed pictures of the realities of past circumstances, especially the last six weeks spent with her dearest father, devoting her entire trip by his bedside.
Providence sometimes delivers sledgehammer blows on every one of us. In this instance, Praveena was not destined to be with her most ‘ loved & respected man on earth’ at the crucial moment when she would have loved to sit beside him, hold his hands and whisper to him: “Dad, thank you so much for everything you’ve done, for all of us”.
She was lost with this wave of deep thought for many months after her father’s demise. Whenever that last trip to Colombo comes to her mind, Praveena still becomes a confused woman, and she is yet to find an answer to this vital question that entered her mind at the loss of her beloved father!
Is the regret Praveena now feels self-indulgent? Is the ‘multiculturalism she proudly accepted in England, as an expat, adequate to compensate for the memory of that “lovely old man” seeking comfort in the wandering of a senile mind?
*Sub-edited and administered by, Rowena Fernando; firstname.lastname@example.org
*Photo-Credit for cover photo @ Google