Losses Unknown

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“Can you show me a picture of thatha?” Laddu asks, thrusting an old album at me.

“Sure!” I say as I flip open the book. In my head, I am thinking Giri thatha, my Appa who never knew his granddaughters. I know though that she is talking about Rajamani thatha, the only one she has known.

The album is one from my wedding. The pictures which include her thathas are blurry or the people she is interested in are in profile view. I close the album, my breath catching at the memories and pull her to me. I put her on my lap and pull up pictures on my laptop. The few I have are ones I have seen over and over again in the years since we lost him.

I talk to her about Giri thatha, about the man who was my father. I tell her how he believed in me long before anyone did. I tell her about the evenings and nights I lay on the flat terrace of our home in Madras, looking at the sky watching planes blink and vanish into the clouds as I waited for the sounds of his bike from the road that ran behind our home. I tell her about the early mornings I would arrive by train from Bangalore, sweaty and smelling of diesel and scan the crowds for the one face I longed to see. He would either be standing by the boards that announced the arrival and departure of trains or slowly limp his way toward me, his one leg bearing a lopsided weight. His face would glisten in the dim light filtering in from the eaves.

I tell my daughter about riding home with my Appa, about how, I too chattered nonstop, pausing only when I had to catch my breath. I tell her about the times I sat at his feet, leaning against his thin legs, my fingers exploring his callused soles while he patted my head or expressed affection by massaging my scalp. His eyes would be on the TV while I would chatter along, sharing inane details of my single life, away from home, away from the comforts of amma’s nurture.

I tell her about the times when I was a little girl like her, all of four years old, shouting “naan kochinde irruken” and running to the corner where two walls met, my face wet with tears, expressing anger unabashedly knowing he would come to scoop me up. I tell her about the times I would sneak up behind him as he shaved and close his eyes asking “Tell me who this is” absolutely unaware of the mirror in front of him.

I tell her about this man, who is her thatha, who would have been delighted to have her for a granddaughter, the one who missed seeing her and playing with her. She dutifully reaches for another album, her face hopeful.

“I think Giri thatha is in this album,” she says.

In the years since he passed on, I have grieved my loss in countless ways. It hits me today that my children know not what they have lost.

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