It’s my 21st Birthday. After all these years, this day feels a lot different. Something is missing. Or rather, someone. It’s strange how he was never there, yet he was. I’ve never met him. But I know him. I’ve never heard his voice. But his words keep echoing in my ears. I have never held his hand. But he always ushered me into the right path. But now he’s gone. He truly is gone. A tear trickles down my face as I pull the curtains.
It’s pouring outside. I walk to the side table and take the small wooden box off it. Sitting down on the bed, I open it. Small folded papers are stacked up inside. I take the first one in my hands. It’s dated 13 years ago. I don’t need to read it. I remember every single word of it.
I look out the glass window and instead see my reflection in it. Surprisingly, it’s a 8-year-old.
18th May, 2005
Hi...you can call me Dad.
I stopped and looked up at Mom. She had handed me the letter. It was my 8th birthday. She was in a hurry to leave for work. I asked her, ‘What’s this, Mom? You said my father is dead. How come he’s writing to me?’
She stopped, looked back and replied, ‘He left these letters for you. Every birthday you’ll get one.’ She smiled and dashed out.
I focused back on the letter.
Happy birthday. Your gift is waiting for you outside on the lawn.
I ran out. A small bike adorned with balloons stood in the center of our garden. It brought an instant smile to my face. I read the letter on.
Remember, someone can teach you to ride it. But nobody will pedal it for you. Don’t think if you fall over, there always will be someone to pick you up. And once you learn to balance, always be wary. You might fall off again...and again...and again. But every time you’ve to get up and pedal on no matter how much you’re hurting.
For the 8-year-old me, the literal meaning was all that made sense. Which also made learning to ride that bike easy. And as I walked on the path of life, I gradually learnt that this journey was no different as well.
I walk to the window. The rivulets are rolling down the glass. But they’re dying out before they can complete their journey. Can I not stop them from dying? Can I not stop death? Or at least push it far away?
I look down at the second letter held tightly in my hand.
18th May, 2006
In the past one year, you might have wondered why you lost your Dad. Why you couldn’t meet him. Why death has taken me away from you. Why you? Right? Dear, there’s no way one can elude death. Likewise, there’s no way one can escape pain...misfortune...and agony. You’ve to accept it. Live with it. And move on to a place from where you can see the approaching happiness. Happy Birthday.
I wipe my tears. The rain has slowed down. People who were standing under the shade across from our house, have started to walk out on the road. I see a little girl, holding her mother’s hand and jumping on the sloppy street. She’s smiling. She’s happy. Why did I never have such a moment? Because Mom was never there for me. She was always away...always.
I come back to my bed and unfold the third letter.
18th May, 2007
I know how your life would be now. You’re 10. My little baby isn’t a baby anymore. She’s growing. Fast...very fast. She’s coming across new feelings, experiences and people. She’s changing. And that makes her feel scared and think that she’s alone. Are you? Yes, you are. You’ll always be. Unless you find a friend within yourself. And start talking to that friend. You’ll never be alone anymore. Happy Birthday.
I take a deep breath. Dad was always there for me. His words never left my side. And yes, I found a friend within me. I still talk to her. Am I alone? No.
I smile lightly and look down at the letter flapping at the edge of my fingers.
18th May, 2008
Are you studying well, dear? I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m asking this boring question on your birthday. Being a typical Dad, huh? No, I wouldn’t ask you to be a topper. Neither would I like if you failed in the exams. Educate yourself, daughter. Studying and being educated are completely different. Education will make you a real human. While cramming the textbooks would instill prejudices and preconceived opinions into your mind. Happy Birthday.
I grew up reading his words. While Mom stayed mostly busy with her office work, I spent time reading his letters over and over again. I resented her as much as I loved Dad. But I wish I’d known her enough. The rain has stopped now. I can hear birds chirping like it’s a new morning. Like it never rained.
18th May, 2009
How do you handle your likes and dislikes, dear? Likes are easy to deal with, no? What about dislikes? Strong dislikes? Do you discuss it? Do you express your reproval about it? Do you say no? If not, then start. Do you stand against wrong? It’s scary, I know. But if you don’t, someone else would stand against the right and make it seem wrong. Happy Birthday.
This letter scared me. But also it filled my heart with a strange determination. I never hesitated to say no. Saying it never seemed wrong again. I walk up to the window and peek down at the lawn. People have started coming. There’s a funeral today at our place.
18th May, 2010
Saying goodbye is the toughest thing. Especially when you know you aren’t going to see them again. You’d want to hold on to them...cling to them. But just as past and present can’t walk together, some people can’t walk the path with you. Let them go. Happy Birthday.
I lean against the window. Saying goodbye to her was the toughest. Mom. She’s no more. It’s her funeral today. A tear drops off my eye. And it takes me to the words inscribed on the seventh letter.
18th May, 2011
You’re 14 now. Life is changing fast. You’re coming across aches that cannot be treated with medicines anymore. Your screams are now silent. Crying in public doesn’t seem graceful. Why? Are you ashamed of your tears? No. You’re just scared of public reaction. If you’re hurt, cry. If you’re scarred, scream. If you’re happy, smile. Don’t look to people for validation. Happy Birthday.
I sit down on the floor. Tears flood my eyes. I wish I could go back in time and see Mom for one last time. I want to say sorry. I failed her as a daughter.
18th May, 2012
Dear, parents will always forgive you. How can they not? You’re a part of their existence. But remember, they are a part of your existence too. They aren’t God. They are human. They make mistakes. They make wrong decisions. They fail. They aren’t perfect. And sometimes they too need your forgiveness. Happy Birthday.
His words always put this world in a different light. He’s the reason why this society could never bind me with the chain of its taboos and prejudices.
But what now? I know there won’t be any letter this year. I pick up the ninth one with a shaking hand.
18th May, 2013
You’re 16 now. You’re slowly entering that stage when a girl evolves into a woman. So right at the beginning, let me tell you that you are no princess. Neither are you a queen. Don’t let people call you either of them. Be a human. Do all that a human would do. Don’t cry for sympathy because you’re a woman. Don’t hate men just because they belong to that species. Happy Birthday.
He somehow always knew what I needed as a girl...a lady...and a woman. It seldom happens that a father does all this for his daughter. And a mother is away. I sigh.
18th May, 2014
Now that you’re 17, you should know something about heartbreaks and love. It’s heavenly to fall in love. To give someone your heart. But you shouldn’t sell yourself out to receive the same in return. Losing yourself is not love. And dear, every single person will break your heart. That will only shape you into a mature person. Be thankful. Happy Birthday.
I had a heartbreak at that age. Now it seems really frivolous. But back then it hurt me. And to some extent, this letter helped me get over it. It seemed he was always watching over me.
18th May, 2015
You’re 18? You’re now an adult. What difference do you feel today? Nothing, right? Maturity doesn’t come with age, degrees and freedom. It could come even within the confines of four walls. With no degrees to flaunt. And at the age of 10. Be a mature person. Not an irresponsible adult. Happy Birthday.
Somehow I always understood what he meant. I paved my path with his words. But I always wished Mom was there to walk by my side.
18th May, 2016
Being independent is important. Your identity is all that you can call your own. Never fancy a sluggish life. Set a goal. Dream. And work hard towards it every moment of your life. Without it, you’re just a puppet working for others’ goals. Happy Birthday.
I’m a writer. I know making a name for myself as a writer wouldn’t be easy. But his words make me want to try. The rays of Sun touch my face. I look up.
18th May, 2017
Being comfortable isn’t same as being happy. Venture out. Don’t stick to the same place only because of its comfort. Are you happy? Is this all you want? If not, then walk out. Take risk. Accept failure and gear yourself up to handle success. Happy Birthday.
Last year I sent my first manuscript to a few publishers. To date, ten of them have rejected it. Failure has never hit me so hard before. But I am happy. I’m pursuing my dream. This is what I want.
That was the last letter. I exhale and get up. I’ve to go downstairs. Mom’s sister and her husband are taking care of all the arrangements. But I should help them. I meticulously fold all the letters and put them in the box.
Placing it on the table as I turn to leave, something falls off the table. I turn to see what. It’s a small piece of paper. Did I forget to put all the letters inside? I kneel down and pick it up. Oh, it’s the unfinished letter. I gulp. This was supposed to be Dad’s fourteenth letter. I found this a day after Mom…
Mom had a severe heart attack. I saw her lying on the floor of her room the next morning. By the time we reached the hospital, she had taken her last breath. The next day as the relatives and friends left, I went to her room. I hadn’t shed a single drop of tear yet. I still couldn’t believe that she was gone. I knew her smell would still be lingering in her room. I arranged her books, laptop, clothes. And then my eyes fell on this letter on her study table. A pen lay on it. Its cap was open. The letter was unfinished. As if she was writing it. The same yellow paper, the same envelope and on top of it, the same words scribbled - 18th May, 2018.
I ran to my Aunt, Mom’s sister. She had stayed back. I showed her the letter. Her nervous glance told me she knew the truth.
‘Your father isn’t dead.’ She said after a good five minutes of silence.
I staggered back in shock.
‘Your Mom would’ve never told you all this,’ she said, ‘but probably it’s time you knew.’ She paused, then added. ‘You’re a love child. Your father denied all responsibility. But your Mom didn’t want to abort you. She was ready to parent you all by herself. All was good until one day you started asking hundred questions about your father. She realized you were growing up. And that you were not only missing a father figure but a parent. She was mostly away because she had to work. Being a single parent isn’t easy. I hope you get that. So she decided to write these letters to give you a father. A Dad. A parent. She knew she couldn’t be there for you always. But her words were there to guide you...protect you.’
I started crying. My body shook vehemently. My senses went numb. She handed me the letter and left the room silently. The last ever letter from Mom.
18th May, 2018
Someday you’ll stop receiving my letters. Not because you won’t need me anymore. A child always needs its parents. Irrespective of its age. But at some point, parents need to leave its hand. You’re growing up, daughter. Hence let me tell you one thing - life’s going to be tough. Very tough. But then, was it ever meant to be easy? No. I would…
She couldn’t complete it. I wipe my tears, put the letter under my pillow and head out. Mom was always watching over me. She still is. She always will. Like the rain...the Sun...the clouds...and the wind.