Appa never laughs or cries. As long as I can remember, my father has never cried, at least in front of me. He is what my grandmother likes to call a ‘military man’. Like clockwork, at the break of dawn, Appa begins his day, dousing his face in ice water. As streaks of pink begin to sweep through the sky and the Mysore Palace is reflected in the rippling lakes, Appa always jogs for an hour along the bustling streets of Bangalore, the only exception being the time my father fractured his ankle. Nothing stops him.
In the mornings, the house is animated by lively commotion like no other time during the day. Ammu, my grandmother, loves telling me that I run like a madman around the house, my long russet brown hair following as I fly around the house like a whirlwind. Since I was five years old, I have treasured the aroma of Ammu’s divine dosas wafting through the bungalow and outside onto the terrace. That tantalising fragrance of crispy dosa and mango chutney is my grandmother’s way of calling my father and I to eat breakfast together.
Ammu knots her green sari at the waist as she tosses some paranthas in the air, and has her greying strands of hair tied into an oiled braid descending down her back. My grandmother can easily assume an air of authority and sternness, but it is never utilised. Although I hardly ever dare to dispute her and risk knuckle-rapping from her wooden spoon, she dotes on me like the apple of her eye, her callused hands the first I hold when I had a problem. This had become more frequent recently.
By the time, I had turned twelve, my eyes had been opened to the western world of pop music. All my friends played me their latest One Direction songs, swooning over their crooning voices betraying teenage heartache. I never enjoyed pop music, preferring instead to indulge in a book, reading every book with an unquenched, ravenous desire for more knowledge. By the time I was sixteen, I had channelled my want for information into a more tangible expanse – science. My first introduction to science in seventh grade – the lighting of a Bunsen burner – sparked a fiery desire to learn about science, further ignited when my teacher taught us about the pivotal research conducted by a female scientist named Marie Curie. My awe at seeing a female presence in the forefront of science made me believe anything was possible. This passion remained kindled throughout high school and now to college, in which I studied chemical science.
Appa encouraged my love for science when I was younger. However, as the months turned into years and my father realised that this was not simply a fleeting phase, he tried to dissuade me. Even now, Appa remains tight-lipped when I talk about my scientific studies in college.. My father is a man of few words, preferring instead to use sparing words to convey his message. Despite this, I can read the evident distaste; his lips pursed, his bushy eyebrows furrowing, staying perfectly still as he avoided my gaze.
“All right, Ammu, the dosas were delicious! I’m about to head off to college, Appa!” I yell, gulping the last bit of milk.
“See you soon, chinnu!””, Ammu called.
“Appa?”, I yell. “I’m leaving now!”
“All right. Come back by six, won’t you? Your grandmother wants to visit her sister,” Appa says, his voice gruff and terse.
I sigh, wondering when my father will give his blessing for my decision to do science. Appa thinks it’s not ‘womanly’ to be a scientist, and has a firm belief that only radicalised hippies will want to marry me. As I close the door, I eye the sky nervously. The overcast sky is awash with hues of grey and blue, enveloped by a blanket of densely gathered clouds. The air was pregnant with humidity, beads of sweat clustering near my underarm. Street vendors selling vibrant arrays of fruits and vegetables summon eager housewives, white cows adorned with kumkuma lethargically stroll down the dung filled street and the clanging of the nearby temple bells chime in conjunction with the cries of children playing lagori.
“Rickshaw!” I shout, as I try to hail an auto rickshaw. The driver shakes his head as I see American tourists seated inside the green-yellow vehicle. The sun beats down upon the market; my throat is parched. Water, I need water.
‘Rickshaw!” I holler to another, tapping my foot impatiently, as black circles start to obscure my vision. The world reels up and down. The ground shifts beneath my feet.
I hear the faint honking of traffic outside. A sweating pitcher of water and a brass vase of wilting marigolds sit on the table next to me. The air is as thick as warm pea soup in a sweltering African summer.
I hoist myself up onto my elbows and see lanes teeming with cars and motorcycles packed like sardines. Appa sits in the corner of the hospital room, fiddling with his kurta.
‘What happened?’ I ask Appa.
“You collapsed in the middle of the street,” his voice shaking, looking away as tears well up in his eyes. My face is awash with shock, as I see pearl-shaped tears run in rivulets down Appa’s face for the first time. “Some people from the market brought you to the hospital. I came as soon as I could.”
“Appa… thank you for being here….I know we haven’t really been talking because of colleg—”
“Wait… When I got this call from the hospital, everything stopped. All I thought was that I couldn’t ever forgive myself if you weren’t okay and the last thing I said to you was said in anger,” he says quietly, reassuringly squeezing my hand. “I was wrong to begrudge you of loving science simply due to my old-fashioned thinking. Thank God you are fine… Do whatever you want; all I care is that you are happy and healthy.”
I give Appa a faint smile. The familiar spicy smell of dosa and pickle suddenly wafts into the hospital room. “Ammu!” I cry, overjoyed. Ammu’s face lights up like a beacon on a rainy night, her numerous wrinkles crinkling to create smile lines around her chestnut eyes.
As the dusky oranges in the sky intensify and our faces are aglow with the scarlets and ambers painted by the sun, I am perfectly content basking in the warmth of Ammu’s embrace and seeing Appa’s heartwarming half-smile, relishing the serenity in that little room.