Listener Essay - The Deputation
Gayu Seenumani immigrated to the US from Chennai India – where her parents still live. She is an engineer working at GE Global Research. She lives in Niskayuna with her husband.
To love is to devote. My experience says so.
My adolescence was marked with my mother being sent away. Or that was how I felt. In fact, she was chosen to work for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a stint, aka., government deputation. She would visit us once a year. These visits were marked by the anticipation that it would be the last. In those years, my father would pick her from the airport and after 20 days, a taxi arrived for her return trip. We would cry profusely saying our good-byes, went into our home and continued crying. Our father returned from the airport, took us for a walk where he would tell us that the year would fly by. That night, he hugged us with the promise that my mother would be back very soon for good. We three slept. This repeated.
It was 1995 when she returned home after 7 years. My father, sister and I were at the Chennai airport. My mother squealed upon seeing all of us and it was followed by loads of hugs and kisses. I started talking to my mom about school and music class and we both started to peep into her luggage. My father, now an expert at the pickup, waited out the chaos and made sure we all reached home comfortably.
The next day I got up earlier than my mom to make coffee. I spotted a note.
Beloved Indu, the mother of my angels, I saw you in deep slumber. It has been 7 years and I felt peaceful to be around you. I hope to be back with the vegetables before you get up. Thank you for serving us all.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. It always did. He had that effect on me. While we grew up, we were always told that we can never take mom’s grace for granted. He drilled into the two of us that there is something deeply sacred about her and that we must behave. All of this made us quite respectful of her life and choices. My mom, a while ago, realized their financial struggles and accepted the assignment.
I stood there reminiscing about those 7 years. The first few weeks were excruciatingly painful without her. I used to hold to her clothes when I slept. The three of us discovered that many seemingly simple things turned out to be a nightmare. Braiding hair, for instance, which my father was terrible at. He soon invented a method, but we both were invariably late to school. I was asked to hold a lock of hair of my sister’s and stood next to my father. Then I remember moving from one to another of his, exchanging the locks from his hand to mine. Eventually it was braided.
There were many well-intentioned attempts with cooking - brick-hard cakes, stews catching fire. On the day, I got my first period I reported as onset of leukemia. I did not know better. He cracked up and took me to the gynecologist. That evening he told me that I need to think of him as a friend and not a father and that I will be united with my mother soon. I don’t know what he felt when he said that, but I think he felt the pinch of being the father of a girl. He had daily meetings, which he called “heart to heart” slots. I discussed my crushes and how bad men made me feel- utter nonsense in retrospection.
In those years of separation, I had never seen my father pursue anything for himself. How could he? He was simply there for us, keeping us entertained. He witnessed all sorts of tantrums from us – uncontrollable crying, midnight urges to talk to my mother. He indulged most of my crazy ideas; the wildest of them was carrying the two of us in his arms and running to the bus stop.
I awakened to reality when my mother hugged me from the back. I handed her back the note knowing my father had merged his life with ours so that we would not feel the absence of our mother, would not yearn for anything that was reasonable and in doing so, dreamt with us, laughed with us and made mistakes with us. Devoted to her, he was devoted to us and was everything we needed.