The gift of morning

“I suddenly remember being very little and being embraced by my father. I would try to put my arms around my father’s waist, hug him back. I could never reach the whole way around the equator of his body; he was that much larger than life. Then one day, I could do it. I held him, instead of him holding me, and all I wanted at that moment was to have it back the other way.”
Jodi Picoult, Vanishing Acts

As a little girl, I loved watching Dad get ready to go to work. He would rise really early, make himself a strong cup of tea, and while barraging through the newspaper, put on the radio. I remember waking up was a rather sensory experience – I would either rise to the smell of the brewing tea or the sound of old Hindi songs punctuated with commentary on Vividh Bharati.  The whole house would slowly rise to the sound of dad’s existence – sound of rummaging paper, subtle clacking in the kitchen, Kishor Kumar yodeling in the background and the newscaster reading the news to no one in particular. Ma would groggily get up and put some tea for the rest of us.

Then again, some mornings, I would sift through bouts of sleep and wakefulness, hearing my parents talk.  It was always a happy sound, even when one of them would get edgy and resign out of the conversation.  I remember I would often go back to sleep with their conversation acting as a lullaby. Mom and dad were talkers.

If mum was not cooking, she would be sipping her tea and reading the newspaper, while dad got ready for work, both simultaneously engrossed in talking to each other. They would discuss everything under the sun-right from dad’s work, to the paint on the wall to what they should be doing for the summer. Is it normal that my memory of a happy couple is dad shaving, mom sipping her tea and them talking?

I always saw my parents as a conjoined system in the morning. So in tune with each other, and yet independently accomplishing their own tasks. Rising to the call of the day, and answering with full fervor and energy. So much would happen just in the early hours of the day, not always tangible accomplishments, but achievements of the heart – stuff that brings families together – exchange of ideas, sharing, giving each other direction and love. To an outsider, our mornings would appear to be long lazy hours of yapping and gulping down warm beverages, but to us, really, morning was the binding force of life.

Of course there were dull, gloomy days of tardiness too, sometimes due to just the ennui of life, and sometimes due to sickness. I remember when I was 11 or 12, one morning I got up to see papa really unwell. We had recently moved into the new house and I remember all three of us were huddled together in the room where he was resting. I was baffled to see him in bed at 9 am, and I almost teared up thinking why the house was not running as usual. He had a high temperature and Ma was putting a cold towel on his forehead to get the heat down. I remember him telling us that we should sing to him. So the three of us, my elder sister, my younger brother and I, we sat there singing softly to him. I still remember the smile on his face that day.

There were other mornings, when I would get up too late, and missed seeing papa, for he always left home early.  I would still see remnants of his active morning – several open books, an empty cup of tea and some notes scribbled on a piece of paper, all sitting on the table. Dad would study almost every day in the morning, even if it was a brief 30 minutes. I have a sense that for him mornings were sacred. He embraced them fully and I have not seen a day in my life when dad has gotten up later than 6:30 am.

How can I relive all the many sunrises I have seen with dad on tops of hills in obscure places? Papa loved to travel and everywhere we went, we always tried to see the sunrises – Tiger Hill in Darjeeling to the tea garden sunrise in Munnar. Or the early mornings he would ride me and my sister to the club so we could learn how to swim. Then there were the mornings, when dad would be running late and the whole house would collectively lose their mind, along with dad.

My sister, his darling daughter, had adapted to his morning ritual like nobody in the house had. She was his eldest and she had learnt to embrace dad’s schedule. For years, before moving out of home, she would rise before him, prepare panchamrit[1], tea and some breakfast for him. Papa always called her his dependable one. My little brother would overtly display his displeasure with our early morning chatter, but I always saw him sneaking a smile as he put the blanket over his head,  trying to screen our laughter away, but glad that we are talking around him.

Every new year, we would all rise early and share our plans for the coming year. Birthdays were always celebrated at 6 am., and if it was mom or dad’s birthday, it was such a challenge to try to get up before papa did. We three little musketeers would try to wake each other up, then waddle through the kitchen somehow prepare some tea (thanks to my sister) and half asleep walk into our parents’ bedroom to wish them, only to find, nine out of ten times, them awake, talking! I think over the years, we accepted they won’t be surprised to see us with cards, gifts and bed tea and they had realized they would pretend to be surprised anyway. It still works out perfectly well and we still celebrate each other’s birthdays in the mornings, with some warm tea and a little cake. 

I love and absolutely adore mornings.

I realize my bizarre lifestyle presents me with lesser mornings, on average, each year. But still, when I am running late to work and I walk out of the apartment, no matter how foul my mood is, the first smell of morning air, makes me happy.

Its dad’s birthday today, and I really want to say to him – thank you papa for the gift of the morning.

***

[1] Panchamrita (lit. five Amṛtas in Sanskrit) is a mixture of five foods which are usually honey, sugar, milk , yogurt and ghee, which has some health benefits according to Ayurveda

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The morning at home
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The talkers. Mom and Dad
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A page from dad’s diary, 1987
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Mornings make me reflect on Rilke

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