I cannot believe he is dead!
He lived on the north side of my town, on Dorothy street. I used to pass by his house during my evening strolls. His house had an over-sized green door that did not seem to fit the neighborhood, just like him.
With a white beard and a grey turban; he was easy to spot from a distance. I always found him outside his house, gardening in the front-yard or just admiring the outdoor. As I would walk-by, I exchanged hello/hi with him. I was just being polite – out of respect for our elders. But over time, I made his acquaintance. He liked to talk, I found out pretty soon. Chatting with him became a part of my evening routines.
“Beautiful weather! Nice day for a walk!! Scattered clouds over there, look like a floating goat!!!” He would say random things with a chuckle. He laughed at his own jokes; that used to be a cue for me to laugh.
He was very fond – actually very proud, of India and all things Indian, I could tell. Not that I needed to know, but he often told me the virtues of Indian society, the pride of being Indian. He also reminded me how advanced Indian are, compared to the ‘white people’ as he would call them.
“I was the first Indian in this town” he mentioned one evening, “There were no Indian shops in this area!!”
“It must be hard back then”, I once asked; that was bad idea. For next 20-30 minutes, he told me all about the hardships of being an isolated Indian living amongst white folks.
“Many mornings I used to find eggs shells all over my new car in this driveway; these racist people, I tell you!….”
Sometimes, he complained, but he was not bitter. He told his past stories with the same braggadocio as a captain would shares his encounters with the rough stormy weather.
He was different. I enjoyed these brief daily encounters, and his stories from all over the places. He came across as a fanatic Indian; he never tried to hide his obvious bias for ‘the great India’. Without hesitation, he would share his thoughts about superior Indian culture, the sins of the western society…. But it was never monotonous; he always had new anecdotes.
I did not agree with many of his views, but I never argued with him either. When in serious mood, he spoke like a professor, like a preacher – as if never in doubt. I thought to myself – you cannot change the thinking of an old man, those outdated views….
I recall it was Friday; I did not see him outside his house that evening. It was strange, his absence. Then, even more disturbing, I did not see him for days, for weeks. I looked for him, I even waited and lingered around his house, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Excuse me, have you seen Parkash lately?” I inquired one of his neighbors who was watering the plants in her front-yard one day.
“Oh” She looked at me,” you mean Perry – the guy next door?”
“Yes, the guy with white beard and grey turban!” I asked with hesitation, “I have not seen him lately.”
“Oh, you didn’t know?” She turned off the water hose.
I was puzzled.
She walked towards me a few steps, paused,”um.. he died a few weeks back. I think heart-attack….”
“Oh…” I did not know what to say or how to react. I was speechless.
“His wife still lives there”, She pointed towards Parkash’s house.
“I am shocked….. thanks!” With my mind numb, walking away slowly was the best thing I could think of at that time.
A few more days passed. I looked at the green door every time I walked by, secretly hoping for him to reappear out of thin air.
Then one day, I gathered all my courage and I knocked on that over-sized door. No answer. I waited and looked around.
I was about to walk away when I heard the door unlock.
“Hi” I heard a sweet crisp voice as the door opened.
I looked up. There stood, in front of me, a middle-aged white woman. She was wearing a grey dress, her long blonde hair open and unkempt.
I looked at her, puzzled.
His family probably moved to somewhere else – I thought to myself.
“can I help you?” she interrupted my thoughts.
“Um… I was looking for someone else. One of the guy I knew; he used to live here…”
“You mean Parkash?” She pronounced his name perfectly.
“Yes..um..yes, I heard the bad news. I came to..”
“Please come in.. I am Victoria” She moved aside her hair, shook my hand and then turned around to lead me. I followed her to the living room. There, in the middle of the fireplace mantel was a big picture of Parkash, smiling. It even had a garland of marigold flowers around it – just like in the Hindi movies.
Sitting in his living room, I felt awkward, out of place. I was not even sure if he was married to this lady. That did not seem like Parkash, far from it. He only liked Indians; he made it very clear in his daily exchanges.
“I am very sorry about the whole thing….” I said, “um…do you?…I mean, where is the rest of his family?”
“I am the only family he has in this area!” she said with a quiet smile.
“Oh!” I was even more confused!
“Would you like some tea, some coffee?”
“No, thanks! I was walking by, so wanted to pay my respect!”
I chit-chatted for a few more minutes; then, I stood up and she walked me off to the front door.
“So you are…?” I had to ask before she closed the door.
“yes,..wife…. wife of 34 years!”
“Sorry for you loss!” I said as I turned around and walked off slowly…
Every time I pass by that house with a huge green door, I think of Parkash and his anecdotes he shared with me. The Indian culture, the superior Indian race, the vices of ‘white people’…. I wonder why he would say all these things while he lived a happily married life with a sweet white woman!!
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- The Tea Time
- 911 – The Emergency Call
- The night before Babbu’s wedding
- Her first job in America
- Unmourned death of a mother tongue
- The way I used to be
- Abroad, you never feel at home
- A lesson in American History