In the summer of 1985, my father had to take an unexpected journey; one that only he could take, despite it being a very difficult one. He packed a few of his things and left, hiding his grief behind a pair of dark glasses. He barely looked back at us, as he drove away. There was no promise of calls or letters. The family merely prayed that he would accomplish what he had set out to do.
The journey had been a painful one, though not a lonely one. Far away from family, he forged relationships with others who shared his grief. They set out together, sharing stories,praying and hoping, that they would find survivors. In his private moments, my father reminisced about his beloved sister, who had been on that flight with her family. The quintessential drama queen, she'd written home in true filmi style, saying she wanted to see her entire family at the airport, when she landed. With much of the family already in Kerala, we had traveled from Assam. We got there days before her arrival, to a household bubbling with excitement. My grandmother was packing to return with her daughter, and she was promising us all gifts. Meanwhile, my other aunts were in the kitchen, churning out all of my aunt's favorites. Amidst the cutting and chopping, they spoke fondly about my aunt. The light banter continued, while my grandmother joined in, to check on the laddoos and acchapams. She then settled the bills with all the vendors, reminding them that she needed the best produce when her daughter arrived.
One morning, all this excitement came crashing down.The radio had been turned on, and we heard references to the “Kanishka” crash. It brought about loud gasps followed by loud heartwrenching sobs. The mood of celebration was taken over by one of intense sorrow. My grandmother took to her bed weeping, while the men watched the news, looking for any information about survivors. Finally, my father took on the task of getting answers.
Despite all the journeys he'd previously undertaken, this was the most difficult one yet. Wearing a brave face, he set out with the hope that perhaps his sister and family had survived the crash. On reaching London, he met other people, who were just as hopeful. Prayers were being quietly muttered, as they waited for information. They were first led to a room, where they were shown pictures of the bodies that were found. With a lump in his heart, my father moved from picture to picture. With every fearful step that he took, he prayed. He barely heard the loud sobs from someone who'd just discovered a loved one. There was one man who'd discovered his wife's hand because of the ring she'd been wearing. Another man who'd seen off his wife and kids, was now looking at the stuffed teddy his daughter had been carrying. Blocking out these tragic scenes, my father inched forward slowly. The journey to this country had been a long tedious one, but this walk across the room filled with pictures felt much worse. This walk ended with him discovering only his brother-in-law. What followed was a blur. He was shown into a room, where he had to identify the body that seemed intact and lifelike. On enquiring about the rest of the family, he was told that if they hadnt yet been found, there was little hope. He listened, his face barely betraying his grief he felt.
The formalities were completed, and days later, my father returned. The funeral was chaotic, with the press crowding in for pictures and reactions. My grandmother spent much of that time in bed, never finding closure till the time of her own death.
For the rest of us, life continued. Noone mentioned the Kanishka crash anymore, even though my aunt and her family were sorely missed. Then two decades later, my father undertook another trip to London. This time though, he arrived to the news of my pregnancy. Seeing him thrilled, I then realized that only this announcement, would erase all memory of that painful walk across a room of mangled bodies.