the pic­ture that means so much

Soma Ghosh’s dad ‘dis­ap­peared’ when she was lit­tle – but she knows he was never re­ally far away...

Woman (UK) - - This Issue -

This photo is one of just a hand­ful of mem­o­ries I have of my dad, Sanat. Then in his 40s, he has a huge grin on his face, hands firmly around my arms as he helps me take my first steps. Ev­ery girl says their dad is spe­cial but mine truly was. and yet he was only alive for the first six years of my life, and very poorly for most of it. But I was still his princess.

My dad was a ca­reer man. He moved from West Ben­gal to Eng­land in the late 1960s and got a schol­ar­ship to work as a clerk. He quickly pro­gressed to be­come a crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter. When he met and, in 1970, mar­ried my mum, Amala, an ac­coun­tant, he set up his own so­lic­i­tor’s busi­ness.

At over a decade older than Mum, then 33, he cher­ished the mo­ment he be­came a fa­ther to me, his youngest child. I’ve been told that when I was only 18 months old and crawled onto his lap, his shoul­ders would re­lax and his face would erupt into his fa­mil­iar, toothy grin.

As a baby, I was af­fec­tion­ate and bub­bly. No one could re­sist my head of floppy, jet-black hair and big smile. I was cheeky, too — re­fused to walk, pre­fer­ring to crawl and shuf­fle on my bot­tom.

mile­stone mo­ment

Mum’s told me count­less times about the day this pic­ture was taken. There I was, shuf­fling across the burnt-or­ange car­pet to Dad who was sit­ting cross­legged on the floor in the sit­ting room of our fam­ily home in East Lon­don. As nor­mal, I went to set­tle on his lap, but on this oc­ca­sion, Dad de­cided to try and get me to walk. ‘He hoisted you up by your chubby arms and placed your feet on the floor,’ Mum said. ‘Walk to Mummy!’ Dad said, laugh­ing. And there, just like that, I took my first steps. Be­fore I reached her, a fam­ily friend man­aged to grab their cam­era and take a pic­ture, cap­tur­ing in time this pre­cious mo­ment I’d cher­ish for many years to come.

Af­ter that, I was told my first words were ‘Ma’ and ‘Baba’ — a word for Dad in Ben­gali. Dad worked a lot, but oc­ca­sion­ally on Fri­days, he’d take me to work with him and sit me on his desk. I al­ways felt so spe­cial. Only, when I turned four, my dad started stay­ing home more and he stopped tak­ing me with him to work. I was sent to nurs­ery in­stead and I loved com­ing home to see Dad in the af­ter­noons. My mem­o­ries of that time are blurry, but he would be wait­ing at the door for me to come home – by now, he would al­ways be us­ing a metal frame to help him stand up.

fad­ing away

I knew he was hav­ing trou­ble walk­ing, but to me he was still just Dad. He’d smile and then make his way back to the sofa and Mum would lift me onto his lap. I didn’t un­der­stand why, but I also knew he couldn’t bend down to lift me up in his arms ei­ther. On my fifth birth­day,

‘he made me feel so spe­cial’

I had a big party with cake, nib­bles and presents. I can’t re­mem­ber much else, ex­cept that by now Dad would some­times use a chair that had wheels.

The fol­low­ing year, he did the same for my sixth birth­day, but I knew things were dif­fer­ent. Strange peo­ple would come over and help my dad stand up, talk or eat —I didn’t like them be­ing there – why were they touch­ing Baba?

Not long af­ter my birth­day, though, my dad ‘dis­ap­peared’. It was strange – the house still smelled of him, and his face was in photo frames, but he wasn’t in bed, or on the sofa any more. Fa­mil­iar faces of fam­ily and friends came to see my mum to hug her and kiss her.

Miss­ing Dad

‘Where’s Baba?’ I said. ‘He’s in heaven,’ some­one replied. I knew what heaven was, but how had Dad got there? I felt a huge sad­ness but couldn’t un­der­stand why. At school the next day, I didn’t want to talk to any­one, or sit with friends, so I sat silent in the cor­ner.

Mum says that my bub­bly, af­fec­tion­ate per­sona changed that day and I be­came shy, an in­tro­vert. Ev­ery day af­ter school I’d ex­pect Dad to be sit­ting in his favourite spot on the sofa — but he never was. He wasn’t even there at my sev­enth birth­day party, or the next…

It wasn’t un­til I was 12, in sec­ondary school, that it re­ally hit me he was dead. ‘Does your dad help with your home­work, like mine?’ some­one asked. A lump rose in my throat, my breath caught in my chest — my dad was gone, for­ever. I cried un­til I had no tears left, and was sent home to be with Mum, who told me ev­ery­thing. ‘Your dad had an ac­ci­dent,’ she ex­plained. In 1988, age 50, my dad had fallen over in a li­brary and hit his head.

Heart­break­ing de­cline

The fall led to a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der, which made him seem like he was drunk, the way he strug­gled walk­ing. He had neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion, and within a year, he was paral­ysed from the waist down. The strangers in our house were Dad’s car­ers, who gave him physio and speech ther­apy. Sadly, the dis­or­der even­tu­ally led to him dy­ing in 1990 from a heart at­tack.

Mum, 39 when wid­owed, had to play both mum and dad — she was amaz­ing but I never got over los­ing Dad. As I got older, I re­mained shy and didn’t progress to talk­ing to boys. In­stead, I worked hard to get into univer­sity to study psy­chol­ogy and crim­i­nol­ogy — just like Dad. I’d look at his photo ev­ery day. My grad­u­a­tion, aged 21, was hard with­out him, but Mum waved from the stands. And even when I fin­ished my post-grad­u­ate de­gree in ca­reers guid­ance two years later, him not be­ing there didn’t get eas­ier.

The hard­est part was when I got en­gaged in De­cem­ber 2012. While my mum hugged me tight, I shed a tear for Dad. And, at my wed­ding the fol­low­ing July, a framed pic­ture of him sat at the head ta­ble. ‘You would have liked him, Dad,’ I whis­pered about my new hus­band.

‘i’ve never got over Los­ing HIM’

Last­ing in­flu­ence

I now run my own busi­ness as a ca­reers hap­pi­ness men­tor, help­ing peo­ple build up con­fi­dence to ask for pro­mo­tions, pay rises and to be a bet­ter ver­sion of them­selves. I truly be­lieve I wouldn’t be the strong woman I am to­day with­out mem­o­ries of my dad. He’s missed my en­tire adult life, which does dev­as­tate me on my down days, but I think of how far I’ve come be­cause of him. Plus, I’m very lucky my won­der­ful mum is around to­day to hold me tight and re­mind me of the good times we had to­gether.

My dad was gen­er­ous, warm and so lov­ing. From that photo of him help­ing me to walk, I know he cher­ished be­ing my dad and even though he’s not here, it’s like he’s hold­ing my hand and help­ing to take those first im­por­tant steps in life.

The mo­ment Soma took her first steps, thanks to her dad, Sanat

Pre­cious times: Soma, aged around four, with Sanat

Won­der­ful mum: Soma as a baby with Amala

Soma feels her dad is still with her, help­ing her on in life

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