Tuesday, 18 August 2015
Roy Lange pays tribute to his father:
Pop filled my childhood with stories of the Indian monsoon. This was not a small reason why I lived there for many years. I'm old enough now to realise I was striving for his approval. It was in Mumbai where he emotionally asked me would his photo one day be among my Indian wife's ancestors in her temple.
His last of many Indian adventures is cherished by me. We jumped on and off crowded Mumbai local trains like laughing children in a playground and he had a beggar in uncontrolled hysterics when, confronted with the chap's stump, ripped open his shirt to show his own Frankenstein landscape of scars. He didn't accept the beggar's five rupees.
But on the taxi trip to his departing flight, he was very despondent. He gravely said he was sure this would be last trip to India and it upset him beyond measure that he had would never again be baptised by the monsoon, which he had waited for since arriving. Impossibly, as he entered the security gate the sky opened and he walked back to the road with his drenched face towards the heavens. The solemnity of it haunts me.
Spending his last days in Middlemore Hospital was comforting, as it was where his doctor father had carried him on his khaki-clad shoulders to visit injured GIs, and where he himself had spent innumerable hours visiting the sick at the strangest of hours. He knew only too well the desolation of being alone at night in a hospital. His whole idea of preventative health was saving up for the next operation.
Days before his death, it was decided to amputate his gangrenous foot. Horrifyingly, this was done with only a local anaesthetic, in a fully conscious state. When an unnaturally pale Sri Lankan surgeon came out the theatre, still in his blood-covered gumboots, I expected the very worst. "Your bloody father nearly gave me a heart attack," he said. "The room was spinning. He heard me switch on the saw and he quietly told me I was removing the wrong leg!" Pop thought it was gold.
He had a divine gift of making soulful connections with people who were born on the wrong side of the tracks. The days leading to his death saw his ward become a pilgrimage site for those dispossessed of spirit and reality. He was so gravely ill, but he saw many of them and, as was typical, he remembered their family history often better than they did. Whenever family would visit he would instantly crack a smile, that would light up the room, and outstretch his arms for a long hug. On his passing, long-jaded nurses, who had arrived many years after he was in the spotlight, wept.
Now every morning my wife devoutly offers her prayers to her gods and family who are gone. Every now and then I pluck up enough courage to look over her shoulder at Pop.