The Big Picture

By Jayanthi Rangan

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Sylvie was barely six when her mother’s hand purposely blocked her face from seeing the horrendous sight of papa being taken away by the police. Through a narrow chink between her mother’s pinky and the ring finger, Sylvie’s questions poured out silently: Where was Papa going? Will he be back to take her for a swim? Mama spoke about it again and again in later years but nothing brought comfort to the question of why Papa was victimized by Stalin. Woolen gloves and eat-treats to Siberia brought no acknowledgement. Could they no longer communicate with Papa? Had he turned into a ghost?

If Sylvie had broken loose towards him would the police have allowed a last hug? Would Papa have said, “Little princess, I will be back for you.”

Papa stayed with her like a breath – essential for her being. He enveloped her through life’s rituals of marriage, emigration to USA and Anya’s graduation.

One day Sylvie would make a cathartic visit to independent Armenia, meet with her mother and come to terms with papa’s traumatic goodbye. Alas, the urgent situations postponed the Armenia trip which came about only after mama’s death. With weighty memory luggage and burdensome questions Sylvie walked through streets that were different now.  Finally, when she visited her mother’s grave the grief-bomb burst. The deluge washed her confusion and showed her it was Mama she had missed more. Papa’s image of bringing her ribbons and trinkets were fleshed and recreated by Mama. Her voice had turned a ghost into Sylvie’s unforgettable Papa.

– Jayanthi Rangan