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I have been in a state of ‘emotional unwell-being’ for seven years. There, I’ve said it. Why? Well, after my father died, I believed that if I reached out with love to ‘good friends’, counsellors, suitors, and relatives, there could be pockets of joy to offset my grief and loneliness, thereby maintaining my emotional well-being. Instead, I received repeated metaphorical slaps in the face. It’s quite something to observe them profess to want to heal people and publicly pontificate about compassion, empathy, kindness, gratitude and, wait for it, meditation and mindfulness, all the while being stunned by their need to hurt me.

The longer I trusted them, the nastier and more disrespectful they were. Cruel words rolled off their tongues like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. They must themselves be deeply hurt people to want to hurt someone whose support was unwavering; someone whose friendship, love, devotion and loyalty were willingly given. As the saying goes, ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ That’s my sole conclusion for their unkindness and such bad behaviour.

No amount of Ayurveda or allopathy has yet to fully heal all my pain. Nevertheless, now, when the sadness and negativity of what’s happened threatens to overwhelm me, I bring to mind a moment I call ‘Sakshi’. Let me share it with you, please.

I’m sorry, but I can’t remember exactly when it began. What I do remember is the hint of a hysterical ‘what to do?’ emanating from Daddy when he said, “It’s cancer. Prostate.”

“I’m coming home now.” The memories of my grandmother who died of stomach cancer flooded my mind. I was sure that, like her, Daddy would be dead in four months.

“No!” Daddy’s voice boomed through the phone line. “You do your work.”

Duly ordered, I stayed in the city while my parents, living in Alor Setar, grappled with an uncertain future. Meanwhile, in true intense-Aneeta style, I researched everything possible about the disease. A month later, when we came to the end of the consultation with a city- based oncologist, he asked my father, “Is your daughter a lawyer?” Proud and embarrassed in equal measure, Daddy mumbled, “Yes.” You see, I knew that Daddy was of the ilk that his fellow doctors were gods and must never be questioned; so, I asked all the questions for him. Anyway, treatment commenced and life carried on. With age and more serious diseases (yes, there are more serious ones than cancer), we forgot about Daddy’s cancer, which also explains why I cannot remember when the diagnosis was first made.

By 2011, in need of a holiday, I visited my aunt in India. Inside Sai Baba of Shirdi’s Samadhi Mandir, someone whispered into my ears, “Pray for your child.” I turned to clarify that I have no children. There was no one there. I sensed that I was being warned of what lay ahead. It would be a while before I comprehended the full import of the words.

Years later, when Daddy was in hospital recovering from yet another bout of pneumonia, he suddenly looked at me and said, “When it’s time, you let me go, okay?”

I stared at him, then said, “I promise you, that when your suffering to live becomes worse than my suffering to let you go, I will let you go. Until then, let me to look after you.” He turned on his side, pulled the blanket over his body, cupped his hands underneath

his chin and closed his eyes. He smiled. It was my moment of sakshi – a Sanskrit word for ‘witness’. I was aware of what Daddy thought, and the meaning behind his words and deeds. His complete trust, vulnerability and childlike innocence came to the fore. And all because, like a mother, I’d promised that no harm would come to him. That dissipated the years of uncertainty generated by that six-letter word, cancer. In that infinitesimal moment, our love for each other overflowed, eclipsing all fear and any residual guilt.

As I mentioned above, recalling this moment provides sustenance for my emotional well-being. I know that it sustained him, too, because by the time he died in October 2016, Daddy was completely at peace. So was I.


Dr. Aneeta Sundararaj is an award-winning short story writer. She created and developed a website called ‘How to Tell a Great Story’ as a resource for storytellers. To date, she’s worked on several book projects, including the popular Knowledge of Life: Tales of an Ayurveda Practitioner in Malaysia with her co- author, Vaidya C. D Siby. She contributes articles to newspapers, magazines, ezines and journals. Her most recent and bestselling novel, The Age of Smiling Secrets was shortlisted for the Anugerah Buku 2020 organised by the National Library of Malaysia. Throughout, Aneeta continued to pursue her academic interests and, in 2021, successfully completed a doctoral thesis entitled ‘Management of Prosperity Among Artistes in Malaysia’.

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