My father has always preferred to keep things around. When we were growing up, he insisted on fixing broken things, even if it meant spending more than its original price on repairs in the long run. Our school shoes, for example, were sent off to the local cobbler every time the strap broke or the sole came off. Our tv and later, computer, were lovingly repaired again and again, but never replaced. Our old t-shirts were reused as DIY mops till they spontaneously disintegrated. Nothing was thrown away until it was absolutely impossible to use it.
The umbrella was another example of father’s borderline sentimental attachment to everyday objects, and a testament to the strict Indian middle class value system that he’d been raised with.
It was an old-school umbrella with a black canopy. Father had bought it even before we had moved to our house in 1999. Twenty years of use, wear and repairs, yet it had remained sturdy enough to be used in humid monsoons and scorching summers of Kolkata. The ribs were half-rusty and held together with thick, dark threads here and there. If you looked closely, you could make out the faded logo of the famous Bengali brand on the inner side of the canopy. The stainless steel pole, fitted with a plastic hand grip with a button, was dotted with rust. To open the umbrella, you just had to push the button.
Now, since my family unanimously agrees that I’m strange, I have no shame in admitting that the possibility of opening an umbrella with the push of a button excites me to no end and will continue to do so till my last breath. The same feature made it father’s favourite, the chosen companion for his very first international trip (apart from my curiously fearless mum, who couldn’t care less about protecting herself from the elements). So it had travelled all the way from India and landed in England, where it had effortlessly fended off the measly Birmingham showers. But then, we’d had the bright idea of taking it along on our Scotland trip. Scotland, where the wind perennially howls like a werewolf on a full moon night.
It was a normal day in the Scottish highlands, and the four of us – Yolek and Yoda’s parents – were waiting for an hourly bus to arrive. The forecast had confidently said, ” howling winds with a chance of a drizzle” or something to that effect, and sure enough, it started raining horizontally ( no, that’s not a typo) by the we got out of our hotel.
Since we were standing in one of those half-shelters, I opened my father’s old umbrella to shield myself from the rain.
Moments after I opened the umbrella, one of the ribs snapped and a section of the canopy went limp. The old ribs were no match for the force of gales, after all. I realized my mistake immediately, and tried to close the umbrella, but it wouldn’t budge. Snap, snap, snap! 3 more ribs, gone. The umbrella was still weakly shielding me, despite its sorry state. But I knew it had gone past the point of recovery. No matter how much we tried to salvage it, we failed miserably. The jagged ends of broken ribs made it impossible to fold, rendering all our efforts useless.
After about 30 mins of trying to repair the umbrella in vain, my mum and Dalek, the practical people in the group, suggested it was time to bid goodbye to our old friend. While we were burying it in a black bin somewhere near Glencoe, my father lamented the loss, and mentioned that he’d had the umbrella for twenty years and how deeply it saddened him to just leave it there. Surely it could be repaired if he took it back home? My mum, who by that time had enough of this nonsense, blurted out, “you know how our daughter kept telling us how windy it was here? Yes, maybe you should have listened and not brought an old umbrella for this trip. Now, can we please have lunch?”.
We went to a restaurant across the street and ate burgers and fries while my father sipped on soda and mourned the loss. I felt a little sad, too, but the food tasted so good that I kind of forgot about it in 20 mins.
Later that night, nearby residents may have reported seeing a dishevelled man rescuing a broken umbrella from a black bin, but I don’t believe them for a moment.
Tldr: The 20 year old umbrella died valiantly, trying to protect its owners offspring from the assault of the relentless horizontal rain. Get recycled in peace, Umbrella, father and I will miss you.