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Run, Rabbit, Run

Last updated on: December 27, 2017 13:00 IST

'So when they come for you tomorrow morning, papa, make a dash for freedom.'
'Please, please, don't let anything hold you back.'
'Run, run, run, run, run, run, run.'

Anvar Alikhan was the first Creative Director at Rediff.com, a member of its start-up team when the seeds for this Web site were sown 22 years ago this month.

Anvar likely created the first banner ad in India. As he recalled last month: 'I remember the first banner ad we did... Must have been quite a breakthru at the time'.

Anvar Alikhan sadly passed away in Chennai on Wednesday morning.

He was one of Indian advertising's legends, a quiet man whose work did all the talking. Widely read, very, very, well informed, truly a Renaissance man.

We will miss him.

In tribute to this outstanding professional's memory, we republish 'Run, Rabbit, Run', a column he wrote for Rediff.com in March 2000, about his father's passing.

It is a column that will overwhelm you, and tell you why they don't make men like Anvar anymore.

Anvar Alikhan. Kind courtesy: Pinterest
IMAGE: Rest in peace Anvar. Kind courtesy: Pinterest


My father is going to die tomorrow, at 10.30 am. That's when the doctors are finally, mercifully, going to disconnect his life-support system.

He is in the ICU on this, the last night of his life and I am lying on a bench in the hospital lobby downstairs. It's funny the thoughts that pass through my mind as I keep this one final, lonely vigil.

One of my earliest memories of you, papa, is a silly little game we used to play when I was maybe 4 years old.

You would come after me, shouting "Run, rabbit, run!" and I had to run as fast as my legs could carry me.

I remembered this earlier tonight in the ICU, when suddenly your heart stopped. An alarm went off and the emergency team went into action with the terrifying precision of a SWAT team.

There were more than a dozen of them, doctors and nurses, all urgently pumping your chest, shoving needles and tubes into you, plugging in all kinds of electronic devices.

For some reason, I thought of one of those old black-and-white World War II movies, when the prisoner-of-war breaks out of the barbed wire fence and runs into the night.

The search-lights go on, the guard-dogs give chase, and the Nazi prison-camp guards open up with their machine guns.

And in your heart you're desperately rooting for the escaping prisoner, hoping that he'll get away.

You were that escaping prisoner, papa, trying to make a run for it after all these many long months of suffering, and the medical team were the Nazis.

I was silently cheering for you, papa, hoping, hoping that you'd get away, and I was calling out to you, "Run, rabbit, run. Run, rabbit, run." over and over again.

But they caught you, papa, and dragged you back into your body, your frail, tired body, and there was nothing I could do about it, nothing I could do at all.

As I lie here tonight on this hospital bench, the memories come crowding back.

For some reason, they are mainly of memories of journeys we made together, journeys by train and car and ship and once, long ago, by tonga. Why journeys? Maybe those were the only times we were alone together, you and I. Or maybe because in Dream Analysis a journey signifies death.

When I was a child we were so close, papa. You were more of an older brother than a father. You, with your corny jokes and games and the stories you would endlessly read out to me.

But as I grew older there were distances that opened up between us, and it was entirely my fault. I suppose I was uncomfortable with you in some kind of way. Uncomfortable with your perfection and your old-world values.

You tried to reach out to me so many times, in so many ways, but I chose to to keep my distance. It was only after you fell ill that I realised how easy it was to dissolve that aloofness, close those distances, and I now wish that I had done it years and years ago.

Apart from all those journeys together, I also remember homecomings, many homecomings. And you were always there waiting for me, on railway platforms and at airports.

The last time -- was it only a year-and-a-half ago? -- you took my suitcase out of my hands and insisted on carrying it yourself.

When I protested you laughed and said "Don't worry, I'm fitter than you are." And it was true; you were.

I look at your right hand, now twisted into a claw, and ask myself, was this the hand that spun the cricket ball so guilefully? Was this the hand that baffled so many hapless batsmen in its time?

You have so many trunks full of old cricket balls autographed with now forgotten names like Polly Umrigar and Ghulam Ahmed and Dattu Phadkar. What am I going to do with them, papa, all those old cricket balls and letters and other useless memorabilia you were so fond of collecting?

What am I going to do with them?

I was a disappointment to you, papa. I was a disappointment to you in so many ways. But most of all I think you were disappointed that I didn't play cricket like you did. I always made it a point to display a supreme indifference for the game. But what you never knew was that was only a cover-up, papa.

Actually I yearned to play cricket, probably more than anything else in the whole world. It was just that, despite my best efforts, I had no control over either bat or ball. And that was why, at school, I always bunked games and read a book instead. I know that in your heart of hearts you never forgave me for this betrayal.

There were two icons you used to hold up to me when I was a kid. One was Abbas Ali Baig, who at the age of 20 had scored a century on his Test debut, hooking Freddie Trueman all over the place.

And the other was Dom Moraes, who at the age of 20 had won the Hawthendorne Prize. You used to send me cuttings about both of them and there was no doubt in my 8-year-old mind about what was expected of me. (Who knew then how shabbily Fate would treat both of those icons, poor guys. But that, of course, is another story.)

Many, many years later a psychiatrist friend would tell me, "You don't have to live up to your father's expectations, you know", and it was only then that I realised that it was so. I felt then as if an enormous weight had suddenly been lifted from my shoulders.

It was so ironic the way you went, papa. You were such a health fanatic. That day you woke up at 6 am, as usual. You went out for a long, long walk, as usual. You came back, sat down to breakfast at 7.30 sharp, and suddenly started talking gibberish.

It was a stroke that would leave you paralysed and speechless for the next year or more, so helpless that you couldn't turn over in bed by yourself.

You couldn't swallow. You couldn't even breathe properly. And I know who was responsible for it all, papa: It was me.

Yes, it was me. A few years ago, when I had the opportunity to buy a flat of my own, you insisted on giving me a huge "loan". When I asked if you could afford it, you brushed the question aside, and I, in my own eagerness, didn't care to probe too closely.

Later, whenever I tried to repay the loan -- or even the interest you would have earned on it -- you would refuse on some pretext or the other.

It was only after you fell ill, when I came home to take charge of your affairs, that I realised how precarious your finances actually were, and how worried you must have been over these past few years.

What can I say? It was almost as if I had held a gun to your head myself and pulled the trigger.

So now it is 3 o'clock in the morning. In just a few hours the doctors will come to disconnect your life-support system.

They tell me there is a chance that even after they've disconnected it your heart will go on beating, although your brain and everything else has gone. And that will mean you will live on in a coma, trapped inside your body for God knows how long.

So when they come for you tomorrow morning, papa, make a dash for freedom -- like you tried unsuccessfully to do earlier tonight.

Only this time please, please, don't let anything hold you back.

Run, rabbit, run.

Run, run, run, run, run, run, run.

Anvar Alikhan