Nikhil

Van Man

“I go minivan” is the phrase most frequently used by Nikhil on his iPad. It is succinct and conveys his thoughts perfectly. He loves going on rides and his trusty minivan is his vehicle of choice. It is the window to his world and he can sit for hours observing the passing scenes with nary a care in the world. Like a family pet, it has been a constant in his life since his birth. Until today.

Nikhil’s attachment to the van is understandable. It is like Alladin’s magic carpet. It conveys him comfortably to the places he loves. The weekend trip to throw trash at the transfer station is a much-awaited activity. It is the marker that Nikhil uses to keep track of weeks. As Saturday dawns, Nikhil keeps pointing to the trash can and uses his iPad to remind us it is trash day. There is a palpable sense of excitement as he sits in his seat and we put on his seat belt. He is familiar with the routine and supervises my disposal of the trash and recycling with an almost avuncular eye. “I’ve trained papa well,” he probably tells himself.

If Saturday is trash day, then Sunday is Costco day. The van is a must for trips to Costco. Anything smaller would be an insult to the consumer culture that we belong to and of course to Costco. Nikhil doesn’t care for the loading of the van, his Mom is there to ensure that everything is stowed away properly. When he gets home though, he will help carry a package in.

Lord of all he surveys!

Then there are the much-awaited trips to New Jersey to meet his cousin, aunt, and uncle. Not to mention their pet dog. Nikhil is ambivalent when it comes to dogs but he loves those long trips in the van. Our last trip in December found us taking the other vehicle. The van had decidedly grown geriatric and we didn’t trust the tires in winter. Nikhil could not understand how we could leave our house without the van. As we tried to nudge him into his seat, he kept pointing to the van. “Surely, there must be some mistake,” he thought to himself. He gave one last longing glance as our car backed out of the driveway and the garage door closed. But Nikhil is an optimist and he settled down for the ride, it is the journey that matters.

Most of Nikhil’s stories involve the van in some form. It is the van that takes him to the Mall. It is the van that takes him to the Post Office. It is in the van that he goes to the grocery store. And when he is at home, it is the van he longs for to visit all those interesting places. Nikhil last flew in an aircraft in 2011. He hasn’t been in an airplane since then but has frequently traveled to the airport to pick up or drop people off. The airport is now another sought-after destination for him, of course, the trip has to be made in the van. “It’s the luggage, silly! You know how these old folks travel. Taking stuff from Costco abroad and returning with books and snacks! Always stressed that the bags exceed the allowable weight limit.”

Enough said!

About three years ago, the starter in our van died. We were in the parking lot of a strip mall and I called my friend to request him to pick us up. As we climbed into my friend’s vehicle, Nikhil kept looking at our van and speaking to us urgently in his language. The van was conspicuous by its absence in the morning as Nikhil trudged through the garage to his school van. When he returned from school, he craned his neck as I unfastened his seat belt. He couldn’t see the van. He stood rooted in the garage unwilling to walk inside. That evening, we headed to the mechanic’s to pick up the van that had been repaired. As Nikhil saw the van, he started bouncing in his seat. And as he climbed into his seat in the van, it was as though he was being reunited with a long-lost friend. The next morning as Nikhil went to school, he was relieved to find the van still in the garage.

A few days ago, as we were returning home from our usual weekend rounds, the transmission started slipping intermittently. I managed to pull into a parking lot and called Roadside Assistance. It was a chilly evening and my sister-in-law and family were with us in the van. My brother-in-law and I waited for the tow truck to arrive while the rest of the family decided to go home in a Lyft. Nikhil was confused. His van was immobile and he watched it forlornly as he waited for the ride. The mechanic much like a doctor confirmed the diagnosis. He patched it enough to let me drive it home gingerly. Nikhil was happy to have the van home but he was now presented with a new problem. Each time we would head out, he would head expectantly towards the van, only to be steered into the car. He would point and gesticulate excitedly at the van but alas, no van for him.

After 19 years and 231K miles of shared journeys, we decided to donate the van. As my wife and I emptied the van, a torrent of memories came rushing back. That was the van we brought Nikhil home from the hospital when he was born. We had made four round trips down the length of the Eastern seaboard in that van. Memories of trips with family and friends. The van showed her age but she still stood proud. As the tow truck driver secured the wheels with a bracket and raised the front wheels, I felt a pang of remorse. Nikhil had been sitting in the sunroom and he watched intently as the tow truck finally made its way with the van trailing behind. Earlier in the day, my wife had dug up a photo of my daughter and I sitting in the van all those years ago when we had brought the van home. We took a daddy and daughter picture again, the young girl is now a lovely young lady and drives a car herself!

One last look

My daughter groans at my dad jokes. But such is Nikhil’s attachment to the van that I’ve come up with my own “van” jokes. She hasn’t heard them and would no doubt roll her eyes as she reads this blog. Story of the man who slept for 20 years? “Rip Van Nikhil!” Nikhil’s favorite music group? Van Halen! If Nikhil was a US Naval Aviator, he would still be true to his original love. His moniker? “Vanman!” Nikhil’s choice of University? Vanderbilt! Nikhil’s favorite artist? Van Gogh, of course! The one place he would not work? Vandelay Industries. Favorite singer? Van Morrison. If Nikhil was deserted on an island, whom would he rely on? His Van Friday. You get the drift.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. Does Nikhil comprehend loss? I’m certain he does. When he was much younger, he had a small plastic turtle. Nikhil used to play with the turtle but since he also had a tendency to put things in his mouth as well as bang his toys on the ground, the turtle over time resembled a turtle in name only. Nikhil had stopped playing with the turtle for a few weeks and one day I decided to get rid of it. Coincidentally, it was trash day and when Nikhil saw his turtle lying in the recycle bin, he burst into tears! He did not use the iPad then and he had no way to communicate his emotions or thoughts. Those tears running down his cheeks were his only way to communicate his impending sense of loss. Chastened, I quickly assured him that we would not be throwing the turtle, and after washing it, we placed it conspicuously in his room. Nikhil will no doubt miss his van, but there is a replacement in the garage. Hopefully, this is the start of another beautiful friendship and Nikhil will continue to tell us “I go minivan!”

7 thoughts on “Van Man

  1. So wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing on FB otherwise you forget to go visit and read. Loved the “Van” jokes !

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Ajay! I’m sure the jokes appeal to your sense of humor :-). Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and leave a comment.

  3. Well written, as usual Rajesh – keep up your writing talent. You have writing skills similar to PJ Wodehouse – my favorite author.

    1. Thanks, Prem! That is high praise and I’m not worthy of that! I enjoy PG Wodehouse’s books too, he was one of a kind.

  4. Well written. You & Nikhil seem attached to the Van. Lots of memories, 19 long years. Must have been a tough decision to let go of the vehicle.

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