He turns seventy four tomorrow…!!!
But in my mind my father is always a youthful figure. Why, he used to often refer to himself as the “boyish looking Bostonian” (a take on JFK ) during his forties. As a teen I used to find it quite funny.
My father is a unique man from his generation who was absolutely comfortable being the minority male in a family of three women. He never felt the need to assert his authority on us . “That is only for fellows who have no identity outside of being a man” he often used to say.
I remember my mother telling me about how he used to help her look after me when I was a baby- giving me a bath and feeding me while she completed her work- all this before he left for office so that she did not have to deal with this alone. When my sister came along he spent a lot of time with me so that I would not feel neglected because my mother could not pay much attention to me. I remember, when my mother had gone for her delivery to Trichy, I had to miss almost two months of school. My parents were worried that I would fall back in academics because of that. So Appa used to diligently write out work sheets for me to solve and send them by post during a time when correspondence courses were un heard of . He also used to write very descriptive letters to me about what was going on with him while we were away – now tell me whoever said that it was just Nehru who wrote letters to his daughter? I would say that Nehru probably had all the time when he was in prison to write those letters but my father was doing it with his regular stress filled existence as a bureaucrat.
My father’s teaching skills were excellent- nobody can explain a concept like him with clarity and patience. I guess the only thing that he gave up trying to explain to me was “Archimedes Principle” because I could never understand or solve those sums correctly. He had the ability to turn lessons into something simple and would discuss them at meal times in a fun sort of way. My math skills are strong thanks to the game that I used to play with him. It went like this- we had to quickly add up the registration number of any vehicle that passed us while we were on the road and say whether it was odd or even. There was a sort of competition that we had as to who would say it first. This has become such a habit now that I do it almost unconsciously without even being aware of it …
When children fall ill it is their mother that they want. But in my case, strangely it was always my father that I wanted near me . When I was about five years old an insect had bitten me while I was at school. My entire face had turned red and swollen. Our head mistress called home and within minutes my father was there to take me to a doctor. When I had a severe stomach infection in my childhood which used to result in painful cramps it was my father that I wanted near me always. And immediately after I became a mother as I was wheeled into a room from the labour ward it was my father who was there to feed me breakfast with his hands as I was very hungry and too tiered to feed myself. It is probably the most special moment that I have had with him in my adult life!
A man with a great sense of humour he always tried to understand us and relate to us when we were teens. He used to ring the bell in the evenings when he returned from work and when we opened the door after putting on the safety chain he used to thrust his hand through the crack pretending it was a gun he was holding! Ofcourse, he used to get into trouble if it was my mother who happened to answer the door ..
His attempts at Hindi always had us in splits! Many of my neighbor and friends from childhood still remember many of his antics. Completely uncomfortable with technology his impatience is a sight to watch! He still has not forgiven me for taking away his old Nokia phone from the ice age times!!
Over the years as he has grown into a grand father, he did not really change. My daughter while she was a baby used to constantly yell for “Thatha” and he was her willing slave. They used to play this odd game when she was two – she used to call out “Ganesha” and he had to say “Yes Aunty”! I have never understood what it was all about.
As a teen my daughter finds her grand father most amusing! She spent about ten days with my parents and was full of stories about her “crazy” grand dad. She respects her grand mom as an elder but “Thatha” to her still someone who is a child .
With the passing years, I am seeing the child in him appearing lesser. The elderly man comes out more these days.. A man who is trying to be “ his age” –something that simply does not suit him.
But that child in him comes out every now and then at the most unexpected times.
Like, when he upsets his wife’s routine by getting in her way and then tries to pacify her by saying “ Collect all your tension in bottle through the day and then you can pour it on my head in the evening” ( narrated with a lot of giggles by his grand daughter who was witness to this “drama”). Or when he calls up his beloved grand daughter at 6.00 AM on a Sunday morning wanting to know why she had left her shampoo behind in the fridge. When she tells him that what he thought was shampoo was actually cheese sauce he says “Thank god, I was going to give it your Pati to wash her hair”.. Or when he cut his birthday cake last year and fed himself the biggest chunk without offering a piece to either his wife, grand daughter or daughter ..! “Why don’t you people help yourselves?” was his answer when my mother mentioned it.
I guess it is unfair to expect parents to stay static on their age trajectory just so we can hold on to our childhood memories of them. Thinking back I realize that he taught me more than maths and physics, he taught me values, he taught me principles and most importantly he taught me what being a good parent was all about .
I am supposed to be mirror image of him in every way . I have inherited his looks, his impatience, his ailments but I don’t think I have inherited any of his brilliant parenting skills! Skills that can help bring out a best seller were he to write a “how to” book on parenting.
I guess I am biased when I say this but I have the best father in this world – my daughter disagrees because she says her father is the best. But when she challenges me saying that her grand father cannot compete with mine I can only humbly agree!