He picks out the notes to a vaguely-familiar tune that I recognize as a part of the ‘Beginner’s Basics’ on a guitar. Mornings are practice times. During yoga class, he’s the only one who can bend over and touch his toes gracefully. This following week, he’s signed up for a workshop on Kallaripattu, that ancient martial art-form from Kerala.I am not sure but I’m willing to bet that in the second, just as in the first, he’s the oldest member in his class.
He’s well over 50.
He’s the first man in my life. Also The First Man.
He was standing outside my college once and I was walking out of class. My friend was saying,
So I’ll get you the book tomorrow. Let’s all go for a movie after that. And that man over there looks like you.
I laughed and said,
No, actually I look like him. That’s dad.
I often tell people that I look exactly like him, adding as an after-thought, ‘minus the moustache, of course!’. If he’s around, he retorts,
That’s where the similarity ends!
He’s as quiet as I’m talkative. Most people think he’s withdrawn, aloof and shy, a description that somehow is never applied to me. But then people often remark on my unpredictable behaviour and I smile, realizing where it comes from.
Once he handed me a book saying,
Read it. It won a Pulitzer prize.
A week later, I handed it back to him, grimacing while I asked,
Why on earth did you make me spend time on this? It’s awful!
He just nodded gravely and said,
So that you know what Pulitzer winning books are like.
*Groan* I never said living with him was easy. The punishments were innovative at best and horrendous at worst. Once my cousin and I were having a fight, going tooth and nail and claw at each other. While our respective mothers seperated us, unclutching our fingernails from each other’s hair, he came in and announced the punishment. For an hour, we were to be left alone in a room and no one in the house was to speak to us.
Sit facing each other. And don’t get up till I say you may! No giggling, no laughing, no talking!
Oh man, my side still aches when I think of all the suppressed laughter of that episode!!
And then there were the grand experiments in the kitchen when mum was sick or out of town. Raw ladyfingers (okra) in sandwiches is one of my more painful memories of breakfast. When I protested, I was told that ladyfingers made the brain good in mathematics. Needless to say, I’ve done enough of maths, earned a degree in it and continue to use it in my work everyday and he never stops reminding me that it’s all due to all the okra that he made me eat!!!
He was the papa who told me not to turn bookish studying for first rank in school and to go out and try as many things as possible. So I read, wrote poetry, participated in art competitions, learnt music (vocal and the guitar) and took judo lessons.
His ‘absolutely not open to negotiation’ packing policy has caused many struggles all ending with
Never pack more than you can carry. I think of that all these years later when I walk into an airport lounge or a railway station ignoring the porters and refusing offers of help with my luggage.
He’s a father who tells me I should check out ‘this speed-dating thing’ sometime.
He’s a dad who asks why it’s so important for my partner to be better educated or earn more than I do. ‘Is a better qualification or salary slip any indicator of a good relationship?’
Unpredictable? Yes, who knows that better than I do? Possibly all the many people who’ve ever worked with him, in various ways.
As a professional, he’s played various roles from running a computer retail chain to publishing a magazine to riding the software revolution to delving into animation.
When an earthquake flattened Bhuj, he was there a few days later for relief work. Three years ago, he organized and participated in the Salt March, a re-enactment of 75 years of the original Dandi march by Mahatma Gandhi.
He was one of the handful that pioneered the idea of computers talking to each other in India with seminars, conferences and lectures about the Internet. One of the first few Internet connections in the country was in our house, which gave me the enviable position of being able to play around with computers and the net really early and making me (though I can’t prove it) possibly one of India’s first teenagers on the Internet.
Few know that the soft-spoken bespectacled man with his impeccable English studied in a Tamizh-medium school, encountering English for the first time in his late teens.
The song that makes me think of him a lot is Ugly Kid Joe’s Cats in the Cradle. It may be an odd Father’s Day theme tinged as it is, with melancholy notes (just like my pa, just like me!). But the line that I like the best is the last one,
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
Mum’s the one who complains that I never spend enough time with the family. Dad just looks on silently. I guess he knows that his girl is just like him.
This is me saying Happy Father’s day! to my living idol!! 🙂