Whatever I am today is because of my mother. Whatever I am not is because of my father. I am not exactly how a mom of two kids should ideally be. I am not a cleanliness freak, neither a very organised person – my house is normally like a bachelor’s pad. I am too impatient to be an ideal mother. If the string of my salwar whooshes inside and beyond the reach of my fingers, I hardly bother to pull out and re-push it patiently with the help of a pin. I conveniently cut open the place where I can feel the string and draw it out enough to tie a knot. My mother keeps complaining about the loose buttons in my daughter’s dress that I never bother to stitch again. ‘Inspite of being a woman’ (and how I hate this phrase!) I hardly use creams, shampoos and have not visited a parlour since my marriage day! And inspite of the general feeling in the virtual world that I am an over-friendly, smiling Whoopi Goldberg, I am not. I am rather a withdrawn kind of person whom the neighbours and relatives hardly find – in happiness or in grief! And I know that I have inherited this bohemian gene from my Dad.
With my Dad, life is a never-ending picnic, as also of learning. With my Dad life was never supposed to be normal – not conventional in the least. His marriage is still a talking point in my family. For his marriage reception, instead of wedding cards, he distributed printed leaflets, inviting ‘only the young friends’ with a strict warning that no one should bring any gifts for the wedding. It was a musical evening instead of a lavish wedding feast. There were only snacks accompanied by a musical programme – songs sung by my Dad and his friends. The relatives frowned, my mother-the new bride-was puzzled, but he stuck on to his plans. But he was always like that. He sold shirts in the bus-stand, spent days in the refugee relief camps in the name of ‘just going for a walk’, walked in political rallies against the government, gladly denied a secure, government job.
So, it was no surprise that when I was born, he was not around. While my mother was battling a near-fatal child birth, my Dad was somewhere in some remote drought-prone region – distributing relief material among the extremely poor population. He first saw me when I was three months old. From that day on, we developed an unusual bond. Not only that of a father-daughter. But also of a guru-shishya.
Life has been an unending story of adventure since that day. For one, he made us believe that we must take life as it comes and enjoy every bit of whatever we have. Having a bohemian social worker as Dad is never an easy life. We’ve spent a near nomadic life – living in deep forest areas known for dacoits to lavish campuses to red-soiled rural areas. And we’ve always lived with the mantra that it is not important how much you have but how well you live with whatever you have!
So, with our limited resources we would have ‘barbeque nights’ in our terrace, organise little picnics in our neighbourhood park, have a ‘night out’ to the local restaurant where four of us would share a big bowl of soup and a plate of noodles. Because of him we learnt to enjoy our food as well as be thankful for it. While we were in Bangalore, wearing his trademark bright orange wind-cheater, he would take my brother and me to the green expanse of Bangalore Gymkhana grounds – just to buy the smoky kebabs from the road-side sellers. Enjoying the breezy ride, we would inhale the strange smell of smoky kebabs, amalgamated with the dewy smell of the fresh grasses of Gymkhana. On Sundays, he would travel all the way to the suburban areas – just to buy farm fresh chickens. Every winter we would come down to Calcutta for Christmas. He had a strange passion. While the train would stop at major railway junctions, he would ask my mother to take out our big tiffin carrier. He would then get down from the train and go all the way outside the station to buy best local food. While the train would whistle loudly-signalling ready-to-depart – my eyes would frantically look for him in the station. The train would then begin with a jerk and I would almost start sobbing. “Babaaa”, I would begin to weep and press my face against the window rails, looking for my Dad. And then, out of the blue, I would see him waving to me from the entrance door- smiling.
He has never been a dad-like Dad. For one, instead of studies or career he only spoke about music and movies. So, by the time we grew up , both my brother and I , had immense knowledge about music and movies. Come Sundays, and our house , would resemble a mini festival arena. From the little tape-recorder songs ranging from The Beatles to Ghulam Ali would fill in the air while mother would get down to cook umpteen number of items. My father would then sit on the cane chair and discuss movies from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to Indiana Jones. We would listen in awe while he would hum songs of Mohammed Rafi. Not that he wasn’t interested about our studies. He had an unconventional approach to it. My brother, who was a difficult child to teach, just wouldn’t sit to write his spellings. So, my father had an unique plan. He recorded the words in the little cassette recorder. He played the cassette and asked my brother to write the spellings. Tech-buff that he was, my brother happily jumped at the proposal, much to the relief of my mother!
His way of imparting knowledge and the range of subjects covered was weird. We learnt how to prepare the best thread for kites using cat poop; make a TV satellite receptor using umbrella; use different chemical powders to prepare hand-made crackers; use our teeth effectively to cut electrical wire ; understand the different paper sizes and fonts used in a printing press….
When we were quite young, he gave my brother and me, the entire salary of a month and asked us to maintain the expenses. He said that it was one way to know how tough it is for mother to manage a family with limited resources and understand the value of money as well. After a month we gave up!
But if there was one major thing that my father taught us was never to be perturbed by the report cards. So, our mere pass-marks would mean a huge treat from my Dad! Even our failure would never perturb him. He would merely smile and say, “No problem. Next time. Next time.”
He instilled in us a unique value system of frankness and honesty. And that was not to be compromised. So, we were brought up to be absolutely free and frank with each other. So much so that when I had my first periods, it was my father and not my mother to whom I spoke about it. As I lay down in extreme pain and discomfort, I could see the pain in his eyes as he tried to comfort me. Much of this was possible because to him ‘gender’ was and still is just another word. He would insist that I climb trees and learn to ride bicycle. Unlike typical Indian father I never heard him speak about ‘marrying me off to the best guy ’; instead he always insisted that I get to travel the world, be independent, be myself. So it was no wonder that meet-the-groom in my case was unique as well! He never, ever asked my boyfriend whether he worked or not, where he was employed or what his earning was. They met at a restaurant in my absence. As my jittery husband-to-be smiled nervously, my Dad asked him just one question: “What did you have for breakfast?”. Staying alone as a bachelor, his options for breakfast were limited, so he admitted that he had some leftover rice from the previous night .That was all he had for breakfast. My father shook his hands and sealed the deal, followed by a sumptuous lunch. Later, I asked my Dad how he could decide that he was the right one for me. My Dad smiled and said, “His answer was enough. One, I knew that he was an honest person. Two, I knew that his wants from life were simple. A man who could be happy with the breakfast of left-over rice would definitely be simple and less demanding to keep my daughter happy”.
I am thankful for having a hippie Dad. Because of him I’ve learnt to take life less seriously : enjoy the smell of simple rice and dal served in a Saal leaf-plate in a remote village, savour the joy of travelling miles just to taste one simple food, not be worried about the bank PIN number, believe in the fact that religion is a philosophy of comfort and not a struggle with rituals.
Because of him I am beginning to understand that life is all about living – living to the fullest. His funda is simple: If you live life properly, once is enough. As I am writing this piece, he is uploading his social songs in the Youtube with the help of my son, while receiving phone calls from our field workers in remote tribal regions. He has been pestering me for the past one week to know about building network through Indiblogger. He has just acquired a camera from my brother to try his hands at photo-blogging. I am not sure about his next venture….From making paper lanterns to buying semi rotten mangoes – for him and with him, every bit of life is an adventure. And I am glad that my children are getting to travel the same road as us. On his part, his fresh innings has just begun with his grand children.