Happy Father’s Day

It’s been four years. As someone wise once said, “Although it does not become any less painful, you will realize that time is a great healer.”  I agree. The wounds are going to stay forever, but it can sometimes take a very long time to get an outer crust of fresh skin, that can hide what’s beneath.  

To cheer up, I told myself today that thankfully I do not have to wait for Father’s Day to be reminded of the absence of the most important man in my life. I miss him every single day.

When I was five, my Dad showed me some albums from his past life, his younger self. He was a handsome man. Fond of all the good things in life. Fortunately, back then he could afford them too. He had a well paying job and a beautiful wife. He was an active founder member of Lions Club in the small town of Saharanpur where he spent twenty-seven years of his life. I have often wondered what attracted him to Saharanpur in the first place. But whatever it was, I am thankful for it, because it gave me a strong foundation for my life that I cherish and value. I am a small town girl with big dreams and I always want to stay that way, no matter how old I get.

My Dad had a Yashica Minister way back in the sixties that he actively used on all his trips. His job took him to several parts of the country and — lucky for him — he loved to travel. I clearly remember when he showed me a couple of  amazing black and white shots of Howrah Bridge that he had captured in Calcutta. I am still in love with those pictures and I cannot help but compare my captures to them. There was something very bold about them.  Both of them were clicked in a quick succession, a little before dawn. The silhouette of the bridge was perfectly captured by his Yashika. He always said that the camera does not matter, it is the eye of the photographer that should be special. And that a b/w picture that captures the right details is a mark of a photographer who has mastered the play of light in photography. Even today, I sometimes edit my favorite captures to black and white. Just to see them from his lens.

If I analyze my life and choices, I can find his blueprints all over. And I find it extremely reassuring to know that no matter how many years pass by, no one can take that away from me.

His active pursuits in Lions Club were a model of social life that I wished to follow.  The club was to my Dad, what art is to a painter. He did not keep a count of all the blood donation camps, limb donation camps and eye donation camps he conducted and neither did he count the number of times he donated blood to people after listening to requests and call for donors on radio and television. Sometimes I wonder why he was so giving. And I even have my own explanation. He did not have much to begin with and whatever he did, he shared with others. He knew we are all made of the same matter and by sharing you can only grow yourself.

 People were really fond of my Dad. I now understand why. He never indulged in gossip, smoking nor drinking. He was a unique example of the fact that it’s not  alcohol that wins you friends . In the small town of Saharanpur, he was a Frank Sinatra of his own. All sorts of people, rich and poor, influential and political, knew my father really well. Of course that was a little too much for my sister and me since we were being watched all the time. But we were so proud of him and we still are. The legend is that when he went back to Saharapur after living in Delhi for many years, one of the beggars on the train station remembered him from one of the eye camps that he had conducted.

At times I feel that it was that fame and love from others that kept him going. His business was nowhere close to be flourishing. No one could tell that from his face or mannerisms, except for the three members of his immediate family. He kept professional and social life completely separate. His claim was that one does not need money to serve others. And even when things were not as good financially, his involvement in Lions Club activities and charities did not stop. Those activities were his release. They were his means to find peace in the situation. He did not share this with me, but I am certain of this.

 When we moved to Delhi, after my Dad quit the company he had started eleven years ago due to losses, my grand parents were gracious enough to give us their second floor studio unit that was their only source of income during retirement. It was nothing fancy. In fact it was far from fancy. A bedroom with a tin roof that made noise when it rained and an adjoining kitchen, along with a living room that was our safe haven, for it had a proper roof and hence did not get as heated up during summer. Given the layout, there was just enough space for us, and hence there was no room for any secrets. When Dad’s friend and employer of many years began to pursue cost cutting, he voluntarily took up another position that was respectable but with meagre money. For someone who lost more money in his life , than he could ever make, he was a man of dignity. All tribulations that he went through, while he sweated away for the cheat that he now worked for were not hidden from my sister and me. We knew it all.

And yet, he never forgot how he could not fulfill his promise to buy me a computer after I had topped the tenth CBSCE board exam in my school. He blamed himself for not being able to pay for my vocation which could have helped me in my career in the future. Little did he know that I was never meant for machines. I am his reflection, a people person to the core and hence even if he had invested his savings  in my vocation, the end results would have been dismal.

I know now that paying for the exorbitant school fees during that phase costed him his life savings. Buying a computer at that time was nothing less than a joke.

I am yet to see a man so contented with his mediocrity and yet so persistent to push his offsprings beyond it. His terse remarks to me when the JEEE results were announced are like bullets that will never exit my system. And I am thankful to him for that; I continue to gain momentum from the sheer force with which those bullets hit me.

 One of my favorite things about my Dad was that he could talk to just about anyone, about anything under the sun and mesmerize them. In fact whenever we used to travel to Punjab to visit my grandma’s house, my Mom had to remind him to not indulge in any discussions in the bus. Punjab in those days was a boiling plate for many upheavals. Heated conversations that ended up in fights and riots were very common in those days. Yet, I don’t remember a single journey with my father, when he would simply read the newspaper and not talk to anyone. I’ve picked up on that habit too. The expression on Agam’s face when I start a conversation with the waiter or taxi driver is quite similar to that of my mother’s in the Haryana roadways bus many years ago. I believe that we are all always craving to share our stories with others. And a good conversation is like that cup of tea that can completely refresh you. He agreed with me.

Although he had a huge social circle, my Dad was still a lonely man. I think he was the  most extroverted introvert I will ever meet. He never talked about what he was feeling. In fact I don’t recall him ever using the word in relation to himself. It was always about the feelings of others and how we should not hurt them, nor be ignorant of them. Be it about the feelings of the beggar on the train station, right when the last train of the day began to depart and he realized that he had not made enough money for the day. Or about how the people in Tehri were feeling when the earthquake hit the area and left many homeless and orphaned.

Or more recently, how my Mom was feeling about my upcoming wedding and how he was trying to make it all work. He did not express any of his feelings and as usual I did not ask. Because Dad was always fine. He just asked me to let Mom do how she wishes, let her have the last wedding of the family be as per her plan. Little did I know that was my last conversation with him. He was on his way to work, and had parked on the road side to take my call. He knew something I didn’t. He needed to have that last conversation with me.

I have wondered if it was this “always caring for others and never letting anyone care for him”, that took his life. He had a store of feelings he never shared with others that kept accumulating in his body and since no one ever looked, one day they clogged up his heart or his brain and thus unable to cope with the pressure, his body gave up on him and he gave up on us.

That is my explanation of how my father died. Of course it is no better than the story you would tell a five year old when you try to explain death to them. But the truth is that’s how I understand it. Maybe because in my own eyes I never grew up beyond that five year old who fell in love with her father’s pictures and continues to recreate them, for him. Or may be for herself.

Happy Father’s Day! And a word of care for all the fathers: don’t give up on yourself while giving so much to the ones you love. They need you more than you can imagine.

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