October 11, 2020
I was telling Tara about how yogurt is made and she found it amusing that you need some starter yogurt to make the next batch of yogurt. It is such a simple, and age-old concept, but it is so foundational to life. We are all just the next batch of yogurt after all. If you see yourself as part of a chain of events, you become unbelievably immaterial, but you also begin to cherish the lineage, and the flavors it passed on to you.
My Sunday writing series is probably just that. There is a lot of my father in me. The more I come to terms with it, the more it makes me happy. But I will be honest, it also makes me a little scared. It is quite surprising how much comfort and discomfort can co-exist in the acknowledgement of the evolution of life. .
I am writing to distil my memories, and retain the good, and perhaps, just acknowledge, and let go of the not so good.
But then what was not so good about a man who lived for others? Just that. That he did not live for himself.
Had he been more accepting of his needs from this world, I am certain his needs could have been met. But he never did that. It was always some other purpose, but his own self. I can count on my fingertips the things he did for himself.
As his daughter, I am so painfully aware of the burdens that he carried that made him not care much about himself, , that when I see a father not taking care of himself, I remind him to do just that. It’s this that compels me to nudge my husband to take a day off and just go and do something he really wants for a day.
I don’t recall a single hobby that my father invested in. He was a simple man. He read the newspaper, but he didn’t read a lot of books. There was simply no time for that. He was not a food snob. He ate whatever was made, and relished it with pleasure. He didn’t write. Except for helping me with my debates. He always helped me build very compelling arguments. Not by writing them for me, but by discussing them with me. I know he would have been a good writer had he tried. But then again, there was no time in this man’s life for his hobbies.
He liked movies. But you cannot call him a movie buff. He liked coffee, but he was not a connoisseur. He enjoyed ghazals, but he didn’t have the time to buy and listen to every record. He enjoyed walks and was religious about them. But he did that to stay healthy, only in the later years of his life. But he liked being with people. And that’s the closest to a hobby I can think of. He was passionate about people. He got a lot of energy from being around them, leading them, bringing them together. I definitely got that passion from him. It also drained him, but he never let it show. And even though he was a people person, he was not a socialite.
For someone who did not have much of a hobby of his own, he instilled the need for one in me very early on. I am very thankful for that early exposure to reading and writing in my life. Our summer vacations in Delhi were spent on trips to the local library, where my grandfather used to be an accounts advisor. My obsession with the smell of old books stems from those hot summer days when the library was the coolest spot to enjoy a few hours. It was my father’s small investment in a library membership that today I am amassing the courage to write, on various platforms, without fear of being judged.
As I go back in time, I now recall one of his hobbies that we have pictures of , but one that he never practiced when we came in his life. And that was photography. He had a film Yashika back in the day that he was very fond of, and took a lot of pictures, mostly black and white. His picture of the Howrah Bridge at dawn, is one of my most favorite works of art. It was somber, and well framed. I picked on that habby for five plus years, also before Tara was born. Like him I was not able to carry it through. The bulkiness of the camera gave way to the strollers and car seats. Perhaps some day I will go back to it. And perhaps if he was alive, I would have gifted him a black and white film mechanical camera, just to tickle his hobby again.
Sigh! All those gifts never given, those hobbies never tickled.
In our early childhood, my father was on the road for most of the week. And no, it was not luxurious travel. He came back on Thursdays, and on Friday his teams of med reps would come home for their 1:1s with him. I was a keen observer since childhood, and enjoyed sneakily hearing those conversations. My father’s guidance to the young grads, his ways of encouraging them, and in some cases, scolding them. He was not a sales guy himself, but he managed the Northern India belt for his company. His coaching was never impersonal or bookish. My strong distaste for that kind of leadership hems from these experiences.
He always leaned on the human side of conversations. I enjoyed that. I also recall some of the aggressive med reps sharing with him that that’s not how others are running their business and that his ways won’t work in the market. He humbly accepted their point of view, and yet insisted, that they don’t steer away from ethical means.
He was bad at business. And that’s a fact. He thought business would work on relationships and ethics, and the merit in his chemical formulas over the other expensive offerings from his competitors. He did not believe in advertising and marketing, and spent hours discussing chemical composition of drugs with the doctors, who were all quite fond of him, and indulged in the technical debate. Yet deciding to give the business to those who offered incentives.
My father was always right. But he did not always win. I knew that. He knew that I noticed that. As I was joining the workplace and making my own impressions about how the world runs, he never countered my early ill-formed theories. He simply said, do what lets you have a peaceful sleep at night. There is no one way to do anything.
I too, unconsciously followed his footsteps and traveled extensively in the first 8 years of my career. My travels were way more luxurious than his. But our intent was similar. Assimilate as many experiences as you can through your trav
els. Meet a lot of people, taste the culture of a lot of places.
My father was so ecstatic when I got an opportunity to work in China and Amsterdam. He told me it will be the most enchanting experience of my life. And he was absolutely right. We discussed China a lot. I spoke at hours length about what I was seeing on the ground, and he would offer some historical and political context to explain my observations. I was 24 and soaking in experiences that people don’t get to experience this early in life. My travels have given me insight and foresight. They have made me people-smart. A skill my father had in abundance. If some of his friends would meet me now, they would be able to tell whose daughter I am. I sometimes hear him in my words, when I purposely make a joke to pacify a debate. He used to say a loud laugh can raise spirits. I raise spirits, perhaps not like he did, but in my own small way.
I used to fly out of JFK every Monday morning, and land at LAX at 10:40am. As soon as I landed, my first text used to be to my father – “landed”. That’s all I’d say. And he would always follow up with a call. He’d ask about the flight, my day ahead, if I was going to drive or will Gary, my engagement partner. He’d tell me the weather in LA for the next five days, and that it will rain on Thursday right around my flight time. So I should grab a solid lunch before I head to the airport, since airport food was terrible.
After he died, I stopped traveling for work. I moved to Deloitte, and asked for local projects. When I finally did have to travel one time, it was to LA and I bitterly cried on my way to the office. The escalator that I had never noticed, because I was on the phone with him started to haunt me. I felt hollow from the inside.
LAX, my father and I have a lot of stories. I took him to LA when he visited with my Mom in 2009. We enjoyed every corner of the city, together. And he was always so proud of how far his next batch of yogurt had come.