This is going to be a tough chapter. I will start with my biggest regret in my life thus far. It is to not have had Tara sooner, so she could have spent some time with my father.
Tara and I were dealt the same cards in that respect. My Nana passed away before I was born. I don’t have a memory of him. And there are very few pictures of him with my sister. So I just don’t know what it feels like to have a Nana who spoils you rotten. My Nani also passed away when I was in fourth standard. So I have had half a childhood in some respects.
I have a goal to minimize my regrets over the years. And the reason I keep that goal is because of my father.
In the twenty seven years that we spent together, the first three of which I don’t remember, and the last nine that I was away from home, I didn’t hear him regret anything. He led a life of struggle and constraints, and yet his smile was always intact. It sounds cliched, but he was the most positive thinker that I will ever know. He always talked about possibilities, the future, and the work required to get there. He did believe in the power of positive thinking, and lived it every day.
If I start to list the things I think I would have regretted, had I lived his life, I will run out of pages. How he amassed the courage to move forward, with a baggage of failures, is appalling. It gives me hope, and yet I shudder at the thought of the mental toll his circumstances were imposing on him. He faced setbacks academically, in business, in personal life, in work and friendships; and yet, he forged ahead with optimism that is impossible to replicate.
My parents had two miscarriages, and a stillbirth, in the seven years, before my sister was born. They consulted experts from Delhi, Saharanpur, Chandigarh and the consensus was that my mother’s body has suffered so much trauma over these seven years and multiple setbacks that conception will be impossible. My mother is a strong woman. But it was the combination of her patience, and his grit, that they conceived despite all odds, and had my sister. It was a miracle as the OB-GYN who was also a family friend, would tell us. And then the room would giggle, and she’d add looking at me, and it was not just one miracle, in four years, happened another miracle. The whole town of Saharanpur, and our families know how precious the daughters were to the Khullars. I know of families that get crushed under this pressure, for my father, it was just a phase.
When the personal life resolved, then came the debts. My father had a well paying and respectable job. But he was allured into the idea of starting a pharmaceutical factory. His focus were the chemical compositions, and the formulae, and the rest of the partners focussed on the business. He was cheated out of his share by his friends. He knew it was happening, but he kept his good faith, picked up more debt, and tried to run the system on the basis of his ethics. He failed. Miserably.
On the surface we were surviving. But you will likely not believe me, if I tell you that I was six when my father taught me the meaning of savings, budget, and needs and desires. From a young age, I was that child who knew that when you go to a grocery store, and you see another kid asking their parents to buy a chocolate, you look away. I was that child who would run to her Dad when he came home after a business trip, and tell him that we skipped Maggi this week to save the money.
My father was always very transparent about our financial standing with all of us. I was part of the family discussion when we decided to move from a highly affluent neighborhood to the suburb, because the rent was cheaper there. I was part of the discussion when my father came home and said, the factory has to be shut. There is no money to pay the workers for another month. I was in the room when my parents discussed if they needed to borrow some money from my grandfather. And I saw the fury in my father’s eyes, at the mention of the idea of changing our schools since the fees were too high, and the new home was too far away from the school.
My father went from an affluent, MNC employee of John Wyeth, to someone who could not afford to send his kids to the school he helped set up with Lions Club funds and effort. He saw it through and through, and we saw it with him.
And yet, not a sign of regret. Not a sign of contempt towards his friends. He maintained his relationships and concluded that the factory did not work out because of his inability to scale both business and his interest in the chemical compositions of his drugs. He did not regret the idea. He learnt that he is not good at business, and he would have not learnt it had he not started it in the first place.
After we moved to Delhi, we stayed with our grandparents for some time. Until they decided that they wanted to put the upstairs unit to rent, and we had to find a rental home. I had started at DPS RKP, my sister was going to Mumbai for MBA, and our expenditures in Delhi were piling on. Everything was expensive. My father had started working for his closest friend in high school, at the time. He had switched careers, and completely quit on medicine. He was no longer a part of the Lions Club, and unlike in Saharanpur where we could not even step out of the house without running into a friend, Delhi was rather cold, and lonely, for most of us. But especially for him. But he did not regret it. He found new routines, signed up to be a blood donor in Delhi, and found ways to give back to the world.
Things were just starting to balance, when a con man, “self proclaimed self help guru” allured my father into Sales for his business. My honest positive thinker thought this was a good opportunity to give back to the world. We quickly got included in this con-man’s circle. My father worked hard, and long. He really believed in the con-man’s ability to inspire the world of corporates to do social good. But over time he started to see the reality, and the con-man started cheating him off his hard earned money.
Before my board exams I mentioned to my father that if I picked Computer Science workstream, I will likely need a computer at home. He agreed, and promised that I’d get one if I scored well in my board exams. I studied hard, harder than I ever did. I aced the exams. I was a state level topper in English, and topped in my school. My father was so happy and so proud of me. He went pillar to post telling people about it. The con-man too sent me a copy of his book with an autograph.
But that summer, my father could not take it any more with the con-man, and he quit. He had ethical conflicts that he could no longer brush aside, and so without another job in hand, he quit.
I will never forget the night we all sat together for dinner, and my father confessed, he had made a mistake working for the con-man. And that he had quit. He then looked at me and said, I cannot buy you the computer you really deserve. I have failed. I am sorry.
I told him I don’t need it. There are plenty in the school and there is a NIIT just four houses down the street. I can always use extra terminals there. He never forgot this moment. I did not either. We moved on, and I struggled to practice my coding exercises.
He recollected it when we were at the US consulate waiting to pick up my file after the visa was approved. He said, I could not buy the computer then, but I will send you to the US, despite it being way beyond our means. Sometimes promises take a bit longer to fulfill.
I recall something he said that day that I did not understand then, but I do now. He said, “Moments like these uplift generations. Tomorrow other girls in our family will not have to fight as hard as you had to, to get the education they want, and progress in fields they want to. Don’t regret the hardships, they only helped you be stronger. And you pave the way for others.”
I guess that’s why he never regretted his hardships. They only made him stronger. And he paved the way to my success.
My strong and resilient father laid the foundation of my life with hope and a strong belief in possibilities. And that is who I became. A passionate optimist at heart! You reap what you sow.
Don’t sow regrets, sow hope.