A father daughter relationship is close, so people say. Most girls think their daddy can whup the world and fix everything. My daddy couldn’t. Or rather one could say it in another way – my daddy wouldn’t. That was his style of parenting.
Papa was an engineer by profession, a government servant whose transfers took us all over the country. My brother and I often got mistaken for army brats; we have so many miles packed under our belt. But one could not categorize Papa as solely an engineer. He was a closet diary writer, who belonged to an era where men did not display emotions and his rarely surfaced. That he was fond of reading shayari, that he was emotional was something I found out after his death when I went through his files, found his diary and each and every letter penned by me and my brother to him in them. Childish scribbles, home made cards, crayoned by both of us for him.
The only pic of Papa and me together at my wedding …..
He even had this beautiful gazal by Shiekh Ibrahim Zauk penned down along side my brother’s picture as a diary entry on the date of his death
laayii hayaat aaye, qazaa le chalii chale
apnii khushii na aaye, na apnii khushii chale
*ham saa bhi ab bisaat pe kam hogaa bad-qamaar
jo chaal hum chale voh boh’t hi burii chale
behtar to hai yahii ki na duniyaa se dil lage
par kyaa kareN jo kaam na be-dil-lagii chale
ho umr-e-Khizr bhii to ma’aluum vaqt-e-marg
hum kyaa rahe yahaaN, abhii aaye abhii chale
duniaa ne kis kaa raah-e-fanaa meN diyaa hai saath
tum bhii chale chalo yuuN hi jab tak chalii chale
The life brought me so I came; the death takes me away so I go
Neither I came on my own nor I go with my will
There may be a few gamblers as bad as I am
Whatever move I made it proved to be very bad
It’s better that one should not get hooked to the charms of the world
However, what one can do when nothing can be accomplished without getting involved
Who’s come to the rescue of someone who’s about to leave this world!
You too keep moving till you can move on
O Zauq! I’m leaving this garden with a pinning for fresh air
Why should I care now whether zephyr blows or not!
He was not very social, he preferred to have a few select friends with whom he would open out. They would exchange Urdu couplets and talk about life in old Delhi.
aye Zauq! kisii hamdam-e-deriina ka milnaa
behtar hai mulaaqaat-e-Masiiha-o-Khizr se
[hamdam-e-deriina: old friend, Khizr : Man of God]
His style of parenting was benign neglect, a style of parenting which I have inherited. As long as the kids are happy, fed and healthy, they need to breathe and live their lives on their own. All they need a guide, someone who can give them reality checks and keep the moral compass from spinning out of whack. Thanks Papa for teaching me this through example.
Ma said he was distant. May be he was. He had absolutely nothing to do with us until we grew to a decent age like six or so. Till then he watched us from afar. Once we could speak whole sentences and argue, he warmed up to us. He was a big fan of Socrates and drove us nuts by using his style of “dialogues” with us. When our friends and fellow students got absolutes from their fathers, mine threw us googlies.
Each and every question of ours was answered by a question.
“Krishna saved the Pandavas. He was God!” I remember telling him completely awed by the Krishna tale.
“Rubbish, how do you know?”
“Erm … that is what Mahabharata says.”
“Do you know he was just taking care of family business, the Pandavas were his cousins?”
(Mind you I was barely eight and much into Amar Chitra Katha. This was not in the comic. So we had to actually go to the library and get books to prove or disprove the theory. Google, how I wish you existed then.)
It is excellent training for a scholar or a thinker … but how I wished at that time that I was given absolutes – made life so much simpler. But that was not Papa’s style.
During the course of our growing up, we learnt a fair amount of curse words … Punjabi, Hindi and English ones were too common, and we would be spanked if Ma heard us using them. We learnt how to curse fluently in Khasi, Naga, Manipuri, Mizo etc. Ma never caught on to them. Papa did (after all he worked with the labour on those huge government Hydel projects) but he let it pass. The one word he did not permit, in any language, was Paagal or Mad. To him it was the worst abuse. “To be born a man, a thinker, is a gift. The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to lose the thinking process.”
I often got into trouble. I am absent minded, a rebel and act and speak without thinking it through. Papa would not protect me from the consequences of my own stupidities. “Every person has the right to make mistakes provided he/she pays for it,” he said. If I complained that my fellow mischief makers’ parents came to defend them he would say:
” ek hi ullu kaphi hai, barbaad gulistaan karne ko;
har shaakh pe ullu baitha hai, anzaam-e-gulistaan kya hoga !! “
Today when I see rich kids, spoilt and irresponsible, who have this undue sense of self importance, and a pride which is completely undeserved and un-earned, I recall those incidents with fondness. Yes Papa, you were right.
And we clashed. I wanted a scooter, Papa insisted that I first learn how to change tyres and clean spark plugs! In my view that was cheating. A father is supposed to arrange driving lessons and buy the damn scooter, not give mechanic lessons!
But most of our clashes were intellectual – he despised my fascination for Mills & Boons romances while I was a giddy teen. “I gave you better taste” he would say. Yes I read “Of Human Bondage” when I was ten, loved the classics and knew Shakespearean sonnets and the Gita. But teens are for Mills and Boons. He never forbade me … it was against his ethics. He would just tell me not to read rubbish for it pollutes the mind.
He never stopped me from getting married to the man I did. All he said was
Bewaqufon ki kamin nahin ai ‘ Ghalib ‘Ek dhoodon hazaar milte hain..
I later found out that he had a talk with my husband and insisted that I finish my post graduation, and my husband agreed. That was his style of parenting. He wanted his kids to live their lives but the safety net was there … not obvious but it was there. He would never cramp our style, which was not his way.
My brother and me as kids
My brother died when he was 21 and I was 22 years old. I was devastated. My marriage was in shambles, I hated it. I had a small son to bring up and my sibling, my companion, my best friend was dead. I was angry with my brother, with life and with everything. In my selfish anger, I failed to notice or even comprehend what Papa must have been going through. He did not cry. Whatever mourning he had to do was in private, behind closed doors. He just kept on with the rituals and the hoards of relatives that landed up at home. On the chautha (the fourth day of death ritual) he took me aside and said, “I have been waiting for you to grow up. Now we’re out of time. You have to take over. There is no choice in the matter anymore.”
What? Me, take over? My in-laws had nothing good to say about me. I was viewed as incompetent, good-for-nothing. My husband never stood by me. My mother had always thought I was useless. What did my father want? He expected me to do the impossible, become the support.
I panicked, all my low self esteem issues came forth. Papa again used his beloved poets to get his point across
‘Girte hain sheh-sawar hi maidain-e-jung mein, Woh tifl kya gire, jo ghutno ke bal chalein’
Life has this wonderful way of changing once you are ready for it. And I had Papa believing in me. It became a game changer – not immediately, but slowly. I developed a backbone, I grew confident, got out of a restrictive marriage which was doing nothing for my self esteem and actually became the karta-dharta of my own family.
ab to ghabraa ke ye kahte haiN ki mar jaayenge
mar ke bhii chain na paaya to kidhar jaayenge
Papa would often drop in at home, and we grew slowly into friends. It was an intellectual kind of friendship. He was not the hugging back slapping kind of person any way. Hmmm – come to think of it, neither am I. My sons got the male role model they needed in their Naanu.
When he died I was broken – but surprisingly, not much. It was his gift to me – the backbone, the self confidence to live on. Another one of his favorite verses …
“In dinon garche Daccan main hain badi qadr-e-sukhan
Kaun jaaye Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chchod kar”
To me he lives. Whenever I hear Urdu couplets, whenever I see my sons, strong, confident, with the courage to not follow the herd, when I realize that I actually became a writer and blogger at the age people think of growing old and dying, when I look back on life, I think of him, I thank him.
Thanks Papa for being the man you were. I love you.