Yesterday was the 6th of April. It would have been my father’s 72nd birthday if he was still with us. My sister, Veena, had written this piece on her Facebook page remembering him on this day. I couldn’t have written this any better, perhaps not even this well, and would like to share this with all of you.
Today is my father’s birthday.
Today marks 4 months and 3 days since my father passed away.
For a few days now, I have been trying to face up to the fact that for the first time in memory, I will not be talking to my dad on his birthday. Strangely enough, the accompanying thought has been - wherever he is now, he must be so mad that he is missing the day!
My father always took an almost childlike pleasure in celebrating his birthdays – he would remind us days ahead of the event, just to make sure that we could plan for it! As kids, my sister - who even back then, was the artist in our tiny family of four, would make very intricate cards that my mom and I would solemnly sign and on the morning of his birthday, it would be given to him with much pomp and ceremony with whatever little gift we could afford on the pocket money we got.
For some strange reason, this gift almost always was either cologne (this is how we got him to use what WE thought smelt good!) or books. Pens were also a favorite – he had exquisite handwriting that he insisted could only be achieved through the use of a ‘Parker’ ink pen! I do have to say though - my father never saw a pen he didn’t like!
If you know me, you know that I am happiest when I have a book in my hands and the ‘blame’ for that must rest squarely on my father’s shoulders. At times, I think we learnt to read, probably before we even learned to talk or walk.
One of my earliest memories is of my dad scooping me up in one arm from the dinner table every night, while he held a book in the other hand. He would read silently in bed, while I slowly fell asleep next to him. Everything was right in my young world, as I watched him turn the pages one by one, to the background murmurs of my mom talking to my sister as she got her ready for bed.
My father loved to read and was of the firm opinion that there was no ill in the world that could not be cured by a book. Whenever we fell prey to sundry childhood ailments, a visit to the local library on the way back from the doctor’s was a must! There was no fever, no ache and no pain that could not be forgotten in the magical world that existed between the pages of a book.
He was not a literary ‘snob’, though the classics, newspapers and political writings were definitely a favorite. He would read anything from the label on a ketchup bottle to ‘Das Kapital’, and encouraged us to do the same!
As we grew older and became more interested in the kind of literature that he perhaps did not approve of, he was not above using ‘monetary incentives’ to get us to focus on the more serious kind. Yes, I was ‘persuaded’ at the tender age of 10 to put down my Enid Blyton to read "Letters from a Father to his Daughter" by Jawaharlal Nehru and provide my dad with a written critique!
The keys on our Dad's typewriter. This typewriter is now one of my daughter's prized posessions!
A writer in his own right, he had his first book (a translation of Munshi Premachand’s Hindi short stories to Malayalam) published at the age of 17. His typewriter was his most prized possession and the last one that he got almost three decades ago, now belongs to my niece. She knew she was on to a good thing as soon as she was old enough to understand what it was and she spent many an hour at my dad’s knee tapping away at those keys!
Though he kept writing pretty much to the last days of his life, his pride and joy were a set of school textbooks that he published in the Eighties - for you see, my father was a teacher, too. He came from a family of teachers and it was what he did the best. The word ‘impossible’ not being in his vocabulary, though, it was no surprise that the subjects he taught over the years varied from English Literature and Economics, to Physics and Chemistry.
As children, we learnt very early to frame sentences correctly, not to ask ‘Dad, can I do that?’, as invariably the answer would be ‘yes, you can, but you may not’! Questions were welcomed and in fact, a must.
We spent countless hours arguing with him and he had the knack of turning the tables on us, so that we would end up agreeing with him, even though we had started out with a pretty good counter argument. He showed us how easy it was to be misled if one didn’t learn to think for oneself. Punctuality ruled our lives and we were never too young to learn the consequences of our decisions.
Our Dad with one of his students in class, Tanzania.
He taught us to laugh at ourselves and at the world with the gentle art of sarcasm. He was in his element as a teacher and was never happier than before a class full of students, encouraging them to strive for the best. It amazes me when I still get notes from his students after all these years, telling me how much they learnt from him.
Driven by a sense of adventure and an even stronger wanderlust, in his twenties and accompanied by a wife just as young, he embarked on a journey to discover for himself the world that he had read so much about.
A chance conversation in a local library (where else!) with a stranger, had him on a plane to rural East Africa, eager to conquer new frontiers. For over 25 years, he travelled the world – living in, working in and visiting cities and towns in over 15 countries, capturing images and memories in time along the way.
He taught us by example, how to adapt to the moment, how to appreciate the diversity and richness of the different cultures of the world and most of all, how to become a world citizen – boundaries only existed in the mind.
So today, when someone tells me that my sister and I are strong, independent people, I have to say, "All thanks to my dad". He might not have consciously set out to make us that way, but he certainly succeeded in doing so.
Today, when I debate the merits of the latest best seller with my 13 year old niece and argue her teen perspective on life, I know that there is a smile of pride on my dad’s face.
And today, as I read my sister’s blog, enjoy her photography and watch the precise way she packs a bag, all is right in my world again – my father’s spirit is alive and well.
So I will close my eyes tonight, with a feeling of peace, saying – “Happy Birthday, Dad. I am sure that you are flying free once again and having a grand adventure every minute of the way".