Ours being a family where we never felt the need to use words like ‘I love you’ in the normal course of living, it seems a little bit awkward to say it out and loud now . I love you Dad. Have always done and will always do. There it is- so much easier to say it out when I know that you may never read my post here since you have never been able to get used to reading anything on the net and I wouldn’t dream of giving you a hard time, forcing you to do something you have never liked just because I happened to write a few words especially today on your 80th birthday.
I have been thinking of some special moments and it strikes me that every moment with you has been equally special in one way or the other. Right from the time, when I was about three and you used to take me out to under the ‘vazhas’ at night when I got up disoriented and groggy rather than to the little bathroom inside the house, for you knew how scared I was of the big, red cockroaches that scurried and flew each time the lights were switched on. While I squatted under the green trees that threw shadows everywhere in the moonlight, you stood guard a little distance away looking at the moon and pointing out her beauty to me. I have never stopped looking at the moon Dad; I don’t think I ever will for she looked every inch a queen in the dark sky, flooding our little green garden with her pale flood lights.
Then you cycling to the old Ambagan market with me perched on a tiny seat on the front rod of the Atlas bicycle, us wobbling together whenever we hit a pot hole and almost falling when a car honked suddenly behind us. You tried to dissuade me from coming with you but the lure of the little shop selling comics and magazines next to the Baniya’s shop was too great . You complained that my ‘Champak’ and ‘Chandamama’ cost more than your Malayalam weeklies but still I got my own way each time. Mom used to say that you were hot -tempered but with the coming of a son and a daughter who laughed at everything, by the time I arrived eight years later, you seemed more like a gentle grandfather to me.
Thinking back, I can’t imagine a more patient and gentler human being than you. It was a laughter riot at home each time something new cropped up.. like our buying a second-hand Ambassador and you taking it out of the garage for the first time and accidently knocking down a whole side wall and making the driving instructor run for his life, then forgetting the fact that it had a power horn and blasting off the dreadful noise at passersby on cycles , who hurriedly abandoned their cycles and jumped up on the pavements to save themselves from being crushed under a huge piece of road machinery (as they probably thought on hearing the terrible honking horn).. then opening the car door to apologise to them forgetting that we were in the middle of a main road…and trying to get out of the car without removing the seat belt…. The power brake too added to the fun for we on the back seat often found ourselves miraculously up front when Dad spotted a road hump at the last minute. But Dad, you too had a great sense of humour and never seemed to mind the sarcastic remarks that Mom made when you made her get down to push the car once when it stalled and then drove off forgetting to let her get back in..
Dad , we all share your love for food – those lassis topped with Bournvita and coconut , the samosas, alu parathas, all kinds of sweets, payasams – are all associated with a million memories and they rank foremost in my food choices even today.. a reminder that food fads do depend more on pleasant associations rather than just taste.
I am so thankful that religion never played a big part in our lives for you would never dream of differentiating between people just because they tried to imagine god in their own way. You showed your compassion, your love, your concern for the people around you in your inimitable way of reaching out with a helping hand to those in need without preaching a word. Temples never attracted you and though you were ever willing to accompany those who wanted to go and pray, you always did prefer to avoid the crowds and wait outside, admiring the architecture. It taught me at an early age that god did not necessarily confine himself to a closed chamber but also took strolls outside when it suited him.
I am deeply sorry Dad that I threw a stone at you for throwing stones at the stray dog that had dug up the tapioca planted by you when I was six. Also I am sorry for my indignant outbursts after a boyfriend on coming home for the first time, discovered you in the living room wearing only a ‘thorthu’ with another one wrapped around your head and with your feet in a green basin of warm water, reading a magazine with a picture of a voluptuous, blouse- clad lady on the front cover( a very common illustration of the Malayali woman found in all Malayalam payinkili magazines).
I remember the look on your face too when you had enough of Mom’s complaining about the numerous kittens wandering in and out of the kitchen and you took two of them on the Lamby scooter in a plastic bag, mewing and scratching for all they were worth and dumped them in an abandoned plot of land next to the milkmen’s colony about 5 km away from our house ..and returned home to find the very same two, sitting near our front door in the mild winter sun, washing themselves nonchalantly as if nothing of the sort had ever happened!
Also priceless are the memories of our car trip from Alapuzha to Rourkela over the Nilgiri mountains with a driver who was assailed by diarrhoea and allergic to non-tamil food, the great train robbery when the two of us were travelling to Kerala which left me no option but to wear a spare trouser of yours at the age of sixteen which fitted neither at the waist nor reached my ankles for I was taller and considerably slimmer than you at that age, the trips to Calcutta, Bombay, Bhilai, Manipur and many many more.
Memories slosh inside me leaving me at a loss for meaningful words that can convey even a feel of how privileged I feel for having been born as your daughter- a mere example of crafty synastry that had you walking into Mom’s home all alone and asking my grandmother for Mom’s hand in marriage, getting married and carting her off to Rourkela within the space of a few weeks.
A blessed childhood, a firm belief in the innate goodness of mankind, a love for life and all living things, a love for the English language, a passion for crossword puzzles and a penchant for always walking the straight path – all are gifts bestowed by you Dad.
A phone call in the morning to wish you a Happy 80th Birthday was all I could do but I know it was enough to make you smile as you went on your customary morning walk and I can see you so very clearly, walking down the potholed road, stopping and smiling cheerfully at neighbours, plucking a leaf now and then from a roadside plant , tearing it into two and breathing in its particular smell, sometimes putting it into your breast pocket absentmindedly…putting out a hand and catching the monsoon raindrops as they bounce off the roofs of houses…. these are the images that I carry with me as I go about my chores in this desert land so far away from you , dreaming about the few weeks yet to pass till I am back in your familiar, comforting hug. I ask you like always if there is something you want from here, basking in the knowledge that your unspoken answer will always be ‘only you- safe and sound” Love you Dad