Can I hold your hand?

I look back & think. I do not need to think hard because a name comes easily to me. Yet I think some more. Anybody else? Maybe someone from school, maybe from family, maybe a movie actor… no, the same name remains stuck. Well, I was thinking who was my hero when I was five years old. & the name that came easily & overshadowed all else was ‘Papa’.

I cannot vouch for five years of age alone. My memory is not that precise. But I do know that throughout my childhood, if there was somebody I was in awe of, it was my father. & not because he was 6’2″ & in the army. Well, these added to it certainly but it was something else. When I sit down to describe, perhaps I cannot. So what instead I will do is narrate anecdotes from my life & times with papa.

My mother tells me that when I was a toddler, & papa was posted in Lucknow, as soon as my father would leave for work, I would start howling. “My papa is gone. Now who will feed me? Who will lull me to sleep?” etc etc. (Imagine all this in Hindi in baby-speak.) (& oh, my poor mom, she must be thinking I am such an ungrateful beast. Sorry mom!). When I was a little older, & started going to school, I remember a time when papa was angry with me about something. & he was not speaking to me. To the 6 or 7 year old me, there could be no greater punishment. I made everyone coax him on my behalf to speak to me. & when he did, boy! was I thrilled!

I was a shy kid. (I think I am still an introvert but I have not really been able to peg myself.) I used to hate speaking to anybody on the phone. Papa used to force the receiver into my hand & make me speak to people. & I would throw tantrums later. Unfortunately, I do not think I have improved in this respect. I still hate speaking on the phone; I would much rather Whatsapp. But another thing dad helped me hone was my public speaking. He would help me with the short speeches for the school assembly. I would be in complete awe of him. How did he manage to come out with a flurry of words which tied together beautifully, made sense & were relevant to the given topic?! Probably, if today I enjoy writing, it is because of him. Today, he humbly says his vocabulary is not good, & asks for pronounciation of words. But back then, you kept me spellbound. You rocked dad!

A couple of my aunts & uncles used to tease me by calling my father names. I remember I used to get extremely agitated at this. I would storm out of the house on occasions or get into fights. For me, dad could do no wrong. With time, I realised it was only a source of entertainment for my aunts & uncles, & I stopped reacting. Dad has always been the one to wake us up, help us get ready & see us off to our schools/ colleges/ offices. It must have been quite an amusement for him to hear the yards of excuses I would give for not attending school. But being the army guy he was, he would pack me off nonetheless. The excuses stopped once I reached middle school.

I doubt if any parent asks its ward to study less or stop studying. Well, my dad did just that. He always had more confidence in my abilities than I myself did. He would tell me “Enough! Go watch TV now. Leave the rest to God.” Even when I was taking the b-school entrance examinations, he was confident I would get through a good one, though I had hardly studied. While I was encouraged to do well, fortunately, I never faced any pressure to be the #1. I am today glad I have turned out to be a Jenny of all trades, rather than Master of one. What is life without a bit of the spice called variety?

When I started college, after the first year, I told my dad I did not want to travel by bus. So dad took up the responsibility of dropping me every morning. We would wake up early, get ready quickly & reach college early. On the way, we would discuss life & the world. The 20-odd kms helped us bond like nothing else could. I know dad, the winter mornings must have been a torture, but hey, we spent some quality time together!

My cousins used to be quite scared of my father. He would give the appearance of being strict & stand-offish. But I know he is putty. He is one of the easiest person to mingle with. He can hold conversations on any topic, & is quite receptive. For me, he is part-father, part-friend. I can tell pretty much anything to him. Hell, I have told him pretty asinine stuff. & he has been cool as cucumber. Wow dad, you are getting younger!

I adore my parents as a couple. They are easily the most ‘no-fuss’ couple I have come across. It is a delight to watch my father take care of my mother. N says, “your dad is very romantic”. They are dissimilar & yet they have found a groove they enjoy swinging to. I will be thankful if N & I can be even half of that.

If I am crazy about road trips, it is absolutely thanks to my dad. My first road trip was when I was five: Patna-Kathmandu-Patna. My longest road trip was when I was six: Patna-Jamshedpur-Bhubaneshwar-Hyderabad-Vizag-Tirupati-Bangalore-Bhilai-Jamshedpur-Patna. The moment which changed the way I viewed life, my parents & my brother happened during a road trip when I was 10: Patna-Delhi-Patna. Oh yes, add to the list the craze for travel. If I have all the money & time in the world, I would do only two things- read & travel! It has been some time since I went on a road trip with dad. I do not let him drive too much now. For that, I have N 🙂 But this year, we shall!

My sweet tooth comes from my father too. Between the two of us, we can polish off any dessert in a matter of minutes. The only difference- I pile on the kilos, & he continues to be a waif. Where does it go Pa?! Now, when we argue over something, we make up with chocolates or pastries. If he makes up first, he brings a Cadbury Silk. If I do, a Double Chocolate Decadence from Big Chill it is. Mom & N make faces but do we care? His sweet tooth is so well-known that his birthday usually sees four-five different types of cakes. PAPA DON’T FINISH IT OFF; I WANT A BITE TOO!

I have his laughter. I have his nose (ugh!). I have his height. I have his sense of humour. I have his bluntness. I have his simplicity (though I have pretty much killed it). I have his love for continental. I have his methodical ways. I have his love for walking. I have his political inclination! I, however, do not have his capability & willingness to socialise (you are quite a butterfly dad!).

As we grow older, the shine we see in people & things wears off. We start noticing faults. & we think to ourselves, ‘oh, s/ he may not be as perfect as I thought her/ him to be’. But then, we also become more objective. We separate the wheat from chaff & say, ‘hey, these are a couple of things not alright, but it’s okay. I still adore you.’

So, for all your pressure tactics, for all your relentless questioning, for all your policitcal incorrectness, Pa, for all of these, despite all of these, you’re still my hero. The sheen has not worn off a bit. I am not five anymore but there has not been a single day I have regarded you any less. I will continue to throw tantrums; that is my job. But you know better, don’t you?

Happy 61st Pa!

(Some unsolicited wisdom:

To all daughters: There’s quite nothing like a father, right? Tell him right away you adore him.

To all sons: Your sister is in awe of one. Your wife is in awe of one. Make sure your daughter is also in awe of one.)

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(The picture is of my wedding. It is a ceremony called ‘kanyadaan’ or giving away the bride. I am holding the conch shell. My father’s hand is below mine, & my husband’s beneath my father’s. After the chants are completed, my father would turn his hand & place mine in my husband’s. & he will then remove his hand. It is quite an emotional moment in most weddings, & the bride almost always starts crying. But I did not, thanks to N making me giggle.)

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