From a son to his father

Few have the privilege to say that the author or writer that inspired them to write was someone they know personally, and even fewer would be able to say that it was their father. I am one of the privileged ones. My father was singularly responsible in making me want to pen my thoughts down. I do not recall the year but it was an essay written by my dad that opened up his sceptical side to me. Almost controversially titled “Ramayana – Myth or Reality”, it was a deeply sceptical essay on drawing the line between myth & reality and what one could learn from the epic story. Though I cannot recall the contents exactly, it was while going through this essay I felt the impetus to begin writing.

My earliest memories of my father are rather peculiar. Usually a calm and composed man who works hard, dad transformed into someone who was born to love speed as soon as he got behind the wheel of any vehicle. His earning capacity allowed him to own a 100cc motorcycle called Hero Honda CD 100, now a classic motorcycle. It was much later in my life I learnt about the significance of Bajaj Chetak and its jingle “Humara Bajaj” that were staples of a middle-class family of the newly liberalised & deregulated India in the 90s. For me, the 4 stroke 100cc motorcycle and my dad riding it at 60 kph defined the early childhood years. Given I was a kid, he would make me sit on the fuel tank while he sat on the rider’s seat, so I’d have the first-hand experience of speed. Maybe that’s why I have come to like riding my motorcycle around town now. When my parents were finally able to afford a car, dad didn’t change much. The number of wheels he was speeding with just doubled from 2 to 4. Never one to apply a sudden brake or drive rashly, he still kept a solid pace on the road. Consistency over thrill, he said. Not bad advice, dad.

Growing up, I was brought up totally oblivious to my father’s job. Credit goes to both my parents, but I still think my dad did an excellent job of not letting his job in the bureaucracy ever influence how I was brought up. It was never easy to disclose to teachers in school that my dad was part of the Indian Revenue Service, and that he was a gazetted bureaucrat. It was only after I turned 18 years old that dad allowed me to know just how influential he was. Yet, he made it clear to me. He earned his position, and I couldn’t piggyback on him. Eventually I got used to the stares and the jokes that ensued when I would reveal what my dad’s job was. But today, I am a proud son of one of the most honest & incorruptible upright bureaucrats to ever serve in the Indian Revenue Service.

2 days that I saw my dad’s vulnerable side – when his father passed away in 2014, and when his mother passed away in 2017. I was 20 years old when dad lost his dad. As I write this, it is emotional for me to talk about my grandfather but on that day, I saw my dad cry for the first time. In dealing with my grandfather’s death, dad and I bonded with each other. When his mother passed away in 2017, I drove for the whole 500 km journey when we went to finish the final rites in Rajahmundry, a city where Godavari river flowed. The ashes of the dead are released in this river. Sitting in a car with him dealing with the fact that he was now the elder of the family, though sombre, remains one of the best times with dad. If by now you’re thinking my dad is an overly stoic person, you’re wrong. No one plays with a pet quite like he does.

Dad was a cross-country runner in his younger years, and he often boasts about it by showing how well-formed his calf muscles are while mocking me for my lack of interest in games. He is a fan of cricket & football as games but I’m yet to see him show an undying support for one particular team. I’ve often been told that I have varied interests, and if it isn’t clear yet, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Every time I receive a compliment for how I write, a significant part of it should go to my father. From years 2011 to 2013, everything I had written, he gave me brutally honest feedback. He would point out where I could improve and what could’ve been better. I remember it as clear as day, it was in June 2013 when my father gave me a compliment for the first time saying that I’d written something he was impressed by. 2 years of constructive feedback can do wonders, I guess.

Reading and learning was a family thing. When my paternal grandfather was still around, the house looked like this on a typical day. My grandfather would be reading a book, my dad would be reading the Income Tax Act and making copious notes, my mother would be reading some book and I would be reading an Amar Chitra Katha comic book. My paternal grandmother wasn’t very keen on reading books, she liked watching the TV. My parents often took me to a bookstore while I was growing up, with my dad nudging me to pick up Tintin comics. He introduced me to Enid Blyton & Hardy Boys, though I showed little to no interest in novels. Early on, he got me hooked to encyclopaedias. Childcraft, a series of 17 books my parents bought for me, set them back by ₹12,000 in the year 1997. Their collective earnings per month at that time – ₹9,000. Then came the 6 volumes of Children’s Knowledge Bank by Pustak Mahal. Then came the Encarta Britannica. Slowly, the house became a mini library of encyclopaedias. Dad would often read them with me too. I grew up reading books from my dad’s collection and today, he reads books from my collection. He feels proud to ask me, his son, for recommendations now.

Two valuable lessons I learnt from my dad – how to polish leather shoes & how to wipe my glasses. He tried to teach me how to write neatly with my hands, but I inherited his father’s clumsy handwriting. He had to give up eventually. As a curious teenager, I got caught watching pornographic content. He gave me a sound beating like any father would, but he said something the next morning that echoes to this day – “I know you’re in a curious age right now. But remember, if you ever make a woman uncomfortable in your presence, all your achievements in life become worthless. The day a girl trusts you, you’ve become a man.” Masculinity as I saw it while growing up was one of being responsible and trustworthy and as someone who would step up and be firm at times.

My mother was equally influential while growing up too, I’ll write one for her soon. On my mother, this was what my dad had to say. “Try to deserve someone like your mother. You can’t get luckier than that in getting a spouse.” As he recounted, he often touted my mother as being the reason for financial prudence at home. He told me how much he loved her and why. When he was telling me this, they were married for 23 years. Growing up in a household where my mother called my father by his name and not a generic word used by wives to address their husbands in a typical Indian household, it was quite a shock to me realise how atypical my parents were. Nearing retirement now, they’ll finish 30 years of being a married couple this August. If it’s any doubt, my parents had a love marriage. As my mother put it, they were a perfect couple because dad would write long letters and my mom would read them.

For now, that’s all I can say.

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