We live in a world of stereotypes. The innate tendency of people to generalise from a single or a few sample points to the entire population has led to this flourishing market of stereotypes associated with sexes, ages, countries, states, communities etc. Not immune to the phenomena, the state of Bihar has its fair share of stereotypes. There are two that have been relevant in my life. The first is the stereotype around Bihari kids being reared for clearing entrance/competitive exams. The second is the Wasseypur style lawlessness (courtesy the Anurag Kashyap movies). Things get really amusing when your father and his family belongs to the former and your mother’s to the latter. Here begins the story of my partnership with dad in saving each other from Mother’s tyranny, my friendship with him in trying to get things done and above all my respect for him in deftly handling a daughter who clearly has a mind of her own.
When my brother moved to Bombay for higher studies, my Mom very often went to stay with him (I think to make sure that he wasn’t drinking or smoking!). This implied that Dad and I ended up spending a lot of time together. It was during those periods that I realized the qualitatively different manner of my father in dealing with a situation. Notorious in the family for my sleep cycles, when my father was faced with the situation of getting his beloved daughter to wake up, he used the most ingenious way I have ever witnessed. No he did not switch off the AC or the fan. Rather he switched on the music system, full volume, with a CD of Mukesh in the blessed device. When I would reluctantly leave the bed to go downstairs and reduce the volume (I still remember the first song of the cursed playlist that woke me up every weekend: Chaand aahein bharega) dad would take charge in the room, make the bed, put the quilt away, open all the windows, in short make sure that I could not go back to bed. Even more striking was the nonchalance with which he would say Good Morning when I would bump into him on my way back and I would give up all hopes of going back to bed. That this led to a deep rooted hatred for Mukesh’s voice did not bother my Dad much because I continued to be a Rafi and Kishore fan.
I’m lucky to have a father who has broken all gender stereotypes. When my Mom was away, he would prepare our meals. While the episode was full of disasters (what with him trying a mixed veg that had karela, parwal and carrots in it!) it led to him becoming an expert at making Rajma. Even today, whenever people ridicule his cooking, I remind them that he makes the best Rajma! This period also saw us waiting for hours on end at the railway station for my brother and mom to arrive. Thanks to Indian Railways’ punctuality, the deserted platform (trains from Bombay were all scheduled to arrive after midnight) became the venue for a lot of conversation between Father and Daughter.
The second stereotype that was demolished was about men not crying. Well, he normally does not cry but ask him to say bye to me and the tears won’t stop; in complete contrast to my Wasseypur Mother. Another stereotype that he failed to adhere to was that of an authoritarian father. Whenever we were not falling in line with Mom’s whip, she would retort with something to the effect: follow my orders or I tell Papa. Now Dad being the most non-violent, non-belligerent person I ever knew, I used to wonder if that statement was meant to scare us into obedience or was simply rhetorical (since she had run out of all other arguments). The universally acknowledged truth in the family is his inability to say no. So yes, my father was never this Big Brother who knew everything that I was doing and who I was supposed to be terrified of.
My dad is terrified of the animal kingdom. From cats to cockroaches, he is simply not comfortable with these things around. When he used to observe the ease with which I would hold a cockroach by its antenna to leave it outside the room or when there was a weird insect in the kitchen that my brother very deftly managed to get rid of, I am quite sure he must have felt that we have taken after our mother’s family. It was the one thing that really bothered my father. This was evident by the look of dismay on his face when we were at our maternal grandparents place. And I don’t blame the man. For as a parent the last thing you want to expose your kid to are stories of mom’s kin taking part in the Janata Andolan and getting locked up in the process, of quitting school and running away to Bombay to become an actor, of people becoming babas to earn a quick buck …! While we thoroughly enjoyed the stories, realizing much later of the lawlessness in Bihar that it implied, my father felt concerned, though my mother knew that under her iron grip we did not have even the remotest chance at replicating any of those feats.
Remember the entrance exam stereotype? Well you simply had to score well to be in my dad’s good books. And the definition of “well” was, well, very subjective. Imagine coming out of an examination hall feeling all triumphant about not knowing just one equation in the chemistry paper. Imagine my disbelief when the reaction I got from Dad was a sympathetic, “Never mind, failures are the pillars of success.” I once got irritated enough to ask him to define failure!
The reason I get along so well with my father is because he never comes across as this larger-than-life authority raised on a pedestal. Dad (and both his kids) completely believes in the philosophy of to err is human, to the annoyance of my mother. From missing trains to losing documents, he has done it all, and I have religiously followed him in his footsteps. It is embarrassing when my mother points out that all my identity proofs are duplicate copies since the originals have been lost. On one occasion when dad and I were to travel to Delhi together and reached the station to find our train leaving, both of us ran for our lives to get onto the train and the minute we were on it, barely giving ourselves time to catch our breath, we thanked our stars for being on the train with our belongings rather than on the platform with Mother India. Thanks to all of his blunders aided in no small measure by my own, there is never a dull moment at home. He is not perfect, but it is exactly the imperfections that make him so adorable.
He has always been a doting father silently observing his kids and if they don’t meet his expectations he very smartly relays it to Mom to do the dirty work. He has since time immemorial protected me from Mom’s wrath and whims and vice versa. But he can also be annoying as hell; poking you in the ribs while you’re sleeping and then with a poker face asking if you are sleeping. Having ticked him off by replying how does he expect me to answer that in the affirmative, he has finally stopped doing that to me at least.
If there is one thing I owe to my Father, it’s all my professional achievements. A lazy pig, with complacency oozing over from all sides, he has always given me incentives to perform. In school it was as simple as if you do “well” you get xyz (and the xyz were always highly desirable things ranging from books to pens to cell phones). Today, he does not have to play carrot and sticks with me. Every time I do something, I ask myself if he would be proud of me for doing this and if the answer is not in the affirmative I abandon ship. In the latest undertaking when I spoke to my father and told him that I might not be successful; might not get anything out of it, he replied in his characteristic calm and friendly way, “but then you might.” I love him, respect him and adore him for exactly this.