Awkward silence. The two words that define more than fifty percent of my brother and my telephonic interaction with Dad. If a conversation with Mom lasts sixty minutes, those with Dad last ten precious minutes with repetitions on health and financial issues. To be sure, he knows everything about us or rather those things that Mom thinks his tender heart can handle, the rest is revealed in bits and pieces over months or never.
Dad is the sound mind that I can trust. If he is saying something then he must have thought it through. You can trust his reasoning, that he wouldn’t have been swayed by emotional and superfluous considerations. When something is in less supply, it’s value is higher. Hence Dad’s advice, when it comes, is given due attention, while Mom’s case leaves me baffled-I have to call my brother to narrate what she said and take second opinion on whether it was innocuous talk, veiled threat, taunt, sarcasm or advice chilli coated with scolding! Basically, between them Dad is Manmohan Singh while Mom is Narendra Modi. The former is barely heard but gets a lot of constructive work done. The latter is always talking and marketing herself! You oppose her and you are branded a threat to the family. With the latter you can discuss Twitter, chai-samosa, self-obsession, almost anything; the former makes you want to open your mouth only if you have something substantial and profound.
My father deals with my brother and me like a bomb expert dealing with a bomb. There’s a look which we often get during our one-on-one with him: the sabun-ki-shakal-mein-beta-tu-toh-nikla-keval-jhaag look. During one of our Sunday morning dose on how we should plan our expenses and stay within our budget my father said that in his youth he couldn’t afford to think that he could fall back on his father. The simple soul thought he had nailed it until his kids blurted out a “But we know we can fall back on you, it’s not rational if we assumed that we couldn’t when in reality we could!” response. He hasn’t had an easy fatherhood!
Imagine having kids where you come back home after work to neighbors’ complaints that your kids stole all the mangoes from their tree. Having the benefit of Dad’s trust I told him that firstly only the root of the tree was in their quarter, the tree had decided to grow in a loopy trajectory and so it’s entire foliage was in our quarter; secondly we plucked the mangoes in broad daylight shouting instructions to each other on top of our voice, things thieves wouldn’t do; that it happened to be everyone’s afternoon siesta time (including our mom’s who laughed through the entire episode) was not our problem. Despite his famed Gandhian negotiation skills, relations with our neighbors got irreversibly strained.
My father was the conscientious, diligent, obedient and hardworking kid of his parents-in short, everything that his kids are not. But that’s his speciality. He accepts the inevitable (and the evitable) without much resistance. A devout Hindu who thinks everything that happens is God’s doing, he didn’t create a fuss when I said I’m agnostic and wish to stay away from things I don’t believe in. I knew all his signatures. A habit of attesting documents and forms of neighbors got me a mild “Beta, you should not do such things. It’s not right.” His decision to not keep his stamp at home after that made sure I couldn’t do it, right or wrong! When my mom decided to invest in the stock market and decided to make investments a game of dice, he disapproved and all he did by way of expressing it was letting me know, with the caveat to not tell Mom!
I admire how organised he is. Every year the first week of January is spent updating his diary, putting his old monthly planners in a box after making notes from them in his new monthly planners. He still writes with fountain pen using a turquoise blue ink. He has still not moved to a smart phone. It’s a joke in my house that the day Dad switches to digital payments we will know Modi has indeed arrived. But punctuality is something where he missed the bus, train to be precise, and in this his kids followed. We never reach on time, though I’ve been trying very hard and shown remarkable progress. Together we have missed trains, movie beginnings and hence the anti-tobacco advertisements and almost missed flights. He is not particularly fond of traveling, well let’s be honest-he hates it. He is the “Google pe dekh lo, wahan jakar kyun dekhna hai” kind. If it’s my father, my brother and me on a vacation, then the two of us mostly eat and sleep while my brother updates the Homeland Women’s Association and clicks highly embarrassing images to keep records. If the full family is on vacation then Dad leaves the shepherding (with my nephew there is a new sheep in the flock!) to my mother and goes about doing his own thing. I didn’t take it well when I was told that he counted me as part of luggage when I was a kid! Imagine starting the baggage counting exercise with your daughter being number 1. Driving is the only thing he enjoys about any of our vacations and the fact that we are all together.
When it comes to his work he makes sure he is aware of all details. When he tried applying this concept to me the following happened: he used to teach me upto Xth grade. When we received our papers after exam he would scrutinize it and ask me why my teacher had decided to deduct marks if it wasn’t obvious to him. If it wasn’t obvious to him then it was unlikely that it would be clear to me. If you’re someone who is scoring a 96 and decide to ask the teacher why and where you lost the four blessed marks your teacher and your peer aren’t going to take it in their stride. At home if you aren’t able to tell your Dad why you lost those marks he isn’t going to be pleased with your lackadaisical attitude either. Faced with this, I told my Dad to go to school before assembly and ask the teacher himself. I still can’t believe that he religiously did that till he was my academic tutor. To be sure, my teachers still didn’t take it in their stride but at least peer group stayed ignorant, so the issue was taken care of. He got to know where the mistake was made, I was told at the dinner table and that was that.
It’s amazing how most conversations with my Dad hit the familiar territory of “are you having sufficient fruits? Dry fruits? Walnut? Please have walnuts, it’s very good for brain, hair and cholesterol.” If ever a walnut brand decided to advertise itself they should get in touch with him. Since time immemorial he has religiously fed us walnuts! That despite all the walnuts neither of his kids metamorphosed into an engineer is another story. He is the conscience keeper of our family. Whenever Mom can’t handle things by herself she puts it on Dad: Do you realize how bad your Dad would feel if he gets to know? That it usually works says a lot about the respect we have for him. He used to do the running behind to make sure I didn’t fall off my bicycle, that if I did he was there to give a hand. He still does that, in my journey through life!