It is 10.00 p.m. and about time to hit the sack at the Gopal household. A man enters the house with a laptop bag in his hand. His hair is blondish, turned into a blend of dark green and brown, thanks to regular oiling over the years. He has beautiful green eyes. His fair and plum colour of complexion can almost compel you to mistake him for a foreigner. His presence has a certain air of austerity around it, well complemented by his stern voice. His attentive eye spots the few orphaned pieces of clothing strewn about the bed, the outcome of the day’s laundry. It is then that he decides that his parched throat and ulcerating stomach after a tiresome day can wait for a while, till he finishes folding and piling everything up neatly and stacking it all up in the respective shelves and cupboards. A place for everything and everything in its place was a notion that he had sworn by early in childhood. Half an hour later, it’s time for dinner. That’s Appa.
Appa can never survive an assemblage of the fashionable elite because sycophancy never ran in my father’s blood. Nor can he stand celebrations in his name. He would loathe office birthday parties organised for him, he would awkwardly blush at any cake-cutting at home. He can’t flatter to save his life. There wasn’t a chance, as he can call a spade, only a spade. Take it or leave it. No exaggeration, no fuss. The rule applies to everybody in his inner circle, where he is known for his nature of being upfront with things and keeping it simple at that.
“Slow down to first gear while taking a U-turn”, his stern voice would come as a warning even when the U-turn was half the road away. More often than not, the instructions were left brazenly ignored by my deaf ears. “I said slow down else we are leaving !”,he would shout helplessly wishing he had a spare brake near his seat. “Let me be, Appa ! I can handle it”, I would want to yell, irritated at his over-protectiveness. Why did he have to instruct all the time? On a Wednesday without him beside me, surrounded by policemen and bus-drivers staring at the huge dent in the car after a bus dug a hole into it, almost crushing me in the driver’s seat, my father’s words rang as loud as temple bells in my ears as my mind prepared itself to utter its last prayer.
I was always a mama’s girl back in school, or so I thought, running to her to narrate every single happening of the day, important or otherwise. Little did I realize that from the corner of his eye, a man watched all this and craved for his share of love – the hugs, the mollycoddling and the warmth. I always thought he was aloof and indifferent. Years later in college, a good 2500 kilometres away from home, on this end of the telephone line I was, fighting my tears, sobbing and listening to the man who took out 30 minutes (His longest since telephone was invented, I bet) out of his hectic work schedule, just to listen to a petty girl fight and to cajole me to face the world with all its toughness and vagaries. Every pep talk always brought along with itself, a disclaimer. “Try your best to solve your problems by yourself. If it doesn’t work, I am always there”. Since then, our man has always been and continues to be my emotional support system + sounding board. I committed the disclaimer to memory, of course.
Years back when the family’s budget was running a little low, Appa would still make sure his daughter came home by 3-tier A/C or by flight for her vacations, though it would be a tad uncomfortable for his pocket. For his own use, he would commute by scooter in all the extremities of heat and cold that Delhi had to offer, because taking the car would mean extra maintenance charges. Today, with a miniscule paycheck in hand, as I buy a pastel-shaded tee shirt for him, I contemplate and soul-search if I can ever replicate even an ounce of the emotion he carried.
My father learnt the meaning of responsibility the harder way, having lost his elder brother in an accident by the riverside at the tender age of 3, which he himself survived miraculously. In a quick turn of events, he was passed the baton and was the eldest amongst the siblings now. I would like to believe that’s where all that protectiveness and the need to be around comes from. In my early childhood, when Delhi used to face 6-7 hours of power cut at night during peak summers, Appa used to quickly take the mangled hand-held fan so his only daughter that time could have a peaceful sleep to do good justice to her kindergarten class the next day. The slightest movement while I slept was enough for him to fan harder, I am told. As I hold the fancy hand-held fan he got from his trip to China in my hand, I stop to think what it means to me now.
It is easy to irritate Appa. It doesn’t take much, actually. Just take his phone and switch on the Dictionary mode in his SMS menu, and you’ll stop half his work for the day. As it is, not very fond of mobile phones and messaging in particular, my father would seethe in anger and feel utter helplessness on not knowing how to operate the messaging application after that :) Appa is not very tech-savvy and of-age that way.
For all your selfless sacrifices and my selfish choices, here is wishing you a very Happy Father's Day, Appa. If only I were half as good as you are, I would be a proud lady.