Daddy

I watched Rajinikanth’s Kabali yesterday. Although, I personally do not like gangster stories I made an exception for the Superstar. I did not like the movie that much, but I do not regret making the exception. It was awesome to watch Rajini showcase his acting talents in this role. Punch dialogs and style aside, Rajini is inherently a great actor and you can see that clearly see that in this movie. Watching him in the role of an elderly father and husband was so authentic that it reminded me of my father and my recent time with him.

My dad visited me for four weeks this summer. It was the first real vacation he has had in years and I have never seen him relax as much as he did this time. I was so sad when it was time for him to go back to India that I spent the entire day with a big knot in my stomach. Before he left, he hugged me and told me that he had had a great time and made me promise to visit him next summer with my kids.

I don’t remember the last time my father hugged me. It must have been in my childhood. I have vague recollections of spending fun times with him when I was a really young child (less than seven years old). I remember being encouraged to call my parents “mummy” and “daddy” when I first started learning English. Over the years, I dropped “mummy” and called her “Amma” but daddy was always daddy – to this day.

When I was about eight years old, daddy quit his job to start up his own firm. Over the next ten years, I barely saw him. He’d come home from work after I went to bed and I would just see him for a few minutes in the morning. As a teenager, I hated that I never saw him. The teenage hormones robbed me of common sense and understanding like it does in all teenagers. All I could see was that he wasn’t there for me. He wasn’t physically or even verbally demonstrative of his affection. I resented him because I believed that money (that he was working so hard to earn) was more important to him than his daughter. My mother filled the emotional void and I grew up with her as my best friend.

Even in adulthood, my brother and I were always in the dark about his feelings towards us. Most of our interactions with him were through my mother. I came to re-evaluate my opinions about him only around the time of my marriage. I was taken aback by his attitude towards my interracial, inter-religious marriage. I am sure he had all kinds of dreams about my wedding, but he set all that aside and embraced my decision without reservations. It was a turning point in our relationship. Soon after that, I became a parent and gained a whole new understanding of parenthood and its challenges. Finally, I was able to put myself in his shoes and understand his actions. Suddenly, I was aware of the things that he had taught me even during those years when I thought he was absent. I recalled little moments here and there when he had told me things that had made an impression on me and molded me to be the person that I am today. I realized that the few memories that I had of him when I was growing up are some of my most favorite memories in all.

I can trace so many of my characteristics back to him. One of the first things he taught me was that everyone is a person and deserves to be treated as such, whether they sweep the floor or own the house. He told me to always ask people for their names, remember it and always address them by their names. So, I know the names of my neighborhood dhoti, the young lad who delivers tea to my dad’s office, my mother’s doctor’s assistant, the errand boy at the pharmacy, the watchman at the flat next door to my parents, the lady who cleans the bathrooms in their building and many such others. I love to see their smile when they realize that I know and remember their name. It breaks down barriers and makes it easier to get to know them. I know that the watchman next door is from Nepal and that he works in Chennai and sends money home for his sister’s marriage. I know how and why the tea lady at the office I worked at had burn scars on her hand. She told me one day when I asked her name and we stuck up a conversation. The simple thing that my dad taught me has opened worlds for me.

I learned the importance of charity from him. He told me that it is silly to drive hard bargains with someone to whom five or ten rupees means so much more than it does to me. I finally learned that it was not money that was important to him, it was the success, or rather the need to prove himself. With his actions, he emphasized to me the importance of honesty, education, reading, hard work, perseverance, and continuous self-improvement. He taught me interpersonal skills and the importance of good communication. I get my English skills from him and to this day I feel the best compliment that I receive on my writing is that it is on par with his.

Above all, I realized that he gave me something that I had taken so much for granted because I have never lived without it – freedom and independence. In the 80s and 90s in Chennai, India, I had so much more freedom than girls in Chennai have even today. He never made me feel that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something just because I was a girl. All around me, I had friends who were treated differently than their brothers at home but I never felt that way. It was a shock to me when I grew up and realized that not all girls had the freedom that I took for granted. At age 20, he trusted me to go off to Australia by myself to study what I wanted.

In the past four years, I was blessed with the opportunity to live in his house once again. The experience brought us closer than we have ever been. We had long conversations that made me understand and learn so much more. I continue to learn from him every day. Someday, I hope to have the same simple and implicit faith that he has in the divine. A college friend of mine once told me that I would grow to change my opinion of my dad later in life and she was right about that. I am just glad that I got to know him and cherish him before it was too late. I know that I am incredibly blessed because I have some close friends who did not have that time with their dads. With all that I know now, I feel their loss even more deeply.

To my much-misunderstood father: I love you.

-AB

 

 

 

Born again Love

 

My Dearest,

I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with you. But, in love I fell and now there is no turning back – forever. I fell in love with you only a few years ago, although, I have known you for most of my life. I heard about you even as a child, interesting tales about the things that you did, but they never affected me the way they affect me now. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I even disliked you! I felt you weren’t as perfect as everyone claimed. I could not understand your actions. I felt you were partial, unfair, and dare I say it? Yes, I thought you were unethical! I compared you with other men and found you wanting. You did not seem deserving of my love or devotion. I saw your mischievous smile as the arrogant smirk of a know-it-all.

In my twenties and most of my thirties, I was indifferent to you. I never really thought about you much. It was like my life had nothing to do with you. I thought that we completely lost touch. Now, I know that wasn’t true. I had pulled away from you, but you never gave up on me. You always had your eyes on me. You didn’t push, you didn’t force, but you stayed there, waiting, knowing, completely confident, that I will eventually realize that I can’t live without you. You waited all the while, smiling your know-it-all smirk. Only now I realize that if you had abandoned me, I would have never survived.

Then a few years ago, you decided that it was time. You reached out to me in an almost passive way. I don’t know how you did it, but you slowly wormed your way into my heart. You made me see you clearly for the first time and you lit a spark in me. A hunger to know you and find out everything about you. I turned to every resource I had, I spoke to people who knew you and I sought out those interesting tales from your childhood. Finally, I was able to see your actions in a whole new light. What I had seen as partial, unfair, and unethical finally made sense to me. Viewing it with older and wiser eyes, I understood the reasons behind your behavior; that they were driven by a pure sense of ethics, unmeasurable love, and amazing grace. That spark that you lit in me is now a raging bonfire that can never be put out. It keeps me warm on the coldest nights and makes my whole world brighter every day.

These days, I find myself day dreaming about you. My heart sings whenever I recall your mischievous smile. It no longer seems like an arrogant smirk to me. For now, I understand the language that you speak with your eyes and that smile. I imagine running my fingers through your dark curly hair, gazing into your kind eyes, and resting my head on your broad majestic shoulders.  But most of all, I come running to you when my heart is heavy; I lie on your lap, pour out my grievances and tears, and wait for you to tell me what to do. How many times have I fallen asleep like that? And you have just sat there, while I slept on your lap, watching over me, even though you had a million other things to do. You stroked my hair and my troubles dispersed away with every stroke.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without you and all that matters is that I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. I have a picture of you in almost every room of my house. Wherever I spend significant time, I want my eyes to fall on you. I have a photo of you on my bedside as well, so that your face is the last thing I see before I fall asleep and the first thing I see upon waking. Even right here, next to me, on my desk I have a picture of you. One from your childhood, of that time you were dancing, on top of Kaliya, imprinting your lotus feet on his head and subduing him to save the people you love.

I am never alone, now that you live in my heart. Thank you for saving me. I love you.

-AB

This post was written for the “Write a Love Letter” campaign for The Chennai Bloggers Club