My apologies in advance.
I am not original. I filch ideas from people (I acknowledge the filching, if that’s any consolation). You know how self-indulgent and un-original this column is. (You all have had these experiences. You could all have done this column, you see.)
So I suppose you might bear with me. The rest of you? Well, simply turn the page—or read the really interesting stuff on this page.
Here is the long-winded run-up to what I shall do. I’ve been reading, on a plane ride back home—Orhan Pamuk’s book of essays, Other Colours. Pamuk, I discovered, used to write, between 1996 and 1999, weekly sketches for a humorous and political magazine called Okuz (Ox). Many of those sketches were about being a father; they were as much about his little daughter, Ruya, as about his wonder-filled responses to her being.
The pieces are at once moving, uplifting and humbling. In one of the essays, Pamuk decides to write in the voice of his little girl. She sets out—or he does, imagining that he is her—why she doesn’t want to go to school. It is an act of daring and delightful ventriloquism.
Away on work for a week, talking to my seven-year-old daughter on the phone, through text messages or email (she’d made me set up her own email account before I left), I gathered certain impressions about what she felt about my absence. She read me bits of her diary on my return. What follows is what I think she felt —in her voice.
If it’s inadequate, clumsy and—because of the allusion to Pamuk—comes across as arrogant, my apologies again for trying to be an impostor.
My father went away today. The night before he left, I painted on his right arm, from elbow to wrist, like a tattoo, a Mickey Mouse. I wrote, ‘Love, O’ at the bottom. I’d thought he might feel shy to go out with that on his arm. He said he loved it.
He dropped me off at school and went to the airport.
When I called him at night, he was in the office in Kolkata. He has never visited Kolkata without me. I wished I could have gone. But I have exams next week.
When I got my schoolwork wrong, and when I paid no attention to my studies in the evening, my mother scolded me. I wished he was here.
The phone was useful when he was away. I wrote to him, and called him every day. He wrote and called back.
And then I started making plans for his return. I made lanterns out of paper and strung them up outside our window. I made a card for him. I made a ‘Welcome Back’ sign for him and hung it outside our door. I counted days, but it took so long to get to zero days.
I picked him up at the airport on Thursday night. He had a cigarette in his hand, but he couldn’t smoke because he had no matches. When he went to work the day after, I put a smiley on his left hand. It was a hard plastic sticker. I bought it from the shop near my school.
“Will people laugh at you if you go to work like this?” I asked him.
No, I won’t tell you what he said he’d do if they did.