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Spice of life: Discovering dad in my mature middle age

The chirping of the birds seems strangely subdued and the breeze is stilled. There seems a change in the air outside and within the house it seems unnaturally quiet.

punjab Updated: Oct 05, 2016 11:47 IST
chirping of the birds,breeze,dad

The chirping of the birds seems strangely subdued and the breeze is stilled. There seems a change in the air outside and within the house it seems unnaturally quiet.

There is none of the usual hustle and bustle, and even the staff speaks in hushed tones. I could never have imagined that the departure of a 93-year-old could make such a difference. It’s over a month since dad made his transition to the other world but his quiet presence still lingers in the house. When we sit down to dinner, I am reminded of his table-talk, his ironic quips on the news of the day, the observations on some story he may have read that day, often pointing a moral.

I spent much of my childhood with my maternal grandfather in cantonments and moved in with my parents in Chandigarh only when my grandfather was posted here. My grandfather was an army officer and had been awarded the Military Cross with Bar for gallantry in Burma. That was tantamount to being awarded the Military Cross twice over, so we (my brothers and I) lived in considerable awe of him. My father, on the other hand, was a colourless civilian in my childish imagination, more of a relative than a true pater familias. There was, at this stage, some resentment as well, when the patriarch in him came down heavily on his daughter. I did not think he was being fair. My brothers seemed to take precedence over me, a mere girl. After school, they went out to metropolitan cities for higher education, while I was shunted off to the safe security of a convent in the hills, and then quickly married off to a civil servant. The luxury of a choice was the privilege of sons!

But life moved on. My dad was a proud father, and he had done well for himself and his children, and by God’s grace, I was happy enough in my little world, notwithstanding my limited choices. But my mother’s death changed everything. Since my brothers were abroad, dad moved in with me and my husband – and he stayed for nearly two decades. In those 18 years, we gradually switched roles; my strong-willed father became more gentle and considerate; my opinions were no longer brushed aside casually, and I got to know him better and closely. I had got over my adolescent resentments, and felt truly blessed that I was able to appreciate him and his qualities in my mature middle age.

Though a simple man, he had lived his life on his terms. A stranger to existential doubt, he was always clear about what was right and wrong and when it seemed that he would have to compromise his principles for the top job in his organisation, he did not think twice before resigning. Though religious he was no bigot, and over the years his thinking had evolved. He no longer tried to impose his views on others. He would often recall that he had gone with only one attendant to wed my mother in Mumbai; that it had been literally a one-man baraat, but when his children insisted on the usual band-baaja and wasteful expenditure, he bore it philosophically.

He was sensitive to the yawning disparities in society and did what he could to help the less fortunate. His charity began at home and he ensured his domestic staff was treated with dignity; that they ate well, and their children went to school. No wonder none of his employees ever wanted to leave. In his last few years, he had become ‘cheque-book happy’, and nothing gave him more pleasure than writing out a cheque in favour of some worthy charity, be it an individual or a philanthropic organisation. Finally, in the end, as the ultimate gesture, he bequeathed his body to the anatomy department of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh.

Dad you tried to make the world a better place, and I am sure you are now inhabiting a superior abode, but a bit of you will always reside in our hearts, because those that we love can never really go away.

The writer is a former principal of St John’s High School, Chandigarh

First Published: Oct 05, 2016 11:47 IST