Here is the man who traversed the long road from dictator dad to supportive soul while I was travelling my long road of life. Its not his birthday today, he is not visiting me these days but I can think of no one else to begin counting my blessings with.
He called me last evening, and when his name flashed on the screen, it struck me that I had not called him for a couple of weeks. I would have killed my daughters if there was silence from their side for a fortnight, but Baba doesn’t wait for my call. He just picks up the phone…tells me ( in descending order) about the house, servant, car, my brother and sister, his health, the weather …asks about the dogs and my routine…we talk about the latest cricket series which he is watching ( I never have the foggiest idea about that)…a last question about when am I coming to Delhi, and then it’s a quick “bye” and the call is complete. This time I managed to say “take care Baba” before he put the phone back.Usually I get to say that to the ring tone.
In his late eighties now, he lives his life with military precision, and the benefits of discipline are there for the world to see. He walks straight and smart, his silver hair combed immaculately, and he is always nattily dressed. Not an ounce of extra fat anywhere and definitely no stains on his gleaming white shirt! Meals are planned for the week….egg at breakfast, 3 days of fish and 2 days of chicken, 4 dals in rotation, 6 veggies and 4 fruits for the week, and Nestle yoghurt at lunch.
Not so long ago, it was this strict discipline which would irk and irritate me no end. Does one HAVE to eat breakfast at 8 am sharp? Do we have to see Arnab Goswami at 9 pm and switch off the TV at ten?.Do the old newspapers have to be stacked date wise? Does it have to be omelets for breakfast every day?. Now, I understand that this routine makes up his day—he knows what to expect from each hour and there is security and calm in that feeling. I guess by 87, one has ridden enough highs and lows on life’s joy-ride to go looking for excitement.
Earlier years, during childhood, the discipline and the routine would beat an army training camp hollow. Our days and activities were chalked out to the hour. We had to eat everything in our tiffin boxes or dinner plates and there was no question of not liking any dish. I still recall a brave attempt at rebelling against “French beans”, and being served only beans for all my meals. I hated bananas, but it took me 21 years to refuse that fruit (and another 21 years to begin eating it again—in moderation). Housework duties had to be done, so polishing shoes, changing bed sheets, cleaning the car etc have been a cake-walk in my adult life. There was this perception those days that children can be molded into perfect ( as envisaged by parents)human beings if they were subjected to rigorous discipline.
The three of us, however, just wouldn’t toe the line. There were pranks galore — making a slurry mess of the entire month’s ration of atta, cutting door curtains to make them window size, setting fire inside a cupboard while searching for crackers (??!!) with a lit candle—these were the tip of the iceberg . I salute my parents for having lived through all that chaos and emerging whole on the other side of child rearing.
My refusal to toe the line continued after childhood..it is still an essential part of my psyche. Rebellion took on different avatars. I joined the Air Force inspite of Baba serving in the Army, I married against his wishes and was (temporarily) disowned, I went out of the country, got a divorce, insisted on sending the girls to a residential school, left plum jobs ( and found others), left the city and moved to the hills….and I suspect he is waiting with bated breath to see what do I do next!
Through all these upheavals, Baba has stood by me and supported me in his own way. After my mother moved on to other worlds, it took Baba a few years to accept and adjust to the huge gap in his life. Gradually, he became the real, caring parent for me and over the years, he is the one person I can be assured of support for my decisions, even if he does not understand/agree/empathize with the move. When I insist on asking for his viewpoint, he will always reply “ I know you will do what you want to do, and I wonder why you ask me for my view. But for all that it’s worth, I feel…………….. however, you do what you want, and if there is anything I can do, let me know.” I can see the disbelief and skepticism on his face, but he will be as supportive as possible.
I wonder what has made him change from that youthful autocratic dictator to this much mellowed, concerned parent. The fact that he has lived for decades without his partner and learnt to accept his solitary way of life, the realization that everyone is different and each person will be true to their mental make-up, the letting go of expectations from others, and the acceptance of the fact that there will always be challenges and tough times (regardless of age and wealth)… they have all played their part.
The other major factor, which one tends to overlook, would be the respectful/rueful acceptance which his children have given him. None of us try to change his lifestyle, or expect him to agree with our views. Instead, we have learnt to quietly bring improvements which convince him to make the right choice.
Baba loves driving and his car and he would insist on driving himself all over the city. A few nasty incidents over mild collisions, a couple of missed traffic lights and the fear of the famous “ Delhi road rage” had got all of us in a tizzy. How does one make a determined 85 year old man give up driving?!
Fate smiled on us, and along came our savior.. Sakha cabs, envisaged and established by my dear friend and her circle of committed colleagues, began providing their chauffeur services for Baba. It took a few weeks for the initial skepticism to be replaced by sensible approval, and then he took the decision to stop driving himself.
Just as we let out a collective sigh of relief, Baba decided that it’s time to change his car. The first round of discussions were with NOT with us children or the Honda guys— it was the Sakha office which was consulted about the drivers level of comfort with automatic cars, the right car to buy, etc etc .
Today, in his brand new Honda Amaze, with a smart Sakha chauffeur at the wheel, he goes all over the city, with a neat, well planned time-table and route chart in his hand. His list of jobs gets done, his day is productive and fulfilling, and his pride at being independent remains intact. And that, at 87, is great place to be…