Ode To Abu

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Love you, Dad.

Navin. Memories of you are still new and fresh, just like the meaning of your name. 

Five years ago this day, I did not shed a tear. Some inner strength allowed me to be brave and let you go peacefully. Today, the flow of tears seems to roll freely. 

Time heals, they said. Promises, promises!

My dad was an exceptional man, and this is not the biased opinion of a daughter. 

Despite being his only child, he was very strict with me. He was protective, but very firm and clear in his views. As a child, I was silently fearful and responded with stubbornness. Through my growing years, I revelled in being rebellious towards what I perceived as his attempt to thwart my individuality. Wonder if he knew all I really wanted was his approval. Although I hankered after it, I never let it show, and somehow ended up doing just the opposite and annoyed him.

We bonded as individuals only in my twenties. Dad had turned entrepreneur after he quit his corporate career and we began working together. It was an amazing experience to watch him at work and I began to admire some of his many qualities - notably his politeness and ethics towards work and people, with growing regard and pride. He also began realising that I was finally an adult with a mind of my own (much to his chagrin, earlier!). 

Towards the last few years, we were as close as can be, and for that turnaround, I am deeply grateful to the Universe. 

Many say I am very lucky to have such a close bond with both my parents. For that, am again extremely grateful every day. Many I know do not have that blessed relationship. And many I know continue to have it or did and they know what this is all about. And that kind of support and the kind words means a lot to me. 

There were tons of arguments with my folks (still ongoing with Mum :)). But there is, was, and always will be a very deep love that exists between myself and each of my parents. 

Those who knew Dad admired him wholeheartedly. He was much loved and respected. He was academically brilliant and experienced a very successful corporate work life in his time. A rare combination of having been an IIT and an IIM product, with work experience in between, it was an unheard of combination in those days. Some of his nephews and friends' children were inspired to follow in his footsteps to chart their career paths. He was extremely well-read, highly intelligent, widely travelled, amiable, sociable, jovial and friendly. 

Dad was simple, shy and quite a different soul at heart, which even his friends and family did not know. Almost a closely guarded secret! It was just shyness, which I have also inherited, again something people close to me will find hard to believe. 

There were also those who hated his guts or were envious of him. Many judgements were formed based on their own perspectives. Yes, he was dominating and had an ego, but then almost everyone has one. It was the inferior complex in others (including me) that could not stand up to him because he was almost always annoyingly right! 

But he never lied, cheated or betrayed anyone. He said it like it is and that kind of straightforwardness is something very few can swallow, much less accept. He was kind, helpful and actually quite a softie at heart. He was also extremely vulnerable and hurt easily but did not show it. People misconstrued his intentions at times and misunderstood him, which was unfortunate. 

As a son, he was reverent towards his parents and held a deep respect and regard for them. He was both traditional and modern and faced life courageously. He was bold and well ahead of his time in views, opinions and many aspects. He had exceptional will-power which held him in good stead during his illness, allowing him to bounce back despite being repeatedly knocked down, year after year. He faced extreme financial and emotional burden during the worst times of his life and yet ploughed on with tenacity. 

Dad lived a great life, but it was also filled with ups and downs, though he kept on going. He also underwent immense suffering the last 15 years of his life, and yet he retained his sense of humour, sense of grace, and regard for others through the trying times. He did not want his loved ones to see him suffer. 

During his retired years, despite serious health ailments, he spearheaded a campaign to bring water into the apartment complex he lived in and loved. This had not been done during the construction and even a decade or so later. In his official capacity, and with his unique negotiation skills he made it happen and was christened 'Bagirathi Pai' and till date, people remember and thank him for it. For me, it is amazing that he did something for future generations who, of course, take this basic commodity and elixir of life for granted. It was a legacy he created that exists well beyond his own and many lifetimes. The best part is that he did it because it had to be done, and was long delayed despite many committees that existed before he came along. He installed an RO plant in the neighbourhood with another kind gentleman, who is also no more, and whose daughter was good friends with my father as well.

He enjoyed many interests - music, movies, theatre, sports, business, politics, news, television shows, computers, the Internet, driving, meeting people, travel and much more. Food and reading were his primary passions. He was always neat, tidy and well-groomed, never sloppy. He was finicky about the little things - even having his handkerchiefs ironed :)

His wife Vatsala was his strong, silent support throughout. He affectionately nicknamed her 'Vat 69' since they were engaged that year, a name that stuck and she is still addressed that way by many friends. On their 25th wedding anniversary, he wrote in the card "Still intoxicated" :) 

They were married in the middle of Dad's stint at IIM, Calcutta, and Mom would visit during his hostel days. Many a humourous tale has been spun of those days and I never tired of hearing Dad smile what I used to call his "bunny rabbit" smile and tell those stories. They had a good, long (6 months was a big deal back then) courtship that led them to appreciate and accept and love one another with complete honesty. 

I'm not one of those children who finds the love their parents share embarassing. I was happy and proud of it and found it extremely endearing. They have been open and honest with me always and placed their trust in me, for which I feel immensely grateful. During Dad's last few months, he wanted Mom around and enjoyed listening to her sing, talk, giggle and laugh, and of course, make him his favourite yummy goodies that he was not supposed to indulge in!

Right now, unfortunately for me, it is hard to remember the good times although there were so many. Only the terrible memories filled with pain and suffering due to his ill-health continue to flash through my mind often. I am trying. Still unable to look through photos despite Dad's wonderful, handsome, smiling face in each of them. 

Somehow, I never really allow myself to grieve. I do not suppress it but I miss him very often and particularly when there are decisions to be made and I feel incapable of making them without him to advice and guide me. (It is another matter that he felt I never took it!) 

Today, am just letting myself go through what I am feeling, for a change, and accepting it for what it is. 

Deeply grateful for a father's love. 

Proud to be your precious daughter, dear father. Will never forget how you slipped down the stairs while carrying me as a child when I was asleep in your arms while we were visiting with friends. You did not let go of me during the fall as you retained your presence of mind and managed to balance me on your shoulder. However, you ended up spraining your ankle, which caused you pain ever since then, but never once did you mention it, let alone complain about it. I'm sorry I was such a thorn in your side for all of your life. 

I have fought with you a whole lot and given you much grief and disappointed you many a time. I am truly sorry for all the anguish I caused you. I know that you have forgiven me in your heart and soul. 
Miss you more than ever - my dearest, lovable, kindest, wittiest and smartest Popa. 

Will be doing this again on your birthday this year - Thank you, Eco Kitchen.