Being a Puppy

There is an inherent disadvantage of being your father’s pet, especially as a daughter [AND only child]: there is very little I can say that he takes seriously.

Yesterday, Facebook threw up a memory for me:

Every time my father had to go to a doctor, guess who had to trot along? If you guessed me, you’re right. My mother is hopelessly squeamish, and once ran out of the room when I was at a dentist’s. So in order that my father have some level of moral support, I went along.

However, I soon realised that my father couldn’t be trusted to go to a doctor on his own. Because the doctor would ask: “Hello. How are you?” reasonably expecting a list of symptoms, and my absolute pest of a father would answer: “Very well, thank you. And you?” After a major facepalm and much rolling of eyes, I would interject, listing his actual symptoms, adding for good measure: “We wouldn’t be here, if he was fine!”

Anyway, it became a thing: I attended all doctors’ appointments henceforth. Mainly to ensure that he communicated his symptoms clearly, he asked the right questions, and got the information we needed.

Now, my father was a cartoon character, but he looked quite venerable and distinguished, with a shock of silvery hair and an elegant French beard. So it was understandably hard for doctors to lecture him. So I was the de facto target for all the lectures: “He has to lose weight! On a war footing!” and “You must be more careful with his diet!” and more along those lines. As though he wasn’t an autonomous adult with decision-making abilities, and I was force-feeding him.

My father sat back and listened to these tirades [directed at me] with the utmost serenity. Even secret glee, if truth be told. He was incorrigible.

We usually left these appointments with me swelling with annoyance and seething with unexpressed resentment, and waiting just to get back home to my lone sympathiser [mom] to ream him out.

Except none of my lectures had the tiniest effect. My father just stood there, looking seraphically at me, not taking in a word of my tirade. Somewhere in the middle [sometimes the middle of a sentence] he would turn to my mother and say: “She’s so grown up now. She was such a baby! She IS such a baby. She’s so cute.”

I mean, I was hardly ever angry with him, but hearing this, even the mild annoyance and sense of ill-usage used to fade away. It is endearing to be a 30-something year old, and still have your father look at you as his little girl. A little girl with pigtails and an upturned face with big eyes.

And then he used to say to me: “You’re my puppy, OK? Don’t try to become my grandmother!”

Well. Yeah.

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16 Years Later

Today is my grandfather’s death anniversary. It has been 16 years since he passed away. And I’m just now starting to understand why today is a monumental day for me. I was 18 years old at the time, and well able to process the idea of death. However, we were stuck in Dubai, and my grandfather was in Mumbai. So we didn’t actually see him at the end.

My grandfather first fell seriously ill in 1995, when I was 11 years old. So I didn’t get much of an opportunity to really get to know him. All I knew of him was that he was a kind man, gentle and mild, accompanied by stories from my mum about his heydays as a corporate head honcho.

We couldn’t attend his funeral, because we were, as I said before, stuck in Dubai. It was devastating for my mother, as she adored her father, and was very close to him. At the time, I didn’t realise understand the loss that she was facing. Her grief was absolute. It poured out of her in inconsolable waves, and my father and I became hapless and mute spectators, attempting to keep the family together as far as possible.

It was my first experience with losing a close loved one. The only major death before my grandfather’s was my dog’s [an Alsatian we had in Dubai], and she sickened and passed away in front of my eyes. I was somewhat prepared, even though grief-stricken.

14 years later, I lost my own father. There are few parallels with my grandfather’s passing, but it still served to put my mother’s loss into perspective. I finally really understood the grief she experienced, even though my grief is lodged somewhere in my system still; I haven’t been able to really let it air.

One day I will write my grandfather’s stories here too, because he was a truly remarkable soul. Till then, I will think of him with fondness because there is so much of him in my little mother, and she is a pretty kickass specimen overall.

The Yellow Shirt

I was scrolling through old photos stored on my laptop, as I am wont to do on occasion, and I came across a picture of my dad in his Yellow Shirt. [Yes, capital Y and capital S.] Although this story is oft-repeated in my family, I don’t think I’ve ever written it out here.

It all started when my mom bought me an over-sized lemon yellow shirt from a shop in our building. The shop’s name was Safwa [can’t believe I still remember this!] and she had paired it off with a denim divided miniskirt. I used to practically live in miniskirts, seeing as it was Dubai and there was none of the staring that is so prevalent in India.

Anyway, I loved that yellow shirt. It was cotton-linen and super comfortable. Plus, paired with the skirt, it made my legs look amazing. As a teenager, this was a very important criterion.

However, most unexpectedly, my father also took a shine to that shirt. What was a loose, baggy look on me, fit him perfectly. And I kid you not, he pinched that shirt all the time. If I wanted to wear it, it was usually in the wash after he had worn it, or he was actually in the shirt at the time. Being an uncharitable teen, obviously this bugged me no end. But because it was my dad, I let him get away with it, mostly confining my displeasure to half-hearted grumbling. To which he would reply: “It is my yellow shirt. You can’t borrow it.” My mother, wisely, mostly stayed out of the fray, although she did tell him off a couple of times.

It was a fun thing.

A year or so later, the shirt had been worn to death. Multiple trips to the laundry had reduced the colour and crispness considerably, and it was a limp and pale version of its former self. Which is when my dear old dad decided to “return” it to me: “Here. You can have your yellow shirt back now. I don’t want it any more.”

Cheeky devil. Of course he didn’t want it any more; it was faded and pale and looked like it would collapse any second. Harrumph. But he so loved the colour that we were thereafter perennially on the lookout for a replacement for him. The funny thing about my original yellow shirt was that it was meant to be an over-sized WOMEN’S shirt. This time around, we looked in menswear departments.

Years passed, and we finally found a pure linen one in Mumbai. It was the right colour, and my father pounced on it when we brought it home. He was so thrilled. And then proceeded to wear it out even more thoroughly than the first one, till one day we had to cut it loose. It had done its duty. This was some time during our stay in Goa.

In the interim, my aunt tried [and failed] to buy yellow shirts for him. She has, um, questionable taste in clothes, and couldn’t seem to zero in on the right colour, shape, or size. He didn’t like anything she bought, and the pile of rejected yellow shirts languished miserably in a corner of his cupboard.

Then we moved back to Mumbai, and I was occasionally inveigled into going shopping at Phoenix Mills in Lower Parel. One time, the four of us [mom, dad, the ex, and I] were traipsing through the mall, tuckered out by that point, when I passed by a Cottonworld store.

Seeing that much of their wares were in pastels, I asked my family to wait outside while I nipped in to check whether they had lemon yellow shirts. [By this time, finding the shirt had taken on quest-like proportions.] They did.

I ran back outside, and dragged my family back in. We excitedly bought a shirt that Dad LOVED. [And mom also picked out a white linen shirt for the ex, because: “How can I buy only for dad, and not for him?!” *rolls eyes*]

My father was ecstatic with the shirt. He wore it the very next day, to Matunga market. The same market where he decided to have a spot of lunch. South Indian lunch, to be specific. Dosa, chutney, and sambar to be ultra-specific. Sambar, which he then proceeded to spill on his brand new, much coveted, eternally longed-for yellow shirt.

I got home from work that day, and was greeted by an extremely sheepish father and a half-exasperated, half-amused mother. And the yellow shirt with a large orangey-brown stain down the front.

I’m with my mother on this one. Sigh. Groan. Giggle.

Thank God It Wasn’t A Camel

A family friend is visiting from Dubai next week, and she asked me on WhatsApp what we would like her to carry with her. My immediate response was: “Nothing, thank you.” because really, everything is available in Mumbai. However, she persisted, and asked me to check with mom, and think about it for a few days.

I had asked my mother the first time she posed the question, and my mother echoed my response. The second time though:

Me: “Aunty Renu is asking what we want from Dubai.”
Mom: “Really don’t want anything.”
Me: “I know. Told her that. She’s asking us to think about it, and let her know.”
Mom: “Ok. Sheikh Mohammed then.”

Erm.

Me: “WHAT?!” *burst into peals of laughter*
Mom, because she believes that the universe grants all requests: “I was kidding! God NO!”

What a cartoon.

In A Stew

In the time before my mother stopped going out on her own, there was a short period where she left me in charge of the house in Goa. The other two candidates for this position were my father and my dog, and of the two, I think she would have liked the cocker spaniel’s organisational chances over my father’s.

Now, there are several things my father doesn’t do when my mother is in the house; mostly because he will get told off. One of these things is to faff about in the kitchen, ostensibly “making dinner”, and leaving a colossal mess for her to tidy up. The second is also to hang about in office clothes, without having a wash, and chug a beer at the dining table before dinner. These may be small transgressions, but transgressions they are no doubt.

Me, on the other hand? I am a lot more lenient and laissez-faire for things I don’t consider critical. So most things are relaxed when I’m in charge.

So, one rainy evening, dear old dad calls me up from the office. He’s decided to make mutton stew [obviously before we became vegetarian] the following evening, and was wondering if I could make a stack of rotis. Yes, I said. Do I need anything from the store for this undertaking? No, I said. Good. End of conversation.

I was being given 24 hours notice to make rotis. Interesting. The mention of the stew set my heart a-flutter also, because my father isn’t exactly a tidy cook. I anticipated loads of clearing up, because although he did pitch in, his effort was not up to maternal standards.

The next afternoon, I got another call to ask about the rotis. I had made the dough, and would wait till he left office to roll and roast them, so they would be warm when he came home. He was stopping by at the grocer-butcher to get fresh mutton.

He walked in the door some 20 minutes later, in a fever of excitement. He placed the bag of mutton tenderly on the kitchen counter, much to my amusement. And then proceeded to skip into the bedroom to rip off his tie, and pull off his socks. Ah, some concession to mom’s guidelines. I’m impressed.

He bounced back out of his room, and came up to the kitchen counter. Now, please note, I was far more mature than my father. He was an overgrown kid at home, and one of his transcendent joys in life was to bug mom or me or both. Therefore, the subsequent squabble about roti inspection and quality control was very much par for course.

Finally, he got down to making the stew. I don’t remember what the steps were, because I was getting ordered around the kitchen. “Get me the pan!”, “Where are the bay leaves?”, “Clean an onion. No, no! I will dice it!”, and so on. My mother would have spanked him for behaving like a power-mad chef with a hapless commie, but I was chill with it.

I handed him her spice bottles, and to my rapidly suppressed amusement, he laid out spices in a neat row on the kitchen counter: one bay leaf, three cloves, two sticks of cinnamon, and two cardamom pods. It was hilarious to watch. He saw me chuckle, and huffed about how plebeians would never understand the precision methods of professional chefs.

He then assembled the stew, and spent approximately 5 minutes doing so. Brought the thing to a boil, covered it, and lowered it to a simmer. And then declared his work done, and plonked himself at the table to have a cold one.

All in all, it was a decent stew and, because I had finished the rotis in advance, the cleaning up was minimal. We had a lovely dinner together, periodically punctuated with sighs of ecstasy and self-congratulatory exclamations from my father on the excellence of the stew.

This morning, over breakfast, mom and I were remembering my father’s antics as usual. It is our way of keeping him in the present with us, because we miss his presence so much. I remembered the stew story, and sure enough she did say she would have spanked him, if she had been there.

Father’s Day 2018

Yesterday, in some parts of the world, it was Father’s Day. My entire Facebook and Instagram feeds were flooded with messages and photographs, mostly of daughters posting about their fathers. Wishes, joy, and love abounded. It was lovely. It was also gut-wrenching.

I managed to stay calm throughout the day, reacting appropriately to posts and any jokes that came my way. Of course, the reminder that my father wasn’t around was omnipresent, but it didn’t overwhelm me. None of my friends or acquaintances was out to hurt me with these reminders of Father’s Day, and I kept that thought firmly fixed in my mind as I reacted to them.

Finally, I thought I was past the danger zone of having a breakdown when today dawned. But naturally, the universe wasn’t as obliging as all that. Because I came across this Bored Panda article.

Not going to lie, tears welled up, as I scrolled through the photographs. The emotions writ so large on each father’s face as he first beheld his daughter in a wedding dress. It was magical. And I am still fighting back tears as I write this.

When we lost my father in 2016, I told my mother that I couldn’t conceive of having any milestones without him: my wedding, my first child, perhaps some more children, my first home, etc. He wouldn’t meet my husband, and my husband in turn wouldn’t have met this all-important figure of my life. My children wouldn’t know their grandfather. It was all too raw and impossible to grapple with in that time of grief.

Over the months hence, I have accepted many of the changes that comes with losing a loved one. There were many moments where I have stopped for a fragment of a moment and smiled at what I imagine would have been my father’s reaction, if he had been around. The moments are always sweet and filled with love, but tinged with undeniable loss and sadness too.

I can imagine my father’s face if had seen me in my wedding outfit. He wouldn’t have cried, no, but looked at me fully with those great big hazel eyes, filled with emotion. He wouldn’t have said that I looked beautiful to me, but turned around to my mother [who WOULD be crying or exasperated with me] and said that I looked amazing. He would have stepped forward and hugged me, and told me that he wouldn’t give me to anyone and my waiting husband-to-be could go take a hike. [It sounds better in Hindi.] And we would have laughed a little because that was our equation. Oh, he would have also said something about how lucky I was to “have his face” too.

Even though I feel sadness that I will never get to experience this scene in reality, I count myself fortunate that I knew him well enough to play it out in my mind. I feel fortunate to think I had a father that loved me so much that when he saw me, even as an adult, he saw a curly-haired 5 year-old instead. I feel fortunate that, being a daughter, I had a relationship with him that I would never had if I had been born a boy. [Yes, he was really not cut out to be a father to boys. Awful critter. smh.]

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful fathers in the world. Wherever they may be.

Compassionate Jokes

I have something of an unruly tongue at the best of times, but I learned today that I can control it on occasion.

Previously, when I went out with my family, I often uttered a famous TV dialogue which flummoxed my parents, as evidenced by this sorrowful Facebook post I put up years ago:

There is this celebrated TV show in India called CID. One of the characters, a policeman called “Daya”, is repeatedly asked by his superior officer to break down a door. Since my mom’s name is Daya, it amused me no end to tell my tiny mother to kick down doors. I got a lot of mileage [for myself] out of that quip, before I explained it to my parents.

So the other day, Mom and I had trotted off to the salon to get her a haircut, and we were accosted by a beggar lady on leaving the salon premises. Now, I am not an insensitive soul, but I have learned not to yield to their pleas for money. Food is fine, but money is problematic. [Definitely something I should figure out in another post.]

Now, there are many standard whines that beggars use to importune people into giving them money. This one said: “Please show some compassion.” That is a rough translation from: “Daya karo.

I didn’t say anything, although I was sorely tempted. Adult. *ahem*