All through my teens, when I look back, if there was one person who I held responsible for all my woes it was my father.
He was just from another planet. He was so unlike everyone’s dad. My kid brother also thought so. One day when some asked him at school, what does your father do, without a moment’s hesitation he said. “My dad reads the papers and smokes”
Actually that’s all we saw dad do. Read papers and books and write furiously all the time. Ma went to office and we had strict instructions not to disturb him if we were home. So we tip toed around him.
Of course he was fun when he was in the mood. Cooked the most yummy food. Took us on nature walks. And to see plays which were mostly boring.
Yet there were too many restrictions. We weren’t allowed to see hindi films or hear filmi music. We didn’t have a tv at home. We didn’t have a car. We never went out for dinners or vacations.
Yet my mother was always smiling and looking at him lovingly when he read something out to her every night. I found that strange and asked her one day when I was fourteen that didn’t she wish she was married to a normal man. She looked angry and hurt. Said I was too young to understand but my dad was special. At that point special sounded like spastic to me...
When he was occasionally in a talkative mood, he spoke to us a lot. About things we didn’t understand. About marxisim and che guvera. About urdu poetry. About the naxalite movement. About the acute poverty in the villages. In my mind I wondered if people could be worse off than us.
Then dad got an award and the media came home to interview him. I was so thrilled and dressed up and hovered around the room. Baba pulled me close and looking into the tv camera said “This young lady is my inspiration, her smile is what keeps me going” I felt like a princess.
My brother and I thought we were the award winners and preened in school and in the colony. We spoke about how soon dad would be writing tv serials and films and we would have Mercedes. Nothing of the sort happened.
Instead some tribals came home one day and dad was so thrilled. They were scared of the flush in the bathroom and wouldn’t take the lift. Dad wanted to know how they made chutney with red ants. Uggh. My dad was really strange. When they were leaving I saw baba give them money. Our money, the money he had won. I cried so much that night. There was no point telling mom, I knew I just had to get to college and soon move out of this mad house.
Both my brother and I started spending more time away from home. Of course we rebelled and the fights increased. When I was eating a burger at home my dad one day started lecturing me on how a vada pav tasted as good. I retorted that he wouldn’t know and he was welcome to his poverty, let me enjoy myself. Mom slapped me and said dad cried because of what I said.
I was so glad when I got admission in a college in delhi. I missed lucknow, my kid brother and mom but never dad. I was great at academics and gradually got involved in theatre. I loved it and excelled in it. I devoured the classics in Hindi literature and drama like they were going out of fashion. My professor was very pleased. He got me some more plays to read from his home and said they were deeper but thought I would understand them.
In the stack was one of my dad’s books. I didn’t tell anyone but stayed up all night reading the play. Over and over again. I cried for hours. It was about their love story. My parents.
I called at the crack of dawn. Woke up my neighbours and asked them to call ma. Baba came on the line and was so concerned, since this was an out of turn call. I said sorry to him. Sorry for not realising how special and precious he was...
I went on to become a theatre actress and activist and the daughter of this year’s sahitya academy award winner!