Friday, 19 September 2008

Dads & daughters

Of course everyone knows Randy Pausch. Right. Go look if you don't. The best place to start might not be this page, but his book The Last Lecture or the Youtube video. It might just be that it is inspiring to me especially because of varied reasons. I do vaguely recall seeing something about him over at csm's. That was last year. I said 'uh huh' and moved on. Then I read his book last week and somehow I had to write something real quick or else I felt I would burst.

When my father was battling his demons for those long years, was I there enough for him, this is a question that bugs the heck out of me ever so often. Of course the easy answer is that I was NOT there. I was in college, then I was in graduate school, I got married and shuttled between my in-laws and parent's homes when I was visiting India, I was working on my papers, I was going to conferences. I was working hard, I was having fun, I was making friends, I was growing up. Meanwhile, through it all, he was here, with my mum and our few close relatives and his friends.

We spoke on the phone, we wrote letters, after a point he dictated his letters to mum (and cribbed about how it came out after all), and I typed my letters and printed them out (because writing is really a lost art). He was never satisfied. I was waiting all day for your phone he would say on Saturday. She wrote such a short letter he would say to mum. She is visiting us but only for four days he would complain to his friends. Overall though, I had the sense that he would have hated it otherwise. If I spent all my money on phone calls, if I wrote more letters and submitted fewer articles to journals, if I quit school and hung out at home. I don't know if it was what I wanted to sense, but it was there, sort of said but unsaid. You have such good news for me every time you call, he would exclaim (something silly like an award, a conference acceptance, a triumphant Malai Kofta made & enjoyed), which I interpreted as - He wants me to be in grad school, do well, make a good marriage, build a life for myself.

Perhaps it was his training as a scientist, perhaps it was just his style, he was good at crystallising what exactly was the most bothersome part of it all. Initially, as his sight underwent ups and downs, and we were unable to figure out if the side-effects of the medicines were worse than his neurological condition, he would say to anyone who would listen, Imagine not being able to read! My mum would gamely, heroically, offer to read to him. But then he would crib too much about her pauses and so on and they would have a mini-fight and he would go back to making jokes about how he was in-visible. Later, as more things began to be wrong, he would focus on one thing, that he was terribly inconveniencing his wife, my mother. No amount of telling him that she NEVER complained (she truly never did then, not even now) mattered. Such a young girl, how dare I go and marry her, knowing back then about my heart condition, he would say. But you were fine till 1993, we would all insist, the same dialogue from my sis, my mum, and myself. Of course I cannot imagine mum thinking herself as young, although he was right, she is ten years younger than him, and has spent the best part of her forties and fifties shuttling between home and hospital (and managing to do some teaching).

These jokes of his, like the in-visible, where we purposely mis-interpreted stuff, were the glue that held us together. I am a Visionary! he would wake up and exclaim, and we would all rejoice, yes, dad, truly you are one. I miss that a lot.

He managed to teach his classes through it all. The year he retired, we breathed a huge sigh of relief, a job well done, we told him. His students always adored him, though I am not sure if they saw much of what he was going through in his final years. It is when I think of this phase of his life and career that I feel the most bad. I don't know, if I had encouraged him to think more positively of his career, or perhaps if I had gotten him to retire from his job several years earlier, write a book, relax some more, perhaps he would have been happier? I could sense that he was quite upset at his own inability to do the things he could do when younger and healthier - spending hours in the lab squeezing answers out of his students and dripping knowledge into them; lecturing in his slow pace and ensuring that every one of them 'got it'; ignoring all pulls of hunger, tiredness, children, and family once he was deep in research discussions with his colleagues; singing; riding his scooter into the wind...

For a few years towards the end, we both dreamed this dream of writing a book together. I have all these stories to tell, he would say. Tell them to me, I will write them up, I can type real fast on a computer, and look, I have this laptop computer, I would say. It never went anywhere. I have vague pictures of the things that were supposed to be in the book - mental pictures. The stream in which he bathed, back in his village, back, way back in his boyhood. The big tree he used to hang out in, and fall out of often. The sound of cow-bells. Go ask my sister, he would say sometimes, she has many stories too. I would excitedly go off to her house, anyway I was due to visit them, an old couple hanging out alone in this thatch-roofed home. Tell me something about my dad, and you, I would say. And now, she is herself so pre-occupied with her husband's health, which bares an eerie similarity to my father's, so I am left with just what is inside my head.

Randy Pausch says often in his book that he is most concerned about what his children will seek about him, their dad, in later years. Perhaps my father thought that too. But then I was a big girl, all of twenty-six, when my father passed away. And so, I was thinking that too. What memories of me, his big grown-up daughter, will my father take with him? I do hope that they were good ones. Things that made him proud and happy and excited and most of all contented.


Babbi said...

i can't really comment here, it just hit me somewhere deep.(reminds me of nani)

Btw..i changed my blog name to 'Stairway to Heaven' .. could you make the change on ur blogroll??

dipali said...

I'm sure you made him very proud.
He sounds like an amazing and wonderful man. The tears almost came, but the post was so positive that they didn't dare emerge.

kbpm said...

yes dear. thats right.

i do think he was wonderful, but of course i am biased. :-) & yes, not meant to cry. this is the main reason i liked Pausch's book, it gives this very reasonable, positive spin to the ravages of this horrible disease... I just hope that in the fullness of time, I have the type of character, dignity, and humour these guys demonstrated!

Navneet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Airspy said...

oh kbpm, i have beautiful and happy memories of your dad...both through meeting him and by the various stories you had spread around the hostel about him. The bathroom singing and nonsense rhymes... his ironing..his scooter...your mom dealing with all you folks :-)

And I am sure he doesnt remember any 'silly' was a rather special award for some super duper research that he is going to remember. Right?

Great post.

choxbox said...

seconding airpsy.

and 'silly awards?' bah. some people.

kbpm said...

airspy - wow! thats cool that you remember him. yes yes the nonsense songs & so on we used to thrive on.

in my defense, it was something real silly once, like a travel grant or something, and he got real excited about it. i used to carry it on my resume too till i woke up and realised how silly it was and deleted it recently. :)