Sunday, 7 December 2008

Long Legs

I grew up in a joint family. My paternal grandfather lived till his last day with two of his three sons - my father being one of them. My uncle (father's elder brother), his wife, and us lived together pretty much till they passed on. They had no children however, so the only children in the household were sister and myself. Apart, of course, from the zillions of relatives that passed through our house through the year, and especially in the summer. The relatives were generally people related to my father (mom's relatives routinely went to my other grandparent's place, who lived close).

Not having to analyse it all from the lens of a woman, a feminist, etc., I think I had a very enjoyable childhood. I loved my grandfather and was very very inconsolable when he passed on one fine day in the early 80s - I must have been 9 years old. I loved my uncle, who was a quiet, unassuming railway clerk much dominated by his wife. Both these men lacked any skill in dealing with young children and soon got exasperated with my questions and sent me off to my mum, but I knew they loved and cared for me, so their lack of skill rarely annoyed anyone. I did love my aunt as well - arguably a tough task. She was given to 'moods' and quite full of all sorts of rules and regulations and issues and generally a person who thought highly non-linearly. But presented with a situation, she handled it with remarkable composure, efficiency, and sheer dogged hard work. I got along remarkably well with her, not the least because of her ability to weave magic with the home-made milk-based sweets...

Once the three older ones of our family passed on (all in the 80s), we were left by circumstance, a nuclear family. Again this was not a situation that was deeply analysed I don't think. At any rate thinking back, our 'go to' person was always mom. When we were still small, father used to bathe us. When he has the time, he used to iron our school uniforms for us. Till that special day in VII standard when I got my own red bicycle, I rode on his scooter to my school (my sister, to my memory, although in the same school, always went separately). When my school finished, I would walk over to his office generally. He would acknowledge my presence by extinguishing his cigarette and putting on a guilty look about it (not that it mattered much to me by the time I was in school, but till I was about four, I rarely talked to him because I used to get very scared of his smoking). He took me to his library every year when my exams ended so I could check out books about paper craft or some such to occupy me in the holidays.

He was generally patient with us, though he always deferred to mum's opinions on everything to do with our upbringing. Beyond sort of a peripheral participation, I don't think he did much. At least, he could not be counted upon to take any sort of 'responsibility' of us. And he spent lots and lots of time in his office. Mum worked too, or she was studying. She did her M.Ed when I was four, and then when I was in high school, she signed for her PhD, and worked in between the two. She was always doing something outside the home, but still was all over the home situation, and, us. I got in much fewer arguments and alteractions with my parents than my sister (who is older - perhaps she fought all my battles for me?). Though I still recall one time I wanted to go to this college for an athletics competition, it was a bit far from our home and school so she was not happy with it, though I do think it had more to do with the fact that it was sports (something she did not particularly care back then for). I remember the silent crying, the maid had disappeared that day (the day before the competition), even as I was swabbing the floor, I was crying at the injustice of it all. Anyway finally much cajoling all around later, I did go the next day, but the memory of it is still so green. As is the feeling that my dad washed his hands off the matter in about five seconds, with his standard line- 'ask your mum.'

Mum's great of course, she is a remarkably brave woman (and extremely fit, with her walking and yoga - as mad about them as the daughters are). She has done incredible things with her life, given the circumstances she was operating under. And, when I had my child, she came running to my help, dropping everything. She has remarkable rapport with my cook and driver and everyone else around here, well, hundred other things too. I do love her and she is possibly the person I talk the most philosophy with right now. But what I find is remarkable is, how much I loved my dad. And how much I love even the memory of him. How much I think of him, and his words (generally few, thanks to a combination of factors - innate selfishness, pre-occupation with his research and teaching, health, etc.). I have inherited many of his features though my nature and habits are almost entirely mum.

It gives me hope that, apart from the long legs the monster has got from her dad, and despite the disproportionately larger amount of time I spend with her, she will always have such an equation with her dad. There is so much she can get from him which I have no hope of offering her - simple things such as common sense, practicality, and an ability to always appreciate the efforts of other people - which I do hope she is absorbing from him even when they spend so little time together...


choxbox said...

dads.. yup my equation was similar in my growing up years but strangely the few times in life i've been seriously sad, its my dad's voice on the phone that made me dissolve into tears.

dipali said...

Dads and daughters- such a strange and wonderful equation most of 'em have! I do know that my father is special in a way to me that my mother can never be.
Logically, perhaps they are special because of the lesser time spent with them!