Last evening, I had a particularly interesting and sweetly poignant experience while going home in the suburban Mumbai local. The train was crowded, when I got in. As soon as it pulled off, a two-year-old girl asked her mother about the whereabouts of her father.
“In the next coach”, her mother told her. The answer did not satisfy the child and she let out a soft, muffled wail, with the unending refrain, “Papa”.
We looked on the little scene and smiled. There was something endearing about that child, heartbroken at not having her father close to her. Some people offered her chocolates, hoping to take her mind off her temporarily absent father. It did not work.
Others offered to let her play with their phones. The ploy failed. She wanted Papa, and nothing else would do, her muffled cry suggested. Her aunt, seeing that her voice had become hoarse with crying, offered her some water. But that offer too was rejected. By now, she had been crying for 50 minutes, and was weary with exhaustion.
At length, when the train halted at Kandivali, and the trio got off, a coach-ful of women craned to see what happened next. A collective sigh of relief was exhaled when the father materialised and the exhausted but finally happy girl jumped into her father’s arms. That Papa is definitely his daughter’s first hero.
As is mine.
No, I don’t remember crying this way for my Dad. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t have too many early memories of him. Mum was what you would call a Work-at-home-mother, so she was always at hand. We depended on Mum for everything, and yet, somehow, Dad, quiet and calm as he was, made his presence felt in our lives.
Especially during the exams when Dad oversaw our Maths preparations.
Maths and I weren’t on a friendly footing in those days. Considering that Dad was on back-slapping terms with it, sitting down to study Maths with Dad a few days before the exams was always fraught with anxiety. I used to marvel over the fact that in his presence, Maths suddenly metamorphosed into a gentleman with impeccable manners who ceased to intimidate me.
Dad has always been a soft-spoken man. So he very rarely sat us down to pass on lessons to us, and we were obliged to watch and learn and then do as he did. There was so much to learn. When Dad’s company was shut down under a management-lockout, most of his 1000-something colleagues had horror stories to tell. One or two, I heard my parents talk in hushed whispers back then, chose to take the escape route out of life. Many took to drink. But if Dad’s back bent a little more at the thought of raising three growing children on the feeble income earned by my mother through her sewing enterprise, we kids barely got to know of it.
He immediately got to work, taking up a second and even a third odd job, in the absence of the first real one. Through this response to the challenge that threatened to engulf the family, I learned that when things go wrong, you don’t sit and mope, you just get up and do the thing that needs to be done.
That tendency of his shaped our values and bound them in cords that couldn’t be broken by any of the lures the world set in our path. No matter what the temptation that we faced, my brothers and I only had to recall how Dad would have acted in our situation, and the danger was averted.
Dad always encouraged us to ask questions, but didn’t always answer them himself. Instead, he chose to direct us to a source where he and we together might find answers.
So if there was a word whose meaning I didn’t know, I’d get the dictionary and he and I would leaf through its pages and educate ourselves. Those sessions created in me an enduring love for the English language. As a child, I was the only kid I knew who could be lost in reading the dictionary.
It was also the sight of him, sitting down to read a book, that first got me hooked on to the world of books.
He wasn’t the diaper changing, baby bathing father that the ‘90s threw up. But Dad could always be counted on to wake up in the middle of the night, in response to his frightened daughter’s cries, and peer under the bed to chase away the imaginary demons that haunted her.
As a child, I remember putting my hand in his and walking down the busy street, knowing that I was safe and free to yap away with him by my side to look out for me. Today I am decades older, but when we are out on the street, he will still push me on to the inside of the road and walk by the side of the vehicles. I am privileged to have such a father.
Thank you, Dad.
On the occasion of Father’s Day on Sunday, June 16, 2013, I would like to wish all fathers everywhere a very Happy Father’s Day.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.