The Personal Touch

An open letter to Pa in heavens on his 87th Bday

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Rupa remembers the life and times of her Pa, on his 87th birthday. A soulful tribute of a daughter, exclusively on Different Truths

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Rumours go that you desired to marry a far off niece of the lady that married your uncle. But you went along with parents’ wishes for all kinds of sentimental reasons. Story also goes that grandma impressed upon you that astrological planetary positions would cause death of your brother, if you married this girl? So, you gave in?

Well, true or not, it adds colour to your life for sure. You were an irrepressible flirt all through your life makes it lively to a point.

As per the lore, Grandpa was quite the ladies’ man with his booming voice and personality, he was an English tutor with good command over the language got attention of many a young lass.

Well, you married my sheltered mother, who was raised in a strict conservative family, watched by an elder brother who would have none of the boys visiting from school or college to exchange notes, if it occurred it was under someone’s watchful eye. This was late 50s where intermingling of opposite sexes in middle class families, more so down south, was not acceptable.

From deep south of India, Papa, you brought ma to picturesque Himalayan blessing Yole, near Dharamshala, where you were posted as an army doctor. Mother had done BA Honours and some advanced Hindi certifications too. However, learning spoken Hindi, adapting to new region, new people, new culture and conceiving Akka, all happened soon immediately.

You had MCP streaks but as a father, you were beyond par excellence.

You were the greatest dad to all four of us siblings born within five years of your wedding. You fed us, changed us, cleaned us, alongside ma, those were the days when men left all this to the women. You had MCP streaks but as a father, you were beyond par excellence.

Ever available, willing to listen, extremely loving, yet a disciplinarian. None of us raised tones, threw tantrums, back talked either of you. Neither of you pressured us to excel at education or push us to achieve, it all just happened organically.

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Your traits as a husband may be questionable but if I must look up any dictionary for a perfect Pa, exemplary Grandpa – it is your picture that pops up.

You raised two of the local grandkids who relive their experiences with you from 11 years back, as though it happened yesterday. Grandsons talk of the walks by Necklace Road; park; Chinmaya Shiva temple premises, snacks that you got them during fun walks holding their hands. They recall you dressing them in whites and canvas shoes for these outings of quality grandpa-grandson time.

They recall their young opinions mattered and you considered those with as much weight as possible. You asked under 7-year-old and 11-year-old if the house should be converted into flats and the boys wanted you to retain the terrace; lawn on 2nd terrace and all the running around space. They still talk about it with much pride. Endless packets of daily chips, ice-creams, outings, drives, laughter, cricket, TV together are the memories they have. The best being that you overrode parents for them, they miss you a lot.

As a growing girl – I did not like being told we were not allowed to continue dancing or learn swimming, this because we should not be objectified. We could not wear shorts. Did you come from a place of fear and conservative thinking?

You were the rock in rocky times; you were the sanity in chaos; you were the voice of reason we looked up to.

You gave in when we girls took up jobs and had all kind of friends and hours not acceptable by society. Even though you personally would have preferred “different”, your presence allowed no one to talk about our choices. You were the rock in rocky times; you were the sanity in chaos; you were the voice of reason we looked up to.

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In retrospect, a few inputs from you may not be now considered by us –when you suggested to my recently widowed sister to not take any material support from the other side, (that lost the son who married my sister against his father’s approval).

You loved your daughter-in-law to a point where she wanted to return to your home soon after her son’s birth, much before the acceptable period of a few weeks. Your 2nd grandson was born in your home. You and Ma raised the grandsons, took care of them when sick; fed them; dropped and picked from school, etc., while the parents could attend to their jobs; their house construction, etc. You would delay going to events with Ma, so daughter-in-law would not miss anything. You would step out only after her job hours were done. Of course, she, in turn, was more daughter to you than an in-law who admired and loved you like your own and more.

Your sons-in-law remember you with much affection in your direct ways. You even shared with brother-in-law that you made mistakes regarding Akka (post her return after losing husband at 28; and way things unfolded as the family grew).

To me, during my growing years, it was a crusade to show you I was as good or better than a son could be, because of your oft-uttered words about male superiority. There were times your patriarchal thinking made me feel like an outsider over your sons and families, however, when later in life you frequently wished we daughters were close by as love of daughters is unique, and you wished I was a son that stayed by you. I felt like I provided some comfort, joy and support in my small ways.

Just when there are talks of the demolition of the home that is pervaded by your presence, essence, sounds, smiles, love, warmth, welcome – I feel like I’m losing you furthermore. You were ever ready to accept when at fault, not easy for most.

Just when there are talks of the demolition of the home that is pervaded by your presence, essence, sounds, smiles, love, warmth, welcome – I feel like I’m losing you furthermore.

Ma still occupies the once-clinic you used post-retirement to jest with patients and prescribe least meds but make them happy with words and simple solutions. Many became your fan club members, a few thought you would not prescribe meds so did not come to you.

Ma misses you the most, who led a life being extremely engrossed in housework, grandkids and kids, now with everyone busy with life, she needs your companionship being mostly home bound. You practiced “never go to bed angry” and were first to apologise, no matter who was wrong.

Eleven years later hawkers, maids, trash remover, sweeper, milk guy, neighbourhood elders – the next two generations remember you. It is amazing that your charismatic warmth is still lingering amongst your family members, grandkids, children, relatives (that sought your company, advise, counsel, treatments) and community of neighbours too.

All of 87 tomorrow, gone for eleven plus years but strong as ever in memories of many. Thank you for you, Happy 87th Birthday Darling Papa!

©Rupa Rao

Photos by the author

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