“The words that a father speaks to his children in the privacy of home are not heard by the world, but, as in whispering-galleries, they are clearly heard at the end and by posterity.”~Richter Jean Paul
I lugged the picnic basket up the little hillock. It was a bit heavy and big for a puny six-year-old, but that didn’t matter. After all, it contained our “victory treat.” I just managed to keep up with my brother and father, who were carrying our prized kite and the paraphernalia that goes with kite-flying. My father had clubbed a picnic along with this kite-flying event. I was flushed with excitement. We were going to “finish off” all our contenders that day with our daddy-of-all-kites. It was “biiig”!
It was a beauty with reinforced string, called ‘Manja,’ painstakingly made by dad. Why all this trouble? Why not just buy a kite and string as usual? This was in response to our lament that we never “got the better of the others.” We usually got cut off (literally) and would trudge back home disappointed that we didn’t even get to enjoy just flying our kite for a longer time.
Looking back, it was indeed a day to remember. A victory crafted for us by Daddy.
I was six years old then, but six-plus decades later, the memory is as fresh as ever. There are myriad memories painted on the canvas of my childhood about the fun things he did with us and mostly all to do with activities outdoors. And many more that taught me and molded me; gave me the strength to push on; determination and perseverance to “never say die” when the going got tough. To know what to pursue – wise choices. He inspired me and instilled in me the importance of never giving up hope.
The youngest of four children, my younger brother came much later, I wasn’t docile nor girly and tried to copy my elder brother and his friends. This aggravated my mother especially since my other siblings were docile and quiet. It didn’t help that my father had a big hand in my bold pursuits. She’d lecture him too about it pointing out that the stories he regaled us with were a bad influence on me. Of course, he didn’t see how it could be so, and kept me hooked!
The tales of his boyhood rivaled Tom Sawyer’s and fired my imagination almost to the point of setting out to explore the world at the ripe old age of eight (mum set that right!); getting into scrapes with bullies who picked on my brother; creeping through the underbelly of a rail cum road bridge, on a narrow metal plank, over the backwaters of the Arabian Sea below, until I was a good way over the waters.
Here I would sit to cheer my brother who had gone ahead; had jumped from the plank and grabbed the side iron railing supports, positioned himself securely, and thrown down his fishing line and hook. We were ambitious kids trying to catch a whale (even a baby one would do!) with a fishing line made of thick twine and a ‘big’ fishing hook. Big as in bigger than the ones we used to catch fish closer to the shore.
Or getting pumped up by a bunch of our friends to jump across a duck pond after some of my friends’ brothers, a couple of older girls, and my own brother too, jumped over and convinced me it was easy and doable. So, I did. And landed…
…with a splash in the middle of the pond. The ducks flew out quacking wildly at me for disturbing their peace while the humans clapped and laughed at my expense. As appeasement, my brother didn’t find it worth the fun after we got home and he had to face the music. And, I had my laughs and song and dance as he scowled.
Or then becoming the ‘test’ parachute jumper for my brother and his friends (once again!). The dare was to jump off a ledge that was nine-ten feet above the ground. They knew the only way they could get me to do tough or daring things, I knew I shouldn’t do, was to say that girls were too weak and scared cats and couldn’t do anything. I found it hard to ignore their dare. I mean, I was just a little girl who was fiercely defiant of any boy putting me down because I was a girl.
This dare came about after I and my brother showed them a parachute we had made out of an old tablecloth. It drew a lot of praise but there’s always one person who has to poke a hole into your balloon.
“All that’s fine. But does it work?” piped up one kid.
“Yup,” quipped my brother in defense.
“Show us,” retorted the other.
My brother looked at me. He had made me try the parachute, that was the truth. But where and from what height? I had jumped from a tall laundry basket… we had those tall wooden ones where you threw in the dirty clothes from the top of a wooden box with a lid and no bottom. It was open below and sat on a lower box with cane trellis work sides offering air through the holes to the clothes collecting below. The lower airy container had a door from where one pulled out the laundry for wash. The clothes on top would fall in and take their place. Yeah, so having successfully tested the parachute, from a height of say five feet, and qualifying as an experienced parachuter, I became the default test jumper.
Now, from where was I going to jump here? They decided that the best place would be the ledge protruding over a window. This would have been about 9-10 feet above the ground… and the ground was a concrete side path running along the wall. I was scared to death.
Jumping off a laundry basket and jumping off a ledge that high with a parachute made of a tablecloth! No way I was going to do that. I was just a seven-year-old, and a small build girl.
“Well,” said the bull-headed boy, “you’ll be the youngest para-jumper at age seven! That’s a record.”
“Do it, otherwise they’ll make fun of the parachute.” whispered my brother.
“You do it. you’re bigger and taller,” I whispered back.
“You’re lighter and smaller and the parachute will open better with you.”
“The ground is too hard.”
“Remember to keep your knees flexible. Not stiff. Bend them when you land,” was his parting shot.
Long story short. I jumped. I bent my knees. But not before the jarring pain shot through. Thankfully, there was no serious damage. My knees ached for a few days. And I decided that I would no longer get bullied into being their stooge. Jumping off a nine-ten feet high ledge onto a hard concrete floor was not something that made me brave. I felt anything but that.
I suspect Daddy liked the firebrand element in my nature, for he never reprimanded me nor criticized my escapades. But over a period of time, I suspect he found my mother was right and I needed to get involved in other activities. He was getting alarmed. He never pulled me up or checked me, but spoke to me gently. Soon, I was introduced to music, classical Indian dance, drama, drawing, and painting. He began taking us to visit museums and historical monuments, and he encouraged my interest in history and art.
At about this time, he also began talking to me about the values of life and religion. Not as one would with a child but as one would with a teenager or young adult. Needless to say, there was much I didn’t comprehend. This would be the drift of our conversations in the future. A lot was going over my head. I didn’t get it, but some of it stayed with me. I remembered it.
As I grew older, all that had been above my understanding, finally went into my head and my heart. I grew in years and understanding. He was my idol. A signpost on my path.
His Quirks and Failings
I have to tell you about one of his quirks. He loved to sing and even in public, as he walked, much to my mother’s embarrassment. He would burst out into song while walking down a street causing passersby to turn and stare. Oblivious to my mother’s scowl, I’d clap and laugh and join him, if I knew the chorus for those were the songs he sang. I joined him as long as I was a little girl. As I grew older, I’d smile shake my head and let him enjoy himself.
His favorite one was – Trust in the Lord and don’t despair, He is a friend so true. No matter what your troubles are, Jesus will see you through. Sing when the day is bright. Sing through the darkest night. Everyday, all the way. Let us sing, sing, sing.
Then, marriage took me away from my hometown at the age of twenty. And widowhood brought me back. This sudden turn of events unleashed years of turmoil and struggle. I saw many friends’ and relatives’ masks fall off. And my idols (Dad was one of them) topple from their pedestals. Until that time, I had never bothered to observe my father apart from our relationship where I was a pampered daughter and he was my idol. His public image had dwarfed all else – a great orator; a powerful preacher and a storehouse of biblical knowledge.
Until that time, I had never observed the ‘walk’ behind the ‘talk’. It was a painful discovery to learn that he didn’t practice all that he preached. There was a lot of talk but a bit less walk. More preaching than practicing. I’m not saying that he was a hypocrite. It’s just that he, at times, practiced only what was convenient and not too demanding.
Bereft of comfort and support, I found myself falling back on all that he had taught me. My trust and faith in God grew stronger with every onslaught of misfortune. Was it surprising then to find myself singing – “trust in the Lord…” as I wearily lay my head on my pillow? No. It wasn’t. It was my dad again.
My IDOL had toppled from its pedestal, not my DAD.
The man who was my father was just a human with the frailties and faults of humankind. I had made him an idol. He never claimed to be above and beyond the ordinary. He might not have walked the whole talk in his personal life, but he put signposts up for me to follow. Even if I strayed or took a wrong turn trusting in my own judgment, I could always find my way back.
I could face the challenges. I could overcome them. I could walk alone – because I learned to walk in faith, hope, and trust in God from him.
The initial pain of being abandoned by my parents had given way to a deeper understanding and forgiveness. When I look back today, it is with immense gratitude to a parent who gave me a goal and showed me the path to tread.
I’ve come a long way Dad and I want you to know, that I am proud of you. And so grateful for the life lessons you taught me. So appreciative of the time you spent listening to me when I came to you, as a child; a young teenager; a young woman; with a million questions and arguments against things I couldn’t understand and hence wouldn’t accept. You kept your cool with me even though I know you were never very patient with arguments against your word, especially if it came from a source of utter ignorance!
A short time before he died, I had traveled back to my hometown to visit my siblings and dad. And out of the blue, he did something so alien to his nature.
I just stared at him in disbelief. Dumbfounded and not sure I had heard right.
“It’s ok, Daddy,” I mumbled. “It’s past. Gone. It’s absolutely ok.”
He repeated the last line again, looking directly into my astounded, wide eyes – “I truly regret not holding your hand and standing by your side… not staying with you in Rajasthan.”
It helped that he realized much later how he had failed me. And apologized for not being there when I needed him the most. And true to the man he was, there were no ‘because’, ifs or buts sort of reasons or long explanations to justify himself. He didn’t make any excuses. He accepted what he realized was a failing on his part. I was surprised as I didn’t expect it nor did I hold it against him. I had forgiven him a long time back in my heart and told him so again. But he said that he had to say it.
About four months later he died suddenly of a heart attack.
The man I had turned to for guidance; the man who made up ditties with my name and sang them joyfully for me; the man whose teachings and guidance had steered me through the years encouraged me and motivated me to carry on when everything seemed to be bearing down on me and life was falling apart; the man who had put up signposts for me along the path had gone on his own journey. And in leaving left me the greatest message, a gift in his apology.
So, I gather all the love, respect, gratitude, appreciation, pride and joy I’ve always held in my heart in being your daughter in these three little words…. I love YOU.
THANK YOU Daddy!
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