My childhood resonates with him. If I sit down to reminisce about childhood, most memories are about him. As I pick them up one by one, I realize that he is the one person I observed almost all the time. Every movement of his is a distinct memory. Maybe because I am a daughter, that I took my mother for granted and hero-worshipped him. My father.
When I was very young, my aunt’s family and we were close knit. My cousins called my father, uncle, mother, ma, their mom, mummy, their dad, daddy. Although its an embarrassing confession to make, I called my father ‘unkel’ for many many years. I did not mean ‘uncle’ in its literal meaning, but that is how I addressed him. I’m sure I was corrected, but I stuck to ‘unkel’ for a long time. As strange as it sounds to me now, the word echoed every sentiment I had for him. For some time now, he is ‘Appa’.
I distinctly remember his routine during my school years. He woke up around the time my brother and I did, ironed our uniform, tied our shoes and pretty much did anything that was required to get us ready and out of the door when the autorickshaw guy aka ‘automan’ was at the gate. While my mother handled the breakfast, hair he went through anything that would propel the purpose of every school day morning, getting my brother and me to school. After that he carried water in plastic pots from the ground floor tap to the second floor where we lived. All the water we needed for the day. For many years, since we did not have water supply at the second floor, this was the only way. At 9.45 am sharp, he left home for office. He walked the two kilometer stretch from home to Visveswaraya Museum on Kasthurba Rd to be able to sign in at 10am.
Promptly at around 5.45pm he walked back and got home. There were days when he was late, when he had to get something done. If it was raining, he walked in soaking wet. He is more of a walking and bus kind of person, owing to his allergy to petrol and our means. If he had some work at Majestic, he would occasionally bring three masala dosas parcel from Kamath. If he went to Commercial Street, it was four samosas from Bhagathram’s. If it was a birthday – two times a year precisely, it was a cake from Nilgiris. In those parcels that came in plain plastic covers, were some of the most delicious food I have eaten (apart from my mother’s meals).
On Sundays he did his share by doing the laundry. My mother and I helped (as I got older) but it was his chore. My most favourite memory of childhood and my father is when KSEB (Electricity board) decided to cut the supply to our neighbourhood. We put out folding metal chairs, bright blue in colour, in the verandah (aka patio) and talked or played games. Most often the game was names of places. I’d say the name of a place, my brother then had to say a name of a place with the last letter of my place and so on. My father came up with names outside our geography text book and we would end up finding his place on the atlas when the electricity supply resumed. If it was not a game, it was some childhood story of his. I could write a whole book of the stories he has told me and continues to tell me today.
My father was born a Shastri or to the brahmin class of people who perform rituals at the temple. His eldest brother was given an acre or so of land by the king surrounding the Shiva Temple at Shivapuram, a town near Mattanur in Kannur. His family of six brothers and one sister moved from Puthur, Mangalore to Shivapuram and have lived there ever since. At school he wrote novels, worked on the school magazine and leaned towards the creative side. After losing out on academical brain pounding, he left to join his brother who wrote sign boards in Mangalore and subsequently Bangalore. A few years and he landed a job at Visweswaraya Museum. It is here that his tryst with the camera began which went on to become his ultimate passion.
As a child, I saw how screen printing was done. He did it at home. I helped lay out visiting cards, letter head sheets for drying, carefully so that the wet ink wouldn’t smudge. Every card and paper costed money. Wastage had to be negligible. We were probable Six Sixma compliant :). Once in a while he allowed me to lower the screen and run the rubber edged piece of wood along the screen. The excitement of achievement at printing a visiting card or a letter head. I saw him build the screens. Hammer the edges of the board, cover them with screen, nail them in tightly, mount them on the table with metal clamps, mix the ink, align the card or paper to precision. The fun part was gathering up the cards after they had dried, count them and stack them up in those light green plastic boxes. When the orders were high, we put them out to dry all around the house and we tip toed till they dried up.
In my sixth grade we bought the first computer. The CPU was about three foot high and three foot wide. I do not remember the specification but it was exciting. That is when my parents established ‘Typograph’ a desktop publishing company with my father, mother, and me as employees :). When we had to type a lot, we employed a typist for a short term. Unfortunately that company did not grow leaps and bounds, but it helped me through engineering college. I went with my parents to get orders, typed, learnt Coreldraw to draw the chemical compositions of Methane and what not. I never new what those C, H, O meant at that time. My father got softwares from friends, Pagemaker, Ventura, Coreldraw, got a book and asked me to learn and teach him. Wow! those sessions were hilarious.
Almost all my school projects of posters were done with his help. He taught me how to use the compass, set square, draw, layout text, cut pictures appropriately, what glue to use when, in those projects, much before engineering drawing. He always helped me, I do not remember a single time he made an excuse when I needed him.
He knew the concepts of chemistry, physics biology, maths, but did not have the academic know how to help me at school work. A long look at the report card and he would always ask about the marks I lost. If I got 98 on 100, he would ask what happened to the two marks. If I got 85, he would ask why I did not get hundred. At that time I was definitely irritated as to why he couldn’t appreciate what I had got, but now when I do the same to my son, I know, he was just pushing me further.
All this may sound like close to perfection. But that is not true. He had his lows. But through all of those he was honest with us. He told us how things were, he made a deal with me that I would pay for my brother’s education once I got a job, because he had drained out his resources on me. He taught me the value of money and why it was valued. When times were bad, he along with my mother taught me how to survive, that truly made me believe that there is a road at the end of the tunnel.
All his acquaintances tell me about how he is as a person, some are good, some are not so good. I understand that that is their version of him. My version of him, what he is to me, is my personal experience which nobody else can understand or feel. I saw him at his lowest when he battled cancer a few years ago. It was a nightmare. He lost his weight, his zest to live, his humor. Five years down, he lives with the devil, but beat it, to get back to what he was before he was struck by it. I got back his humor, his stories and love.
At 71, he has his pangs of i-am-at-the-end symptoms but nevertheless most days its current affairs, old stories, laughter and love. A few hours after Father’s day this year, he is setting off to the trip of his dreams, to the Himalayas. He always said, he would get away from everything and go to the Himalayas. I have never once discussed or even mentioned Father’s day to him. I did today, and he asked me, so what are you giving me for Father’s day. I said ‘your Himalaya trip’! Being able to provide him with most of what he needs is my biggest happiness for the last so many years. More than the materials, its the call from me at the end of the day that we both treasure the most. And almost everyday he tells me a story either from his childhood or mine.
Happy Father’s Day! to my first love and forever hero, my appa!