January has been a difficult month for the last four years.
Janus, that two-headed Roman God, has pulled me back and forth all my life, one would think him my personal deity, save this year, he yanked me forward on a new rush. I have so much lined ahead that I had no time to see where I was going and what I am moving past.
I forgot dad’s death anniversary, and only realized it two days later.
Out of respect for my living parent, no commemorative observations are held in our house. Ma gets visibly agitated.
I have been speaking so much about him lately that I rarely miss him. So much of who I am is him, that in explaining who I am and where I come from, obvious mentions of him tag along.
I come from him, more than literally. My mother was the first to point out the similarities.
“Just like her dad,” she poured venom into the air during an argument she wasn’t winning.
It was unfair, I thought. Daddy had come to signify ‘betrayal’ to the family by then, and our commonalities notwithstanding, that was one vice I know cannot be leveled against me. If I had had, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you listening to your harangue, lady; in spite of all your assault on my delicate nerves for four decades, you are the one I sided with and never left.
But Ma, in the throes of her passionate rhetoric, and even otherwise in her silent thoughts, is a didactic polemic. There is no grey in her lexicon, no consideration for ‘agreeing to disagree’. There is only black, white, and if you fail to agree unequivocally that she is the white, there is red.
For as long back as I can remember, I have consciously avoided ancestral worship. My parents never sat on my altar. I dissected them, as human beings, found them thoroughly faulting, and because it happened in small daily doses so early in life, wasn’t shocked. Dismayed yes, they left me utterly miserably disappointed, just as they unfailingly let me know I did them. But I learnt to accept them, and love them in my own fashion, with their feet of clay.
For me relations were always secondary, I look at human beings first, as objectively as I’m capable. I was carefully trained to be un-dismissive of people, to never be blind to everyone having at least something good in them, something worthy of respect, in the quagmire of their many shortcomings; and to expand the degree of my tolerance. To step away politely, even silently, where I find myself incapable of adapting to behavior patterns and attitudes.
Changing someone is the biggest folly I gingerly wean me from. You can’t change people – they are who they are – you either have it in you to digest hard truths or make your nest elsewhere, and you have to take the call when exactly to do the latter.
Some families roll out poppadum and sun dry relishes as a group activity. Mine made a home grown industry of microscopic human study.
Daddy remains an anecdote after four years, a smile, a fond box of goodies. A thing of nostalgia, a referendum for life lessons, a case study of failures to avoid and successes to embrace. When alive, he was the head of the family, he tried very hard to remind the rest of us, very hard, losing his infinite patience increasingly, nagging, dictating terms to no one that was listening…he was head…of an unruly bunch of women who all had strong minds of their own.
Daddy taught me well, I taught my clever sister, and Ma, who dare teach her anything?!
So when his patriarchy reared as much as a chauvinistic hood to peer at what was going on with his bevy, un-pretty aerial things, mostly words, came flying at him so fast he hardly had time to duck. Once it was a TV remote, another time a full bowl of pickles that narrowly missed his stubborn crown. Through my hysterical, tear-drenched enraged tirade, I saw the content slowly drip down the door behind, a trail of oily masala mass.
Finding the courage to speak against him was a monumental milestone of my life. Fighting the man who I love so well, when he stood in the way of my family’s survival, made me who I am.
Ma’s garden blooms each winter. The house looks as it did when he was around. I find him in the misty dawns in her flowers. I find him in the imitation biriyani Ma has learnt to cook. My sister never misses office, despite runny noses and watery eyes; during her asthmatic spasms and her workaholic flurry, I see him.
They say they see him in every inch of me…I wouldn’t know. I miss dates, I miss chores, important items from the shopping list. That is not him.
Yet, in my sense of acceptance, my quiet stubbornness, my survivor’s zeal, my love for learning, my glee in strangers' company, perhaps I am he. But most, when I pick that backpack every now and then, daddy exists, and his rover’s heart, far more powerfully than his not existing.