Friday, June 16, 2006

A tribute to Papa on Father’s Day

I just have to close my eyes…

Papa visiting KG II ‘D’. Mrs Lewis, my class teacher had been his student. She scurried  about anxiously telling the class to greet him with the sing-song 'Good Morning Sir, God bless you' and this and that. All the teachers in my school had immense respect for him and in class X Mrs Paul, the staid disciplinarain, asked if he was my father and smiled!! saying 'he's such a thorough gentleman :) I always felt so proud of him. But I also felt annoyed because he could never remember my class. He’d sit in Sr Lorraine’s office and after this and that, ask her casually which class I was in. And Grewal Uncle, his colleague and our close family friend even sent me picture postcards from Japan at my school address – class, section and all.

Papa smiling at me from the audience as I sang the Sound of Silence on school stage. There were 40 others :) but I was a Soprano! it seemed to please him a lot.

Papa making potato-chops in the evenings – the aroma of fresh coriander, perfectly done cutlets (never calling it tikki) with just the right amount of pepper and salt. Cooking was a major activity in our home – thanks to his love for food and the bunches of people he invited over. Once Mummy was away and I asked him what to make for dinner. The reply was ‘dum aloo’ (when my dal-chawal came out editable on lucky days) !!. To him, the test of a great cook seemed to rest on their ability to cook stuffed tomatoes. I passed!!

Papa relaxing on the sofa on his return from a trip abroad. The whole family would be summoned. If someone was late, we waited. Then he began, so I boarded the plane - from the take-off to touchdown every experience was recounted. We loved every bit. He got to travel much and would come back with a whole new world for us. We asked him for every conceivable thing from lipsticks to dolls, to cassette players and even socks. I first heard in the ‘70s my favorite band Air Supply on cassettes he’d recorded in Japan.

Papa looking at the solar eclipse through eye-wear he had created. He was against superstition and godmen. He said people who do not want to take responsibility for their actions/decisions go to swamis and gurus. If Mummy said it was not a good day to look at the sun – he would make it a point to do just that. He did not worship any gods believing only in his karma. But on Diwali, Shivratri and Janmashtmi he would perform the elaborate puja with all the rituals. It was more for us kids to imbibe tradition.

Sitting beside him in Ravindra Bhawan watching the diamond on Begum Akhtar's nose flash and wink as she adjusted the pallu over her head and rendered in her honey-drenched voice ‘ay mohabbat tere anjaam pe rona aaya…’. As children we seldom missed out on a classical performance and saw many celebrities perform – it didn’t matter if I understood anything. Enough it was to be there (and to keep still).

His angry, ‘Get out immediately’. Turning away visitors from the door – friends, acquaintances even relatives. Those who touched his feet or came with mithai – to get their marks increased. They were the only people not welcome in our house. Others who came seeking peace from their deranged minds, homeless or lonely were comforted and fed. For hours he patiently listened to them – read their writings and counseled them. Young men preparing for UPSC exams came for guidance and he gave them books and reading material that was most often not returned.

Never slowing down, never. Either away at work or busy with visitors at home. I don’t remember spending time with him much. But I will always remember and cherish what he gave me – the freedom to be me – the freedom to choose my subjects at school, my first job as a sub-editor ( he had hoped I would choose teaching), to drop my Ph D midway to pursue other trivial interests, the list is endless. Gradually, I learnt that if I did not get an answer from him on a specific problem it was because he believed that he never needed to guide us explicitly – to tell us what to do. He was sure of the upbringing that Mummy and he had given us and trusted us to make informed decisions ourselves.

Always the guide. When I took up the cause of rash driving of Red Line buses in Delhi, and others looked the other way, I felt unsure of myself. I called him and he asked me to carry on, ‘Do whatever you think is right. Why are you afraid to go to court? If anything, you’ll see how it all works.’

Always the teacher. When I was in college, on our daily walks, he talked about painters and artists, poets and philosophers. His erudition annoyed me at times. When I was going to Sanchi for a college tour, he sat through the previous evening, explaining the intricacies of the sculptures – what to look for and even explaining the Sanskrit engravings. His knowledge made me feel inadequate. I never showed him my writings. But when I realized that time was slipping away – I shared some and just before he went into hospital, he read my story, Maya, which he seemed to like.

He had several names for me – Sheffuddin is my favorite.


  1. Shefali
    I honestly enjoy your blogs!!
    Keep writing :0)

  2. a beautiful tribute to a father from a daughter!