My father was a wonderful storyteller. Although we used to tire of some of the stories that got repeated the older he got, we still relished the passion and flourish with which he used to recreate past events with a twinkle in his eye and his beautiful hands flaying around for dramatic effect.
One of the stories I find myself remembering especially today is his recounting of meeting my maternal grandmother in her native town in Kerala a year after marrying my mother in Delhi in the early 70s. She was in her 60s then, sprightly, small but athletically built and neat and pristine in her white thortha and mundu. She didn’t speak much English and he didn’t know any Malayalam. But he said he would never forget the way she strode to the gates of the compound upon seeing him arrive with her daughter in tow, the way she confidently took his hand, patted and kissed it, patted his cheek and beckoned him with a wide sweep of her hand to come in.
He used to always get a tear in his eye when he told me this while saying that was the warmest welcome he had ever received by someone who was meeting him for the first time and who held no grudge for his having married her daughter without inviting her to the ceremony or asking for her consent.
Ten years ago, I was given the same warm and unquestioned welcome by my little girl’s paternal granddad on a rainy day in Stockholm despite his own very rational and considered reservations on behalf of his son for bringing in to the family’s fold a much younger ‘girl’ as he used to say, from a faraway land unaccustomed to the ways of his country and not adequately familiar with his son’s life, inclinations and disposition.
I remember being a bit nervous meeting him and his wife for the first time but from the moment they walked in to the restaurant near Stockholm’s scenic Slussen, I just knew I was home with them. He chided his son for not having been more mindful of the weather and for having let me get wet, asked after my parents, and spoke openly and freely about his tough childhood, his admiration and gratitude for his sisters who raised him after their mum’s early passing, and the way he went around setting up a successful business.
There was a lot that reminded me of my father — even though they had nothing in common professionally and probably held widely divergent political views — the decency, chivalry and generosity that comes from having seen and lived a tough life — and the effortless insights and wisdom about people, relationships and the world at large that comes from having made it through hard knocks without once losing one’s civility or grace.
We went on to share a special and close friendship and I remember how proud he was when I gave him news of my first proper job in Stockholm with a communications company — it was almost as though my own father was there — expressing happiness and pride in my joy and relief.
So while today marks nine days to my father’s passing, I am drawn to also celebrate this other father, who is now undergoing care and treatment for cancer in Stockholm and who turned a year older yesterday. Both of them are proof for the proverb attributed to Pippi, a much-loved children’s character in Sweden, that ‘those who are strong MUST also be kind’.