On festivals, birthdays and other anniversaries that marked our lives, my father would wake up earlier than usual to have a bath (or shower, as is known in most other parts of the world) after which he considered himself ready for the rest of the morning.
Although he didn’t care a hoot for any of the other prescriptions that he grew up with, this was one rule that was close to his heart. That one was not really fit to greet the world, until one had bathed away the night’s langour.
On such special days, before he went in for his bath, he would hover around his cupboard housing his neatly stacked rows of kurtas. And after some deliberation and sometimes consultation first with my mother and then me he would decide on the one that he thought best suited the occasion and his mood on the day.
At the time, all this deliberation used to crack us up. It was like watching a royal production that took its time and came on stage only when its sole actor felt really prepared for the lights.
But now, when I look back on it, I feel fond and proud — and deeply grateful to have grown up around someone like him who taught me to look for and respect detail; to value deliberations — and to give my all in marking special days for myself and those around me.
Its a funny thing, for a stickler like me, to be still carrying around the same, at least 15 year old, fraying, black leather, money purse that I bugged my father into parting with when it was his.
I used to be a bit of a brand worshipper — and so was he — and it being from Hidedesign somehow accentuated its possession value.
But now with him gone, my being back in the city of my birth, Delhi, and being mum to a little girl, I find new uses for it.
On the ride back home after dropping off my little girl to her playschool, I get to poke around its various, secret chambers and find something or the other to surprise or delight me.
There is a really ancient black and white photo of my father looking really dapper in a suit and tie, his thick hair with a few greys elegantly combed back — ‘the Indian JFK’ as some of my mother’s adoring hostel mates used to say of him.
Each time I look at that photo, I’m intrigued by what kind of man he was back then, in the late 50s or early 60s when the photo was taken, whether he was any less shy with his obviously large female following, what got him to zero in on my mum, nearly two decades his junior, how they courted, what she thought of him then, how he spoke, how he sat at his writing table at his newspaper office, whether he really was the intimidating figure some of his colleagues portray him to have been.
In the first few years after his passing, I never felt confident of being able to see a photo of him and not end up crying in being reminded of his absence. But now, with all the busyness being a parent brings, and with all the many changes the last eight years have involved, Im able to look at his photo adoringly without heartbreak, as though he and I can still share a few hurried confidential exchanges during my ride home from the little one’s school, as though he is still here somewhere, involved and affected, protective and anxious for the brave new life my mum, my little girl and I are living.