Yesterday, my dad came to my home in Panvel. He stays in Mazagaon, with my brother and his family, where I spent most of my adult life. I was near the bus stop, when he alighted from the auto with my brother and started walking towards my house with unsure, shuffling gait. My eyes clouded and heart became heavy. I don’t want to remember my dad like this. He was the strongest man in the world. Anyone, who can bear to raise a brat like me is nothing if not the strongest person in the world!
My dad was a flamboyant character in his youth. I have photographs of his heydays to back my statement. He was a truck driver. We didn’t belong to a much well to do family and could be considered as the lowest of the lower middle class of the economic stratum. Most of the necessary things, which we now consider blassé were unaffordable. My dad not only managed to make both ends meet but also arranged for our various demands anyhow. Still, we were never happy or satisfied. By we, I mean, I and my younger brother.
I went to a Hindi medium municipal school, which provided free books, as well as free mid-day meal. Most of my classmates belonged to the poor class. Sons of vegetable vendors, handcart pullers, taxi drivers etc. We had white shirt and khaki shorts as uniforms. I was the only kid with neat shining white shirt and polished shoes. Though the shoes were a bit on the worn side, they used to elevate me to a class above of the existing rabble in Hawaii Chappals. The meticulous attire also got me periodically thrashed by the budding scholars of that institution for being a bloody show off. Although I hated it a lot then, that was the conditioning which prepared me for the grueling life of a boxer in my later days. I took it as granted that I will always be in clean uniform and polished shoes. I never noticed the efforts my truck driving dad put in to maintain the status quo!
In 8th standard, I joined Shree Gauridutt Mittal Vidyalaya in Sion. It was a private Hindi medium school with a library, sports ground and a laboratory, things which were not available in the municipal school. We had only one teacher in the municipal school, who was considered a genius by the government, because he taught us everything from drawing to music. His drawing was worthy of a master. He never discriminated between dogs and elephants. Both looked similar when drawn by him. When he sang, he sounded as if he was calling cattle from the other side of a mountain, who were terrified anyway by the loving words like ‘Piya’ and ‘Yauvan’, which sounded incongruous to his pockmarked and paan eating face. It’d take a better writer than yours truly to imagine him in love. He wholeheartedly believed in the Chinese saying ‘No pain, no gain’ and always wanted us to gain by inflicting enormous amount of pain. We never gained anything, in spite of his efforts. The new school had different teachers for different subjects.
I never gave it a thought that this school requires a monthly fee as compared to the municipal one, which was free. The shining uniform, which used to rule the roost in the lowly ècole municipàle faded before the luster of the upper middle class. Being the brat that I was, I raised a tantrum of which a banshee would have been proud of! I got a new set of uniforms and shoes and was proud to show off in the school. I was a real peacock. My dad didn’t buy anything for him that Deepavali to clear the delta of the funds spent on my foolishness.
Then came the annual outing to Borivali National Park, which is 30km from where I stayed. The municipal schools never take their wards to annual outings or picnics. Neither could our family afford it. So, I wasn’t even aware that I missed anything. Now, there were multiple attractions for me… Borivali was a far off place I used to hear off! It was an adventure in itself to travel through different time zones. Wasn’t Borivali beyond Dadar? The furthermost I’ve ever traveled! For me, it was a travel to Disneyland! Only ₹100? I enrolled myself. Confident that my dad will shell out that money. Well, I hated him then. He flatly denied. I cried myself to sleep. Next morning, when I was thrusting my unwilling feet into my always shining shoes, mom gave me hundred rupees. I was startled and then laughed happily! I didn’t even notice that my dad quit his passion for Benarasi paan for that month to adjust for this sudden contingency. Life is all about adjustments. Like a skilled tailor, we cut from here and stitch there. We cut from the hem and stitch to the sleeve. And, we ensure that the world doesn’t know the difference. We all are tailors. My dad was a master tailor! He was master of everything! He was a Superman!
Anyhow, I cleared my SSC. Got a poor second class and promptly blamed it on the opportunate accident in December, in which I broke my leg. I admit that I wouldn’t have accrued anymore if I would have really and wholly studied. I acquired a fascination and passion for boxing. My dad was a wrestler. The way he rejoiced about my new passion was more than when I cleared my Bachelor of Engineering with distinction! He himself accompanied me to the Nagpada Neighborhood House Boxing Club and paid three month’s fees in advance. He also met my coach Parvez Khan and insisted that I should not be spared in anyway and no mercy expected in the ring. He demonstrated some arcane throws to Mr Khan, which let the veteran pugilist upon his back. I was proud of my dad for defeating a national level boxer! Parvez Bhai still visits my home and is a family friend now. Even he was impressed by my dad’s charisma.
I failed in 12th standard because I decided that it’s foolish to spend my time in college, when I can get better education in the cinema halls. After all, don’t the heroes know everything? Throw a guitar or a machine gun at them and they will handle it like pros. They also can ride a cycle or fly an airplane without any formal training.
When I bunked my physics exam to watch the movie Shahenshah, I redefined college bunking. That was the time when my mom was diagnosed with TB of vertebrae. The medication was very costly. So, I had to quit studies and start working and help dad, who started working nights as well as days to augment the always depleting funds. I’ve seen him sleeping on the truck steering wheel at long traffic signals and fresh as daisy when the signals flipped. He taught me something, of which I can never thank him enough. He taught me that sleep is like happiness. There are a lucky few who are bestowed a handful. Rest of us should steal whatever we can get in snatches. He taught me to control the worst enemy of mankind – Sleep.
I was very happy to get rid of the burdensome books. Considering my qualifications, I was unable to find any job. Whoever wanted a daydreaming and stupid kid whose only claim to fame was that he can take enormous amount of punishment and is stubborn like a bull in a fight? Dad came to my rescue again and fixed me with one truck owner. He always was and still is respected by everyone he interacts and no one can ever deny anything to him. This was how I started my colorful career by working as a truck cleaner, my debut job. It was then that I got a dim idea about what my father went through to earn money. I wondered how can a man come home in the evening smiling and happy after such a grueling day! I was spent like squeezed toothpaste tube after a 14 hours day and sometimes didn’t even have the strength to eat my dinner. That was when I realized the meaning of the English word ‘Responsibility’. That was when I understood my father and his sacrifice for his family. I learned my lessons the hard way and did study further, but I did odd jobs to pay for my studies. I didn’t want to inflict anymore burden on the gentle and strong ox, who never complained and was always happy. He indeed was my superhero.
Yesterday I saw that Superhero walking with faltering steps! When he saw me, he stopped in his tracks trying to recognize me through his failing eyesight and smiled when he did. My heart went out to him. I touched his feet and felt his hand on my head as if I’m receiving mana from heaven. After the brain haemorrhage, he tends to lose the track of time and still refuses to accept. A pure Taurus like me, my dad is like those proverbial Benarasi Saand, who stand in the middle of the road and dare anyone to touch them, causing a snarling traffic jam and then shaking their head irritably and moving away when they desire. I have inherited my irritating stubbornness from him.
We went home, where my son was on net and declared that he wants to go to Adlabs Imagica at ₹2000 per person. I flatly denied. He threw a tantrum and I was cursed by my father for not indulging my child. He consoled him that he will pay if his father won’t. My son looked at me triumphantly. His eyes were scoffing me. I looked at my father with respect. He always fulfilled our wishes and never gave any excuses, in spite of his tottering financial condition.
My father spent his life, toiled and broke his back to provide and sustain the family. Time, the merciless timekeeper has rung the bell. I, for whom he toiled and broke his back, never appreciated it then. Now, I am appreciating it because now I’m a father myself and going through the same phase.
Like me, my son takes things for granted now. Will he ever learn?
Time, the honest timekeeper in the ring of life will tell.