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15 June 2014

My Father's Daughter

To me, 'Mother's Day' and 'Father's Day have always been made-up holidays. (I feel the same way about Valentine's Day, by the way.) It's difficult not to mentally roll my eyes when I see the hoopla surrounding them these days, and here in the US, there are enough people who call them 'Hallmark Holidays', as in, 'a genius of a marketing idea by a company that makes greeting cards'. I'm sure it is. But I seem to have become more tolerant of these specific days as years go by. If people feel the need to have specially marked days to celebrate their parents, who am I to quibble? It is not for me, and neither my husband or I feel that way about it, but let people who enjoy it, celebrate it - to each his own, and all that.  

So when R, my colleague from office, asked me to also write a personal piece for Father's Day for the office intranet magazine, I was flabbergasted. Me? Write about my father? Really? And she thought that was a good idea? After having heard me on the subject? But she was insistent I do it. And dashed persistent as well. So I sat down and muttering under my breath, decided to write one of my patently tongue-in-cheek articles spoofing Elizabeth Barrett Browning's How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43: Sonnets from the Portuguese) And I did. Only, when I finished writing, I realised it wasn't that much of a spoof after all. Quirky, maybe. Definitely different from the outpourings of love I read from my other colleagues, some of which really touched me by their emotional content. But somewhere in between spoofing the whole idea, and actually writing it down, my article had morphed into something that had a heart.  
My father (Circa 1962/63)
So for what it's worth, here it is in its entirety on Father's Day (and yes, I appreciate the irony), unedited and raw. 

Why do I love my father? Let me count the ways: 
  • He taught me to write – by not helping with my work. I had to put forth my own ideas and organise it, and he would offer suggestions for improvement. Then I had to rewrite it until he thought it was good enough. (I was in Std. I at the time.
  • He taught me to appreciate the beauty of language and how to use it. Our house was filled with books, from Shakespeare to Wodehouse, and no book was out of bounds or age-inappropriate as long as I could read it.  
  •  He shaped my choices – in books, movies, and music to the extent that my newly-wedded husband must have felt a bit like Dharmendra did in Chupke Chupke, when his wife quoted her ‘jijaji’ for everything!  
  • He taught me to work with my hands and like it; to take apart almost anything, and to put it back together again. So, today, if I can change a spare tyre, or replace electric outlets, or tile a floor, without thinking too much about it, it is because he taught me that the ability to do something was not divided by gender.
  • He allowed me to chart my own path at a time when the only possible choices for students were Medicine or Engineering. (He braved the many admonishing remarks of the clan for ‘spoiling his daughter by allowing her to choose English Literature as a subject when she had the marks to get into a professional course.’) And when, in later years, I said I wished he had forced me to take Engineering after all (I must have been the only Indian of my generation who said that!), he forbore to smack me on the head. 
  • He took me to see Every. Single. Amitabh Bachchan. Movie. that released between 1975 (when I ‘discovered’ AB) and 1985, even when he thought that my liking for AB bordered on the fanatic. 
  • He taught me to be fiercely independent, to cope with everything that life could (and did) throw at me. And then promptly yelled at me when my ‘independence’ got in the way of his plans for me. In his defence, I was 19, and in a bid to run away from my hometown, had applied for any and every job a graduate could get. When he pointed out that most of those jobs were hardly career-making ones, I pointed out, in my grandiose 19-year-old ‘I know everything’ manner, that ‘there is dignity in labour’. He snorted exasperatedly.    
  • He modelled right from wrong – by example. We may have got lectures on other things (and we got plenty!), but never on morality. Some things were just not done! No excuses. 
  • He taught me to be meticulously neat and organised and responsible (and impatient with others who were/are less so). 
  • He is my father, and he shaped who I am today. (My mother disclaims all responsibility for the way I turned out!)
My parents on their wedding day
(I have never seen him with a moustache.)
I am very much like him – gregarious, opinionated, with a quicksilver temper, apt to call a spade a shovel... it’s no wonder we butted heads growing up. Our arguments flared, quick and loud, and deflated just as quickly, much to the consternation of bystanders who looked for the nearest bomb shelter whilst it was going on. It was all ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’ but we went at hammer and tongs, neither giving an inch, and forgot it all a few minutes later. 

Despite everything however, my siblings and I had a relatively stable and happy childhood. It can't have been easy with a single income and four children, but I can safely say we were never deprived. It was neither of my parents’ policy to give us everything we wanted when we wanted it, but between my father and my mother, they taught us to differentiate ‘want’ from ‘need’ and to prioritise them.  It is a lesson that has always served me well.

My father is now prone to more anxiety than ever, and hovers over me like an anxious hen with one chick, frantic because I once proposed to take the night train alone to visit my brother when I was in India. When I pointed out that I had just travelled from the US on my own, he quickly declaimed, ‘This is India!’ as if that should provide me with a valid reason to be chaperoned everywhere I go. I snorted exasperatedly, but keeping in mind the many times he forbore to smack me down for some idiotic know-it-all remark I made when I was young, I forbore to point out that I had lived more than half my life in India, and that my street creds are still impeccable – I still use public transport or walk wherever I need to go, and have travelled  quite frequently by Bombay’s commuter rail, and have lived to tell the tale. No matter. My father was too busy telling me (in triplicate) how unsafe it is to travel anywhere alone today. I shook my head and allowed him to call my brother to make an 8-hour train journey to my hometown so he could escort me back to his house. Some battles are better off not being fought. Because today, the man who taught me how to be independent is frailer than I would like to see him, forced into a sedentary life that conflicts with his active mind and will. 

He will turn 80 next month, and I feel a bit sad that I will not be there to celebrate a milestone birthday with him. My siblings and their spouses will be there though, and perhaps one or more of his grandchildren, and I will content myself with wishing him a 'Happy Birthday' over the phone. 

I do not get to see him as often as I wish, and this is perhaps the only time I will ever say – not directly to him (because that will embarrass both him and me) - but he knows what he means to me.  I love him and am proud to call myself his daughter.

37 comments:

  1. Absolutely beautiful piece of work Anu, I was moved and even as I was amused at reading about the arguments you had with your father, I will not deny wondering just for a fleeting moment what kind of a relationship I and my brother would have had with my father had he lived till we had grown up. Yes it would have been good I know. Like you I can say without hesitation that my father taught me how to organize my thoughts and put pen to paper. Your post is a little too short, I would have liked to read a little bit more about your father. All the same here is wishing your father a very 'Happy Birthday'!

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  2. Great post!Wishing your father a Happy Birthday in advance and a healthy life ahead!!!

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  3. Thank you, Shilpi.

    Your post is a little too short,
    *grin* And here I thought I was prosing on too long. :) I will pass your wishes on; he will be rather chuffed.

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  4. Thanks, coolone. I will pass your goodwishes on.

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  5. Beautiful, mushy without the mush kind of post. I come to your blog to read and listen to old Hindi film songs and so was sort of surprised to see this tribute to your father.

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  6. Thank you, Zephyr.

    I come to your blog to read and listen to old Hindi film songs and so was sort of surprised to see this tribute to your father.

    I have these mental aberrations once in a while. :) I hope the surprise wasn't unpleasant. The blog will go back to scheduled programming from the next post onwards. Hopefully, there will not be such a large gap between this post and the next.

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  7. I gather that this was a difficult post to write...
    It seems like your father went out of his way to introduce you to a larger world and help you develop your own skills . . . and I'm sure that's more than a lot of people could say. Sounds like he also gave you a lot of your mettle or gumption :) And there's nothing like a parent who supports one's filmstar obsessions! Hope you have a good number of years left with him.

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  8. It was both easy and difficult at the same time, Miranda. Like I said, I had no intention of writing anything serious when I first began the article. Once I started however, it almost wrote itself. I admit I was surprised when I read it. :) My father did give me, give us, a lot. We still discuss/ debate/ argue, though. :)

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  9. What a very sweet post, Anu! Your father reminds me a lot of my parents - especially my mother (that neatness, the sense of meticulousness, and the love for language; all are things I've learned from my mother). But like your father, both my parents never restricted my sister's or my reading; we could read whatever we could lay our hands on, whenever. :-)

    Wish your father a very happy birthday from me, when he turns 80.

    P.S. I think your parents make a lovely couple - and your mum, especially, is so beautiful!

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  10. Thank you, Dustedoff. :) It was written on the fly.

    I will tell my parents. Amma will scoff at hearing she is beautiful, and achan will wonder how you knew it was his birthday. *grin* (He doesn't read my blog, though he knows I have one. I think he read one article so far since the blog began.)

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  11. Anu, I never expected a father's day write-up from you. Loved reading this, as much like you I'm a father's child. The main thing I liked about your narrative is the bulleted points (reads pretty much like a sentimental father's day advert). And, not to forget your beautiful mom!

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  12. What a wonderful post! I love it, but didn't make any comments until today, partly because I wished my Dad was still around for me to tell him about it, but also I was afraid I would become mushy! Please wish him a very happy birthday with many, many more to come, on his birthday next month. And that brings me to my question - I thought you went to India every summer, why are you not going this year? Are you doing okay?
    By the way, you look like your mother, and she is gorgeous!

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  13. I never expected a father's day write-up from you.
    Don't rub it in. *grin* Thank you for the appreciation. I will be sure to let amma know that people find her beautiful. I wish I could see her face when I say it. :)

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  14. Lalitha, thank you. (Good to hear from you.) I thought of you and your father, you know, when I posted it. I will definitely pass on your wishes to my father. I grinned at your comment about my mother - so it follows I'm gorgeous too? *grin*

    I do go to India every summer, Lalitha, but my nephew is getting married in December, so we decided to make the trip then. So we are here this summer.

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  15. N Venkataraman18 June 2014 at 01:35

    A welcome aberration and a wonderful post after one and a half months.

    Your post reveals the depth of a father's love through his daughter's words. A relation so unique that only the two can understand.

    Wishing your father many more years of peaceful and tranquil life.

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  16. Thank you for the kind words, N Venkatraman. I will pass on your wishes to my father. :)

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  17. Pardon me again! I was a little confused as I saw the names of Hrishikesh Mukherji and Tapan Sinha alongside Govind Nihalani :) Agree with you on the importance of a director's knowledge on camera. Sadly these days, we don't see many directors who are well versed with all major aspects of film-making.

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  18. Anu, I don't think Murthy is the only cinematographer to be awarded the Phalke award. Of course, many newspapers claimed the same when he was awarded in 2008. Nitin Bose should be the first one, isn't it?

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  19. Nitin Bose was also a director, and screen writer, along with being a cinematographer. Murthy was the only 'cinematographer' who was honoured for his contribution to cinema.

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  20. Do you really say "Amma" in Malayalam?

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  21. Nitin Bose began his career as a cinematographer, but diversified into direction as well. And therefore had a far bigger canvas in terms of his contribution to cinema. Murthy's only contribution to cinema came through his cinematography. It is not a question of whose contribution is far more than the other's - it is that only Murthy could be referred to as simply cinematographer and not anything else.



    I have never seen Govind Nihalani as a cinematographer - when I think of him, it is his directorial persona that comes to mind. As for Santosh Sivan, would you really call him a 'successful' film-maker? I don't know - off hand, I can think of two of his films that I really, really liked - The Terrorist and Tahaan. The rest of them failed somewhere between idea and execution.



    As for Balu Mahendra, he wore many caps - cinematographer, director, screenwriter, editor... I see him as both cameraman and director mostly.

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  22. 'We people' say 'amme' when we are addressing our mother directly. But when I'm talking *about* her, she is 'amma'. As in 'Amme, how are you?' vs. 'Amma said she was fine.'

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  23. Yeah that's what I'm exactly saying. Anyways, you cannot deny the fact that Bose was a cinematographer. That could be his first passion! As for Santosh Sivan, he was a successful in directing award-winning films, rather than commercially successful ones. I guess I should have said that clearly. Recently, he started working in commercial films in Tamil (as cinematographer).

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  24. Oh that's great!

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  25. Where have I denied Bose was a cinematographer? The point I made in the post, and that I have been making consistently in the comments is that Bose was not *just* a cinematographer. Murthy was a cinematographer from the beginning and remained one.



    Re: Sivan: I honestly do not care whether the film is commercial successful. Apart from the two I mentioned, I don't see any of his films as being worthy of winning award either. I think he is a far better cinematographer than he is director, and in my opinion, at least, he should stick to being the cameraman. Being a good, even great, cinematographer doesn't make anyone a good director, and Sivan lacks the ability to pull the parts into a cohesive whole.

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  26. I get to understand what you say, but you don't seem to understand what am exactly saying. I'm blaming the media, not you! I think Santosh Sivan made a handful of films (with majority being Tamil) in the late 90s and early 2000s. He won most of his awards as a director for Tamil films only - Malli, Terrorist and Navarasa to name a few. Looks like they are not available in the internet. And, yes he is good as a cinematographer rather than a director. Starting from the 1970s, can you name your favourite cameramen? (whole of Indian cinema, not just Hindi alone)

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  27. Hi Anuradha,

    I just started reading your blog and I'm hooked to your posts on old hindi songs. You've picked out some real gems here! I'm surprised you didn't mention Jaa tose nahi bolun is "inspired by" the famous Carnatic keerthanam Vaathaapi Ganapatim in Hamsadhwani.

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  28. Welcome to my blog, Rashmi. Thank you for your kind words.

    I don't usually go into which ragas the songs are based on, because I would only be parroting something that I read somewhere else. Even though I've learnt Carnatic music for eight years, I must confess to being tone deaf when trying to recognise a raga in a film song. I'd rather talk about what I do know, and leave the raga analysis to people who actually know what they are talking about. :)

    Please do continue to drop in.

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  29. Nalini Ikkandath20 June 2014 at 06:42

    A really nice post and one which I can well relate to because I do not have much use for special days either. My father was not much different from yours, probably they would have been from a similar background and of the same generation. My father shaped me, no us, my sister and me, and like yours, my mother also refuses to take any responsibility for the way we've turned out.

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  30. silverambrosia21 June 2014 at 08:08

    Really nice post Anu. My dad isn't that keen a reader himself, but when I was a kid he took pleasure in my love of reading, and our place always had an abundance of books as well. He was very indulgent in this, and could never say no to any book demands I had. It was something he was glad to nurture, even if it wasn't exactly a shared interest. We disagree on almost everything, our worldviews/ political outlooks are pretty different, but I'm always conscious of just how loving and indulgent a father he was and continues to be.

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  31. Silver, thank you. My father always bought books for us - it was a de facto present for anything - birthdays, a good report card, just because... And I read his books as well, without being told I shouldn't. And yes, like you, politics is not something I will discuss with him, at least not much. World views - well, we agree and we don't. :) And even today, when I go visit, we end up having one major argument.

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  32. Ashraf Lakhani23 June 2014 at 13:16

    Anu,

    Time and again you have taken us on a joyous ride but this journey
    is right from your heart to ours.

    Wishing your father a very happy 80th birthday,
    may all his wishes come true.

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  33. What a lovely thing to say, Ashraf. Thank you! You made my day!

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  34. :) Sweet. I was thinking a day or so ago.... the greatest love story in my life is between Mummy-Daddy and me. Maybe I'll write about it one of these days.

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