Remembering my Father

Father with his grandsonIt is just about 9 months since my mother passed away and now it was my Father’s turn. Father was pretty set back with her passing away but didn’t show it visibly as was his nature. His dementia had turned from bad to worse so much so that he wouldn’t remember who he was speaking to just minutes after recognition. He had undergone hernia surgery back in June and that had eased his pain, but his food intake had come down gradually. He was mostly on liquid diet. Of late he had started eating solid food and even was able to sit up in his wheelchair. This had made me be positive about his recovery and I was looking forward to speaking with him in person on my scheduled visit to Bangalore. However, while we were in transit at London, I got the news that he passed away. His end was on the peaceful side though he wasn’t, truly speaking, able to express what he was undergoing the last two days. As I landed and reached home, there he was enclosed in his ice-cooled, glass chamber. Apparently his eyes wouldn’t close all the way. It was strikingly different to see him lifeless; when he was alive he was a vibrant energy, though of his own type – dominating and demanding. The next few days went through fast as we went about the rituals. During one of those moments of isolation I tried to recall all that I could remember of him. Here they are:

  • My earliest memory of Father is not very clear. It might have been while I was in my 1st or 2nd grade. He was known as a strict disciplinarian among his students and co-teachers. He would restrict himself to wearing two or three pairs of clothes – always the same. He was never to buy new clothes for himself. He ran the household on a meagre income. His household was in fact large – more than his own family.
  • I remember getting a good beating from him when he had found out that I had picked up my savings to buy some snacks at the store. I had not given him convincing reason and that had made him upset that I was lying. He would twist our (me and my brother’s) ears until they turned red. This was no exception.
  • His temper was well-known. My grandmother would take advantage of that and would threaten us to tell on us to him if we didn’t behave. That was usually enough to bring us in line with her expectations
  • Before the start of every new school year, he would have gotten us new pair of uniforms and would have stowed them away. On the day of the school starting, we would be all excited to see the new uniforms and slide into them thankful to him knowing he would have somehow managed to buy us those clothes. He would also have brought us new set of books for the school year.
  • He was the assistant Head Master of a government aided school. We would go with him to his school on most Sundays. Often he would treat us to a snack and half cup of coffee. That would be very exciting for us. We would have started the day typing away on a blank sheet of paper on one of the school’s typewriters. The school building was a three storey building and me and my brother would run up and down the floors playing hide-n-seek. At the end, it would always be exciting to hear from one of the school’s peons to come down and get our share of snacks.
  • During summer holidays, he would screen many movies at the school for his students. It is during these screenings, that I got to see Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno, many Laurel and Hardy movies and some of Rajkumar’s old Kannada films. I remember on three consecutive days – Friday through Sunday, I watched ‘Bhaktha Kanakadaasa’.
  • Opposite the school there was a huge open field that was the school grounds. It was there that he instructed his school peon to teach me/us cycling.
  • He was attached to his work and school. He would go to school after his bath and be back around 8 AM. After breakfast/morning-tiffin, he would head back to school on his bicycle. Back from lunch around 12:30 PM, sometimes he would steal a 20 minute nap. Then we would see him again around 5:30 PM. Once again he would head out to the school and spend an hour or so before being back to dinner. It appears that he was more comfortable at his school than at home.
  • He was a heavy smoker. Our house veranda’s was his place to sit and smoke away. His friends/co-workers were also smokers – most of them and during lunch breaks, he would sometimes come back with one of them and enjoy lunch and a smoke.
  • He never hesitated to help others. I know of one of his students who was an orphan and of very little means. Father made sure he got food from our home everyday and saw him through his engineering paying his fees and expenses. The student would come home every night around 8 PM to pick up his food. Father made sure that he got food first before ensuring there was enough for the home.
  • Father was extremely energetic. He was one of those types where he wanted to do everything himself. He learnt to cook snacks and would make them in copious amounts. Then he would distribute the snacks (kodbale, nippatu, etc) to neighbours. One of his pet friends was the family doctor. He would visit the doctor almost every day and be the last one to see him/her off with just some talk or ‘special’ food that he had made.
  • He picked up on Ayurveda himself with self-study. He would make certain oils and tout that oil to be a good cure for muscle pain. There are many friends and neighbours who couldn’t escape his hand-down oil. I remember the oil smelling strongly of Eucalyptus. At this time, mother had developed severe back pain and it was one of the reasons for his experimentation. He supposedly read some Ayurvedic texts to prepare the oil.
  • He was very meticulous in maintain his expenses. Grandfather was the manager of Mysore bank and we had many of the old pass-books at home. Father would fill up these books with his expenses. Being a smoker, he would carve his expenses in small, but legible, handwriting on the cigarette packs’ inner package and then transfer the list to the pass-books.
  • He had a running account at a couple of stores near home and would add to the account everyday with his purchases. He would pay off the dues every month end. Never was a day when the storekeepers had to think how much he owed and when he would pay up. He was ever prompt on his payments. It was just convenient to pay at the month end rather than everyday for him.
  • He had a large base of admirers of his honesty and straight-forwardness. They would be many simple folks who were his students and co-workers. Even family members had high appreciation for his qualities and helpfulness.
  • During his last decade of work, he ran into problems with managing the school and lost ‘control’ of the administration. He was wrested of all his powers and he vowed to get it back. He enrolled to evening college to complete his unfinished law degree. I remember him continuing college for about a year and a half. Not sure if he completed his final year. One of our relatives who was going to college with him completed his degree and was appreciative of father’s enthusiasm to pursue a degree at fifty-plus years of age.
  • He personally took up a large loan – about 4 lacs in the 90s was a huge amount – to prevent the sale of the school by a co-founder so that many of the teacher’s jobs would be maintained and all of the student’s future. Otherwise, the school could have gone to private hands and would have lost funding from the government that would have resulted in many teacher’s jobs and increase of fees that many of the village-folks couldn’t have afforded.
  • He had this habit of not eating outside of his own house. Thus he avoided most of the social functions only attending those close to him. He would show up for an hour or so, get his cup of coffee and head back. My mother was the regular representative of our house at these functions.
  • Though he wouldn’t eat outside, he knew we enjoyed eating that special masala dosa at the Janata hotel. He would give mother money to take us to our treats once in while. These would be usually after he had procured tickets to a new movie released through one of his theatre-owner friends. Getting tickets to the first day of a Rajkumar movie was very hard with many willing to pay a lot extra in black market. I remember watching many new releases thanks to father. He would never go with us to the movies and would never complain that the tickets were expensive. We would always get the balcony tickets which were the most expensive tickets available.
  • He was always proud of my academic accomplishments. I had scored very high in my pre-university exams to procure admission to Engineering. I had also passed written exams in IAS and IES that he was proud of; he was looking forward to me getting further ahead in these professions. Finally I had scored very high in GATE exams for admission to the MTech programs in the IITs that he was very proud of.
  • After my MTech, I had started work at Kirloskar Computer Services and one day had brought home a few of my colleagues. He had senses that one of them was someone who had captured my heart and that was true. I met my wife at my first work place and had invited her home with other co-workers.
  • When I went to US and was distanced, most of our conversations over the phone was pretty cordial. Somehow I learnt to get him to open up on these phone calls. It would take a bit of goading him and asking him pointless questions at first to break the ice. Then he would start conversing. Apparently during his late years, he couldn’t take the fact that he couldn’t do all on his own or his own way and that might have frustrated him. For one, his not stepping back did turn out to be his biggest weakness that hurt him in turn.
  • When I visited home after my mother passed away, before leaving for the airport, he embraced me and shed tears. It is probably only the second time that there was this sort of embrace. In his way of life and upbringing, being physically close to children was probably not the norm like what I am used to seeing where hugs and friendly conversations are deemed essential for a healthy relationship.
  • During his later years, his upkeep was wanting a lot. He wouldn’t change into new clothes. I guess he didn’t want to ask his children to get him new clothes and even if we did, he wouldn’t wear them believing that he shouldn’t take from anyone. This was a topic of friction many times between him and us.
  • He dreaded going to the doctor. Knowing the family doctor while we grew up, he had learnt what would work for common ailments and he extended that to treat himself after he was diagnosed with sugar and blood pressure. Most likely he feared going to a doctor would be expensive and he didn’t want to spend money on himself. However, he made sure mother got all the treatment she needed. His lack of treating himself made his physical health deteriorate to a much worse condition to be cured during his last year. Had he been seeing a doctor more often, I am sure his end days would have been better.

I am sure there are more memories that I can keep writing about. What stands out now is that he was a strong and independent person. He cared of others a lot but less of himself. He fierce stance of independence won him much appreciation. His willingness to help others gave a lot to their lives but less to his own. Probably God liked him more than anyone else and maybe that is why I am more at peace of his passing away.

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