My Father

I love men who can cook, buy handloom saris for their women, write long letters and look after trees.

My father did all these beautifully, wonderfully and elegantly.

No, he was not a superman. He was a man.

I miss him dearly but looking at people around me, I love him more intensely.

Even when all that I have of him is memories.

Memories of a Father.

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Comrade, this is for you

They are almost extinct now. Probably, a tad better than Rahul Gandhi’s Congress tally in recently concluded Delhi Assembly elections.  But there was a time, they symbolised hope and intimate dreams to change the world. Gut-wrenching poetry, heart-warming songs came from them. And India swore by its friendship with Soviet Russia. Decades ago, when I was a wide-eyed young student of JNU, a bastion of left politics, I was madly in love with one of those unique species called ‘Comrades’. So, on this Valentine’s Day, I am taking a journey down the memory lane of those beautiful years when ‘left’ mattered more than the right (though Right is ruling the country now). Till very recently, I took love (man-woman) very seriously. Now, I am almost enlightened … part Sufi, part Buddhist, part minimalist,  I see now life with a twisted eye.  However, Here’s to you, comrade. For old time’s sake.

TEA

An… I address him by this name when I write to him. So, let us stick to this name. In JNU, if you throw a stone, it will hit one comrade or another. I don’t know why I was drawn to this comrade. There is no logic to love.I m not dwelling on this.

His room (unlike other hostel rooms) had no bed. Not that the hostel authorities didn’t provide him one. They gave him one but that was honorably put on the balcony so that the visiting comrades from different parts of the country will have more floor space to stretch their legs and arms. The room at any given time had more than four people. On very few occasions, the room was locked. He could be anywhere but his room was 24X7 open for fellow comrades. Modi’s Vibrant Gujarat talked of ‘atithi devo bhav’ in glowing terms but the comrades practised it with all sincerity much before it became a pure marketing gimmick.

If you were very lucky (that happened very rarely), you could find a water bottle in his room. I was very happy when I spotted a plastic water jug once in his room but then it vanished in no time. In JNU, the ‘special’ tea made by the hostel mess staff in the early morning was the best (it was mostly meant for their consumption). There were days when our comrade used to get the ‘special’ tea for me too. You see comrades have a natural talent for finding a solution even in extreme situations (for nothing they talked about class annihilation). Thinking about having a tea/coffee mug in our comrade’s room is like expecting United States of America to go slow on giving moral lectures to the whole world on racial equality, human rights and religion tolerance. But being an organic ‘jugaadu’,  he always managed to get tea in a steel glass (borrowed from some friend or the other). Even decades after, it’s that endearing image of having chai in a steel glass that brings a smile on my face.

Our comrade never had enough money during those ‘student’ years but he always travelled in an auto (which was a luxury then). I remember one Sunday morning when I went to his hostel room, he was selling old newspapers to the kabadiwallah (a national ‘Sunday activity’ in India which also generates income). Suddenly, I found out that some issues of the Hindi magazine called ‘Saptahik’ (if I remember correctly) containing his articles were also up for sale, I screamed “No, don’t do it. Your articles are there” but it fell on deaf ears. But he did treat me to a very nice dinner, thanks to all the money he got that day after selling newspapers and magazines.

On a very romantic rainy evening, with great enthusiasm I made coffee for him and with equal difficulty I managed to find a big flask from one of the girls in my hostel. As usual, there were many ‘revolutionaries’ in his room and after having my coffee, one of them looked at me and said, “Deepikaji, waike hi aap bahut accha chai banate hai (Deepikaji, you actually make very good tea).” I wish I had an AK 47 with me that night.  He survived and here I am telling the story with a tinge of affection.

On another occasion, when I was soaking in love and affection, I bought a shirt for our comrade. It really looked good on him. And in less than 48 hours, I saw another lanky comrade wearing that shirt and happily sipping tea in the JNU’s much popular Ganga dhaba. I must say, I was really heart-broken that day. I was young then with a sense of possession. Now, I have evolved.

Yes, we did exchange some letters mostly during vacations. His letters read like Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto.’ Even then it was a joy to just read anything in his hand-writing (you know that silly thing called love which makes everything feel so beautiful).

There was one occasion when three of us (the comrade, me and Sanjay) were supposed to write a research proposal for an NGO. The deadline was nearing and our comrade was absconding. So, in utter desperation, Sanjay and me went to his room. The room was dark and as expected four/five people were sleeping. Sanjay kept on telling, “Hello, hello… where’s An?” There was no response for almost 10 minutes. And then out of sheer frustration, Sanjay shouted, “Comrade, comrade..”  It worked like magic and suddenly one of them got up and told us, “We have no idea where’s he. As the room was open, we came and slept.” We called off our search operation and the next morning, our comrade somehow appeared on the scene and as we were very angry, he did the major chunk of the work.

Epilogue: The comrade is still a very much part of my life. No, I didn’t marry him. He is no longer dreaming of an armed revolution. He has changed for the better — a better human being, a more compassionate thinker, far more democratic than what he was. He has become worldly-wise though I am afraid he still can’t indulge in small talk. His e-mails now read like the ones written by one human being to another. The letters exchanged between us contain the collage of images of changing India. I wish, we could publish them in future. These wonderful narratives are precious to the understanding of love, life and most importantly India.

I love him a lot — in myriad ways. If you ask me to define the relationship and put a name to it, I just can’t do it. Both of us are now married and charting our own journeys in life. A lot of credit also goes to our respective spouses for understanding and respecting the space we share. In those heady years of love, longing and a passion for changing the world, he had lovely mop of curly hair. Today, he has lost much of that adorable mop and I still don’t tie my curly hair much to his disappointment (like my dad, he always wanted me to tie my hair. But I never listened to both of them).

I have lots of respect for his superb razor-sharp mind. Whenever I am in ethical crisis, dilemma or trauma, I always turn to him for healing. Friends often ask me how have we managed to keep this connection alive all these years? I guess, the answer is respect for each other. Both of us have deep love and appreciation for Gandhiji and the wonderful diverse, fascinating land called India.  And we laugh a lot together (of course, I have a better sense of humor than him. But he’s improving with every passing day). We still talk to each other for hours and hours — the conversation ranges from identity, love, gender, food, India to Gandhi. Whether it’s the counting day of Delhi Elections or the day of brutal Peshawar attack, my first call has always been to him (even if it means an expensive ISD call). I tease him now, “Thank God, I didn’t marry you. Otherwise, I would have ended up as a divorcee.” He laughs and says, “You would have written three brilliant books.”

We have never celebrated the Valentine’s Day (you know we are not just  those petty bourgeoisie kind).  But this note is just a warm narrative to remind me of those lovely years which give me so much of strength in good times, tough times and sad times. Comrade, this is for JNU, life and us.

(Tea figures a lot in our conversations. Over skype, sitting in different continents, on many days we share a cup of tea. The tea cup here sits prettily on a coaster gifted by him. No matter how tough life is, a cup of Earl Grey tea makes it a lil better).

 

The Rains

The rains have gone away finally…unless the raindrops decide to surprise us during October. This monsoon has been a disappointing story — no soaking in the raindrops, no singing under the clouds in gay abandon. Leave aside one rainy evening at a cafe. The flooded streets, the dangerous man-holes in the midst of all those talks about Gujarat model of development has robbed me of my romance with the rains. While rummaging through old files on my desk top, I found this piece on the rains which I wrote some years back. So, here goes an ode to the lost romance of raindrops.

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LOVE, LONGING AND POURING RAINS

Rice, fish curry, mashed potato with a dash of mustard oil and pouring rains —  that’s early childhood memories. Sitting for hours near a window and seeing the rains lashing against the lamp post always came naturally to me. Rains are much more than manna from heaven. They bring back smells of wet earth of a land I left years back, they bring back memories which come and kiss on the cheeks but then gently go back again to the never-ending paddy fields of a verdant earth.
Rains falling on the roof of my house lulled me into sleep as I curled up in my comfortable bed. They were not just falling rain drops they were like God singing lullaby in the middle of an otherwise silent night.
Rains bring back images of Ma waiting with a towel in the veranda as I returned from school all drenched. Rains bring back memories of me and my younger sister dancing away to glory in the garden just as the clouds became darker and darker.
Rains bring back memories of a stern teacher coming to the class and declaring that “It’s a rainy day”…. The clanging of bells didn’t matter after this much-waited announcement. The desire to run away was too intense. The calling of the rains was too intimate.
Rains bring back songs from yesterdays on the CD player. Raj Kapoor and Nargis singing ‘pyaar hua ikraar hua’ under an umbrella was probably one of those first brushes with the world of romance and it also made one see that other aching side of love with those immortal words ‘Maloom nehin kahan manzil. ’Years after even as I am waiting for the rains in a desert state like Gujarat, I have gently let my ‘manzil’ to fly past my window.
Rains bring back memories of that tempestuous night when desires and hopes softly met on a rock in the last range of Aravalis. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Even years after, I still can feel that magical touch, the stillness of the night and the ever elegant raindrops. The rain soaked lamp post for a change looked like an invader into an intense world of love and longing.
Today soporific stillness hangs heavily in the air. I am looking at the sky with a longing eye. Will it rain today? I say it with a silent prayer. The door has been kept ajar just to let the gushing rains enter into my room and embrace me with all its warmth.
It will not just be rains….. It will be a collage of images and people peppered with memories of love, longing, desire,  and much more. And may be I will go back to that memory and sing  ‘Yeh sahar bahut purana hai’ along with the lashing rains. And who knows it might be an Equal Music. As they say.

(The picture is clicked by Ano Patel, a young  journalist and whose camera, I think weighs more than her weight… yet she manages to capture lovely images.)

At the time of parting

Mellowed sunshine lazily filtering through the drawn curtains of my room,
You making your way through fleeting clouds,
Your mobile phone in ‘switched off’ mode,
From STD calls, we will now graduate to ISD calls,
To hear each other’s voices,
To make an otherwise ordinary day extraordinary,
To make life seem less lonely,
But that will take a little while,
Right now there’s no way you and I could talk….
We only have memories to talk to,
XXXXXXXX

We talked just before you boarded the flight/ We talked about the two different time zones we would now live by/ We exchanged skype ids/ We talked about writing to each other/ And then we talked about America/It’s difficult to not talk about America/When Syria is there/And you said, ‘America is not a country, it’s a Continent.’ / You know why I loved America at that moment/It made me burst into laughter/ Even when you were flying away to/ Another Land….

I must let him go…

My friend says, “Deepika, let him go. Don’t cling to him.” It’s true that  I have been clinging to my father since he passed away on January 3, 2011. It has been two years but I just can’t let him go. I know where I am not going right.

Not a single day passes when I don’t long for him. Very very Intensely. The word ‘pining’ has taken over my existence. I still can’t go into his room without feeling the numbing pain of a sharp knife cutting through my heart. I don’t enjoy now going back to Bhubaneswar as my home now reminds me of what I don’t have. Rather than what I have.

But then as my friend says, “I must let him go.” It’s time to liberate him from the cycle of life, death and attachment. Till he rests in peace, I can’t. It’s vice versa too, I feel. I need to be liberated from this cycle of attachment.

I also understand that by clinging to him in desperation, I am not being able to enjoy all the wonderful memories of growing up under his love, care and guidance. I went to Delhi thrice in the last two years in search of rediscovering the magical memories I had of my father. Memories of us enjoying delicious Chinese meals at Golden Dragon. Memories of us doing endless shopping at Sarojini Nagar Market. Memories of us enjoying endless cups of tea at Orissa Bhawan where he used to stay during his visits to Delhi. But I just couldn’t remember anything. I feel as if my mind has become a blank slate.

It’s true that suffering, illness and pain takes over happiness and pleasant memories. The power of pain is overwhelming.

But  at the same time, I realise that it’s time to let him go. Till that happens, I can’t revel in happy memories. Now that all I can afford is memories, why not cherish and revel in them.

Post Script: “At the temple, there is a poem called “Loss”, carved into the stone. It has three words…but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read “Loss”… Only feel it.”

My friend Lalitha

A bitch — that’s what she thought of me when she met me sometime in 1997 in the newsroom. May be she was right. According to her, I never acknowledged her presence when I walked into the newsroom and she had just come from Coimbature to New Delhi to work as a journalist in the country’s premier news agency. I don’t remember when exactly Lalitha and the ‘bitch’ called Deepika broke the ice but they eventually did. Taking a retro look, now I feel Lalitha is one of the most interesting and vivacious persons I have met in my life.

Lolly as I lovingly call her is a very bright person who is passionate about news, football (soccer as Americans call it) and cricket. And of course she loves her favourite newspaper The Hindu and Tamil TV channels in addition to bhindi fry (ladyfinger) and cups of coffee. When she lived in Delhi, she didn’t own a television set and she survived on the Nescafe counter next to her house in Munrika. The office canteen took care of her lunch/dinner (as per the shift).

How do you entice Lolly to come and stay at your place? It is quite simple: I just had to tell her “Lolly, I will give you rice, curd and bhindi fry and you can watch Sun TV.” Having Lolly was great fun as she could never understand why I painted my nails in bright green/black color. And why was it so necessary for all the ‘men’ talk many of us (read frivolous souls) indulged in? Our Lolly found it difficult to understand why men were necessary for an academically inclined ‘JNU girl’ like me. She strongly disapproved of this behaviour of mine. Every now and then, I would tell her “Lolly, what’s life without a man-woman relationship?” Then she would give me a disdainful look.

Then one summer our Lolly went to Coimbature and there in the comforts of her home and in the company of her parents and sisters, she enjoyed watching the World Cup  Football matches night after night. When the date of her returning to Delhi drew closer, Lolly’s heart skipped a beat. One evening she started howling and told her father, “All of you are here and now I will go back alone. I can’t even watch football matches in Delhi (as she didn’t own a TV).” Her parents really felt bad for her. So, Lolly looked for a job in Coimbature and found one in a newspaper famous for ‘breaking stories.’ Lolly came to Delhi to submit her resignation and then went back. After a year or so, I also shifted to Bangalore from Delhi. We stayed in touch.

Lolly then shifted to Chennai to work in the same newspaper after earning the tag of  ‘Coimbature’s tough cookie’. She once came to receive me at the Chennai railway station and luckily my brother (who lived in Chennai then) was also there. After ‘putting’ us in the auto, Lolly followed us in her motor bike as we were going to Lolly’s house. In between, Lolly lost track of us (trust her to do this). The brother-sister duo managed to find the way to her home after making a phone-call to her sister from a PCO (those were the pre-mobile phone days). When Lolly reached home after much hard-work of following us to the logical end, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She said “To Bobby’s (my brother) office to look for you guys.” I asked, “But why did you go to his office on a Sunday?” She asked back, “ Is it Sunday today?” Well, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In between Lolly came to stay with me at Bangalore and one of my husband’s single friends came to ‘check out’ Lolly (even though I had not really invited him and this all happened because my husband had casually mentioned about Lolly’s single status.) When I told Lolly about this, she said, “Oh, don’t worry I will break his leg. He will have a jolly good time in the nearest hospital.” Luckily, the friend went back safely without any fracture.

Then I shifted to Ahmedabad and one fine day I got a phone call from Lolly. She told me that she had quit her job and started a neighbourhood newspaper called ‘Saidapost (published from Saidapet in Chennai) with the humble thought that “it would be better than Washington Post.” Lolly’s father said he had nothing to do with this incredible venture of hers. But her mother agreed to be the director-marketing, Saidapost. Aunty diligently went around looking for advertisements for her daughter’s newspaper and she discreetly offered discounts also to the clients (our Lolly didn’t believe in discounts). All that aunty got as director, marketing was a box of her visiting cards with her super-fancy designation but no salary. Lolly gave aunty recently Rs 40,000 as her much-delayed salary (I think after eight long years aunty got her salary.) As Lolly was not the one who would play dirty games of publishing industry, the paper had to eventually close down. But people in the area still talk highly of her paper. Interestingly, once Lolly took an eve-teaser to the police station and the police official told the guy, “Do you know who’s she? Don’t ever mess up with a newspaper owner.” As Lolly proudly mentioned this to her father, uncle told her, “Only if they would have known the newspaper owner’s non-existent bank balance.”

After the closing of her paper, she worked in Pune as a teacher. And then we lost touch in between. On a late night shift at office few years ago, in moments of sheer nostalgia, I googled her name and then I landed on her profile in a job recruitment site. Next day, I called her and the first sentence I blurted out of joy was “You bloody bitch….” Lolly was then working in a Bangalore based newspaper where again she earned a name for herself as a feisty reporter. Last year, she went to London on a scholarship to do a course in media study.

In June 2012, I met Lolly in Bangalore. I was meeting her after a decade and she still remains the same. Coincidentally, we met during the European football championship. She came on her motorbike and for a change even though she followed me, she didn’t lose sight of the car in which I was travelling. For dinner, she had her favourite bhindi fry. She is now living with Scooby, her Labrador. I asked her ‘are you eating properly?’, she told me, “Both of us (Scooby here) love bread.” I didn’t thought it fit to ask further. The last bbm from her read (few days ago) like this: “Have quit my job. Now, it’s sleep, Scooby and lots of reading.”

PS: Vignettes from our conversation in Bangalore

Deepika: ‘Lolly, have I put on weight?’

Lolly: ‘Yes, a little but not much.’

Deepika: ‘Lolly, will men still find me sexy?’

Lolly: ‘Next question, please’

Well, certain things never change .

Locked door, closed windows

I am wallowing in grief. Because the door of the house in which my aunt and uncle lived is now locked and all the windows are closed. For me, this three bed-room apartment is home to a collage of wonderful memories. I will hold it close to my heart till I breathe my last. Everytime I went to Bhubaneswar on holidays, I loved being in this sparkingly clean house. It was a house where I could walk in at any point of time even without making a phone call. Five star hotels could have picked up a few lessons in house-keeping from my aunt. Not a single magazine/newspaper was ever misplaced in her house. For years, my favourite way to relax in her house was to lie on her absolutely comfortable bed and read an Outlook or India Today.  Every now and then my aunt would come to me with a cup of tea/coffee and a plate full of mouth-watering snacks. The tea always came in a different cup and on a different tray. I felt like a princess soaking in the love and warmth of my aunt and uncle. Pampering a niece came naturally to them.
Without ever saying, it was understood that it was a home where I was always welcome. I could just put my feet up on the couch and ask my aunt to give me a visual account of all the sari-shopping she did when I was far away. She would then open the cupboard and take out feather-like soft silk and cotton saris in bright colors. In between looking at the saris, I would cast a glance at myself on her dressing table mirror. Life felt like sheer poetry.
I spent languorous moments watching my aunt applying powder on her face after her morning bath. I loved the quietness that ruled the morning air. I loved the way time stretched its arms even as my aunt and me laughed, talked and drank cups of tea. It was love and affection that brought me back to this wonderful house year after year. It was a second home that gave me a chance to escape from existential realities.
I was looking forward to savour that slice of life once again in October. But destiny had willed it otherwise. My aunt passed away on the wee hours of July 17. Last night, my uncle moved to Bengaluru to be with his eldest son. From now onwards, my uncle will divide his time between Bengaluru and New Jersey. The house that once smelt of my aunt’s lip-smacking bread-pakoras, elaichi tea and chicken curry is now locked. Warm memories of laughter laced moments spent with my aunt now fill up my eyes with tears. Sooner or later, dust will settle on my aunt’s pebble like smooth dining table. The colourful teacups that line her kitchen shelf will long for a lip. Every time I think of the locked house, images of my beautiful aunt moving graciously from one room to another haunt me. I still can’t come to terms with the thought that next time when I will be in Bhubaneswar, I will not actually see my aunt pottering around the house like a butterfly. Like my aunt, the house will be as far as the distant horizon.

3 MOMS AND A LOVE-STORY

Today is Mother’s Day—– here’s a toast to the 3 Moms in my life. Before anybody questions this noble statement from me, let me gently introduce them— Mrs Ashalata Sahu (my mom), Mrs Soubhagyabati Menon (my mom-in-law) and Mrs Aruna Shah (my foster mom). These three feisty women are in the sixth decade of their lives. They are happy without an iphone, a Laptop and regular visits to multiplexes and shopping malls. They just don’t understand the ‘use and throw’ funda of 21st century. And most importantly, they are never bored in life unlike many women of my generation. Here’s a toast to them —- with a dash of humor from the woman whom they all have pampered on innumerable occasions.

MRS ASHALATA SAHU:

My mother thinks all her daughters are more beautiful than the late Maharani Gayatri Devi. And the buck does not stop there. Even power-performers like Oprah Winfrey, Indra Nooyi will pale in front of her daughters. And to top it all, she feels her sons-in-law are lucky to have her daughters as their life partners. So they better be grateful and gracious for all this.

She is a lioness when it comes to protecting her cubs. Try telling her one word against me, there are chances that you will be ended up as mince-meat on the plate. She might scold us left-right but will not tolerate anything negative about her daughters from outsiders.

She is more punctual than the clock itself. She is extraordinarily disciplined and even now sticks to her routine of getting up early in the morning (which is mid-night for me) and doing her yoga.

She’s always well-dressed. She has an amazing collection of saris—both cotton and silk. Even though my elder sister now wears them often to the university, I hope I would inherit some of them in future.

A real tough cookie, you can’t bully her. She’s a perfectionist and we often tease her that’s why God chose not to give her a son. Probably that would have ended in a divorce for the sunny boy.

My love for story-telling, music and cooking  comes from her. If you have not tasted her mutton curry, fish head cooked with vegetables (checheanda) and aloo bhaja then you have missed something in life.

She gave a dressing down to a middle-man (actually a senior academician and friend of my dad) who was trying to fix up a marriage proposal for me. She dismissed him by telling that her daughter was the Harvard/Stanford/Cambridge type (even though daughter dear never set her foot in any Ivy-league university). So, what’s this post-graduate boy (read average) from a university in Orissa aspiring for? Only my mom can do it.

KODAK MOMENT: Once I had picked up two sets of rangala-ranglee (wooden colorful) puppets from Ahmedabad (one for myself and one for my mom). She looked at her Rangla (the male puppet) and told me, “Why have you picked up a smiling one for yourself and an angry, devil-looking bearded one for me? This man is not for me.”

MRS SOUBHAGYABATI MENON

I will give you a Bravery Award if you can find a tea-spoon in her kitchen within fifteen minutes. Amazing food comes from her superbly disorganized kitchen. She just pooh-pahs me when I comment about her 24X7 earthquake ravaged kitchen. I have decided now onwards, I will be on ‘silent’ mode on this particular subject.

She’s the person with whom I enjoy a mug of beer and a glass of whisky (guys chill, this is much before Vicky Donor hit the screens)

Her general knowledge can put many journos to shame. Ask her about Obama, Brad Pitt and Shane Warne, she will give you all the dope.

She is the one who can talk for 20 minutes on a wrong number. I almost fell off my chair when she told me  “Oh, it was a wrong number connection but I found out that he’s from the same village (Tatamangalm in Kerala) from where I did my primary schooling. So, I thought let me find out about what all has changed since then.”

She looked after me like a child for days when I was at my lowest after my father’s death. I will be forever grateful to her for that act of love and care.

God added extra doses of laughter in her DNA when he created her.

KODAK MOMENT:  It’s difficult to choose one moment from her extra-ordinary reserve. But here’s one humble sample: Couple of years back, my husband (her loving son) had gone to Nepal in the thick of Maoist uprising. There were lots of violence and kidnapping of tourists happening then. I expressed my fear to my mom-in-law. She said, “Why are you so worried? Even if the Maoist kidnap him, they will give him back to us in less than 24 hours. And they will reward us for managing this unique specimen for so many years. That will be a lottery which will change our lives forever. Just chill.”

MRS ARUNA SHAH:

Melted butter —- that’s how I would describe her. She can cry at the drop of a hat. But don’t get me wrong, she has sailed through tough times with elegance.

She’s a great cook and always eager to learn something more. She uses her microwave in a much more productive way than Ms Deepika.

Her kitchen is sparklingly clean like that of my mom’s kitchen. A tad different from my mom-in-law’s kitchen. Each to her own.

She’s a real romantic at heart and she also sings very well. Every time I feel low, she tells me “Zindagi hai, bahne do.” She’s my sutradhar to God. Whenever I feel there’s a crisis looming over me, I make an SOS call to her and say, “Start praying for me.

She’s a very well-dressed person. It’s always a pleasure to buy a sari for her because I can just visualize how beautiful she would look in that sari.

She just doesn’t know the word laziness unlike her daughter (my soul-sister Prerna) and foster daughter (that’s me).

KODAK MOMENT: She makes the world’s best fajito (a mango-based Gujarati recipe). Once at her home, when I was raving about her fajito, her husband (who also had a great sense of humor) told, “My bhabhi (his elder brother’s wife) makes lip-smacking fajito.” Immediately Aruna aunty told with a straight face, “Yes, I have also heard about it. But I have never tasted it.” With that AK-47 shot from her, there was pin-drop silence for three minutes at the dining table. And, that’s why I love her.

(Now, please don’t ask me who’s the best cook among these three important women. The answer will go with me to my grave.)

There are no goodbyes, my father

THE PROLOGUE: It was a mellowed evening in March. The crimson setting sun was all set to say a goodbye to the day and the Arabian Sea was looking resplendent. I was walking all alone on the Calangute beach in Goa. My wild curly hair was flying in every possible direction and suddenly I heard a voice asking me from behind: “Hey, are your curls real?” I looked back, smiled at the unknown face and said, “Genetic dear, my dad had it.” There was a lump in my throat when I referred to my father in past sense. I felt terribly lonely and lost at that particular moment. But then in a flash of a second, my father’s smiling face with his mop of curly hair came back to me as if reassuring me of his tender presence in faraway Goa.

For many people outside the walls of my home, he was ‘Sir’ who taught them physical chemistry. For me, he was just ‘Baba’, with whom I had an organic relationship. It feels painfully strange and odd to write about him. There are thousand splendid memories curled up in my heart and it’s not easy to choose one and allow another one to let it be where it is.
Everything that I enjoy in life now —  reading, music, craft, high-octane cricket, gardening, cooking for people I love, a cup of Darjeeling tea in a bright colourful ceramic tea set, writing with a fountain pen, laughing in gay abandon and most importantly giving without calculating in an age which swears by ‘profit and loss’ — that’s all I owe to Baba. He did not tell me how to live, he just lived and I picked it up all from him– some consciously, some subconsciously. I was lucky to have my hero, my inspiration, my aspiration in my home. I never had to look far.
I always considered myself as a ‘father’s daughter.’ I never really felt scared of him deep within even though the whole campus was scared of him. Though I got my share of scolding (I was quite a naughty and stubborn child) from him, I always felt intensely close to him. In the later part of my adult years, when I argued with him on silly matters, he would give me an indulgent look and say, “ati fazil” (too naughty).  He was the one who taught me alphabets and made me fill up hundred and hundred pages of cursive hand-writing notebooks (even when I was all grumpy and most reluctant). Today, when people comment on my nice  handwriting, I say a silent ‘Thank you, Baba.’

There were occasions when he used to preside over functions in the college campus. On those occasions, as a child, I remember I used to spend hours polishing my shoes (I don’t know how those poor shoes survived) and checking my ironed dress innumerable times. Much before the function started, I would be sitting in a chair grinning ear to ear, waiting impatiently for my father to give the welcome address. My little chest used to swell in pride seeing my father sitting like a superstar on the stage. I was like a Helium balloon. Flying high with pride. And when Baba used to finish his speech, I would clap most enthusiastically and a little longer than many others. That was not enough; occasionally I would cast glances at people (my little friends included) sitting next to me just to tell them silently, “You know, my dad’s the best.” It was my ‘IT’ moment. Obnoxious, the world might think. But I always walked with my head held high because I was Dr Gangadhar Sahu’s daughter. A man who had immense courage. A man who earned every single penny with honesty and grit. A teacher who loved his students like his own children.
He was a chemistry professor yet he was most encouraging when I chose to take up humanities in my higher secondary. Unlike many fathers in this country, he never ever forced me to take up science. And those years in the college under his eagle eye as my principal are still the best years of my life. Just before I joined the college, Baba had a heart-to-heart talk with me. Those days, boys passing nasty comments, indulging in dirty graffiti on college walls were the order of the day. Baba told me, “Don’t rush to me if somebody tries to bully you. Deal with him in your own way. Be confident.” That was my first great lesson in taking charge of my own life and situations. He had no sense of fear and expected his daughters to be like that. All through his stint as principal in Bhadrak College, as a gawky teenager, I was always on a clay feet worried about his security. But he was courage personified— never scared of any physical assault and managed students’ unrest with enviable grace and dignity. But he also had wonderful ways to show that he cared. No matter how busy he was as a Principal, he would always fill ink in my fountain pens before an examination. He would check my pen box and arrange it with lot of love and care.
He knew my heart was in literature, liberal arts and he encouraged me to explore that. There were mornings when I used to wake up (when we lived in the principal’s quarter in Bhadrak ) and sit on the front verandah to revel in the beauty of coconut trees swaying lazily in the breeze and the river Salandi flowing quietly. Only once he had asked me about this morning activity of mine and I told him, “I am enjoying the ‘drushya’ (as they say in Odiya).” And he gently let me to be in that blissful state. Similarly, when India played against Pakistan in a cricket match (that unforgettable Sharjah match in which Javed Miandad hit a massive six off Chetan Sharma), he encouraged me to enjoy the match even though I was having my board examination the next day. Every time a Pakistani batsman played a good shot, he used to appreciate. From him, I learnt to enjoy cricket without the baggage of jingoism and pulp-patriotism.
He was a Chemistry professor but he was absolutely wonderful with words. He was the one who encouraged me to discover the joy of the ever-exciting world of words. When I wrote poems during my hostel days, I always sent them to him by post because I could never find a more understanding reader than him. I could always turn to him for intellectual companionship and guidance. When I joined the Press Trust of India (PTI) as a trainee journalist way back in 1995, I was quite nervous before interviewing late Biju Pattanayak in Delhi. It was my first exclusive interview and I was just few days old in the profession. There was no time to rush to any library for research and Google was non-existent. From Delhi, I made a frantic STD call to Baba and he immediately told me to cool down. Over the phone, he guided me a lot in the research part (thanks to his meticulous habit of maintaining newspaper clippings). I sailed through the interview smoothly.
In today’s times of never-ending material desires, I feel content with no LCD television or leather sofa in my Ahmedabad home because Baba taught me to turn less into more. He was a man who could turn a two- course meal into a gourmet one. With his modest government salary, he made me feel like a billionaire’s daughter. He was the one who bought me my first North Star jeans and a blue colour Power T shirt in 1990. He stood patiently outside the trial room and when I came out of the room to show him, he looked at me with a smile and said, “Let’s buy another jeans. It looks good on you.” My love affair with Denim is still going strong. Realising that I love listening to music, he bought me a tape-recorder when I was staying in JNU hostel. Even when I was working in Delhi, he sent me money so that I could buy a ‘hi-fi’ music system.
As a girl (in a highly patriarchal society), I never felt limited in my growing up years. He encouraged me go on an elephant ride when I was visiting him during a holiday to Orissa (that time he was the principal of BJB college) . So, there I was sitting behind the Mahut and going on an elephant ride in the BJB college area and Baba was standing in our garden, waving at me with a smile. Thanks to Baba and his unconditional love and words of encouragement, I still carry a little bit of wild, creative world within me.

THE EPILOGUE: It’s strange that I could never say goodbye to the person whom I loved the most in my life. I arrived in Orissa on January 4, 2011 a day after his mortal body was reduced to ashes. I returned to an empty house which he had built with his honest money and lot of love and labour. A house which gives me a deep intimate sense of home. A house where I will never see him again walking or sitting at the dining table. I deeply regret about not being able there with him on his last day. In many ways, there’s no final closure. And that unexplainable grief is deeply personal and intimate.
For days after his death, I just couldn’t write a single word even though I earn my living from writing. My loving generous friends gently urged me to write letters (e-mails) to them as a beginning step. But the emptiness within me was so huge that I felt as if I was carrying a gigantic ice-berg within me. For hours, I would just stare at my computer screen yet not a word would flow. The days were empty, the nights were lonely. Then one night during my sleep, I saw a dream which felt so very real. In my dream, I saw my father sitting on a chair in our old house’s garden. And there I was running around him, laughing with him, singing and enjoying the breeze, the clouds. Then I heard him saying, “You must write about this beautiful evening.” That dream was a message from him, from the universe to follow my heart and get back to writing. The next day, I wrote my blog  ‘The Ice Must Melt Now’ with tears rolling down from my cheeks. It was tears of unexplainable grief of losing my father and also tears of rediscovering the joy of words. I also then started the process of seeking comfort in the thought that there are actually no goodbyes in a relationship as pure and loving as ours. And healing will only come through longing. As Isabel Allende wrote beautifully, “There’s no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them.”     
 I long for him very deeply every single day, at different  moments like when I am enjoying a Gujarati thali in Agashiye, a restaurant we visited together  when he came to Ahmedabad, when a new little branch shoots up in the potted  palm tree on my balcony,  when I listen to Dire Straits’ soul-elevating song, ’So far away from me…. That I just can’t see you’, or when I open my wardrobe to take out a dress and my fingers rush through his neckties (some still have a knot) and a stylish indigo blue jacket. In moments of intense longing, I go to the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad to seek peace and comfort. Sitting on the verandah of that beautiful modest house in which Gandhiji lived, I feel a strange sense of calmness. Baba was an ardent fan of Gandhiji and I feel as if he were around somewhere close to me. And then I come back home to Baba’s letters written in his enviable handwriting (with place and date mentioned neatly on the top). I find an innate sense of life and purpose in his words. And needless to say, I still feel a deep sense of pride when I introduce myself as “I am Deepika, Dr Gangadhar Sahu’s daughter.” What more can a daughter ask for?  

(It’s exactly one year since my father passed away… and it hurts a lot)