Today is my father’s birthday. We lost him in 2010.
I wanted to recount a couple of things about him.
He kept a newspaper cut-out of Mahatma Gandhi’s photograph in his wallet.
His wallets were always non-leather, usually inexpensive ones.
He hardly ever bought something that was expensive and he never wore anything made of leather.
He was a vegetarian and did not eat eggs but wholeheartedly supported and advocated the benefits of the meal given to children at the government hospital he worked all his life at, and it included eggs.
When I started including non-vegetarian items in my diet, and a relative asked him what he thought of that, he said, I believe that a vegetarian diet is the best one but she is free to make her choices.
He did not always approve of my choices or support them, and we had many disagreements and arguments. He wanted me to become a doctor like him, but he kept every single newspaper that had my by-line in it.
He lived simply, his needs few and far in between.
He would usually carry packets of Parle-G biscuits on his morning walk, to feed the stray dogs that he would encounter daily.
He would never ‘take’/flag down a ‘full’ rickshaw. He would share the ride. You would know what that means if you grew up in India. It means that you split the ride with other people, strangers who also wanted to go in a similar direction or route, that way your fare would be one-fourth of the total fare, but the rickshaw driver would get his full fare.
He would reason – why waste a full rickshaw just on yourself when there’s space for other people to sit? And why waste money too? There is a difference between being generous and wasteful and similarly there’s a difference between being stingy and thriftful/thrifty.
We lost him in his birthday month. On the 23rd of December. He died of an aortic aneurism, and as he lay on the hospital bed, awaiting his surgery, he called my mother and me to him and said,
“Aruna, I had promised to outlive you. I am sorry that I may not be able to keep that promise. This surgery is difficult and complicated and I may not survive it. I apologise to you for all instances in our married life that I may have been angry or unreasonable with you.”
“Prerna, I am sorry for the mistakes – mistakes in the choices that I made for you, taking decisions for you, decisions that I thought were good but you may have thought otherwise. “
“Both of you – there is enough for both of you to live peacefully, if you are content and have a sense of contentment and stay within your means.”
“And yes, please remember to thank that nurse in the previous hospital. She was very nice and efficient, as nurses should be. She was considerate and kind and patient – a very, very good nurse.”
He did not survive the surgery. In fact, he couldn’t get to the surgery; we lost him as the anaesthesia was being administered to him.
I know that there are days between his birthday and his death anniversary and we must celebrate his birthday and his life.
I do celebrate his life, but even in his death, he could muster up so much of grace, simplicity and honesty that marked his life that I think that it is something that I should remember on his birthday as well.
Happy birthday, papa. As I go through life, I hope I learn and unlearn – learn to imbibe simplicity, contentment, and more honesty in the purpose of my life as well as in everything I do. I hope I unlearn and let go of the need to acquire more things, or to hold on to pretences or appearances.