By Swati Bhattacharya
The kind of father you are has much to do with the kind of man you are willing to be, away from the norms and templates of manhood and ‘my daddy strongest’.
In a Father’s Day special, two women write about the men who were their fathers.
Below is Swati Bhattacharya’s piece. The other piece, by Anjali Arondekar, Call Me Rama: Remembering Baba is here.
The most special thing about my Baba was the fact that he was willingly un-special. Actually, he decided the moments when he wanted to be special. Otherwise, he was just so, so happy to be in the background, listening to a cricket match on the radio. Or hogging the TV to watch grainy re-runs of cricket matches played before there was colour TV. Baba’s definition of an adda was watching something together in silence.
Growing up an only child you could say I won the parent jackpot. I was the centre of both their worlds. But while my mother was always by my side, a green-eyed, delicate-skinned beauty, drawing attention with her looks and her crazy energy everywhere she went, my Baba was laidback. One of his oft-repeated quips was “mile toh ojha na milein toh roza.” Baba spent his whole life working in one office — INS. He was often passed over for a promotion. But none of that mattered once he came home. My uncles and aunts did much better than he did, but for Baba it never made a difference.
Our home was where the big family lunches happened, and I never felt I had less than my more well-to-do cousins, because my parents brought me up to think our less was more. Family and friends came from all over the world to be with us — that in some way made us special.
Baba’s intimacy with me was more like a sibling’s; following me around asking for the last bite of my moghlai parantha, having a luchi eating competition with me, fighting with me over our 2-in-1 tape recorder. One time I came home from school to find my music tapes full of the bad crackle of radio commentary. It was Baba. “Sorry yaar! It was such a great match that I had to analyse it. All your English music sounds the same, but this match is unique na.” I would get so mad at him, and to cajole me, he would call me by names of his favourite dishes – sorry my kosha mangsho! Sorry my tangri kabab!
I would complain bitterly to my mom who would threaten Baba that the two of us will leave him and then he can live with cricket all his life. Baba would lose no time in moving to another room and soon, the sound of cricket commentary would fill the air from behind that door.
After my class 8th final exams, our fights over the 2-in-1 stopped. Because Baba got me a Sony Walkman.
I had passed my exams and been promoted to the next class, but I had failed the math paper and so, the school had written against my name the phrase “weak pass”. I was mortified and humiliated. But Baba? He fell in love with the term as if I had done something very heroic – like snatching the ‘pass’ from the jaws of failure.
When he gave me that Walkman and said “Congratulations!” I asked him ‘Baba, why did you give me such an expensive gift?” and he said with the sweetest smile, “Because weak pass is special. That’s better than pass yaar!” Sometimes he would announce in the Durga pujo pandal, “Bullu weak pass koreche but pass koreche.” I used to be so mad at him but later realized his pride was genuine. After that, ‘weak pass’ became a part of his everyday language. How’s my dress? Weak pass. Did you like the machher jhaal? Weak pass.
My Baba was a bad weather friend – the best dad any girl could ask for. He took me out to see “Karz” during my study leave before my 10th board math exam. For every exam I sat for in life, my dad has got me a treat the night before. When I had big achievements – making it into Miranda House or IIMC or getting my first job at JWT – Baba never had a treat for any of those. It was always for the nights when you were alone and scared.
I suffered my first heartbreak in the summer of ’94. I called up Baba in office to say I had broken up. Baba was quiet for a bit. Then he asked, “would you like some chingri tonight?” The biggest prawn ever born was on my dinner plate that night. Baba had gone to INA market after work to organize my break-up dinner.
I grew up in Delhi, where every child is asked what does your father do? Because that’s supposed to be the measure of a man.
I should have said my Baba cushions my falls. My Baba fights with me if I take my friends away from the living room to my room. My Baba gave me my first cigarette to try. My Baba made us our gins and tonics when my friends came home. My Baba never let me enter the kitchen incase I burnt myself. My Baba very reluctantly, let my mother arrange a marriage for me at 28. My Baba also advised my Ma not to spend all her money on my wedding because “Bullu might just score a duck and come back to the pavilion.”
My father never let his gender dictate to him how he should love me, how much freedom I deserved – or how and why he should be loved
My baba died of cancer in the November of 2003. When we got to know, he was already in an advanced Stage 3. When we told him he said, with a smile “67 not out is not a bad score Bullu.”
Swati Bhattacharya, 51, is the only child of Angshuman Bhattacharya. She is a very weak pass in cooking but strong pass in advertising.