First things first. My father, like his fellow park walkers, his friends, his WhatsApp groups, and most of our extended family, is a big fan of our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. But what Modi isn’t is my father — whatever US President Donald Trump who called him “the father of India” might think (and what was he thinking?), and whatever Union minister Jitendra Singh may say (that I am “not Indian”, for one).
1. Navratras are on, but in his 73 years, I have never known father to fast. Away from mother’s frowning eyes, he may even nibble a meat piece or two during these nine days. But yes, away from mother’s eyes.
Getting him to fast would be tortuous after all. In his free time, which is rare as he sees himself as this dynamic youngster, father can always be found munching. Mostly snacks and, to our ever-lasting envy, doing so unapologetically, sitting sprightly in the living room.
2. I don’t know the size of my father’s chest — for good reason. Come to think of it, I don’t know the size of any man’s chest.
On the other hand, like anyone who has had the faintest brush with North Indian genes, he is perfectly groomed at all times — from his now-balding pate to the tip of his polished shoes (a habit he tried hard to pass on to his recalcitrant grandchildren). The fastidiousness never ceases to amaze my laid-back Eastern Uttar Pradesh in-laws.
3. At most gatherings, father enjoys his drink, admittedly frustratingly slowly. These days, an old men’s club where they all get a little tipsy and dance to old Hindi songs once in three months is one of the highlights of his calendar.
Granted he is no Elvis Presley (as Trump said Modi was) — who is? —but did the King’s repertoire include the thumka perfected by Indian men from long practice at weddings is the question.
4. Father had a tough childhood, as one of nine siblings (though I doubt he would qualify it as tough), and was expected to do his share of hard, daily chores.
But, yes, he was never a chaiwallah. Does the fact that he is the one who mostly makes tea now at home, as mother lazes around, count?
5. Belonging to a generation that believed in saving every pie, he may have retired as a senior executive, but his list of what constitutes a luxury stretches really long.
How long? Well, he still frowns at Fabindia and will only ride Uber Pool, taking his time to get used to both the idea of hopping into taxis, and that “odd name”. We haven’t got around to discussing ‘Howdy’.
6. Like everyone in the flush of youth, or in the returning blaze of old age, father too believes he has the solution to every problem.
Thankfully, there are enough of us around to curb his enthusiasm.
7. While in the world according to Trump, Modi has been a unifying force for an India “that was torn”, father used to take vicarious delight in watching my sister and I fight it out.
For, unfailingly, it would prove his dictum: siblings may not be able to live with each other, but try making them live apart. Could India-Pakistan have a lesson there?
8. While he may often be seen exercising in shorts that need fitting, father only fleetingly contemplated the thought of joining a shakha.
It was purely the informal Modi government retirement age of 75 years that made him pause. Or, so he says.
9. In his retired avatar, father takes great pleasure in his role as his society’s RWA president — elected by popular demand. He takes his responsibilities, including Independence Day speeches, very, very seriously, as well as gets my reluctant kids to make some good-message posters for him if he can collar them.
So, you know, what could have been…
10. Much as father may deny it, age is catching up and he now often forgets train and flight timings, and his glasses and car keys everywhere. Lately he just has to lie down anywhere, anytime to fall asleep.
The whole household is just glad our homegrown superman is human too.
11. Above all, it was to father that my sister and I sang out a Bollywood song every time he left on one of his work trips (we were children then, okay), basically crooning, ‘From across the seven seas… get us a beautiful doll… but Papa, come back soon’.
And, whether it was a trip to a remote plant site in Uttar Pradesh or the then-exotic-sounding Imphal, a doll or a dress, a diary or a pen, he never failed us.
Try matching that.
12. And lastly, because it must be asked, if there are two “fathers of India” now, where does that leave ‘Mother India’?
National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column