A bohemian person like my father should probably have never married and settled down. Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that he did so – I am positively chuffed to have existed than not to. What I mean is that my father was not equipped with the calculating mind that the bread earner of a middle-class family needed to steer the said family through the economic wasteland that was post-partition Bengal. Thankfully his steady teaching job ensured that his family had a happy time for most parts. But post-retirement, with meagre savings and a pittance of a pension in a globalised India where money talked, he had to deal with a lot of disillusionment which a soft-hearted person like him did not deserve.
For my father was an eccentric dreamer, who lives on in the hearts and minds of all who knew him. From having allegedly staged a play using the wagon-breakers of Asansol as the players, to having invented a contraption called hookumpipe – a pipe with a water filtration unit in its middle a la hookah – the anecdotes about him span a wide range of quirkiness. The imposed responsibilities of marriage did push him towards a more conventional lifestyle, but he never could quite manage it. As a father though, he was par excellence.
He taught us, his children, mostly though stories, real and fictional, for he was an excellent storyteller. Looking back though, I realise that he truly taught us by example. He was the quintessential Bengali Bhadrolok who was always, even under duress, polite in his words and in his behaviour. He was a kind man, but in an unobtrusive sort of way. For example, when travelling to my Mamar bari, during the long cycle-rickshaw ride from the train station, he will get down and walk alongside the rickshaw whenever there was a steep incline. At the end of the journey, he will ensure that he sat down with the gentlemen who had carried us in their rickshaws and share a cup of tea and rasogollas with them. I do not know whether homeopathy is merely placebo or not, but my father could soothe many a person with minor ailments using his homeopathic medicines – disbursed without any remuneration of course, mostly to house-helps and labourers who could not afford to visit a doctor for a cold or an ache.
A few days ago I held my newly born son in my arms for the first time. I am a couple of years younger than my father compared to when he had me. I have not lived life anywhere close to the extent or depth that my father did, even though my geographical horizons have been much more extended than his were. Looking into my son’s half-open confused eyes in the stark light of the operating room, I could not help but wonder whether I have learned enough valuable life-lessons to pass on to him. Do I possess the memes that when handed down can help him become a good, considerate human being? I must confess that I have my doubts. The only thing that is keeping me calm is the knowledge that I learned from the best about how to be a father. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to pass on to my son that part of me in which my father resides. If I manage to do that, and when he is my age if my son is half as proud of me as I am of my father, my job will be done.