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In the bus: a little Indian girl and her father are sitting across from each other. The child is tired, her little feet dangling in the air, red velcro sandals swinging gently as she slips into slumber.

Her father watches her as she nods off a little more violently, her little body lurching with sleep.

He tries to wake her up. Her eyes open blurrily for a second, she nods without processing what her father says and falls back asleep again.

This time her father scoops her up into his arms, holding her close as she curls into him and continues sleeping.

I have no doubt that one day, this little girl will grow up to see a similar scene in a bus and smile, remembering her father. Just like how this grown up girl, who’s witnessing this scene, smiles.

And she will furiously type into her phone to capture this memory, before life shifts it into a corner of her brain where she will forget.

It is this safety that we seek in love. The safety of letting our guard down, and trusting that the person/people we love, will hold onto us when we are barely able to hold onto ourselves.

Sometimes love really is as simple as that.

I didn’t even realise it was Father’s Day until I woke up and my mother reminded me about it. Time does these things to people. We get so caught up in the quicksand of everyday that we forget important things, important dates, important people. Etc. 

So. It is Father’s Day today. In my opinion, it should be Father’s Day everyday, as it should be Mother’s Day and Poetry Day and Siblings Day and what have you will, every day. But we live in a world that sets aside times and dates to accrue importance to relationships we should be thankful for daily, so, yes, it is Father’s Day today.

These days, whenever I talk about life, I inadvertently talk about death. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Whenever I talk about death, I find myself talking about life. 

In the last few months, as a family, we’ve seen a lot of death. I nearly lost my mother in May this year. I nearly lost my father in 2012. It has been a roller coaster of a ride, these last few years. In May, strangely enough, I found myself in a place where I had to sit down and think about incidents where I would have to deal with the death of my loved ones. Inadvertently, the first person I thought of was my father. 

(Anyone who knows me, knows that my father is my best friend. He was my first friend, first confidante, first playmate, first guide, first teacher, first partner-in-crime, first buddy. You know what they say about firsts. Your firsts usually set the standard for the type of people you invite into your life. But. I digress)

So there I am, sitting with a pen and paper, and thinking about how I would feel if my father died. The explosiveness of my own reactions over this hypothetical incident completely stunned me. I was writing, and wailing, mouth wide open, tears streaming down my face, feeling bereft and lost and lonely, going through every single emotion I would feel if it were to really happen. It was explosive. It was terribly shocking.

My father found me later during the day, nursing a cup of tea, eyes swollen and squinty, and asked if I was all right. I told him curtly that I had cried because I’d had to go through the death of my loved ones, and his was the first one I had thought about. He had a look of immense surprise on his face. 

“You mean you will really miss me that much when I’m gone?”

It took me aback, this question. It also gave me a much needed slap in the face about the kind of communicator I was (those of you who know me personally will sense the irony in this statement). 

I had always presumed that my father knew how much I loved him. I have always been terrible at telling my family how much they mean to me, but over the last few years, I had begun to make concerted efforts to speak to them more, be more physically affectionate, show my emotions more, etc. 

Clearly, I hadn’t been doing as much of as it as I thought I had. 

I don’t think I answered my father that day.

Only because, well, I’ve always been much better at writing about how I feel than talking about it.

The truth is, I’m the biggest groupie my father can ever have. It’s not because he buys me chocolates when I’m lonely and miserable (milk chocolates with almonds in them, no eggs); it’s not because he used to give me money on the sly when I wanted to buy books which my mother had strictly forbidden  because “too many books in the house, Arathi!”; it’s not because he takes care of my mother (and me) day and night when we aren’t well; it’s not because he always lets me play the music I want when we’re in the car together; it’s not because he follows me to watch my favourite actor’s films even though he hates said actor (not telling you who that is); it’s not because he makes fun of me at every chance he gets….

I’m my father’s biggest groupie because he is the only man I know who lives a life by example; something that I aspire to attain so ardently. He’s the man who first taught me that above and beyond every other principle in life, kindness was what I had to hold true to myself. He didn’t just tell me that, he lived by it. Everything I’ve learnt about treating other people, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about being a listener, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about discipline, good lord, I’ve learnt from my father. Everything I’ve learnt about breaking rules and following my heart, I’ve learnt from my father.

I mean, how could I ever not love him when he’s given me the most important things in life to live with? 

I know you’ll eventually read this, Dad, not because you actually check my blog conscientiously like I wish you would *cough*, but because I’m going to send this to you the moment I’m done.

You’re an inspiration to me because you’re an everyday hero. You make people’s lives better by being just who you are, nothing more, nothing less. You have a wicked sense of humour, which has taught me that nothing in life should be taken too seriously, that nothing in life is beyond laughter. You have taught me the best medicine to anything, and everything, is love, love, love, and that when you treat people right, the world aligns itself to you in the rightest of ways.

Thank you for being my inspiration, but more than anything else, for being my best friend, even if you’re a little weird sometimes, and even if we have arguments about the most inane of things. 

Your life will always be a celebration for me, Dad. Thank you for teaching me that, as well. 

Happy Father’s Day. 

Love, 

Your daughter.

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I actually wrote this yesterday, but I thought it is better to post this today. Because today, it isn’t really about me, it is about the people who’ve made me, moulded me, loved me to death and back.

***

I turn a year older tomorrow.

I’m currently in the car, waiting for my father to buy some grapes. We are going for our weekly Sunday breakfast (I’m paying), before we head off for half a day of meditation. This is our new ritual, our new discipline for 2015.

I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m a disciplined person. Each time I hear this, I laugh. “If you think I’m something, you should see my father.” I respond. Everything I’ve learnt about discipline, I’ve learnt it from him.

A memory: I was about 5 years old, sitting in the void deck with my mother, and my newly purchased pencil and eraser. My erasers were usually extravagantly shaped; that particular day, it was a unicorn. (I know, I had good taste, even back then). My father was at his dojo, completing his weekly martial art class. Not one he attended, mind. One he taught, my father, the black-belt superhero. He would teach martial arts to a group of eager, bright-eyed young men and women in their crisp white kis and different coloured belts. While my father taught these classes, my mother would sit with me, and my brand new stationary, watching as I wrote, or worked on my school work.

It’s an abstract memory, but one that is terribly poignant.

Soon after, my mother quit her job to be with me and nurture me to be a responsible young adult. (I think she has succeeded,  but this is a discussion for another day). This meant my father was supporting the family by himself. He worked two jobs; one, as a supervisor at the airport, and the second, as a taxi driver. On top of his professional commitments, he also ferried me to school everyday, made time for his wife, discussed books and people and international affairs with me, ran every day, and did some art projects now and then.

All within the same 24 hours that the rest of us, the plebeian masses had.

He probably slept for about 3 hours a day, and spent the rest of his time being the family superhero. It never struck me at that time just how much he was doing, and so tirelessly, without complaints. Now, at an age where I am trying, trying, trying to be a better person, I wonder what kind of open space, determination, love, he must have been carrying to be so relentless in his pursuit of life.

As I type this with one finger on my iPad while finishing my breakfast, he’s stirring sugar into my tea while trying to cool it at the same time. Ever considerate, this man.

“So, about my birthday tomorrow…”

“We can talk about that later. Just settle this for now.”

Upon saying that, he slowly slides the bill over to me, a cheeky grin on his face.

Oh, father.

 

Photo taken in Singapore, by my lovely mother.

 

Over this past one year, I’ve heard some of the most beautiful stories from people all around the world. Some of them have made me smile with happiness, and some of them have made me weep. Over the next few months, I’m going to try my best to tell you about these amazing people, in the only way I know how. I’d like to emphasize that these stories, are real stories. As real as you and me

***

Dear You,

These are probably the most difficult words that I have ever written in my life. And yet, there comes a time, when an old man sits by his doorstep, and wonders what his life has amounted to. It has been years since I have seen you. The last I heard, you had gone to a country far away, to further your education.

In that moment, I felt pride. Pride, quickly followed by shame.

Shame, for not having been there to see you off. Shame, for not having been there when you worked towards your ambition. Shame, for not having been there, at all.

Shame, for the heinous things I did to you, over, and over.

I was a foolish man in my younger days. I’m still foolish, but I believe that if I can sit and pen this letter to you, I have grown, in some way.

I was a foolish man who felt trapped in my marriage with your mother. She was beautiful, she was smart, she was very kind, she was everything that I wasn’t, and I never felt I was good enough for her. My own inadequacy made me want to break free, and because I couldn’t, I broke everything around me. Starting with your mother.

Somehow, you came along. I was not happy that you were a girl. Your mother had failed me the one time I had asked her for a male heir. I didn’t understand my pathetic and ridiculous mindset then. Now, years and years afterwards, I do.

Shame.

I don’t know what possessed me to unleash my anger on you. Bruises on your face, those brown eyes swollen with tears, filled with an emotion I was all too familiar with.

An emotion I saw in my own face, time and time again, when I looked at the mirror, when your mother looked at me.

Hatred.

Loud arguments, broken glass. I remember everything in flashes. I was never fully there when all of this happened. And yet, I was.

I don’t expect you to reply to this letter. I don’t even expect you to read it. I am in no position to expect anything from you, My Child.

Words I should have said years ago, when you came into this world, a bundle of joy. Words I should have said with pride, with love. Words I never knew how to think about, let alone speak out aloud.

I am sorry.

For every single blow I’ve dealt, for every single disappointment I’ve caused, for every harsh word, for every forgotten birthday, for hurting your mother, for hurting you, for never loving my family like I should have. Like I now yearn to.

Forgive me.

There are no words to explain the inadequacy of my being, and I seek penance through arranged letters of the alphabet.

I seek, I pray, for your well being, for your forgiveness, if you can ever find it in you.

Take care, My Child.

Yours,

Father.