About half a century back I was half way into my teens when one Sunday morning my mother asked me to tidy up an almirah. I began the project little knowing that a wonderful surprise was there, waiting for me! Buried under the tightly folded bed sheets, ‘What did I come upon?’ a framed group photograph of my dear father. It was that of the hockey team of his regiment. He had served in the Indian Army- Ex4/12 Frontier Force&5/14 Punjab Regiment which fought the Japanese in the jungles of Burma during Second World War. Here was a strapping young man in his twenties, with deep set sharp eyes, and confidence exuding from every limb of his body. The erect posture, smart bearing with a hockey stick poised under the palms of his hands, he stood tall on the left side corner of the photograph. The picture mesmerized me and my heart swelled with pride. I saw my father in an entirely new avatar of a strikingly handsome young man.
Even before this discovery a special bonding existed between the two of us. From that day onwards my attraction for him acquired a new intensity. He became my hero and I his darling fan. I started observing him keenly. His meticulous habits and loving disposition drew me towards him, in turn shaping my character over the years. The rules which he set for himself and others in the family became milestones in the development of my personality and indelible part of my super ego. I constantly endeavoured to do something good to please him and he reciprocated very warmly. In the backdrop of it all, there was always the secret charm of the photograph to uplift me, to goad me, to do better always.
True to his army background he was a disciplinarian but underneath that exterior breathed the kindest man I have ever met. There was some magnetic sweetness about him which commanded instant respect. He desired from the core of his heart that I develop good habits and be successful in life. To that end he also encouraged me to learn household tasks and would praise every little bit I achieved in that sphere. Some times when I balked he would lovingly remark, “You should learn all the skills which are required to run a household well.” “Yes dad you could not have been more right. Your insistence proved to be a great blessing in my life later on.”
He imbibed in me the spirit of pride in learning to do things with one’s hands. As a young girl though too busy in my own world, I still recall fleeting glimpses of him helping and instructing the gardener in hoeing and sowing in our kitchen garden. I can still relive the taste of juicy radishes, sweet and fresh carrots and mustard greens, for preparing sag in winters, the handiwork of my father’s efforts. That scene continually flits before my mind’s eye whenever I supervise my gardener and I silently thank dad for passing his love of nature and gardening on to me.
He was generous and truthful to a fault. In times of natural calamities he would set aside a sum of money to be sent for the relief fund. His life personified simple living; sans pretensions of any kind. Being inimical to inane talk he disliked arguing for the sake of one-upmanship. In such situations he would prefer to leave rather than express displeasure. I learnt the great lessons of life by observing him practice the things he valued.
My dad loved seasonal delicacies and good food enormously. Preparing Alsi (flaxseed) pinnies in winter was a regular feature in our house. He would gladly procure the provisions and help mother whole heartedly in all the steps of the process of making. A tin full of the delicious stuff was always reserved for me.
Being the son of the soil ,he collaborated with a friend and tried his hand at mechanized farming in U.P. in the early sixties, winning many prizes for the quality of the wheat grain produced in the farm.
I was plunged into deep sorrow when he passed away suddenly after a brief illness. A few days before he embarked on his final journey; he fell sick and was hospitalized. Some tests were done and he looked very fatigued. I was alone with him. I tried to comfort him and all of a sudden he looked at me, there were tears in his eyes. My father, who could move mountains and had enjoyed perfect health all along, was feeling helpless like a child. I felt choked with a lump in my throat. I wanted to hug him tightly and tell him how much I loved him and that he would be well again. But the flood of emotions incapacitated me and I stood their rooted to the ground like a statue. The moment passed!
So many times my father has figured in my dreams standing there watching over me, exhorting me to take heart and pursue my goals. The image is a precious souvenir, a reminder of the unique relationship which a father and a daughter shared with each other.
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