This Father’s Day I will call up my home in Delhi. After a chat with my mother she will place the phone next to my father’s ear. He would be propped up in a chair, his face shrunk from old age, his one seeing eye staring into the void.
From my apartment in NewYork,Iwill repeat a couple of short sentences: “Hello Daddy!” “This is Aseem!” “How are you feeling?” “Happy Father’s Day!”
If I am lucky —– as I was the last time I “spoke” to him, a month ago on his 84th birthday,hewillrespond,makingsounds, wordsthathisbrain,lostinafog,theresult of a strange and incomprehensible illness called Alzheimer,will not be able to form. I do remember him saying something that sounded like “I am all right.” And that was the most he had spoken in a week, my mother said. I would like to believe that he recognized my voice, that he still remembers, his first born!
That was my father’s favourite sentence —– he was always all right. It was the rural Punjabi values that he grew up with in Jhang (now in Pakistan), where he only lived until the age of 19. They drank huge glasses of milk with cream added and ate makki ki roti with sarson ka saag. I was born in a city, and despite the simplicity of life in Delhi of my childhood, some genetic imbalance made me lactose intolerant from a young age. I could not drink milk and so I was never all right in my father’s book.
Plus I never took to makki ki roti, or kanji, the purple drink my grandmother would make with black carrots and mustard seeds. That was food and culture they brought with them from Jhang. My father would sometimes break into a crude form of Punjabi called Jhangi with his cousins, while my grandmother would speak in another peculiar dialect called Multani with her sister. Their words sounded strange to my ears in Delhi, where we spoke and heard a refined blend of Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, with a strong dose of English.
This Father’s Day I look back and think about how different I was from my father and how much I have become like him. He played tennis, a sport he picked up in Delhi and played for decades, even though he arrived in the city as a poor refugee, after the partition of India and Pakistan. I never played tennis or any other sport, but just to please him I would sit and listen to Davis Cup commentaries on All India Radio. And I learned names of tennis players —– Jaideep Mukherjee, Premjit Lal and Ramanathan Krishnan, and later about the successes of the Amritraj Brothers from my father.
From my teenage years, I liked films and my father would sometimes make it a family trip to the movie theatre. But we would often argue after watching a film, an indication that we had different sensibilities. I remember seeing Satyam Shivam Sundram with my father during a trip to Srinagar in the late 1970s. He thought the film was marvellous.
I thought that despite the wonderful songs, the film was crass, mostly sexist. To my father, Raj Kapoor was a masteranditwaswrongtoquestionhis vision. But on rare occasions we did agree on films —Hare Rama Hare Krishna and Garam Hawa, a story close to his heart.
We differed, we argued, we fought. ButIbecameajournalistlikemyfather, much against his wishes. He spent his lifetime writing about Africa, supporting the continent’s desires to stand up against injustice.
Watching him work, I learned to be tolerant, secular and liberal, values that now define who I have become.Myfather’s condition has progressively declined. It is unfortunate to see a man, who was a giant, reduced to half of his size. But looking at him I understand the meaning of life, that all bright lights have to dim some day and all good lives lived have to slow down.
• Bollywood’s coming of age
This refers to Aseem Chhabra’s column ‘The politics of Shanghai’ (PM, June 10). I found Chhabra’s column quite interesting and insightful. Although I hardly watch Hindi films, his views suggest that the recently released Bollywood movie Shanghai is a sensible work of art. Of late, I have been reading a lot about new age filmmakers who are committed to serious cinema. I had switched to Hollywood films for entertainment due to the same old formula films. The author’s piece has compelled me to watch all the films directed by Dibakar Banerjee.
- Vikash Bhatia
I feel the Indian audiences are yet to take cinema seriously. In the past, Indian filmmakers have produced films on sensitive issues to awaken masses. But disappointingly the attempts failed to evoke response .
- Ashish Sood
• Minutes of the movie
I appreciate Chhabra for giving useful piece of information in his article on Dibakar Banerjee’s political thriller, Shanghai. Much has been discussed in the print and broadcast media about Banerjee’s latest venture. However, none had mentioned about Costa-Gavras’ Z, from where the director borrowed the idea.
- Mahesh Landge