Reflections on a relationship
The shelf above my dressing table is home to a picture of Lord Balaji from a 2012 calendar, a small plastic Krishna, a miniature bronze Lakshmi and a framed portrait of my father. Each morning after a shower, I would stop in front of this shrine and close my eyes for a few moments. Some years back, I would mentally voice my hopes for the day - 'do well in the upcoming exam', 'help me kick this cough', or 'let that girl like me a little!'. Nowadays, I hardly have the time to call out His name a few times. This morning, as I was beginning this 10 second tryst with my faith, I noticed a smudge on my father's picture. I picked it up, wiped away the dirt and found myself gazing at the man. Ever since I can remember, people have told me that I look like him. I rarely agreed then. And yet, each year as my face hardens into age, I see more of my father in the mirror. I know that in twenty years, I will be just like the image in this frame. Hopefully, a bit thinner.
As I stared into my past and my likely future, I was struck by my complete impassivity. I was objectively dissecting each part of his face - his (my) big nose, his large eyes, full, meaty lips, improperly parted hair - with an absolute lack of emotion. It almost felt like picking a lock, I was searching for the right combination to unlock his personality.
Losing my father had been the biggest event of my childhood. 12th December 2002 was the epoch at which life as I knew it ended. I can remember almost nothing before that day. It feels like the first 12 years of my life had been squished against the insurmountable rock of that day, leaving behind an indecipherable paste of colors and sound. Occasionally an image would emerge, quickly to be lost again in the puddle. How does one post-process an event that is so unfair that it borders on absurdity? Death is painted with a hue of significance in literature and cinema. The righteous demise of the villain. The heroic sacrifice of a martyr. Death is shown to impart meaning to a meaningless life and vitality to a passive one. In my personal experience, death is the exact opposite. It deprives life of meaning and leaves behind an odor of indifference. I once had a father and now I don't. I have now lived 12 years of my life with a father and 12 years without. I cannot honestly tell which was better.
A small part of me wonders how would I be today if I had had 24 father-y years. Would I have made better decisions in life? Would I be less emotionally stunted in my dealings? Would I be more appreciative of life and my faith? Would I be a better man? My father lived before the digital age. I don't have a single digital picture of him and apart from a poor quality VCR tape back in India, no video. I have nothing but the images in my mind to remember him, a notoriously inept medium to store something so significant. At the same time, thankfully, I have no material to retrofit a wondrous relationship with my father where there was none to begin with. He existed before my mind had grown into its sense of time and place. He was a vast object in my tiny world and one day he left and so did I. I live in a different world now, where I have a wonderful family with two nephews. My father never got to make a mark in this world. I like to think that I have grown up to be a son he would have been proud of. Although, I am still figuring out whether I am growing into a man that I will be proud of.