A hard nut to crack seems apt for describing him. An enigmatic, unemotional person with no real friends would be an uncharitable elaboration. Yet, he often appears so. It is about my father, who has always been elusive to all my attempts to understand him.
I had grown up in constant confrontation with him and I owe much to him for what I am and what not I am. I think, most shades of my character are of my mother and are diametrically opposite to father’s character. “I married you, just to maintain the equilibrium of the universe,” father used to tell my mother in the beginning years of their marriage. And he is correct in saying so.
I am conversational, foolishly open and unseemly sensitive. But, he is taciturn, mysterious and mostly unaffected. He has a playful funny side, which makes him sometimes very endearing. But, a closer look would reveal that it is his own escapade from the trouble-ridden reality which is his own creation.
One would be surprised to see his artfulness in creating a mess out of nothing. Ever since I began to see him, he has been the most bankrupt man I personally know. There is an easily identifiable pattern in his slump into perennial bankruptcy; a drunk drive into an unwise investment project end up in an inescapable financial hell.
During my internship days, I did a feature on the travails of families under the stranglehold of local moneylenders in the city. I used to joke, “This is my tribute to my bankrupt father”.
After having done all ‘firework’ he will fall into silence, snore at night and idle away his daytime with playing cards, chess, reading papers and a long siesta. On the other had, mom might be suffering from `frying pan-on-the head’ sort of situation.
We were on the brink of a total collapse following the million rupee-loss in his biggest ever misadventure; two years of ginger cultivation in some leased land in Karnataka. My higher secondary days were a bitter battle against attachment procedures, neighbourhood humiliation, heightened family tension and virtual isolation. I remember, mother waking him up in the middle of night and picking up another round of quarrel. “After having spoilt all our sleeps, are you snoring at night?”
Most of the time, I was an anxious lone witness to those wee hour fights all my childhood. (A little cool-headed, my brother often skipped them).
Though, we scraped through the collapse, an unexpected agrarian crisis that gripped our region, affected us deeply. By the time I joined for Masters we were in a very bad shape. But, somehow, I eventually became magnanimous and sympathetic to my father who was constantly defeated by his own games. A two-line note attached to the DD once he sent me when I was in hostel told about the drying up of pepper wines and a difficult time and ended with ‘yours loving father’ which left me in tears.
I became emotional, because this followed a cold phase in our relation. No matter how hard mother pushed me, I found it very difficult to say `bye’ to him every time I leave home after a brief stay. But things changed, we began to talk, walk together and share jokes.
One thing perhaps positive about Father is his humour when he is in good mood. Once during prayers, it somehow slipped into a subtle indictment of his transgressions. Mother prayed, “Lord, we dedicate to you all those who drink alcohols”. Brother prayed, “Lord, we dedicate all those who smoke”. I stepped up and prayed, “Lord, we dedicate to you all those who cause misery to their families”. And then father completed, “Lord, we dedicate to you all those who ridicule us”. We all suddenly burst into laughter.
In childhood he was our playmate. During our occasional good times, we played chess till very late in the night. All three of us, Father, brother and me, were so conscious to be extremely silent for fear of mother’s fury. Though he cared little about our clothing or schooling, he bought us books and magazines.
He gifted me ‘Freedom at Midnight’ when I was in seventh. Most of other rural folks would have thought such acts ‘irrational’ and ‘wasteful’ at that time. He definitely has a role in me becoming a newspaper junky who eventually turned a journo. We discussed politics from my fifth standard and shared a left-of-the center position.
Though those bitter old days are behind us, he often gives us nightmares by an unpredictable shift to that wayward ways. A fortnight earlier, we had to employ all emotional blackmailing tactics to put to rest his latest potentially disastrous project in mind: running a Rs 4-lakh chitfund. And in retrospect, it is not at all nice to have an alcoholic father. Not only the countess slights from the relatives but also the constant fear of an imminent collapse which I passed through make me extremely weary of that idea. I often feel that my worrying habit and proneness to melancholy have their roots in the trouble-torn childhood.
But it does have its positive sides too. I got a proletarian sentiment which drives my journalism (I think) because of those hardships. I am so miserly in spending money since I suffered much from its constrained supply. I am somehow insulated to the wises like drinking and smoking without any deliberate effort. When friends ask me why I don’t drink, I have a ready reply. “My father has finished my quota and the quota for five generations after me. So I am left with no liquor!”
The one who found the greatest virtue in his alcoholic antics is none but father himself. “Since I had this wretched life, my children escaped from all these habits,” he often muses.