It was 4 am, and we were in a room in the NICD guest house at Shamnath Marg in Delhi. My father and I, in a hot and dark, mosquito infested room. It was the summer of 2001. I had just finished my graduation, and was back in Delhi to fulfill my state duty. As a graduate from Bihar (erstwhile, since we were legally residents of Jharkhand by then), I was to appear for the preliminary exams of the Indian Civil Services – the UPSC in popular lingo. It was hot and dark because there was no electricity. And the mosquitoes, well, they just took advantage of the dark. I had two papers to answer next day, starting at nine in the morning. My father had got hold of some coils of mosquito repellent, and he sat all night fanning me – a fully grown adult woman – with a newspaper, just so I could get some sleep.
The next morning, I answered whatever I knew on the question paper (it wasn’t much), put my head down on the desk, and fell asleep. The others in the hall broke into sweat at the sight of this super intelligent aspiring civil servant, judging by the fact that I could sleep during that high profile exam. I came out and told my father that I had dozed off during the exam. He said I did the right thing. That was it. For sixteen years, it had been his dream (and mine) that I would be a civil servant one day. He had prepared far more than I ever did – visiting libraries, leafing through encyclopedias, giving me bundles of printed and highlighted study material every time I was home. That fateful day was the first and last time I gave the exam, and needless to say, I didn’t make it. I joined another course almost immediately – and that changed the course of my career completely. I had quickly given up on our dream of so many years, but he never once admonished me for doing that. He was not happy. But he never let it show. Instead, when a friend of his asked him why I was doing MBA (considered a course for the ´non-intelligent´ people in Bihar then – the intelligent ones went for the State duty), he answered it was my life and I must decide what she wants to do. And that he would celebrate if I did well, and support me if I did not. He did not say it to me – but I heard it nonetheless. And it has stayed with me ever since.
I am sure many fathers would do that for their children. Give them the right balance of freewill and support. I know it has not been easy for my parents. We are four sisters, and where I come from, it is not a very happy situation to be in. As soon as I finished school (and turned eighteen), my parents started getting marriage proposals for me. I didn’t get to know any of this until four years later, when I told them about my boyfriend. My father´s response was classic. ¨We never disturbed you, how could you disturb yourself¨? I was still to complete my post-graduation, and his foremost worry was that I would lose focus. He wanted us to be independent, before anything else. He gave us wings in a quiet manner – giving us the confidence to fly because we knew he was holding our safety net for us and would never let us fall. He was both hands-off, and hands-on, and knew exactly how to balance the two.
I am definite that many children feel so about their parents – that they have got the best set. Yes, we have been lucky – we got the best set of parents we could. As we grow up, our dreams, our aspirations, our needs, US – take precedence. Once we enter the big, bad world, our achievements seem ours alone. We fail to notice the pride they take in our achievements, and we even forget to let them know. I have noticed that my father takes pride in the little things we do in our professional lives – even though they may seem unimportant to us. Now that we are parents, I have some perspective on his pride. The first time I saw my daughter perform on stage, I was all teary eyes and choking throat, tongue tied and flustered with emotion. I guess that’s how he still feels about us, and always will.
When we were younger, mouthing ´I love you´ was not in fashion. It is, now. We do it all the time with our daughter – say it when we mean it. And I now practice the same with my loved ones. So, this Father´s Day, I want to tell my father this. He will always be my best man. The man I will look up to, forever. In everything I do, a big part of my heart and brain is always asking me – will this make him proud. I imagine his smile reaching up to his eyes and merging in with that twinkle. Love you Papa!