Saturday, November 14, 2009

Father's Day

Paulo Coelho believes in it. Rhonda Byrne swears by it. Even SRK dishes it out in “Om Shanti Om”.

And yet, I never really felt the need to fine-tune my thoughts into action. I never dreamed an event or an individual into reality.

When the cold war between Dad and me had made my mind foggy and numb with words unsaid, I blinked back my worries on hearing him confess to Mom, “She hates me. I feel it. I know it. She hates me.”

I couldn’t hear what Mom said and certainly didn’t intend to bring it up when I was alone with her later. But just like the sperm that survived and brought me to life, what I overheard sank through my mind and hovered on my eyelashes. I tossed and turned all night on my creaky, wrought-iron bed.
Why would a father not investigate such a thought?
Why would he go to sleep after such a revelation?
What had Mom’s reaction been?
Had Dad been frowning? Scowling? Despondent? Or just trying to suppress his rage? What was the plan?

He did seem calmer nowadays. But somehow, that scared me even more. I feared for his health. No, it wasn’t exactly a sentimental cry of alarm that rose inside and shrieked to get attention. It was more like a dull, thudding certainty. A pain that comes from knowing that you must rip off the Band-Aid from your wound right now.

So the situation stood exposed. Here I was. Depressed. Alone. And longing to run away from home and yet without a clue. Minutes before I heard the first snore from the bedroom, we had all been watching Cameron Poe plot an escape from “Con Air”
and I had secretly been considering it a sign.
A little de-tour here for a much valuable heads-up. I love signs. All shapes and sizes. Any colour, sex, ethnicity or even zodiac. A sign stands for subtlety and wisdom of communication. And I worship all signs.

So here was Mr. Nicholas “Good ole Capricorn” Cage, telling a story of a wrongly convicted U.S. soldier who spends 8 years as a well-behaved jailbird but finds himself in a nice pickle on the day of his acquittal. Oh it goes without saying that he makes it in the end. Doesn’t run when he could have and responds to the call of duty like a true ranger. But he comes home to his little baby girl on the 14th of July, as promised. The date rang a bell. But that sign would have to come back later or just leave a message.

Meanwhile, I was slipping into slumber and words and phrases floated towards me through the dark like little burnt pieces of parchment. Unfinished business. Delhi. Opportunities. The gym and the diet. Free internet. Get your passport. Responsibilities as a daughter. Have fun. Make a choice. Sleep over it. Yeah, I liked the last one.

The next day was cold but bright. It felt like I had woken up inside a nunnery and the Lord wanted me to listen to Him. Did someone just break into a hymn somewhere? Nah.. just too many commercials. Especially the new one – “Saint Juice” or something – honestly! I switched on the TV. The signs kept pouring in.
Next up - A movie called
“Picture This” where a desperate Ashley Tisdale
must lie to and phone-punk her Dad on her way to a party at the modern day “Camelot”. And why not? It isn’t everyday that you get to try your luck with the “most handsome guy in high school” and hope to make out in his “tower”. So when you’ve lied to Dad about being at Alexa’s for “tomorrow’s Science test” and he promises to call after every half-hour, you’re gonna need to improvise. Bottomline – it’s dad vs. you. Some really cool ideas. Some really helpful gadgets. But no, she had to go and be Miss Goody Two Shoes in the end and be worth Daddy’s trust. Aww crap!

I went and took a shower. Shivered. Cursed. Muttered. Nearly scalded my skin. And then finally hummed in incandescent bliss immersed in the perfect confluence of hot and cold.

Mom was home. I nibbled on some fruits before she could say “lunch” and tuned into my third exposure of fatherhood for the day.
Geoffrey Rush in “Shine”.

David Helfgott
, the young gifted pianist with the tyrannical Father who thought his son’s admission into London’s Royal College of Music would destroy the family. He hit him. Walloped him with total abandon. And terrorised the poor chap with his incantations “Nobody will ever love you as much as I do. Never trust anybody.” David’s rise and fall and gradual adjustment into society post his spell in the Glendale Psychiatric Ward were moving and indeed deserved the Academic Award that Geoffrey Rush received for the role – the first Australian-born actor to do so. And yet, it was not quite about him today. I sought more of his Dad. Herr Peter Helfgott. How strange that he too should utter and with just as much confidence as my Father, “Nobody will ever love you as much as I do”.

Does a father mean every word of it? Or does he merely fear the child’s journey away from him? Is a father full of insecurities and tries so hard to make himself a part of the child’s conscious environment? Or is it simply as Herr Peter put it, “This is my son”. We all want our creation to be praised, applauded and guided into the hands that we trust. How do they manage to mess this noble emotion up and antagonize their child? Are all fathers alike?

My queries wouldn’t end. But luckily, nor would the day without a trip to the Habitat Centre Film Club to catch Charles Dickens’
“A Tale of Two Cities”.
Mom and I made it just in time.

It began with a father, suddenly discovered by his daughter and ended, well, not very differently. The French Revolution. The storming of Bastille. (14th July!!! That’s the day Bastille broke open. That’s why it had seemed familiar.) Death to the Aristocrats. And the hapless family of Dr. Manette. Having once been a victim of the Marquis de Evremonde, he finds no fault in the latter’s nephew, Charles Darnay. Darnay and the Doctor’s daughter, Lucy, fall in love and eventually get married and produce an Evremonde heiress (Young Lucy). But soon, Darnay is framed and arrested. Sentenced to death for being an Evremonde heir. And this is where the father-figure is born. Sydney Carton, the repressed anti-hero, the drunk barrister, the forefather of the likes of our dear
Professor Severus Snape
. But much, much milder of course. To turn his unrequited love for Lucy into a promise fulfilled. A far, far greater end that he goes to than he could ever have imagined. A far, far greater death. Carton is sardonic, pragmatic and a closet romantic. A wicked sense of humour, able to melt the frostiest of exteriors. An opportunist even in death, he looks forward to being the one that Lucy would be grateful to and remember all her life. And, as Lucy puts it, “Young Lucy’s favourite”. It was disturbing, inspiring, and too ambitious a story for someone like me who prefers being alive. But I loved Sydney Carton. It bothered me that society has to be about your mannerisms and that you might not gain much when you’re in love. It bothered me that Carton kept quiet and didn’t tell Lucy a word. Literally, the characters seemed to be following the book.

Dad came to pick me up around 9 pm. Something must have given me away. He asked me why I was so quiet. Mom talked about Sydney Carton. I denied it and shrugged it off. The drive back home is always uneventful.

Back at home, I watched
The Pink Panther. No fathers in the movie. Just someone I had always known as the “Father of the Bride” - Steve Martin
. Hurt, depressed, anxious and crazy jealous of the guy that his little girl is engaged to. The guy who felt he wasn’t getting acknowledged. The guy who felt like a “discarded shoe” and second to the new man in his daughter’s life. I watched The Pink Panther with Dad. We laughed together. Looked at each other. Connected.

Suddenly, my mind was clearing up. I was sorting the scraps of modern fairy tales and timeless classics. Spotting swatches of Allen Solly and Khadi. The strand around which the day spun like a silvery cobweb. It was a day of heroic fathers, misunderstood and dependable, suspicious, stubborn, loving and forgiving, proud and headstrong, reluctant and resilient, possessive or just in for a good time.

And so here’s the deal – I am staying put and refusing to run away. I smile at him and he smiles back. He is just an older reflection of myself.

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