My father often calls me Maa. When I asked him about it, he told me, “you’ve taught me a lot about life”; almost like a mother, equal to a mother. Apparently, my dad was overjoyed when the doctor told him he is having a girl. He went back twice to ask the doctor if he was sure if it was a girl. The first thing the doctor did after I was born was raise me up high and said “Papa ki pari (dad’s angel)”.
Yet, it took me 18 years to stop feeling ashamed of telling people that he was an alcoholic. An addict. I was embarrassed of something about him that he couldn’t help.
The most difficult task for me is to describe my relationship with my father. Yet here I am, writing about me and him. I wonder why it’s such a hard task, and I know that’s because our relationship is complicated.
Like most other father-daughter relationships, ours does start and end with love. However, when I dislike him for who he was, he understands. He knows I have every right to tell him he stole my childhood as neighbours peeked from behind curtains to watch my dad come stumbling home; slurring, red-eyed and cross-gaited.
I know, if there’s one thing in the entire world my dad is attached to, it is me and my mom. But does love help when there are no coins left in handbags? When we begged the security guards for money? And when Maa had to ask other mothers to show some mercy for her child?
Yes, I think love does help. It is the single emotion I would thank, for as a family we are still together.
It is quite strange how I have experienced the lows and highs of life. I have seen the months my father sat at home with no job at hand, while Maa tirelessly saved up for one biscuit packet. And I have seen the years when he made loads of money for me to celebrate all my birthdays, go to the best private schools, learn the piano, and go to plays. I have also seen him on the bed in the ICU fighting for his life, Maa helplessly at his side, calling to him. And I have seen him recover, leading to a journey of being clean of alcohol.
It is difficult to explain how he’s one of the people I respect the most, after Maa. And at the same time, if I had to take inspiration to not follow someone’s path, it would be his.
I have glimpses of life I wish I hadn’t. I remember having emotions I wish hadn’t come to me so early. Like being five or six and sitting outside the bathroom door, listening to Maa cry, hoping she doesn’t do anything stupid. Are children at that age supposed to know of self-harm? Did I know? Maybe I understood it was an option people had in bad times.
But, having said all of this, if I was given a chance to experience childhood in any other way, I would not. Because my parents taught me that even if it is you against the world, it is not important that you win. It is just enough that you survive.
Friendships and relationships in family have gone sour, and some people still see us through the prejudiced glass. I look at my parents, and when I do think of them, all I see is hope and love. Maybe that is what keeps us going.
I know this was supposed to be about me and my father, but Maa still bled into it. How can she not? It is her who has kept all of us going. We have become a family, after all we’ve been through as one, where we don’t mind any of the world’s business (savings, safe profession, a marriage with someone ‘respectable’, clothes which don’t corrupt, hair, body, tattoos, sexuality; you name it) as long as it makes us happy. We’ve separated ourselves from that because we’ve seen that riches and respect don’t always lead to a happy life. I am forever thankful to have lived my childhood the way I have. I am thankful for my father.
For me, Maa and Bapa, life is like entering a circus through a heavy patterned cloth with path lights: the visibility is only till your next step. Of course, you see the blinding light at the end of the tunnel, peeking through the folds. But you’re not there yet. Enjoy the caramel scents, fragrance of cotton candy, the music of the carousel and chatters of the crowd for it is not silent yet, although it will be at any moment, it is lively now. I am not there yet.
Sadhvi Dash is an undergraduate student at Ashoka University, studying English Literature & Creative Writing along with Philosophy.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty