As a child, I would try to make my father yield to my tantrums. I was sure that one day he would fail me and realise that he was not the perfect father that he thought himself to be.
So, on my seventh birthday, I demanded a ‘lekha (written) cricket bat’. During my childhood days, there were two kinds of bats: one was the economy class that was made out of unpolished wood with no stickers. We would ‘write’ BDM or MRF on them with crayons or chalk and occasionally paste stickers of Minu Sarees, which we managed to procure from our mothers. The other was the business class: bats which were finished with stickers like BDM, FOUR SQUARE, MRF, KINGFISHER pasted (thus written) on their smooth surfaces.
I already had the economy class and was now demanding a promotion to the business class.
Back then, for my father, such a bat was a luxury. He had recently quit his job as a salesman and was trying to set up his own business. Initially, he relied on his skills and painted my ‘economy class’ bat cautiously to give it a business class look. Yet, the moral patriarch in him must have been unhappy at the deceit. On Christmas eve, he urged me to ask for a ‘lekha’ bat from Santa Claus, that bountiful ‘Father Christmas’ who never failed his loving children.
The next morning, I woke up to find a brand new genuine BDM willow placed under my arm pillow. Unaware of the man behind the mask, I had happily recognised the bat as a relic of my father’s failure.
My father rarely read a book or watched a movie. Only the morning newspaper interested him. Yet, his dinner table stories were often exciting and amused the family far more than my caricatured gossip of school friends and teachers. I would notice how Maa was more eager to laugh at his observations and jokes than mine. Silently absorbing the elementary pangs of Oedipus complex, I resolved that one day I would become the better storyteller and steal the show.
As I started studying Humanities, I realised that I could now celebrate my victory over my father. After all, he had studied commerce, and that too at a local college that was no match to my English Literature studies at prestigious institutes like RKM Narendrapur or Jadavpur University. Never mind the fact that he had laboured tirelessly to make me learn Karna Kunti Sambad when I was in Class 9 or had bought me innumerable books with his little earning! I was happy to ignore my perpetual indebtedness to him under the pretext that my intelligence and ‘merit’ was the primary base and his labours were mere supplementary superstructures. Like an amateur and flawed sociologist, I was happy to realise a distinction between the two.
Hence, during vacations, family dinner-time was now occupied with my stories. I would speak endlessly of my radical professors who said that to be a Marxist it was mandatory, and often ethical, to refute the father. I would talk about my feminist friends who believed that the internalised patriarchy could only be dismantled if one scathingly rejects the law of the father. I cannot deny now that at the dinner table, I resembled a Frantz Fanon character who behaves like a “newcomer” at home after returning from France, and over-consciously performs his ‘change’.
Amidst all this, my intentions were clear – I had to marginalise the patriarch, my father, who was an embodiment of middle-class sensibilities.
Father heard my stories silently. In his silence was my victory. He would occasionally try to contradict me by stressing over how modernity, which is based on misguided beliefs, might not work in the long run. I would immediately interrupt him by saying, “What you say is patriarchal and far from my liberal consciousness.”
And then he would not continue his argument any further for his son was now, after all, a research scholar!
I was happy to find in my father symptoms of non-modernity. Even the slightest shades of casteism, patriarchy and fundamentalism in his behaviour would make me happy. I would pat myself on the back thinking that I had finally outdone and outgrown him. However, when my ‘progressive’ colleagues pointed out the same traits in me, I was prompt to argue that they were inherited genotypes which I was trying hard to shed off. I tried my best to pose as the ‘learned liberal’ with a ‘free’ consciousness before my girlfriend, who doesn’t belong to the upper-caste community. I assured her that I would sternly defy my father in case that impeded our marriage.
On a September night, after dinner, I nervously walked into my father’s study. He was busy calculating his profits of the day. My little boat of love was now sailing through a storm-tossed sea and unless something was done immediately, it was doomed to sink. I was sure that the patriarch would not accept. I had already contemplated alternatives: tuitions, salesmanship, call centres… Each seemed as prospective as a career than the other.
I cleared my dry throat and began. “Baba…there is something I have to tell you.”
Rather indifferently, with his eyes still set on his papers, he said, “About love, I presume…”
I could hear my heartbeat.
In an even more carefree manner, he continued, “I have no objections. Just make sure you finish your PhD. In case you are in a hurry to get married and your unemployed status is the sole hindrance, you can be my business partner. Always remember that your employment status can (and should) never cause any hindrance to your love life. It is possibly unwise to think otherwise, and non-modern too.”
And then, with a smile on his face, he said, “Fathers know everything. They just don’t want you to know that they know.”
My father has always been my greatest adversary.
Note: The author is sincerely indebted to Dr. Madhuparna Mitra Guha for her unfatigued enthusiasm in reading the piece and suggesting alterations.
Rupayan Mukherjee is a Research Scholar at the Department of English, University of North Bengal.