I had a small telly, the best I could afford with my Navy pay. I didn’t have a car since I couldn’t afford it. My wife and I used to call our Yezdi 250 cc a donkey since the mobike could carry everything for us including gas cylinders that we used to carry on it from Navy Nagar in Colaba to Worli where, after I got married, the Navy had given me a one room house. It was a large room though. We put a double bed on one side of the room, had a kitchen slab on the other side with a dining table right in front of it. We became very fond of walks along Worli Sea Face since it used to cost nothing. At the end of the walk we used to sit at the breakwater and reward ourselves with two rupees of singdana (peanuts).
You must be wondering where do ‘big‘ and ‘rich‘ get into the description of me? Well, let me explain ‘big’ first. Immediately after marriage, until several years after that, my wife used to think I was the greatest man she had come across. And then, when the fact of my not being as big and as invincible as she had imagined started to sink in, our two sons were born. I was an instant hero with them until their teens. As an example, the telly was hardly ever switched on; my sons used to think that nothing could be more interesting than what they called Papa TV. After dinner, it was race with them to the bed or the carpet where I used to perch them on my tummy and tell them stories; the most serialised and longest one was the story of the animals in a jungle with such names as Georgie Porgie Lion, Richard Snake, Elizabeth Cow, Charlie Elephant, and Martin crow. They would be breathless to know what happened next when Georgie Porgie took all the animals for a picnic by the Jungle Train. Papa TV had everything: songs, poems, jokes and even commercial breaks when they’d run up to their mom and have milk and come back.
|Arjun & Arun enjoying Papa TV (the actual TV lies switched off)|
Interestingly, they were fascinated by everything that I did or said and indeed some of my expressions are still prevalent in the family; for example, whenever I made a proposal, say, about a picnic or to have Kulfi at Punjabi Kulfi at Chowpatty, I’d ask them, “Yes? No? Maybe?” or after explaining something I’d look at their faces and ask, “Not understood?” Recently, Arun, our younger son explained something about what he does at his Animation job and ended up asking me, “Not understood?”
I was their best toy. With whatever money I had, I had got them the best of toys but they were quiet content playing with me.
|Their ‘best toy’|
Also, both the children’s future passions were nurtured in the childhood. Arjun, our elder son, has emerged as one of the leading critics of pop music in India. Below is a picture of Arjun listening to the first of the songs that he would have understood the tune of. It was on my Sony two-in-one that I got in 1975 on my first foreign cruise as a navy officer.
Arun (the younger son), on the other
|Arjun’s first exposure to music|
hand, became adept at a Commodore 64 computer and I got him a few ‘video games’ to play on it. He had to put a magnetic cassette in a corder attached to the computer and type out ‘Load’ on the computer and then type out ‘Play’ and then race those speeding cars with the pointer keys on the keyboard. This he did when he was all of three years old. So, even before he learnt ‘A for Apple, B for Bat’, he learnt ‘L for Load and P for Play’ on the com. Arun, later, became the video-gaming champ in India for seven years and went abroad each time to take part in video gaming competitions. Arun, therefore, wants to design his own games and is presently a qualified Animator.
The best education that my wife and I gave them was to be good human beings and gentlemanly at all times. To be able to look themselves in the eye, at all times; to speak the truth even when it hurt them; to be bold and courageous even when the majority did wrong; and to know right from wrong. What about religion? My wife is a Catholic and I am a Sikh. We never forced the children to strictly follow any or both the religions. They are free to choose on their own. Arjun, therefore, believes in God without following any particular religion. Arun doesn’t believe in God. Both of them, however, agree with me that organised religion is beginning to do more harm to our society and that religion should become more personal and private. It is better to be good and “irreligious” than to be “religious” but evil.
We never encouraged them to babble so as to look cute. Both could, therefore, express themselves well and freely. Also, both did not have to agree to our point of view. I have enumerated several incidents in this blog when I could learn things from them. For example, on one occasion we, as a family, went by our Maruti 800 (we could get a car in 1988; thank God for that) for a picnic at one of the beaches in Vizag. In my enthusiasm I had driven the car close to the beach on the sand. Being on the East coast, the sunset was fairly early and we later realised that dark was setting in fast. The only difficulty was that as I started to race forward, the right side rear wheel made a burrow in the sand, started digging deeper and panic set in with me since it was as a remote part of the beach with nobody around. The more I tried, the worse it became. Arun, in the meantime, kept telling me, “Try the jack, dad.” How idiotic, I kept thinking. This boy of seven had no idea, I thought, that a jack was to be used on a static car and not whilst moving or trying to move. However, finally, after trying various things, I tried the jack for the right wheel. As the car lunged forward with the force of the left wheel, the right too came out of the burrow. The jack of course fell but now the car was out. We collected the jack and drove back without getting into any more panic.
|All kids want to step into their dad’s shoes|
There were two big surprises for us: one, when Arjun appeared for his CBSE exam (12th std). Because of my frequent transfers, I thought he had not been able to study much and hence, when the results came; we sat around the computer to check these. I said a silent prayer to ensure he’d pass. Just before his mark-sheet flashed on the screen, I asked him what was his expectation? He said he expected to be amongst the top rankers. I made a mental note of his misplaced expectation and thought I must speak to him about it later sometime. But, lo and behold, Arjun with nearly 93 percent marks had stood first in all Naval Public Schools in India.
Arun too gave us a pleasant surprise. The first one was that he could order his computer accessories and parts on the computer at the age of ten. Only when the courier would come to deliver a part at home we’d realise that Arun had ordered it from thousands of miles away. Then one day he asked our permission to take part in a video gaming competition. We allowed him “as an encouragement” but never knew he’d win and would continue winning for the next seven years.
to make their lives the way they felt the lives should turn out to be. In the end, a diminished dad is not a question of parental ego being hurt. It is a recognition of the fact that life is unique and precious and parents ain’t God who should, at all times control the lives of their children and mould these to produce clones of themselves. My mother still says, “Bachche tanh kaka bachche hi hunde ne.” (Son, children will always be children). True, mom, but they have every right to live their own lives and not their parents’ lives. A diminished father or diminished parents is not such a bad thing after all.
In so many different ways, they’d always be children. But, why should I impose my point of view all the times? I don’t want them to step in my shoes. I want them to make their unique lives independent of me, whatever they choose. One of my friends, when I told him that Arjun has got into music and Arun into animation, told me about the courage that I had in allowing my sons to follow their passions, even when they ain’t earning tons of money, which they would have if they had followed traditional fields.
That brings me to the question of money. At one time, in my childhood, I was very rich indeed. I owned ships, skies, clouds, stars. Here is one of my ships:
My father too was rich when he earned all of Rupees 150 when I was small. His father once gave him advice, “Mani (my dad’s name) I pray to God that you’d spend a lot of money.” Dad, at that time thought of it as an idiotic advice since money would grow multifold if one’d save it rather than spend it. Many years later, he learnt the truth. Of course, you can’t foolishly spend money. Dad never scrounged and somehow had enough. He passed on this richness to me and I, in turn, passed on this God given richness to my children.
Life is a dream, they say. But, I ask you, how many people have the courage to live that dream and…..allow their children to live their own?
Being diminished, as I said, is not a bad thing at all.
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