Getting to Know My Pappa (Dad)

Posted on June 13, 2014


The family, before I was born, 1979-80.

The family, before I was born, 1979-80.

I never really knew my dad growing up. In a nutshell, we lived with his parents – my mom, sister and I – and he had a job that made him travel 21 days a month, far worse than Sid’s Monday to Thursday stints each week. Living in a “joint family” in a small apartment, there’s not much time for nuclear intimacy. In the 13 years that my mother was well, I remember just one occasion when the four of us – mummy, pappa, didi (older sister) and I went out without my grandparents. The long tours away from home made him somewhat of a stranger to my sister and I. I resented him for a long time for not moving us away from his parents, who, let’s just say weren’t always pleasant to be around. I barely talked to him growing up; all the communication was through my mom.

As my family struggled to deal with my mom’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s, I begin to see a different side of my pappa. As my mother raged and ranted in the middle phases of dementia, I saw my father bathe her and lovingly hum songs to her. He spoke to her in a loving and soothing voice. Now that I have been trained in handling aggressive behaviors of people with dementia, I realize that this is a very good technique. People with dementia don’t respond to words, they respond to the tone and demeanor of the person talking to them (well, in general at least). In the seven years that my mother was alive and deteriorating in her memory, cognition and bodily health, my dad probably lost his patience with her once! To those familiar with dementia and the frustrations that go with it, this is worthy of being presented with a medal! I remember the day my mother died. She died in his arms. For my mother, I know this is how she would have wanted to go. She adored my dad. It is so tragically beautiful and intimate all at once.

I think I got to know my dad only after my grandparents and mom died. It was just him and me in the house. There was no option but to reboot our relationship. My friends began to see the transformation in him much before I did. I remember one of my closest friends at the time remarking that my dad actually laughs. She had never seen him smile before! Now, my dad’s laughter is something I truly enjoy…it’s loud and infectious. Sid and I constantly joke about how pappa laughs and we break into giggles over it.

I was 18 when my mom died. My dad got to see all the crazy parts of me that he had missed before. Parties, boyfriends, bumming around aimlessly and how can I miss, making terrible choices. He has seen me through it all. When I look back at how “bad” I was, I see my dad differently. I don’t see him as a middle-class conservative Brahmin man. I see him as a patient and modern man who waited for me to grow out of this phase. Any other Indian father would have died of a heart attack!

Pappa and I, 2014

Pappa and I, 2014

I remember going for the entrance exam and interview for my master’s at TISS. I took pappa with me. As he walked into the campus, he said to me, “Oh wow! This is amazing. You should study here.” I was like, “Thanks for all the pressure, pops!” I was worried about moving away from home. I knew he would be all alone in that house. I didn’t know how he would manage. But I knew I had to leave. I didn’t want to make the same choices he had. Staying with one’s family and giving up on opportunities, stunting one’s growth – not just career-wise, but even as a person, a citizen of the world!

I clearly remember the day he told me that he wanted to get remarried. He took me out to a nice dinner and told me had met

With Pappa and Meeta, 2012

With Pappa and Meeta, 2011

someone. He told me I knew her. He told me about Meeta, a friend of my parents, whom I had known since childhood. I was genuinely relieved and happy for him. I knew I was free. I would never have to return home for good. (Of course I did for a short while in between, but that’s all.) When I visit home now, I love seeing their good-natured sparring. They celebrated their 10th anniversary this year!

So here’s my top 11 (Buzzfeed style) for pappa:

1. My dad loves veg. manchurian, a Hakka Chinese dish. It can make him drool. And recently, he rediscovered his love for eggs! He had an omelette for breakfast in Chicago in 2012, after a gap of 25 years maybe!

2. He misses his mother’s pickles, chutneys, and other konkani dishes. My sister obliges now and then! He gushes about it for days after that.

Pappa and Didi, Diwali 2013

Pappa and Didi, Diwali 2013

3. My dad used to be our toughest critic. My sister is a singer. I remember he would never openly praise her. He would say she’d become stunted if everyone just praised her. As he grows older, he is always gushing over her songs and my blogs. UGH. I am not used to it. I miss his strictness!

4. My dad is a deeply spiritual man. My childhood memories are of him saying his morning and evening prayers and trying to coax, insist and persuade us to do the same. I used to tell him, “You do it if you want. I’ll do what I want.” Now, I do the same! Prayers are my lifeline and meditation my lifeboat.

5. I owe my beautiful handwriting and stylish signature to my dad! He used to insist that we have neat handwriting. Considering I maintained that my dad didn’t influence me at all, it’s kind of funny that my signature is kind of like his! Think about it, a signature is a symbol for one’s identity. I guess I paid homage to him unconsciously, long before I learned to do it.

6. My dad loves to dress up and absolutely loves colognes/perfumes. His favorite scents are Hugo Boss and Ralph Lauren – Polo.

7. My dad excelled at table-tennis, cricket and carrom. Kinda still does. But now he tries to cheat a bit! Sore loser. Lol.

8. My dad is an AMAZING singer! He is shy and doesn’t sing much these days, but in college he apparently performed to audience-packed shows. My sister’s first performance was alongside my dad when she was just 5 years old! Also, he used to sing Ghulam Ali’s “chupke chupke raat din” to me to put me to sleep. For the longest time, I thought the actual ghazal playing was sung by my dad! haha.

9. The nuns in my school used to gush over how handsome and young my dad looked! Once he came to school to see my sister. One of the nuns came and told her, “Some boy is here to see you!” My sister saw my dad, rolled her eyes and let the nun know who it was! The nun was like, “But he is so young!”

10. My dad doesn’t like to hug, or is an awkward hugger! He shakes my hand like I’m the prime minister or something. It’s strange, but cute! Here is the video…you can see it here:

Pappa with his sons-in-law, 2012

Pappa with his sons-in-law, 2011

11. When you see dad with his sons-in-law, you’d think they’re his sons, and we the daughters-in-law! So much camaraderie! I hate it. Grrr. Kidding aside, I can’t wait for Sid, Nimai and pappa to sit down for a game of carrom! In 1998, just after my sister got engaged, Nimai and his younger brother played carrom against my dad and grand-dad and the oldies massacred them! I can’t wait for it to happen to Sid! He needs to come down a peg or two!

Most of all, for all those who have read my blog over the years, you’ll realize what a landmark post this is! I have written innumerable posts about my mom, but this is the first one for my pappa! Happy Father’s Day, pop-pop!


For my pappa, with love on Father’s Day! We’ve come a long way! I love you! Funny it takes a blog post for me to be able to say it openly 🙂 Don’t cry when you read this…smile, because you know you love it!

Posted in: Relationships