There are three stages in a man’s life. As a young boy, he believes, ‘My dad knows everything.’ Then a time comes when he says, ‘My dad? He knows nothing!’ But inevitably, at some point, he starts telling you, ‘My father used to say ….’
Old proverbs are tiny urns carrying gigantic truths. Had my old man been alive, he would have been hundred this year, and yesterday was his thirty-third death anniversary. I still think of him. In fact, these days, I think of him more often and reflect on the bitter-sweet relationship we shared. Everyone is like Salvador Dali, no one dies entirely when they die. My father is alive in my mind, and in the minds of a few others.
My dad, who always wore khadi and smoked with a religious fervour, didn’t do anything extraordinary in life that would justify telling his story to you. Yet, I write this with a touch of pride because given the odds, the mere fact that he survived was extraordinary.
He had a tough childhood after losing his father at the age of twelve. Moving to Kolkata, he had to pay for college and university education himself. While still a student, he did everything from managing boarding houses to making rubber-stamps to drafting legal documents for businessmen to eke out a living. His boat continued to sail on choppy waters after the Second World War and Partition, which made things even worse. And as he fought a grim battle all his life, he had his moments of joy, but suffered terrible failures and indignities too. For as long as he lived, he lived with financial uncertainties.
But every evening, yes, every evening after supper, he would put his problems aside, retire to his study, and read until two in the morning. He used to read everything that came between two covers, except, fiction. For example, for a brief period, he got seriously interested in paleobotany. And he was always interested in the English language. Long ago when I didn’t know it, somehow, he managed to kindle an interest in English in my mind. If I am making a living by teaching English now, it is because of him. But sometimes I wish that instead, he had kindled in me an interest in making money!
Many a time I heard my baba quote these lines from Thomas Gray:
Full many a gem of purest ray sereneDid he know that he too was an unsung hero?
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.