It is very easy to be patronizing to a child, wave the occasional experience-card in their face. I see adults do it all the time! There are few people capable of encouraging and respecting the opinions of a twelve year old the way he could. Even ten years later, every time I read something and find myself bubbling with thoughts and ideas, the first person I want to tell is him. He would have loved my blog. I miss him.
Every father’s day I post about my favourite fathers from books. Today I thought I’ll write a little something about mine. My father was a writer. Or, at least, writer was one of the things he was. His writing ventures – in my lifetime – include contributions to books on arthropoda and butterflies, his own health and fitness magazine, monthly travel articles for a Marathi magazine, and I must admit, all my science projects.
One of my fondest memories growing up involves cuddling up in bed as he read out his articles to us, over and over. Editing nightmares ended up as cosy family laughter-sessions in our house. If reviewer-me had to describe his breed of humour today, I would call it slapstick, but endearing. The charm of his writing wasn’t the jokes, but his unerring observations on people, not to mention, the way he played with words. He made me, perhaps more than anything else, love my mother tongue.
I have never met anyone who loved to travel quite as much. When I was little, he used to tell me, his idol was Marco Polo. His favourite word was wanderlust (edit: not serendipity, which he only liked for the story of its origin, as my sister graciously pointed out.) There stood this menacingly messy bookshelf in our living room, with an entire section devoted to travel books. Every Lonely Planet ever written? Little-me thought so. He would sit us down every once in a while with this ginormous world map spread out before us and relate world history, down the ages. He loved reading Charles Darwin. My mother tells me he wanted to travel the Beagle route to Tierra del Fuego. And travel Europe like Subhash Chandra Bose.
He was never a father in the strict-scary-scolds-you sense. He was as much of a kid as me, possibly more than my sister. My friends would testify for this! He believed in freedom. There was no right or wrong thing to read, in his opinion, he had no snobbish ideas of better or worse books. No age bars on reading, every book in my house belonged to all of us – be it the books on medicine or the novels my sister read. And we had none of the no-reading-at-dinner rules, thank God. I remember times when the four of us sat at the dinner table, each nose buried in a different book, in perfect happy harmony.
I don’t know what happened to all his books. There is one still sitting on my bookshelf. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. It smells of old paper, slippery fading memory. I never tire of looking at it, always hesitate to read it, for fear it will not live up to its mysterious pull. Maybe this father’s day I will give in.
One Sunday after a butterfly-watching trip, I remember he found eight-year-old me poring over a tome from his collection, Butterflies of the Indian Region by Wynter-Blyth. How he beamed! I did not share his love for newspapers or crosswords, unlike my sister. But memories of our Harry Potter mania still make me teary – eccentrically long arguments on time turners, theorizing about the next book, movie marathons. And that was what made him so amazing. The enthusiasm with which he joined me in my little, big obsessions.