I have grown up watching Papa be an “honest” Army officer who returned birthday cakes and tore envelopes if he thought they were anything more than “mere gestures”. He is a man who didn’t inherit anything because my grandpa didn’t leave behind anything; he was disowned by my great-grandpa for working for the British government in pre-independence India and believed in spending what he earned. Papa never bought a thing for himself (not even a pair of socks) since the day he got married, the man who planned his first child (I was there on their first wedding anniversary) because he wanted his first-born to be “settled” before he retired… He started at a salary of Rs 800 and yet on my third birthday, my gift was a doll worth Rs 180, a big chunk from his salary. I named her Tuk-Tuk.
Ma tells me I was smitten the moment I laid eyes on the doll. It was a “baby doll” with blue eyes, blonde hair and a pacifier in her mouth. If you pulled out the pacifier, Tuk-Tuk would bawl and if you put it back, she would sigh and gurgle happily. I first saw that doll in the hands of another girl at the airport – on our way to Silchur (Mizoram), where Papa was posted, my first flight – and being a friendly child, had approached the girl with my arms stretched. The girl had clutched her doll to her bosom and refused, I was apparently mildly surprised, looked at the doll and simply walked back to my parents. My mother tells me that as a child I’ve never been demanding and have never thrown a tantrum asking for anything. My father though had not liked it and come my birthday, I had my very own Tuk-Tuk.
He’s done the same umpteen times since. We had a casio in two days after my then-7-year-old brother wanted to bang some keys on a cousin’s casio and the cousin didn’t share… When we went shopping for Durga pujo and he would catch me looking at an outfit and lying that I didn’t like it because I had seen the price tag… When he drove us all around Sikkim in our battered little Maruti 800 despite a chronic lower back issue and a painful knee just because he wanted us to have “classic” holidays and not suffer bus journeys… Dad has never asked anyone for money, never taken a favour, never “split the bill” as long as he had cash in his pocket. I’ve seen him take on seniors when they were wrong, seen him call a spade a fucking spade and threaten to expose officers and I’ve heard junior officers talking about him as someone “who never takes a bribe”. I have also heard Dad question his own ideals because after 32 years in the Army a vindictive senior finally jacked Dad’s chance at a higher rank.
Subconsciously I had imbibed my father’s ideals as a child. Despite my mother taunting him by calling him “Gandhiji”, I was proud of who he was: A self-made man. I was – or have been – exactly the same in my profession. Walked out of an early job because an editor promised to make me a star as long as I became “his pupil”. Resigned on spot from another because the editor questioned my ethics on false allegations (vindicated since then) and have never been shy of saying exactly what I think as long as I BELIEVE I am right… It was a shock when in the summer of 2006, Dad called me out as he paced on the lawn and said, “You are my daughter, you are like me. But I am telling you now I was wrong. It never helps taking on authority, even when you are right. I am not asking you to lick arse, I am just asking you to keep your opinions to yourself. You don’t have to do wrong, but know that you cannot always stop a wrong. Don’t spoil your career like me.”
I didn’t agree with him then, I don’t agree with him now. And we have been at loggerheads since.
Today, my Dad perhaps regrets teaching me the “wrong” things. I CANNOT take monetary help and feel extremely uncomfortable asking for favours; even from Dad, he hates it, I cannot change it. He feels guilty that he could never earn big bucks and has “not done enough” for us. I earn more than Dad has ever earned in life and feel I have not done enough for them. He wants to buy me things, I cannot let him pay for me any longer (not since 19). He thinks I am too arrogant to take things from him and says, “Don’t forget I am still your father”; I reply with “I can look after myself” and can’t explain enough that I would rather Ma-Pa enjoyed their money now. He is heartbroken because he realizes we would never stay in the house he has built; I don’t have the words to tell him that my horizons lie beyond… He spoke of us selling the house once “he is gone”; I was offended and asked to be disowned, I DON’T want any inheritance. He was offended thinking I thought it wasn’t good enough for me.
I don’t know about middle-class parents elsewhere in the world – or even if that class exists elsewhere – but at least in India it seems your life is over the moment you become parents. Everything revolves around your child. You have to constantly keep giving, save up for their future, forget your own interests and constantly promote theirs, think of school and then college and then his/her marriage, then giving things to the grandchild… WHY? Oprah Winfrey celebrated her 50th birthday in style. My mother spent her 50th worrying and wondering if it was her daughter’s destiny to be alone for life. Another friend’s parents went on a China tour and when I suggested a holiday for my parents, Ma responded with, “No, no, right now we want to save for your brother’s education and we’ve not given you anything for so long…” I feel sick and guilty: Did I take their life away? Now when they perhaps need me around, am I running away?
My brother is getting ready to step out of college and embark on a career and a new life. My mother is alone in our hometown, in the house Dad built for his family. She calls everyday or every other day even if it is to ask, “Are you okay?” We both forget at times, at times we are too busy or too tired or have not paid our phone bills on time. My Dad is in another city, depressed and has had two anxiety attacks in the last two days. And one day into my 29th year, I am sitting poised to take off into that horizon that I know has been calling me since I read my first book. Am I wrong?
PS: A reader pointed out that Shobhaa De mentioned me in her column in The Week. She calls me an “attractive blogger” with an “edgy defiance”. Haha, does it matter? Wonder what Dad has to say… Here’s the link.
PS2: FOR THE RECORD: This blog's name was, is and will always be 'Emancipation of Eve'. Shobhaa misunderstood. What I told her -- and am typing it out now -- is that I changed MY name on this blog, NOT the blog's. My monicker when I started out was CLIT CHATTING and the email on the right hand corner STILL reads "Foxy Tanya". Why 'foxy tanya' and not my real name? Firstly, because with a name like clit-chatting most of the comments I was getting were from cocks talking (literally). I wanted to discuss things, they wanted to have sex chats. That's not my thing y'know. Also, 'Jhoomur' isn't exactly a people-friendly name (there, this is the first time I've written my own name on this blog). While even early on most people who read this blog knew it was me writing it, I wasn't ready yet for random strangers to know my identity. Abusive comments irritated me then; now to a large extent I can handle them. Also, while I was very comfortable writing what I was writing back when I started, people were NOT comfortable saying they read someone called Clit Chatting. So I waited for the right time... As more and more people read this blog and grew comfortable with it, 'Clit Chatting' changed to 'Eve* aka JB'. My friends call me JB even off-cyberspace. The blog name remains Eve Emancipation. As for me having the 'guts' to revert to the original name, JB took on the Clit Chatting avatar to grab those eye balls. Now JB still clit chats, just that she is comfortable being herself. With her own name. Please say hello to JB.