Sunday, November 08, 2009

Remembering father

Subroto Bagchi’s speech at IIM Bangalore reminded me of my father and how all his life he lived by his principles. He was short-tempered and would flare up in an instant if things were not to his liking. But most of his anger possibly blew up during his younger days; I was a late child and by the time I had grown up he had mellowed down considerably.

Father used to smoke cigarettes, bought them in tins I have heard my mother say, but I never ever saw him smoking. So, he must have quit the habit before I was born or immediately thereafter. One of the things he held dear was truthfulness. He was sometimes too straightforward; opening up and saying things he needn’t really let people know. A stickler for time and punctuality, he would never keep anybody waiting. He was a man of few wants – I never saw him wearing a tie although there are pictures of him in a suit, complete with tie and all. He would wear white crisp shirts to office, and dark trousers.

Every working day, father would catch the tram from Park Circus where we stayed to Dalhousie Square, later known as BBD Bagh, where his office was. Perhaps office provided him lunch, for I have never seen him carry food or water. His was the typical office-goer’s mechanical routine – leave at 7.30am, catch the tram from the depot close by and return by 6.30pm or latest 7pm. The days he didn’t come by 6.45pm or so, we’d begin to get worried, at least in the later part of his career, because he had suffered a heart attack early and was quite never the same person again. He lost his bravado and confidence and seemed to expect another attack all the time.

Nights would get worrisome whenever a chest pain came along, which was often. Father would then put a tablet (Sorbitrate) beneath his tongue and sit up if the pain was too uncomfortable. Gradually, the pain would subside and he would go back to sleep. And until that happened, mother and I would keep an eye on him. Sister, too.

Despite all that, those were the good old days you can talk about all the time. Relatives, friends and neighbours used to come in almost every day; on weekends there would be card games either at home or in a relative or friend’s home. Father and the others took the games very seriously. It was almost a regimen. Every Saturday or Sunday he’d be ready to go out for a card game, or the guests would come over. The card-playing Malayalee crowd hardly exists in Calcutta now, not that I have heard of. All that was a thing of the past – of the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, many Malayalees had left Calcutta; some of them to Madras and other cities. We also eventually left in 1983, and the sheer mention of it pains me no end. Calcutta was a romance of a different kind. And a lot of those memories are of father and the way he looked after all of us.

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