Artist: Ty Agha
It is not a day of celebration for me, but a day to ask questions, to deeply reflect on your role in my life. Am I because of or despite your presence in my life? Could we have had a different kind of relationship?
I want to start with remembering all that was good: the fact that you made it possible with your limited means for me and my sibling to get good education; the fact that you did not treat me any less than you treated your son; the fact that with all your caste, class, male privilege, you aspired to provide the best for what was a dysfunctional family in so many ways. You forced us to read, develop a taste for good music; you sang on some gloomy days. You were not obsessing over engineering or medicine, like most fathers your age. You were happy to let me do my own thing, be my own person, go out of town for higher education.
I was closest to you as the first-born. I understood your own failed aspirations, your social context that made you who you were. I understood so much about you: even my acquired taste in music, films and literature I inherited from you. You never forgot that I liked over ripe guavas or crisp samosas that you brought from your office canteen. You were an exemplary colleague at work, widely respected and hard working. Your professional generosity, honesty and integrity are part of many stories people tell in our part of the world. You were organised and meticulous as ‘to do’ lists were common in our household. You eventually let me choose my own career path and life partner and never imposed any political or religious ideology at home. I heard from others that the birth of a daughter did not upset you at all, given your social context. There was so much to admire, love, respect and feel gratitude for.
And yet, today I feel an intense sense of sadness, some shame and a deep sense of loss. We are estranged and in this day of quick communication, we choose to not exchange words or cross each other’s path. I cannot celebrate you, father, for the violence you inflicted (emotional and physical). You did not want unconditional love; you wanted gratitude and servitude always. In exchange for the life you gave us, you always expected reverence and control. You treated my mother like a doormat, the woman who has served you faithfully for more than 4 decades now. You bellowed around in the house if it suited you. Your silence was more devastating than your yelling as my sibling and I lived through the terror of our everyday lives.
I remember wishing I had school on Sundays to escape your wrath. You spared the girl but beat the boy as if to reclaim your masculinity in a house, which had two strong, assertive women. You never took us out for a movie, or for a meal outside and I don’t recall a single meal at home together; never one kind word spoken. I recall how you wanted to be served first and should anything go wrong, all hell broke loose. I thought it was ‘normal’ till I saw other fathers and realised it was your ‘normal’ not everyone’s. Thankfully, that’s when I started to question everything that was ‘normal’. You were so kind to my friends that they thought the world of you, and yet you terrorised us always at home. You wanted control, not freedom by providing us education. Freedom you always feared. In that garb of being a disciplinarian you were a horror that we lived through every day of our lives. We lied to keep you happy; we feared days you did not have to go to work. My mother and I trembled with fear if we were late in the markets because you locked us out so many times. You made us plead, beg and stripped us of every dignity we were entitled to. The irony is that you thought you were doing us a favour always. We bore the brunt of your failed dreams, expectations and everything that you wanted for yourself.
You were only interested in your unquestioned and absolute power as the family patriarch. You walked a few steps forward given the context of your own life and its harsh realities, but you walked several steps backwards because you feared complete freedom. I am not sure who has won the battle, father, for the more I was drawn to freedom and to speaking up against your injustices, the more resentful and patriarchal you became. My ‘freedom’ has not set me free from my own past; your resentment and loss of control have enchained you to a regressive patriarchy. We are both prisoners, father.
We started on a common ground, and you gave me some of the tools to fight. Isn’t it sad, that I have to use those tools to fight you today? You have grown older but not wiser. You are a shadow of yourself. What remain between us are only unspoken words and silences. You once dreamt of strong independent women in your home, you were particularly proud that I could give anything a good fight. You are now frightened of my independence, my capabilities to respond to your bullying. Fear breeds more violence and that is what we have left between us.
I understand your violence now and I am prepared to fight it better. One can’t have everything in life so there’s still another consolation. When we were children, in your rare good moments you would say, you wanted to bring up your offspring as good citizens. I hope you think that I am doing my good citizen’s duty, by resisting your violence.
May you be blessed with good health and find that inner peace and happiness that has eluded you and made you the person you are. When you make peace with yourself, we can perhaps talk someday…over some good scotch, why our lives were meant to be one of so many lost opportunities.