Daughter Diaries

“The father of a daughter is nothing but a high class hostage”

Moments

‘There is a boy in my class Appa’, she said. The other night. After we had switched off lights and indulged in some conversation.  It was one of those moments. The mild twirl of the fan and the myriad ways it was distorting the otherwise plain ceiling was our only witness. Her words twisted me awake. I waited for more.

“You know appa, he knows everything. He knows where Alleppey is. He knows all answers to questions even before the teacher completes the questions. I don’t know how he does it Appa”.

I was more awake than awake. She was in a talkative mode. “So what kannamma? So what if he knows everything?”

I had walked away from such inane competition everytime it tried to ensnare me. There was always someone who knew more, scored more marks, drove a better car, lived in a better house and heck, had more visitors on his blog. Endless conversations with wise men and women and a perpetual pipeline of books that aided reflection got my boat moored on other shores. Not to mention the relentless presence of overachievers in every domain I decided to experiment. And I reminded myself that it was not as though I was out of it completely!

The fan’s effortless twirl brought alive memories of the meandering ways of life.

“You know Appa, I really don’t know how he knows everything. I thought Only YOU know EVERYTHING Appa”.

Ah! I thought.

I mean, if there was a conversation that I ever wanted to freeze frame, this would be it. The realisation that one young chap was already altering the notions of my prowess in her head, welcomed me to reality. “I don’t know everything Kannamma”, I told her. There are lots of things that I don’t know. Like I don’t know how Samar knows everything.”

She giggled and then broke into a laugh. The fan continued its slow swirl and that was the only sound that punctuated the night. I thought sleep has enveloped her whilst I was my awake self.

Time’s swirl staggers memory and it becomes like distant planets that need a telescope to view. It is fascinating that a quiet comment or a simple nudge can do the job of a well-made telescope. For an odd comment can propel you to reflect and help you see the universe in full, long after you have traversed the orbits of distant planets.

I wondered what races I ran in my mind? And who all I raced with? But before a thought train could take me any further, her hand tugged at mine. She hadn’t slept yet. I realised.

In a chirpy a voice that has never stopped me from bringing a spring to my step, she said, “You know Appa, Samar always says, he knows everything. You say you don’t know everything. I think you are telling the truth.” After a pause, she added, “That is good Appa”.

I am still in the race, I told myself. Even whilst wondering why is she so much in love with the truth and such stuff that the modern world has a lesser fondness for.

It was then that it hit me.  That I was racing a young chap called Samar in my mind! Against the backdrop of an even more transient trophy: my daughter’s attention. I let go of a silent laugh.

She was asleep in a bit. I woke up for a glass of water and couldn’t help switching on the night light to see her. She was fast asleep. Perhaps lulled by the peace that she had applied the balm as well. I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know.

The moment and the night to be thankful for was enough. The fan swirled my smile forward. We slept holding each other’s hands.

Clouded Views

Drives across the vast freeways of the USA can get you present to ‘size’ in a special way. The cars are large. The roads are wide. The billboards are wider. And if you stop for a bite, the portions can serve you for a lifetime. Or two.

But there is another reason that I like them for: the view of the sky. The Sun stays up and shiny till 8.30 PM. The blue shades of dusk that stretches beyond, like a reluctant goodbye of a loved one at an airport. When you drive into the setting Sun, you get an inviting view of the clouds. It is magical.

On one such trip, the little miss shouted out, “Snow White” pointing to an array of clouds. I looked in her array of clouds and found no “snow white’. At best, it looked like some full grown cauliflower.  I said, “I don’t see any Snow White“.

At first, she withdrew in silence and then, said, “Don’t be silly Appa”. Can you see the head there? And the body and the legs. She is bending over searching for something. I can also see her scarf. Can you not see?”

I looked harder and deeper. A head emerged and I could imagine that it belonged to Snow White. I could not see her bending or the legs or the body. Or the scarf for that matter. “I can see the head”, I said. In all honesty.

“If you can see the head, you can see more Appa. Try”. She said.

The wind was playing a cruel trick and before I could see any further the clouds were rearranging themselves. Snow White was gone even before I could place her fully.

In a bit, there was a new cloud array. A quick dash question came my way. “What do YOU see now, Appa?” It became a super game and kept chipping away from the familiarity induced boredom that the vast roads bring along.

Intermittent to her questions and my answers, I kept thinking of how sure she was about what she saw. And how I just couldn’t see what she saw without some prodding and help from her.

It reminded me of what I needed to do more of.  Perhaps what the world needs to do more of as well.  To try and see what others see even if at first, we cannot do so. To help others see what we see, even when they refuse to do so. That is building perspective! And to understand the clouds will move with the winds and the wind will keep a relentless pace.

Long after it was all over and as I was tucking her in at night, she asked what the clouds were doing just then. “They must be playing their games”.

“Will they be good Appa?”

“I don’t know. But we soon will know”

“Why Appa?”, she asked. With an inquisitive arch of the brow.

“Because”, I said, “it soon will be dawn”.

 

 

Picking on memory

Books have a way of growing on you. Sometimes when you read an old book again, you see new things. It is but obvious that the book is the same but you are new. Some books evoke memories like most others don’t far they embed themselves deep into the mind. Here is one: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I remember them from school. My school life resurfaces every time I chance upon someone with a name Tom or with a chance reference to anything remotely connected to the fascinating novel. A white fence is one of them.

The incident about the white fence goes something like this. Tom skips school and is meted out a punishment: paint a fence white. He goes about enlisting a bunch of friends to partake some of their prized possessions to be allowed the privilege of the fence. It is a fascinating read and over the years ‘Paint Fence White’ has stood in for several things as I moved roles, managers and teams:).

What is exciting to one is a chore to another. With skill and some luck, you can make what is exciting look like a chore. And with some imagination and a sense of play, it can indeed be so!

We went Strawberry picking in somewhere close to the Bay Area. The little miss had a giant whale of a time. Yes.
Giant. Whale. Of. A. Time.

The set up is simple.
You drive to the farm.
You pick boxes.
You pick the produce.
You put the produce in the box.
You bring it back. ( You eat a few as well)
You weigh the produce.
You do the math of how much you need to pay.
You swipe your card.
You pack your stuff.
You leave in joy.
And then, when you come home, you ask for more.

I mean, isn’t this awesome.

Sure, strawberry picking is not something that you do daily and it is one of those things that you do once in a while. To seek different experiences and tell stories to ourselves ( and to the world) about those experiences make our lives. Or so I think.

And as the Pacific Ocean’s blustery moods rearranged the clouds above us in a hurry, kids punctuated the moves with shrieks of joy. Strawberries were the bright red trophies to take home along with a fresh coat of pride on tired parents.

Speaking of parents, I remember running about amongst paddy and sugarcane fields with my dad just letting me and my brother be. We didn’t have anything to pick those days except a fight or two between us. I recall the sweltering heat and the odd steady rain. We were free to do as we liked. Even as I wonder why we did precious little, I realise, we grew up.

Or so I think.

A Riot Of Colour

A riot of colour and a rich fodder for thought!

She is in a sparkling pink and I in an odd blue. Her eye for colours catches my ear. For every time she chooses one, she exclaims aloud. “Red” “Blue”. And so on. She paints with tentative strokes first. Then come bold ones. After a while, she says “Over”. A riot of color is all that remains as she darts away to play. I look at her work. Her strokes fill my heart with happiness. This moment has been the highlight of this festive season.

Festivities are about colour to the senses. You feel a sense of completion to be with close ones and do simple things. A feeling that escapes description and begs for it to be let easy. Diwali especially is a feast for all senses. Homes get lit. After being cleaned and washed. Sweets get made in abundance. And There are no reasons to not tuck in the extra one. There is noise in the air ( not to speak of discounts and offers in every shop and website ). A ‘cannot be missed’ warmth in people. The security guard smiles a little extra even as the stern neighbour nods just a tad more in acknowledgment. You are benign with the odd gasbag who spams your inbox with a ‘Happy Diwali’ message, consigning his message to the recycle bin with a smile.

As the festival wind thin, a thick question remains. A question that my little miss posed to me: “Why can’t every day be Diwali?” Indeed, I thought. Why can’t it be?

Why can’t there be this richness in our daily life? A richness that exudes colour, space and that little bit of warmth that can add so much more to our lives. Kindness, acceptance, some accommodation. Some peace. A way of thinking that is inclusive and respectful. That after all is the spirit of Diwali. For that matter, that after is the spirit of all major festivals of the world!

As I gazed hard at her random brush strokes, the gaiety in her question only pointed to possibility and choice. We have the choice, I told myself. To live it up in a simple, kind way. Perhaps we need to be reminded that this choice exists until we don’t have to be reminded. A choice that we can consciously make. A choice to revel in abundance and to forever seek to live a life that is of meaning.

A new energy coursed my veins. A riot of colour, as I call this piece, will be my north star of sorts, I told myself. A north star that reminds me that in a world that leans towards mono-chromatic rhythms, multicoloured richness is important. That is being human by soaking in all the richness we come endowed with.

So this Diwali, I have a wish for you. A wish that comes from my daughter and everybody around. May the festivities never end. May we lead a life soaked in colour and joy. May we have the courage to wander yet be decisive. May the humanness in us overpower the insecurities that seep in. May our life be something to someone. May we be kind to one another. May there be a riot of colour.

 

A riot of colour

 

 

Tape Recorder times

Our world of toys has a new energy and long hours: Lego bricks. What they transform to from being an empty assortment of grooves, protrusions, wires and protrusions is beyond fantastic. There is a logical reason for this new found passion. But that for another time.

For now, recounting an evening with the little miss.

That evening we were building a tape recorder. Me, the little miss and a silly heap of bricks. It seemed like an easy project to finish before dinner.  But it turned out otherwise. It took us a few sittings.  We would build and stare at what’s emerging and shake our heads. Half in disgrace of what was emerging and the other half in disquiet.

Midway through I wondered why it took such a long time. To my mind, we had cracked far more complex contraptions with far less effort. Most times with a hurried yank, a precise stare and an impromptu smile. This time, we had furrowed brows and murky frowns. We weren’t getting anywhere for a long time. We were done finally with a dash of colour at the top.  It was almost like we had climbed an impossible mountain.

Why did it take us so long? In hindsight, the answer was staring at my face from the time that we set out to build.  The answer was clearly on her face. (And I could see it only when I replayed it in my memory). For a confused stare had descended upon her when we chose to build a tape recorder. It became apparent to me later, that the tape recorder was a fancy science fiction gadget, that she had never ever experienced.

The closest she had come to experiencing one was to see it at her grandma’s place. One that still manages to spout songs from the radio but the cassette deck refuses to open.

The magic of the cassette deck opening, the ‘clunk’ of the loading and the physical pressure that would take to switch on the play button to get deft songs playing out of defined speakers were an integral part of my growing up years. Not to forget the twaddle of wires that we had to roll out if ever we wanted to set up speakers in another room.  These of course are as ancient as the  Pharaohs of the Nile to her modern day mind that is more used to deft devices and intangible play. When much of music is in the air and music streams in like monsoon rain from unseen clouds, the world has indeed moved on.

The next day evening, she had a few questions for me and we sat down to talk a bit about my ‘tape recorder times’! Of how it was in the ‘good old days’. And for everything that I explained to her, I had to give her a modern day equivalent for her to connect to. Native toys and some of the games we used to play and the people we played with. Of my schools. Of my friends. Of my brother. Of my dad. Of my mom.

The moment we came to my mom, she jumped, ‘Ah that’s my paati (grandma)’. ‘You just called her your mom’. And for some reason, her eyes filled even as a nervous laughter leapt through the evening rain. I don’t know why my eyes filled to the brim in great speed too.

To think that the absent tape recorder caused this memory shower threw a sigh into the air. As the rain pelted its singular rhythm on the window,  I reached out for a hot coffee, humming ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

A new year swings in! Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year 2017.

2016 has been a heck of a year. I still remember the same time a year ago when I sat down to see a new dawn. It seemed to run in along with a lot of a promise and hope. And suddenly it is today and a brand new year is at the door! Just as what was the case last year. This year hustles while it waits. So much so, I can hear its wait! 

The little miss is all about the house as has been her wont. I have spent some part of the last year, growing up with her. More often than not, becoming present to how fast time flies away by just watching for every minute change in her and succeeding to spot a few as they happened. For large part though, I must confess, wondering how it happened!

Like when she asks me what is an ‘office’ and ‘what happens in an office’? And of course, the next inevitable question: ’What is Work?’  I am sure this isn’t unique to her or me. It must be on the lips of many kids as they stand up and begin to explore the world. It is easy to give ‘some’ answer but then the real answer is a bit beyond cursory search. 

‘Can you be a teacher in my school?’, she asked the other day. With half a popcorn in her lips and a sparkle in her eyes.

‘Sure’. I said. It is the most inviting approval I have had of 2016. Something that I can gloat about. ‘Can we begin tomorrow?’, she asked. If there was ever a heart that skipped a giant beat on hearing a job offer, it would pale in comparison to mine that day!

Or of this time, when she said ‘Push me higher Appa’. On a swing by a lake in idyllic Mount Abu. I was a tad scared, for this was a swing that was just there in the midst of undergrowth and uneven ground. A plank of wood, two pieces of a rope all on one sturdy tree branch. That made the swing.  ‘Dont be scared, Appa’ She said. With a silly smile as an enduring accompaniment as the swing climbed newer heights.  ‘I am going higher on my own Appa. You don’t be scared’.

For a moment, I didn’t know if I should clap in joy or wince in despair. After all I was expecting these lines down the road. After many years!  I brought a smile on plastic dry lips and clapped.  ‘Letting go isn’t easy’ I told my missus over dinner that night. Silence stayed tall in the room as we munched on some veggies. ‘It isn’t easy at all’ added the missus in-between all her munching. I wast sure if she was talking of the veggies. That’s part of the plan for this year. Munching more veggies that is. And yes, ‘letting go’ of stuff that we have been holding on to is also part of the plan! 

A couple of days ago, we were at the movies with the little miss in tow.  Dangal. The movie that everyone is raving about. The movie about a father who lives his dreams of winning a gold medal for the country by getting his daughters to do so, long after his prime.  The melodramatic storyline with wrestling bouts that go on predictable lines to leave India with a gold medal and left me with a stern headache. A headache that only loosened up when the little miss looked into my eyes and asked: ‘Appa, they did all this for one medal?’

I smiled ear to ear.

As the same Sun rushes in a new year, these and her other questions dawn on me with new meaning.  I don’t have all the answers. But the very fact that the questions are here is enough to keep me on the swing of life. For that I am thankful.

I wish you more questions and deeper conversations!

Happy New Year 2017! Here’s to a fabulous 2017

Roller Skates memories

She has got wheels to her feet now. She is learning to move forward with them. Roller Skates are something that I have never climbed on to. Other than the once that I did many years ago and thought I was falling in love with the sudden spurt speed that it seemed to give me. Even as I was falling in love with, I fell hard on my face. Literally. And in every other sense of the word. I had declared then that Roller Skates were for the crazy ones.  Retreating to the familiar wear and tear of the old cricket bat, a bunch of incorrigible friends and the unbearable Sun. Roller Skates memories make me squint my eye today.

For today, the little Miss walked with her Roller Skates. Her first class. The picture of calm that I wore on the surface was tearing at its seams inside me, as anxiety ridden memories ebbed. Oblivious to all this, she walked and waved, with a dozen missteps and two dozen ‘near misses’!

The little miss has this unique magic wand in her that brings my own memory alive. These are memories that are so dormant in me, that I never knew were there in the first place. Of my first fall. The words of my dad and mom. The caressing hand of my grandmother. Every now and then, when the little miss says something or does something, my mind wanders and wonders with an unfailing memory pop up.

Several parents I know vouch for this. Their memories stand rekindled by their kid’s action, they too say. As she uses new words, demonstrates new grasp and generally unpacks what is packed into her, the wonder that is creation, does a wild jig in my mind. Bringing up children, my mom tells me often, happens in a jiffy. ‘Savour every moment’, she often says. The touch of lament and a dash of memory of the good old times, I cannot miss.

Even so, I am reasonably sure that I will miss these times. Of walking the little miss to school and taking her to her first Roller Skates class. Time and its many wheels will speed the minutes away leaving us with memories of moments that have sped by. So today, as she makes takes her gentle trod on those wheels, I realise, it is a moment to savour. She does far better than me. She has had fun. She has her friends. And her new wheels.

She finishes, asks for water and asks me, ‘Appa, why don’t you try?’

I smile first. And then laugh. As my eyes unconsciously well up, I realise that’s exactly what my dad asked me. Another of those memories that was tucked away in an inner whorl of the brain popped out to say ‘hi’!

Back then, I remember having told Appa that I would much rather play cricket with the boys. I can’t tell that to the little miss. The boys have all gone their way to sport their BMWs and beer bellies with aplomb . Cricket is not the game it used to be. Even the Sun sports an angrier hue these days.

I laugh with her. I tell her, ‘Next week’.

She laughs.

As the wheels of time spin fast, next week too will also come and go.

Of cows and independence day!

The little miss, as is her wont these days, has been shooting me a heap of questions. There is not a thing that passes the attention of her senses that just passes by without a question popping up. Be it an earthworm, a snail, a ridiculous honk from an autorickshaw, the neighbour’s loud movie screening, the sartorial choices of her mom (& dad ) etc etc. You get the drift right?

Me and the missus have had to work overtime to ensure that we engage with each of her questions and give her answers. Most of the time she ends with a ‘whatever’ look. Especially when I attempt to answer. The missus fares better.

The ‘whatever’ look is what I remember my physics teacher reserving for me, in school.   She would ask a question and her eyes would droop so much that they would be waiting to roll down her cheek if I was late by another moment. Her shoulders would drop and a smug smile would lurk at the corner of her lip. Her whole body language would seem to be so much waiting in expectation of a ridiculously inept answer. I guess I met her expectations every single time. I would dread those classes.

It is kind of dreadful to think that the little miss reminds me of that time. The only difference now is that the little miss forgets the inept answer in a jiffy and moves on to some easier stuff at the wave of a hand. Like, ‘Can I go touch that cat Appa?’ Or even, ‘can we go say hello to the rain drop appa’? Now, these are like lifebuoys to someone in a cesspool. We survive with her kindness and love.

She has been excited about the Independence Day for over a week now.

“Appa, when are you buying me a gift?”

“A gift? But why?”

“It is India’s birthday appa!”

I realised that thats how Independence day has been positioned in her mind.  Gandhi, Nehru and the freedom struggle can come much later.  For now, if there are some festoons, cake, pizzas and a gift to boot, all is well. Fortunately, the gifts that she has demanded haven’t yet gotten to meaningless stuff that pops a hole in the pocket. A national flag was all that was desired this time around and was dutifully bought too.

So today, on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence, after the flag hoisting ceremony in the apartment complex where we live in,  came another string of questions.

“If we hoist a flag for India’s birthday, why didn’t you hoist one for my birthday?”

Patient explaining ensued.  Of India having a flag and it being a country and that individuals don’t have a flag etc. Inept answers, I can guess. With drooping shoulders she proclaimed, ‘Appa, once we go home, I am going to draw my flag. You have to hoist it for my birthday”.

I demurred in agreement. “My flag will have a cow and a cat in it Appa”.

“A COW?” I spluttered.   The nation would want to know now.  An involuntary muttering of ‘Holy Cow’ under my breath reached her sharp ear.

“Not holy cow Appa”, she said. “Just one nice cow”.

Silence ensued. And then with a momentary pause she asked, ‘what is a holy cow Appa’? I didn’t know where to start. Or end, for that matter. And then, she threw me a lifeline. Actually two.

“If you don’t like the cow, let’s just have the cat in the flag Appa. It is easy to draw the cat “.  A huge sigh of relief clung to the air as Lata Mangeshkar ruled the Independence Day sound waves of the apartment complex.

And then she said, “Can we go to the play area and slide Appa?”.  She was on her way to the play area and shouted out a changed plan.  “I have been on the slide for sometime Appa. Today can you push me higher on the swing?”

“Of course”, I said. “Of course”

 

Tom Sawyer moments

I have something called a Tom Sawyer moment. Amongst my childhood heroes, Tom Sawyer is one heck of a kick ass dude. His successes with Becky Thatcher aside, his ingenuity to get a group of friends whitewash the fence was jaw-dropping awesome as a kid. It remains jaw-dropping AWESOME as an adult with a paycheck.

For ages I have hankered for a Tom Sawyer moment in my life. A moment when what got handed out as a punishment morphs into something quite different. A happy time when a lofty proposition is made loftier and transformed into a fun happy time.

A few weeks ago after some insane amount of peering into monitors and hammering away at the keyboard, the missus sentenced me with the responsibility of taking care of the little miss. When it became clear that I perhaps would end up enjoying it all, she threw in another angle. There would be two other kids that might join in.

Without much ado, we got working. The girls had to first scamper around and collect as many dry leaves as could be found in the garden. Then for strewn flowers. It took them an effort but they had a whale of a time. After which, came the task of arranging it all for display.

 

flower

Their hands were a dark shade of brown. The colour of the soil with assorted grime that came about by heckling the wind and peddling joy. When playtime neared its end everyone was happy. The mommies were happy that their tasks were behind them. The morose gardener let loose a rare smile and a good word to the girls to see most of his cleaning done.

As for me, my Tom Sawyer moment had arrived. The girls have said they want to do it again and one of them put it in simple terms. “Uncle, I will share my lollipop with you”

Plus, the little miss was one proud bundle. ‘My daddy’ she said. The moments that stay in memory are the unannounced and silly times. They whizz by. Slow down, put out your hands and watch them fall into your life.

Life teaches everyday. If only we care to listen.

 

Tom sawyer 1

The Pink Pony

Days turn into nights. And nights lead to day. The repetitive patterns that lead to the next day, the next week, the next month and the next year form a beautiful facade that keeps in obscurity the years that speed by.

Then the years reveal themselves. Sometimes the mirror tells the story.  As a stray strand of grey morphs into a lock of plentiful grey. When a parent passes away, the realisation is stark. When a friend passes away, it is pronounced.  The parting of the beautiful facade, often comes in a reality check, happening in sorrowful environs.

Sometimes they do in moments of pure joy. Especially, if you have a little daughter like mine.

So the little miss has been going to school. She enjoys it and has had a great deal of fun thus far. One day in the last week, after a long and tiring day, I creep into bed.  Long after the little miss’s bed time. As the silence beckons me further into slumber, she wakes up. Realising that I have crept in and wakes me up too, demanding that the lights come on.

She is all excited and she wants to show me her ‘Pink Pony’. She opens her palm to reveal a small piece of plastic. I see the effect of her clutching it hard are showing on the palm too. The Pink Pony spread some pink to her palm as well.  She obviously has been waiting to show me. ‘Aryan gave it to me papa’ she said. In sleep soaked excitement. I gave her a bear hug ad asked ‘was it his birthday today?”

PP1

“No Appa”. She says. A tad disappointed and perhaps surprised at an antiquated line of thought.

“He gave it only to me”. She says with emphasis on the ‘only’.

“Ah”. I say.

With curiosity dripping out of every word I ask , ‘That sounds like fun. Tell tell me, tell me more’

“Because I like pink colour Appa”.  And that was that.

With those words she slips back into sleep. Clutching the pink pony and happy that her little secret was no longer just hers. I stare at her for a while and switched off the lights.  Her innocence and joy override my tired mind.

The next morning comes with the precision that is customary.  The missus catches me shooting darts into the clouds. “Thinking of the Pink Pony?”, she asks. “It is some toy that they give out in a Fast Food chain”, she says. I smile. I am thinking of something else.

She knows me well by now. She jumps tracks and joins my train of thought.

“She is no longer the tiny toddler that you carried on the sling” she says. I smile. “She is not the toddler who would purr like a cat to get some milk”.

I nod my head in silence. Even as I soak up the Pink Pony moment, I realise, it was riding away into the inner whorls of memory.  The simplicity of childhood, the sincerity of affection and the joys of watching kids growing up, can be the best way to age gracefully. Even as day turns to night and night to day, children add a rich melodrama to a vague momentum.  And that is precious.