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Words-Lost & Found

In: People

Submitted By ajinkyamahajan
Words 1453
Pages 6
In my younger and more vulnerable days, I had a queer habit, one which appears queer only now, in hindsight, but which seemed perfectly sensible and well-meaning to me back then. Perhaps it would suit my tale to first tell you that as a child, I had innumerable idols. Idolatry was my favourite pastime, and I even had a rule to it; I would have no more than one idol at a time. So on different days, weeks, or months, my idols would range from Shaktimaan and Kai to Ronaldinho and Tendulkar. You could term it as a “try and test” method.

Now that I think of it, perhaps I was bending my own game’s only rule; there was always one person on whom my idolatry would fall back upon, if all else failed, a sort of a stock idol – my father. Which brings me back to my queer habit; now, since childhood, I had a very strong inclination to be perfect. A “very good!” on my class assignment often failed to satisfy me; I would always be looking for that elusive “excellent!”, and if there was to be a little smile or a star accompanying it, so much the better. So it was that I would make up my mind about an idol, think about how I would imitate the person (or character, as the case may be), and stand in front of a wall, focus my attention on a tiny speck somewhere on it, close my eyes, picturize the person or character, open my eyes, say “Now” loudly, and begin a new life, as it were. Seems like a tedious affair now as I write it down, but I remember it was simple enough, and was an exercise that ended in seconds.

The first few moments after the “transformation” were extremely crucial to the success of the endeavour, the target being to create a new and advanced version of myself that was in keeping with my latest definition of “perfection”. So, if I was enacting Mahatma Gandhi, it was imperative for me never to even let a thought of evilness cross my mind; or, if I was enacting Kai (a character whom I enacted the most number of times) I had to make sure never to smile, and to respond to genuinely funny remarks with a sneer. Of course these attempts at “perfecting” myself always fell flat on their faces, some of them hardly lasting five minutes. The most astonishing part about all these attempts was that I never gave up; on some days, I would try to enact as many as twenty odd people in the course of an afternoon. I was sure I was headed for the film industry.

Perhaps I would never have given up this habit had it not been for my father. Papa – that unshakeable idol in my life, whom I always looked up to in the evening when twenty others had failed me. It was he who called me to his room one day and said, “Son, is something bothering you?”

“Papa, what are we?” When I think about it now, my question makes no sense to me. But it made perfect sense to him.

“Son, I’ll tell you what we aren’t. We aren’t one person.” Even in my mind today, I can see myself go near enough for him to stroke my hair, and my heart beats with a similar apprehension as I picture his smile. Somehow, he knew what I was going through. How, I can never quite fathom. At moments like these, you marvel at the mystery that is Nature, and you look around yourself and see an ethereality in the greenness of the grass, and in the songs of the birds, and in the way your toes resemble your father’s…

Back then, no such thoughts occurred to me. The only pleasure I got from that conversation was the smile I elicited from him. But almost immediately, my habit started to wane. I found no pleasure in being all those people, and at the same time, I started observing my father more closely. A certain despondency entered my life, too, as his words haunted me, catching me unawares while I studied Chemistry, or played cricket, and once or twice, during early morning ablutions!

___________________________________

I look back on all this with a feeling of painful pleasure. Hindsight is a strange thing: it makes you feel aware and informed, but at the same time informs you of the utter unawareness of your earlier days; it makes you feel vulnerable to the scrutiny of the future, where your follies will be counted and enlisted, a good number of them already having altered your life irreversibly.

We aren’t one person.

My father never repeated these words to me. Season after season went by, and I grew up. A feeling of restless irritation started filling my days. As the sense of being imperfect had never deserted me, the feeling of desolation strengthened in me, and I started seeing myriad faults in the daily workings of life. My days of idolizing were left far behind, and my critical vision spared no one. No, not even my father.

I would secretly criticize his way of thinking, his manner of behaving, his tactful words, his love for excesses, his hatred of fake emotions; I loathed myself for it, but I continued my criticism anyway. Things had come to such a head that I set up a separate set of values for myself, each element of which was in stark contrast to his view. Consequently, I started distancing myself from him, till there came a time when we would go on days at end without uttering so much as a syllable for each other.

And it was then that it happened.

I was randomly reading poetry on the web when I came across a familiar Shakespeare creation:

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts”

I had read this poem innumerous times over the years, but it had never moved me so much. The last line had shaken me up. I could not read on. And all that afternoon, I kept reminiscing about the queer habit of my childhood, and the words of my father:

We aren’t one person.

That evening I went out with my father and younger brother. I don’t recall the import of the outing; perhaps it was to grab a snack. As was customary for me in those days, I let the two of them walk side by side, while I walked behind, alone, maintaining a good distance from them. I walked in that fashion the whole time, and my eyes fixed on my father. I thought of his words again. The time he had uttered them seemed to be from another age. I saw him laugh at some joke my brother had made, and then I saw his lips sober into a smile; it was that same smile he had given me many years ago while stroking my hair, notwithstanding the wrinkles of age that had accompanied the years. And then all of a sudden, as if a locked door had opened somewhere, it came to me in a flash.

My father had been the living example of his own words. He had lived many lives, as many different people. He had been an obedient son, a caring father, a loving husband, a sincere and hardworking employee, and a man of upright moral values. He had been Hitler in the discipline of his ideals, and Gandhi in their implementation; he had been Tyson in savouring the juice of life, and Kai in situations that demanded it. He had not been “one person”, he had been a medley of many; he had been more than one person.

On our way back home, I decided to break through the distance to my father. I walked with them, although I did not add much to the conversation. I would, in days to come. As we entered home, I knew that my days of idolatry were back; but this time, it would be fixed to one man. On the steps leading up to our house, I said softly, “We aren’t one man. I remember.” I had meant him to hear it, and I was sure he did; the change in his complexion assured me of it. But he showed no other signs of having heard me, and entered the house.

Before entering the house, I promised myself that even though he didn’t understand my words that day, one day he would. I would make sure about it.…...

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