It was the morning of what would have been his 91st birthday. From below I heard my son’s voice telling someone, “It is Dadaji’s birthday, so I went to PRL to plant a tree with Amma.”
I suddenly had a lump in my throat. Dadaji. He never got to hear our children say that – my oldest nephew wasn’t even talking when we lost him. How he would have loved to be called that. Dadaji. My son said it with so much love and pride.
It was my SSC year. Amma was on tour. Papa stayed in Ahmedabad to prepare me for the exams. “Breathe deeply and let your brain take over. You know everything. Don’t panic, just breathe deeply”. In Shreyas school we hadn’t really ever taken exams. And while I was ready with the information that would be required I wasn’t prepared for the chaos and indifference at the exam centres. The first few papers went well. Then came maths. I loved maths. I envisaged no problems. But problems started the minute I turned up at my exam centre. “There is no exam here today”. But this was my centre and I did have an exam. So where was I to go? Papa had come to drop me, and we ran around. “This is a centre for arts subjects” we were told. Yes but I was a music student who also took maths and physics-chemistry. The clock inched past 11. I was panicking, he was trying to keep me calm but get things sorted out. At 11.20 someone called someone who said yes there was one student who was to be given the maths paper. I was weeping by now, and papa was telling me to be calm. Finally at 11. 35 I was given the paper and made to sit down alone in a huge hall. Papa’s last words were, “You know it vahlki, and remember to breathe”. The next two hours were a nightmare. I couldn’t solve most of it. It was only later that I was to find out that the paper had errors which were corrected in other centres where all the maths students were. No one had remembered to correct mine.
I nearly flunked. Where I had expected to score 90, I barely managed to pass. I was devastated. Papa tried to get the paper checked, the unfairness righted. Then he accepted defeat against a monolithic system and counselled me, “You know, you know it. In a few years no one will remember your marks”. How true.
He would be at the talent shows and dance competitions. And beaming after seeing me perform would say, “Malli, you have to become a dancer like Mrinal”. Then I would come back with great grades in Psychology or statistics and he would beam and say, “Malli you must take this up seriously”.
When at 15 I was offered my first film and accepted to do it, my parents got hundreds of messages about how wrong the decision was, that they were allowing me to go into a den of loose sex and alcohol. He used to smile and tell them that if by that age I hadn’t figured out what was right and what was wrong, I would always be able to lie and cheat and do whatever I wished.
I remember an earlier time, when the garden was full of dinner guests from Merck and Geigy, in the days when he used to still run Sarabhai Chemicals. I was in my room with the windows open and he whistled his special whistle for me ( no I didn’t feel like a dog because he used to whistle all the time, Verdi and Bach and Sound of Music and Bridge Under the Rive Kwei). I popped my head out of the widnow and he turned to his guests and said, “well, ask her for the capital city of any country in the world and she will tell you.” A little test followed, I came up with flying colours and he beamed at his guests.
We always felt that both he and my mother had immense pride in us, celebrated us, our peculiarities, our whimsies, idiosyncrasies. They did not try and fit us into a preconceived mould. They did not want us to excel, but to try our best, and to know that we had done so.
When I look around and see such unhappy children and such frustrated, angry, disappointed parents, I wish they could love enough to be accepting, encouraging and supportive, that they could motivate children to blossom, not to the the parents' fragrance but to their own.
Yes, I miss him each day, miss his not having the joy in my children, and in what I have become. And I cherish each moment of having been nurtured. I have blossomed and become me. With their shades certainly, but my own person. And he would have laughed and taken pride and joy in that. That, I miss.