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My Father's Captivity
|by Dr. Manasi Dutt|
I am the only child of my parents. I was brought up with two sets of parents my biological parents and my grandparents. Following the Indian custom they lived together. Both sets of parents showered their love upon me. I was an easy daughter to love, I was cute looking, I smiled all the time, I was well-behaved, and I did well at school. Only my father stayed away from me. He simply refused to get close to me. I would never amount to anything, my father told me repeatedly, right from my childhood.
On finishing school on my mother's insistence I entered medical school. There I took on a study partner by the name Tarun. He was the most handsome guy in the class and also one of the most brilliant ones, we spent the whole day together and studied hard, that showed in our results. Tarun and I became an item. A good-looking brilliant couple what more could one ask for? Tarun and I fell in love, head over heels. But my father took an intense dislike towards Tarun. He called Tarun bad names shouted at him and chased him out of the house. I was still reeling from my first love and all the sexual adventures a first-love brings along. My father threatened me 'I shall hire a goonda' he declared 'to pour acid on your face'.
In Calcutta even a small child knows what a goonda can do. A goonda can assassinate a person, can break any number of bones the contract demands, can throw acid on a face. My heart got stuck at the base of my throat, I couldn't breathe. 'If that doesn't do the job,' My father continued, 'then I shall throw you out of the house. How are you going to support yourself on the street? Begging ? Prostituting? He was really mad.
I have to keep up the family honor don't I? that was his reason for taking a dislike towards Tarun, not because he really saw anything wrong with Tarun. He asked me in a very angry voice. By choosing her own partner a girl in Calcutta brings great disgrace to her family. That the family didn't bring up the daughter properly that's why the daughter dared to choose her own partner. by marrying on her own wish. It showed that the family didn't have enough control over their daughter. Obviously my father didn't want to bring such disgrace on our family on account of his daughter, whom he didn't love in the first place. That part I could understand. Because I was brought up with the same set of values I shivered and cowered in the corner.
Tarun and I were swallowed with fright, we stopped seeing each other also stopped talking to each other. That took a toll on our relationship. Our relationship soured and faced a natural death. My father bribed the police, who showed up at Tarun's doorstep, threatening to arrest him and throwing him in jail for an indefinite period of time. My father had achieved nothing significant in his life by hard work or persistence and perseverance. He took the easy way out to prove himself by following a social value.
Following a value has advantages, it is already preconceived, pre-recognized and pre-approved. All one has to do, is to follow it- blindly. My father did just that. People say he even had secret meetings with goondas who are worse than the mafia. They break bones, kill people, they throw acid on somebody's face for a pittance. My father had stepped in that arena. He had turned his brain off, he had turned his reasoning off and took the easy way of destruction and violence. Gradually but surely my relationship with Tarun fell apart and I couldn't take the stress any more.
Prolonged sleep deprivation and chronic fright took its toll and I agreed to an arranged marriage by my family at least in that way the family honor would be left intact and I would leave Calcutta. I left India. I believed I would be free but that didn't happen. Tarun and my heartless father haunted me every night in my dreams. That went on for10 long years. Even when I was married to a different person, Tarun never left my side neither did my father's cruelty.
Shortly after my marriage, Tarun got married and both of us have been able to build up good lives, he in the USA and I in Canada ' both of us have stable family lives, successful children and financial stability. As far as I'm concerned, battles fought on values should be prohibited, battles should only be fought on reasons and reasons alone.
Was my father a mean or an evil person? Not for a moment I think so. He learnt certain values in his childhood. Later in life, he never learnt to teach himself to modify his values with reasons and experience. He stuck to his childhood values with rigidity and stubbornness. When he was a child an elder had told him to wash his hands thirty times before meals and after coming home from outside, in that way you'd always avoid germs, the elder had said. All his life, when he had to wash his hands my father always washed thirty times.
Yes, my father is still alive, 90 years old. He has no regret or remorse for what he had done to me or Tarun. He still washes his hands thirty times. Before eating and when he comes home from outside.
Does he try to wash away his painful values? Perhaps he does. He knows he is a misfit in the society, a misfit in the world, so he has withdrawn himself, in the semi darkness of the washroom, away from the society, away from the world, in his own cave, where he lives with water, soap and hand washing.
When I went to visit him, I held him by his hand, brought him back to the bed, made him sit, you can't spend all your time in the washroom, I told him, let me take you out and visit a temple. 'I'd love to visit a temple,' he said with a weary smile. 'If I only could remember which elder told me to wash my hands thirty times'. 'Baba, you don't have to seek anybody's permission, just make up your mind and don't go to the washroom'. Helplessly with his palms up, with a shrug of his shoulders he said, how can I do that? How can I disobey an elder's orders? My poor, poor father, I thought. He himself is a captive of his own values. His eyes became shifty, his hands fidgeted, 'now I have to go, I have to wash my hands' he said. I let go of his wrist. He disappeared in his cave. I heard water pouring from the tap. My father's fingers dancing with water and soap.
At least in some way or other, he has found his peace of mind. I said to myself. At least that is what I like to believe. Following my last visit when I left Calcutta I couldn't bid good-bye to my father, he was in the washroom, washing hands. I told him from outside, 'I am leaving'. He answered, 'Don't disturb me now'. Obviously he didn't want to forget the count of his hand washing. I left on padded steps without bidding him good-bye. He didn't regret my silent disappearance. Since in that way he could keep his hand washing count, which was more important than bidding me good-bye.Never before I felt my father's virtual absence so painfully, as I do now. Last year my mother passed on only since then do I realize how badly every human soul needs a parent. My father is hard of hearing, and on the phone his hearing takes a nose dive. Still I phone him often and tell him Baba, please grant me ashirbad, in the absence of Ma you have to bless me for two parents. Of course I know that He answers with a small laughter. My tongue is tempted to ask him, Baba, can you love me more than hand washing? He doesn't answer. I don't want to hear the answer either. Shall I be able to live with the truth? I am not sure. I let him live in his cave with as much fun he can muster and I live my life over here to the best of my ability.
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