The setting, for what was among the most significant moments of my life, was pretty ordinary. I had ordered a masala dosa at Geeta Bhavan in Chembur on a February morning. Rush hour traffic honked away outside, any pretence the city had of a winter had ebbed away and the humidity had started climbing already. Geeta Bhavan was one of the thousands of ubiquitous udipi joints that dot Bombay’s streets, though this one came with some celebrity lore – it was said that the late Raj Kapoor used to make the trip here from the nearby RK Studios quite frequently.
The phone rang just as I was tucking into the second piece of my dosa. It’s happened, said the voice at the other end, come fast. I left my plate half-eaten, hurriedly sipped some coffee, and rushed to the hospital down the street. Twenty minutes earlier, as V was being wheeled inside for the C-section, I asked the doctor how long would it take? Having no prior experience in these matters, I interpreted her will-take-a-while response to mean about an hour, which explained where I was when A1/A2 started taking in their first impressions of our planet. As I registered the presence of what looked like two miniature mummies with some pink icing at the top, a cousin quipped that they looked like fried prawns. Paternal emotions notwithstanding, the description wasn’t too far off the mark.
A father to twins and a few weeks from turning 30 (didn’t know those ‘30 is the new 20’ type lines then). Life as I knew it, was definitely getting reset.
How do dads become heroic icons for their sons? I can imagine myself as a dashing air force pilot as the boys grow up coveting my stylish cap, hoping to emulate me in their adulthood. Or a wise scholar, inspiring them to intellectual endeavours with infinite words of wisdom. An artist, or a musician… enriching their lives with sublime skills that make life worth living.
How about a life steeped in white-collar middle class mediocrity? Totally, abysmally pales in comparision. Hero, I definitely was. Not.
What about best friends then? Here, I think I am on more solid ground. From the time they were very small, doing things together was always great fun, like with best friends. Reading books aloud every night when they had no idea what an alphabet was, watching them react to sounds and the expressions on our faces. Memorable vacations. All the road trips. Chatter and music in the car (Bob Dylan and The Beatles met with approval, Bach and Bhimsen Joshi are still a work in progress). To-die-for bhindi fry with hot tandoori roti at our favourite dhaba.
As they grew older, the conversations that started happening – just shooting the breeze, cracking up when one of us gets ‘pwned’, from frat stories to existentialist discussions about god and other things. The questions, sometimes trivial, sometimes tough, always fascinating… not one of which was answered with a ‘you don’t need to know this now, you’ll know when you become older’ response. Cycling on weekends. The lovely sound of silence when the four of us are head down, immersed in our books. The way the cacophony of the idiot box has been somehow silenced – there are days on end when the TV doesn’t get switched on at home. (exception of late: when an Arsenal or Chelsea game is on – A1 is a gunner for life, A2 swears by the blues).
Opening up to inadequacies and failures, because that’s what best friends tend to do. Telling them about your childhood dreams of becoming a Nat Geo photographer that never came about, because you never had the courage to chase your dreams. The role reversal when you nurse a terrible hangover and spend most of Saturday morning hunched over the commode (man, A2 really takes off at me for that one. Thankfully have given him hardly any opportunity in recent times ).
Being vulnerable. Being there. Being best friends.
Between hero and best friend, prefer the latter. Brings meaning to life.
Taking a cue from biologist Richard Dawkins’ superb thought experiment to explain human origin, I have my own one for A1/A2 – I imagine a photograph taken every day of their lives from the day they were born till today – a single photo for each day – and then stack these in chronological order in two boxes, one for each of them. I could then pick any one picture at random from a box and instantly know if I am looking at a new born A2 or a toddler A1, a kindergarten kid, a boy, etc. But it’s impossible for me to pick two successive photographs from a box and say that THIS is the day A1 grew up from a baby to a toddler, or on this day A2 regressed from a cute little boy to exasperating rebel.
V and I talk about them finally becoming teenagers and us getting ready to deal with all the angst and heartache. I’ve told her about this thought experiment as my metaphor for their growing up. Today, on their birthday, I picture that imaginary stack of photographs of the last thirteen years, wondering how do I relate to their metamorphosis from fried prawns to young adults ready to discover what their world is going to be like.
Not sure if it’s an answer at all, but this is what comes to mind – I can imagine a day very soon, when I’ll wistfully tell the wife, “do you think A2 will ever again make me turn around when I wake him up in the morning to sleepily clamber on my back and get an extra few seconds of sleep till I drop him at the washbasin?” Or, “you know, I just realized, its been a while since A1 quietly rested his feet over mine as we sit across the dinner table..it probably won’t ever happen again, right?”
It’s never about a single day, about two successive cards, is it? Watching your children grow up is not about the present, it is always a bittersweet reminiscence of the past.
Do what makes you happy. Never take yourself too seriously. Be good human beings. And Don’t Panic.
A beautiful poem I read some time ago and has stayed with me. (Hat tip: Deepa Krishnan)
There will be a last time that I carry you,
and I won’t know it.
There will be no celebration, no certificate,
as when you were born,
just the offhand thought: He sure has gotten big.
And when I set you down, on your own two feet,
I’ll think nothing of it.