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Daddy by Anant Nath Sharma

"I photographed my father while visiting my home in Dehradun in March, 2017 over the course of a month. His first reaction when he came to know about these pictures being put online was to go and check them out himself. Then he made a list of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in the captions and came back to me with it. This is how my Father shows his love - by helping me better myself."

My father getting his evening fix of social media. He is learning and adjusting over time to the ongoing shift to technology. I enjoy seeing him with a phone or tablet.

I've noticed that I also sit cross legged like this when I'm feeling relaxed. I guess this comes from Daddy. It's nice to know the small traits you pick up from your parents. My father has been a huge influence on me in the way I think about money and fame. He's retired now, but every morning, he dresses up immaculately like he's going to work. That involves wearing his favourite pair of Batas. He takes time out to polish his shoes before he puts them on. Whenever I'm at home, I make sure I do this for him. It's my favourite activity.

My father enjoys Whatsapp forwards, but not the bad kind. He lets the forwards accumulate and then makes time to go through them one by one, sharing funny videos, poetry and nature videos with family and friends. He wears photo chromatic glasses - something I hate. I've asked him to change them often but he just likes carrying one less pair of glasses, which is alright. I might just get one myself.

Father takes a break from the brilliant winter sun and comes indoors to read something about numerology. That is his latest interest. After retiring last year from his job at the bank, he has all the time in the world to read about things he loves. He's been engrossed with numerology ever since - calculating on his fingers and decoding personality traits of people he knows. I don't remember more than six birthdays (including my own), but he knows the birthdays of many people. It's all in his mind. I think it's because of the manual job at the bank (and a very late exposure to computers) that he's so good at numbers and dates.

For the longest time, I thought I was unlike my father in most respects. This ongoing photo project has made me realise how similar we are. Going through the photographs one by one, I have seen that our mannerisms and physical traits are very similar - be it sitting cross legged or keeping our hands on our chin when we're thinking. In fact, that's how I'm sitting while writing this caption. It makes me happy finding out how alike we are.

When I was younger, my mother fell very ill. I saw my father take care of the kitchen, cook full meals for us, and go to work. Here, he's helping my mother prepare food for Holi. Back in 2000, my father was transferred for his bank job to a remote village in Uttar Pradesh. He learnt cooking there and since then, he's been helping my mother in whatever ways he can - chopping vegetables, cleaning the utensils or actual cooking. In the last 30 years of my existence, I've never seen my mother shop once for groceries. That's my father's department. In fact, my mother doesn't even know how to buy veggies. If only I can be a tenth of a man he is, I'll be enough.

In the cold weather, your skin tends to get dry. Here, Daddy rubs mustard oil on his hands and head to keep them well moisturised. He has been an advocate of mustard oil for a long time, something he acquired from his father. One of my earliest memories as a child is of lazy Sunday mornings in the winter sun, getting mustard oil rubbed on my back. Father would bring out the old extension board and hook up the black and white TV on the terrace, which would play Warner Bros cartoons and the Doordarshan programs. Buckets full of water would heat up naturally in the sun in a corner. My brother, grandfather, Daddy and I would take turns rubbing mustard oil on each other's backs. Then we'd soak in the sun and bathe in turns on the terrace, knowing there was a grand Sunday breakfast of bread pakoras waiting for us after that. Three generations bonding over a shared love for mustard oil. I have found smell to be a huge force in triggering nostalgia. Mustard oil takes me back to simpler times. Every now and then, I sniff a bottle of mustard oil (that I have on me at all times) and it takes me back in time to the early 90s.

Our house in Dehradun is sort of a mini museum with even century-old things lying around. Our first family camera was a medium format film camera that uses a 120mm film, and is close to 60 years old. In comparison to my heavy DSLR, it feels like a toy in my hands. Over the last eight years that I've been actively involved in photography, I believed it was an acquired skill that I picked up on my own. Last winter, I scanned some old pictures taken by my father in his youth and discovered that my father, without ever calling himself a 'photographer', is a brilliant one. His compositions are immaculate. Our family pictures are works of art with beautiful and subtle soft light. I tried to dig deeper, and came to know that my grandfather was also an enthusiast. I had subconsciously learnt my basics through my father's photographs.

My father is a serious man, and 'dignified', as he likes to call it. He enjoys a laugh here and there but only with close friends and family. I've never seen him play Holi with water until this year, when I saw him run after relatives with buckets full of coloured water. I think this has something to do with his retirement. He worked tirelessly for close to 40 years before retiring, never taking a day off for himself. Now he has all the time in the world. And he is a content man doing the best anyone can do, i.e., nothing. He takes care of the house maintenance, washes clothes, helps mother in the kitchen, chants the Lord's name, reads and basks in the winter sun. He deserves doing nothing for a change.

Krishna is a big part of Daddy's life. His faith in the Lord is unshakable. I have seen him going through situations so averse that even the most staunch believers would find their belief faltering. But not him. I have never once heard him curse God for anything wrong happening to him or his family. He doesn't believe in that. He is a self made man, believing in God, and not letting his ego get in the way.

The ceremonial application of Gopichandan tilak on different parts of his body and primarily the forehead is something I cannot imagine him without.

Father has no qualms about doing anything. Every morning, he washes his clothes himself. He also goes around the house and washes the dusting cloths. They are so clean, that you have to think twice before taking them to clean anything. My grandfather was also very active; I've seen him take off his suit and clean the drain outside our house. Both of them have taught me that no work is small, and if there's something you can do yourself, there's no shame in doing it.

Before my grandfather passed away he used to complain about how Daddy always leaves the used towel on the bed. I have never seen him do that after my grandfather's death. Sometimes I get scared thinking about how much I still have to learn from my father that I don't have enough time for. Not being in the same city also doesn't help the cause. I'm going to move closer to my parents and spend more time with them.

Father shares a light moment with my mother. He never shies away from sharing a funny joke. A couple that laughs together, stays together. These are couple goals. My parents have so much to teach me about love and togetherness.

Every morning and evening, my father dresses up in a dhoti and sits down for his daily prayers. I think he looks really royal in a dhoti and carries it off very well, with his tilak and jeneu. I still remember the time my father was learning how to drape a dhoti. He struggled with it, took help from people and has now mastered it. I too have learnt how to tie a dhoti seeing him do it everyday.

There is a reason why this is the last picture of the series for now. This shows Daddy in his element, in his truest form. This is a part of his morning routine that I've seen him perform day after day for close to 20 years now. The ceremonial application of the Vaishnava tilak is as important to him as eating, if not more important.

We disagree on a lot of issues, Daddy and I. But it's important for me to make sure I tell him how much I love him. I come from a family where feelings are not vocalised. Putting these pictures up and writing about my father has been an exercise in expressing for me. There is no way I can tell him everything I want to.

I love you, Daddy.

1 Comment

Oct 05, 2018

Hi Anant! Very well written. It makes me nostalgic. The details that you have noticed is something we all do in our daily lives but never give a thought to appreciate. I am sure this must have made your dad really happy. Thanks for putting it out here. Loved reading it.

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