By Susheela Menon
When my daughter announced one fine evening that I was beginning to look like her grandfather, I stopped to smile at her and suddenly caught a glimpse of my reflection on the balcony doors. Bending to pick a watering can my thighs falling low to take the pressure off my knees, I looked so much like my own father, who is very often seen watering his garden back home in India where he lives a quiet, retired life.
Growing up in Mumbai, my brother and I were always a team. We stood together against Father’s tyranny, which involved reminding us to keep our drawers clean, our shoes bright, and our books full of letters. A short-tempered man finicky about discipline, Father walked like a mountain, his head held high on proud shoulders. He stopped to talk to many people along the way, and had many friends in a city that had welcomed him as a migrant from another state.
A stressful life contributed to a lot of mental chaos, and he soon turned to meditation to relieve his mind. People knew him (and still do) as the man who never missed a day of exercise. At the time, I disliked that he wanted my brother and I to be active, organized and disciplined. I used to talk behind his back—like most children do—and whine about all the injustice we suffered.
I also saw him as someone too “extreme”. Either he was happy or not, playful or not, friendly or not, smiling or not. He severed relationships, brooded about many things, and suffered immensely for it. He played with us till the walls of our small home threw back our laughter, but we could always sense unease brewing. Father longed for silence but couldn’t restrain the cacophony that devoured him from within. We forgave him because as children, we simply didn’t keep grudges. Tense nights were forgotten as soon as they were replaced with days of movies, beaches and chocolate. Besides, if Mother could forgive him, why couldn’t we?
As we grew into adolescence, Father tried his best to engage us in discussion. He tried to change. However, his own mangled past coupled with an unmanageable male ego created a terrible distance that held him away from his own family. He studied palmistry, watched television, read about acupressure, and talked about phobias and planets and stars. He finally found some peace among his okra plants and paw paw trees, but is still an eternally restless man. On the other hand, Mother was and still is a sea of tranquillity—mellow, steady and full of peace, a peace she never tried too hard to achieve.
I was always on Mother’s side but today, I see Father emerging in me as I grew in his shade long ago. I curse drivers with screeching tyres on roads and surprise myself by humming grand tunes on my daily walks. It makes me immensely happy to sit in my garden and watch all those little birds on blossoms. My intolerance for people I do not get along with has prompted me to sever many a friendship, but I have always regretted it. The dog and daughter have stopped responding to my lectures, shouts and calls for perfection, while my dogged determination to remain inflexible (frustratingly so!) about many things has made me wary of myself. I know it’s in my genes, and I know Father isn’t perfect though he tries to be.
So my goal is to bring in his strengths minus his weaknesses. From the day I was born till now, he has been the compass of my life, as I adjust my sails to his shadow growing in me. I thank him for the way my mind bends towards exercise and soil, but am careful to avoid unreasonable anger, inflexibility or ego (easier said than done, I know). As years go by, I sense myself moving towards meditation and fascinating videos about galaxies and black holes. And when I introspect in moments of deep gloom, I see him again—a regular man with regular woes. That he is my father makes him no less human: imperfect and full of highs and lows.
I do not know who my daughter will find growing within her a few years from now. I hope she comes to terms with whoever she recognizes deep within herself. I hope she learns not to reject but to learn from her genes. I hope she understands, as I have understood Father.
About Susheela Menon
Born and raised in India, Susheela Menon teaches Creative Writing in Singapore. One of her recent travel stories on the Maldives was published by a South Asian journal. Her latest short story appeared in Eastlit journal (February 2016)
Originally Published On The Good Men Project