When I was growing up in Patna as a part of a large middle-class family, with a whole load of uncles and aunts, beautiful people, them all, staying under the same roof along with this set of four siblings that we were (Mummy created lots of babies while managing a household and playing a professor, but that’s for another post!), I don’t think there was any scope, or space, for some sort of a personal bonding with my father. And I don’t say this as a complaint. This is how things were. It was a large family. He was rigidly righteous and decisively democratic about sharing his affection with everybody, and definitely not concentrating only on his children. We were happy with what we got, and we got a lot. Even if he never verbalised it, even if he wasn’t loud about his feelings, even if he played the stricter parent, we knew.
The uncles and aunts got married. We got busy with our dreams and aspirations, eventually leaving home for colleges in cities far away. It was a pain departing every single time I went back to the University. Mummy would hide a tear, or two. I would act all grown up and macho. Papa would remain stoic. I suspect we even attempted a couple of awkward could-have-been-hugs in this phase of our lives.
The parents continued to teach at the Patna University till they both retired. The kids continued with their journeys. Considering the world would have stopped revolving if I were to take leave from my job at MTV, I didn’t really go home as often as I would have wanted to after I started working. Every time that I did, I would notice a fresh wrinkle, a new strand of grey, and a very charming couple growing old together, with the kind of love that is tough to acquire or achieve. There was one noticeable change in Papa, though. He had kind of started mellowing both as a person and a parent. But the expression of endearment still appeared the same. As muted. As sweet. He would now shake hands while seeing me off, his hand staying on mine for a couple of extra seconds. Or them last moment jaldi-jaao-flight-nikal-jaayegi hugs with quick, warm pats on the back.
I got them to Mumbai. The arrangement was that they would live independently, how they liked it, two buildings away from mine.
Mummy decided to embrace the retirement the way she wanted it, doing nothing (though I suspect she wouldn’t have said no to making a few more babies, her most favourite thing in the world). Papa decided to do everything that he wanted to. From playing Manoj Tiwary’s father in Bhojpuri films (Rinkiya ke Papa’s Papa is my Papa, thank you) to selling Chyawanprash with Alok Nath on teleshopping networks, and succeeding to embarrass me in the middle of the night every single night for months on national TV, to creating radio plays to writing books! At 70-something, he was glued to the computer, not to play Solitaire, but to research and write, and write and research.
Chal Ud Ja Re Panchhi, Dr. Narendra Nath Pandey’s third book, out now on Amazon, is a voluminous 2-part biography of yesteryear’s music director Chitragupt, of Teri Duniya Se Door Chale Ho Ke Majboor and Daga Daga Vai Vai Vai fame. Backed by more than three years of intense research, blessed by Lata Mangeshkar, with a foreword by Vishal Bhardwaj, and interviews with prominent music personalities, the book would be particularly useful to the aficionados and students of old Hindi film music, researchers and musicologists. Here’s the link for those who are interested: https://www.amazon.in/dp/939088568X?ref=myi_title_dp
I kind of helped with the soft launch of the book at LitChowk in Indore a few months back. It was surreal sharing stage with Papa, referring to him as Dr. Pandey, with Mummy in the audience. This was the first time that his beautiful labour of love was being presented to the world. Dressed in black, matching the fresh coat of black in his hair, my dapper dad talked effortlessly and earnestly about his favourite music director’s journey, complete with facts, anecdotes and explanations, and a lot of wonderful music. The audience lapped it up.
When we went backstage after the talk, I extended my hand for a handshake, congratulating him for a job well done. He looked at me, and all my readings of all his expressions all my life failed me at that one moment. Papa pulled me towards him, and gave me the tightest, warmest hug that could be.
It was my turn to not being able to verbalise what I felt. Also, I had to rush to the water cooler. There was something in my eyes.