In a smoky bar in central London (when smoking was still allowed), I was out on a first date. Conversations weaved their way as the drinks warmed us on a bitterly cold December night and settled uneasily on the personal. She said that it was three years since she lost her mother. Each day she misses her mum more. While I felt her grief, I told her that time heals all grief. She did not agree. “Tomorrow, I would not have seen my mother longer than today. How then can grief lessen?”
She went on to become one of my dearest friends and on my father’s second death anniversary, I finally understand Lena’s observation on death and grief. The immensity of never being able to see my father again — never — is what Lena was talking about. Each day passes; the longing to see him increases.
What do I miss the most? Like everyone else would, I miss the person of course — the voice, the smile, the personal quirkiness. But what I perhaps feel the absence of everyday is being unable to tell him what I am doing, what I plan to do next, of the books that I am reading, of singing suddenly with him an old film song. My father adored Sachinda’s singing. As a child, I thought the man had a blocked nose.
Now I know I have lived most of my youth shadow boxing with my father — baba, as I called him. I have lived only to live up to him. I have written so that he would read me. He was my imagined audience. As I wrote the first novel, my editor asked why I refused to describe a sex scene. I told her that all my life I had waited to hand my father a copy of my first novel. Sex in Bengali households is taboo and we are all born via Immaculate Conception.
Baba was particular about films, about what we saw and what was to be appreciated. Sometime during my early teens, a Chaplin festival was held in our small town and my father splurged by buying me a pass for the entire festival. I went with my friends and laughed at the more apparent humour in the films, completely unaware of its social commentary and critique of this great capitalist machine. The film I hated was Limelight. There was no fun, Chaplin never fell, no one kicked him in the butt. He was just an ageing comic.
I have lived only to live up to him. I have written so that he would read me. He was my imagined audience. As I wrote the first novel, my editor asked why I refused to describe a sex scene. I told her that all my life I had waited to hand my father a copy of my first novel. Sex in Bengali households is taboo and we are all born via Immaculate Conception.
When I told this to my father, I was slapped quite hard. The next day, he took me to another screening of the same film — this time the context was explained. I tried to empathise with the tragedy of a fading star. All these years later, I am not certain I was honest with my father in telling him of my appreciation of Chaplin’s brilliant exposition of human frailties.
In the end, we sharply differed in our politics. My father rediscovered god and piety, I, theoretical Marxism and its wayward offsprings. Intellectual conversations were snuffed or met with blankness. The medicines numbed the pain and dulled the brain. I came home on visits armed with conversations and returned each time, angry and disappointed. My father had left and was replaced with a man I did not know.
Or so I thought.
Six months before we were to marry, my wife’s parents came for a visit. I was terrified that my father would let me down. Worse, he would be an embarrassment. Briony, Georgie’s mother, is an English teacher in a top public school and I had told her of my father’s love for literature.
With wine flowing for the first time in our modest household, Briony asked baba who his favourite poets were. I looked up apprehensively, praying to his god to help him. He was thoughtful for a moment and then replied. “There are many but if you allow me two, I would say Rilke and Baudelaire.”