Many many years ago....some 24 years ago in fact, in the land of Ethiopia in the sleepy little town of Nazareth, lived a family. Father, mother, and 2 sisters. Father was a teacher. Mother stayed at home to bring up the daughters. They didn't have a lot of money. In fact, it was just enough to make ends meet. But they were happy. Father would take on little odd jobs every now and then. He had an avid interest in mechanics and people called on him to come and fix their little broken gadgets.
One such time, he had to make a trip to Addis Ababa and he took his older daughter along. It was evening when they reached the house of the person who had called on him. Their son's Meccano train set wasn't working properly. Could he fix it? Of course he could. He could fix anything!! That's what the little girl thought, as she watched her father intently at work. The family was in another room, and the Father and little girl were sitting on the floor of the living room. As he worked steadily, a little desire took flame within him. He wanted to buy a similar set for his children. He looked over at his little girl and she was sitting quietly beside him, looking longingly at the expensive toy. He told her, "I'll buy you one too....just like this." She looked up at him, taken a little aback by the intensity in his voice, and felt a surging pride for her father.
..........................................................................[Pic courtesy of Meccano]
I feel that same surging pride to this day. I was a 6 year old girl back then, and I remember all my feelings from that evening. It was a beautiful train set and my father got it back into working order. He gave it many test runs to make sure it was working fine, and we enjoyed the toy like it were ours exclusively, for those few precious minutes. And I wanted that meccano Train set so badly. Not for myself. But for my father. I wanted it for the longing I sensed in him to satiate all our wants and be the best possible provider. I wanted it for the sense of satisfaction it would give him. I just wanted it for him, because he wanted it for us. It was that simple. And this incident is one of the biggest stand alone memories I have of my father.
He was true to his word. He saved up money diligently over the next 2 years and once we returned to India, he wrote to the company in Amsterdam and placed the order. But they took a long time to fulfil it. And when it did arrive, it was in damaged condition. So, he asked for a refund and that was the end of that. But even now he talks to me about it and Winkie's fascination with trains has renewed that desire in him.
My father is a teacher. I say this again and again, because it is perhaps, the biggest part of who he is and what makes him tick. He doesn't just teach, he lives it. He was one of the biggest favorites among the teaching faculty at Hindu High School in Chennai. To this day, his students from that time still keep in touch with him and come to meet him. But money was tight and he had to meet the needs of a growing family. So when the opportunity in Ethiopia came up, he jumped at it. The money wasn't substantial, but he wanted the foreign exposure and the experience of teaching in a different setting. So he went alone at first. Family members urged him to finish his stint there alone and return, but he refused to be separated from his wife and kids. So after 6 months, we went too. An impressionable 6 year old, a very naughty 1 year old and my mother with the lure of foreign lands beckoning.
We spent a good 1 year there. My Dad once again won the hearts of all his students there and was named the Best Teacher of the year. He didn't renew his contract since I couldn't be enrolled in school there due to language issues, and we returned to India a year later. My little brother was born, and after a few months, the teaching offer from Bahrain came along. Once again he took it up with gusto. It was probably the best decision he ever made, for it changed all our lives, and for the better. And I'll always remember and think of Bahrain as my first real home, where I had the most happy memories growing up.
Fitting into the role of teacher there came naturally to him. He was passionate about his profession, which to him was nothing short of a calling. He loved being with his students and they became drawn to him too. All the girls in the class were darlings and the all the boys chimp, gibbon and orangutans!!! Year after year he taught, and with every year he got younger. During those early growing years, I don't remember having much of a bond with him. I think we shared the regular father-daughter relationship, whatever that might be and time passed by. And it was not until I was into my teens did I realise what a gem of a person I had for a father.
When I was in 9th standard, he was my Physics teacher. I still remember that first day, when we had the Physics period, and I was sooo nervous at the prospect of having my father walk in and take the class. For everybody knew who I was. And all eyes were on me to see how I would react. I just remember blushing furiously the whole time. He walked in, right on time. I don't remember what happened next. I wish I did...but my mind draws a complete blank. Maybe because I was all keyed up about it? Anyways, the initial trepidation wore off and he started talking Physics and then it wasn't so bad. I think, once in between, he looked at me and we smiled at each other. 45 minutes went by, and the bell rang. He walked out, and the murmur of voices began. A classmate who was sitting right across the aisle from me, turned around with a wide smile and declared....Tharini....I love your Dad, he's so cool!
Having a parent teach in the same school you go to, has its pros and cons. For instance, you can't get away with a whole lot of things, like bunking classes, a missed assignment, poor grades etc. News had a way of reaching with lightning speed. But thankfully, it wasn't something I worried about much, because I was a good student on the whole. The pro of course was that you gain a sort of celebrity status among your peers and seniors. I've walked along the corridors many a times, to have people whisper amongst themselves...that's Mr. Shiva's daughter. Its hard not to get pumped up with that kind of attention especially when you're a teen. The fun part was when I crossed him, by chance, in the corridoors and we had this little game that we played with each other. I'd look his way, smile brightly and chirp...Good morning, Sir....formally and he'd reply...Good Morning Ma'am...with equal formality. In many a recess, me and my friends would prefer to amble over to his staffroom and chat with him, to chatting amongst ourselves. And we'd always find one or the other student there ahead of us. He has been a counseller, friend, confidant and guide. And its no wonder that he won the Best Teacher's Award there as well. It was one of the most satisfying moments of his career, I think.
There is a single incident that captures the spirit of my father, my teacher. It happened when I was in the 10th standard, and he was taking a class. He was talking about the Big Bang Theory I think, and it started to rain outside. Now rain in Bahrain, the way I remember it, was not a regular occurence, and so there was a novelty attached to it when it happened. All our eyes darted to the window and we tried hard to stay focussed in class but we were clearly distracted. He noticed. He got up from the table that he was leaning against, and put down the piece of chalk. He dusted his hands off and declared the rest of the period free. And he watched the rain with us. I've never felt more proud of him than in that one single moment when he became one among us. As we continued to watch the rain and hear the thunder, he talked of a song....a rain song which he had listened some years ago and liked so much...he tried to remember the words....and then he hummed the song out for us...
Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain
Telling me just what a fool I've been
I wish that it would go and let me crying then
And let me be alone again.
The only girl I've cared about is gone away
Looking for her brand new start.
But little does she know that when she left that day
Along with her she took my heart.
Rain please tell her that I love her so
Please ask the sun to set her heart aglow
Rain in her heart and let the love we knew start to grow.
Oh listen to the falling rain....pitter patter pitter patter...
My school to me was nothing short of a second home, given that both my parents worked there for the biggest part of their lives. I have walked through every corridoor in every building and I love it with all my heart. One of the biggest highlights was when I walked along the same corridoors wth my father, as he held a 9 month old Winkie. That day was unforgettable.
I owe my father a lot more than just my education. He's the catalyst that propelled me towards books and music. And if I have any knowledge and appreciation for the music of the yesteryears, it is because of the special magic wand he waved over me. He's 61 years old and gives the phrase young at heart a whole new spin. He'd probably gasp at that number and tell me....I don't feel 61 ma. Flip the number....that's how old I am. :)
So celebrating him this Father's Day comes naturally to me. I wish he were in front of me so I could give him a big huge hug, but since I can't....I'll just say....Happy Father's Day to you Pops. You are my teacher, you are my friend, you are my inspiration, you are my love. And you are the legend that comes to life every single day. Here's dedicating to you something you wrote me once, when we had to part...