I have grown up calling my dad, Bapi. It's a name of endearment. It is unique and different, (in my head at least). It lies somewhere in popularity charts, in between "Pitaashri" and "Pops".
I remember, one fine afternoon, playing in front of my dad. It was a jumping-walking game and it made a lot of noise. I was entertaining myself in the absence of my sister and my mother. My dad looked up from his newspaper and squinted his brows together.He probably wondered to himself, "How does she make so much noise single- handedly?" He never asked me to stop. My father has always been lenient on both of us. I was three or four at that time.
I stopped my prancing and gave my father a good long stare. I screwed up my brows like him and thought deeply. Then I asked the question.
"Who are you?"
He looked at me shocked. He recovered soon and then introduced himself.
"I am your father. You can call me Bapi". He answered solemnly.
From then on, I called my dad by that name.
I remember him being away on trips a lot. Once when he was assigned to pick us up from the school bus stop, the conductor of the bus didn't recognize him. My mother was the usual face he was accustomed to see. To ensure he didn't hand over two kindergarten kids to a stranger he asked us, " Do you know him?"
I took a good look at my father and said, "No".
My school bus drove away as my father stared at us in bewilderment and disbelief.
What happened next is history. It suffices to say that I was never made to forget this incident.
My dad had a transferrable job. His job was the reason he was away from us for long periods of time. He has traveled all over India and in recent years all over the world. His job took him to little known cities of India. He stayed for a an average of three years in places like Thiruvananthapuram (south) to Rajnandgao (north) to Cuttack (east) and several places in between. During all those periods of his absence he wrote letters.
The letters came in a square yellow envelope with two or three colorful stamps attached. The postmark showed the date and the place he wrote it from. It changed often. The letters were addressed alternately to me and my sister. I waited for them. So did my sister.
When my mother received the post and brought it along with her shopping bag, calling out our names, we rushed out. The name was always written neatly. Whoever the envelope was addressed to, felt super important for that day. As we carefully teared it open, the neatly folded pages of stationary tumbled out. Both of us sat down to read it immediately.
My father has a neat hand writing. His letters always had a header. There was a time, a day and a place. Whenever I read it, I tried to think what we were up to when my father was writing his letter to us. Irrelevant of who he addressed the envelope to, the letter always started with both our names.
His letters transported us to his world. It didn't matter how remote my father lived. His letter gave us a magic carpet ride. It told stories of his place, his activities and the uniqueness of the culture that surrounded him at that time. He had interesting stories he would narrate from his daily life or sometimes tell us a tale from history and mythology. With his letters there used to be cut-outs. Cut-outs from cartoon strips, a funny story or just a news item that he thought we should know. In those letters, my father connected with us. I was too young to realize his way of thinking but I definitely felt his positive energy.
I remember one letter from him. He was posted in Amravati at that time. It began something like this, "It is raining outside. There are big puddles on the road. The school kids are splashing as they walk. I remember how tough it was to take you both to the school bus stop in the rain.I recall it was difficult with your bags, the water bottles and the umbrellas. But it has been so long..."
My father made me feel how much he missed us without saying it aloud. The letters from my father were an integral part of my childhood. They allowed us to bond with a parent who wasn't always around. Every time my father came home, the house was filled with cheer and sound. His booming voice enlivened our place. By corollary, his departures were also marked with a depressing silence.
Now there are no letters. Letters from my Bapi stopped when I left for my undergrad. The era of cell phones, emails, text messages shut the door on handwritten
documents.I miss them dearly. As I speak to my Bapi on phone, I have the overpowering urge to ask him to write to me again.
"But whats there to write?" he asks. "We talk so often."
I nod in silence. But I keep asking. Maybe one day, my mailbox will have the yellow stationary envelope, post marked from India and neatly addressed to me. Till then I wait.