Friday, September 23, 2011


My Dad just retired. He has always been an ambitious person. He aimed high. Depending on who you spoke with my Dad came out as a man of many talents or none at all.
If you spoke with my mom and asked her, like an interviewer, what my Dad did, her response would be something like this:

"Who? My husband? What is this about? Is he in trouble? Are we in trouble? ...oh he is not...that's good to know! Phew! I have always warned him with dire consequences, but I never meant them. [ A broad smile ] My husband works hard. Very very hard. For his job. He runs around every day listening and obeying his superiors and (mis) guiding his juniors. At home, he mostly sleeps, wakes up to eat and falls back to sleep again. Sigh!"
At this point, the interviewer would probably move the mike away because the train of monologue is dangerously similar to a overworked wife's outburst. And that is no longer entertaining.
The next person to be asked would be us. Me and my sister. Perhaps, the interviewer would swing the microphone between our faces, not knowing if it makes any difference. After all we look alike - could we possibly have different opinions about our dad?
Depending on what our ages were at the time of the interview, our opinion about our dad would vary.

Age three: " heee"

Age six: "Bapiiiiiiiii is bhalo (good)!"

Age twelve: "I think my dad writes to us less. He needs to write more. I also think he makes my mother cry when he leaves and laugh when he is back. He works and works but not at home. I love my mother."

Age twenty-four: "My dad has taken care of his professional life very well. He is very ambitious and has made personal sacrifices to ensure his progress in the corporate ladder. It meant great places for us to visit, great education, good food, comfortable life but less of my dad's presence. I wish he was around more often. I enjoy talking to him. He has so many stories to tell. I miss him."

Age NOW: "Bapi is there now...but we have left home."

If the interviewer would pause there for a moment, perhaps he could discern the sadness in our voices. When we most wanted our dad around, he was missing. Now when I speak to him every day, I realize what I have missed.

His coworkers, peers and superiors admired, idolized, and patronized him. He was an ideal worker. He worked like it was his personal mission to make the company succeed. He zeal for getting more business, coming up with strategies and visions was amazing. As a result he was forever busy and travelling. I knew very little of his achievements ...until now.

Just a few days ago, my dad called me up. He wanted to know the recipe for chappati (Indian bread). Ever since he retired, he had been on a mission to lose weight. To his credit, he has already lost 16 pounds and 6 inches off his waistline! In addition to walking about and yoga twice a day, groceries, fixing the home and following my mother's instructions, he now wants to implement dietary changes. Using the power of Google vested in him, he has unearthed the hitherto unknown benefits of "whole wheat roti" over rice. In a Bengali household, "rotis" have always been an unloved step sister to the universally adored "rice" as staple diet. Since my mother refused to make him the chappatis (except on weekends), he has taken it onto himself to make them.

While giving him the instructions, I found myself amazed. I have had recipe downloads from my mother, but this was the first time my dad thought of me as a source of information. My father was never a fan of my cooking. In his words,
"It is neither Bengali, nor good."

Me and my sister had both been very distressed at the thought of our father retiring. My mother was slightly concerned, but not too much, because she would still be getting away to her work place to escape just in case my dad became too difficult to handle in his retired state. I could not comprehend my father sitting at home. He had always been so involved with his work, every minute, that the utter absence of it was terrifying. I worried he would slowly depress himself into a state of loneliness. All his power and influence would disappear with his bygone position.

I conspired with my sister and got his resume made. It was then that I realized the length and breadth of his professional achievement. He had been a success - in ways that I can only dream to be in my current nondescript position. Along with his resume,his Linked in profile was also created. The idea was to get him another job. No matter how much my dad wanted to retire, we did not want to let him.

The day came and went by. My dad was an official retiree. Much to our amazement, he got himself busy. Every time we brought up job hunting, he would silence us with his list of to-dos and chores. Apparently there was no dearth of work at home, under my mother's direction. He has started making a lesser fuss about every thing he cooks - because he cooks often now. Once my mother is off to work, he is left behind fending for himself. Much like us, he relies on "bread omelet" and "Maggi" on his lazy afternoons.

I feel closer to him now. All my life, I have spoken to my mother, every single day. My dad, irregularly. Now it is reversed. We share culinary mishaps and tips to avoid burning food while he realizes there is a wealth of knowledge to share. He unravels tales on life, work, astrology, fate, youth, interviews, blunders during our telephonic conversations.

I smile and laugh when he complains about hauling heavy grocery bags, rickety tin boxes that serve as commuter buses, the ruckus people causes in the name of reform and the general irritation he feels settling down to Kolkata. (California has become his first love followed by Mumbai!) I make a mental note to find my dad a job in US.

He always held the belief/philosophy that a person has a predefined job that they have to complete before they pass onto the next world. Since he retired, my dad tells me,

"I have completed what I came to this world to do." Before I can interrupt anxiously, he continues,
" That is why I do my remaining tasks (assigned by your mom) very very slowly!"
It amazes me how my dad finds humor in the irony of being "done" and having nothing more to do.

As both of us struggle with our professional and retired lives, we find a common place to share, to crib, to complain and to joke.

But above all, I rediscover my far away father! :)


Sushant said...

Awesome. I liked your mother's interview most. Is that true?

Meenakshi said...

Hey Sushant

The interviews are fictitious, but my mom would probably react that way. Thanks for reading! :)


Enakshi said...

I also rediscovered my Dad since he retired.
Only the other day, he mentioned that he would be completing 6 months of retired life. Then 10, then more and then no more.

Retirement is a different feeling. The complete absence of anything definite, any aim or goal. From being awfully busy to searching for the next thing to complete.

Nice of you to pen this down.
Keep writing!

Dinesh Nagar said...

It's really nice that you share so much with your parents. I wish I could too.