Anyone who knows me knows that a large part of who I am comes from Baba, my dad. Father, friend, sibling, mentor, playmate, life coach, he has played and continues to play all of these roles in my life. On the occasion of his 56th birthday, I take a moment to take a walk down memory lane.
Swarnima one more round. Common! he roared. I was seven years old. We were on the running track behind my school. I looked down at the four twigs in my hand, one collected for every round he had made me complete. And I hated it. Expressed it pretty openly, too. Why can’t I just play house-house like the other girls, I wailed. Just yesterday you made me swim 40 laps in the swimming pool. I never said you can’t, he said. But you have to get some exercise. Finish this, do your push-ups and go. 18 years later, I am grateful. Fitness has become an integral and indispensable part of my routine today, it gives me the vigour to lead my day with energy and positivity. Where do you get all that energy from, people ask me. What drug are you on? This is the drug. The drug that Baba gave me. Fitness, positivity.
Don’t study so much, go out and play. Make friends, socialise. Life isn’t about textbooks. I was going through this pre-teen phase where I was almost always holed up with my books. Books seemed like better friends than humans. Yet, once again, I listened to him and forced myself to go talk to people who seemed like they didn’t really want to talk to me. I’m not finding the right kind of friends, I complained. Not everyone is nice, and not everyone I can relate to. So forget those who aren’t nice, and try to relate to the rest. Adapt. And so I did. I adapted, and today I have a great many friends. All with different backgrounds, a rich set of experiences, interesting and sometimes conflicting opinions. I have a treasury of connections, just like you do.
I was 16 years old, preparing, or rather struggling to prepare for both India’s central board examinations and IIT-JEE (one of the hardest entrance examinations in the world). My motivation had hit an all-time low and I had resigned to watching TV for hours at a stretch. The Bachelorette, the Kardashians, 90210, Roadies, I watched them all. The excessive pressure had pushed me into cycles of procrastination. Baba observed for a few days, but said nothing. I could see he disapproved, but at that point I was beyond caring. Then one day he walks up to me and says, what do you want to be? What do you mean, I asked. Do you want to do something ambitious in life? Do you want to be something? An engineer, a scientist, a professor? Yeah, I grumbled. Well this is not how it’s going to happen. Watching TV, and watching crap at that. Decide who you want to be. If you want to be a housewife, I’ll happily walk away now. We’ll get you married when you come of age. And there’s no problem with it, if that’s what you want. But if that’s not what you want, you’ll have to work towards it. Thanks, Baba. For igniting my inner fire and pushing me to do what I was capable of. Thanks to you, today I am an engineer and a technology-enabler.
I came back one day, mildly annoyed. Tara* got a 98% and I got a 96%. Congratulations! I’m so proud of you. Let’s go out to eat today. He seemed genuinely happy. Didn’t you hear me, I asked. Tara got 2% more. I am in no mood to party. Forget it, I’m going to my room. Did Tara steal your 2%? Why are you upset for her success? Be happy for her. Yeah but she’ll end up being more successful, maybe she’ll even come on TV if she tops! And I won’t. Wouldn’t it be nice even if she does? He questioned. Wouldn’t you feel proud that somebody you know is on TV, as compared to a stranger you know nothing about?
There are countless instances like these. I can go on and on. Baba wasn’t always a wise saint though. He’s also the same person who stole and quickly gobbled down the one prawn I had lined up on my plate to save it for the end. He’s also the same person to promise me a full tandoori chicken if I accomplished some random task he’d challenge me to, and never actually treat me to it. He’s also the same person to swiftly destroy my idea to create a stress-measuring device for pilots. What are you doing, he asked. Don’t build something silly that no one wants. He’s also the same person to yell at me when I mess up, lose my passport, forget something, can’t tell my way home. You duffer! When will you ever change?
But then he’s also always got my back. Today I can say with confidence that he’ll do anything in his capacity to go all out and do what it takes for me, even if it means correcting for my mistakes. When I lost my passport in London, he called up everyone he knew and made sure I got a new one made in a day, a near-impossible feat. Even as he dismissed my idea about the stress measuring device for pilots, he connected me to everyone he knew from his days in the Air Force Academy. He’s been my constant cheerleader. My undying source of positivity and life force.
Happy Birthday Baba.