My father hates a couple of habits wholeheartedly. A few of them include swearing/cursing (expletives), raising the voice, frightening the weak, winking, smoking, and chewing paan, to recall but a few.
When someone screamed, or swore, he would ask, “Do you live in the slums?” Because he believed that only those who have hard lives do not have time to correct their behaviour as they are preoccupied with earning their next bread. Incivility, under those circumstances, can still be excused, but never under any circumstances otherwise.
When I was small, I would go into the neighbour’s garden, sometimes to sit on their swing, and at other times to pluck flowers for my prayers. They had a dog named Tiger. He was small but ferocious. I took the risk daily, and Tiger invariably chased me out. One day, as I sat on the swing, waiting for my school bus, Tiger darted towards me, with the most nasty bark. I flung from the height and straight on to the hard floor, landing on my chin. Briefly unconscious, bloodied uniform, first-aided by the landlord, etc. Once conscious, I was sent on the bus when it arrived. Few days I walked around with a plaster-beard. I still bear the (real) scar as a reminder.
My small hands made garlands for daily prayers from the plucked Champa flowers. Was I religious! In return, the neighbour received the daily prashad. The neighbour had a huge house, and also a tenant living on the first storey. The landlord found me pretty amusing when I cleaned out their flowering bush but their awkward tenant had a problem. One day, he came down and screamed at me, and shooed me out. I cried, told my dad, and it was left at that. I didn’t think about it much until one day, many years later, in our new home, I saw on the TV that the same guy was arrested by the police. It didn’t make me happy or sad, as I was indifferent. I had been too young to understand what holding a grudge meant. But, I later found out that even though my dad had not expressed his annoyance at the man’s behaviour towards me when I was younger, deep inside my dad waited for the right moment to unleash his wrath. He had taken upon himself to find out every little thing he more than possibly can about that man, and discovered that, at some stage many years before, the wretched man had been involved in several dubious activities, in another city. The trail had gone cold. But, there was one person (my dad) digging the dirt on him. The man should have known better before trying that behaviour with my dad’s daughter.
“How dare he raises his voice at my daughter? Did he think he will get away with that behaviour? Never. Not with Ram Avtar around,” my dad uttered, watching the TV.
That’s when I knew my dad had avenged my tears.
My dad, our bhaya (we call him). He has always loved all sorts of people asking him for help. “People only ask when they know you could,” he says.
There is no “impossible” word in his dictionary. He is now old in age, but the challenges he takes are equally tough as the ones he took when he was younger, which were way more than many young people I have met take.
He still phones people up to say, “Please use me while I am able.” Ha ha. My mummy, Asha Devi, made that possible for him, for it was her who had to put up with the people that came to our house seeking his help. She was left with the task of cooking and accommodating them in her very very very clean home. It was such a rare household. We children, myself and my two siblings, also started bringing people who needed help over to our house. It was like we were attracted to helpless people. My mum started to call our home a dharamshala. There was always plenty of food, clean bathrooms and tidy beds with freshly washed linens. Every person I have met has stayed over at my house, eaten my mum’s food, used her clean towels, been chauffeured in our cars, and much more. Some have been shamelessly thankless.
My dad’s take on that – “No one takes from us unless we owe it to them from our previous life.”
Ha! My family must have been thugs in the previous life then!
My dad, a rare man. A bit crazy, but a dynamic crazy. My mum, a ruthlessly, undiplomatically honest woman. She hates liars. Unfortunately, she met so many that she lost faith in people. She is proud of her children. That’s what counts.
We siblings do what we were brought up doing, helping people out. We sing the same song that our dad still sings to us, much to my mum’s annoyance, “Apne liye jiye to kya jiye, ae dil tu jee zamane ke liye (what good is living for own self, oh my heart, live for the world)”.
I have, since, known people stoop down to gutter level. I am now a grown-up. Can fight my own battles. I do like to continue helping people, but some days when I feel hurt, I do feel like yelling, “I should peel the sticker ‘Use me’ off my forehead.” Some days, I’m left feeling that I’ve been taken for granted. But then, maybe I owed it to them from my previous life, Or, they will owe me in the next life.
If there is a next life!
I will not yell. I feel good this way. I come out stronger.
Surely, it is their ignorance that makes them behave a certain way. They know no better, and hence feel no remorse. Their foolishness makes them feel proud of their behaviour. They feel big by shouting someone down. Why else would they repeat it? But this does not mean I continue to put up in this life what I haven’t grown up believing. If my dad could hear them, he will surely ask, “Do you live in the slums?”