Appa

I thought I would do away with blog posts for people’s birthdays, merely because they became difficult to write, and I was nervous I’d forget people. This morning I woke up thinking I’d write a poem for my dad, but then I felt that I’d be pushing myself: I believe writing full sentences is far easier for me. So here goes. I’m not very sure where this is going, but the underlying theme is reflected in the title of this piece. This one’s about Appa, whose birthday it was yesterday.

I love looking through old photo albums, and a lot of them contain cutesy photos of me with my father. There’s this one of me as a child where he’s got me in his arms:

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And this sweet photo we got in 2002, on his birthday:
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And while going through these, I was flooded with a host of memories from when I was younger. When I first enrolled in “school”, Appa drove me to school & back home. He picked me up every afternoon, and was prompt every single day – ensuring that I never had to wait beyond when my classes ended. His office used to give him a mid-day break, and it was party time for me: Appa used to serve me food, make me tell him stories from classes, and in general, catch up on how our days had been.

He then proceeded to nap & snore. I found it rather amusing how I closed the door every day and worked on my “homework” on my small table while he slept. I used to crawl up to the bed and wake him up, taking him by surprise every single day. He then proceeded to go back to work.

I also remember the time he got home the Nokia Connector from GITEX. We sat and bonded over this marvelous new piece of technology and discovered the Bluetooth concept together. Our shared addiction to tech was also evident when he brought home the iPod. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and loved how we could listen to any music we wanted. He was more content about getting to listen to Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi, whose tunes he hummed and sang along to.

We had a lot of traditions when I was a child. Each time we reached the turn before home, there was a competition in the car about who spotted the turn first: a fun way to keep me awake in the backseat of the car. Appa won the most (because he always drove), but let out a chuckle about how I used to attempt in vain, every single time.

He traveled with me to India more than Amma did, I think. I forgot about his stories, even though he repeated them multiple times, but I was always in awe of how he was able to remember every turn, every corner he walked on or cycled on, and wanted to be like him one day – recounting stories to my children.

Appa set high standards of discipline for me as a child, and I used to be scared of him more than I was scared of mom. He was the tougher one. He saw through me when I lied: about when I got into the habit of biting nails, or the horrible habit of wasting food (and lying about it). He saw through me, trusted me enough to confide in him, and helped me chase out my habits. I’ll never forget the tears in his eyes when he found out about the food. I think that hit him the most.

He had to relocate owing to job commitments to Bangalore, when I was in the 4th Grade. Amma ended up donning both hats for a while, but Appa managed to keep a check on me through Gtalk, and Trillian. I could feel his watchful gaze everytime I played RuneScape or ClubPenguin,  and even when I watched TV outside of the hours I was allowed to.

He retained his influence over those few years when we were in Dubai by making constant trips back home, and as a child, I don’t think I noticed his absence too much. He ensured he was around for me, and I was lost in my own world.

We then moved to Bangalore, and Appa, in a twist of fate, got relocated to Dubai. It was tough, and we ended up spending the next 8/9? years of our lives apart, with distance separating us & technology keeping us together.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wondered how he kept it together.

My pre-teens were more troubling than my actual teens for Appa, because in a new environment, he lost a lot of the “disciplined” Tejas he was used to seeing. I had started to rebel in small ways – things Amma had under control, but not things Appa was comfortable with. I stayed up slightly late-r, used the computer more often, watched TV a lot more, went outside without permission. And I feel that hit Appa hard, only because our conversations started to become more distant. I remember typing “nm” (nothing much) more often to Appa, than I did with anyone else.

Things changed as I shifted schools, however. Appa and I started bonding over my studies again: with Science a mutual love. He was very enthused about my board exams, and was my number one critic, because he set high benchmarks for me, and made me set high benchmarks for myself, only because he believed in my ability. This was a counter to Amma’s tactic: which went from complaining about how I barely studied, to telling me to relax. Appa knew why I chased what I was chasing, and he pushed me to chase it with more drive.

I don’t know how to explain it, but if Amma was the blanket I could hold on to when I was feeling cold, Appa was the wind I had to fight against. And that worked, in my head, because it gave me a sense of competition I had never felt before, and Appa started to become the competition. It started becoming about beating standards Appa set. To prove a point to him.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he did this to make me compete with myself, and no one else. He created a system of internal pressure, a fire in my belly, of sorts. And he did this when he saw me once a month.

I hated it at times. It sucked not having him around to teach me things like shaving properly, or to teach me to ride a cycle. I didn’t appreciate the fact that I couldn’t go go-karting with him often, because Appa loved speed & so did I, nor did I appreciate the fact that we ended up fighting almost every time he came home.

I think we fought a lot only because we thought we were seeing different things for me. I started believing I was “right” or “correct” a lot more, and Appa thought we had to do things a certain way, that Project Tejas had a map to follow, when I was starting to become more carefree.

But Appa, apart from being my number one critic, was my number one factory of self-esteem. He told me my photography was good, when Amma yelled at me for shaking the camera. He told me I could play the piano well, even though I practiced the same pieces again and again and again, and didn’t move past those.

I never thought we saw eye-to-eye, because I differed with him on a lot of things. But a lot of that changed when I was in Grade 12, because I realized I was going to move away from home.

Appa became very hands-on in Grade 12. I hated how my parents didn’t know much about my college admissions procedures, and I used to mock them a lot for it. Amma tried, but gave up easily, but Appa didn’t like not-being-involved. I didn’t know this then, but he sat awake past his bed-time just to understand me & my college options more. He asked me what I wanted to do and showed me opportunities I could use to achieve my aims, but also told me what he felt would be better for me. What I loved the most was that Appa started accepting that I could make some decisions for myself, and began to leave me the freedom to do that.

Through Grade 12, and since I’ve come to college, I’ve started to see Appa’s growth, only because I’ve stopped antagonizing him so much. It’s not the right word to use: antagonizing, but we always found ourselves on opposite sides of discussions, so it was rare that we had conversations that left us both in splits & laughing.

I hated myself for distancing Appa out of my life a little. Amma was around, so I ended up asking her for permissions: for sleepovers, or movies, etc, and ended up informing Appa. I never thought this would affect him, but I now know it did, because he felt left out a lot, and I had contributed to that feeling. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the way I had made him feel, and I started wondering whether I could have changed my behaviour toward him.

And I didn’t get how he managed to deal with these emotions. I still don’t.

Appa and I bond over lots of things, and share a lot of the same characteristics. There’s the hair & the teeth, but there’s also the attention to detail and the love for the process, rather than the result. There’s also the passion for cars and sports: all kinds. There’s the love for traveling. There are several topics I can speak to him about, but rarely do we share conversations on those, because there’s something more underlying about the relationship Appa & I share: it’s that we both have grown up over the last 8 years to learn the value of family.

And of course everyone thinks this is cliched, that family has a value that is inherent and you never need to “learn” it. But sometimes you learn things about the familial unit that you can only get out of staying away from your familial unit.

There was this crazy possibility that Amma, Appa and I would have ended up in three different time zones, but I know Appa would wake up early to ensure he was on time to wish me Good Morning.

Not to take anything away from Amma, but Appa spent time away from his parents post the 10th Grade, and then away from family. Amma coped with the blood pressure problems (sorry for causing those), amongst other things, but Appa coped with detachment & a foreign land.

Since I’ve come to college, Appa has wished me Good Morning on WhatsApp daily. And sometimes I’ve been so rushed (because I’ve woken up late) that I’ve responded only at 12. I cringe then, feeling that maybe his morning isn’t going great, and my message could have made it better, earlier.

Appa is the reason I fear failure, and the reason I hate losing to myself. He’s the reason I wake up in the morning with a goal and the reason I end up disappointing myself. But I love it. I love being this way because Appa is the only reason I’ve learned to love my work.

When I got 68 in Physics in Grade 11 I broke down over the phone, and Appa cried with me. He sobbed over the phone, but coaxed me into believing in myself again.

When I got rejected by Oxford, I cried for an hour atleast. Appa called up Amma to find out how I was doing because he wanted to be sure he was saying the right things to me when I needed to hear them the most.

As recently as yesterday, Appa made me reprioritize. He’s helped me develop a method to my madness. And every time I get scared, nervous, or stressed out, I call up Amma for a pep talk, or just to tell her how I feel. But I need to hear Appa explaining to me why every single emotion I feel is normal or good. He is my voice of reason, my rigid moral compass, my bedrock of emotional stability (who cried every single time we saw each other off at the Airport),

And he’s the reason I’ve grown up an optimist. Because from 4,039km away, he’s never stopped telling me things get better.

Happy Birthday, Appa. You’ve grown a lot in the past few years, and I hope to never stop learning from you.

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