The day was fine. There was nothing wrong with it. And yet that day switched on our time machine.
Apparently out of nowhere he appeared on my mother’s doorstep – this person who shares my genes. And my mother being off her guard and in ‘compassionate mode’ that day, opened the door and took him in. Things went from bad to worse till she started feeling that age-old distress and anguish.
Finally my sister and I had to take matters in hand. As interactions with him continued, years rolled back. It was more than 20 years ago that he had left the house. I was around 21-22 when he had left. Had he changed in these past 20 years? What had he been up to? Had he done anything at all with his life after our ‘disturbance’ was removed from it ? He was the cause of our life being what it had been so many years ago. Till he was with us it had been a constant turmoil. And now he was back.
He was not an alcoholic, nor did he physically abuse us. But are those the only evils?
Born in a prestigious family, his father died when he was in high school. Yet his mother, my grandmother, managed to put together money and energy to see him through an engineering course. His personality was already expressing itself then. While his elder brother was focused and hardworking, this youth was taking loans and insisting his mother to provide funds for contesting elections, being more involved in all ‘other’ activities, rather than being focused on studies and goals, stealing money from family if required. Following whims without a sense of responsibility or accountability. Even at that time, all this was there!
He was the proverbial black sheep! With the vain hope that marriage would stabilise him, he was married off to my mother and they had us. Three kids. Who were to be collateral damage. Innocent bystanders who got emotionally abused in the great bargain. And yet he never stabilised.
Last year, when I met him after more than 20 years, he seemed to be that same person. I felt I was talking to an impulsive 20 year old. It was a roller coaster ride – the whole process of having what looked and sounded like a conversation with him!
He was talking about how he wants to write books – on Leh Ladakh (Have you been there? No no. But I have read about it), Indian democracy (What will you write on that? I will write what a farce it is. The government destroyed my life), Chatrapati Shivaji (I am a learned scholar and an authority. I am a renowned historian)! Have you started writing? No. But I will.
What had he done in the past 20 years? Really random things. He said to me in 2014, that now he would get a job in a management college. Even at this age of 74, he was dreamily fantasising that someone would wilfully employ him. (Or maybe it was just a wild storyline he was using on me).
Ages ago, he had a job in a reputed company, a good post, which he left. On some impulse, which was mistaken for ambition at that time by everybody, he went and started a Factory / Company, grandly named TEFCO. With a bank loan. He bought a workshop in the industrial area. And in his supremely unfocused manner, he did all sorts of things, multitalented that he was. He even did a stint as a lecturer in a management college. He must have been good. (Or so I would like to imagine). He had a great command over language. But he couldn’t retain that job either. And as usual, meanwhile, TEFCO suffered.
An engineer and businessman, who tried his talent in many random things, which ended in nothing. He helped set up the ‘orchestra’ in Pune in days when there was no such concept in the city. But he could never stick on with any group. He would have arguments and issues with everyone after some days. And before we knew it, he would be with some other group doing something else. Sometimes people from the theatre would visit us. Then that faded away. Sometimes some other project would start. Entirely random. And that too would come crashing down. Nothing lasted. Not even my mothers jewellery. Not even the Luna /moped she bought to make her transport a shade easier. They got sold when she was not looking, in exchange of funds to see him through some idea. And TEFCO would be without any work because he was unable to give it any time and attention. Because he was busy doing something else. Following his flights of fancy. Sometimes his ideas appeared novel and seemed kind of ahead of his times. He took it in his head to publish a directory of small shops. Roaming around the city-suburbs,he collected money from the shops and beauty-parlour, was put in jail in the process in response to a complaint. And the directory never saw the light of day. Surprisingly very few people from that huge group who contributed for the ads complained!! People were clueless and he was a goalless con-artist.
And the bank loans went on accumulating their famous compound interests. And his successful brother, an unfortunate guaranteer of his bank loan, kept on sending angry letters to him. Letters which he would tear off along with the sealed envelope and throw in the dust bin. And I, as a curious child, would salvage them from the bin secretly, piece them up together and read them! Trying to make sense.
As an adolescent I took tuitions for earning my pocket money. And he would steal the petty sum of 300-500/- which I earned. And convince me that he would return the amount soon. Which he never did.
There were other loans, taken from innocent, helpless, naive people. Amounts would vary. He was blessed you see, blessed with the clichéd gift of the gab!!! He could convince anyone of anything. He could convince a person that he needed a special saviour. He could convince them that just 8-10 thousand would be enough to save him from the current specific situation. He could convince them that there was no other person at that point of time who needed more help, and that they were angels sent from heaven to help him. He spoke well. All the virtues of his ancestors shone through him when he spoke. The listener was under his spell. (To our surprise we found that he still meets such people, eager to be swindled).
We never knew where the money went. He never got us anything. But, within a few months, these innocent, helpless, naive people would land up on our doorstep, to see if they could get their money back. It would take a few more visits for the spell to be broken. Sigh. I still remember so many of them, as they appeared through the eye hole! The vagabond Major, the depressed Mr. C and so many other random people. And the job of sending those poor souls away empty handed was left to us kids. My younger brother, my younger sister and I. The distress on those faces was unbearable. Sometimes the anger, sometimes the confusion, sometimes the anguish. We heard them. We saw them. Our emotions were tested. Constantly.
Things did not make sense. For a long long time. I remember afternoons when he was just sleeping at home. My mother would be busy working. And he would be just doing nothing. Tiffin unopened and unfinished. On being reprimanded, his fits of rage when he would fling the plate full of food away – food he had not even helped to earn. Fights with neighbours, temper tantrums, fights with his brothers and my grandfather. There are so many things that started coming back. The time-Machine was switched on with a setting of years ago.
Life was just full of copy-paste cycles of all these routines.
As children we did not fully comprehend what was happening. We were in a sort of haze. There was the constant shameful feeling that our father is not like other fathers. We avoided our friends visiting our home. When I visited my friends homes and saw their fathers, I was filled with wonder to note the warmth, sense of control and protection, support and love that they bestowed and conveyed. We never really knew what it meant to have a father. He was incapable of affection with any depth, never bothered with our routines or studies. I don’t think he even knew what class we were in. No questions of attending meetings in schools. He never worried about our fees or exams.
In fact, in my mind there is a black hole in the ‘father’ location. Like that of a fatherless child. Perhaps the fatherless state is better because it’s a clean, eager black hole. Whereas mine is an ashamed and tainted little one.
Meanwhile my mother was working to make ends meet and make sense out of our lives, reluctant to divorce due to her misguided notions of marriage. Finally she saw the light after his disruptive behaviour became unbearable with regular verbal abuse flung on the kids.
Even after 20 years, he still persistently spoke about the unfair treatment given to him by everyone. The ‘builder’ who took over surreptitiously the plot in Shivajinagar which he had taken over surreptitiously from an Indian family that had migrated to France. The bank who wouldn’t give him allowances for his sick-unit. The father in law who wouldn’t loan him endless amounts of money for his whims. The government who did not understand small businesses. His brothers. My mother. Random people. All unfair to him. He – still pure and the world – still evil. Lots of reasons for his failure.
He never spoke about how we really were. He could not earnestly ask us about us. Our marriages, our families. During one conversation he suddenly got out a piece of paper and asked me my birthday. Me-his first born! Suddenly I felt like his client whom he wanted to please. He was getting me under his spell. And on that day, once the money was actually handed over to him, he burst on us in anger and drove us away! Like a talented artist playing a double role, he was suddenly Mr. Hyde. He had no connection. No affection. No warmth. Never had.
Why did he come back in our lives? I mean broadly thinking about it! Was it so that we could sift and sort our thoughts and feelings? Was it for a final closure?
He was not meant to marry, I guess. He would have been better off like that. Aimless, goalless and without a sense of attachment and responsibility. And yet we were meant to be born.
So how do the kids of such people look like? Are they mutants? Like the X-men? What do they go through? What do they do with their lives? I will perhaps write a book some day on that, so that others in that situation might be helped.
Meanwhile even at the age of 74 he continues his rambling, aimless journey of life, living in his unreal detached world. I wonder sometimes – WHY?