If my dad were alive today he'd be irritated with me - always waiting till the 11th hour! he'd expostulate - why can't you do things on time? If you had to write me a birthday post why wait till the last hour of my birthday?
And I'd be saying - but Papu I had to do that other thing - and I scanned the picture earlier and..
And he'd say - always excuses, dash it! Koi system nahin hai!
And I'd say - that's not true! System hai. And it is being done before your birthday is over na!
And he'd say - don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.
And I'd feel like laughing but wouldn't dare.
Every year on my dad's birthday I miss him more than other days - that's natural.
But I feel it more - or differently - when it's the Sunday before his birthday and I see the horoscopes for those whose birthday falls in the coming week. It's a reminder that there isn't something to look forward to. I think about reading the paragraph under Scorpio out to him when he was alive. Us interpreting those tantalisingly suggestive horoscopes trying to fit them into the reality, a shadow jigsaw puzzle. Three years after he died these thoughts are still very hard to think without tears and pain.
Although other thoughts - seeing him as a person, and not just as my dad, filter in and they are more difficult to categorise.
What does death do to the person who dies? We have no idea.
But it makes other people claim the person who has gone. Sometimes to erase uneasy memories, sometimes to make up self-aggrandising memories. After all the dead person is no longer there to contradict us. We can remake their life, their relationship with us, and through it, our own story in the world maybe.
Earlier I used to feel angry at that - feel contempt at the falsely bandied intimacies. But now I sometimes think, what other way do we, who have only known life, have to understand something as remote and befuddling as death? Our only paradigm is life. And with all the pettiness and generosity that involves, we use it to make sense of the most absolute of losses.
I find the task of recovering my father as a person difficult - as difficult as perhaps it must have been in life.
I remember one summer holiday in Gandhidham, where my dad worked for a while, in a desperate search for things to read (G'dham was a total cultural desert with no bookstores or libraries), I asked my dad for keys to some old trunks and looked through the one that had books it in.
I was mystified by the books I found. For me, my dad was someone who read India Today. I'd rarely seen him with a book. But in that box I found some sort of esoteric poetry, a copy of The Origin of Species, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in a silver coloured, multi-volume box set, Henry Miller, Harold Robbins, T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party in an edition that had martini glasses with faces on them, Peyton Place, John Steinbeck - all sorts of books, many with his name on the flyleaf - Ravi Karan Vohra or Ravi Vohra or RK Vohra, in my dad's stylised signature, looking less cooked than I knew it, as perhaps a young man's signature might. A signature still wet around the ears.
I sat for a while in the room full of trunks trying to imagine what kind of person my dad must have been who bought and read all these books. After a while I gave up - it was too hard to imagine him in any other way than the way I knew him. I took the books I wanted and locked up the rest.
Now, I wonder, if I were to look through his old things, his collection of pipes, his boxes full of Venus HB1 pencils (in the days when pencils had as many names as US visas) which he used for his navigation work I guess and got extremely irritated with me for stealing to take to school, his old letters - letters he wrote, letters people wrote him - I would find a little bit of someone I knew but a lot of someone I didn't. I could learn to love that person in absentia - that person after all had always been in absentia, since I didn't know that part of my father - but I could join him to the person I loved and expand my love to fit. Perhaps in death I could turn the paradigm of loving my father into the paradigm about knowing my father before he was my father and forging some odd relationship with it.
When we know someone, we know them only in terms of what they are to us. To be known as full people, perhaps they have to leave us?
The other thing about my dad that I had always known as part of him was that he had only one eye. He'd lost the other in the '65 war. To me that was never odd. My dad didn't just drive, he flew planes as a navigator, his missing eye did not really seem to come in the way. The only thing that underlined its absence was that every now and then my dad would be lying down with tears running down the side of his face. I remember the first time I saw them and was alarmed - until I realised that this was Albucid eye drops that he sometimes used. Later I learnt, fearfully, to put them in his eye for him. Although this meant he experienced discomfort, it was all done in a normal sort of way. I remember being perplexed when a little girl who visited got scared of him because of his bad eye - what was scary about it? It was my dad - who was very non-scary and a bit of a cutie pie, no? We never thought twice about it.
He must have. What would it have been for a young person to suddenly lose one eye? Not just the functional loss, but the feeling that your face has somehow been marred? I can't know now. I know that he was generally a positive and very diligent person and he taught himself to overcome the handicap. I didn't realise that was why my dad, who'd been a swimming champ in college, did not swim, because the chlorine in pools bothered him. I just sort of took all these things to be a part of him without querying their origins.
He did think about it over the years because in many photographs he sort of looked down, not quite at camera, but at an angle away fro mit- although in life he looked people fully in the eye.
So many things a person holds inside them - letting them flow only in controlled rivulets to certain people and not to others. So many little bits of them that flow away from them as life takes its course.
So, in his memory, a picture I found of him before he lost his eye, and maybe some other parts of himself - before I was a gleam in his eye, before he knew me or my little sister, before I knew him, before he was our dad - when he was just Ravi Karan Vohra, trying on a signature for style.
And pictures of him looking right at you as he used to do in life.
MA AND PA AT AN AIR FORCE 'HUSBAND'S NIGHT' - THEME - SHAM-E-AVADH
AND ON A BIRTHDAY - I THINK MA'S - WHERE I AM DRESSED IN SOMETHING HE MUST HAVE SURELY FOUND DISTRESSING (AS USUAL)
Last year's birthday post.