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Proud salute to a father

The afternoon was unusually hot in Coimbatore and I felt even hotter inside me upon witnessing an irritating scene just outside our home, a government quarters.

My father had gone to Coimbatore on his elevation as a Deputy Collector and on his insistence I moved from my grandparents’ home to join him there to pursue my post-graduation. From the age of 12 I had been living with my grandmother, till I completed my degree course in Chennai. I enjoyed the emotional comfort of being with my father and responded to his desire to shift to Coimbatore with excitement. I had known him to be a strict government official, and since childhood we had a certain fearful respect towards him and observed extraordinary caution in dealing with any issues he handled. 

But that afternoon was emerging as a challenge to my beliefs, and what was unfolding before my eyes at the entrance to our house made me tremble with indignation. I emerged from the drawing room on hearing the sound of a car coming to a halt outside. I found a couple of gentlemen clad in white shirts and dhotis, accompanied by a man in trousers — whose face alone I could recognise, having seen him in a local supermarket — quietly getting out of a white Ambassador car. The driver rushed to open the trunk, and one after another, big bamboo baskets filled with a variety of fruits were taken out and brought to our verandah. 

By then my father had come out, with a white towel enveloping his neck over his white vest. He kept staring at the ‘guests’, who were all much taller than him, and didn’t speak a word. This increased my anger. How can a group of people dare to venture into the house of a government official so blatantly to appease him to seek to secure some undue privilege? What bothered me even more was the stoic silence my father maintained. 

But that lasted hardly for 90 seconds. I could see my father’s eyes turning red and he was waiting only for all the visitors to assemble before him. I don’t remember the exact words he spoke, but his terrifying denunciation was expressed in his body language. And here was a short man emerging taller on his uprightness, conviction to his ideals and integrity, rendering those standing before him humbled. They took to their heels and rushed out with their baskets. I could hear their disillusionment in the sound of their car doors being banged shut.

My father came in as if nothing had happened, but my conscience pricked me. I went to him holding his hands tight and close to my heart, breaking down uncontrollably. He was unmoved and asked me “...[W]hat do you know about me... Did you think I would fall on my values I held so dear to my heart all along in my career? You are just on your way to completing your studies... let me see how you people face the challenges in life and exhibit virtue in your careers...”

He patted my shoulders affectionately, and made me sit down with him, narrating his early life in the Revenue Department in the then North Arcot district of Madras State. 

With rice being scarce, there used to be check posts erected by the Department to stop illegal movement of paddy and rice across the district and the State. While he was inspecting one such spot, a muscleman questioned him as he stopped his rice-laden truck. At one stage the man caught hold of my father and drew out a sharp knife. But he ended up planting his knife on his own hand that was holding my father, who was muttering something to himself. Screaming at the top of his voice, the offender fled the scene thinking my father had overpowered him through some ‘magical’ spell. 

I asked my father what was the ‘mantra’ that proved to be his saviour. With a laugh, he replied that he was only chanting some slokas as he thought his life was coming to an end. He was not yet married.

It is over 37 years now since that hot afternoon brought a cool breeze into my heart and I look upon my nonagenarian father with utmost pride!

 

sv.venu@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 5:59:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/Proud-salute-to-a-father/article17297791.ece

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