It had been a long day for Dadabhai. It was finally the day of his daughter’s wedding and the relief of making it here, also made him feel guilty. His nephew had offered to handle everything today and for the first time Dadabhai had agreed. He felt tired and unprepared to take on this day. So he sat quietly in his dimly lit study as the family and guests gathered in the shamiana outside. Entire maholla had gathered for his baby’s wedding. His only daughter, who had grown up in these streets, had been loved and fed by every mother of this extended family, was getting married today. That thought stuck with him more today than ever. The sentimentality made him feel like a fool, but he realised these are burdens and joys of being a father to a girl.
He shut the door lightly, so he could keep his eye on what was happening outside but not hear the noises. He suddenly heard a distant “Dadabhai!”. It sounded like his childhood friend Mansookh. He muttered a soft “Haan!” only to realise his wife was now scolding Mansookh for not doing something she had asked him to do. Dadabhai decided to continue sitting quietly, unnoticed. He started going through his journals, reading stories he used to write about raising his daughter. The first time they went to buy her a readymade frock, my god, that was such a scene. She cried when they couldn’t find anything her size, she was a very skinny girl! Then she cried harder when they suggested that her mother stitch her a nice new frock. She finally decided to buy a frock she liked even though it was two sizes larger than her. His wife tried to dissuade her from the purchase, it was a grey frock with flowers in black stitched around the neck. His wife said it was too grim for a child, she tried to make Dadabhai say something. But he wanted none of this. He simply agreed to whatever his baby said because he had realised early on, she always got what she wanted. His daughter was not a stubborn child but she was resolute. He knew it was simply futile to try and convince her of anything if she was convinced about it herself. But he trusted her completely. He knew he had taught her well.
He laughed thinking back to those times. That is the nostalgia of having a child and then suddenly realising they grew up too fast without you. He sunk in his chair a little more as he felt the age of his lifetime in the heaviness of the pages. He turned them slowly, randomly catching words while trying to blink away the tears from his eyes. He was happy for the woman his daughter had become. She had found a man for herself, someone who made her happy and there was nothing more he wanted for her. He closed the diary in his hands, slowly leaned back into the chair and closed his eyes. He tried to clear his mind.
“Baba! You called for me?” Dadabhai opened his eyes to see his daughter standing at the door. “Yes. Where is Sugam?” “He is coming. Everything ok baba?” “Yes, yes. Everything is fine don’t worry. Come sit here.” Dadabhai pulled a stool close to him. His daughter sat down and held his hand in an embrace, afraid to let go of it. “Arey Sugam! Come in! Sit, sit!”. He waited. And when everyone was settled down, he took a deep breath and began slowly. “I know it is unusual for a father to ask to see the bride and the groom so close to the ceremony but you must not worry. Everything is fine. I will not deliver bad news on such a joyous day! I could do that on your Mother’s birthday next week!” He laughed and his daughter let out a sigh of relief. “How is your mother? Is she ok? I feel bad for leaving her alone like this. But she is the strongest woman I know. Maybe not as strong as you though.” He said to his daughter. “She is fine. We are all Ok. Why did you call baba?” “Yes, yes..” Dadabhai mulled on what his next words should be.
“Growing up, we never let you know about our difficulties, about what it meant to be poor, to be from this family. But these are things one can not hide and sure enough, you realised this when you grew up. I always admired the way you carried the truth with you. How you heard the stories of my parents dying in the drought and never again let a person leave the house thirsty during the summers. How when we had to move cities after the earthquake, you gathered the broken, tattered belongings left with us and decorated them with the paint from Shanti Aunty’s house. I have always said that I am blessed to have a girl but I never admit how, if not for you, I would have not wanted to continue with my life. Because, baby, life is very unfair. You are from a different religion, different caste, different income – life immediately becomes twice as hard. Living on a dry farm with my parents, as a child I never thought I would be alive at this age! When you have nothing, you want nothing. Everything including the idea of being alive is a luxury.”
“Here I am sitting with my beautiful daughter and her wonderful groom, on their wedding day, talking about such gloomy things! But Sugam, I want you to know that life is difficult and reality most often is gloomy. And whether you like it or not, this is what being alive means. Throughout your life you will come across terrible truths about yourself and others which you must face and resolve. There is no other way to go about them. You can escape these truths for a while but they catch up with you. You both are very successful in what you do, very educated and accomplished. You work for these big companies, in these big cities, doing things I could have never imagined to have existed in my day! Tomorrow you will be married, you will be busy in your work. You will not find time for each other. Baby, you might want to leave your job and join Sugam so you could be together. But baby, I will tell you both something maybe no father will ever say to their children. If Mansookh finds out I am filling you with such thoughts, he will get so mad!”
“Don’t leave your job baby. I know it is becoming more and more difficult to survive in these companies. I know you work so hard that you skip sleep for several nights. It really hurts me to see my baby in pain but I know this is the only way today to get to the top. And you should be at the top, you and Sugam both. You deserve it! I have seen enough men and women in power preying on the people beneath them. This society will never change until the people beneath rise and make the world see the things that are wrong. Take hold of their castles and break them from within. Create new worlds where there is more harmony, more equality. I know people your age think this is a dream but ask me! Today I proudly shake hands with stooges my age! Where was I when they were studying for their fancy degrees? I was cleaning toilets! But today my child and their child are both in the same place. It is a very slow process but it will happen and I want you two to labour for it. Labour for people like us who have no power and voice. Adopt a child suffering on these city streets, trying to beg his way into a living. I don’t care if you have your own children! There are plenty of orphan children in this world! You two will make wonderful parents to them! But there are very few honest leaders in this world. And we can’t have a revolution anymore, those days are gone. Everyone is too distracted by their phones to revolt about anything. The only way to save this world is to change the direction it takes. And sadly those people, living in those 30 storey buildings, control the direction this world takes. It is hard to take away their money, their power. But it is important to remember the ugliness of the world that their money represents. The ugliness that ironically provides for you and me today! I want you to reach the highest towers and remember your life here, remember my life. And no matter what, promise me, that you will never fall into the trap of fame in this world. Your labour is all you have to show for in this life. These children running away after fame are no good. There is no difference between selling bottled water and selling expensive coffee. In a world that is dying, true art is in spreading the truth. Bringing people closer to the truth. Saving people from it. Because my child, the truth is ugly and no one wants to do anything about it.”