How I Came to Find My Father

Others often ask me about my father. Those who have read my book seem puzzled by the amalgam of his contrasting personality traits: kind and cunning; loving and hurtful; aggressive and submissive; hopeful and fatalistic; selfless and selfish. He is all of these and more. He changes his ‘colour’ with the situation, just like a chameleon.

I still remember how his observant eyes closely scanned the foliage around us as we spoke during those afternoons we spent in the woods just by ourselves. I was sixteen then and deeply troubled by how little I knew about the man I called ‘father”. Acts of violence, deceit, emotional abuse and unfaithfulness to his wife that defined him were told to me by my grandmother and mother when I was growing up. Those tales ensured that I kept a distance from him and relegated him to the role of the oppressor, not considering the fact he too was at the receiving end of oppression from his short-tempered father, money-lenders and the police.

My father on guard for wild elephants 

In the woods, while his mind was focused on answering my endless questions, his senses were concentrated elsewhere – his ears picking up the slightest sounds from within the thicket and his eyes duly set on the wilderness before him. He had never mastered the art of staying still or submitting himself wholly to the present. He was always in motion even while stationary.

With each inquisitive question I asked, he was transported to his past against his own will. If he did feel sad or uncomfortable, he didn’t show it. He was adept at concealing his feelings. When my father spoke of his painful past -- like the occasions when the landlord he was working for whipped him for not waking up on time to clean the cowshed --, a bright smile lit his face. A stark discrepancy between his verbal and non-verbal cues were accentuated by the simplicity of his stories of survival. Laughter was his balm, and it saved him the discomfort of coming to terms with his inner feelings and unfulfilled desires.

These days, my mother fights with my father over the fact that he is the first one I call to share news about my life. “Why does she tell you everything first?” she would complain to him bitterly, taking it as a personal hurt. I find it hard to explain to her that I simply enjoy listening to the ringing excitement in my father’s voice when I share news of my life back in the city. I almost feel like he gets to see my world through my experiences.

Sometimes I wonder if I finally found my father in the quiet sanctuary of the tall eucalyptus trees deep in the woods where he was most at peace with himself. Or among the tales of his lost childhood narrated to me with striking awkwardness. Having grown up not really knowing him, I was determined to break through the wall of emotional distance between us and get to understand the man behind the plethora of masks he wore with skill.

My book, ‘The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter,’ is a testimony to my appreciation and understanding of my father whom I finally got to know through the seven years it took to compile and write my story. Once when someone asked me the question, “What has the book given you?” I promptly replied without a second thought, “Among other things, it gave my father back to me.” 

Comments

  1. All humans adorn themselves with pretty masks.
    I'm glad this journey has helped you discover more of what matters :)

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    1. Thank you, Lidiya. I've learnt so much about life through the process of writing this book.

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  2. I'm in awe of how you've come to approach difficult relationships and situations in your life with an open heart and mind for such a young adult.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer for your kind words. I've realized that a judgmental attitude limits your ability to see beyond your own limitations and recognize all that is beautiful in another.

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  3. Compassion to our parents comes when instead of seeing a dad or a mum we see a child of the universe <3

    Shilpa you are a beautiful soul and an incredible woman. I am sure that you will fulfill all your wishes and accomplish great things in this life.

    Please, always remember that you are an inspiration for many of us.

    Elena

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  4. Hi Shilpa, I've just finished watching Daughters of Destiny and felt so moved and inspired by your story I had to get in touch. Just to give you a bit of background on me first, I'm an English guy living in the south of France with my French girlfriend. I used to be a teacher in Media and Journalism and am now developing a green tourism holiday business to promote the relatively undiscovered but very beautiful area in which I live. Apart from the English language which you have mastered so impressively, your passion for social justice, and your fascination with human psychology, (congratulations on your master's degree and counselling post!) what connects your story with mine is we have both suffered the loss of a sibling to suicide. In my case it was my brother at the age of 37. He had struggled all his life with low self-esteem and depression and in the end it all became too much. Thankfully, more than twenty years on, I have largely come to terms with what happened. But the legacy is ever-present and very powerful - I always feel deep empathy for others who have suffered from such a tragic loss. Which is why I found the scenes in the documentary where you struggle, despite the guilt and complex family relationships, to ground yourself in the present and let go of the past so moving. Of course, like the other 'Daughters of Destiny', you were also shouldering the heavy burden of 'paying back' the unique educational opportunity given to you at Shanti Bhavan. It was so heartening then to discover that you have made such wonderful progress with your career - no doubt the product of much 'inner' as well as academic/professional work. Also to read that writing your book has enabled you to gain a deeper understanding of your relationship with your father and the wider familial/social context which has shaped this. I am really looking forward to reading it - assuming you have plans to make it available for download in other countries? I'm sure it's not easy at times being such a powerful role model for young Indian women, particularly those struggling to free themselves of the bondage of caste. But that is clearly your destiny. I wish you all the very best with that. And continued success with your counselling and writing. Your story is truly inspiring.

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    1. Dear Steve, I'm touched by your kind words, and for sharing your personal tragedy with me. People like you make it possible for the author to realize the joy in writing and connecting with others at different levels. I value you trusting me to open up about something so personal and painful. My thoughts are with you.

      My book, 'The Elephant Chaser's Daughter' will be available outside India hopefully next month.

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  5. Good! I want yo read it too and I Live in México. A big hug, Shilpa. I was also particulary touched with your story. I'm a journalist and had a close relative that also commited suicide.
    My name is Katia D'Artigues

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  6. Hi, I am so fascinated by your journey!
    I really would like a copy of your book but can't find it in the USA? How can I get a copt? Tracey

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