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.”