It’s a proud moment for a father when his child registers major achievements in life. The pride is heightened when she outdoes her father – a better degree, a better salary, a better house. But the limits of my pride transcended the horizon when my 7 year old stood as a human being, much better than I could ever be.
I am from the working class. My father was a milkman. Long before the pasteurized packaged milk made inroads into the middle class refrigerator of the Indian kitchens, bapa would pedal an old cycle loaded with milk cans from one house to another. His customers were white collared “babus”, also the parents of my classmates.
I remained clueless to the countless extra miles he had to pedal to afford my “English Medium” education. And I fail to understand why he at all walked those extremes when the only thing he got in return was my venomous speech and unreasonable despise. As a student of standard 3, mathematics wasn’t my greatest forte. And the teacher purposely customized her questions for me – “If you sell 1 litre milk to 5 customers at the price of 7 rupees per litre, how much money will you make?” I stood silent. “At least your father can count the money tucked into his dhoti. But you can neither calculate, nor drape a dhoti…there goes your father’s business.” If my inability to multiply 7 with 5 and figure out 35 was not enough, the giggles of my classmates sprinkled all the salt my injury needed. Apparently, this was not the first time the class found amusement at the cost of bapa. A teacher is expected to mold the uninitiated minds into intellectual beings to gradually wheel the society towards a virtuous position, but how much worth can you place on a teacher who depraves a child’s innocence, encourages an entire class of 8 year olds to outcast one student, and poisons a son’s feelings for his father? And all these merely because the student’s social background was unacceptable for a teacher who was pledged to recite the table of 5 solely for those who came in shining cars.
While bapa excitedly ironed his finest dhoti to wear for the parents-teachers meet, I sat hatching plans to stop him. But every story I cooked failed against bapa’s enthusiasm. “Why don’t you just get it? I don’t want you to go. You embarrass me, and so does your ripped dhoti. You can’t even speak in English. Kedar’s dad will shake hands with the teacher and you will greet them with your outdated ‘Namaste’. The other day when I bumped into Priyanka at the park, I tried my best to escape being spotted with you. But you just had to walk into us with that stupid chocolate. Why? Why do you do it all the time? The chocolate could have waited, but you couldn’t.” Maa quietly extended a steel glass filled with milk towards me but I flung it on the wall. “I hate milk. I hate drinking it, and I hate you selling it. Why can’t you find a better job?” I breathed heavily yet relaxed that bapa had finally given up on visiting the PTA. In fact he never expressed the slightest willingness to attend any of them ever, however, he replaced his dhotis with trousers.
The boards results were out and this milkman’s son was the school topper, even in Mathematics. Bapa didn’t come for the prize distribution either. Though it was easy for an 8 year old to display discomfiture at his father’s profession, it was tough for a 15 year old to show gratitude for that every extra stroke his father pedaled on a broken cycle, towards his brighter future.
Its been 27 years since I spilled the milk, but it is my daughter who has finally redeemed me. She elaborated about Indian culture and won an essay competition. Because the prolonged long-distance calls with her dadu are to be credited for this feat, she invited him to visit New York and witness her accepting the prize. She is proud of her roots, and I am proud of my wings. Off to the airport now… got to receive bapa.
As told to Avantika Debnath
Pic Source - Yahoo Finance, Yahoo News