Born and raised in Kottayam, a sleepy town in Kerala, events like Father's day, Mother's Day or Valentine's day, were completely alien to me. It was not until I immigrated to the US, by a quirk of fate, that I found out how religiously Father's Day was celebrated here. I watched with envy how my grandchildren enjoyed planning and celebrating their Dad's day. Right from elementary school, kids here, are trained to make beautiful cards revealing the deepest bond between them and their father. Even though I did not have an opportunity to do that for my father, my childhood was filled with fascinating stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, glorifying fatherhood.
In Ramayana, Rama had to give up his royal luxuries and go into exile with his newly -married wife, Sita, to comply with his father, King Dasaratha's orders. As the story goes, Kaikeyi, Dasaradha's second wife, asked for a boon, granted to her earlier, by the king, and demanded Rama's 14 years' exile, which would lead to her own son, Bharatha, getting the crown.
Similarly, in Mahabharata , Puru had to give up all his youth to his father, Yayati, in exchange for 1000 years of old age- a curse to Yayati from Sage Shukracharya . While all his brothers flatly refused, Puru willingly gave his father, his youth.
In another story, the Pandavas were wandering in the forest, after losing their kingdom. Dharmaputhra felt thirsty and asked Nakula to get water from a nearby pond. Nakula set out,but did not come back. After a while, he sent Sahadeva, who also did not return; the same fate followed the other two brothers, Bhima and Arjuna. A perturbed Dharmaputhra, set out in search of his brothers and was shocked to find all his brothers lying unconscious, by the pond. He then heard a loud voice, demanding the answer to an important question, before he could drink the water from the pond. The voice continued that his brothers had lost consciousness, due to their
incorrect answers. To the impatient Dharmaputhra, the voice asked," Who is the most valuable person in a person's life?"
" No doubt, his father replied Dharmaputhra. In no time, the brothers regained consciousness and were given water to quench their thirst. When I was growing up, my father provided me with exquisitely designed gold ornaments and expensive silk clothing, but he was never physically demonstrative of his love. I also remember
how I would get so tense when he began coaching me for math, just before my exams. My father was a mathematics wizard . Coming from a poor family, he was on a scholarship and he used to make money tutoring math to his own classmates, to meet his expenses. He used to top the list in all his exams and could not believe that he fathered a child who was a miserable failure in math! He would be very impatient with me when he taught me and my mother always had to intervene, very often prematurely ending the coaching session!
I remember a funny incident which happened on the day of my S.S.LC Math final exa. That morning, my poor mother got up early and went to the temple, to do a special Archana . She made one of our maids, carry two pots of water- one pot, she held in her hand while the other on her hip, and asked her to walk toward me, for good luck. It is believed that the sight of a woman carrying pots of water, walking in your direction, is a very good omen, making the trip you set out for, fruitful! Even the other maids in the house, who were of Christian faith, appealed to Virgin Mary and Jesus, for my success! I remember being so tensed up by the atmosphere at home on the morning of the dreaded Math Exam. After dropping me off at the Exam hall, my father said ," Look here, don't play your usual trick of losing your question paper this time. Write down your answers on it. I will be waiting in my office for you, so we can go over it. All the best."
By then, I was a nervous wreck. All my prayers to the numerous Gods and Goddesses and the eerie silence in the enormous exam hall, only added fuel to the fire . Sure enough, I could not complete any question and therefore no answer to be written on my question paper . Tears welled up in my eyes when I left the Exam hall. On my way to my father's office, which was walking distance from the hall , as I was wishing that the earth in front of me, would split and I could disappear into it, as Sita of Ramayana had done, I happened to notice a cow, eating posters that were stuck on the street walls. My feverish brain got the idea of flinging my question paper to the cow, which she gladly chewed ..no...swallowed.. almost instantly! As soon as I reached my father's office, with outstretched hands, my father demanded the question paper. "
Don't tell me you misplaced the question paper, this is your final exam." Without batting an eyelid, I said, " A cow on the street ate my question paper. You can even take a look at the cow from your window...no lies this time." Suddenly, my father's stone heart melted and he laughed out loud. He said, " Don't worry. I will employ a teacher to teach you crocheting and knitting and embroidery. You are not meant for academics!"
Well, now, 65 years later, at the expense of blowing my own trumpet, I must tell you, that I turned out to be the only Indian from the US, who entered the Guinness Book of World Records by crocheting the world's largest blanket as part of the Mother India Crochet Queen team in 2016, beating the record set by the South African Nelson Mandala blanket in 2015! So.. though I have never observed a particular day as Father's Day, there is never a day that goes by, when I don't look back with gratitude, at the role that my father played in my life. The concept of Fathers day or Mother's day is catching up in India, as well. But some of the sons and daughters conveniently forget their duties towards their parents, mercilessly discard them in their old age and send them to old age homes or abandon them in crowded temples
where they are picked up by the Police and admitted in shelters.
Teaching our kids from a young age, to treat our elders with respect and compassion will make their future celebrations of Father's Day and Mother's Day more meaningful.