The Small Things that our Parents did

Santosh Bakaya

“Dad, do get my Honours certificate and mark sheet from the university.” I asked my dad so many years back, my attitude marked by a breezy nonchalance- An attitude that comes from the smug belief that fathers are for all times, and nothing can happen to them, ever.
A fond daughter’s eyes refused to acknowledge the pallid hue which had replaced his forever twinkling eyes. His eyes beseeched, and his baritone quivered.
“Why don’t you get it yourself, Baby? You are such a great cyclist, and the Administrative Block is just a kilometer from our house. It is high time you learnt to do your things yourself.”
“No Papa, I have to finish my home assignments. Please, get it.” I held his hands and pleaded, ignoring mom’s glares. Shrugging, he headed towards the University. This time not taking the bicycle, but walking.
My eyes even refused to notice his unsteady gait.
Unbeknownst to us, a dreaded demon had stealthily crept into his supposedly fit body, which would villainously sabotage his plans of getting his novel, poems and short stories published and see his children carve snug careers for themselves.

He had no qualms about going to the University on his bicycle, which he lovingly dusted every day, his broad forehead creased in concentration. I can still visualize it sparkling in the noonday sun, standing in the rambling garden of our university quarters, while dad stood next to it, the sunshine on his handsome face, reflecting the vibrant sunshine in his huge heart, which beat for the underprivileged, the stray cats, dogs and bruised birds.
Often, the scenes in our house appeared to be straight lifts from Gerald Durrell’s, delightful book, My Family and other Animals, all due to dad’s love for animals and birds. There was a harmonious blending of chirps, meows and barks in our house. At one time, a whole family of cats resided in our house, along with a pup, a constantly jabbering parakeet and an injured pigeon, in an atmosphere of peaceful coexistence.

Dad could never afford the luxury of a car, although he craved one. His salary was enough only for the kids’ education, the household expenses, and of course books!

He would often quip, “If a burglar were to come to burgle our house, he would scurry back in helter- skelter haste, petrified at the sight of so many books.”

Yes, our house was a bibliophile’s haven. There was a profusion of books in Hindi, English, Urdu and Persian. When my dad relocated from Kashmir to Rajasthan, he did not know Hindi, but taught himself Hindi by reading Parag and Chanda Mama, and later, to the immense amusement of his post- graduate students would use words like Vidambana and Antar anushasanatmak adhyan [irony and inter-disciplinary approach] with great linguistic aplomb.

Wow! When did you learn Hindi, Sir?” They would remark, incredulous.
“I am still learning. I am a perennial learner.” He would rejoin, the twinkles of his eyes more pronounced with anticipatory glee.
I have never come across a person with a greater sense of humour – incisive, sharp and poker- faced. He would often throw back his head and laugh his trademark laugh, intrigued that some people could not catch the satire hidden in his remarks.

He loved to render ghazals in impeccable Urdu and sing Kashmiri songs to us, so that we may not forget our roots. I remember him often quoting from Mehjoor, and reading to us from the works of Robert Browning – his doctorate being on The Dramatic Monologues of Robert Browning.


Robert Hayden’s poignant sonnet, ‘Those Winter Sundays,’ had greatly impacted me when I had read it some years back.
‘Sundays too my father got up early’, is how it began.
Yes, my father too got up early even on Sundays, helping mother in the kitchen, making pancakes, washing dishes when the maid was absconding, kneading the flour, his deft hands giving the kneaded flour different shapes- a hen, a cat, a dog, a giraffe, and a fat, paunchy man, making us, the excited kids, go into paroxysms of laughter at his creativity, meant to tickle our funny bones.

Yes, he was an artist, but alas, this artist went unnoticed by the world. His creations were only meant for his family. An exemplary cartoonist, a painter, a poet, a novelist, died unsung. Unheard of.

I often recall him hunched over his desk, in his study, evaluating answer-sheets, grimacing at the students’ grammatical gaffes, in our bedroom, combing his daughters’ hair, while we pouted and sulked, as he got us ready for school, and even polishing our school shoes, while mom packed our tiffin boxes.
My mind’s eye still recalls three pairs of shoes standing grandly against the girls’ bedroom wall of our University Quarters, sparkling under the ministrations of a fond father’s deft hands, which were good at everything.

‘No one ever thanked him’, Hayden laments, and I also find myself echoing his sentiments, often wondering whether we had thanked our dad enough for the little things that he did, especially for his daughters.


I have preserved his last letter to me in a box very dear to me. His handwriting embellishes the cover of my book, Runcible Spoons and peagreen Boats: My Father’s Last Letter to me and other Poems.
His last words to my eldest brother were,
“Even when you reach the topmost rung of the bureaucratic ladder, never give up your humility. Always remember, that you are a Civil Servant – a servant of the people.”
My brother never forgot that.

Don’t we take our self- effacing parents for granted? Have we ever realized the small things that they have done for the realization of our bigger dreams? Their own dreams that they have throttled so that the dreams of their children could be realized?
As memory after memory unspools, in the backdrop of this collage, our beloved dad keeps on keepin’ on - singing that Mehjoor song, ‘az roz saanye dilbar myanay’ [stay with us tonight, my beloved], with that wistful look on his face.
Yes, he had unobtrusively ‘driven out the cold,’ like Hayden’s father.
Now, in his absence even the summers are cold.


The weather bureau had predicted that January 9, 2015, would be the coldest day of the year. Indeed, it was.
The cold that crept into our entrails that day, refuses to leave our bodies to this day. On that morning, a frail woman, who had exhibited a rare grit and an incredible strength, in carrying on the responsibility of bringing up her five children, after father’s untimely death, suddenly shed her earthly raiment, leaving us dumbstruck.
Tightening her pashmina shawl around her frail shoulders, our vibrant, and vivacious mother, who was knitting and crocheting till her last breath, lay down on her bed, gave one last lingering look around her snug room, and unshackled herself from all earthly bonds, with a smile playing on her lips.

It has been eight years since she left us, and the sapling that she planted is nine years old. Every year when we go to Jammu, I make it a point to inhale the fragrance of the tree that she had planted. Under the shade of that tree, memories come back to me in staccato bursts of joy and sorrow, and inadvertently, a tear trickles down my face, which I surreptitiously wipe away.

She was very fond of wrist watches and bottles of perfume, so we always presented her with bottles of perfume, which she kept in her drawer in safe custody, very possessive about them. When I went to Jammu in October 2022, I saw a bottle of perfume standing in her washroom shelf in all its fragrant glory, and all of a sudden, I could feel her presence all over her room.

Whenever, I go for literary events, it is her watch that I wear- A watch she had given to me one day, when she had seen my wrist watch-less.
“You are so careless. Why don’t you wear a wrist watch? You have so many of them.” She had admonished me, tying the watch herself on my wrist.

“My heart beats in five different places- In my five children. My heart tells me when things are right and even when things are wrong for them.” She would often say.


“When I am gone, you should come and stand under this tree, you will feel my presence.” She had remarked, as we stood riveted, watching her plant the sapling with her small, soft hands. “Don’t talk like that. You have to walk many a mile, before …”
At my remark, she had merely smiled, and started walking towards her room.
It has been eight years since she left us, and the tree is nine years old, but it always welcomes us with a mother’s love.
On 9 January, 2020, I wrote a poem And the Temple Waits, which is now part of my book, Runcible Spoons and Peagreen Boats [AuthorsPress, 2021] I would like to reproduce it here:

And the Temple waits


“9th January, 2015, was the coldest day of the year.
An eagle sailed in the blue sky,
as a sprightly figure inside her room,
got ready for her morning prayers; her tiny temple waited.

A spiffy sun peeped through the window and smiled a sunny smile.
She tightened her shawl tightly around her fragile frame,
and smiled too.
She always did.

In the sky, the eagle was going round and round in circles.
On the sun- spangled earth, in the flower beds in the lawn,
petunias, marigold, zinnias, chrysanthemums and oodles
of tiny pink blossoms, bloomed, airily.
Beauty and kindness abounded in every nook and crevice
of that house where resided that kind soul.
She tightened her shawl around herself,
lay down on the bed, and smiled.
She always did.

The temple waited.
It waited perpetually.
It has been waiting for the past five years now-
for that prayer that never came.

That cold morning, my mother became a prayer.
A prayer that refuses to leave my lips.
But that cold day she still smiled in her sleep-
a warm smile.
Like she always did.”


Her scent still permeates her room, in Jammu, making me feel that it is the heady scent of the blossoming earth at springtime.
It is almost surreal that with half closed eyes, I have often seen a boat with my parents sitting in it, fingers intertwined- homeward bound.
A thing of unending joy and sunshine.


10 comments :

  1. What a stirring ode to uncle and aunty. Emotional roller coaster ride it was to go though. Both were kind and affectionate. I remember uncle had a great personality and aunty used to welcome heartily whenever I visited Jammu. I am sure both are thrilled and satisfied that their children have made them proud having excelled in their fields. Santosh you inspire by writing so beautifully which makes your respected parents memories eternal. I hope I can one day do this for my parents.

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  2. Bushra Alvi RazzackApril 9, 2023 at 10:46 PM

    So beautifully and tenderly expressed. My eyes are moist..

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  3. Pankajam KottarathApril 10, 2023 at 2:48 AM

    “My heart beats in five different places- In my five children. My heart tells me when things are right and even when things are wrong for them.” She would often say." These words brought me tears. No touchingly written, After reading this tribute I realize wherefrom you got this humour sense. Stay blessed. I also have this regret that I could not write this type of a tribute to my parents.

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  4. It’s true we often take for granted our parents.But their memories will always be etched in our minds.

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  5. Such a tender and touching poem. Well done, Santosh ji.

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  6. It reverberates with me, my Dad too seemed to have become weak overnight the cause was the same perhaps.
    He off quoted Urdu shers, my chacha would give rejoinders from poets (Urdu, Hind,Sanskrit). My eyes moistened thinking of my mother and her temple, lost her three years ago.

    ReplyDelete

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