Chapter 3:  Getting past the sternness.

My father strongly believed in education not only for himself but for everyone around him. After their wedding, my mom moved in with him to Patiala, a small city about 4 hours away from where her family lived. Dad supported his new bride in joining the local college. He would drop her off every day much to her chagrin as most other people there were single and she was shy to share that she was married. She would tell people that the stern guy giving her a ride was her cousin. The lie did not last long as she got pregnant and had to drop out. She would pick up on her pursuit for education later but at that time she gave birth to her first born and became a full-time mother. 

Although she never worked outside the home for a living, till today she values that her husband pushed and supported her in her learning in whatever format she could. Even as she raised her four children, she would be doing short term courses through distant learning (called correspondence courses). She would eventually take on volunteer work and leadership roles through her involvement in service clubs etc. but at home she became instrumental in keeping my dad’s papers, finances and materials organized. He would have physical presentation slides, papers, journals and even sometimes cash all strewn around the room. There were drawers full of medication samples at home and in his office and he did not want anyone other than my mother near any of his stuff.

One of my early childhood memories is of sneaking into his room and reaching up to a sample syringe and shattering it into a thousand pieces. I was so scared of his disapproval that I did not want to face him for weeks. I would leave a room as soon as he would enter till mom got him to sit down and placate me. I never touched any of his work stuff again. One would think I had learnt my lesson but a few years later I encroached again albeit in a different area. My father had developed a love for innovative gardening. I was eight years old and was fascinated by the sunflowers just beginning to burgeon in our backyard.  While dad was monitoring their growth every morning, I was watching as well through my own vision of a spectacular flower arrangement in our living room. A surprise display for everyone to cherish. I executed the plan one day when the parents were not at home and the siblings were busy with other stuff. There were so many flowers and I created multiple arrangements full of color and fragrance. Could not wait to see the family’s reaction. I had brought the garden into the house. My mother was the first one home and aghast. The sunflowers were special to my dad as they were going to be harvested only at full bloom for oil producing seeds.

She quickly got all of us to hide the arrangements. She did not want him to see the carnage after a long day of work. I think all evening she waited for the right moment to let him know but we got unexpected visitors and the opportunity never arose. He found out the next morning on his daily round in the back yard and mom had to spill the beans on me. I was still asleep in my bed when I felt his fingers on my ear. He sat me up and wanted to know why and how I could have not known? For the life of me I could not answer any of his questions coherently. Could not explain my love for interior decoration or my eye for colors and not sure if he really was interested in any of my responses as he walked away in frustration. His work of weeks lay aborted and hidden behind curtains and sofas in the house and I was once again timing my presence in rooms around him.

It was a pattern for all of us. Whenever he was home, we were at our best behavior. As soon as we heard his car come, we would run into our rooms pretending to be studying. He would then call us each by our names and we would join him at the dining table. He would start with a check-in about our day and we would be talking all over each other trying to prove who had been studying the hardest. We could only breathe once we had passed the hurdle of school talk. He would then start to unwind as the discussion at the dining table would transition into current affairs, sports, poetry and jokes. This was an area we were allowed laughter, independent thought, and discourse.

Other than studies, we could easily get into trouble over not thoroughly washing our hands, touching shared plates, laughing, or sniggering while eating, creating a noise around his room when he was taking his nap between his morning OR and afternoon OPD. All mayhem, fights between siblings etc. would be let loose only when he was out of the house. Luckily for us, he was out a lot.

He often joked that a father was a God appointed financer for the family, but he did take his role as a provider and a disciplinarian very seriously. He made sure that we were not only on time, but the first ones to arrive at school. He almost never let us miss school. Made sure we finished our homework and prepared for school on time. At that time of our life, he delegated the nurturing to our mother who played games, sang, danced, and pranked with us when he was not around.

The father of our younger years was quite different from the man who became our pillar of emotional strength, a beacon of support, patience and guidance as we all grew up. My mom saw the first melt when he came back from a yearlong fellowship trip to Australia. He had missed the family and wanted more time with us. A few years later we moved to Amritsar, my mother’s hometown where enhanced interactions with her large fun-loving clan further contributed to a relaxed environment; but it was really my sister’s illness which made the final dent.  He softened as a father from there on but remained steadfast in his commitment to a life of discipline, passion and dedication to his profession, family and community. 

Next Chapter: A gifted Surgeon and a Teacher