7 min read

My Father

This is the story of my father's his first 26 years. It is also the story of three revolutions. It is also, at least in part, my own story. Born in the Himalayan winter, my father's eyes first opened to a frigid world. A city bordering a lake and bordered by mountains was his first home.

The following is being submitted for a writing competition in 10 days, please let me know what you think or if you have any suggestions. Competition details can be found here: https://vocal.media/challenges/dads-are-no-joke.

< Note: When you receive articles in your inbox, it may be beneficial, should you have internet access, to click the link to read my words directly on 'biscuitsforchai.ca'. The reason for this is that I often continue editing each article even after I have sent out the email. By reading online, you will get my best work. >

My father was born in 1964 in Srinagar, Kashmir.

You have probably had to, at least once, say, "oh my god, that baby is so cute!" when the baby in front of you or whose picture you were shown, was obviously not.

My dad was not that baby. Unfortunately, however, his baby photos are stuffed away in a closet in New Delhi, so we are just going to have to take my grandmother's word for it.

After giving birth to him, she returned to her parents house just outside Srinagar. Her father, a retired forest ranger, lived in his ancestral home located amidst the family orchard.

And so my father's first steps were taken under the canopy of apple and maple trees. He was the first child on both sides of the family. And the continuous childhood pampering is evidenced in his personality today.

This is the story of my father's his first 26 years. It is also the story of three revolutions. It is also, at least in part, my own story.

Born in the Himalayan winter, my father's eyes first opened to a frigid world. A city bordering a lake and bordered by mountains was his first home.

He left shortly thereafter for Sindri, located in the state of Jharkhand, as my grandmother rejoined her husband who worked as an engineer for the Fertilizer Corporation of India. My aunt was born here.

My father attended the De Nobili School founded by Jesuit missionaries centuries prior, a Portuguese relic.

It was here that the teachers told my grandfather that my father had no future in engineering or mathematics. It was here that my grandfather, whose pride was scarred in a way that only an Indian father's can be, told them that they were simply incompetent.

While he was in middle school the family journeyed to Iran, as was popular at the time due to its burgeoning economy; grandpa got a job there.

In stark contrast to the Iran depicted to me on the news, the Iran of my family's stories was unrivalled in beauty, opportunity, and opulence. In the time of the Shah, modern automobiles reflected a vibrant Tehran under the Arabian sun, young girls wore the latest fashions, and what I remember most fondly from my grandmother's stories, that ice cream cheap, and also, a daily delight.

I remember a few years ago, sitting on a beach in Dubai at night, my dad pointed out to the water, "on the other side of that is Iran".

Leading up to 1979, however, a city with a documented struggle reconciling its various identities dating back at least to the flight of noble Sunni Persians to Mughal India in the 1500s, once again fell into cacophony.

A darkened Tehran was lit by torches; music was replaced by a chant, "Death to America!".  My grandparents were at home, it was their last night in the city, my dad and his little sister were asleep.

A knock was heard at the front door. My grandfather, for a reason my grandmother never explained to me in her telling of the story, opened it. Two students, boys, stood there in the night. They said there was no way for them to go home in the night amidst the erupting violence. They were invited in.

No one knew who anyone could be. The boys could have been who they said they were. They could have been the hunters. Or they could have been the hunted.

My grandmother tells me this story nonchalantly as she is chopping lotus stem to cook for dinner.

The next day, at the airport, whispers passed down the line of Indian expats; security was confiscating all precious metals and stones unless they were being worn by women or children.

My father left Iran, the spitting image of a Hindu deity adorned in gold, I'm told.

In 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her Sikh bodyguards opened fire on her at close range; 50 piercings. She had ordered the Indian Security Forces to, among other things,  assault their holiest place, the Golden Temple, in Operation Blue Star.

My grandparents rented a flat in Hemkunt, a Sikh colony in New Delhi at the time. My dad came home on the weekends from his engineering school.

Anti-Sikh riots had spread across the city in the wake of the shooting. The people of a religion that was formed with a mandate to maintain religious freedoms among those residing between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean–Hindu being a contraction of this and therefore a geographical rather than religious designation in its original usage–were now being persecuted in this region once again. The first time was during the reign of the Mughals, noted above as the saviours of the Persian migrants.

News of this didn't travel fast enough to my father who would have otherwise not come home to see his neighbourhood surrounded by military equipment stationed there to prevent rioters from harming its residents.

My grandparents left India shortly thereafter for Canada. But their story back home was not over.

In 1990, the exodus began.

"Convert Run or Die".

"We want Kashmir without pundit men but with pundit women".

Kashmiri Hindus fled the valley, among them were my great-grandparents and many of my parents' uncles, aunts and cousins. My dad does not consider this to be a part of his story. Out of all of the events that have occurred in his life, this is the one he talks about the least. But even though he was not there, how can it not be?

It has now been 32 years since 1990. I am 22.

The sun was shining through the window of my therapists office. I was sitting in the basement of my parent's house with the door closed; we were connected over Zoom. I finished undergrad the previous spring. My relationship with my family and identity was strained and in some places broken.

Among other things, in these sessions, I was beginning to realize the profundity of the stories my grandmother had been telling me more frequently over the course of my past year at home with her. We live as a joint family; I am therefore an only child of four parents: my mom and dad, as well as my paternal grandma and grandpa.

Her stories, at least to me, are almost unbelievable. But I don't question them; they explain so much. So much in fact, that even if they were all lies, they would still be my truth.

They explain, to at least some extent, my crippling anxiety to maintain the stability that we already have. They explain my anger. They explain what I have inherited.

My inheritance is love.

Back when I was in the 7th grade, we took a family trip to India in March.

My dad and I were hiking up a mountain to the shrine of the goddess Vaishnu Devi, a very popular pilgrimage site located in the foothills of the Himalayas close to the city of Jammu. My mother insisted that we visit as a family. But she and my grandparents ascended the mountain on donkey-back while my dad and I walked the paved path like true pilgrims, but we wore jeans.

In truth, my father is scared of horses as he was bucked off one in high school; I had no say in the matter.

Unlike the Himalayan mountains surrounding Kashmir, that at least in pictures resemble the snowy Swiss alps, their foothills which surround Jammu are lush with verdure, rivers and many very sociable monkeys.

The hike up should have taken around four hours but ended up lasting around seven as he pulled his hamstring.

My father is not particularly religious. We stopped to rest at one of the many stalls precariously stabilized over the edge of the mountain overlooking the jungles and river below. These shops sold channa masala (chickpea curry) and bread to travellers on the way up and and were chock-full of religious paraphernalia to sell to those returning.

He was interrupted several times by poor men dressed in orange sadhu (ascetic) garb offering massages, which he refused, as he said the following:

"I don't think that if god exists, that god would voluntarily choose to have their likeness somehow naturally carved into a stone located in the middle of a jungle so that a multi-million dollar tourist industry could be established there.

In fact, it is more than likely that someone just carved a stone and stuck it in a cave on a mountain.

But I think that if gods exist, they exist in the faith that people have which propels them to make the climb, to struggle".

"Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!

He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!

Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all for ever.

Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow."

~Gitanjali No 11: Open Thine Eyes; Rabindranath Tagore

I don't think that parents have much agency over what they pass down to their children. So much depends upon what they themselves are given as well as the context within which they parent.

But parents and caregivers contextualize the universal struggle for their children through the insights gained from their own experience with it.

And that isn't to say that their understanding of it is necessarily whole or adequate, but it is something.

<Please know that I would love to hear your opinions on my writing, your and recommendations on what to look at in the future. Always feel free to shoot me a message at 'give.a.biscuit@gmail.com' if you want to chat.>