Today marks the third year of my beloved father-in-law's passing away. I am assailed by a myriad of memories, thinking of him in ways that only a fond child would. I used to call him "Appa" (Dad), but he was more than that to me, having touched my life in a very remarkable way. I still find it difficult to reconcile with his loss, for he had always seemed so larger than life, the patriarch of the family who ruled over everyone with that unmistakable combination of love and sternness and pride and geniality. Death was something I never associated with Appa and it broke my heart when he died, just as it did my husband's, his first-born child.
I must confess, my father-in-law and I did not start off on good terms.I was the outsider and a Christian at that, who had dared to fall in love with his beloved son, the apple of his eye (excuse the cliche) for whom he had great dreams and aspirations. He had hoped his son would marry a well-heeled Hindu girl, preferably one that he and his wife chose, but there I was, ready to throw a monkey wrench in the works. Let me just say that what got off to a rocky start blossomed and mellowed into a relationship of mutual love and admiration in no time at all.
Appa was hugely proud of who I was and he respected and admired me for my education, profession, and a whole host of other things. We clashed ideologically on many grounds, but he admired the fact that I was able to hold on my own and would not be cowed down by his stand on any matter whatsoever. I was able to sit with him and have an informed conversation on varied topics, both global and local. I could as easily discuss with him the genocide in Rwanda or the state of the economy as I could the local municipal elections, and he was very proud of my ability to do that. I remember how taken aback he was when during a blackout I asked him what a brownout was, and he was very surprised that I even knew about it. He explained it to me very clearly in lay man terms. I could sense the pride in his voice when he introduced me to others. "This is my daughter-in-law. She's a professor of English at Lady Doak College," he would go. I also remember how he was there in attendance at my graduation, and my husband's as well. I was there for my M.Phil. degree in English, and my husband for his M.B.A., and the University premises were under Appa's jurisdiction at that time. Besides, the Governor of the State was the chief guest at the graduation ceremony, so the entire Electricity Board was in attendance at the affair. Need I say that Appa was beaming with pride at our accomplishment and kept introducing me and my husband to his entire staff!
Appa was an electrical engineer by profession who wielded a lot of clout, both political and otherwise, while he was in service. There were other engineers in the Electricity Board, but Engineer Paranjothi was clearly by far greater among his equals.His influence was extraordinary, his contacts ranged from the lowliest to the mightiest, and his dedication to his job was unrivaled till the very end. He was very knowledgeable about his field, having moved up steadily through the ranks, and his willingness to use his influence to help others was legendary. My Aunt would walk into his office for any kind of help related to power supply in her huge compound, and she would brag to people that she need not worry because her niece's father-in-law was the electrical engineer in the area. Having my own father-in-law as the ADE came with its own perks. When I was getting ready to go to work and there was a power cut, it would annoy me no end, and I would call him right away, "Don't worry, ma. It's just a changeover. Your supply will be restored within minutes," he would say. Or he would forewarn me about a power cut so I could manage things at home efficiently.
My husband always used to tell me about all the valuable life lessons he had learned from his Dad and how his father had helped him hone all his soft skills. He was a pro at public relations and inculcated in my husband the truth that every single person is important, no matter what their stature in life. He was a "people person" till the very end and he takes all the credit for having turned his son, my husband, into one as well. Another important thing we learned from him was about the importance of giving feedback to one's superiors. "Never assume that your boss knows what you have done. Always make it a point to inform him about what you have accomplished," he would say, an advice I still remember to this day. For our turn, my husband and I keep reminding our son of all these lessons that we learned from Appa.
Appa always treated me in a very special manner. It was ironic how quickly I turned into the favored one, and he would show it in such an obvious way, much to the annoyance of the others in the family, and to my embarrassment! However, I must admit that at times I did enjoy his attention and preferential treatment!!! Whenever we traveled out of town, Appa would have boiled and filtered water brought for him in a canteen, and of all the family members, I would be the only one allowed to drink from his canteen. "Olivia is like me, she just can't drink water from unknown sources, or she might get sick," he would say, and this would irritate the others around us. When I visited his house and he was having his coffee, he would yell to my mother-in-law in the kitchen, "Olivia is here. Indira, bring her some coffee!" and my mother-in-law would patiently answer, "Oh, she doesn't drink coffee, you know." And this would happen every single time I went over to their house! Or when we visited the ancestral village where there was just one portable fan available, he would invite me to sit next to him so I wouldn't sweat in the humidity and heat. If he spotted so much as a drop of sweat on my brow, he would hand over his towel for me to wipe it off... and this from a man who was so finicky about cleanliness and wouldn't let anyone touch his towel! As was the custom, as the patriarch of the family, he got to eat first with the other men during festivals and celebrations, but I would be the only female he would invite to sit with him for the meal, and countless were such occasions! Or when everyone else sat cross-legged on the floor for the traditional meal, I would be sitting at the table with him. His excuse? "Olivia is like me. She's used to sitting at the table and cannot be inconvenienced by sitting on the floor!" The only other person in the family for whom he had an overwhelming affection was his younger sister, the only girl in his family. He always doted on his sister, and the whole house would be agog with his infectious excitement whenever she paid him a visit!
My father-in-law respected my family a lot. He had great regard for my father whom he considered an intelligent, well-read man. My brothers he treated with the utmost courtesy and considered them intellectuals in their own right. When my father died of complications from diabetes and kidney failure, my father-in-law was terribly rattled, because he was a diabetic himself. He took the greatest care with his diet and exercise regimen, but who can stop time and the toll it takes on one's body?!? Appa's health started deteriorating gradually...after a series of hospitalizations, my husband decided it was time to pay him a visit. My father-in-law pulled through on that occasion, and was discharged from the hospital, but when my husband left to come home, he knew that was the last time he would ever be seeing his Dad alive. He said Appa insisted on walking out of the house to see him off, and till the car turned around the street corner, he was standing there waving goodbye! Unfortunately for all of us, two months later was an irreversible deterioration, and all I was able to do was talk to Appa, both of us crying over the phone, me with the knowledge that he was dying, and he with the sadness that I was so far away and he wasn't able to see me. My son got to speak to him as well, and I was choked as he and his grandpa sobbed over the phone."Is Thaathaa (Grandpa) going to die, Ma?"... I didn't have an answer. We were hoping the doctors could do something to save Appa, but all was in vain. My beloved father-in-law passed away this day three years ago.
My bond with my father-in-law was as strong as my husband's to him. I never expected anything from Appa other than his affection and he was very much aware of that and loved me all the more. I made sure I loved him for who he was. He had his own failings just as any human being has, but his love for us overrode all those failings, I must say! We all miss him every single day, and I especially think of all his kindnesses and loving gestures towards me. From disapproval to inclusion and wholehearted love was an incredible journey for me with Appa and I shall always cherish him in my heart. True to the Hindu philosophy of an after-life, they always say that the soul returns to earth and hovers around the ones it loves, and I have no doubt in my mind at all that Appa's soul is here with us, his benevolent presence felt in our midst, day in and day out.
Rest in eternal peace, Appa! We love you very much!
Rest in eternal peace, Appa! We love you very much!