The most beautiful father | Daily News

The most beautiful father

Uma Shiny Fernando. She is no more. Years ago she lived with her father, Pradeep, in Roxywatte. She was, for many reasons, the most beautiful child. I wrote about her more than ten years ago.

Uma Shiny Fernando was a special child. She suffered from a rare disease I had never heard about until her father told me. Goldenhar Syndrome. She had breathing difficulties and had to depend on a tube-like contraption. She didn’t say a word and didn’t have to. At the time I first saw her, she had already undergone 13 surgeries.

Pradeep was a sculptor with an irregular income. He was proud of his daughter. He was unbowed. Determined. And in his eyes, as I wrote, I had seen a kind of equanimity that is probably rarer than the condition little Uma Shiny Fernando was suffering from. A beautiful father, I thought then.

A few years later, he called me. He had a question: what do you have to say to someone who has lost all reasons to live, taking his life? Tough one. This is how I answered: ‘I am a Buddhist and I can only respond from what I have learned to believe. We arrive with a karmic complement and we depart with a karmic complement too. Sorrow does not end with death, therefore.’

Uma Shiny is no more, but Pradeep and I talk off and on. The image of Pradeep carrying his little girl, who expressed love by licking his face and the joy that this birthed in his eyes still remains with me. Last Saturday I saw those eyes again. In a different face.

I was strolling across the SSC grounds after a cricket match with friends who decades ago were in the same class. It was a post-match carnival of sorts. Hundreds of fans, loud music, cheers, flags, the whole nine yards of a big match. And, as it always happens, one or more of us would stop to talk to a friend we hadn’t seen in years. The others walk on, turning back occasionally to make sure that those who were lagging behind didn’t get lost in the crowd.

On one such occasion, one of my friends who I’ve known since the second grade, went missing. We stopped and looked around and saw him talking to a beautiful young girl, all decked in blue and gold, carrying our school flag. A little while later, they both came up to us. My friend introduced the girl. The pride and joy in his eyes were absolutely pure. Just like Pradeep’s.

‘This is my son, machang.’

And so we talked. Inquired about life, work and studies, as I would from any child of any friend. Posed for pictures. Walked on.

‘You are an exceptional father, machang,’ I told my friend.

Years ago, my father told me, ‘you don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations other than your own.’ Fathers say such things. They say, ‘do whatever makes you happy.’ They say, ‘be who you want to be and not what others want you to be.’ And yet, even they are sometimes disappointed when children affirm themselves, almost as though they are following their fathers’ advice to the letter. I’ve always felt that tough though it is to deal with the prejudices of society at large, friends, co-workers and even relatives, these pale into insignificance compared to a parent’s difficulty of inability to accept children’s choices.

Parents are sometimes forced to accept certain things simply because they don’t have a choice in the matter. Accepting and embracing are two different things. Embracing in private and embracing in public are also different.

I have seen parents embrace their children. I’ve put my parents through much anxiety and caused them much grief, but they accepted, they embraced, they were proud, in silence and in word, privately and in public. I am fortunate. And I like to think my children are fortunate too, for like my parents with me, I accept and embrace, in silence and in word, privately and in public. I am proud. Imperfect, probably, but I could have been worse, I like to think.

My friend. He’s something else altogether. In all the years I’ve known him, he has been soft-spoken, gentle, unassuming and non-judgemental. We have had our share of conversations. There have been moments of celebration. There have been sad moments. Empathy. I had never seen this before, though: the unmistakable pride and utter love in his eyes when he said ‘this is my son, machang.’

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is for me the one indelible memory of all the celebrations, reunions and innumerable ‘moments’ from all the big matches I’ve attended. Simply, I got to know another exceptionally beautiful father.

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