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The Powerful Relationship With My Late Baba Is Also A Sore Remembrance Of What Could Be

My bond with my late Baba is powerful and continues to remain indignantly a sore point in my heart. Like a vacuum caused by a turbojet into a resounding emptiness. 

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Mohua Chinappa
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Mohua Chinappa

It is a breezy summer day and sitting by the sidewalk of a London coffee shop, I am reminded of life and the innumerable times, it has smothered me into the breathlessness, of constant duty as a daughter, that I do regularly and sometimes reluctantly. I remind myself how I must celebrate this moment of freedom, away from it all, to be here with my loving son. The calmness of being his mother and also forging new work friendships along the way. 

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Father's Day - Of Love & Validation 

I watch the traffic zoom, people watching is a great thing. But I do realise, I tend to notice old men, hobbling around and especially the ones who have a striking resemblance to my late father. I find myself reaching out to them, to just enquire if they are fine. Like as though, via them, I yearn to know, if my late Baba is doing okay in his afterlife. Most importantly, has he found love

This momentous noon, there is an uncanny out-of-my-body experience, as I smile at the old stranger, who is dressed like Baba. Also, he doesn’t smile back, just like Baba. He continues eating his sandwich, dropping the cover in the bin and then walking with the exact gait of a familiar old man, my father. I realise that I must stop staring at him and concentrate on writing this odd ode to the man who never touched my head reassuringly when my world fell apart, or told me that he loved me. He wasn’t demonstrative of his affection. I must learn to read between the lines, was the explanation given by all to me. I remained confused throughout my growing years. 

Our moments of tenderness were far and few. He was most times angry with the world and more with me. For failing his own aspirations, his thwarted dreams and wishes that he nurtured from me to fulfil, for him. 

It takes me to be in my 50s to be so public about my estranged relationship with my late father. I find myself tearing apart, heart in smithereens with the perennial question; “Why was he so harsh in his behaviour towards me”? Why was it always, about what he seemed to seek from me, and only if I fulfilled his need, that it gave me that moment of importance in his life?"

Also, why didn’t I have the cognition that I could deny some errands and favours that clearly were very inconvenient in many situations in the years we were together as father and daughter? 

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Baba was extremely well read, erudite and this was something I found myself very much in awe of him. Yes, I was proud of having a father who had the ability to hold a conversation on most subjects. He could talk about history. An avid reader, he had open ideas towards the queer community, women smoking and drinking yet he was always angry with me when I spoke out of turn. Sometimes, my presence repulsed him. 

This may seem to be a rant, especially with Father’s Day around the corner, but this bearing of my heart to strangers, and risking judgment is primarily for little girls like me, who continue to accept harshness as the conduct of men towards them forever. Traditionally, women start wanting protection and validation from the first male member of their lives. Their fathers. 

It is often a father who encapsulates our sense of self-worth in our own eyes, which is reflected in the men we go on to date and, sometimes, also marry. I do acknowledge that I find extremely well-read, intelligent men very attractive. Is this toxic? I have no idea. Will I be able to break out of this notion, I don’t yet have the answers. 

One would say that having a conflict with our parents is normal. But it is not normal for parents to insult you, belittle you, berate you for small mistakes, or make you feel unsafe in your own home. The consequences of a mistake you made must be discussed and not made to make you feel devalued and disrespected. For both women and men, it can be very tough to cope when parents constantly tear you down.

Each time I felt lessened with his words, I went silent but he would never apologise or say that he was sorry that he hurt me. Today, as a mother of a child, I can’t imagine hurting my child and being okay with it. 

Baba gifted me books, and never pressured me into getting married; he was okay with me being single and pursuing my career. Yet he didn’t spare a minute to tell me how uncultivated I was in my reading habits. 

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There were sides to my Baba that I admired. He was a wonderful grandfather to my son. He would cross the ocean for my child just to support and be there for him. I basked in the love and camaraderie he shared with my son. All my anger and hurt dissipated when I saw them together. Reading, playing, arguing about world affairs and just being great friends. A part I missed out on as a child. 

Towards the end, he wouldn’t admit to his difficulties and how small his world was shrinking into. Finally, he was bedridden and he never spoke for almost 15 days or more, before his passing. 

I miss him for the warmth of having a father, and not being a fatherless child. Also for the inspiration, he was, for me to read, write, love films, and theatre and be steadfast in my honour, but a part of me still can’t fathom as to what made him detest me so much in multiple situations. 

This is, after all, the first man-woman relationship that a daughter learns in her life. Therefore, this is deep. 

The bond is powerful and continues to remain indignantly a sore point in my heart. Like a vacuum caused by a turbojet into a resounding emptiness. 

This trauma remains resilient in my heart, refusing to soften in spite of my career and my achievements as a rebooter. I would like to think, that this is mostly the same for girls like me who continue to seek validation later on in life, despite the grievous harm inflicted on our child-like innocent hearts. 

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I am told I look like my father and behave in the same mannerisms of sitting and standing. But I remain aware that I will break this chain of generational defeat of a parent-child relationship with more compassion and love for my son. 

Here is wishing for more fathers to support and love for children like a mother does on rainy days and sunshine. 

Mohua Chinappa is an author, and poet and runs two podcasts called The Mohua Show and The Literature Lounge. She is also part of a London-based non-profit think tank called Bridge India.

Fathers Day 2024 Father's Day fathers and daughters
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