The mood was quite festive in the shop. It was the first day of the 10-day Ganpati festival and customers were lining up to collect their pre-booked idols to take home. They would give their names and man at the counter would check against the labels attached to the various idols and hand over the correct one with some flowers and coconut, and a loud “Ganpati Bappa Morya”.
Soon it was our turn to collect the Ganpati idol we had booked.
“Namaskar,” said the man at the counter, “What is your name?”
“Ganapathi”, said Appa (my father).
“Uncle, I asked for your name,” said the man at the counter.
“Ganapathi,” repeated Appa.
“Uncle, I know you have come to collect your Ganpati idol. I want to know the name you have booked it under,” said the man at the counter, a little impatiently now.
“That is what I have been telling you. My name is Ganapathi,” said Appa patiently.
The man at the counter looked a little stunned and then burst out laughing. “Sorry, Uncle. I have never had a Ganapathi come to collect a Ganpati idol.” He handed over our pre-booked idol with the flowers and coconut, and then came out of the counter to touch Appa’s feet and ask for his blessings.
Whenever Appa shares this incident, which happened about 10 years back, with family and friends it always brings forth lots of laughter. And during the Ganpati season, it is a much repeated story. The 2011 Ganpati season is underway now and this year too, the story will be narrated, not by Appa, but by us with a bittersweet tinge. For Appa is no longer here to narrate this incident. He passed away a month ago.
Amma (my mother) tells me that Appa was ecstatic when I was born—a daughter after 2 sons, a daughter he always wanted. Ironically, because of his work we lived in different cities, and till the time I started working at 22, I had lived with Appa for only 8 years. It was only when I moved to Mumbai for work that we started living as a family once again; and we were together till he passed away last month. So, you could say that, in a way, my relationship with him was built as an adult, and not as a child.
There are many memories of Appa that come to my mind as I write this post—more than I can ever write or would want to write here. One of my fondest memories is of a trip that I undertook with him and Amma a few years back. It was a temple tour to South India with the itinerary planned and executed by Appa. We visited Udipi, Sringeri, Managlore, Kollam, Madurai, Thanjavur, Mayiladadurai, Chidambaram, Vaitheeswaram, Tirunelveli, and Thiruvananthapuram, before returning to Mumbai. I had always enjoyed travelling with Appa as a child, but travelling with him as an adult and visiting the various temples was sheer delight. At each temple, after the obligatory prayers, we would leave Amma with her prayer-book and wander around the temple precincts with Appa playing the role of the guide for me. He was so good that we would often have other tourists joining us.
Those 15 days of temple-hopping are some of the best and fondest memories I have of Appa. He always maintained that he and I were meant to travel and travel together at that. Unfortunately, we were never able to travel together again—first, my year in London happened, and then his health would not permit travel. He was probably more excited about my year in London, than I was. He would eagerly await each set of travel photographs and the essay that accompanied it. A good photographer himself, he would give me good feedback and tips to improve my skills and technique.
When I started this blog, Appa was very supportive and encouraging. He helped me put together the material and choose the photographs for the post I wrote about our family history. He also followed the progress of each blog post of mine, and was so proud when one of my blog posts won a travel writing contest.
Appa was a quiet, unassuming man with a lifelong passion for travel, the railways, Carnatic classical music, and vadais. I inherited his looks and poor eyesight, his passion for travel and trains, as well as poor financial management skills. What I did not inherit, regrettably, was his enormous reserve of patience and his non-judgemental attitude towards people and life. Appa wasn’t perfect—he could be patriarchal and a chauvinist too. And he may not even have been the best father in the world. But he definitely was the best father in my world.