If you were still alive Appa, you would have been 80 years old tomorrow. Tomorrow also marks the tenth anniversary of working where I do. And when two special dates like that coincide, I can’t help but recall every single job I held since 1995… and how you reacted to each one.
I still remember the first job I landed, teaching computers to government and semi-government establishments in collaboration with a hardware supplier. It was part of the hardware supply contract that they had to be taught to use and operate the hardware as well. I still remember I got paid Rs. 125 an hour, a big sum at the time! I would travel from one end of Bombay to another end, juggling college lectures, computer classes which I myself was taking as well as training multiple staff on how to use computers. It was insanely challenging, and you pretty much said the same thing when you found out. But you never stopped me. You voiced your opinion once, and it was never heard again. Me? I proceeded to do exactly what I wanted to do. Delayed case of teenage rebellion maybe. Whatever it was, it was an absolutely great learning experience.
My second job was no better, in your eyes anyway. I remember travelling to Borivili for the interview to a computer institute, the job was to teach computers. They offered me a salary of Rs. 2500 per month. This was the early 90’s, I was a fresher. It sounded like a lot of money at the time, and I travelled to Kandivili, to your office, happy to report I had landed a job. You looked at my offer letter, looked at my monthly salary and looked straight at me with those piercing eyes and said, “The peon in my office earns more than that!” Nevertheless, I ploughed on, while you never mentioned it again. In classic Appa style, you let me make all the mistakes I possibly could, let me learn my worth on my own.
I got another job offer after that, another computer teaching position that paid Rs. 3500. I went for it even though I studied at a rival computer institute and I was still studying while taking on jobs at the same time – and was still pursuing a graduation degree. I have no idea why I put myself through that gruelling routine, but there you have it. 3500 probably sounded a little more respectable than 2500, as did the company I was now working for. It was the first job where I did not get a direct derisive comment from you. It was very satisfying. Even silence from you was a mark of your approval.
Within another year, I had graduated, had completed my computer diploma, and was offered a job in the same institute that I studied. I took it on happily, and my salary went up a notch to Rs. 5500. I went to Delhi for a week-long induction program. I finally felt like I was working for a place where I could make something of a career, establish myself long-term. I absolutely loved my job, and I could see you did too.
And then came 1997. I screwed up. Big time. I had taken some decisions in my personal life that landed up separating me from you. Now I had only your silence. But it was not a silence of approval. It was a silence of utter and absolute disappointment. And it killed me to the core of my being. You were no longer approachable, I could no longer have a conversation with you. There was only pain, and the sense of betraying your trust, your confidence, your pride in me, that I could do no wrong. All shattered by some very bad choices.
I found only one way to pick up the pieces. I left. I took up a job in another country, put as much distance between you and me as I could. Something told me you did not need a reminder daily of what you felt was your personal failure as a father. While I blamed myself, I know you blamed yourself a hundred times more for the way things stood.
A year later, I travelled back home to visit and you were a changed man. Distance does make the heart grow fonder. And both of us were once more on the same wavelength of father and daughter.
I held a couple more jobs after that. But the one job I landed in 2007 was the one dearest to your heart. I can never forget your reaction to that one. Not only did you approve of my job, you got an absolute kick when you heard my date of joining.
I last changed jobs on September 11, 2007. You turned 70 years old that day. And it absolutely thrilled you to hear that my date of joining was on your birthday.
Late 2008, you entered the worst phase of your battle with cancer. And I rushed in Dec 2008 straight from work to see you. I went straight from the airport to the hospital. You were suffering from hallucinations, delusions. You were seeing people who had long departed to their heavenly abode. You saw a giant newspaper where the curtains were around your bed. But as soon as you saw me, your eyes went bright and you all but barked at me, “You took an off from your job? For me? And they let you?”
You had forgotten a great many things by then, but you didn’t forget this job. And that day, that day I realised how proud you were of me. After over two decades worth of jobs, I finally felt your approval in those words.
Appa, it’s been ten years since. And every single day I start my work day, I feel your guiding hand beside me. All your principles, your life’s values, your do’s and dont’s – all come together to tell me exactly what to do when. And I say a silent prayer of thanks that I hold the honour and privilege of calling you my father.