Appa and the Art of Diplomacy

This story should actually end before it even begins. If I had to describe Appa’s diplomatic side, I would have to end this tale by saying that he didn’t have one. But humour me. And read on anyway.

It is absolutely fascinating how much our parents influence and shape our lives. There is this genetic predisposition to do what they do, behave how they behave. At a very young age, this behaviour takes hold. We mimic our parents’ characteristics so much and we have great fun doing it. It’s only much later in life that we struggle through un-learning stuff as realisation after realisation dawns and you finally conclude with a heavy heart – your parents aren’t perfect after all. It was no different for us where Appa was concerned, especially where his diplomatic skills were concerned. If we have learnt even an ounce of diplomacy in our lives, this is one trait we can safely say did not come from Appa.

Take a wedding for instance. While we all loved to dress up as all girls do and go for a family outing, meet friends and family, share gossip, indulge in decadent foods… there was also a lump in our stomach every time Appa came to the wedding too. You see, he read the invitation card quite literally.

If the invite said “reception at 07:00 followed by dinner at 08:00”, he would land at the wedding venue with all of us in tow at 06:59. While everyone else would be resigned to the fact that brides and grooms are always fashionably late, my father would stand in the middle of the venue and yell at the father of the bride or groom (whoever had displayed exemplary courage by inviting him) as to why their son or daughter was late. If lunch or dinner wasn’t served at the time it said on the invite, the host would have to deal with a guest thundering around like a crazed elephant, demanding to know why food wasn’t served yet. His reputation for throwing a tantrum at a wedding became legendary; so much so that over the years, anyone who decided to invite him would ensure the wedding party was punctual too.

Unless one craved brutal honesty, Appa was the last person anyone would approach for an opinion on a subject. The unfortunate soul who did approach him would find himself psychologically scarred for life if he or she wasn’t strong enough to hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It is no surprise then that every one of his daughters has, at some point or the other, struggled with growing a diplomatic bone where none was genetically provided. It took a few hits and a few misses, and even today most of us would agree the hits and misses are still higher than the success stories – but we all in our own way underwent a journey of un-learning.
Life has a way of creating situations where you are cornered into developing a skill that never existed. It goes down to that deep primal instinct – either swim or sink.

I suppose Appa lived in an era where brutal honesty was appreciated by some as opposed to sugarcoating and making things sound better than they really are. The world as it is today where everything is weighed and everyone thinks more than needed before saying something, this world wouldn’t be able to handle pure and brutal honesty from Appa.

Till the end, he remained completely unapologetic for the way he was.

Few months before he passed away, a few business associates had come home to see him and I was there too as he was going through a bad phase, most of us were visiting at the time. I was standing at the foot of his bed, massaging his feet when I heard his speech slur as he struggled to say something to one of his associates. By then the family had got used to understanding what he said and I very helpfully interpreted his words for him.

He was not grateful. Not by far! Up went the eyebrows and his eyes went red with anger at needing someone to explain his words. He looked at me and told me to stop interfering in his conversations. “I’m talking to my business associates, don’t talk in the middle!”

This was delivered in the same slurry speech, but no one in the room needed interpretation. His look was enough. That incident was the last time I ever got told off by my father.

I never thought I would miss this side of my father after he left us. It is a side that was annoying, painful to handle and often caused us public embarrassment. Funnily enough there are times I know I need a good telling off, and I miss Appa at these times. No one else did a finer job of bringing you firmly back to earth, and grounding you further with a few shovelfuls of mud thrown at your feet.

Over the years though, we’ve all five of us been through those moments where we wished we could take back what we just uttered. My husband has cringed once too often when I announce in the vegetable section of the supermarket that a particular vegetable doesn’t look nice at all and we shouldn’t buy it when there’s someone right next to me eagerly picking it up, only to pause midway to stare at me in disbelief!

Incidents like these remind me of the times I was annoyed at my father for exactly these kind of situations. These days though, they just make me smile. These days, I am the one doing the annoying!

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