I am inwardly laughing here… the beginning of this tale is similar to the one I wrote about Appa and his art of diplomacy – there wasn’t any diplomacy to write about! Well, you’re just going to have to humour me and read on about the absence of expressions of love too!
I always thought Appa and Amma were challenged by the generation they belonged to. I always thought all parents of that era were like my parents – devoid of daily affirmations and words of affection to let their children know they are loved. What psychologists of today would call “nurturing behaviour”.
That’s not to say Appa was nasty all the time, or we lived in a torturous environment. It was simply a case of aversion to any public display of affection, verbal or otherwise.
Appa firmly believed in duty above everything else. If we did anything nice for the house or excelled in our academics, his standard response would be “You have done your duty, nothing more, nothing less. What is there to appreciate?” This was the answer we got time and again when we were old enough to wonder why we had such a thankless existence.
Growing up in a household with strict rules and regulations (remember my Tough Love story?) came with its own set of emotional baggage and scars which we carry to this day. We all have memories where we wonder why Appa couldn’t have simply put a hand on our head and said, “You did well, I am proud of you!”
To this day, I don’t know if it was a good or a bad thing. I’ve met people my age who got all the love and affection they could wish for, who are no better or worse than I am. I’ve met people who had extremely dysfunctional parents and I don’t seem to be any better or worse than them either. When everything is said and done, we ourselves seem to be the ones who carve our personality and existence.
There is a catch to this story though – the picture that goes with it tells a different tale. I don’t remember the moment in time when this picture was taken, but I have several pictures with Appa where I am hugging him around his waist, just like this one.
These pictures capture those rare moments when Appa let his guard down and let me in.
Even if I do not remember the circumstances of the picture, something tells me I was probably the one who ran to him and hugged him spontaneously, definitely not the other way round. Maybe I took some time to judge the mood, the environment, the expected reaction and then took the plunge. Or maybe I was just a child expecting my father to return my affection and ran to him without a thought.
So that’s how we grew up. Appa did not display any outward signs of affection, encouragement or emotional support. It took me a few years to realise he didn’t have to. Instead, he demonstrated all these qualities by actual actions.
Talk is easy. Walking the talk, is a whole other ball game. Appa didn’t talk. He simply walked.
He was there when I was ashamed at being the 20th rank in the class one year after being in the top five. Rather than chastise me for a bad rank, he made me realise I was now in a high-performing class where I had to work harder for the same rank.
He was there when I went through a bad time and declared to him that I would never ever get married in my life. Without a single word of judgement, he silently stood by me till my tears were spent.
He was there when he saw me off at the airport, newly married and hugged me for the first time in my adult life as I wept unabashedly.
He was there when I got my license and proudly drove him and Amma around my city. The first time I heard him say I did something well.
He was there when I went through health issues, even sang me lullabies on demand even though I was a fully grown adult woman, least worried about the optics.
That’s how I knew he loved me even though he never once said it.
Appa was simply always there. That was his biggest expression of love.