“Look at the boy – short & dark. He wants to go places and thinks too much of himself.”
Photographs of my dad taken in his mid twenties, still show him slim as a teenager. The pictures show an intense lad with twinkling eyes. In his wedding pictures with his kohl lined eyes he cuts a dashing figure. By the time he got to his early forties he is at his most suave – despite the long, hairy sideburns, that make him look like a young Isaac Asimov! However my father, I suspect, always felt a little self conscious about his complexion and height. So when his uncle said these words he was cut to the quick.
My father had lost his own father when he was barely fifteen. With a widowed mother, a still in high-school elder brother, two younger brothers and a younger sister, my father did not have it easy. So he came to city, barely 16 to seek help from his father’s brother. His uncle had already made it big at an insurance firm and with no children of his own had few other commitments. On the day my father had finally picked up courage to ask his uncle for help to pay for college, is when this incident happened. It was a typical, sultry afternoon in Madras (“the city”) and his uncle was sitting in a large swing in the central hall of his house, gently swinging himself after lunch as he received some visitors. My dad had laid down in one corner of the room, to get some sleep. The stress of working up his courage to ask for his uncle’s help,being declined and the hot afternoon had all rendered him half asleep.
My father may have nodded off, but these words certainly woke him up and they rankled. Forty years later, as my dad narrated this incident to me, he recalled that his first thoughts were “I’ll prove to this man what I’m worth. Who the hell does he think he is?” Of course, he continued to pretend that he was asleep and said nothing to his uncle that day. Less than two weeks later, with a friend’s help, he “ran away” to Delhi, traveling on a free 3rd class servant pass that 1st class passengers got. Only his mom knew where he had gone.
Less than two years later, my father returned – a year in Delhi and an eventful one in Shimla had instilled great confidence in him, some money in his pocket and a steady job and paycheck as an auditor in a reputable chartered accountant firm. And all this with just a high school diploma and an apprenticeship. He headed straight to his uncle’s house, eager to flaunt his new found success.
“The moment I entered my uncle’s house and saw him, still seated on that swing – I was taken aback. He had aged so much in the two years!” My father’s voice quivered at the recollection. “He was a mere shadow of his former self. I was ashamed, that I had even thought of telling him off – of having actually looked forward to showing him how wrong he had been about me. I felt really small and petty minded. I didn’t say any of what I have thought of saying.”
It was in that moment that my father had the realization, that he shared with me, all those years later.
“Success is fleeting. Don’t carry a grudge and be forgiving.”