May 07, 2020
When I came to this world, my father was around 50 years old. He had already seen twice as much of life, as I have as of writing this piece, before I even entered the scene. It was a task figuring out his age at the time of his marriage. Whenever I inquired, he would shy away from the question and blame his forgetful memory. One day I accidentally stumbled onto his age and felt the rush of hitting the jackpot. A quick deduction of my elder brother’s age from my father’s, with a few added years to account for the time before conception, revealed he was approximately 37 years old at the time of his marriage. Clearly, he married late and that needed some explanation. Since my father is a man of few words, there weren’t going to be songs narrating his stories. I had to unravel 50 years of mystery through observation and observation alone.
In stark contrast to my father’s reserved demeanor, I have an intense urge to express, in all shapes and forms. Documenting every detail of experience has been my passion as far back as memory takes me. Right out the bat, something fell out of place. Certainly, my father must have shut himself at some point. It was perhaps an aftermath of an incident. Or maybe, that’s what the passage of time does to you. Whatever that was, it was important to find out. For all I knew, I was probably headed towards a similar path. Bits and pieces of his life required to be taken out of the suitcase and put under the microscopic lens. It was less about digging up my father’s past and more about realizing what traits I would likely develop from being his son and carrying his genes. The journey of discovery began with following his educational trails.
My father completed his Bachelor’s in Commerce from Sylhet, followed by two successive preliminary law degrees from two separate law colleges in Chittagong and Silchar. He lent a helping hand in the fully operational family business, which was mandatory as I understand, and rewarded handsomely with pocket money which he spent in good taste. My father rode a bicycle to college, smoked Capstan cigarettes, adorned gold-plated neck chain, and sported clothes sewn from high-end fabrics. He carried an air of elegance, an aura of posh. My father always had the finest cigarettes for his friends and emptied his pockets without a care for the world. He saw greater value in friendships and meaningful relationships. Before he could squander more of his possessions, my father was ordered by his father to be sent to Silchar to help his elder brother, a doctor, set up his medical store. My father obliged. In the following years, he roamed like a nomad from Silchar to Shillong. He found a job in the finance department of a trucking business in Shillong to spend for his living. He spent two free-spirited years amidst the highlands of Meghalaya before returning to Sylhet and got married.
On his return, he opened two pharmacy businesses which he operated over the span of a few decades. They weren’t outrageously profitable by any measure but did moderately well. This phase of his life can be safely intuited as the height of his career. I am not going to hide my tinge of disappointment upon this revelation. I had imagined his life to be more eventful. It was rather very ordinary. My father was deeply rooted in family values. He didn’t venture off to uncharted areas of business, abandon his family, or put everything in his possession at stake for returns in multiple folds. He played it safe and seemed oddly content with his life. I was hoping to discover achievements along the lines of his magnum opus, a spark of madness, but to no avail. His idea of a basic life contradicted the revered words of not going gentle into that good night and that was a difficult pill to swallow.
My childhood memories of my father are vague to a point where he is practically a stranger within the realms of my mind. We never had a profound conversation during my childhood because one was too young to grasp the layered reality and the other was too wise to be well aware of it. The age difference weighed heavily on our relationship. I simply remember him as the man who provided. He made decisions he thought best for the family from the options available to him. My brother and I were sent to the most prestigious English medium school in our city. It was equivalent to sending children to private schools in the Western world. We formed social ties with other members of the highest strata of society, which was one of many benefits of going to such a high-end school. My father never compromised with our education and our expenses alike accounted for the majority of his expenditure. He was no more smoking Capstan cigarettes or any cigarettes at all for that matter. I learned that he quit smoking after he met my mother.
We had a bittersweet relationship with money. Marked in my memory are our perpetual money worries. It would be many years before we were able to build a moderately healthy financial safety net. My father didn’t have gambling issues, nor a drinking problem. However, he was quite gullible and taken advantage of numerous times by people he associated in the business. He came from a position of abundance so being extra particular about the flow of money was not his forte. It was evident from his quality to remain surprisingly unflustered at the face of losing large sums of money. I am, however, of the opinion that each point of failure was a gaping blow in his shield of confidence. His lack of financial acumen was the chink in the armor. Due to his business shortcomings, he was never again the same man.
In the quest to understanding my father’s relationship with money, I came into terms with how I view money myself. I see it as something extremely empowering to those who have it in abundance. You can leverage money to push your world view against a backdrop of ideas and shape public opinion. You can play God. Absence of money drives people to desperation as they toil in meaningless work for years on end until they have no life to live. My view is that I want to earn money to the point where it becomes irrelevant. It’s important to look beyond our transient worldly desires and redirect more time and energy into creating deathless legacies rather than running after money till there is no more life to live. I don’t know what my father would have done, or the person he would have become if his businesses were extremely profitable. Presumably, he would be more confident in his ideas and opinions.
I believe no two people have the same take on what success means to them. Everyone looks for it in different places as well. My ideas on success are parted in two ways. A part of me believes that success is creating a story that will outlive you and looked back at with appreciation, reverence, and gratitude. But you will never live to see that happen. Success to me is the body of work that will cast light from a lighthouse to guide lost ships a.ka. future generations. Because you have something they don’t – experience. It’s the quest of attaining enlightenment. The other part of me dwells more in the present. It is focused on mastering the art of balancing all aspects of life in a manner in which none overpowers the other. It’s about achieving harmony between the mind, the soul, and nature. My father did the latter. He never had a chance at his magnum opus. Nevertheless, what he does have is a sense of fulfillment in being able to glue together a happy marriage of over 35 years, and raising two educated children who are set on their quests to creating their own legacies. I have exhausted my arsenal of words, yet the essay stirs to a full circle. I still don’t know what goes on inside his head. It’s a lock without a key if you will. He is a man of few words. But he seems to be at peace with the order of nature.
© Amitabha Dey. All rights reserved.