My father was an engineer. And in many ways he was like a classic small-town-America dad. Always obsessing about the need to fix everything in the house, all by himself, especially the electricals. (This was a man who did not just own a tool-kit, he fathered multiple ‘tool cabinets’.)
I think he felt incomplete if he didn’t give the machines a wrench every now and then.
In those days television sets needed to install external ‘antennae’ – sticky-wiry-metal things on top of the roof. Every roof in Calcutta had multiple antennas and they were much cared for because the picture quality would depend on the wind, playing truant with the antenna. Sometimes it would be a kite. Or a pigeon, or a crow. The thundering monsoons would be terrible for the health of these delicate darlings.
So antennas needed fixing all the time. And TV electricians would make a killing climbing up to the roof (sometimes these were risky business) and then fixing the antenna. It would be a minor tweak but it would be made to look like the scaling of Mt. Everest. (the more difficult a job is made to look, the easier it is for clients to shell money).
These TV electricians hated my father. Because he would be the only one in the neighbourhood who would climb up to the roof and fix the antenna.
He often tried to teach me. He was an engineer and wanted me to be one. So he wanted me to get into the groove from an early age.
“But I don’t like doing it.”
“Oh come on be a man!”
“What you don’t understand is that every time you fix the antenna yourself, you save fifty rupees. You do it twice and you save hundred rupees.”
“So I’ll do something to earn hundred rupees when I grow up.”
“Don’t be silly, it’s not about earning hundred rupees. These electricians fleece you. They spend ten minutes and they take fifty rupees. Imagine how much money you’ll save in the future.”
“So I’ll just make sure that the worth of my ten minutes is more than fifty rupees. So that I can call an electrician and don’t mind paying him.”
I’m not proud of my cocky retort as a kid. Neither do I think my father was wrong. He was very, very, very right and he was an ideal father trying to teach something to his kid.
He meant the best and I was the petulant child. But somehow I was right about MY future. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t. Despite being branded a failure for most of my growing years, I always did what I liked.
I was right in rejecting all that was not my path and embracing all that was. Which has worked out for me. That’s probably me being lucky.
But what’s fascinating is that my father gave me advice about the future. And like many of our parents, he did not see what kind of future was coming. He did not see that when his son grows up and owns a TV, it would be a complex microchip-based unit, which, even my father, a civil engineer, wouldn’t be able to make much sense of. In a few years there’ll be no TV set. The wall or any other surface will be the TV.
He wasn’t a well-frog; in fact he was a well-versed man of science. Why didn’t he see this coming? I don’t know. Maybe this is what we call ‘middle class trappings’ – looking at life with the lens of problems to solve and not opportunities to create.
It’s 2016. I know between 2013 and 2015 I’ve not written much here. Not that nothing much happened. A lot happened and I couldn’t make sense of anything. I was consumed by the mindfuck.
But all that’s behind. And I don’t want to base anything on the past.
It’s a new year and I want to look forward again.
Look forward to a magical year 🙂