Vinita Dawra Nangia
As the stranger sat looking adoringly at his baby in a pram, he was unaware of the many thoughts that ran through the watching columnist's head. Would this child one day return in equal measure the adoration he received from his father today?
We sat in a restaurant in Delhi's bustling Connaught Place, people-gazing as we waited for lunch to be served. CP always has an eclectic mix of visitors, each more interesting a study than the last. Very unlike malls that are teeming with similar looking boys and girls dressed like exact clones of each other, price tags almost visible in the premium brand haze they create around themselves.
It was nudging on 4 pm, quite late as lunch time goes, but that didn't stop groups from straggling in and ordering booze. Each table had more bottles of beer than number of people at it. Surprising, for this was no seedy joint. We understood why when we realised the restaurant announced Happy Hours to entice clientele during hours in between meals. Not that we minded, interested as we were in observing those around us and trying to guess at their relationships and stories. We got more grist for the mill this way!
As we finished our meal, in walked a tall bearded guy with straw coloured hair tied in a ponytail, pushing a pram. He adjusted the pram in a manner that it faced him as he sat and ordered his beer. His gaze seldom shifted from the baby sleeping peacefully in it. Once in a while he would reach out and pat the baby adoringly, unnecessarily adjusting the blanket wrapped around it. It was an adorable sight, one that only decency forced us to turn our eyes away from.
It was then that my usually reticent husband made a cryptic remark. "He is looking at his son in the pram with such adoration. Thirty years hence the roles will be reversed. He will be in a wheelchair as his son sits opposite guzzling beer. Will the son then look at his father with as much fondness?" The answer was such an obvious "No" that it cast a cloud on the pretty picture before us.
You seldom see youngsters taking along an old father for a meal or a holiday with as much enthusiasm and pleasure as the father would have taken them when they were small. Many do it out of a sense of duty, but few with the pleasure you would have when you take out a friend. May be this has to do with the fact that parents, as they grow up, often find it difficult to make the transition from parent to friend. As a result, most conversations take on the form of lectures rather than discussions. But whatever the reason, it still is rather sad that a son would not look at his father in a wheelchair as fondly as the father did when the son was on his set of tiny four wheels!
My mind swung back to another restaurant at another time. We were in a cozy country inn in a village on the outskirts of London with some friends. A fire crackled merrily, reflecting on the smoothwith-age polished wood all around. At another table, sat a man with an older version of himself. Both ordered the same dish and ate with equal gusto and relish. Amusingly, some of their gestures mirrored each other too. Conversation was at a bare minimum, but the bonhomie and comfort with each other was palpable. Obviously a son, who had taken time off from family to take his father out for a meal. Maybe it was even a regular once-a-month ritual, we conjectured. A sight that gladdened the heart.
From here, my mind shifted, as minds often do, to a beauty parlour in Delhi. As I gave in to some beauty indulgences there, a lady just beyond let out intermittent giggles, apart from which she kept shouting instructions above the din of a hairdryer being used on another lady. The giggles were because she was ticklish, and each ministration on her foot caused laughter, much to the consternation of the impassive guy applying himself to her pedicure! The instructions were for the harassed hairdresser who was colouring the hair of an older woman. With each snip of the scissor the ticklish lady would shout an instruction on how the ultimate look should be. For the lady under the scissors was the Ticklish One's mother.
When Ma emerged, coiffed and sprayed, the Ticklish One decided it was time to get Ma's nails done. Twisting and turning, causing further trouble for the Impassive One, she kept focused on the ministrations on her mother rather than herself. "Please be careful with her nails, they are brittle," she shouted, followed by a giggle as Impassive One punished her with a tickly foot rub.
"That's her mother," whispered my hairdresser, shaking her head. "Seldom have I seen any daughter-in-law bringing her ma-in-law to the parlour. Only daughters take such good care of their mothers!" Not being able to resist it, I shouted out to the Ticklish One, "Tell me one thing, is the pedicure thrilling or torturing you?" She peered at me through her glasses and said, "Well frankly, at the moment it is a bit of a torture! I am too ticklish for this...." Smiling, I replied, "Ah, so even laughter can cause pain..."
Despite the chaos Ticklish One caused at the parlour, I walked away with a warm feeling because of the care she took of her mother. Years ago her mother must have given similar instructions to another hairdresser as she cut a tiny Ticklish One's hair!
And so maybe the infant in the pram will one day look fondly at the dad who is doting on him now. Maybe he will take him out for a meal, a beer or a haircut. Maybe he will read out to him or take him to a movie or for an evening walk. Or maybe, he will burst crackers for him one day as the father watches at Diwali, recalling how, years ago, his Dad had held his hands to light the first crackers in his life, admonishing him to be careful.
There are so many ways to show he cares, so many ways he can adore and show respect to the man who sits watching him in total adoration right now in a restaurant in Connaught Place.