By Debarshee Samanta
I still remember that old record player, which stunned me at that little age when I first saw it. The events of the day are a blurred memory but that moment of introduction still floats quite brightly in my memory’s maze. I recollect my father carefully bringing out the recorder from the box, and placing the record slowly under the pin. Now, it may sound a bit weird that I am just being nostalgic about a record player. But that player is not the point here, though it was beautiful. I guess when you are about to turn 23, these small moments are what you start to recollect when you sit down to pen down your thoughts for that old man, who has been there like a shadow, not quite making his presence loud enough but carefully tackling all the responsibilities.
In my childhood days, I would struggle to wake up early enough to assist my father with his gardening work. Back then, I quite naturally didn’t realise that sometime in the near future in a stuffy environment of the city I would crave that companionship with that man amidst the garden that surrounded our house in Tarakeshwar. But again I was very scared of my dad as a kid. To me, he was a very angry man and I couldn’t approach him freely ever, until recently. So, "father" as a concept revealed itself as a strange equation to me, and I guess, it is the case with most children.
I started questioning ‘family’ as a concept and began hovering in the No-entry zones, especially in a middle-class family in India, of this concept in my late teens. Questions about the roles of these pillars we call ‘parents' and the relationship between children and their parents, and how that functions in a broader societal aspect, quite silently made their way through the mess of my brain.
As in the last 20 years or so, we are reinventing most of the social definitions that continue to subsist, often quite disturbingly, it is important that on Father’s Day, we revisit the social construct that surrounds this role. The world around us has changed, for good as well as for worse. Patriarchy still manages to control the switch, but again the expectations from the father in a family have evolved. Even 30-40 years ago, it was almost unimaginable to expect any sort of emotional assistance from the male authority, which was mostly the father of the family. Emotions and expressions were reserved for the mother, in the same way as financial responsibilities, planning was associated with the father. Now, this continues to dominate the wide societal spectrum, but maybe now the child can at least expect that his/her/their father would listen. Conversations might not just start with school homework and end with the option of either being an engineer or doctor.
But society is loud, complex, and emotionally draining. It is a mess. Today, we are living in a capitalistic system that is so productivity-driven, that even if the father wants to sit back and talk to his child, the market just does not allow that basic space. And the situation flips even more in the rural areas where opportunities, education, choices are limited. The liberal discussions of an urban setting do not reach the interior villages. The divisions continue to be very stark. The gender roles are specifically divided and everyone unquestioningly follows that. The class and caste hierarchy intervenes in these personal spaces, and make the relationships even more complicated or unapproachable.
Again, even in an urban setting how does a person discuss their sexual orientation with their father? How does someone start a conversation regarding gender nonconformity? Today, it becomes important to consider these intersections.
So, while the perspectives here mostly reflect the thoughts and understanding of a heterosexual male, the common ground might be the fact that the relationship continues to be distant. The constant rush of this system, which when combined with the existing patriarchal expectations, forms a deadly duo. Even with the development of emotions and expressiveness, ‘Sharma Ji ka Beta’ has only become more prominent.
The arguments that I hear between my parents always somehow end in the division of labour. Who is taking care of us? Who is supporting the family financially? Who is the main authority? And I believe these questions have become normal in our society. But the problem arises when my father often unapologetically assumes that he is the natural authoritative body of the family, just because he is supporting us financially. Now, while money is undeniably important to sustain, it cannot continue to be a yardstick that facilitates an insulting tone towards the woman who is taking care of the household, mostly because she was not given a choice ever due to her gender.
These factors are very much at play even today in families and I want to stress the point that we would make a huge mistake if we count the West out of this whole phenomenon. They are ahead of us but they are very much within the problem. So, considering the ‘father’ as an institution in itself, these constructs need to be dealt with because it is so important to let that human being breathe outside of the pillar that is expected to be always strong, responsible, mindful, authoritative. When we do that, then this important pillar in our society will become so much more beautiful, human and will become inclusive of all the people existing around him in the structure of a family.
My first ‘Rabindra Sangeet’ was ‘Aj Jyotsna Raate Sobai Geche Boney’, which translates to ‘In this moonlit night, everyone has gone to the forest’, and Robi Thakur wrote this song on the funeral night of his youngest son. And I heard this song for the first time on that record player which my father bought during his art college days, by saving money from his tuition. I remember a soft toy, a turtle, that he bought for me from Kolkata, and I was overjoyed. We lived in Tarakeshwar, amidst the green environment, back then. But as I said, I also remember how he had a very loud and scary voice, and every time he shouted I would just start crying instantly and he shouted quite often.
It was both the expectation and the distance that formed the image of “father” for me. And it is no different. The journey towards becoming friends is a long one. They are still stuck with societal roles, maintaining their command, justifying the stereotypes but also fighting and sometimes working twice as hard, every day to sustain a family, many dreams, love, expressions and even filling the gap of a mother in many instances.
So, this Father’s Day let’s positively celebrate all the warm aspects of this role in a family, but also think about the human being behind the role and challenge the definitions that are affecting the person in a not so healthy way. Let’s accept all the aspects and make better rules, if rules that is all we need, otherwise just let’s allow them to survive freely.