The Tribune - Spectrum


, April 14, 2002

Life Ties

Fulfilling responsibilities on time
Taru Bahl

SUKHI was a civil servant. He was wedded to his profession. He had no idea how his wife managed home, finances, his cantankerous parents and hyperactive twins. Since she seemed so much in control, he never made a big deal about it. The shocker came when she got riddled with an undiagnosed disease. The entire house came down on him. He hated coming home those days. The mess, confusion and frayed tempers made him desperate to escape. She showed no signs of picking up and before the doctors could detect what had debilitated her so, she died. It took Sukhi almost a year to snap out of the trance-like state her demise induced. He drowned himself in self-pity as he came to terms with the realisation of just how much he depended on his wife. With her gone, he lost the will to live. The same things he loved doing when she was around, he had to painfully see through. Each waking moment felt like a year and sleep eluded him.

His son and daughter who were just eight years old were left in the care of their trusted servant. The family suggested that he remarry but he would not hear of it. He could not bear the thought of a step-mother bringing up his kids. It was too much of a gamble and he would not put them on the stake. In spite of his concern and love for them he could not bring himself to spend time doing things they perhaps expected him to. His love was never under cloud but it did not translate into a verbal more tangible form of expression. Both the kids saw that, missed it and yet matured overnight, shielding their father all the same.


Since Sukhi had not participated in the children’s growing up years, there was a certain formality in their relationship. Also he was slightly dated when it came to understanding their needs and expectations. His ambitious plans for them were not realistic. To his mind he was a committed father who had sacrificed the option of remarriage and companionship for the sake of his children having spent all his money and time in securing their future. Yet, there was a mismatch with what he felt he gave the kids and in what they expected as a parent, the only parent, from him. Fortunately, there were aunts and uncles who pitched in and were always there to talk and reassure them during their troubled adolescent years.

When Seema turned of marriageable age, Sukhi went overboard in his groom-hunting attempts. He refused to see that Seema was not keen on marriage. She wanted to work, see the world and experience some amount of freedom before getting chained to the house. She had seen her mother’s solitary existence and did not want to end up like her. She wanted to delay marriage, besides the kind of boys Sukhi was shortlisting were not acceptable to her. Her criterion was that the boy should be more than just be from a distinguished family with all credentials in place. she wanted a boy who was not in business, but in service and who was fun loving, light hearted and capable of being a friend and true companion. This was the only issue over which she took a stand with her father. She would marry someone she liked and was comfortable with.

When she fell in love with a Hindu boy her age, Sukhi was furious. The four years she was seeing him were also the most painful. On one hand was Sukhi’s unreasonable behaviour and on the other hand her own anxiety since the boy was still unsettled and not in a position to marry. Finally, the relationship did snap. They grew apart and the boy left for the USA to pursue further studies. Sukhi was happy, insistent that it was for the better.

Seema coped with her devastation by taking to reading and staying indoors, supervising household chores. She began to lose confidence till the day her closest friend asked her to help out in her export unit. As Seema began to get involved with the work, she found her interest levels soaring. She found she was effective with the administration and personnel side of the business. Her working hours became longer and she decided to back her experience with an appropriate degree. She joined evening classes in personnel management and also learnt driving. Sukhi was displeased with the turn of events. Having a full-fledged working girl spelt trouble to his native wisdom. He had by now lost steam in his groom-hunting endeavours. Every time family got together and expressed concern about Seema’s marriage, he would put the blame squarely on her shoulders saying she had got too career minded. The years kept slipping by and proposals which came in were now a trickle.

Seema’s twin brother was not exceptional in studies. When he showed no interest in taking his IAS, wanting instead to do business, Sukhi was livid. How could he not have a proper degree ? The daily cribbing turned the son into a rebel. He moved into an apartment close to the industrial area where he put up his ball bearing unit. He identified a project on his own, raised loans, found partners and streamlined operations. It was not a cakewalk and it took him years to settle down but he was steady and determined. Having got totally involved in business, marriage for him too was put on the backburner.

The kids were now close to 30. Sukhi was closer to his friends than he was to them. He justified himself by saying that he had done his best. It was his bad luck that he was destined not to have the happiness of children who were dutiful, loving and sincere. They had chosen to lead their lives in the manner they felt was right. In the eyes of the world he was a man who had failed to fulfill his responsibilities but he was not to be blamed, for they had chosen their own destinies. Sukhi was hypertensive and diabetic. To top it he was a bad patient who refused to follow guidelines set by doctors. Seema tried regulating his diet and pushing him to exercise but like a truant child he always found a way out, indulging in things which were forbidden. When he got his first stroke, no one was surprised. They had seen it coming. His lifestyle, diet and attitude had literally invited ill-health. The stroke was minor and he was soon on his toes. Everyone hoped he had learned his lesson. But things got steadily worse. His second stroke confined him to bed. The next four years were spent in expensive treatments and medication. Whatever he had saved for his children was spent in medicines. Being a civil servant most was reimbursed but the prolonged nature of ailment and private care including expensive nursing depleted him of his savings.

When he died at the age of 65, the family realised what a shambles his personal finances were. There were hardly any investments for the children. While they were not worried for the son, since he was by now established, they worried for Seema. The father had made no real effort to bring them closer. While they could turn to each other in moments of crisis, on a day to day basis there was no strength to be derived from their brother-sister bond. Sukhi had not planned for this exigency. He had enough time to think and act, more so since he had a prolonged medical problem. Yet, he could neither resolve his children’s personal ambiguities nor prepare them for the eventuality of being alone after he was gone. Seema was now 35, obese and according to well -meaning relatives, "past the stage of finding an eligible suitor. Maybe a divorced or separated man, if she was willing…" She herself was beginning to feel lonely. The prospect of living all by herself in their run down ancestral home was awesome. Maybe circumstances and loneliness would bring the twins back together, but at what cost ? Sukhi had intended to be a good father. He had in his own rigid, unidimensional way even tried. But he ended up leaving two children who were completely ill-equipped to deal with life. In the ultimate analysis, howsoever harsh it may sound, he had failed in his duty as a father.

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