Fathers are complicated. Indian fathers a lot more. In my house the form of showing love was different. Your cliche special father’s day Instagram and WhatsApp stories wouldn’t even put a dent in his rock-solid heart. But I found a way to melt it. Correction, I was handed the key to my dad’s happiness when I hit puberty. 90 percent in boards that was the only way. But in the end, I got 96.4 percent and to date, I’m waiting for returns on those extra 6.4 and the rest of the happiness.
You might be wondering why I am talking about fathers all of a sudden. A couple of days ago, I was sitting in a cafe which reminded me of the time I met the greatest dad in the world, not the best. The year was 2018, I was down with a sore throat. Back then it was cool and no Doctor’s knight would stab you inside the mouth with his cotton and plastic sword.
It was a Duckworth-Lewis kind of a day in Mumbai and I had just joined my college. And because of the showering skies, sore throat and inborn laziness, the boy with the sling bag made a detour to the cafe that serves his favourite hot chocolate, which is any under thirty bucks. I entered the cafe to treat my throat and save it from shutting down and ordered one along with a side of fries.
And the super busy talking on the phone waiter-cum-owner took his sweet time to bring me my beverage and fries. I was lucky, both were hot and fresh. As I began to appreciate the hot chocolate with my mouth that had lost the sense of taste a couple of days ago (Again it was okay back then) I suddenly started hearing noises coming from somewhere. As the seconds started to tick to the time too late to go to college, the noises entered the cafe.
A swarm of people, varying in ages, perfect for a drug trial. And right at the back of the crowd was a father-son duo. They looked like the most Indian duo imaginable. For people reading from outside India, imagine them with a filter.
The swarm of people settled down on the empty tables including mine. As anxieties of an introverted me grew proportionately with the curiosity of what the hell is happening. I tried to bury it with another sip of my moderately hot chocolate. As I was about to reach the bottom of my glass, I felt somebody standing near me. It was the father-son duo holding a generous portion of cake who had just cursed their past, present and future generations for ruining my solitudious cafe experience.
Suddenly, my people-pleasing personality kicked in and I gave them the broadest smile possible, without showing any of my teeth of course. I politely accepted the cake because you never deny a cake, that’s how world wars start. But before taking a bite I wished the kid a happy birthday. The dad in a very Marathi voice said it’s not his birthday we are celebrating his high school result.
All 96.4 percent of me was surprised by this moment. I have never experienced myself or seen my peers who did well in an exam receiving a public all-out party like this. My head was unable to justify this happy atmosphere (Maybe this kid has topped in the country, Maybe it’s an elaborate prank by the father… Only that can justify this carnival). And then I bet nobody guessed what I would do. I turned into my father and asked the pivotal question, “What percentage”.
There was a silence, probably, I don’t really remember actually but I remember what happened after it very clearly. The duo gave their brightest smiles again and said “forty-three percent”. I needed a moment after this to process this. I processed this with that piece of cake with 96.4 percent of me simultaneously questioning methods of my own upbringing. I looked at the watch and it was time for class to begin and I was two hours away. I decided to take a whole day detour back to my apartment. I got up and went to the reception where I was informed that the kid’s dad has taken care of my bill and every random stranger who has walked into the cafe ever since.
I congratulated the father and stepped outside. The evening was brighter, unlike the day until then. I think even the sun wanted to see the face of the greatest father ever. Not the best, just the greatest. I took a walk in that amazing weather and went up to my apartment and as my head hit the pillow, I could only think about the greatest father in the world, not the best.