Baba.

Tone-deaf people sing in showers but he, he recites Math formulae. I learnt ‘alpha plus beta is equal to minus b by a’ and ‘alpha into beta is equal to c by a’ long before I knew what they meant because very often in the mornings, I would hear him say this aloud from the bathroom.

After a busy week, people relax during the weekend, allowing themselves the luxury of sleeping till noon but he, he wakes up at half past four every morning. It wasn’t a screaming mother or alarm clocks that shook me awake on Thursdays and Fridays (and now, Fridays and Saturdays) but savory aromas that tickled my nose awake every weekend.

Well-meaning parents send their children to innumerable tuition classes either because they cannot teach or do not have the time to but he, he never sent us to a single tuition. My friends learnt Physics, Chemistry, and Math from different teachers and struggled with Social Studies on their own; he turned our kitchen into a lab, drew colourful maps with me, taught me the concepts of formulae that had previously looked like another language to me. Five subjects, and I had only one teacher.

In this busy fast-paced life, a message on Whatsapp and a ‘like’ on Facebook seem like the only ways to keep in touch but he, he calls his best friend in the other half of the world once every week. His laughter echoing in the house reminds me that twenty years from now, this is how I want to keep in touch with my best friend too. Apart from this, he reminds me of the importance of caring for those who stand by you through everything when no matter how busy he is, he always makes the time to call his mother.

People like to spend their hard-earned wealth pampering themselves occasionally with the expensive shirt or branded perfume but he, he likes to pamper everybody else. I cannot even count the number of times he decided to surprise us all with unplanned visits to the movies and elaborately planned game nights that involve Scrabble, Ludo, Hangman, 20 Questions, to name a few.

He is absolutely ridiculous and yet the most sensible person I know. It amazes me how the same man can crack Santa-Banta jokes off the top of his head just as well as he can explain integration by parts. It melts my heart when the same man who shoulders the responsibility of the entire family without complaint breaks down to Taare Zameen Par and Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. It makes me smile when he tells us to strictly follow routine because sometimes he tries to avoid brushing at night because he’s sleepy. It amuses me when after a tiring day at work his only complaint is that his daughters consider themselves too old to play ‘Doctor-Doctor’ and assign arbitrary creams as medicine for all his aches as we once did. It makes me laugh when he does silly things such as respond to my ‘post your earliest memory of me’ status with a picture of a significantly younger me being cuddled by a significantly younger him.

He sings ‘humein tumse pyaar kitna‘ in the worst tune I’ve heard anybody sing but he sang me to sleep with a personalised lullaby that became my first full sentence when I was a baby. He doesn’t eat a whole lot of sweets but he always bought me a lot of fancy chocolates from all his trips abroad. He is a vegetarian but he cooks mouthwatering non-vegetarian dishes for everybody, especially for me when I return for vacation. He hasn’t always had things going for him but he has always done his best to make sure that my life is perfect; he’s the reason my book is out there for the world to see. He believes in managing time efficiently but ends up talking to me for over two hours after bidding goodbye more than five times.

I love that I can be unreservedly myself and he never complains. Whether I am cribbing about an all-nighter or referring to twenty odd friends whose names he will forget, he listens to it all. Our conversations jump from topic to topic; we could start with how my day in college was and end with a discussion on the reservation policy in India. With every conversation, I emerge a little happier, a little wiser. And it flummoxes me that I once thought that the man behind the warm, chubby, baby-like face would never be a friend to me, just a figure of authority. I suppose that the day I realised that he was a lot more than just a bank that funded my day-to-day life, I grew up a little.

I was little once.
When he had more hair on his head.
I guess I grew up a little
All grown up!

Father. Daddy. Dad. Papa. Pop. I don’t know if any of these words can summon the affection, the love, the respect that I have for him. The only word that can sum up the myriad of roles he plays in my life is ‘Baba’.

Happy birthday to my first love, favourite superhero, best teacher, 24/7 helpline service, crazy comedian, and creative cook. Happy birthday Baba.

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