Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar is often known for her bold statements and unapologetic expressions. However, she has a soft and loving side, which is visible in her note she wrote to her father. On the occasion of her father Uday Bhaskar’s 70th birthday, Swara Bhaskar recalled the old memories and wrote a beautiful message.
Since I know well, your disapproval of birthday gifts; and you know well my love for giving them; I thought on the occasion of your 70th birthday I’d strike a balance. Here is a gift you cannot object to – a glimpse of you as a father, from your child’s eyes.
You were always an unusual man. And you have certainly been an unusual father. And not simply because you were often unknowingly defying stereotypes. To date after your morning bath; you, a Telugu speaker often exclaim in Punjabi loudly, “ Mainu te maaf kar dey Rabbaa!” or sometimes loudly “Hey Allah, mere maalik, reham karo!” This coupled with your daily Hindu puja and gusty invocations to our many Gods with Telugu and Sanskrit hymns and chants, left Abu and me thoroughly confused as children and for long unaware that Rabbaa, Allah, and Venkateshwara belonged to three separate religions. More specifically you have been an unusual father for an Indian girl child. I have a vivid memory of your advice to me when I was a child being bullied by the older children of Sangli Apartments. “If anyone tries to bully you… Kick them very hard in the shins.” You would say. To this day those words fill me with inexplicable confidence. You also repeatedly told my brother and me – “In life, you never HAVE to do anything you don’t WANT to.” You always encouraged me to step away from the trap of ‘but I must do this’, simply because people expected it – and taught me to recognise what I actually wanted. I only began to fathom how empowering those words were for a young girl growing up, when as an adult, I realised the fact that traditional parenting actually endows its girl children and boy children with very different values, that as a culture we teach our girl children values like obedience (of others), duty (to others), responsibility (toward others), service/ seva and care (of others), selflessness (of course) and guilt (for anything we desire). And I realised how progressive and almost radical it was for a father in the 1990’s to be telling his daughter to pay attention to her ‘wants’
Behind your gruff demeanour and odd bureaucratic knack for turning every emotional crisis into a logistical question, there has always been the comfort of an unflappable parent. Be it that tutor who was harassing your 15-year-old daughter, or a boy who was ‘going around’ with the same daughter now 18 but then proposing to another girl without breaking up with your daughter, or a genuinely complex love triangle your daughter found herself in at age 26 or a career crisis at age 30 – your ability to remain unflapped by ‘shame’, ‘scandal’ or ‘drama’ and focus the logistics of problem solving (like a good Naval Officer navigating a ship through storms) not only helped me navigate teenage and adulthood, it liberated me. You liberated me of that heirloom which is bequeathed to every Indian girl child when she is growing into a woman – fear. Fear of what will happen, what people will say, what my parents will say, where will I go..? Endless fear. But I always knew that no matter how terrible the problem and how horrifying the fallout I could always come home to you and Ma. And that was both grounding and liberating.
When I left for Bombay to follow my Bollywood dream, you Dad; for the first time in my whole life betrayed any trace of anxiety; letting the unperplexed bureaucratic demeanor crack. And yet your words of advice to me were not words of warning, or even prayer. You simply said – “You are an adult now, and you are going to a different city. You will have an independent life and there will be many things about your life that your mother and I will not know, nor be able to monitor. Just remember, every morning when you stand in front of the mirror, you have to look yourself in the eyes.”
Those words cautioned me, even as they set me free. And once again you had found a logistical metaphor for life’s most profound lesson.
I remember how you had sweet-talked the local bank manager into checking my account balance every month (which I think is illegal Dad!). And how at the end of every month I would find some money deposited in my account. When I’d protest you’d say – “You should never have to do a role you don’t want to, for money.” Once again you had freed me of fear and desperation.
More recently, as I (now in my thirties and a certified adult) grappled with the pressure to be married and meet and date ‘prospectives’; your only words to me were, “You must not in pursuit of marriage and a husband, end up with someone who tries to bind you or diminish you; a relationship must enable one to grow.” Well, I have watched a relationship just like that since my childhood – you and Ma.
Your favourite film strangely, or perhaps obviously is Finding Nemo. I know that you have often watched me with anxiety navigate the uncertain waters of the cluttered ocean that is adult-life-in-urban-India-for-a-single-woman… but Dad, you taught your Nemo to be fearless, resilient and confident. She will make her way home alright, because you gave her fins of steel!
Happy birthday Dad, it the greatest gift to have been born your daughter and may every little female Nemo have a father like you, and parents like you and Ma… because that’s really all a girl needs to swim, fly and soar.
I love you.
The father-daughter bond is always special, and this note proves it. Swara wrote her heart out for her dearest father without sending any expensive gifts and made the day special indeed.