My father has never done things that generally every other father does for their children. He never took us on shopping sprees, never surprised us on our birthdays with some glitzy gift and never bothered to help us in our study. For us, Ma has been the one who would do these things and Baba was always there only to have fun with, to play with and laugh along with. Baba's expression of love is different. For example, during our birthday parties he would make crowns for every single guest or put up a colourful background, that he personally created, which would say 'Happy birthday, Dear X!' As we grew older, discovering many of our friends finding it difficult to communicate with their father, my siblings and I were busy braiding Baba's beard or making him wear black sunglasses and golden chain, pretending that he was Baker Bhai. As I grew up, I started realizing my father could be the greatest father without having to buy me a doll house.
Baba does not buy us fancy gifts, but he does amazing things that earns him gold stars in the 'Good Father' category. Being an artist he paints his creativity on our drab clothes. We go to him with some plain boring outfit and ask him to paint around the neckline or on the sleeves or wherever he likes. Our demand is simple; make it beautiful. And he does. He paints his daughters' clothes with the same importance and dedication as he would to his most prized artwork. All throughout my college life, my friends and professors would compliment me on my outfits. “Baba has painted it,” I would reply with pride. Compliments make me shy, but at times such as these I feel proud of my possession, my Baba. Baba-designed dresses are something very precious to us. Once, for our class party, he painted a kameez for me and one for my friend. As he painted on the final stroke, it turned out that her dress was prettier than mine. I ranted, screamed and cried, I remember him fixing the whole dress, patiently working on it till I was satisfied. I have always wondered how he does that.
Baba is a very people's person; his entertaining and friendly demeanor makes him a favourite among everyone. From the rickshaw puller to the fish seller to the guy who binds his paintings, everyone is his friend. When he and my brother go for Jummah prayers, my brother would always come back home before him. Why? Because it takes Baba 30 minutes to finish a five minute walk, as he has to talk to every person who greets him or whom he knows. He would stand in a crowd, watching with childlike curiosity the activities of a snake charmer or be engrossed in conversation with a fruit seller. He could also be collecting a dry leaf or some wild flowers if he finds them on his way back home. Every little thing makes Baba happy, that is one priceless lesson I have learnt from him.
Baba has not ever given us advice on our life nor created guidelines stating what to do or what not to do. Yet we have learnt a lot from him. He teaches us to laugh no matter what, he teaches us to love the moment that we are living in and most importantly, to love the people around us and to see the good in them.
Baba's belly laugh and rough-housing skills makes him a favourite to all the kids in our extended family, neighbourhood and to the kids we don't really know. He makes my cousins' children call him Black Bearded Grandpa, (given that they have another grandfather with a white beard). Baba's stock is super limited, yet he uses them over and over again. He knows only a couple of jokes and two to three magic tricks which he likes to exhibit given the slightest opportunity. Be it a picnic, a birthday party or just a family gathering, Baba would be inevitably found in a corner surrounded by kids showing his the same old magic tricks. Every time he does the same match stick magic trick, I look at my overzealous and childlike father and think how happy he is, always. Did I mention that just as he finishes his magic he expects everyone to clap and cheer for him?
I can write all day about Baba's activities. Let me finish with this one. Last year, during a wedding in my family, a troupe of my friends and cousins were staying over at our place. In the middle of the night, Baba appeared, standing hesitatingly at the doorway. I thought we were way too loud and might have disturbed him, but to our surprise he was there because he wanted to crack his jokes and show us his magic tricks! My father is everyone's favourite, so the crowd left the stage at once for his performance. While Baba was telling his old jokes, waving his hands up and down with twinkling eyes, I was looking at everyone else's face. No one was bothered with his interruption; everyone was laughing their hearts out, partly because the joke was funny, mostly at his effort and innocence.
That day I realized, his children might have grown up but Baba has not. He remains the same black bearded man with the same magic tricks.