I spent this Father's Day at my grandmother's place all the way up in Rohini. We were sitting and reminiscing about my childhood days. How every summer vacations, I used to spend full two months at my grandparents' place when it used be in Dilshad Garden (This is pre metro era, and it used to take two hours to get there by a DTC bus). She reminded me of this peculiar little game I used to play as a kid, which I had absolutely forgotten about.
I used to have this giant pink Teddy bear since a kid, kept safe at her place along with this old wooden cigar box containing a bunch of all kinds of earrings - danglers, hoops, drops etc. All of them belonged to my mom and my aunt from their college days. I used to play with my Teddy bear, making her wear the jewelry, doll her up and be at it all day long. There used to be a long curtain hanging by a bed, so I would make a little tent with it and would never come out of it. This was a routine play for several years, two months at a time...
When Dida (grandmother, in Bengali) was talking about it today, I realized that she was always under the impression that the Teddy was my imaginary best friend. What she never realized was the structure of the play in my head: It was all just a daydream. The Teddy, was never a secondary character, with me being the primary. I was in fact, the omnipresent narrator or the puppeteer. The Teddy was the imaginary personification of the protagonist of my all daydream plays.
She was this cool, independent chick who wore all this funky stuff and did all the fun stuff that she always wanted to do, no matter how inane or pointless all her activities were in retrospect, they all sounded pretty cool from a toddler's perspective. I don't think I ever realized that perhaps, she was the personification of how I would have wanted my life to be. I don't think back then I ever imagined that I could ever wear all those giant hoops and danglers that I proudly flaunt today. There was a simplicity to my imaginations in those days. The daydreams back then never ended with the customary reality check of "if only" like they do now. The plausibility didn't exist. Blissfully so, perhaps.
Those two months in a year, used to be exceptionally important to me because I could get far, far away from my own father's bigoted, chauvinist, cissexist, misogynist, patriarchal arrogance and oppression. Playing with dolls and jewelry was never an option for me in my own house. I bore enough bruised impressions of chappals, shoes and other random objects on my body to learn of that rule early on. The only time I would raid my mom's dupattas, jewelry and makeup was when everyone used to be at work and I would be home alone, which used to be rare.
For the entire year, I used to live in a constant reminder of how I wasn't good enough for my dad. How I wasn't a boy enough. How I wasn't a worthy son enough, because of pettiest things like my disinterest in football (which my brother would take up on later on). That's why I used to haplessly wait for May all year long. Because here at Dida's, I could just... be.
Here, I was someone. I was wanted and loved. And there was no judgment. Or the protocol of how I should live my life. My grandparents never once questioned or discouraged my femininity or interest in things that only girls are supposed to do. Dida would nag only over functional discipline like not walking barefoot around the house (she was always fussy about dirty feet on her pastel bedsheets). These two months used to be the much needed vacation from the unpaid job of having to act like a boy all year long. This was what I now understand as "home"...
So on this Father's Day, I would like to take a moment to thank the little mercies of life that save you through. For Dida, who in her own ways, prevented my dad from entirely destroying my sense of identity and my sense of self-worth. He did the damage he could do, but she helped me save a very few seeds which inherently bore the concept of autonomy and choice that would grow into the vast fertile greenery of queerness; with which I would go on to explore my gender identity and understand myself better and better.
After 27 years, for the first time today, she admitted that for the remaining 10 months of the year every time, she too used to live in a constant fear for my life at the hands of my father's merciless physical abuse. Although I never thought that it would have ever gotten that bad; but I now know that something inside me would have died for sure had I not have something to look forward to year after year.
Today, I can't be thankful enough of how she used to vehemently make it a point to get Dadu to ferry me across town year after year, sometimes as soon as the evening of the last day at school.
Sometimes, you just need one person to hold on to, who will bring you back home.
Happy Father's Day, Dida...