It was twenty – five years ago on the 7th of February that I received a call in the evening in Muscat. The caller was a gentleman from a neighbouring country working in the office of my brother in law who was enjoying an extended holiday in India as my sister had just got married a month earlier. ‘Kya Brian aapko message mila kya? Aapka father ka death ho gaya’. At that very moment my world came shattering down. Controlling my tears I took the next flight and was taken to the morgue of a local hospital in Bombay.
I was in India a month earlier and my most enduring memory is that of my father ramrod straight escorting his only daughter to the altar at the Gloria Church Byculla at her nuptials. Now he lay down there on a concrete slab cold and lifeless, a man who was a piece of me. My father who was my hero, my strength, my total support system was no more.
Fokab as he was lovingly called by all who knew him was born to Isabel and Apollinares in Karkal in 1913. He was one of the ten siblings and undoubtedly the most popular Uncle to a brood of 34 nephews and nieces and their progeny. Although all his brothers and sisters were well educated going by the standards of the time, he would always joke that he was a qualified MA, BF, when deciphered it meant Matriculation Appeared But Failed and at other times he would say Amche aadhle Matric to logically hammer down any argument. It remained a mystery whether he had completed his Matriculation but his skill at man management, his earthy humour and his power of logical reasoning was legendary. He was an Uncle everyone would go to, someone who you could pour your heart out to and was someone who would stick his neck out for you. His house in Bombay Central became a most sought after place of rest for anyone who would come to Bombay in search of a job or were transiting on his or her way to the outside world. He married late in life but built a special bond with all his nephews and nieces, they would immediately press his legs whenever he lay down to sleep as he had a long history of painful feet.
…I must have really tried hard because it was nothing short of a miracle…..
Being his only son had its advantages and disadvantages too. He would keep a sharp eye on me and I was always caught with my misdemeanours. It was no secret that the colour of my backside was red and blue during my school days. He had a unique way of ending these sessions by calmly telling me to keep trying to do better or be good. I was a poor student but always managed to go to the next class in school, I believe it had something to do with Gods grace, but there was a time when my luck ran out in the ninth standard. I had done badly in the final exams and knew I would be detained in the same class. Being at my wits end I took the only approach available. I tried ‘bribing’ a teacher using my Fathers name, got promoted to the next class but got caught a few months later when the teacher on bumping into my father started thanking him profusely for the ‘gifts’ he had given him. My game was up and any one seeing my backside could have counted all the rainbow colours that evening, but then he grudgingly said ‘as you are now in the tenth standard try and study hard’. I must have really tried hard because it was nothing short of a miracle that I scraped through the tenth standard. It was very difficult getting a seat in a college (that too with a shady reputation) and then being dismissed from that college was something even my father had not bargained for. Although I was ready for the normal ‘standard procedure’, he just told me ‘Brian, You have tremendous potential in you, just Try hard in whatever you do’. I think my life changed its course from there and from then on I have met some of the most beautiful people on earth who have guided me along life’s path.
Dad used to work in the Railways and his salary would be just enough to take care of his family. But that didn’t stop him from lending a helping hand to anyone in need or trouble. He would often say ‘Do not expect anything in return from the person whom you do good to, because if it is returned it is business, if the person extends help to another, then you are blessed’. My father left us some great gifts, all of which have helped us in our lives. Compassion and charity were two of his greatest attributes. He had a great love and fervour for the outdoors. He was always hungry for knowledge and would encourage us to read. He cared little for money, but instilled in us a passion that anything was possible in this world if we tried hard.
A few years ago while on a vacation in India a relative called me. ‘There is a gentleman who is here, a friend of your father, he wants to meet you’ she said. On entering her house that evening I was immediately struck by the dignified presence of this octogenarian gentleman who was accompanied by his nephew. He mentioned to me his story of how he had come from Mangalore gone to work in Africa and got married to a Goan lady there and was now settled in the United Kingdom. He said this was like a pilgrimage to the land of his birth before he laid down his bones in a foreign land. Then he let out a little secret. He said my father had loaned him some money for his Passport and expenses to Africa in 1957. Although he had made many trips to India after that he had not got the right opportunity to repay the debt and asked for my forgiveness, then turning around he slowly took a thick envelope, which was in the hands of his nephew. ‘Please accept this on your fathers behalf’ he said. By then I was totally embarrassed. My father had not told me of any debts or payments to be received by me. I politely told the gentleman that as I was not aware of any receivable amount so I could not accept it. The old man was insistent cajoling me into acceptance, but I was adamant not to accept it. It was then that I muttered ‘Please give it to someone who is in more need than me’. There was a sudden paleness on the man’s face. You could hear the silence in the room. The man sat on the sofa for a moment, then got up and said ‘I have to go now’. As I held his hand to wish him good-bye I could distinctly see the crystallised gaze in his eyes. He took me in a bear hug and softly whispered in my ears ‘Brian! You?. are just like your father! By then I had a lump in my throat, beneath my breath I could only murmur ‘I wish I was’??.
‘Hello Dad I’ll really try hard….
Author: Brian Nazareth- Koppa