When I was barely at the height of climbing a chair meant for adults to sit on it, a TV commercial, thanks to the miracle of satellite in the early 90's, always left me bamboozled. At the end of that very energetic ad of a cooking oil trying to convince the audience how 'heart-healthy' it was, a little girl of my age back then, while hanging from the biceps of her father would yell and claim, 'My daddy strongest!'
The ad was heartbreaking; at least for the likes of me. Of course the super gluttonous, obviously unhealthy foods, obnoxiously displayed there to make me drool were to share the blame, but it was the ending that made me look at my father every time and sigh! My father did not obviously care much about being the 'strongest daddy'; who would dangle me from his shoulders like a fashion accessory as a proof of that. In fact, he had a very 'regular guy' physique, the 'dadbod' of the 90's, almost at the weaker end.
Since I was not allowed to watch TV without the presence of a parent, I would always choose my dad as my chaperone. With my mom, it was always a series of corrections; the 'sit straight', 'sit quiet', 'don't bite your nails', 'don't put your clothes into your mouth' sorts. It felt like she was a ruthless editor of a top publishing company and I was an article written by an unpaid intern who dared to fly too close to the sun!
There was another, the actual reason, behind choosing my dad to watch TV with. Chances were that he would soon get bored of it, and we would end up doing some creative stuff together. So what my daddy was not the strongest? He surely was the coolest one! He used to carve on the wood back then, when he had the strength to do so. With that note, I just realized, he might have had some strength after all; not particularly Herculean to carry me around like a freshly washed handkerchief put out to dry with a clothespin, but good enough to strike the hammer through hard wooden surfaces.
He used to do a lot of what I thought was cool but weird stuff, and I was his always available personal assistant/ biggest admirer/ gasping spectator for motivation. He carved and made almost everything from wood, from furniture embellishments, to a post-modern side table made out of tree bark and stained glass, to my very own handmade and hand painted ruler as a swag for school, to his own nameplate for our front door. When he was not doing that, he would remain buried under books. My mother could not decide what to despise the most about him; the shavings of his 'lunatic' woodworks floating all over the house, or the scattered books and papers that he used to read and write on, apparently all at the same time!
Amidst all the chaos, I was the relentless supporter, ardent critic and stealthy copycat of everything that my father did. All my life, I tried to copy his amazingly cursive handwriting, both in Bangla and English, his passion for S D Burman, Jim Corbett, gardening and nature, his lazy half seated-half rested position, his taste for experimental food and different cultures, his creativity, and his quietness.
I was the one who would find his Chinese art inspired crayon sketches of landscapes, mountains and rivers too wavy and shadowy but interesting. I was the one who would play a master chef judge to his attempts of making pasta from the scratch with the twist of a deshi white sauce made out of coconut milk. I was the one who would assist him in home sewing projects like cushion covers, table mats, rug dolls, pretty pleated dresses for me and my dolls and what not!
He was the craftsman; one of the most multifaceted one I have ever seen.
When he was not buried under books and journals of linear statistics, algorithm and other tongue-twisters of names that challenged my linguistic abilities, he was the father only the best fairytales could ever bring together. I was born to him when he was almost forty, almost a professor of a public university and almost had reached where he wished to be. I was not his firstborn; hence I could not witness his struggles to reach the point where I met him. I came to his life when it was almost ripe with his works. Still, I believe I gave him a new purpose. I can remember him making all the arts and crafts works he has left at every corner of our house, while looking at my eager little face for inspiration.
It is true that I also got to witness his painful, unbearable battle with cancer for the past few years, and also, to my worst nightmare, the sight of his soul leaving his body. He closed his eyes while looking at my face. I will never forget that my father; my ever-so-unique, insanely talented yet mysteriously quiet and shy to public exposures, mad genius of a father; whose eyes used to sparkle when he had the latest thing he made to show me- saw my face; my scared, confused, helpless in disbelief eyes before he closed his ones, forever! I guess he was looking for motivation for one last time before starting his brand new journey, all alone.
I will always remember how those eyes used to speak volumes when the world knew him (or not) as the quiet one. I know, he left me with his sparkling glare, with the twinkling of his eyes, and that's what made him the strongest father of the entire universe. Yes, I can yell now, 'my daddy strongest'!
(The writer writes this piece in memory of her father, Professor Dr ABM Abdus Sobhan Miah, Department of Statistics, Jahangirnagar University, who died on January 16, 2016.)
Mehnaz Tabassum is Lecturer in English, East West University, Dhaka.
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