We had set out early in the morning for Aligarh that day. Parvez and I were going to meet his parents. We stopped by at various dhabas and ate. We looked at glasses in Khurja. We stood still by large green farm lands. It was summers but we didn't feel the heat. We were on a scooter and we had never been richer.That was our first road trip. But what a trip it was!
We were young lovers. We were super excited about meeting parvez's folks. We stopped outside this huge white University bunglow with a beautiful garden. Mummy and daddy were ecstatic to see Parvez. And then Mummy realised there was someone with Parvez. I was recieved with laughter,kisses and hugs. Daddy gave me a wide smile and patted my back in his characterstic manner. He was a tall,strong man with a baritone voice. However, he mostly spoke so softly that we found it difficult to hear him across the dining table. That first day when I met him he was immaculately dressed in his regular ghar ka white kurta pajama. All through that trip I remember Daddy looking fondly at me everytime I would sit next to Parvez or hold his hand. Both Daddy and Mummy went out of their way to make me at home. Mummy did the usual mother thing by asking me to sleep with her as we were not married. Those were the days when we gave into such requests.Daddy, however was awkward with Mummy's decision. He was unsure about my feelings and tried subtly checking whether I was ok with the arrangement.He was truly sensitive. He respected people's privacy. It didn't matter how the other person was socially and culturally placed.Marriage was a non issue for him. He respected the fact that we were two people in love.
Daddy or Raza Imam was a popular man in Aligarh. He had worked as the HOD in English Department and influenced the politics of many a students. There are stories of how he stopped students from coming out of AMU when there were riots all over.He was one of the strong progressive voices of AMU.Later in life he passionately got involved with Adult education programmes.
Raza Imam was born in a conservative muslim family. He was the first child of his parents. His father remarried after his mother's death. Daddy was always praises for his new mother. He loved all his younger brothers and sisters.
The siblings born right after him were very close to Raza. Two of his brothers married out of community. This was no short of a small mutiny in the seventies.The primary inspiration and support to marry Sikh and Hindu girls came from Daddy's marxist training.
Daddy's father wanted him to study Unani medicine. However, daddy skipped the course midway. He had decided to follow his heart. He was resolute about studying English Literature.This wasn't as easy as it sounds today. It was a revolt. English was the language of the foreigners. It meant engaging with western ideas and philosphies. Daddy's father didn't approve of this decision and things stayed sour between them till he married Mummy.
Not just Raza Imam's father but many around him couldn't figure him out. Cinni,his daughter, once told me that kids at play would angrily call
out "communist, communist' when someting would go wrong in a game. Now that must have come from their parents. Gives us an idea about what an abuse it was to be a communist for some non communists in Aligarh. Moreover, Daddy was a drinking communist. He loved his drink. This was rebellion against all things middle class. He spent as much time with his comrade friends as he did with his family. One of them was poet Shahrayar Sahib. Looking back there is no denying that he and his friends learnt and lived a lot more because of these engagements.
Around 1999-2000 Daddy and Mummy shifted with us in a Delhi apartment. Many of his outstation friends would come to Delhi to spend time with him. There would be long evenings of loud laughter,drinking,chatting,arguing,shero-shayari followed with more arguing on the dining table. Some of his friends didn't drink in front of their wives. Their families didn't know of them being so high spirited. Daddy's Delhi home was an open house. His Bar was always packed. We were all invited to drink from it. Dining and drinking with Daddy was always a pleasure.Once during a casual dinner chat I announced I would get my nose pierced. He was very amused. He asked me whether I knew what a NAKEL stood for. When I answered that my context was different he was not impressed. He said its nice that I was reclaiming a piece of ornament as fashion and not subjugation but how is that helping other women? He pushed his point. What might be fashion to me because of my priviledges is used to suppress and show women their 'lesser' 'cattle' status.
Daddy never bought a house for his family. Booked a piece of land. Bought that piece of land. Sold that piece of land. Bought another piece of land but never built a family house.
One of his not so liberal brothers had once remarked on Daddy being an under achiever. Yes Daddy never made more than his salary. Many of his extended family members talked about how he could never built a house. The criticism sounded often like he was a lousy husband or a terrible father. In my four years of being his daughter-in-law and several years of being a daughter I found him an extremely loving man. He was proud of his children. He was keen to know all the sons and daughters who forced their way into his house.Mumanijaan, a very competent lady (mummy's poet sis-in-law) used to call him DOST. And that is what he was to most people. A DOST. A Friend. He was a friend to his children too. He brought them up with strong liberal values.Three of them married out of community. Both the daughters are fiesty and fiercely independant. All the kids have confidently lost, found and explored roads less travelled.
Its been eleven years to my moving out of my marriage. Daddy and I kept in touch first via phone and then via social networking. He saw all my shows. I never spoke to him about the frivolous ones and never ever failed to inform him of the smart ones. He would always give me his elaborte feedback.
We had our differences too. Every father and daughter has them.There was a time when I had felt he had let me down. But over the years things changed. One accepted that Comrade Daddy was sometimes just Daddy. Sometimes just an old father like my Baba. And this old loving father had left a complete life behind in Aligarh to be with his children. One couldn't also miss the fact this father had always been an Outsider in intimate spaces. His intelligence was his prize and his curse. He was a complex man. He had taken huge generational and ideological leaps. One over expected from him all the time because of his acute sense of fairness.
One also learnt to appreciate the fact that Daddy was more often than not a Comrade who deserved a salute. He lived a true communist's life. He couldn't have made that one family house. He ofcourse didn't believe in private property just like he didn't believe in religion. His focus was an egalitarian society. Not a big house for his children. His kids didn't have religion on their birth certificate. He protested when his daughter's wedding included Kanya Daan. The man who didn't give his children a religion and protested against all regressive religious rituals till the end, could he have made a family house?
Raza Imam faced criticism from many for being a non family person. However, I have often wondered if he wasn't an involved father would his children have been non religious,secular,left,liberals? How and why did the children stretch families beyond their mother tongue, religion, nation state?
How much time did Raza Imam give to his children to carry on this light?
Binny's daddy is no more- announced Namrata in an early morning call on the 5th of December. He was my Daddy too.
He was my Daddy because he gave me a sense of belonging. An uneasy feeling about my priviledges. A constant critical appreciation of my work and observations.In me he lives just as much as he lives in many of his other children.
Good Bye Comrade Daddy!A father never dies. He lives in his children. And you have many. Laal Salaam!