It wasn’t rare for my father and I to have deep, spiritual discussions after lunch or dinner. On the days I spend at home, as I have gotten older and as my father has aged, it is often that he expresses his concern for the next generation. His eyes stare off into the distance as he chews his food silently and thinks. Sometimes I ask him what he is thinking about and he bluntly says nothing, I am eating, or other times he will tell me. When he is thinking about something, it is about the next 100 years. I won’t be here, he tells me, but I will do everything in my power as long as I am alive to make sure you three don’t have to struggle.
My father has often said the great thinkers don't think about the next 5 or 10 years. The greatest thinkers, he tells me, look 50, 100, or 200 years into the future. They think long-term about the health of society.
To understand my father- his beliefs, his tone of voice, his personality, you must know his core, the person he was even as a child and the struggles he faced in the process of becoming an adult.
Each morning, he awoke to the sound of peacocks and the rustling of water buffalo at 4 AM. His routine consisted of collecting the buffalo droppings and taking them to a pile in front of their home. Their home, nestled on the top of a hill, was one room, and like most of the homes of their village during that time, it was made of mud and buffalo droppings which kept the the home cool in the Indian heat.
He then walked to the river carrying a clay pot on top of his head. Sometimes, when recalling his childhood, my father has shown me a crease in the back of his head, attributed to the many years carrying heavy loads on his head from the age of five. Most days that he walked to the river, he came across a bhagati, a woman who devoted her life to God and lived her life as his wife. Each morning he saw her bathing in the Sabarmati river at 3 AM. His interactions with her were limited, and he continued with his day after seeing her. After his walks to the river, he walked 4 miles to the nearby villages, Moyad and Piludra. This is where he would drop the day’s milk from the buffalo.
From the time he was six or seven years old, he went to the farm to work. Certain days he and his siblings chased the birds away who often ate away at the crops. Carrying a metal lid and stick, they made loud noises to scare the birds away.
During monsoon season, they trudged along the dirt path towards the farm or school, in knee deep water and their tattered clothing. The brown muddy waters overtook their shoeless feet and soaked them from head to toe. It wasn’t until my father was 25 years old that he bought his first pair of actual shoes.
By the time he finished the work, the sun has already risen and it is almost time to get ready for school before it started at 9:30.
After arriving at school, the teacher sometimes asked the students if they had taken a shower before coming. The students who didn’t raise their hands and the teacher sent them to the river to take a shower.
After school, my father would walk four miles again to fetch fresh water from the Sabarmati River, once again carrying the clay pot on top of his head. By the time he ate and finished his school work, it was dusk and he needed a candle to finish his work. In the evenings, he studied with a candle alongside his khatlo, cot, next to where his eight siblings slept in a line. He remembers falling asleep one night while the candle burned and fell over on the cot. He was so tired that he had forgotten about it, only to wake up just in time before it caught on fire.
As I grew up, I was touched by my father’s stories. At times, he told them plainly, as if his childhood was normal (I guess because this was normal in the world he grew up in). Most times, however, he recalled the stories with pain. I often felt my father was jaded by the world because of his childhood experiences.
Growing up in a chaotic household with so many mouths to feed, there wasn’t enough food for everyone some days. It wasn’t poverty that was an issue, my father would tell me, rather it was how people treated you. Poverty isn’t just about physical security, it is the psychological pain which stays with you for the rest of your life, he would tell me.
As a child, he was obedient and hardworking, but angry, stubborn, and always searching for something to believe in. He cursed and threw stones at the Brahmins, priests, who came under the guise of Hinduism only to ask for free handouts. He despised blind faith and the fact that villagers bought into superstition, believed in rituals and prayers meant for a certain God who never seemed to come.
He didn’t know how people could pour so much money and faith into the temple, a building, while a person sat right next to it, starving for food. He knew early on that God isn’t in the temple, he is within. He wanted to shake people out of this illusion and tell them they won’t find it through rituals and offering quelms to the temple.
He had a moral compass from a young age that believed in fighting evil. My grandmother, his mother, once told him it was okay to go to someone else’s farm and take some crops. Although she was speaking out of fear of not being able to feed all her children, he knew it wasn’t right.
He gave into his hot temper when he saw wrong, once even punching a grown man in the face for saying something rude. Growing up, he knew if what he was saying was right, others would one day come to know as the truth as well.