Some people you never forget, however old you become or long they've been gone. Today is my father's 23rd death anniversary. That's a whole lifetime but I still occasionally find myself bumping into him as I wander through dark dream chambers, or having conversations with him in my head.
At 14, he left home, a small village in Kerala, and headed for Bombay, where he passed himself off as 17 to join what was then the Royal Navy. "The English officers always thought we looked younger than we actually were so they believed me when I said I was old enough," he said. It was something he had to do as the eldest son to protect his mother and the large brood of siblings ("Actually, there were 9 of us but the sister who was closest to me died at 13 and another baby died as soon as it was born. Nobody knew why.") from a life of poverty. As a teenager, I never understood why he kept sending money home to his mother right until he died at 57, long after the youngest brother had grown up and the littlest sister had been married. Now I know that's the traditional Indian way, and that my father was the epitome of the good son. Sometimes I'm proud of that. At other times, I think he'd have lived much longer if he hadn't been so dutiful.
Though he only ever studied up to Standard 10, he was one of the most well read men I've ever met and dinner table conversations in our house invariably touched on politics, society, history, literature and that endlessly fascinating subject for me, his life as a boy sailor who travelled the world. ("The ship had to wait there because a whole herd of whales was passing. It's fantastic to see them breathing and spouting through the blowhole on their heads when they come to the surface."; "Malayalam was the code language during the Bombay Mutiny (Naval Uprising in the history books now) of 1946."; "In Liverpool, there were these two good looking half Chinese sisters...") Sadly, I never managed to prise out enough information about his adventures with the half Chinese sisters, one of whom called him "Curly".
Some people you never forget, however old you become. I'm glad. I still laugh at some of the things my father said. A good way to remember a good man.
(First put up this piece as a fb note on 2 Jan 2011.)