The word that relates best to Baba my father, is ‘Adventure!’

“Ready for another adventure?” used to be his first question even before he had put down his two bags.

A man who believed in traveling light, the most sustaining memory of Baba is him alighting from a rickshaw and knocking on the door. Always, always unannounced. He would then savor the look of utter amazement and delight on my face and swing me up high.

Arre kono chithi tithi na diye orom ele?” ‘You didn’t write or let us know that you’re coming?’ Ma’s refrain would drown in our excited chatter.

Not an everyday father

Baba was not an everyday father. For me, he was this dad who loved surprising me by reaching Alwar from wherever he was posted in India during his holidays. Or we visited him during our holidays.

The picture shows a man with his arm around  a little girl
With her father as a little gir. (image courtesy: Madhumita Gupta)

He quite liked the term I had for him – holiday father. “Makes me feel like Santa!” he’d say.

When he visited us, he would spend a month or two with Ma and me and every day of those few days would be a new adventure. On his bicycle initially, and then on our Vespa scooter, we’d start early every morning and roam the lakes of Udaipur or the hills of Aravalli around Alwar. and return in a state of happy exhaustion in the afternoons. Ma never ever understood how the Aravallis had something new to offer every day.

Bhagabondizing with Baba

“Where have you two been?” she would ask ladling rice in heapfuls and Baba would reply “Ei toh…ekhane-shekhane…just bhagabondizing” (Just here and there…just vagabondizing) and turn his attention to the delicacy of the day. He mispronounced all his ‘v’s as ‘bh’s with the typical inability of a Bengali born and brought up in Bengal to pronounce ‘v’.

He would say ‘bhague’ and ‘bhariety’ much to Ma’s and my embarrassment but the word ‘bhagabondizing’ became the cue for ‘fun’ in capital letters in my head as a kid. It was years later that I learned that the word was hardly complimentary and that maybe I should not be that proud of the fact that Baba and I spent our days vagabondizing!

During the days, early or late, depending upon Rajasthan’s extreme climate, we would be out on our bhagabondizing trips to the villages nearby, the forests, or the foothills of the hills. Night-times were reserved for trips around the world via all the stories Baba would tell.

Baba and books

To date, I’m amazed at how much he read and more than that, remembered! He had that gift to hold the audience mesmerized for hours and a repertoire to match. From Bangla literature to world literature, it appeared to me, he had read everything. So, one night, we would be roaming the gullies of Calcutta hot on the heels of Byomkesh Bakshi as he hared after yet another sinister soul; the next, I would be stumbling along with Buck the dog and Jack London; and yet again, we would be wandering the dusty streets of rural Bengal with Tagore.

Even now, years later, there are times when I chance upon a book, wonder why it feels so familiar, and realize with a happy shock that ‘Of course, Baba told me this one on the bus to Jammu!’


The ultimate adventure with him was when he ‘kidnapped’ me and whisked me away to Kashmir, behind Ma’s back. I remember the thrill of Baba and Dadu (Grandpa, Baba’s willing aide) helping me pack my bags and leave before Ma returned from college. By the time Ma was back, we were on the bus to Jammu.

It was with Baba that I saw my first snow-capped mountains, the mighty Himalayas in Kashmir. A memory also tied with the first time I ever rode a horse. We were a group of six with Baba jauntily leading the troop on the tallest horse. Unknown to him though, the saddle was broken, and just as he turned back to point at the ‘bhabha jaye na’ (you can’t imagine) kind of beauty when he started slipping and slithering, grabbing at the horse’s mane for purchase.

For a hair-raising moment, everything stopped still – he was on the edge of a deep gorge! Very fortunately, the horse made sense of and responded to his terrified shout in Banglafied Hindi and English “Ki Korta hai! Ki Korta hai! Stop! Bolchi STOP!” (What are you doing? Stop, I’m telling you STOP!). It moved to the side that hugged the mountain, where Baba safely tumbled off trying in vain to look dignified.

Every picture tells a story

That was perhaps the few trips I do not have pictures of but apart from that, I owe my hundreds of photos to the avid photographer in him. And such was his expertise that each picture tells me a story. Is that perhaps why most of my memories are tied to him despite the comparatively short time I spent with him? Or is it because those days were so rare and precious that I cannot let go of them? Would it have been different had he been a 24×7 father and not just a holiday father?

I have no way of telling, but wherever you are, Baba, thank you for making my childhood such an adventure!

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Madhumita Gupta has written for The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and the India Currents. Her prize-winning stories have been published in various anthologies and international publications like SAWF...