Father’s Day is about fathers, but it is also about father figures. It is about men who are men enough to stand out. One could ask, what is the true measure of a man? To me, it is in the impact they have on individual and collective lives.
Men do not have to climb mountains or build space rockets to be remembered. But ones who are heroic in their very lives, such men are never forgotten. Such men are rare.
Captain Nanik Karamchandani
This year on Father’s Day, the recurring memory of such a man haunts me. A few months ago, at the ripe age of ninety, Captain Nanik Karamchandani passed away suddenly, at his home in Bombay. He was my grandmother’s brother and my great uncle. But no age could be ripe enough, no time could ever be right for such a soul to leave the earth. He left behind a hole in so many lives, a hole that is the size of a home.
How can I explain my uncle Nanik? Imagine a larger than life man, hosting a dinner party every night for decades. A man who loved life, and loved people. You would think such a man only liked a good time. But you would be wrong.
He was also a man with the most unique gift. He kept the entire family connected through a combination of immense curiosity about their lives, and a genuine love for them.
Uncle Nanik retired as a captain from Indian Airlines. He served as a flying pilot for thirty-six years. That’s where he met his beautiful wife. They had three lovely children. Being the last of seven children, he was always doted on. Perhaps that’s why he naturally knew how to pass on the love. His life was full of achievement. But what he considered his greatest achievement was a hand-written list on a piece of paper that he once shared with me.
The list had names of forty odd people. His favorite people – his nieces and grandnieces. These included daughters and granddaughters of his siblings and cousins. Like a true Indian family, even the extended family, however removed in relation, fit right onto this list with no exceptions. Each one of these nieces were truly his favorites. He adored them for they were his own. He knew everything about them from their relationship status to their favorite foods.
Among them was my name. He knew I loved baingan bharta, just as he did. He knew I would have a rum and coke with him any time of day. I knew too, that only through the magnanimity of his heart had I become worthy of his love.
The word patriarch has come into a distaste in our world. But who is a true patriarch? In my mind, a patriarch is a man who holds all together. One who sits at the head of a family not with commanded authority, but authority earned from love and respect that he has shown in his lifetime. I never looked at Uncle Nanik as a patriarch in his lifetime. He was just too much fun for titles and labels. But now, I see the strength and connection that he brought to the family so effortlessly. He was a bridge between his generation of genuine personal contact and ours of incessant social media posts.
We had many differences over the years. But I had no doubt that my uncle had my best interests in mind. He was educated, experienced and cosmopolitan. He could talk about everything under the sun. He had opinions about everyone’s lives and choices. Like many in his noble lineage, talking about himself was not his strength. He would rather talk about his family. When I last spoke to him, three days before he died,he did not feel well. But he was happy to be steered into the lives of his loved ones where he found joy.
My Uncle’s Voice
This year, on my birthday at dawn, I awoke to a stark silence. Unlike other years when I knew I would wake up to an early morning call and without even looking at the caller ID, I would know it was him. Always. The first one to wish me even before my own parents. A deep silence swallowed my being into the realization that I would never hear his voice again. The voice that brought in my birthday each year, no matter where I was in the world. The voice that brought in the birthdays of all the fortunate nieces and nephews who were on lists he made to count his blessings.
As the haunting silence of the day settled into the night of my birthday, I looked up at the sky and asked, how would I count my blessings? And the answer came right away. All along when he counted his blessings, he truly was counting mine. The greatest of my blessings and honors, to have been on his beloved list and in his treasured heart.