<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
How dads work
A Friday morning in February 1987. For some reason, the lower classes of our school had a holiday. To avoid my spending the day all alone at home, it was decided I would tag along with Amma, like I used to do on Saturdays. We would first go to the stores, where I'd stuff my pockets with Nutrine toffees and Cadbury's Eclairs, buy Britannia Milk Bikis and Parle Poppins. The last two were particular favorites for they would last till the end of day. Then we'd reach her seat in the department where I would meet P, whose mum was Amma's colleague. As our mothers went off for college assembly, the two of us would excitedly share toffees and make plans for the day. I would always bring along a few issues of Sportstar, Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and/or Famous Five - this would help while away the day in case P failed to turn up.
On some days, I would tag along to the lab. I would take up a corner desk and fiddle around with a magnifying lens or a couple of magnets while the students carried on with their experiments. This particular Friday began with practicals. It was proving to be pretty boring. Noticing my restlessness, Amma suggested I visit the Zoology Lab in the next block, they had organized some exhibition the previous week and were putting back some of the stuff back.
I was glad to find P in the lab. There were several colorful fish swimming around gaily in bottles and containers of different sizes and shapes. P's dad being a fish enthusiast, P was excitedly rattling off the names of different breeds of fish. He would point out to a type and casually remark that they had it in their home. Acting like a know-all, I thought.
Amma came looking for me in the afternoon. The exhibits had kept us occupied all day and it was time to go home. Just then, an attender remarked that the fish were for sale. Very affordably priced.-"Do you want to take home a few as pets
?", she asked me.-"Sure, if you want to buy them".
But then, we've never had a pet at home. None in the family knew the ABC of keeping fish.-"Ennada P? Idha pathi engalukku edhuvum theriyaadhu. Valatharadhu easy-a
?", she turned towards P.-"Romba easy aunty. Enga veetla ellame naane paathukkuven
", P claimed proudly, goading us on.-"Engalukku food pathi ellam onnum theriyaadhey?"-"Adhu onnumey illa aunty. We have lots of it at home. I will bring a can to your house tomorrow. Sometimes I feed broken bits of appalam to the fish. Naan mattum edhu potaalum enga veetu fish saaptukkum aunty
", P bragged.-"Fish food enga poi vaanganum?"
P told us the location of the shop from where they regularly purchased it.
-"Appa othukkuvaangala?", she turned to me.
-"Veetla kondu poi oru orathula vechukalaam. Enna solla poraanga?", I countered with enthusiasm. Surely Appa was not going to make a big issue out of it. Despite his fastidious ways. A handful of fish in a bottle, what's so difficult in maintaining it?
And so it was that we took home 3 guppies, a pair of mollies, a pair of angelfish and a pair of goldfish in a 2 big-sized Horlicks bottles to our home. P promised to visit our house next morning with packets of fish food. His importance had rocketed sky-high and we held him in awe. That evening, when my brothers returned from school, we spent the evening trying to name those fish after cricketers and footballers.
Dinner got over. We had spread our beds in the hall, crawled into blankets and were watching the 9.30 PM News. Appa who had returned late, had just finished his meal and was indulging in his post-prandial practice of pulling out the The Hindu to read. The deprivation was inevitable in a house with three growing-up boys who would devour any available reading material.
Just then, his eyes fell on the window sill, on which rested the Horlicks bottles containing the fish.-"Who left the fish there?",
he enquired.-"I purchased them today. They were selling it away in the lab
", Amma explained.-"So those are our fish? But why? for our house?",
he was still perplexed.-"Summer holidays are coming. V wanted to have a pet so I got it for him. He rarely asks us for anything like other children do."
-"But what do we know about fish? who is going to care for them?"
-"P said they're easy to maintain. He will actually be coming tomorrow morning with fishfood."-"Oh, P's family have been keeping them for years. We have no idea about what fish eat and their feeding times. How are we going to handle them? And keeping all these fish in little bottles...",
he was beginning to fret now.-"All we need is a modest fish tank to put the fish in. And P will guide us on food",
Amma tried to salvage the situation.
Appa was done with the paper by now. He walked up to the window. Took the food pack nearby and tossed a pinch of it into the bottle. The indifferent response of the fish was aggravating him further. Alarm bells were now ringing for me! I looked at my brothers to see if their faces showed some concern. Nope, they were indifferent, lost in the novels they were reading.-"Paavam, these poor things!", he continued, "they are not eating it. I dont know how many days they can survive in our house. Namakku thaan idhu pathi onnumey theriyaadhey. Monday we're going to lock up the house and go, who is going to look after them? What if they die in a few days due to our ignorance?"
-"Well, I got it just because V wanted it and P said it's easy to take care of them."
Appa now came and looked me straight in the eye. "Look here V, P's grandma stays at home so it's not a problem for them. Do you really think the fish would survive in our house? We dont have any experience at all. What is the guarantee that they will be safe and looked after? What do you think?"
Of course I had no convincing answer to such a categorical challenge. I fumbled in vain, accepting defeat in no time.
"So shall we return them tomorrow?",
the final punch came. I nodded without opening my mouth.
And there I had it. Stupid me, after knowing this methodical man for years, this real-life incarnation of Phileas Fogg, whatever made me think I could win this one! I was trying to push my luck against a guy who had his priorities right, someone who'd never used an alarm clock all his life, had the precision of a metronome, never touched coffee or tea or sugar all his life. A clear thinking guy who had the same exact routine every day.
"Okayyyy, tomorrow is Saturday. We will have to wait till Monday. I will take them back. We will surely get a pet when we shift to a bigger home but for now, the fish will go
", Amma finalized, going into the kitchen to bring my glass of milk.(Milk after a disappointment was just too much to stomach!)
Murphy's Law struck the next morn. P was late in bringing the fishfood. Appa waited for a while, then told us he would find out the shop described by P and get something the fish would eat.
Three hours later, he was back with a large aquarium, complete with corals, colorful little pebbles, plants, sea food, a fishnet and a crash course on fish-keeping from the malayalee chap who ran the shop. The fish stayed for a year and eventually died of neglect and cannibalism. By then we had moved to a big house and all our attentions were on the dog which had entered our lives a few months back.Note:
Was reminded of this
episode from The Wonder Years. In turn, that reminded me of the above incident.