Photos: Samai Haider
I called him “Daddy.” A source for much confusion for those who didn’t know us well. Apt for those who did. For he was, in actuality, my khalu (uncle). But for me, just as he was for his own daughters, he was “Daddy.” A perplexity best exemplified by an anecdote that’s gone down in the annals of family history; when as a toddler I’d gone with my parents to collect my khala’s (Aunty) family from the airport; and when, upon seeing them I had apparently exclaimed in delight, “Daddy! Daddy!” The family next to us, openly aghast, commented, “Ahare, chotobaccha ta ke rekhe ora bidesh geche.” Translated loosely, “Aww, they’ve gone overseas leaving the youngest behind.”
It’s a scene that’ll never repeat itself. “No more running into his arms for big bear hugs. No more toothy smiles.” No one else who’ll call me by the nickname, reserved especially for me. For he passed away a few days ago. And I’ve just finished writing his obituary.
Writing his obituary reminded me of what a wholesome life he’d had. It also reminded me of the smaller, every day moments that make up life, the moments that define human relationships and provide a window into one’s personality. Moments that generally don’t get written about. Moments like our trips to Dhaka Club to pick out a video of my choice – a regular little indulgence that would often be prefaced by lunch or dinner at the club restaurant, where he’d always introduce me as his youngest daughter. Or the times when I’d barge into the air-conditioned confines of his office and unbeknownst to my khala, we’d indulge in a cheeky shingara, food that was generally forbidden given his cholesterol friendly diet.
Since his passing, I haven’t been able to get his voice out of my head. Or his laugh. The guffaws that would give way to silent laughter as his head bobbed up and down, a giant, toothy smile etched across his progressively reddening face. It was an infectious laugh. An endearing scene that would draw mirth from everyone present.
I’ve been thinking of everything that I associated with him, the memories we shared. His love for both the game of chess and the Rotary Club, of which he was a dedicated member, introduced me to those concepts. They were activities my own father didn’t partake in, but my Daddy did. To this day, I link both solely with him. The mere mention of the Rotary Club brings his image to mind – a tall man in a charcoal suit, with a Rotary International pin elegantly attached to his lapel.
I think of the foods I clearly associate with him. His strange obsession with cup soup meant that before every trip back to Dhaka, I’d scour the supermarket aisles for the latest flavours, but always making sure I had a sufficient stash of cream of chicken, his favourite. We’d hit up Dhaka’s Chinese restaurants and instantly gravitate towards the Thai soup and sweet and sour prawn balls. His insatiable love for steak and kidney pies and mushy peas led us to many a pub in London, or the corner fish and chip shop for some battered haddock – food he remembers fondly from his years in the UK.
He doted on his girls. Once, I walked in to see him cooking up a storm! Sausages, mashed potatoes and peas, so we’d have something to eat when we got home from work. I went in to give him a thank you hug, and in my clumsiness, burnt my hand on the hot pan. A minor burn I’d shrugged off, but poor Daddy didn’t sleep a wink that night.
No matter what gifts I’d come bearing upon my return home, he’d wear it the next day. Didn’t matter if it was a shirt, sweater or tie. Didn’t matter if he was just coming around next door to ours to have a quiet lunch. He’d dress up to show me how he looked in it. He valued his gifts and the people who gave them.
And that was “my” Daddy. Many people don’t have fathers. I was lucky enough to have two. And this is how I’ll remember my Daddy, not with flowery words gracing an obituary, but warm, fuzzy memories that I’ll cherish forever.