Sometimes parents tell you a story about themselves that makes you look at them and wonder, “Who the hell are you?”
Much as I would like to think that I hatched from an egg or stepped out of a pod, the truth is I have a mother and father who’re actual people in their own right. It’s true! They were young and everything! They have pictures to prove it and very scary they are too! [Digression: the bouffant. What on earth did they hide in there? If it was just hair, how come they didn’t topple over under the sheer weight of it?]
Anyhoo, this is my dad’s story so I’ll leave what he calls the “Mickey Mouse hairdos” for another post. No, I have no idea what he’s talking about either – unless Mickey was a crossdresser back in his day.
My dad’s first job, way back in the late 50s as a 21-year-old nerd fresh from a master’s program, was at this organization called FICCI. These days they’re pretty much outshone by the CII but back then they were the only game in town and they kept busy holding conferences, arranging meetings and throwing dinner parties for industrialists, visiting dignitaries, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. I think they still do all of that but they did it much better and to much better effect in the 50s, 60s and 70s when the Secretary General was a confidante of both Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi (I believe he went on to become a Member of Parliament on a Congress ticket).
When Dad first joined, he was the baby of the office and for the first six months his given task was to read Winston Churchill’s The Second World War. I’m not making this up. He actually got paid to do this. FICCI had one of the best libraries in India (Arun Shourie, for example, completed his thesis for his degree from Syracuse University by mining the FICCI archives – in typical mutton-headed bureaucratic fashion a large part of those records were destroyed in the 90s when Federation House, where FICCI is housed, was renovated) and all that was required of my father was that he read Churchill’s volumes and then talk intelligibly to the Sec-Gen for a short period every evening. In the meantime, he got to hang out in the thick of things and watch the movers and shakers of the day do their thing.
Usually, my dad will tell me of things that happened in Parliament or what the editorials of the day were like or Nehru’s reaction to some funny business that went on – things that amuse me but allow me to see my dad as some sort of sexless, ageless repository of ancient history. Then, once in a while, he’ll go and mess things up by telling me something like this that proves he was an actual person:
It was the 1970s. After a gap of a decade or more, Dad was back at FICCI because when all was said and done, he was an Indian man and when his mother said, “Son, all I want is to see my grandchildren before I die” he knew the time had come to Settle Down. And because his job elsewhere required more traveling than was feasible for Settling Down, he decided to come back to Delhi.
Ten-plus years of varied experience meant that he was no longer an ADC to the Sec-Gen but got to do actual work – whatever that meant. The baby of the office now was a gentleman whom I will call K. A South Indian much like Dad, K apparently fancied himself something of a ladies man and wasn’t averse to trying his luck with all the beauties that swam around government circles.
[Note: they’re few on the ground and usually aim much higher than poor ol’ K.]
Around this time, there was some sort of a conference going on. I don’t know what it was or why it was – it was just a Conference. And it not only went on for quite a few days, but it also attracted quite a few female delegates. One of them was this gorgeous Punjabi who instantly enslaved poor K. Not that she particularly wanted to or cared either way but she managed it all the same.
It was the stuff of Bollywood dreams – South Indian poor boy falls for North Indian rich girl. Girl won’t spare hero a second look, hero persists. He dogs her every step, he gets her coffee to drink and holds doors open. He is the soul of solicitude and chivalry.
In the movies, such devotion would be awarded with love everlasting. In real life, his mates at the office took him aside and told him to cool it because for all they knew her family were the biggest mafia in town. K refused to listen. He was in Love. He was also a pest but he was a pest in Love.
He should have listened to his friends.
One fine Sunday, a working day because of the ongoing conference, a big old fashioned Mercedes Benz draws up to the front gate as everybody’s standing around smoking one last cigarette before heading in to work. The passenger side door opens and out steps our Lady Fair. She smiles and bids goodbye to the man in the driver’s seat. K, much jealous, jostles for a better look.
Seated inside, with his Nazi-slaying hands resting on the steering wheel, was his lady love’s father – Arjan Singh. Air Chief Marshall Arjan Singh. Complete with turban and glorious facial hair.
The budding love story? The End.