The perfect lie is the simplest one. The reduction of detail coupled with the removal of emotion. It should be able to exist on its own. You rid the need of fishing for finer details, made-up specifics, and the fear of overplaying and underreacting, all but an inconsequential emotion.
The perfect life would be if it were the simplest one. Reduced of complications that upgrades in lifestyles usually brings forth, the simpler the circumstances, the more in tune the emotions are. The need to compete and accumulate is rid off to a great detail simply because your end goal is one of the most basic, which does not necessarily mean a life lived in poverty but one of gratitude for the present and the available.
The two lives that my father led could not have been more different. At home with his wife and children, he floated in the indifferent and the quiet. And every excuse he came up with, he spent with Pau.
In his office. Hers. His clinic. Hers.
And trips to New Delhi, Bombay and Goa, Calcutta and the South of India, and Guwahati.
Trips he’d never take with our mother. And the holidays he never went on with his sons and daughter.
His life became an amalgamation of these two entities, unequal and opposite. And his Kur, too, where he turned to on most occasions got too loud or too argumentative with Pau. His kur and the house he grew up in were his escape and the constant. Things remained where they were in his mother’s house, our sweet Meikha, our amazing Grandmother. Things rarely changed in his mother’s house. The only change was his father’s insolence, one that slowly and painstakingly turned into a calm and an indifference of a nicer kind.
Papa’s mother, strong-willed and kind, never lost her temper, never lost her cool, not in front of him, not in front of our mother, not in front of the three of us, Mawkordor, Banshanlang, and me. Not when we were growing up, not when we were grown up.
She played a secondary role to her husband and his barrage of insecurities. She was quiet when he was loud, accommodating when he was inconsiderate.
Her children, my uncles and aunts, each of them say the same thing about her, that they don’t remember her complaints, her ever complaining of her husband’s discrepancies. And how he’d disappear whenever he pleased, without a thought, a single word of warning.
He would walk away whenever he pleased and not return for months and years. But Papa and his siblings never questioned any of it.
“Our mindset was extremely different then, our parents’ even more,” Papa and his siblings would explain.
Their mindset meant that they rarely questioned and answered back. And it never occurred to Papa and his siblings that they had a responsibility, if not a right, a responsibility to question the orders and dictates of their parents and their grandparents, and elders, the most of whom had never an idea of the circumstances.
To understand my father is trying and understand his father, a man my father never learnt to love and be honest with. A man with whom he shared nothing. They had nothing in common.
A man who played a most insignificant role in his upbringing. A man who disappeared frequently no sooner than a problem raised its head or any conflict arose. A man who left the care of his children to his wife.
“A man who I work tirelessly to never be like,” Papa would say.
“In my father, I saw failure.”
“In my father, I saw the worst of our Khasi way of life.”
And the failure of his fatherhood, Papa reminds me that he uses as an example to structure his path accordingly.
A constant reminder. An everyday cue, especially during his months and years of absence. Parad’s was a fault of tradition, of cherry-picking the pieces of practice that suited him.
Even as a child, Papa’s conversations with his father were sudden. As were the interactions with the rest of his household. He was condescending and rude. He was hurtful even though he never raised a finger with our Meikha.
And the paradox was strange. In an age where the rod was never spared lest the child turned spoilt, Parad never beat his children. He never laid a finger.
Kha-Deng, one of my father’s younger sisters said that it sometimes felt like he was competing with everyone, his wife and children.
“Husbands should never have to explain to their wives,” Parad would say it out loud more for the soothing of his ego and the reassurance of his insecurities than for our benefit. At least that's what it felt like.
“What if the wife finds it difficult to understand?” It was an honest question and I wanted to know genuinely. It was the basics of conversation and decency.
“It is not the duty of a man of the house to dictate his thoughts to his wife!” He either chose to ignore reason or did not deem important enough the people he was engaged in conversation with to offer at the very least a reasonable answer.
“What if it’s something really important?” But I was tenacious. She wouldn’t give up or brush it off as but another facet of our father’s insufferable behaviour the way the rest of the family would have.
“Nothing is ever that important,” He paused for an extended period of time and looked around as if in shock that someone would not take his word and be done with it, and awestruck that his grand-daughter was the one calling him out even if her intentions were innocent.
“Nothing?” I was very confused.
“The most important thing in the world is the way a man treats his mother,” He shouted without a hint of irony.
“Parad, is that why you left Meikha and your children and lived with your mother for so long?” My words stuck in the air and floated around with judgment and confusion.
Parad spoke of his childhood with a surprising passion. He compared and contrasted ours and my father’s to his. The one that my siblings and I had and the other that my father and his siblings had, to the one that he and his brothers and sisters experienced two and four decades before. Always his reminisces evoked strange feelings of competition. Like our experiences were lesser than his. He always had a better and similar story. His teachers were funnier, his friends had more eventful anecdotes, his mother was more beautiful, these were the features of the conversations that Parad had with his children and grandchildren.
From my father and his siblings, I learnt that:
1.) His conversations with his wife were restricted to criticisms and lists. Lists of the dos and donts.
Lists of things that he planned to do.
Lists of things that my mother ought to do.
2.) He criticized her cooking and the way she made the beds in the morning. He criticized the length of the curtains and their colour, too. His tea was either too hot or too cold. He rummaged violently the cupboard and snarled every time he could not find his pair of socks.
3.) My father stopped calling him Pa the first time he left. It was short, his first flight of absence and Papa said that he remembered all fourteen days of it. Each day felt longer than the previous. The wait, the bewilderment, the pangs of guessing, of opening the curtains, and hoping that the silhouette of the man approaching the gate was Parad’s.
4.) Papa jumped with joy and relief when his father reappeared the first time. He opened the gate and there he was, sat in the verandah on a mula, his football shorts the same colour as the bamboo circular stool. He looked unhappy and my smile and anticipation evaporated. He didn’t acknowledge Papa’s presence.
“Enter the house!” he scolded in very authoritative Khasi.
“Where have you been?” Papa wanted to ask him. Papa wanted to call him Pa.
“Enter the house now, Light!” he said a second time. “Now!”
He had pined helpless for his father’s presence every day, his arrival at night, a return to the normal, his presence when they turned the lights out at night and opened the door in the morning.
As Papa looked at his father, unfettered and uncaring, unaware of the hurt that he was responsible for, Papa walked away as Parad demanded, with the same sense of bewilderment. And he kept away after that. He would not make eye contact. And the bewilderment evolved in annoyance and that turned into indifference. It did not matter to him the ways of his days anymore. And comfort set in, the unexpected relief of being separate, of functioning in bubbles.
Meikha said that my father grew up too young. She also attributed it the fact that Papa was the first-born. She agreed and added that his role as stand-in man of the house was as great a factor. And that was her sense of humour, too. It was laid back and not obvious. It was measured. It was thoughtful and well constructed. It was never in your face. It never tried too hard. One that’s only become drier.
“Lightsword’s father is never home,” a neighbour once said to her. “Why do you say that?” Meikha asked with an air of nonchalance. “I mean I see him in his mother’s house every day.” The neighbour answered back like she had a point to prove.
“Well, he’s always at home then, if you see him at his mother’s home every day.” The perfect retort with just the perfect mix of irony and sarcasm. Precise. Ironic. Sarcastic. Perfect.
It was Mei’s attitude towards Meikha that put in motion the wheels of Papa’s change in attitude. In a matter of months, he turned into a person I knew he wasn’t and an image of his father that he despised.
“I lost my spirit, that fire, that ambition to improve, that need to please my family, that desire to provide for my wife and our children all that I never had, I let Adaphi trample all over them,” Papa explained.
A rant that neither my brother nor I would fully agree with because he made sure that all of our needs and requirements were always met.
But Mei did all of those things. She stole his spirit. She robbed him of his fire. She depleted his ambitions. She drowned his needs. She drained his desire.
She wore him out dutifully and eventually. And his quiet was his way of coping. Papa hated confrontation. He despised arguments. He went out of my way to lead a life of the sparse. He’d get out of his seat when Adaphi walked in. He walked out of rooms.
“I turned away in bed,” he accentuated.
Existing in different worlds, when it started getting comfortable, it seemed the most natural option, the way they functioned in our separate universes.
Existing in different worlds, when it started getting comfortable, was what we became.
“I go back home to my mother’s with disciplined regularity now and I miss the simplicity,” Papa explained to me. “I relish the quiet and it lets me put into perspective the way my life with your mother spiralled out of control.”
“I achieved all that I set out to and what felt like satisfaction and happiness soured no sooner than I anticipated,” he continued. “I promised myself as one does when they have a front and centre seat to a relationship as unequal and disproportionate as my parents’ were that mine with Adaphi would be so different from it.”
“How so, Papa?” I asked teary-eyed.
“It would be lovable and loved, it would be one of care and passion and respect.”
And the travesty of it all was that Papa had all of those things at the very start. Adaphi was the girl who was too good for him. She was the definition of punching above one’s weight. Her life was what he aspired to be. Everyone knows their story, the one of how they got together. Papa the teenager knew of Adaphi and her family long before their life-changing meeting at that one party.
Her existence shone so brightly especially from where he was looking at. Her mannerisms looked intelligent and expensive. Much more intelligent and expensive. And he found her beauty effortless. He fell in love with Adaphi from a distance. Years before the first exchange of pleasantries.
She embodied the pinnacle of what he envisioned his life to be. The idea of her, of what it would be to be hers was the first thing he ever fell in love with. And his obsession with that idea increased many a fold quickly.
“I remember the feeling of defeat every time I saw her and a male companion,” Papa explained. “Envy brings out the most undesirable, it brought depression and anger and sadness to many years of obsessing and infatuating over Adaphi.”
He was steadfast in the belief that he would find a way to meet Adaphi and she would be so impressed with him that he would be able to sweep her off her feet, and destiny would bring them together.
“There are days when I wish I had the intelligence of studying and understanding patterns, the ability to learn from the mistakes of others’ and improve on the ones of my past,” Papa became deep. “And the foresight to prepare for the worst while I put into perspective things of hindsight.”
I told him that I knew exactly where he was coming from and what he meant.
“As random and as unfortunate as my married life became, there were a few people and examples I could have used to correct wrongs and injustice,” he added. “I should have learnt better from the relationship that was my parents’, or learnt to internalize the experience of a most eccentric of a man who was once a neighbour of my younger self.”
Babatdor Dkhar is based out of Shillong. He edits a news-story and opinion website called Half and One . He's currently enrolled in the Curtis Brown Novel Writing Course and has an MSt in Creative Writing from Oxford University.