'Gramps, I have a question!'
I will admit it. Other than the first word, the remaining four words in that particular order, are the scariest words I have ever heard. And any person who has a young kid would totally agree with me. Because you never know what is going to come after that sentence. It could be followed with something quiet simple like what is for dinner to questions which can totally blow you away.
Luckily, this time, I was not the recipient of the question from my nine year old daughter.
And the sixty-three year old man to whom the question was addressed to, was completely unfazed by the question. I put it down to my dad's over-confidence. But then seriously no one was asking me.
"Yeah kid!" he said, giving my daughter his trademark grin, as my daughter settled herself on her favourite sofa – my father.
''What is the meaning of being yourself?,'' she asked.
I was waiting for my dad's smug smile to vanish or at least falter. I mean seriously if I was asked that question, I would freak out. Because I was very sure that, that would end with a very lengthy conversation and my headache. Apparently, my daughter was not yet done with the question. 'Who else am I going to be, if not myself?' My daughter demanded.
My dad laughed, which made me wonder whether he had even understood the question in the first place. Ok, I admit it, it was lame. He is my father and I am not supposed to say such things. I totally get it.
And his answer pretty much proved to me, that I had completely misunderstood my dad. Or probably my father had gotten exceptionally smart over the past few years, just hanging around me.
''Tell me who you are, kid,'' My dad said with a roguish smile, ''And I will answer your question.''
That stopped my daughter. Well, it stopped me too. At nine, exactly what did my dad expect my daughter to answer. Hell, at thirty five, even I did not know the answer.
Much to my horror my dad pointed at me. Horror visions of me explaining the answer to that question were freely roaming my head, when my dad said something, which depressed me. ''Look at your mom. When she was younger, she used to talk, laugh, smile, run, jump and play. Basically she enjoyed herself. And now, all she does, is stare at her computer, looking morose and depressed, all the time.''
My daughter giggled, sparing me a pathetic glance.
Goddammit. These grandparents and grand kids together really gang up on you and no matter what, you are always the bad guy.
''So which is the real her, kid?,'' My dad asked, as I was seething. ''The younger one or the one she is now?,'' my dad asked my daughter. My daughter frowned as my father continued. ''Was she being herself when she was younger or is she being herself now?''
''I do not know, gramps,'' My daughter admitted freely as she watched my father with real respect in those eyes.
I wish, I really wish that she looks at me like that, at least once in her life.
''All of us have been trained to look at ourselves in a certain way. The problem, kid is very simple, we are never allowed to know, who we are,'' my father said simply.
My daughter's forehead creased.
''Meaning?'' she asked.
''Mom tells you not to do something because it is wrong. Your teacher tells you not to do something because it is bad. Your dad tells you not to do something, because you do not understand it. Your friends, they decide what you should do. So in all this, when was the last time you ever asked yourself what you wanted to do,'' my dad asked.
Forget my daughter, even I was speechless actually. Which was kind of stupid, because I was not talking at all.
''You let other people decide your happiness. You let other people measure you. You let other people determine your success.'' My dad laughed shaking his head. ''There is no 'you' left over. So you can pretty much be sure, you can never be yourself that way.''
''So what? I should not listen to others?'' My daughter asked, a little annoyed.
And I was really willing to bang my head on the table. The girl talks as if she is a saint from heaven and she is an obedient kid who listens to me (God, even thinking that, was giving me a headache.)
My dad laughed heartily shaking his head. ''Most of the times adults tell you stuff for your own good. I am not saying don't listen to them,'' My dad caressed my daughter's cheeks and said quietly, ''What I am saying is also listen to yourself. Once you start doing that, you are on the first step to becoming yourself.''
My daughter smiled as my father had the last word. ''You are a unique person kid. There is no one else in the whole world who is like you. So when others try to make you like themselves, they are taking away what makes you, you. Probably being what you are would not make you as successful as them. Probably being what you are would not make you as rich as them. But being what you are will definitely make you more happy than anyone else.''
For a second, a huge second, I saw something change in my father's face as he was talking to my daughter. Because I could see my father without the mask that life had trained him wear for the past sixty three years.
And the fifty-four year difference between the two people before me, seemed non existent as the two hugged and laughed.