Today was my father’s funeral. It’s surreal to be typing that, it feels like I’m practising or writing fiction as his death still seems not right, not real to me.
My Daddy (which is what I called him, never, never Dad ~ it’s an Indian thing) was and is my hero. He arrived in Britain with a few bob in his pocket and ended up as a successful and widely-respected consultant geriatrician. He endured discrimination from the white medical establishment but never let it beat him, he remained a defiant fighter till the end. That’s where I get it from, I guess.
But saying that is false pride: I’m not even a quarter of the man my father was.
My father was passionate and yet gentle; he never hit my sister and I. The very idea of violence towards us would make him tear up. Yet he was also strict and we learned to be polite, moral kids. Though my sister and I are very different people, we both have this core morality, this idea of honour and doing the right thing that I think is from Daddy. We also can’t stand to see injustice, it makes us angry.
I have many sweet memories of being little and my Daddy carrying me from the car after long trips. I remember him playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez on those trips. I still know every note. I remember one night as he picked me up he ooofed as I was getting a bit old and heavy for carrying but he staggered on, bless him.
He loved music deeply and reverently. At night, he would put on Indian classical music or perhaps ghazals and sing along, translating the lyrics for me if there were any. The reason I’m a musician now is because of my father. He inculcated a love of music across all genres. As well as Indian music, he loved Pink Floyd, Queen, Jules Dassin, Johnny Cash, Gordon Giltrap and so many other Western artists.
I also get my politics from my father. He was to the right of me in that he considered communism an impossible (but desirable!) dream but to the left of 99% of his contemporaries. I used to love discussing politics with him, we knew we’d never convert each other. One of my favourite memories is from the ’80s, when I was in The Militant. There was a newsclip of some demo, probably at Wapping and I was apparently recognisable in the shot. Me, large as life on News At Ten. Well, some of his Tory Indian doctor friends weren’t very impressed by my televisual debut and rang him up, saying he should ‘control me.’ My mother, a natural small ‘c’ conservative, was horrified by the negative attention and indeed tried to lecture me. My father on the other hand basically told everyone to piss off and that his son could do what he wanted to. He was happy I was trying to change the world even if he didn’t agree with my perspective or tactics. Decades later, I discovered that he’d lead a successful student strike at medical school in India, winning all students a monthly stipend. My father, the revolutionary.
Here’s another telling story about his character. He was super-sporty. Football, cricket, athletics, he loved it all. (My sister, the eldest child, was even nicknamed Googly as a baby and to this day I call her Googie as that’s the closest I could get to saying her name as a toddler.) Then I come along and pretty much by the age of seven, I’m a little tub of lard. Do I like sports? NO! I like science and reading and music and eating and also eating. But not once in my childhood did my super-athletic Dad ever shame me or make me feel inadequate about my lack of sportiness.
Of course, at the time, this all seemed unremarkable. You don’t realise you’ve had a great father until you’re older and can compare notes with other adults.
So, a few years ago as we were chatting on a Sunday, I brought this up. I said how he had never made me feel bad for not being into football or any of the sports he so loved. And he replied, quite baffled, “Why would I force you to do those things? I knew you didn’t like them! If you liked them, then we would do them. Otherwise, why?” I pointed out that a lot of fathers didn’t really think like that and simply imposed their appetites on their children. He just scoffed at that and said they were ‘silly’ and that was ‘stupid.’ That’s the kind of man my father was.
The day before my he died, I popped round in the evening to visit him and my mother. Just that day, I’d bought a new phone, an LG G5. My father was always into gadgets and loved me showing him whatever new phone or other electronic doodad I’d bought. I took this photo of him to show off the camera:
I explained that the phone had two lenses and that this was the normal field of view. I Then showed him the wide angle lens shot:
He was very impressed by the different lenses and we rambled on about where they’d be useful. He used to do a lot of 35mm photography when he was younger so he was no stranger to geeking out about photographic tech. He said the old tech was so big and bulky and that little phones nowadays could get shots he could never have got.
When I left, I kissed him on the head, told him that I loved him and that I’d see him soon.