Resignedly, I logged out after being online for almost six hours.
The thunder I long to begin with simply refuses to meet my fingers and mentally I am still aroused yet my hands are still hungry and wait impatiently to begin typing.
I know exactly what it is that I want to write about but as my now former roommate, Ayesha, put it, that ‘josh’ is missing.
I have been telling my friends at my hostel as well as my extended family in Bangalore that the book is due to begin any day now.
I do believe that sooner, rather than later, I will begin my deeply passionate book on the Arab-‘Israeli’ conflict in Palestine.
So I lifted myself from the bed and dragged my aching body to the bathroom to wash my clothes and later, myself.
While I am about to rinse them, I think back on my journey as a ‘prolific writer’ through my school and college days and smiling I think to myself that it’s all thanks to my papa who was even more gifted but could not make his place in the world, anywhere, for any reason, as the world would have appreciated it.
13 years ago, my papa moved on from this world and the latter has as many versions of where ‘he’ went as there are people on this planet and I am quite clueless myself regarding what happens to us ‘ when we stop living’.
And then, I smile-frowned and softly whispered to myself, with the left leg of my dripping jeans still dangling in my hands : ‘why don’t I write about my papa?’
He certainly was the most colourful character I have ever known; not the best of father’s by the world’s standards but I probably wouldn’t change one little thing about him because being the way he was, even towards me, taught me a lot about life and the nature of other people that I would later come into close contact with.
He was by no means the sort of husband my mother deserved and to make him sound like something of a monster, he wasn’t even a very good human being to begin with.
But he certainly had ‘ something’ and those ‘somethings’ are certainly responsible for the way I feel about him today, even when I can frankly declare to the whole world quite unabashedly, that he was something of a bastard.
James, James, James….why didn’t I think of you earlier as the subject matter for one of my books?
For these past two weeks, I have been roaming all over Chennai, searching for inspirations, however small they might appear at first.
I long to type till my fingers ache and my bladder cries out to be relieved.
So, this book is my MY thoughts about James Clarence Macdonald, my daaaling daddy.
I shall ask no one for any inputs of any sort neither shall I consult for authenticity.
This is strictly between father and daughter, like I knew him, like he told me, like I loved him, like he loved me.
I will also try my best to recall, remember and type every rumour or story I heard about him during his younger days or even later as and when i continue with his story, in chronological order with the actual versions which may be fused with the occasional ‘ chhod do, jaane do, bhool jao,’ attitude that only a loving daughter could come up with from time to time but I will try to keep my emotions in control and state facts like I know them to be true.
Calcutta : birth, growing up, acting out.
James Clarence Macdonald was born on the 15th of September, 1947, a fabulous year to be born, in my opinion, to Horace and Agnes Macdonald, who lived at 18, Royd Street, the second child of two living children, James’ elder sister being Veronica, fondly called Aunty Verna by me.
They weren’t very well off and according to what papa told me, he was a sick baby, right from birth and he would remain so till the day he died, with me sitting by his side.
His father Horace was a strict displinarian and a recently turned Jehovah’s Witness.
Papa told me that till the day his father died, nobody dared to do anything different in his house and that included the religion you followed.
My papa told a funny story of how my youngest uncle, Andrew, ate a plate of mangoes on the bed, not something he would have even attempted had my grandfather been alive, even if he wasn’t home.
My father and his siblings got caned regularly with the exception of two of my aunties, I think, June and Ruth, who he was particularly fond of.
Papa was extremely intelligent and had a lot of ‘street experience’.
He had seen life in close quarters and knew tough times even when away from home since he was something of a runaway but he had some amazing stories to tell me regarding the people, especially foreigners, that he came across during these times.
Sadly, he turned up his nose at a fabulous education which he could easily have completed without breaking so much as a sweat from St. James’ School, Kolkata.
He had a fabulous memory and I definitely believe the Almighty handed down this gift as well, among other genetic traits that I received from him apart from a slight sense of prejudice, a short fuse and my trademark impatience.
Papa only went so far as his eight year in school and that too, only because the school authorities acted kindly towards him.
When my aunty Verna would drop him off to school and leave for her own, Pratt Memorial, papa, by his own admission would slip out of the gate and sit in the nearby sweetshop and later head out to roam the city.
At the age of 18, or probably earlier, papa was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes and had to live off of Insulin injections for the rest of his life, however, refusing to change his diet.
On learning more about his ailment after he had been gone many years, I wondered how he had lived to even see his 50th birthday.
He was very stubborn and very headstrong, always defying the authorities at every opportunity he could find.
He had even beaten up a few police officers which eventually landed him in the largely uneviable situation when my mother and I waited for his release outside Tihar Jail where he had been held for a day.
From a very early age, owing to so much disobedience and defiance, he started smoking and gambling, habits that didn’t leave him till the week he died.
He health continued to deteriorate as he grew older and his brothers and sisters and mother ,who all live in Australia, helped us out with money on a regular basis.
Papa was especially close to his younger brother John and his older sister Verna and always spoke off them with pride but when they were all young children, my father knowingly bullied them and fought with them and even stole from them on a couple of occasions.
But they have been gracious about his faults and his nastiness and were there for him in his time of need, regardless of the things they heard about him which were almost never pleasant.
One of the biggest problems with papa was that because of his bad attitude, he could never hold on to a job for too long.
If I am not wrong, my father first began as an apprentice in Jessop and Jessop’s, an engineering company of some sort.
But he gave up on it before he could learn the trade.
Incidentally, he got the apprenticeship because my grandfather was working in the company but papa let many, many opportunities slip through his fingers throughout his life.
Papa loved to dress up and act like he was living the good life.
He idolised Elvis and Jim Reeves and was quite a good singer and dancer.
Being such a stylish guy, he was very popular with the ladies and I can recall on more than just a few occasions how he would describe his trysts with women to me, barely 7 or 8 years old at the time.
Of course, I understood nothing of what he was saying at that point of time but every now and then I remember a few lines and it leaves me very red in the face.
However, none of these things were said if and when my mother was within hearing distance since on one occasion when he had said something particularly cheeky, my mother had yelled at him for divulging such information to such a small child.
Even till today, when I remember his running commentaries and images pop up in my head, I make a rush for the washroom just so that I can hide my face for a few minutes.
There was one girl in particular who my papa was very fond of and according to him, she was ‘crazy about him’ and wanted to marry him even begging my grandfather to accept her into his family but because she was a Roman Catholic, my grandfather would not hear of it.
Her name was Cheryl Ann Barlow and my father told me that the ‘Ann’ in her name was added to my pre-converted Christian name Diann[Di- Ann]
Papa told me that she later got married to some Sikh man.
This is as much as I can recall about his early days.
Delhi/Calcutta: married life, me….
My father met my mother through his cousin, Rudolph, who I call uncle Rudy and his wife, Wilma, who I call aunty Wilma, who was also my mother’s senior while she was in school.
Incidentally, uncle Rudy and aunty Wilma are also my god-parents and we have been close to their family since I learned and started to speak.
Incidentally, again, uncle Rudy’s mother and my papa’s mother are step-sisters but very close to each other.
My paternal grandmother who has also passed on from this life, didn’t approve of my mother and gave my mother quite a hard time for many years but she was very loving towards me and I of course, basked in her affection and the gifts she showered me with.
My mother has not had the most pleasant of childhood’s so my papa became everything to her, a position which he invariably took advantage of over the years while my mother suffered almost in silence, till the day he died.
I remember seeing a number of photographs of my mother smiling while the marriage was still in it’s early days.
That soon became history with my mother’s smile disappearing for the next 20 years while she put up with my father’s cruelty and bullshit dealt out to her in generous helpings, on a daily basis.
Probably a year into the marriage my mother conceived her first child but soon miscarried.
My mother doesn’t speak very much about the days before I was born.
Keep in mind, everything that I have told you about my father’s early days he continued to carry into his middle age and the time close to his passing.
He made empty promises to my mother every now and then but never once fulfilled them.
Since I entered adulthood some 8 or 9 years ago, it is my mother’s example of how she held on while she was mentally and physically tortured that kept me from falling apart while I battled demons of my own.
So anyway, my mom conceived for a second time in 1981 and gave birth to a healthy boy baby, David.
David is the boy I would never live up to.
He was my father’s pride and joy because he was a BOY- my father dreamed of having someone ‘carry’ his name forward once he died and David was the answer to all of that.
But by June of 1982 when David was all of 6 months old, he died of cerebral meningitis because my mother did not know how to take care of a baby during the hot summer months of blistering New Delhi.
For as long as papa lived, mama never heard the end of that story and she suffered in silence without him so much as realising that she had carried baby David inside of her, laboured for him in the delivery room and then put up with my father’s bullshit for the rest of his life.
Like I said, my mother is my pillar of strength, even now when I am almost on the threshold of entering my thirties and I feel sometimes that I cannot take a step further, it is her resilience that gets me through the day.
After that disaster, I was born two years later and then reminded for the rest of my life how, because of my vagina, my father’s name would ‘die with him’.
And because my father was the centre of my world I tried to impress him by being his ‘son’ so that he would not miss David.
Anything I did to this regard was never appreciated, it was never enough so I decided up until some years ago that I would get pregnant through artificial insemination, God willing, produce a boy child, a male heir, a Macdonald and then I could think of getting married to my potential whomever.
Over the past year, so many changes have gone through me that when I meet people who I last met some years ago, they say that I have changed completely, that I am nothing like the girl they grew up with.
I smile and take it as a compliment because that entire period of darkness had just better remain with me.
You will notice that I tend to stray away from the topic every now and then.
Just bear with me, please.
This book is being written without any breaks, including toilet breaks.
Yeah, so it’s not like my father didn’t shower me with affection, it’s just that I felt every now and then that I simply wasn’t enough.
Truth be told, he spoiled me rotten, to the extent that I picked up almost all of his bad habits and revelled in being caught red-handed by relatives and strangers.
But my father disciplined me thoroughly when he felt that I really needed it and this was done by means of belting even on the rare occasion with a thick wooden stick which left a purple scar on the front of my left calf for about 6 months after the event.
I was belted for the most minor offenses like putting my heavy school bag down too loudly which my father took as an offensive reaction and I was summarily belted till I fainted on that occasion.
The memory of that incident still makes me shudder because of the kind of memory that I have: some things I will remember very, very distinctly almost as if it’s happening right in front of my eyes at this very moment.
In fact, you may be surprised to know that I even remember the colour of the school bag, the colour of the zipper and the clothes I was wearing that evening.
I also remember that the bag had a big Donald Duck face on it.
My father also showered me with a lot of affection and I even got away with throwing tantrums just because he was in a particularly good mood.
On one particularly funny occasion, my father made me learn the spelling of CZECHOSLOVAKIA, telling me that if I knew the spellings of big words such as this , my teacher at the time, Mrs. Aviet, would make su-su in her panties.
The thought of that taking place before a large group of people thoroughly excited me and I was open to all sorts of fabulous ideas and new things to learn from that time onwards, simply to be rewarded with that look of complete an utter disbelief writ large on the faces of my adversaries.
Mrs. Aviet would sometimes give me a hard time in class because we were not so well off and my father had not bought my new school books as yet so I was ever ready to make her look bad on any occasion that I could find.
But the following year, we left New Delhi for a smaller place called Meerut where ma and pa had found joint employment at a residential school.
That is where I completed my third standard but papa got sick and also got into quarrels and verbal fights with some of the employees there so we found ourselves moving again, this time to a place called Shastri nagar, although I am clueless about the kind of employment ma and pa took up next.
Once again we were on the move when papa applied to get me admitted into a boarding school in Calcutta, a very wealthy and well-known institution and at one point of time regarded as one of the best of two top girls’ schools in Calcutta.
Upon receiving the letter of admission, he sold all of our few big belongings including the one luxury item we possessed, a Kelvinator refrigerator.
Staying at the boarding school was rough on me and it still makes me uncomfortable to talk about.
I was constantly homesick, studied almost never, didn’t finish homework on most occasions and when time came for the new sessions at school, I failed every year for the four years I was a name in their registers while the authorities continued to push me up from standards 4 through 6.
When I failed to make the grade two consecutive years in a row, I could no longer be a part of the institution so with my father visibly shaken and my mother having no where else to educate me on their collective meagre salary I was admitted into my mother’s alma mater where some years later I passed my ICSE exams and my mother was so, so , so proud of me.
Papa took up employment whenever he could, sometimes simply whenever he felt like it.
His family continued to send small sums of money on a regular basis and pa, continued to get sick.
Whenever papa did work at a job, it was mostly as a security supervisor and sometimes as a guard.
His profession highly embarrassed me and I would be so ashamed when he would meet me at school in his uniform and the girls at school would question me whether he worked for the police and I unhesitatingly replied yes.
Over the years, following his death, whenever I would recall such incidents I would be most ashamed of my behaviour- he was my papa, who loved me endlessly and eternally and I being a young child through the ages of 8 to 12 simply did not have the faculties to understand that he did what he did to put food on the table and peer pressure wasn’t a term I was familiar with at that time.
Pa and ma’s relationship only became worse with the latter always being at the receiving end of the crappy life he gave her.
He would take her small, barely-there salary as a primary school teacher and blow it all at one sitting at the card tables and more often than not always lost it and then would borrow from this one and that one to make ends meet for the rest of the month.
Around the time I was struck off the school rolls at the residential school, pa’s health continued to go from bad to worse.
You see, when pa and his elder sister, Verna were very young children, they contracted tuberculosis and had to take about 100 regular inoculations.
My sensible aunt completed her course and praise be to God, got completely cured but my pa being the character he was, left off the injections mid-way after taking only about 80 or so shots, a mistake that would cost him his life by his 50th birthday.
Unbeknownst to any of those around him, pa was inching towards his end every day as he started coughing up and spitting blood.
He refused to visit a doctor or receive any sort of treatment and told us that throughout his life, from time to time, this had been the case because he had not completed his course of injections and that it would stop ‘any day now.’
My ma and I knew less than nothing about his condition or the history of his ailment except that which he told us, so we did nothing in this regard.
As he neared his 50th birthday, he got weaker and sicker, his diabetes was out of control and his comas increased in number, becoming more and more frequent.
On the 4th of October 1997, after a particularly late lunch that ended around 4 p.m. I made the fatal error of asking him to lie down and take rest.
I led him to the single bed we had in the single room we lived in.
I helped him sit on the bed and slowly lifted his legs onto its surface.
No sooner did his head touch the pillow than his violent bout of coughing started and he was vomiting blood within a matter of seconds.
This was unlike anything I had seen happen to him before.
Me and ma had only seen him cough up and spit small amounts of blood never a torrent of it.
Even at that point, in our horror, we couldn’t piece together the seriousness of it and resorted to patting his back gently and offering him water.
He started to slip into a coma and it was at that time I screamed at her to call for help, anyone at all.
We didn’t alert the neighbours although they knew that something was happening but weren’t sure what the matter really was.
At this point I was alone with him and he was completely out of his senses.
I am uncertain whether I cried at this point of time although every time I relive the occasion, I find myself in tears, as the 14 year old memory of his passing is as fresh and accurate as it was the first time it took place.
One of the negative aspects of having been blessed with his gifts is never being able to forget the traumas I have undergone in my life.
So anyway, to keep my father on the bed and prohibit him from walking around the place in a coma, I tucked the mosquito net around him as fast as I could and tried to restrain his movements while speaking softly to him the whole time but strangely I cannot remember what it is that I said.
Papa was unreceptive and didn’t look at me or reply but continued to punch the mosquito net ever so slightly almost as if he were fighting a fly.
Within a matter of minutes, he turned on his back and lay down staring up at the ceiling, with his mouth lying open.
It was at that moment I knew instinctively that he was or had already slipped away from me so I glanced at the Prestige clock on the wall before me and made a note of the time- 5:25 p.m. and I started to howl and cry.
I made one last attempt to shake him ‘awake’ and patted his face and shook his forearm whispering “papa…papa please wake up…..papa, papa…and the tears took over my system then as they take over my system now.
I started to cry very loudly at this time while I continued to stare at his face.
My mother entered the room with a lady doctor from the area around which we lived and said that my grandmother’s sister and her family were on their way.
I don’t think I told her that daddy had taken off again, this time never to return.
She joined me in his loss and we both cried while she physically restrained me from bottling some of the blood that was there in the bin, as an attempt to keep a part of him with me.
Papa had vomited more than 4 litres of blood, from the looks of it , and before I closed his eyes I checked his eye sockets like I see them do on television, to check if a person is still alive.
There wasn’t even the slightest trace of blood in them and looked as though there never had been, like someone had scrubbed them clean.
And the light left my life that day and then left some more when 7 years later, my paternal grandmother died in Australia without having remained in contact with her, through my own fault entirely.
Three years after her passing, I was gifted the luminous, joyous presence of Rafael Nadal as an inspiration and for a few years, with all the mental mess that I was in, I persevered to fight on because of his omnipresence in my life.
I remember, lovingly, that my father thoroughly enjoyed watching tennis matches on television and I am sure he would also have loved Rafael’s spirit, had he known of him.
So following in my pa’s footsteps, I try every day to live life fully loaded, to not regret my mistakes as much as possible but rather to learn from world history as well as my own, to pick up on everything I can, whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I have also learned from pa not to fuck up my life like he did, not to push my luck beyond a degree and not make other people’s life miserable just because mine might suck on a particular occasion.
James Clarence Macdonald, I love you to madness even though i shouldn’t.
If anyone wonders why, they might settle on the fact that you were my dad and that dad’s have that kind of relationship with their little girls but they wouldn’t be even remotely correctJames; I love you because of the two-edged education I received from you which was better than anything I received through all of my academic education about this world we live in.
By your example, unknown to me at the time, I grew older than my peers and have grown much more older because my own experiences were added to that.
Every day, as I search for something new and exciting to learn in any place I explore, I am subconsciously reminded that at one time, for many years of my life, you were all the life lessons I got and all the education I needed.
The way I think and speak and act today, is actually the reflection of you, Papa, doing the right things you did and trying to stay clear of the many ways in which you f-ed up and eventually lost your life.
There was a time that I wanted to BE you, James, but now that I am older and hopefully have more sense than you did at my age, I choose to live differently so that if and when I have children of my own, they’ll have a better role model to look up to than the one I had.
It was nice knowing you , James; I hope you are in a good place and I hope you know of me and feel proud of the life I have lived so far even though a fair percentage have not been my best moments.
I have been blessed by being of you and I am so very proud to be your daughter.
So goodnight my darling old man, here’s to your life and times.
Que sara, sara!