During the early part of the last century, there was significant migration of Chinese and Indians to Singapore. Most of the migrants of Indian origin were ethnic Tamils, which is why Tamil is an official language here. But some came from my Malayalam-speaking native land of Kerala. Among them was Natarajan who, fifty years later, would share with me his impressions of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army of the forties. Natarajan would, by then, be called the Singapore Grandpa (Singapore Appuppa), and teach me yoga, explaining the mystical aspects of it a bit, saying things like, “A practitioner of yoga, even when he is in a crowd, is not quite a part of it.” I remembered this statement when a friend of mine at work commented that I walked untouched (kind of like Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption) by the corporate hustle and bustle, which, of course, may have been a polite way of calling me lazy.
Anyway, the Singapore Grandpa (a cousin to my paternal grandfather) was quite fond of my father, who was among the first University graduates from that part of Kerala. He got him a Parker pen from Singapore as a graduation gift. Some fifteen years later, this pen would teach me a lesson that is still not fully learned four decades on.
My father was rather proud of this pen, its quality and sturdiness, and was bragging to his friends once. “Even if I wanted to break it, I wouldn’t be able to!” he said, without noticing his son (yours faithfully), all of four years then with only a limited understanding of hypothetical conditionals of this kind. Next evening, when he came back from work, I was waiting for him at the door, beaming with pride, holding his precious pen thoroughly crushed. “Dad, dad, I did it! I managed to break your pen for you!”
Heart-broken as my father must have been, he didn’t even raise his voice. He asked, “What did you do that for, son?” using the overly affectionate Malayalam word for “son”. I was only too eager to explain. “You said yesterday that you have been trying to break it, but couldn’t. I did it for you!” Rather short on language skills, I was already a bit too long on physics. I had placed the pen near the hinges of a door and used the lever action by closing it to accomplish my mission of breaking the pen. In fact, I remembered this incident when I was trying to explain to my wife (short on physics) why the door stopper placed close to the hinges was breaking the floor tiles rather than stopping the door.
My father tried to fix the Parker pen with scotch tape (which was called cellophane tape at that time) and rubber bands. Later, he managed to replace the body of the pen although he could never quite fix the leaking ink. I still have the pen, and this enduring lesson in infinite patience.
Two and half years ago, my father passed away. During the ensuing soul-searching, this close friend of mine remarked, “Well, now that you know what it takes, how well do you think you are doing?” I don’t think I am doing that well, for some lessons, even when fully learned, are just too hard to put in practice.