(Photo courtesy: http://www.good.is )A lot of us talk about Bucket Lists, about places we'd like to see before we die, about things we'd like to tick off as Done instead of To-Do. My father actually did check off a lot of items, although I do admit that his wishes didn't involve swimming across the Godavari or learning how to play the drums for 'Sing, Sing, Swing'. His wants and needs were simple-he had a list of songs he wanted, a couple of movies he wanted to watch and he wanted to meet 100 Good People before he passed on.
We had a 'picnic' one night when he was sick, munching very slowly on a few Corn Puffs and watching 'Mary Poppins'. We also watched 'Jungle Book'-the first movie I've ever watched in my life (when I was four) and the last movie he ever watched in his (when he was seventy four). We got most of the music on his carefully compiled list, even finding the one song from the film 'Sombrero' where Cyd Charisse dances in a tropical storm. We even wrote our long overdue letter to Harry Belafonte where my father insisted on comparing calypso to Tamil folk songs, particularly one song which we both loved called 'Thandanae' by N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram (film unknown. Can anyone fill me in on this? It's a catamaran song where the fisherman plaintitively sings to God '...Thana thandanae....Innika kaalaiilae yendhirichu kanji thani illaame....', "...When I woke up this morning without watered-out rice to eat...") We read a lot of cricket reporting, some choice spiritual books, some Madras nostalgia articles, a lot and a lot of jokes.
But what strikes me as different from my father's list is that it was not as self-centred as mine would be. I don't mean that he included charity on his list. It's just that my to-do list would involve my acquiring certain skills or doing something professionally productive with my life. His list included a desire to meet 'Good' People, however relative that term can be and that definitely tells me something about his character.
We didn't keep track, my father, mother and I. The process took several years. But each time a guest, a family friend, a distant relative came and left, my father would turn to my mother and say, "That's another Good Person I met...___ (insert random number here) more to go". He probably didn't keep track either but that wasn't what mattered. The people did-and their goodness. They were old college or school classmates out of touch for years or regularly in contact, distant cousins from his village in Andhra (particularly one very kind Uncle who came all the way and spent my father's last two birthdays with him), colleagues from the various hospitals he worked in. The People who comprised the list were diverse-of different religions, languages, backgrounds but they all had love in their hearts. And whether I knew them well or had met them for two minutes at the door, there was always something about them I would like without knowing they were the supposed Good People. They always had a kindness, a decency about them and it was usually detectable.
Nowadays, being Good has fallen low as a priority for what parents want their children to be. When kids are naughty and disturb guests or make noise, parents call them 'badmaash' and comment exasperatedly on their kids' naughtiness. But secretly they appreciate the individualistic nature of the child. Who can blame the parent? In a world where we are taught that we must ask for more, where we must create a strong personality to survive, a parent would naturally wish his/her child to be as forceful as can be. A quiet kid is a sign of lack of go-getterness.
People in general are not sure what good really means either. Being skinny, being wealthy, being successful, being attractive, being popular-these are the virtues of our generation. Be nice and be left behind. Being aggressive is equated with being powerful. But life isn't a boxing match. Why do you think God made flowers then?
My father was somehow, usually always on target about a person's character. Not surprisingly, most of my closest friends are people he knew would stick through. And how he could talk to them for hours!
My father diligently followed the old school report-card approach to judging my success at school and college. I must say (as modestly as I can) that I didn't disappoint, winning the gold medal both at the UG and PG levels and topping my school in English and Accountancy (and getting 87-not failing!- in Maths) in the 12th Boards. But he always maintained that his happiest achievement for me was my being awarded the C. Subramanian Excellence in Character Award when I was in the 9th standard. He made me feel like a good person by believing in my inherent goodness. I can credit him as being the reason why I always put myself in someone else's shoes before reacting. I can point to him for the reason I cannot lie (when I accidentally revealed a private family issue to an acquaintance and felt exceedingly guilty about it, he actually wept to my mother, stating that he knew that it was because I was too honest). When my friends took me to clubs when I was in college (of course no drinking or smoking for me, you know why. Not because he told me not to but because I always considered his opinion) I said I liked to go because I love to dance and he looked at me in despair - "You must learn a classical dance then...." and no, he didn't say Bharatnatyam like any other good Indian father, "...like the Flamenco, Rumba, Tango...and also not that mixed up non-traditional thing they call Salsa".
My father was the kind of doctor who could tell a person's sickness by just looking at them-once he looked at a friend of mine and stated that she suffered from such and such problem and he was accurate. He hated to prescribe unnecessary tests for patients when he could directly diagnose the problem because he knew that some patients didn't really require them and that they could not afford them. His honesty reached awkward levels when he was blunt with people- he wasn't very good with diplomacy (Tact is something I learnt from my mother!) and while my mother and I cringed, I knew that he was the last of a rare species of people who prize the cleanliness of one's heart over the grandeur of one's home, of people who cannot pretend to like someone for the sake of society, of people who collect friends based on love and simplicity, of Good People.