August 05, 2020
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Papa Pangs

Remembering, unsentimentally

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Papa Pangs
Indelible Imprints
By P. Desai , N. D'Souza , S. Shukla
Stree Rs.140;Pages:137
Iremember sharing a very special relationship with my father as an adolescent. Yet it was the same father who'd always take my mother for granted, never attach importance to her preferences or her love for classical music, and was generally dismissive of her opinions. Reading Indelible Imprints brought back those memories sharply and helped me relocate them within the patriarchal structures which encouraged such dichotomous relationships.

Daughters writing about fathers. The idea is an interesting one, and had its genesis in a sensitive piece by Doris Lessing about her father - which triggered off dormant memories in Bindu Desai. She talked it over with her sister, discussing the possibility of a collection of essays by women on their fathers. An idea which slowly evolved into its present shape; essays that go much beyond mere biographical impressions.

The title My Eyes Brim Over might suggest a highly nostalgic and sentimental essay but Bhandari's piece on her father is piercingly objective and questions the double standards which allowed men of her father's generation to be kind to servants yet treat their wives like doormats; criticise divisions based on caste and creed but oppose a daughter's marriage when it didn't conform to traditional social norms. It portrays not just an individual but an entire ethos in the '40s and '50s, when modernity had touched the surface of middle-class India without posing a serious threat to tradition.

The other essays explore similar themes, but none to my mind, do so as strongly as the first one. Sensitive interaction between compatible parents which evoke happy memories of childhood despite physical hardships in Bhattacharya and Desai's essays, work as a poignant counterpoint.

The book can be read as an effort to understand the dynamics of personality development within a patriarchal set-up, a feminist attempt to understand the repressive paradoxes which governed that society. But the real strength of the book is that it leaves theorising and deducing to the reader.

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