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Winning the Old Man
Magnificent India

Winning the Old Man

Vijay Sanghvi

At the dining table after dinner sat an old man who was over eighty years by a few months, Purushottam who declared his intent to hang his boots. His message became even clearer when he told his daughter in law Nidhi, “You need not cook anything special for me. I will eat whatever is available.” Then he turned to his son Vikram to tell him not to buy anymore clothes for him as he had enough stock. Nidhi and Vikram both understood his desire to withdraw into his shell of loneliness.

Vikram did not want to lose him again for he was able to get close to him only five years ago. But he had to struggle for 45 years for that. He could succeed only because his wife Nidhi had a brilliant method to win him over and get close to him.

His father was an honest and dedicated person. He had done everything for the happiness and comfort of his daughter and son for forty years. In the process he never took a break from his work. He had met every one of their needs and enjoyment. He had paid lavishly to meet their needs including their fun trips, without taking a break himself. Many a time Vikram’s sister earnestly goaded him to join them. He could not talk freely as his sister could, to their father. He had never lost his temper with them though he was severe with the mistakes of their mother.

It would be days before he again spoke to her kindly. His silence was an indicator of his anger. That frightened Vikram even more to force him to use the offices of his sister to convey his messages to his father.

His sister had gone to Hon Kong on work and had also married her choice. Purushottam accepted her choice of her partner in life. He had also accepted Vikram’s choice of life partner in Nidhi. In fact Nidhi had the broken news of her intent to join the family. He expressed his consent by putting his palm on her head as a sign of his blessings. He could communicate with his son only through Nidhi now. He never indicated his emotions as the young couple refrained from having a child. Both were working and their jobs kept them away for 14 to 15 hours a day. Only after Nidhi learnt that he often missed his evening meal as he hated to eat alone, they made an effort to join him at dinner.

In thirty years the father accompanied his daughter to Hong Kong only because he would not allow his daughter to travel alone in the fifth month of her first pregnancy. He again went but only for a week in response to her demand on the birth of his first grandchild.

Only once Vikram had indirectly used his name to get admission to an MBA course for he knew that the Director of the institute held his father in great esteem and revered him. He had informed his father of his first grade in graduation through his sister, only to know that he had already known the outcome from the vice chancellor. He indirectly informed him of his first job by leaving his first pay cheque on the dining table. He could not muster courage to show off his success nor could he inform him directly of quitting five jobs instead of indulging in dishonest deals. He had often shared his appreciation of his father’s reputation as the most honest person. He took pride in emulating him though he could not tell him so, directly.

He had shared his anxiety about the distance between his father and him only with his wife, Nidhi. He did not know how to lessen the gap in their communication. It was at the celebration of his father’s 75th birthday that Nidhi came up with an idea. He was to speak out the paragraph she had dictated facing his young boss. His cue was her missed call. He played the part and only later he came to know that Nidhi had convinced his boss to play a crucial role assigned to him in the stage managed drama.

On cue, he loudly told his boss, Gautam, you may get rid of me from this job but I cannot be dishonest and deceive the secretary to the government. Even before Gautam could utter a response, he heard steps of someone running behind him. He turned around to hold the extended hands of his father beaming with a broad smile. He only said ‘Vikram I am proud of you. My life and my training have been paid for’.

Gautam held the hands of Purushottam to escort him to his office. Vikram and Nidhi followed them with a glee of success writ large on their faces. Nidhi had this brilliant idea for breaking the ice barrier between father and son that had lasted for forty years.

Nidhi was really pleased for she had felt the pangs of pain of her husband. Both could not persuade Purushottam for years to join them on their tours for the old man did not want to interfere in their joy and the young could not bear the thought of leaving him alone at home. Vikram was a sensitive soul and Nidhi shared his grief. She knew her father in law had never allowed her to feel the loss of her parents in a car accident a decade ago. She knew the pain of her husband. She knew Purushottam and his temperament. But after enjoying happiness, he was again showing signs of withdrawal. The husband and wife pair did not want to lose him. Finally Nidhi said, ‘Papa you cannot hang your boots. Who will help me with so much to do? If you stop helping me, I may have to give up my job.’

Her threat worked. Purushottam got up from his seat put his palm on her hair and said, ‘I can never be the cause for your unhappiness. You continue with your job. I will do the rest.’ Vikram looked at his wife. She could see eternal gratitude in his eyes. Both did not want to lose the old man.

For them a surprising development was that Gautam and his wife Romila had become their good friends and both insisted that Purushottam live for a few weeks with them also.