On Father’s Day, a letter to my daughter

I’m always a little nervous when I have to give you advice. After all, you are so much better than me. Proof of the pudding: Every time I’ve needed something to get better, you’ve simply smiled and it has.

I remember your birth; it was a day full of coincidences. It was your grandparents’ wedding anniversary, your time of birth was the exact same as mine – 2.29 pm. It was also the Prophet’s birthday, but I’m not a religious man.

That day, May 13, was the starkest mix of mind-numbing worry and infinite joy. Your mother had a perilous labour – there was a real danger of her dying. Both sets of your grandparents waited in the room, while I sat alone and still outside the operating theatre in a deserted corridor. I was so worried, I literally couldn’t move. I was a statue carved out of flesh, my blood all but frozen.

But, as the doctor walked out of the operating theatre, holding you in her arms, loudly announcing, “Baby girl, 2.29 pm,” I came alive again. “Her mother?” I blurted out. “She’s just fine,” the doctor smiled.

The world changed.

Your mother recalls how I barely left your side for the next few days. That’s because I couldn’t believe something so beautiful could even exist. More than 11 years later, you continue to be the ever-burning spark of magic.

But this isn’t about flashback. It’s about fast forward.

Father’s Day is a time for clichés masquerading as columns, and there seems to be one bubbling inside me too. I haven’t led a particularly remarkable life, so I must be careful not to sound as if I know more than I actually do.

So, let me recount a few lessons I’ve learned. Just a few. I’m always wary of you rolling your eyes and going, “Booorrriiiiing!”

Life Lesson 1: Never confuse academics with learning. I learnt more about life in six months after dropping out of engineering college than in 15 years of organised education. Now, before your long-suffering mother murders me, I’m not suggesting you forego academics. It is important – after all, I too completed my MBA eventually – but pay greater attention to developing an understanding of and empathy for people. Trust me, it pays more than any degree.

Life Lesson 2: Love large. One day, I’ll tell you about all those wonderful women who came into my life. To all those relationships I gave my all. As did they. As far as I’m concerned, love is all or nothing – no half measures. I went for broke every time. I learnt that there’s no other way – you may crash and burn in the end, but that’s life. It always made me love more intensely the next time. If love ends, it may shatter you but it also leaves you richer. The value of heartbreak is underrated.

Life Lesson 3: Don’t be afraid of tough decisions. I was a journalist for what seems like a lifetime. But, after more than 16 years of it, I needed a new life. I took the call. It was terrifying; the spectre of being a misfit and a failure in a world I didn’t know loomed large. Today, three years later, I’ve never been happier. Had I been afraid, I would have been a failure. Fright is the enemy of happiness. Fight it.

Life Lesson 4: No matter how much money you make, you will never earn anything more valuable than respect. You do that by putting people first. No project, no campaign, no account, no task will be more important than the people around you. Care for them and life will care back. Maybe I’m making the most of never earning much by measuring my life by my friends. But, I’m happy. And, it’s the best feeling in the world.

I’ll stop now. I have so much more to say, but I know by now you’ll be restless. You’ll be crinkling your eyes, making a face and saying something like: “Papa, you tell me this all the time! Booooorriiiiing!”

Sigh, so much for trying to be the wise one.

PS: I love you.

The Morrison lesson

I’m reading this incredible biography of Jim Morrison – the genius poet and rock star who fronted The Doors – written by Stephen Davis.

The book is peppered with anecdotes about Morrison’s electric charisma, drugs-driven rampages and angst-fuelled verse. While all of them are intriguing, one of them struck an instant chord.

Davis writes of how one night The Doors played a set in a nightclub like men possessed – before an audience of three. Two of those three people were drunks who probably never registered a note and the third was Morrison’s girlfriend, Pamela Courson.

When she asked Morrison why the band gave so much to the performance when no one was there, he said: “Baby, you never know when you’re doing your last set.”

That blew me away. More so because in the last four weeks I have lost two close relations, which has got me thinking a lot about the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of life. It’s not as if I was unaware of death; it’s just that it seems to be making its presence felt nowadays.

I don’t mean to be morbid. In fact, it seems as if somebody’s shone a flashlight into a tunnel. My sense of the finite nature of everything – ever present but not something I dwell on – has now become acute.

After all, you never know when you’re playing your last set.