Papa, the rare common man

Papa, the rare common man

Papa, the rare common man. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Text and photographs: Seema Manchanda

“Just get a 35 and pass, grades are not important. Focus on learning more important stuff,” he often said. If I topped the class, he would get upset! My sister and I found this behaviour really obnoxious and yes, at times a bit crazy too.

Papa and the school called “life”

He wore a plain white cotton kurta and a pyjama wherever he went, be it a wedding, a party, an international trip or even a cruise. Yes, he was an unusual common man – our papa. He had a unique way of raising us girls. When my younger sister and I were school going kids, he was so unhappy with the curriculum and methodology of the education system, that he got us out of the formal education system. At that time I was in college and my sister was still in the 9th grade. We spent our days on road trips, visiting villages, learning about rural development, water conservation, natural farming, natural living and meeting unusual people from all walks of life who were doing the “real” stuff and living a different life. We practised vermiculture in our own backyard. I still remember truckloads of bio-degradable waste being emptied into the composting pit we created. I’ll never forget our visits to the nearby sugarcane juice stall to collect the bagasse for composting. I’m quite sure he reduced some load on the dumping yards.

Sejal and me, walking in Papa's footsteps. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Sejal and me, walking in Papa’s footsteps. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Thoughtful and considerate Papa

He never used perfumes, shampoos or aftershaves and tried to minimize chemical usage wherever possible. A nature lover at heart he always addressed nature as “Mother Nature” and did his bit in conserving natural resources because he believed conserving nature is the biggest virtue. His thoughtfulness was all-encompassing. For instance, he never directly discarded used staple pins or any sharp objects in the dustbin bearing in mind that it might hurt the garbage man. He put it all in a small box and would dispose it off mindfully.

His unique teaching methods

We eventually completed our formal education via distance learning and are postgraduates in management today. But papa refers to our degree as mere pieces of paper, which was needed to attain normalcy in society. Papa often said, “Even if you become a sweeper, be the best one out there, excel and find your purpose”. Whenever he saw my sister and me developing an interest in any subject, he would make it a point to give us hands-on experience in that field.

We would wake up early in the morning and leave the house with dabbas loaded with parathas and sabji, along with some hot tea in a flask. We would leave in the car and spend days meeting people in that field. By lunchtime, we would pull over by the road or a comfortable spot to enjoy our home cooked lunch. This became a routine for any and every subject of interest. He brought relevant books for us. Made us watch selected old Hindi films and television serials. All of this was taped to limit our media viewing, but we didn’t seem to mind, because he always kept us on our toes. That was his way of preparing us for life ahead.

Meeting Verghese Kurien the man behind the White Revolution, at his residence in Anand, Gujarat (2010 ). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Meeting Verghese Kurien the man behind the White Revolution, at his residence in Anand, Gujarat (2010 ). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Papa’s community work

I still remember waking up to interesting newspaper cutouts that were pasted on our bathroom mirror or study table or anywhere within our vision. He took up social issues like bad roads and noise pollution. He went out of his way to make the world a little better every day. One such instance was about our childhood home locality, there was a big junction in the neighbourhood with no signal post which was causing frequent accidents. He took it upon himself to ensure that a signal was posted at the junction and after relentless efforts and multiple letters to the concerned departments, the signal was finally installed. He further went on to get a public toilet constructed, got roads repaired and even took action against eve teasing. Of course, all of this was done with the help of the local administrative system.

His unique teaching method

We eventually completed our formal education via distance learning and are postgraduates in management today. But papa refers to our degree as mere pieces of paper, which was needed to attain normalcy in society. Papa often said, “Even if you become a sweeper, be the best one out there, excel and find your purpose”. Whenever he saw my sister and me developing an interest in any subject, he would make it a point to give us hands-on experience in that field.

Meeting Anna Hazare in his village Ralegan Siddhi, long before he became a global figure (2006). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Meeting Anna Hazare in his village Ralegan Siddhi, long before he became a global figure (2006). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Practical knowledge and learning

Papa believed in making us street smart. He took us to Mantralaya in Mumbai to interact with bureaucrats and politicians. We were almost too timid to make any kind of conversation with these dignitaries, but he almost kicked us right into their office. He faked his anger when we wouldn’t listen and we had no choice but to obey. It seemed so unfair at that time, but in hindsight, all he was doing was teaching us the ways of the world, the running of our administrative system. He didn’t let this intimidate us and brought humour and laughter to all our learnings. Right from the time we were kids, he made us shake hands with policemen for confidence building.

Our world with Papa

Everything seemed like a great idea with papa and everything was fun; it was almost like it was our own Utopia. Where games and laughter and imagination were the only way to learn things and smiles were rewards. As kids, he always asked us to cook up a fancy imagination of what our perfect world would be like. I remember narrating my perfect world. I wanted a house atop the highest mountain, with a river flowing by and an orchard in my backyard with the most luscious fruits, a vegetable patch and of course flowers. We’d always compete to see who had the most vivid imagination. He encouraged us to make mistakes, but he was a stickler for discipline with a contemporary bend of mind.

With my parents, sister on a trip to Gulmarg (2012). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

With my parents, sister on a trip to Gulmarg (2012). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Coolest parents ever

He said we could do anything we wanted and wear whatever we wanted as long as we did it a clean mind and with the right intentions. We were responsible for our own actions and our own life. While we enjoyed late-night parties, he was there like our protective knight, waiting outside the club to drive us home. Of course, my mother was always his partner in crime. They didn’t mind waiting for us, no matter how late it was; and the best part being, we never felt embarrassed about it. In fact, our friends found it surprising and I felt lucky to have really cool parents.

He believed that topics like self-help, health, and finance are fundamental and equipped us with its learning. He made us do routine plumbing and fixing jobs at home. He taught us everything that one needs to be practically equipped with including writing cheques and changing punctured tires and also got me enrolled for typewriting lessons when I was just 10. We grew up believing that we could do anything, just anything we aspired to be.

The fine art of discipline

As kids, we had a modest life with meagre resources, but we always got more than we wanted. My father taught us sports like badminton and cycling and also driving. When we did something wrong, his punishments were funny, like clean your cupboard or cook dinner. How we hated it, but today we see the learning behind it. We experienced the entire spectrum from lodges to 5 star hotels. He made this possible by choosing a profession that allowed him to spend maximum time with us. He made us fiercely independent and encouraged us to discover our own path. I remember calling him and crying profusely because I was unable to get admission in college and he bluntly said, “Find your own way,” while secretly making calls to necessary people.

All problems and “difficult” situations like boyfriends, work or even marriage were tackled with open conversations with mumma and papa. His usual dialogue was “Come in the hall, I want to have a discussion”. A lot of these discussions also happened by the sea face, as papa believed that being in nature brought clarity of mind. He would take stock of our lives by making casual conversations at the dinner table, laced with humour but laden with love and concern. He’d say “I am available 24/7 for any discussion”.

He had unique ways of dealing with situations. When we fell sick, he took us out of the city, if we were having trouble while studying, he would simply say, “Change the location, sit in another room or go outside”, when we felt down or low, he would take us for a walk. We share a special bond with papa. It’s like he can read our mind and he always has a solution. Even now, he just knows whatever bothers us and always has the right thing to say. I wonder how he does it.

Papa and Mumma. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Papa and Mumma. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Mumma – the pillar of strength

Of course, a lot of credit goes to my mom as well. It wasn’t easy coping with a personality like his, but she stood by him as a rock with faith and unflinching conviction. She took complete care of our physical wellbeing. She made nutritious, healthy and delicious meals for us. She ensured that we never left the house without a fully loaded dabba of home cooked wholesome food and accompanied us everywhere. She had her own anxious moments when my father did things that were against the norm, but her strength of character and a pure heart was her biggest ally in their journey and she could put any life challenge to shame with her sheer innocence and outlook in life.

Lullabies – my favourite

My dad meant more than the world to me, he still does. I slept most peacefully, when he sang me to sleep on his lap, The song that I always drew inspiration from became my lullaby and today my daughter proudly sings like papa, “Hanste hanste, kat jaye raste, zindagi yunhi chalti rahe, khushi mile ya gam, badlenge na hum, duniya chahe badalti rahe”.

Mumma and Papa with their grand daughters, Savannah ( aged 4.5 ) and Rumi ( age 1.5 ) (2019 ). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Mumma and Papa with their granddaughters, Savannah ( aged 4.5 ) and Rumi ( age 1.5 ) (2019 ). Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

A strong man with a lion’s heart

This man with a demeanour that could make the devil sweat, who held our hand firmly as we learned to walk, now needs our help to manage daily mundane tasks. He has a condition called Essential Tremors where his hands have involuntary tremors, which was detected in 2009. He captured all our childhood memories on camera and today when he clicks a picture, it is blurred due to shaky hands. This strong man who with a lion’s heart and the will to raise two strong girls now cries at the drop of a hat.  The man who taught us to live a balanced life is now losing his physical balance. It shatters me to watch this mountain crumble, but he’s a fighter.

He taught us never to quit and he leads by example. Even today his word is our final authority and one look from him is enough to make us tremble. He is still our strongest support system and we run to him when life becomes too much to handle. His hugs are our security and his smile is our life.

Papa believes in the larger good and is a strong proponent of honesty. He believes in simple living and high thinking. He is a man young at heart and refuses to be called Nanaji by my children and they also address him as “Papa”. He now wears modern clothes and believes that change as the only constant.

Papa...moving ahead with time. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

Papa…moving ahead with time. Photo courtesy: Seema Manchanda

A man on a mission, a man with a will that withstands time – My Papa, my hero for life.

About Shrawan Gupta, 61 (Papa) and Surabhi Gupta, 60 (Mumma)

My father was a part of the family’s warehousing and various other business, but because of his different style of thinking, he preferred to work independently and starting investing his savings in shares and other instruments. Even here he made sure that he never invested in companies that were against human welfare, for instance – cigarette and alcohol manufacturing or were known to be dishonest. He doesn’t believe in retiring. He says, “We work until our last breath.” He is settled in Powai, Mumbai. He can be reached on this email: shrawan_g@hotmail.com. 

Seema Manchanda

Seema Manchanda with her beautiful daughters

About Seema Manchanda

Seema Manchanda, aged 34, lives in Mumbai with her husband. She is a mother of 2 girls, Savannah, 4 years and Rumi, 1 year. By qualification, she is a Post Graduate in Marketing.

However, she credits her entire thought process to the way her parents brought her up. They got her sister and she out of formal education and gave them real-life experiences through road trips, relevant books and on-ground training.

Her husband and she have similar mindsets about life in general and enjoy the differences that make them complete each other. They are enjoying raising their girls. You can reach out to her by email: aries_seema@yahoo.com.

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