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For the 30 years since 30

Have a happy 60th birthday dad!

This one’s going to be a fairly long one, so I decided to get the birthday wishes out of the way.

But, while the wishes were for dad, this post is for everyone who has known him or me over the past thirty years. The reason for this post is simple – to celebrate the thirty years that I have spent with this excellent man whom I call ‘baba’, and to give you a peek at the countless ways that he has shaped the person that I am today.

# 1

I spent a good deal of time thinking up the right title for this post. After cycling through some truly cheesy and cliché headings that could even put our Indian news channels to shame, I settled on this one. Why? Because it feels quite surreal to talk about my dad’s sixtieth birthday, when I am almost nearing thirty! My dad, well, became a dad when he was thirty, and his next thirty years are all that I can talk about in a more believable context. So… here’s thought # 1 in a series of 30, where I celebrate the thirty years since the time Jitu became a ‘baba’, thirty years ago!

‘Baba’ in this context simply refers to ‘father’, and not Sanjay Dutt or other bearded religious men with ulterior agendas!

Obviously, I must rely on borrowed memory to chronicle some of my early years with dad. So, if any of this turns out to be factually incorrect, feel free to hold mom accountable!

Speaking of accountability, I’ve been told that as a baby I never felt obliged to smile or laugh a ton, but dad somehow managed to make me laugh. No one knows how he did it, but my theory is that perhaps the inception of tacky one-liners and stupid jokes in my head started all those years ago! Because even today, only a few things make me laugh like a toddler – stupid slapstick comedy from the 90s and 00s, and dad’s poor jokes disguised as serious conversion starters.

Despite boasting of a decent memory, my early recollections with dad are a bit too hazy.

This could be because my parents spent most of their free weekends and holidays at the company retreat in Lonavla, which used to be invariably covered in layers of fog back in the 90s.Just kidding!

I do have SOME memories of parties with strange-smelling liquids that the grown-ups seemed to enjoy, cold showers of rain, a lot of singing and clapping, and the BONGO! That was probably my first introduction to rhythm and music in general, and between the two of us, dad probably was the more coherent bongo player back then. My work as a kid was… far from inspired.

But thanks to that introduction, I learnt the Tabla during my school years, and developed an above-average appreciation for music that persists even today!

Speaking of strange-smelling liquids, not every guy is lucky enough to have his first drink with his dad, and I am referring to the dads that are alive and well! But my dad was super cool, so the first taste of alcohol that I ever had as a kid was in a Chinese restaurant in the form of shredded chicken in wine sauce! Believe it or not; I loved it, I ate it, and I slept like a baby.

The ‘real’ first drink that I ever had was also with dad. On a trip to some coastal part of Maharashtra, I was adamant on sipping something while he swigged his whisky. So he bought me a Bacardi Breezer.

It’s only now, years later that I realize how easy it was to dupe me back then! Breezer is not a real drink dad! It is similar to eating chana-curry in the presence of kombdi-vade!

My first drink was not the only thing that I was duped out of by the way! I still remember the first year of college when I so badly wanted to get a bike. Dad said yes, a bit too easily, now that I think of it in hindsight! Obviously, that bike never arrived, and thank god it didn’t!

Turns out that a few years later, I would buy my first bike in Bangalore, which would then get impounded for a DUI in less than a year!

Speak of destiny – god knows how careless I’d have been with the bike in college when Old Monk bottles were priced at 35 bucks a quarter, and the worst fear as a student was to only miss a lecture in the morning.

But yes, all this is hypothetical. I know the price of Old Monk ONLY because I Googled it.

Changing gears, let’s go back to the innocence of childhood. I don’t remember dad only for the good stuff in life. He was a super mean person for some reason when we played outdoors past sundown! Oh, do not imagine him with a baseball bat in one hand and a leather belt in the other! All he did, was not let us enter the house for another ten minutes as the punishment!

As an adult, I find it so confusing. Did he punish us for being late by keeping us outside for another ten minutes? And never did it cross my mind to actually leave the doorstep and head out for another round of play while the punishment lapsed.

Maybe it was to help us ration our time on productive activities like ‘studying’, or maybe he just wanted to spend time with us after a long day at the office! I get that now, or at least I think I do…

On the topic of studying, my dad never had a lot to say. While he did not pressurize me to top the class every single time, he always said it was important to read and learn things. The craziness around topping the class every year was all me! Let’s say it was a good business decision.

Rank 1 in the class meant a gift and some interesting books for the summer. Rank 2 meant just books.

I could not even imagine rank 3 as the remotest possibility until I started my engineering studies. I had this weird notion in school, that if I ever dropped below rank 2, I’d end up working at a McDonald’s!

Anyway, this quaint ‘quid pro quo’ was half the reason that I developed an interest in books and cars (Hot Wheels of course!). One of which led me to mechanical engineering, while the other introduced me to the world of writing.

Cars remind me of a nice memory that will forever be etched in my head, thanks to the decent retention power that I spoke of earlier! The family was vacationing in Gorai. We had a tiny antique car called the Maruti 800 that I absolutely adored back then.

Obviously, I was too young to drive, but out on the hard beach with very few people around, dad offered me a couple of laps. I jumped at the offer before mom had a chance to protest and I began my first lesson in driving.

After 5 minutes of driving the car I learnt three things – driving is a simple task when you aren’t worried about running over people, the laws of physics work VERY differently for the co-passengers and the driver, and it takes immense courage to NOT try a drift on your first outing in a car. Damn you NFS!

One of my most irritating, but exciting memory is also connected to the Maruti 800. We were on our way back from brunch in a slightly remote resort called ‘The Resort’ (Yeah, I know!). The good ol’ rear tyre of the Maruti 800 burst with a bang.

Because dad was grappling with some chronic back pain around that time, I learnt how to replace a tyre with a manual jack, on the job! See? Even when he was out of commission, he managed to teach me a few things!

What I am wondering now, is why the hell where my mom and sis still sitting in the car while I was struggling with their combined weight on the jack?

Dad’s teaching moments were not all unplanned. In fact, some of them were planned to such an extent that I used to be more tensed about homework assigned by him than the ordinary classwork. Take, for instance, his love for presentations. Do you know that he made us present on some topic or news article every alternate weekend just to hone our soft skills? I mean great but on WEEKENDS?

Then, there was his passion for financial coaching. Starting with banking, then moving onto investment advice, and finally full-blown NSDL courses on the fundamentals of trading!

Thankfully, I married a ‘Marwari’ and the onus of financial accountability passed onto her quite swiftly.

Even today, my dad and Rashi discuss finance quite animatedly, or that’s what I presume they talk about because I’m busy playing ‘Here Comes The Sun’ by The Beatles in my head while they do so.

While some lessons from dad were really useful, there was this weird one that I remember from childhood. So, my dad was just about to step out for work when I asked him, “How do you remember to carry all your necessary accessories when you step out of the house?”

“So, my dad taught me a neat trick when I started working. Remember the acronym Pe-ru-cha Pa-pa”Translation: Kiss of a pearExpansion: Pe = Pen, Ru = Rumaal = Handkerchief, Cha = Chavi = Keys, Pa = Pass (Usually a bus or railway commute pass), Pa = Pakit = Wallet

Neat, huh? But absolutely useless to me because pens became outdated ever since Samsung launched the Corby line of phones, handkerchiefs are only for real gentlemen, keys are usually somewhere in my laptop carrier, I drive a car so a pass does not exist, and wallets… well wallets are still a thing but by default inside my bag again.

So much for the cheesy acronym dad!

Cheesy… hmmm! Not something that dad ever liked. He is the hardcore dal-chawal kind of guy who occasionally also likes kombi-wade, bombil curry-rice, ukdiche modak, tandlache ghavne, amboli-rassa, dosa-sambar-chutney, ravyacha sheera, kande pohe, and well-roasted tandoori kababs!

Yeah, not so much dal-chawal as any delicacy that mom can make at home! And this selective foodie gene has passed on to me as well. While my palette has expanded to several other cuisines thanks to the globalization of the food industry in India, I still claim to be a guy who likes simple food!

In a recent turn of events, thanks to my new found love for cooking pan-grilled meats, my dad’s new dal-chawal has transformed into the grilled chicken breast with stir-fried veggies! Jitu Bhai is going continental yo!

Oh, by the way, the ‘Bhai’ salutation is not just for comic relief! That is my dad’s calling sign in his entire family circle! Brothers, sisters, cousins, AND their spouses, all call him ‘Bhai’! Ironically, dad absolutely hates Salman Khan!

But what do friends call him? What my friends call me – BANE! Oh, but they do not mean it to be the bald-headed villain from Batman! They pronounce it as ‘Bu-nay’, which honestly is the correct pronunciation of my last name.

And there goes my glorious spell as Batman’s arch-nemesis since 2013!

Speaking of men dressed as bats, that is one of our most favourite pass times as father and son – binge-watching movies on the couch. Well, I am usually spread horizontally across the couch and dad pulls up a separate chair next to it!

I especially cherish this moment because it perfectly fills a hole in my personal life. Let me describe the hole.

I love watching movies of all sorts. I am usually very attentive when I watch them, and hence I retain the entire storyline, part of the screenplay, and most of the signature dialogues off the top of my head. The madness doesn’t stop there! Then, I research the movie, read different viewpoints and facts behind the scenes, almost until I am unable to hold this information anymore! As a result, I blurt the whole thing out end to end in front of anyone who cares to listen, and therein lies the problem! Most of my friends stick two fingers in their ears or just walk out of the room, the moment I start describing a movie plot. That’s their cue.

But dad is resilient. He doesn’t care for spoilers, details, or the entire plot of the movie in advance!Probably because his memory with these things is as short-term as Guy Pearce’s in Memento or Aamir Khan’s in Ghajini. But I ain’t complaining, because we form a killer combo! He keeps on forgetting, and I remind him of the details with equal enthusiasm.

I cannot talk about father and son moments without touching upon whisky. Whether you spell it with an ‘e’ or without it, both of us truly appreciate the craft. Thanks to dad, I got a head start in whisky because that was the only drink that he stuck by over the years.

Indian, IMFL, blended, single-malt, special cask, reserve cask – you name it and I’ve tasted it at home. But the point is not just the whisky that we’ve shared. It’s the list of whiskeys that we WANT to share. Age has only extended the list that started with Antiquity, and that currently stands at The Macallan!

Since we are already on the topic of single malt whisky, let us discuss this fine brand of whisky called GlenGrant. It’s an excellent peated scotch previously owned by the Chivas Brothers Ltd., but that isn’t the reason why I remember it.

I was at my parents’ two days before my formal engagement. My mom and sister were busy getting their hands plastered with henna art that we call ‘mehendi’. Dad sneaked up behind me and beckoned me over to his room. Unbeknownst to anyone, he had already smuggled two tumblers and a tray of ice into his room. He retrieved the GlenGrant from his private bar and poured us a ‘patiala’.

Of course, speed was of the essence, so the ‘patiala’ was the ideal ratio of whisky to ice. God bless the Punjabis for constantly pushing the boundaries beyond 60ml!

We spoke about many things that night, some random and some deliberate. But I’ll remember the entire scene vividly in my head – both of us seated cross-legged on the floor, with an expensive scotch in one hand and some inexpensive ‘chakhna’ in the other! Good times.

Well, one of the topics of discussion that night was marriage, and there was no way that we discussed marriage without going into the details of mom and dad’s famous wedding! It has been the top scandal on my mother’s side of the family, ever since Shilpa eloped with a Marathi mulga on the 17th of August 1990, a day after her own birthday! Talk of timing!

I’ve heard this story in so many iterations and flavours that I can start cooking up episodes on my own if it needs to be converted to a Netflix original. But it’s always a treat to hear it from dad because that is one of the rarest events of his life that he remembers from the first second to the last!

And growing up, this story was my north star. I had no right to call myself Jitu and Shilpa’s son if I could not find my life partner without help from a local Seema aunty!

Well, I didn’t exactly elope, but I did find my partner, who’s not a Marathi ‘mulgi’ but is every bit as gutsy as my mother!

But my inspiration for marrying Rashi was not my mom, but rather my dad. You see, between both my parents, he is the hopeless romantic. And while I am not a die-hard romantic at heart, slivers of those genes HAVE descended into the Bane bloodline.

Everyone who has known dad for the past 40 odd years, knows that he was a chick magnet in his own right during his early days at ICICI. Obviously, once my mom came into the picture, no one quite dared to force their way in!

Sadly, I wasn’t blessed with that particular skill set in college, so I did the next best thing. I determinedly wooed the girl who was right for me, and I stuck by her through thick and thin. Obviously, I had to keep up with my north star, right? No arranged marriage!

ICICI reminds me of our time in Mumbai and dad’s love for all things Mumbai! So much so that I think his only regret so far is the decision to sell our apartment in the city when we moved to Pune. In hindsight, yes, better things happened to all of us because of the move, but Mumbai still has a special spot reserved in the corner of his heart.

And dad’s love for the city bursts to the surface through surprising mediums. Sometimes it’s through random weekday trips to celebrate the smallest occasion with friends! At times, it is through an unprecedented craving for pani-puri and vada-pav that does not agree with his stomach! But in general, his reaction to any sort of boredom is a trip to Mumbai!

Then, it sort of figures that my connection with the city is equally strong. The only difference being that I can pig out on Mumbai street food without having a bad stomach day as the aftermath!

Now, if Bombay is dad’s origin, then the Bombay Duck is his life’s purpose. Basically, this is a fish that is native to the coastal region of Mumbai and is a certified family treasure in the Bane household. You, however, could take one look at the fish and probably never eat fish again! It’s slimy, grey, watery, and flimsy like an eel. But it is as tasty as God intended it to be.

Dad’s choice of preparation is good ol’ fried Bombay duck, and I agree with him for once. Slice the fish open, squeeze the water out, douse it in some rice flour, and shallow fry it on a low flame. If onion bhajji every had a non-veg alternative, this would be it. In fact, apart from the two years that he spent in South Africa, I don’t think dad has ever NOT had Bombay duck on his birthday.

Before marriage, it was my grandmother’s prerogative to prepare the fish fry, but post-marriage my mom took up the mantle! I only hope that Rashi is reading this.

Moping for Bombay duck aside, Dad did enjoy his stay in South Africa. Thanks to him, I could add another country to my belt and a beautiful one at that! But I still vividly remember dad’s enthusiasm while planning our first ever international trip during my college days.

In an era where Airbnbs were not as common, and online bookings were often questionable, dad wanted to plan the entire itinerary from scratch and stick to a budget! I am so glad that he did it and allowed me to be in charge of some of the bookings because that experience allowed me to learn something quite invaluable –

Cheap airlines have charges hidden deeper than the Mariana trench, and sometimes the only way to find out is to live through it at least once.

But seriously, planning that trip was fun, because we jumped across three countries in eight days, during which mom’s heart skipped a beat only a few times. Eventually, the trip turned out fine, and I did walk away with a skill set that would enable me to earn the coveted ‘designated trip planner’ tag in future social circles.

I remember that throughout the Malaysian leg of that trip, dad was forced to stick to the Asian equivalent of KFC and McDonald’s – the two joints that he absolutely despises. In fact, dad hates any sort of food preparation that can be transported across cities without losing flavour or texture! That sort of summarizes his food palette fairly well.

But there are things that he loves, which might seem weird to most people from my generation, for instance, his idea of dosa-chicken! This dish was invented one day when mom had planned dosas for breakfast and we had a shortage of chutney. So dad reheated some leftover chicken curry from the previous night, and invented a whole new experience! And by the way, this is not the only combination that he has invented.

Of course, some years later, I discovered that dosa-chicken is a sought after delicacy in the south of India.I am surprised that this did not strike us back then, considering the staple food south of the Cauveri river is ‘anything’ accompanied with half a dozen ways of serving rice – eg. chicken curry with rice, appam, idiyappam, puttu, dosa, idli…

Dad’s ingenuity in mixing and matching alien food products to form a palatable dish comes from his experience living outdoors. Throughout his early years, and even now to a certain degree, dad continues to be an active trekker.

I said trekker and not Trekkie! He does not know the slightest difference between Star Wars or Star Trek or Star Bazaar.Just kidding. He knows Star Bazaar.

Although ironically, we never experienced any long trek together, my share of treks and camping experiences as a kid, has only been thanks to dad. And even without the explicit push, I’d have eventually sought it out, because I grew up hearing stories of treks and camps whenever dad’s friends visited! But I am definitely not complaining, because nothing else can parallel the feeling of camping underneath an open sky and cooking a half-ass meal on a questionable wood fire.

Most of dad’s trekking and holiday trips involved a lot of singing, and I can particularly vouch for his ability to sing. He loves every bit of it! In fact, I vaguely remember that he also used to carry three to four pocket-sized books that read the lyrics of some very popular Kishore and Rafi songs.

Over the years, I have heard him sing these songs so many times that by the age of fifteen, I was well versed in every Kishore Kumar song that was not a serious dud!

Well, Rafi was the more melodious one, but so many of his songs were soooo boring that I ended up labelling Kishore as my preferred singer at an early age!

In fact, singing the golden oldies is one thing that I have missed in the last decade or so, because the only time that I do revisit them is when I am with dad, or anyone from among his friends and extended family circle, all of whom share his love for those songs.

P.S. I managed to make one friend who loves ‘Dilbar mere…’ as much as I do, but for some reason that’s the only song he likes to sing on repeat!

Most people have a very concrete image of their dad that is defined within the boundaries of a few personality traits. But my journey with dad has been like the post that I am writing right now – free-flowing and dynamic. I can’t classify him as a strict guy, or a workaholic, or a pamperer or any other stereotype that we usually associate with fathers. Because dad has come a long way, almost as much as I have over these thirty years.

For instance, until I went to college, his go-to person to blame in the event of a technological breakdown was always me! The TV is not working? Rohit, did you fiddle around with settings! The desktop PC crashed? Rohit, what did you download this time! The OTG is not heating up? Rohit, you were the one trying to experiment with baked toast!

Honestly, I agree that I was curious about some of that stuff, and it could be that I possibly may have, you know, spoilt a few of those devices, not entirely on purpose. But I don’t do that anymore! Nah… who am I kidding?

But this was until college, soon after which, the tables sort of turned. Well, I didn’t start blaming him for breaking stuff, but he started relying on me to understand new technology better! And if that’s not evolution, then I don’t know what is.

Honestly, a part of me still hopes that there is at least one new piece of tech every year that he does not completely understand because that’s one additional nugget of conversation that will be solely ours.

But much before I could break any tech, and before computers and mobile phones became a household necessity, I was hooked onto only one thing – books. And while other developments in my life have had multiple influence points, the habit of reading can be cleanly attributed to my dad.

For starters, he is, by himself, an avid reader. Starting with an introduction to historical fiction, and then Indian mythology, dad opened up a whole new world for me as a kid. Irrespective of my grades in school, the one thing that remained constant at the end of every term was that I’d get a bunch of books from the annual book sale without even asking for it. I don’t even know how well-off or not, we were back then, but I don’t remember a single year when I did not walk home with a bag full of books at the end of a school term.

Honestly, I was considerably adamant and stubborn regarding books, so I am not even sure if I gave him a choice to ever say no!

During the summer holiday, I used to accompany dad to his office on multiple occasions! And that’s when the second chapter to my reading chronicles unravelled.

Well, I actually saw his office only once or twice, but it was so boring! I mean what does a ten-year-old do, apart from shredding useless paper? (useless according to me of course!)

No, my real interest in accompanying dad was to visit the Crossword book store that sat at a ten-minute walk away from his office. Dad would deposit me in the store at opening time, and come pick me up at closing time in the evening. With enough change for a sandwich and a Bournvita, and a potential library full of books and comics, you bet I didn’t want to go back to shredding paper as a pass-time!

I read through their ENTIRE collection of Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle Comics, Panchatantra, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Hardy Boys, and several other Marvel comics before moving onto my next big obsession – Harry Potter. And I realize now, years later, that my journey into the fictional world began with those little all-day excursions to the bookstore; a journey that has not stopped ever since!

Which is why I carry those memories with me even today, because not only did I to read to my heart’s content in the summer holidays, but I’d also rapidly narrate every story back to dad on the way home. And he really listened.

My biggest moment with dad at the end of school was the engineering college admissions phase that most Indian guys go through unless of course, we choose commerce because our dad is a Chartered Accountant or he runs a family business! Well, my dad worked in IT, so engineering it was.

Most of my friends’ parents either dumped the entire admission process onto the kids or hired a consultant to do all the heavy lifting. Some parents sat their kids down and helped plan the initial strategy before handing over the follow-up to the kids. But my dad sat next to me throughout the morning when the results were to be announced, and he was more jittery than I was!

An outsider would have walked away with the impression that dad had bet a ton of money on a prized horse, and he was eagerly waiting for it to cross the finish line.Only if there was some running commentary on the seat allocations, I’d have recorded that event as a high-quality family drama!

But he stuck on till the end, and I did see the happiness on his face when I got admitted into a college of my preference. A smile that spoke of two things – a. His son was finally on the path to becoming an engineer AND b. He had taught him well

Yes, my dad taught me well. He showed me the difference between right and wrong, by doing the right thing. He emphasized the difference between cramming for an exam and knowing things, by never questioning my grades. He laid the balance between enjoying within the four walls of your home and exploring the outdoors as you’ve never done before.

He has been adventurous enough to try new things in life, while still sticking to his favourite dal-chawal and fried Bombay duck. He has unknowingly imparted life lessons, some of which I’ve not even assimilated completely. He fortified the importance of people and our dependence on them, through the lives that he touched over these years. But above all, he taught me that the learning never stops, especially once you have a kid.

And for all those reasons, my dad is my hero.I mean, true… he can’t run really fast, or punch through walls, or shoot laser beams out of his eyes, but then neither of those guys were dads! Wait… I think Barry Allen was… my bad!Anyway. That’s all for now.

There are a hundred tiny details that could go into this final slot, or I could simply write a biography on my dad instead! But I think I’ll just keep this slot open for the years that are yet to come by, and the memories that are still in the making.

Because 60 is only the beginning of a new phase for him….. as it is for me.

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