CHENNAI : The Cool Dad
This dad has a Harley Davidson. He drinks beer all the time and drives a truck — not the yellow Tata transport vandis you see on the road, but one of those matte black Suzuki trucks. I used to think, back when my age and IQ was 10, that perhaps this uncle just had a really fancy goods transportation business. Because after all, it only depended on the person — if a poor person stole money, it would be called robbery and fleeing justice, but when you monetise it successfully, it’s called ‘rising interests on bad debts’ and a quick vacation to the UK. This dad swears when he talks to you. He swears when he talks to your parents. He swears when he talks to you in front of your parents and you have to pretend you don’t know what he’s saying while your parents smile stiffly.
When I usually see the iDad, he’s sitting in the living room, connecting his iPhone X to his new smartscreen voice-activated TV while having his iPad or tablet playing music on his wireless Bose speakers through Bluetooth. The iDad is a tech junkie. He will always ask me about my phone, its RAM, its memory space, its battery life and its gigabyte processor, and I will always mumble something that sounds smart, because it’s better than saying, ‘The camera is really nice.’ He will always lament on the lack of iPhone service centres in Chennai and the low penetration of Apple products in India. Once, I suggested that Androids were popular because you could just go to Mahesh on 4th Street and get everything fixed in an hour for 500 bucks, and he clutched his chest with his new bionic iHand — I’m just kidding, he’s a father, not a human Autobot. Though I’m not sure sometimes.
The NRI Father
The NRI Father is someone you stumble upon during the holidays. He’s Indian, and without a doubt South Indian, but the Silicon Valley has rubbed off on him. He thinks and talks in exchange rates, goes off on how poor infrastructure and administration is in the country. He is always trying to find the right Mexican restaurant for dinner. He will always ask you about your future, listen to your dreams, and then suggest you do that in the glorious first-world, where opportunities are endless and golden, and in a land with white supremacy, while trying to tie his mundu properly. Talk about conflicting messages, unlike race relations in the West. What I love about the NRI Father is that right after arriving at the airport, he’ll try to immediately switch to his native tongue while still having his Californian drawl, which leads to some interesting pronunciations of vethakozhumbu.
The Really Affectionate Demonstrator
Affectionately called the RAD Dad, this is the father who really loves his family. Now, I was raised in Chennai, where I’ve never seen a husband thank his wife, not even if she spends three months in the hospital for him, so to see the RAD Dad is a shocker for me. The RAD Dad always calls his wife ‘Darling’ and constantly compliments and flirts with her, which is #goals, but again, I was raised in Chennai where married couples barely look at each other, never mind talk to each other, and talk lovingly too. I once witnessed a RAD Dad take his wife’s hand, kiss it, and say, “What would you do if my flight tomorrow crashed? Would you miss me, darling?” I was horrified at this very inappropriate and public scene, but his wife just rolled her eyes and left him to coo at her. The RAD Dad also really loves his children and his children’s friends. He would bring back his child’s favourite treats in the evening.
The Backward Dad
Once upon a time, the Backward Dad lived his life in moderation — moderately religious, moderately non-vegetarian, and moderately political. However, the midlife crisis has kicked in and he’s started to regress on his lifestyle choices. Just a few months ago, he was thulping mutton curry with my friends and me, but now he’s equating eating habits with intellectual and spiritual purity while munching on navaratna kurma. The political climate has affected him greatly and he has decided to tell you, a 20-something adult who still doesn’t know what precisely Smriti Irani’s role in the BJP is except for the vague feminism cred, how poor policy and corruption has ruined the country. I, eventually, learn to love the Backward Dad both for who he was and who he is now because one doesn’t simply share mutton curry with someone and pretend it didn’t mean something.
The Musical Artist
This is a common occurrence in my house. I’d be walking to the kitchen to get a snack, and I’d hear my father singing at the top of his lungs. I haven’t commented on the quality of the singing yet, but everybody instantly knows what song is being sung and what pitch it’s being sung at. Alternatively, I walk into the kitchen to see my father humming a tune and doing a little jig while twirling the knife in one hand and the banana in the other. Once again, every dad has a different dance. Mine happens to be a version of Gangnam Style done by someone whose back is hunched beyond repair. The Musical Artist is the dad who either knows a song for every moment or dances at every available opportunity. The quality of both is highly debatable and should ideally be stopped as soon as possible, but is now such a family legend that you don’t have the heart to do so. One very interesting fact to note: none of these songs were released after 1992.
“The only thing to do is to live your life and let others live theirs,” begins the Philosopher. “If you know you are in the right, then you have done right by the world.” “That’s great advice and all appa, but seriously, we can’t just leave a cockroach in the house. Pass the spray.” The Philosopher always equates things in this world to a larger phenomenon, be it bad grades or a serious illness. While his children eventually get used to it and roll their eyes, it’s difficult for me, their friend who has just come home for a good time. When did a power cut become so emotional? “You see, we are dependent on this,” sighs the Philospher dad, waving to the fan. “We must learn to detach ourselves from these things.” It’s 38 degrees with humidity out here.
The Curfew Keeper
“So now, you tell him that I’ve gone to your house, and Ashwini is there with us. When he calls Ashwini, I’ll be on conference with her and say that I’m there with her.” This conversation is a common occurrence for those who have a dad who is a Curfew Keeper. What’s the occasion for such a lie, you ask? Not a sleepover or a trip to Pondy, but a 20-minute trip to the beach. Having a Curfew Keeper isn’t bad. You learn how to spin an iron-clad lie and find friends who are infinitely patient and just as scheming. But there’s always that one friend who forgets to keep up the lie when they meet The Curfew Keeper, and just blankly stares at his face when he asks about the last ‘sleepover’. This triggers the entire group to pitch in and fill the gaps with little incidents and stories until the weak link has been signalled to stop messing the entire operation up and pretend that the ‘sleepover’ happened.
You know the story of the glass half empty and the glass half full. You also know that it’s about a glass with the same amount of water in it. You know the story is a psychological test of your personality — you are either an optimist or a pessimist based on your answer. If he is allowed to participate, the Comparer Father creates a new personality type, the Indianparentist. In this case, he will point to your friend’s or sibling’s glass and say it’s better than yours. The Comparer Father is the dad who vociferously compares his child to every other similarly aged person in a one-kilometre radius. While I’m sure it does absolute wonders for your self-esteem, the Comparer Father can be a lot to deal with sometimes, what with his never-ending list of expectations. I find the easiest way to deal with a Comparer Father is to introduce him to that one friend of mine who I know does worse than me in class. The comparing suddenly stops.
“How do you call Radha maami with this?” shouts the WhatsThat Dad, shaking his phone violently. I sigh, open WhatApp, press the phone button and return the phone. After a long and loud conversation about Saroja akka’s upcoming wedding, the phone is thrust back at me to cut the call. I tap the red button, sigh, and return the phone. The WhatsThat Dad does not know how to use social media. WhatsApp is used by holding the phone at arm’s length, squinting fiercely, and tapping every single key with a single extended finger. Facebook is usually used to share odd ‘inspirational’ posts and write embarrassing comments on my pictures. Instagram doesn’t exist, and Twitter is only used as a verb in Tamil to describe the pigeons outside. But the WhatsThat Dad will always confidently tell family members at a function, “Oh, just WhatsApp me, seri ah?”
The Fashion Disaster Father
A bright yellow shirt with white flowers printed on it. A pair of baby pink pants. Blue shoes. This is the go-to outfit for the Fashion Disaster Father. It’s not that the Fashion Disaster Father is intentionally dressing in this horrible, eye-bleeding way. He genuinely believes he is the new hip thing in town, with his eggplant purple shirt and dark brown pants. The worst part about the Fashion Disaster Father is that he will glide into the room grinning and demand, “Don’t I look great?” to which I have to reply, “Yes dad, you look very handsome,” lest I’d feel bad for hurting his feelings. After growing up with a Fashion Disaster Father, I’ve learned to work around his quirks. I either discuss a strategy with amma the previous night, or claim there was a dress code, or slide a newly bought shirt towards him. But the Fashion Disaster Father will always wear the nice shirts I buy him with some atrocity or the other and foil my plans. At least it’s better than the time he wore a red and orange shirt and a light blue veshti to my cousin’s wedding.
The Running Dad
Chennai is a city blessed with beaches, long, breezy expanses of sand that are lined with little stalls and shops frequented by people wanting to have a good time. At morning and evening, however, beaches are inhabited by uncles and aunties going for a run. In this crowd, you’ll see one uncle huffing and puffing about in armbands, shorts, and a bright-coloured t-shirt. This is the Running Dad. The Running Dad has a strict fitness routine. He goes for a run on the beach in the mornings and the evenings. On Sundays, he takes part in the marathons happening at Bessie. He’s also a part of a running group that goes to far-off places not to absorb the culture or the tradition or the food, but to wake up at 4:30 am and run around. I can’t go to a beach without bumping into a Running Dad. He will usually stop and talk to me, but does this insufferable thing where he’ll jog on the spot while doing so. Any conversation you have with this dad usually starts and ends with the words, “While on my morning run at Marina…” He’s also one of the three people in the world who uses a pedometer app on his phone, counts his steps, and buys fancy new shoes to use, rather than to pose with for one Instagram photo-op and discard later.
The Good ol’ Days
This dad never hesitates to tell you that his time was better than our time. “Back in my day, these tickets only cost two rupees,” begins the spiel. “And we could save one rupee to take the bus back home, too. Now, look at this! Three hundred rupees for one ticket?”But this tendency extends to personal habits, too. This father will always tell you how he used to walk to school, play cricket, hockey and badminton, and then go home and do his homework on time. Everything is a competition with this father. If you thought your highly inflated economy was bad, his was worse. If you thought your religiously charged, highly censored society was bad, his was worse. If you thought your nuclear-powered political leaders were bad, his almost wiped out an entire faction of people. Why does it always have to be a competition, appa?
The Anxious Dad
The Anxious Dad worries all the time. He’s worried that you need to take the bus to college or work, he’s worried that you’re getting lunch with friends, he’s worried that you have to stay alone at home for a few hours. Should you be with your father in the same city, he will hover around the gate until your friend comes to pick you up and will wait until the scooter is a mere prick in the horizon. He will quietly open your room door and watch you go about your life. Should he live away from you, he will call you about four times every day on a good day, and if there’s something big happening, such as getting a blood test done, he is only a few seconds away from booking the next train or bus. The worry comes from a very pure place in his heart though, so you don’t get as upset as you pretend to be.
The Sanjeev Kapoor
This is the dad who cooks so well that I start thinking that maybe the kitchen is not for women, before remembering that I was raised in the traditional part of Mylapore and that a female workforce is ‘Western thinking’. This dad shimmies around in the kitchen making delicacies — from mutton stew and bacon pie to vengayam sambar and cabbage poriyal — dressed in his manly Hello Kitty apron. He’s the Salt Bae of Chennai, except he’s sprinkling malli thool instead of salt. There is a variant to the Sanjeev Kapoor dad, however. This is the dad who got so inspired that he didn’t finish watching the episode and ran into the kitchen to cook. This leads to some interesting combinations in the kitchen, such as cinnamon sticks in rasam and dark chocolate coconut barfi.