Dear Baba

[The following letter was written by a friend, an attorney, to her father, a Doctor who is currently fighting at the front lines of the pandemic. What moved me is that even though this letter gives an insight into a fairly tumultuous father-daughter relationship, it is ultimately about forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness that parents sometimes forget to ask for, but which children give away nevertheless.]

Dear Baba,
Before I say anything else, I hope you know this as the most earnest truth: since the day I first saw you, I have loved you and I always will. As I often say, you have two kids but I’ve got only one father. So, I really don’t have a choice, do I?
Since I was a child, I have been told that I look just like you. My teachers would say “If you’ve seen her even once, you’ll be able to pick out her father in a crowd because she’s just like him”. Things like that always pleased me. I liked the idea of my features being like yours because I’ve always put you way up there, high above, on a pedestal. Ma would say, “This father-daughter duo are flip sides of the same coin.” I agree. I think that we have a lot in common, but it behoves me to point out that there are stark differences.

All my life, I’ve had this urge, this need, this necessity to fulfil your demands. Whatever you said, no matter what it was or how absurd it was, I took it as the universal truth partly because Indian parents are considered Gods by their children and partly because I myself idolised you.
Perhaps that was the reason why I absorbed everything you said about me like a sponge and in my 27 years of human existence they solidified into a rigid belief-system. No questions were ever asked and there was never any test of veracity of the labels you put on me. Perhaps that’s why, I accepted for a fact that I was kid with a fried brain because I didn’t know how to crack my way through sophisticated subjects like Mathematics. It’s funny how people put so much weight on how fast you can count, when there isn’t even a Nobel Prize for it. People who know me often ask about this issue I have with Maths. There are so many extraordinary people on this planet who are more talented in art and aesthetics than algebra. For me, Maths, became the root of my negative, toxic, self-loathing and self-sabotaging ideas that caused me to later to slip and slide my way into full blown Depression. It was the mother of all dragons.

“You are dumb”. “You are not enough”. “You can’t do things that need brains because you have low IQ”. “You talk too much”. “You make me ashamed” so on and so forth. You’re probably thinking, that was ages ago, why are we fussing over it now? I know many children face this kind of teasing but not everyone is as sensitive as I am. It wasn’t just you. It was all those people who came after you and made me feel like I was a dumb-ass, I was no good, I was never enough, I was totally incompetent, I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t smart and I had no self-confidence whatsoever. You see, how these words cut me to the quick? How they took up space in my head and filled it to capacity? Now what?

Now I’m stuck. I’ve gotten into a rut of attracting people, events and things that keep reinforcing that belief that I’m not good enough. Somehow no one ever thought to point out how well I did in other subjects or how capable I was in life, even if I didn’t get the hang of this one subject. No one told me it was OK to be brilliant at something even if you were totally rubbish at something else. You would always be good enough.

It was never really about Maths was it? It was about living with this laser beam directed at all my flaws, shrouding everything worthy under a cover of darkness. I have to say, Ma always said I was a good girl. I don’t know why I couldn’t remember that.
I do remember this one incident when I had come home during one of my college breaks and one morning at the breakfast table, I was whining about how I hated everything and wanted to quit law and you told me “Never forget that you are a true warrior”. I cried that day and I still do, whenever you praise me for anything. I’d cry a river even now, if you said something nice, because my brain is wired that way so that it keeps sending me the same message that no matter what I do, I can never make you proud.

These days, as I try not to give up on myself, I recall that morning, that breakfast conversation and how you told me the most powerful thing anyone has ever told me.
At this moment, I understand you have your anxieties about me because I’m not really keeping up with the expectations of society. Maybe I’m looked at as a failure because I don’t have a stable life at all. In fact, my life looks like a house of cards, where a single gust of wind can cause it to crumble.

But I want to tell you this Baba and I trust that you believe me when I say: I will make up for everything one day and I’ll shine as bright as the sun. You will see it. Yes you will.
I have heard you say that I don’t talk to you much and don’t care about you. I want to tell you that I am taking the time to heal from lifelong trauma and it has nothing to do with anything else. The fact of the matter is, your anxiety and my depression don’t get along. It makes us toxic for each other and all I want for you and me is peace of mind. I have started to realise that whatever you said, you really had no clue what you were doing or how it broke me. You didn’t know better and for that, I really am letting it all go and trying my best to take you as you are. I know that you try to love and support me. I really do. Your intentions have always been pure. You have been my greatest teacher because I’ve learnt all my lessons in life from you but oddly, because of you. We have an enduring relationship albeit one which keeps as at loggerheads but I know if anything were to happen to me, you’d be the first one to turn up.

I promise you, as your daughter, you will always find me whenever you need me. I pray that you are safe and well. I’m so grateful for everything we’ve shared, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I love you, so so much.

Yours forever,
Baby Elephant