This small breezy book tells the story of Soumya Bhattacharya bringing up his daughter Oishi with some help from his wife. Under the breeziness is Bhattacharya’s conviction that becoming a father changes you forever. He quotes Philip Roth to prove it: “You don’t know suffering until you have children. You don’t know joy. You don’t know boredom, you don’t know — period,” Of course, as the whole world knows, there’s a very special relationship between daughters and fathers which is balanced by the ones between mothers and sons and Bhattacharya outlines that special relationship as he tells the story of bringing up Oishi from her babyhood to her teens.
Bhattacharya began writing columns on his experiences for the Hindustan Times and the book brings those columns together in a tale of parenting with all its joys and a few sorrows. The story is not a linear account of how to parent but moves experience wise, Oishi sitting on a pavement outside Harrods bawling with hunger and being fed by her parents watched on video by Oishi at six, a child whose favourite city is London and who wants to revisit the places in her babyhood.
All parents want their children to share their passions. Bhattacharya introduces her to reading and grammar and mourns the loss of his Wren and Martin – Crossword apparently thinks it’s a book on birds. He and his wife try to take her through Bengali and, enchanted by her diary, even though it isn’t Anne Frank, attempts to introduce her to twitter. The sensible Oishi points out that not everyone might want to share what’s she’s done during the day, something that many adults tweeting fail to realise.
Because she is his daughter it is important for Bhattacharya that Oishi share in his favourite pastime, sport. Books he says are not universal and people have different reactions to them, but sports fans share the same joys and sorrows. He secretly works to instil a passion for football and tennis in her – she is forbidden aerated drinks but during a football match father and daughter celebrate by drinking together at 12.30 in the morning – whisky for him and fanta for her. Both of them share the same despair when Argentina hits rock bottom in the World Cup, Oishi shrieking and unhappy, her father quieter and equally miserable.
It’s a very personal memoir. Not every child has the indulgence of nibbling biscotti while their father orders espresso after espresso to keep the biscotti coming in cafes in Nice. Or recreating a snowstorm with paper balls to make up for the fact that it is snowing in London and Oishi cannot be there. But what also comes through is the loving relationship between father and daughter – no slaps, grounding dealt with by gentle, firm conversation, nothing of the Amy Chua tiger mother kind of parenting that is a part of many Indian homes. Bhattacharya also points out that there is a difference between today’s children and the children of the past because this young generation has a sense of authority and confidence that their parents never had and therefore do not accept parenting authority unquestioningly. He is also impressed when his daughter masters the powerpoint without his help – since he’s totally unhandy at it – and when she takes charge of his birthday ‘She made presents for me. Over the next few days there turned up: a photo frame made from cardboard, its borders designed and coloured with felt-tipped pens and crayons; a matchbox, covered in coloured paper’. Perhaps the fact that she plays Happy Birthday from the Beatles White Album is a bit much, but it does add to the fun.
The book takes the reader through the educational, fun and lazy aspects of parenting. What is delightful is Bhattacharya’s joy at being able to enter Oishi’s world and his hope that once she passes the ‘cusp’ – his favourite word – of puberty and sets foot into teenage and then adulthood, their relationship will continue as always.
Dad’s The Word by Soumya Bhattacharya
Published in India by Westland, 2012
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