When someone recently suggested I read Indelible Imprints, I leapt at the opportunity without giving it a second thought. Father-daughter stories have always been my favourite, and here I was getting to read several in one go. A collection of 12 short stories written by daughters about their fathers, the idea of the book was conceived by Priti and Bindu Desai, daughters of the legendary filmmaker Bimal Roy. Later, writers Sonal Shukla and Neela D’Souza came onboard to co-edit the book with Priti T Desai.
This is a book fathers and daughters of all ages and backgrounds can relate to. It takes you into a patriarchal society where the father is the breadwinner, an authoritative figure children look up to, and someone who makes all decisions, big or small. The mother, on the other hand, is the ally, a confidante and a caregiver. She shares a special relationship with her children, especially with daughters. While it is commonly believed that a daughter is moulded by her mother, these stories acknowledge the impact a father has on a daughter.
The stories are set in an era where almost all men had seen a colonial and later, an independent India. While some of them are described as mentors and confidantes, others come across as detached and rude, and a few others as bad husbands. Some are broadminded fathers who encourage their children to read, yet at the same time, they choose to live by traditional norms and values of Indian society. The theme common across all stories is a lack of display of affection between the fathers and daughters.
Of the 12 stories, two are by sisters Priti and Bindu Desai. It is interesting how unalike their experiences were with their father. Other than the factual similarities like his profession, the time he suffered a stroke and the swing he used to sit on, there is a world of difference in how they each saw him. Priti, the older daughter, calls him a mentor and recalls how charming he was, especially, given his penchant for British culture. On the other hand, Bindu remembers her father’s love for all the good things in life. Both daughters have written about his affair with his mistress, but the two accounts show the impact of it was greater on Bindu than it was on Priti. Although Priti could see that her parents’ relationship was quite loveless, she knew he wasn’t a bad father. Bindu shared the sentiment. They both received warmth, love and friendship from him and they could eventually accept him for who he was.
Another moving story is Mannu Bhandari’s My Eyes Brim Over. Mannu’s father was an acclaimed scholar, who compiled the first English to Hindi dictionary. Though highly accomplished and learned, he wasn’t very caring towards his wife. After his death, Mannu asks her brother, “Before he died, did Pitaji even once ask Ma’s forgiveness for a lifetime of harshness? If not in words, at least by an affectionate gesture, a tender touch? Did he remember his daughters?” To her utter dismay, she finds out his last words expressed his concern about Jawaharlal Nehru governing the country. And yet, while writing this account, her eyes ‘brim over’.
Indelible Imprints makes you appreciate even such a complex facet of a father-child relationship. As for me, it got me thinking about my own relationship with my father. I pondered over my friends’ relationships with their fathers too. In the end, I was left with a reassuring thought that no matter how difficult, every relationship can be worked upon. Especially one between a parent and a child. For me, a key message from the book remains that even the most imperfect spouses can often make the most perfect parents.