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Because Father Said So

Marya Shakil http://maryashakil

Updated: May 14, 2015, 11:54 PM IST
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Because Father Said So
Shakil Ahmed Khan or 'papa' as I called him was my universe. My safety net. I could jump as high as I wanted and he would always catch me. The man who egged me on when I faltered, the one who saw potential in me when all I saw was a shy adolescent teenage girl. The one who pushed me and my sisters to get out of home at a young age to become our own people.

Shakil Ahmed Khan or 'papa' as I called him was my universe. My safety net. I could jump as high as I wanted and he would always catch me. The man who egged me on when I faltered, the one who saw potential in me when all I saw was a shy adolescent teenage girl. The one who pushed me and my sisters to get out of home at a young age to become our own people.

But along with being the perfect father, he was also a respected lawyer and a political leader. I have grown up seeing him in meetings with the whos who of Bihar politics and judiciary. People would queue up outside our homes every day with all kinds of problems and papa would use his political and legal acumen to solve it for them. He would navigate the tricky waters of Bihar politics, never once losing his sense of humour or his tenacity to survive. He and I have not always agreed on certain issues but he has always given me space to disagree. I think having such a towering man as my father and yet never feeling intimidated by his personality has probably shaped whatever skills I have as a journalist today.

marya1

For the last 2 years, my sister and her husband have been consumed with the thought of organising a memorial lecture for him. Today, as I come back from the lecture, I find my heart bursting with joy that we finally realised that dream.There is also a crippling sorrow, that he couldn't see my sister and me organise this day for him.

As I stood at the entry gate of Taramandal auditorium in Patna, I can't help but marvel at how many people have turned up. The entire legal faternity - the successful ones and many of those struggling to make a mark in this field came to attend the memorial lecture. As they shook our hands and told us how proud papa would have been of us, I looked at my sister and saw her tightly keeping a check at her emotions. I felt exactly the same - overwhelmed by the love we were getting and also choked by the weight of papa's absence.

It was a celebration of a life well lived. His closest friend Justice Aftab Alam had travelled on a working day to Patna from Delhi to deliver the inaugural lecture on "The Courts, Media and the Issue of Regulation". It was a subject very dear to my father. As my brother inlaw introduced the subject, I couldn't help but feel that papa would just walk out of his portrait that was staring at me with the microphone in his hand, waiting to speak.

He was an extraordinary orator who loved urdu poetry. We had debated the subject of media regulation many times. As critical as he has been of the Indian media, he's always celebrated the role of the fourth estate in acting as a watchdog for the state. He would have spoken very well, it was one of his favourite topics. But he wasn't there and wouldn't know what we did to remember him.

We don't believe in spirits. The Islamic scholar who taught my sisters and me The Quran and Hadith had told us that Papa is too preoccupied calculating his deeds in life to negotiate a better afterlife to think of his daughters and family. I have always taken that to be the gospel truth and have rebutted those who said that Papa was watching over us because he wasn't. My Understanding of Islam has taught me to offer a little dua every morning to him expecting him to be the beneficiary in his present being. So, Papa wasn't there when I was awarded the Ramnath Goenka award, he wasn't there for anything and everything that I went through in the last two and a half years. It feels like several decades have gone by since hearing his voice, he is now my wallpaper on my phone.

The lecture was an event befitting his life and stature. My father's siblings were in full attendance. Many people asked us, albeit cautiously, why we decided on a memorial lecture when we could have had a more traditional and religious Islamic 'barsi' ---- "Because papa wanted it. He wanted to be remembered this way," said my lawyer sister. And indeed he had. On the hospital bed before going in for the surgery, papa had told us that his memories should evoke thoughts of present-day events, that it should engage minds. We didn't question him, neither did we make an effort at assuring him that he will get well soon and will live for us. We just told him that his wish will be followed even as we tried hard to hide our tears under brave smiles. Whatever papa has asked of us, we have always done for him and this time was no different.

We also fulfilled another wish of my father. He wanted to be buried in his own land, not at the community graveyard. He knew his girls couldn't go to the graveyard as the practitioners of Islam stopped women from going to graveyards. My father wanted us to visit him, so he is buried in his land at his native village in Jehanabad in Bihar.

This is going to be an annual lecture and I am proud to say year one was a resounding success. Papa, even after death you will forever remain relevant to the changing Indian political and social canvas and continue to engage minds as you always did in life. That is a promise of a daughter to her father.

marya6

First Published: May 14, 2015, 10:00 PM IST

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