And so, Pupu, you are a grown up girl today: in so many ways one may regard you as a full woman. For me, it’s been bliss, these last eighteen years, every single moment of it and continuing – do keep that in mind forever, no matter what happens in the days to come.
I had once read a father’s benediction for his son on the day the latter turned eighteen and I had thought I’d write something similar for you when your time came. But now there’s no need, of course, there’s a whole book to accompany you lifelong; especially, now, the last two chapters therein. That should suffice.
I had lived thirty three intense and eventful years before you were born, yet today I can’t fully believe any more that there was ever a time when you were not there. You keep assuring me that I was born to be a father, and that is what I have been discovering about myself these last eighteen years, day by day, week by week, year by year. And if anyone knows the meaning of true and abiding enjoyment, I can assure you I do, for I have enjoyed myself thoroughly all through. From exulting over your first cry even before I knew whether I had a son or a daughter to swinging you to sleep to changing nappies and writing poems for you and telling stories and going walking hand in hand to distant travels to readying you for school, singing and dancing together, learning housekeeping and handling large sums of money, watching thunderstorms and mountains and sunsets and riding yaks and camels and elephants to caressing trees and puppies, reading great books and watching great movies together and discussing poetry and philosophy, politics and economics, psychology and religion…they told me raising a child is no end of ‘trouble’, and parents moan ad nauseam about what awesome ‘sacrifices’ they have made for their children, but believe me, for me it has been one continuous joyride. No other experience, bar none, has given me any comparable happiness, nor ever will in this lifetime, I know, unless it be a chance to raise your daughter someday.
I love you as you are. And I don’t want anything of you or from you, save that you stay just the way you are for a long, long time, or at least, God willing, until I die. There’s nothing you have to prove to me, nothing you have to achieve to impress and satisfy me: not academic degrees, not jobs, not money and power and status, nothing. They only want such things from their children who are lost souls, who have never known what it is to be happy just to have a happy and loving child. I know how much I have got from you already, and how little of it most parents I know can even imagine getting. I am grateful that God sent you to me. I am grateful that you have stayed healthy and happy and safe this far. I am grateful that having come to despise, even loathe women so much as a rule, I can still love you so wholly and unconditionally – and I know, as you know, that being family has very little to do with it, for your dad has never been able to love, or even fake loving, simply because someone is family.
I have been holding you closest to my heart for a long time yet letting go of your hand little by little all along. I didn’t let you out of the house for the first whole month but took you on a long journey when you were sixteen months old, and got into the swimming pool with you when you were barely two and a half. And remember how terrified I was when you went to the neighbourhood marketplace alone the first time at age eleven, yet only a couple of years later you were taking a public bus alone to school, and having your first little ‘affair’ without daddy and mummy making nuisances of themselves? And today, of course, we laugh together at how the mothers of your own classmates ask you to look after their daughters when you are travelling, and how neither those girls nor their mothers can imagine handling the degree of overall independence that you both enjoy and suffer from. So it’s not as if you will suddenly become very much more your own woman today onwards, and yet both of us feel that something important will have changed, don’t we? Therefore I wish you bon voyage, ma. May you have a good story to tell your grandchildren. Stay canny, stay wide awake, think always of the long-term consequences of whatever you do, but otherwise, may I be the last person to hold you back from what you really want to do. Indeed, with every passing year now, I shall hope not only to see you getting a better grip on your own life, but telling me more and more what I should do. I have walked alone too long: glad I did, proud of it, but also very tired, and being told again what to do now and then will be a delight surpassing all others. May I get a few years of that before it is ‘sunset and evening star, and one clear call for me’.
If there is just one thing I want to beg you for ma, it is this: don’t break my heart by turning out to be khelo in the final analysis – cheap and common – because like so many others you decided, despite my influence, that it is all-important to stay close to the comforting primordial muck. Nothing will compensate me for the resultant sense of loss and defeat and shame, not if you thereby managed to become the richest celebrity in the world. Please, ma, believe that there is a realm of the spirit that must not be sacrificed for anything that this world can offer…unless you are content to die a pig.
And in the fullness of time, may my legacy be not a bit of knowledge or a bit of money, but your ability to tell just about anybody on earth who talks of love ‘Don’t talk about things you don’t understand, and can’t’.
May life give you everything it held back from me, and then some more. May you never be sorry that you were my daughter.