In 2002, I was ready to step out of Ambala for the national capital city of Delhi. As I packed my bags to begin the new phase of my life at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, my father gave me two gifts.
The first was his pocket-size Oxford English Dictionary that had been his companion since his student days at the Military School in Belgaum. He taught himself new words from it every day. There was a time when he knew every single word in that dictionary! He learnt it all because he realized early on that a good vocabulary was an asset, and you must acquire one if you can. And that’s exactly what he did.
He then passed on this lovely rendition of the English language to me on the occasion of my new life as an independent woman, away from the warm snuggle of my parents’ cocoon. On Sundays, as I lay on my bed in my hostel room on the campus reading non-fiction works, I easily looked up words in the pocket dictionary beside me. Slightly tattered and yellowing, its pages effused a warm and musty fragrance, ever welcoming and tender. I was surprised to find there most of the words that I looked up. Whenever I didn’t, I had to reluctantly abandon my comfortable position, lift the heavy Merriam Webster’s dictionary on my side table and flip through its crisp white pages, rather soulless and cold.
Even today, the pocket dictionary holds pride of place in my writing nook. It symbolizes my father’s will to learn, to grow, and his relentless capacity to work hard on becoming the best version of himself, right from his adolescent days. It inspires me to keep alive the hummingbird in my soul and actively sharpen my interests and skills.
The second gift was his good old transistor radio. Black and bulky with a thick handle at the top, this old but sturdy and fully functional device gave grandfatherly vibes, warm and reliable. I often placed it atop my wooden foldable table in the center of my room, tuned into an FM channel, and worked on my course assignments while listening to melodies and storytelling of a bygone era. On some days, the transistor played a therapeutic role too! Whenever I came to my room annoyed about something, silly stuff mostly, I looked at it and imagined it telling me, “Be stable and sincere beta, and everything will fall into place.” In today’s times when one company has launched an easy-to-carry transistor with pre-recorded songs, one can only imagine the beauty of the original black one, of authentic yesteryear vintage.
When I look back, I recollect that there were so many other gifts and things that my parents gave me during my shift to the hostel. For instance, on the day of my admission, they took me window-shopping and picked up a stylish red top from a high-end showroom. I liked it a lot and wore it frequently.
Similarly, there were other such things. But when I think of them today almost two decades later, there is nothing that I really carry with me, physically or emotionally. Despite being ‘valuable,’ they turned out to be eminently forgettable and ephemeral. Just as many other materialistic things in life are. Seemingly important then, they invoke negligible joy years later.
But when it comes to the pocket dictionary and the transistor, they are living organisms. They are invaluable. Things whose worth cannot be measured, despite the price that the market calculates, despite the worth that other people attach to it. Things that have a life of their own. Things whose goodness is perennial. The literary and the symbolic. I believe that’s what makes those two gifts my most prized possessions of all.
Thank you father, for giving me ‘wealth’ that is so meaningful and thoughtful. I hold them in my heart and in my mind today, and always will.
This article was published at The Hindu.