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This Father's Day, let us talk about feminist fathers who raise their daughter to not settle and be their best selves!
He has been the constant support who gave wings to my dreams – not just for me but for my sister and brother. He is the one who allowed me to choose an educational course that was not conventional despite being an academic topper and cracking the looked upon the field of study at that time. This is for him: Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
He supported me in my career choice or when I was ready to settle down. Also, he stood by me when I wanted to break my engagement as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to settle down with the man in question.
My father took pride in every achievement of mine and wanted to celebrate it, boosting my confidence beyond limits. He supported my decision when I planned to quit a government job and take up work at a private company.
Moreover, he became my support system while bringing up my children. This man came to visit me and my children during the peak pandemic. My dad met us outside the housing society gate and provided me with much-needed emotional support when my husband was stuck in another country during a pandemic.
He has done that to my sister, who has another set of touching anecdotes as far as our father is concerned. ‘My daddy strongest’ fits him in the true sense.
If men can be feminists, my father has to feature in that list. From being a tough Fauji to retired army personnel, he has championed women empowerment- not just at home to his daughters but to the immediate family, relations, workplace and the community.
Here is the story of Narendra, a boy from a remote village in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district- a small village that didn’t have any roads or electricity.
Uttarakhand has small villages when compared with other places. He lived with his family of eight- parents and six siblings. He was the eldest brother, so carried a sense of responsibility toward his siblings and the family.
Until primary, his school was not very far, but after that, he had to walk up an entire mountain to reach his school. There was also a river to cross. He was quick, so he managed to reach in about 45 minutes.
Moreover, when he reached matric (10th grade), he could manage this distance in about 30 minutes. A city-bred lad would take over 2 hours to cover the same course.
Narendra was good at studies and had a deep interest in school activities. He tried his best to be among the top few- not forget his limited resources.
Life was all about travelling to and fro home and school, attending to the cattle in the evenings, and whatever time he could manage, he would study under the light from a kerosene lamp.
Narendra did well in 10th, and then it was time for him to move to inter-college (junior college). He completed his 11th and 12th standard education and passed his exams with flying colours.
He had taken English as one of the subjects as he always knew he would go out of that place and work in something much bigger- whatever that meant to a village lad with dreamy eyes!
Narendra received his 12th result and did well in that exam too. Like others from that region, he also opted for the only two options: joining the Army or working as a teacher. He filled in the application form for BTC (Basic Training Certificate for teachers).
In those days, people married young, and being the eldest, his mother started forcing him to get married. Parents would search for the right match, and children only followed their parents’ advice and decision.
He married an equally young girl who had just done her schooling. With marriage came additional responsibility, he started doing some small-time jobs till he got a good opportunity.
He moved to a small town that was connected to the next big city with roads, and it had electricity. He found a job at the construction site as a supervisor. While working, he waited for his BTC result and was also on the lookout for recruitment for the Army.
A few months later, the Army recruitment centre conducted a drive to recruit personnel for the Kumaon Regiment. He filled in the form and appeared for the physical and medical examination. Hundreds of young men were there that day.
They were told that the results would be out in about two weeks. When Narendra checked the results, he saw his name was on that list.
The brigadier met them and gave them the letter. While speaking to Narendra, he checked his qualification and also the scores of his physical test. The brigadier told him that he was overqualified, and for that position, they needed men who were non-metric that is 8th standard pass candidates.
With his academics and knowledge of English, he asked if Narendra wanted to try for the Indian Navy. He said there would be a recruitment drive for the Indian Navy soon. Holding his letter in his hand, Narendra didn’t even think much and gave it back to the brigadier.
Narendra regretted not taking a job opportunity that would have taken care of him right from that moment. He would have got a warrant on which he could board the state-run bus and reach the training centre at Ranikhet.
But not accepting it meant waiting for a chance of being selected for the Navy; chance is just that slim possibility. Anyway, he moved out of the camp the following week to appear for the Indian Navy selection.
He promptly reached and gave the written and physical tests with hundreds of others. They were told that the results would be announced in 2 to 3 weeks as they would come from the Naval headquarters.
That meant he had to wait and didn’t have enough money to pull him through that time. He thought about what he should do next as he headed toward the bus stop.
A man holding two bags approached Narendra asking what put him in such deep thoughts. He narrated the whole incident to the man who turned out to be a salesman selling OTC medicines for fever, headache, stomach ache etc.
He earned a commission on the sale from the company. He asked Narendra to join him in selling those medicines so that could take care of the waiting time for his results. Without thinking much Narendra agreed, and the salesman gave him one bag to carry.
Both of them started moving from one village to the other, and within a week, they had sold their entire stock. They stayed at a lodge and carried on with their sales job during the day.
One day when they were returning from their field job, and as they crossed the bus stop near the army recruitment centre some boys came running to Narendra and hugged him, saying that he had cleared the exam and was selected for the Indian Navy.
He dropped his bag and ran to see the list. Seeing his name there, he had tears in his eye as this was not just a job but his passport to the world and the world of opportunities. The salesman was equally happy they had a good dinner that night.
The next morning, he met the officer along with three others who were also selected. They had to travel to Kochi (formerly Cochin) in Kerala, where they would undergo training. It was a long journey, and for Narendra, it was also the first train journey.
He had no communication with his family except for sending news of his well-being through anyone from his village he met in the town.
His family believed that he was working as a supervisor in a construction company involved in road construction. A lot had happened in the few months he was away from home.
Narendra’s belongings- a few clothes and his wedding pictures- a couple of black and white photos; only pictures of his wedding were stolen, so he began his life in the small town from scratch.
The young recruits became good friends during the journey which was long enough for them to know each other well. They reached their destination with incessant monsoon rains.
Once they reached their barracks and fairly settled into the routine, Narendra took the envelope and letterheads that they used to get from the Navy to write letters to their families.
He wrote his first letter to his wife and gave her an update. He also sent a couple of self-addressed envelopes in the letter so that she could write back to him.
The letter reached his village, and everyone who saw the envelope including the postman was curious to know more about Narendra as the address was of a far-off place and a ship was printed on the envelope.
He was the first person from his village to have joined the Indian Navy. His family and the villagers were proud of him, and he got a letter from his wife sharing all the family updates.
He was undergoing his training and regularly exchanged letters with his wife. After his training, he got his posting to his unit, and he started working there, not enjoying the work, just then, a notice was put up on the notice board asking for applications through the unit head for divers.
Narendra saw this, and he wanted to give his name. His name was forwarded to the Diving School, and he had to appear for a physical test.
He was there with many others. He cleared the test and had to wait for the final result that would come from the Naval Headquarters.
The list of selected candidates was shared with all unit heads, and his office gave him the news of his selection for the diving course.
He left for diving school the next day and started his six months of rigorous training. From a batch of 100 who came into the course, just 15 completed it successfully and became ship divers. So he didn’t get to go home till his course was over. Finally, after over a year, he got to go home.
When he reached home, everyone was elated to see him. His teachers, the village pradhan and others invited him for lunch and dinners.
One month of leave just flew by, and he had to join back on duty. Then he gave his name for the Clearance Diving course which meant he would be a professional deep-sea diver.
Again the selection process was tough, but he made it and then completed his CD-level III course. By now, he was a father; his daughter was fast growing up, but his wife was still in the village.
They then had their son. His wife thought it was the right time to join her husband and move to the city as she wanted her children to receive a good education.
She took care of her family and supported her in-laws; all her brothers and sisters-in-law were married. She was done with her responsibilities on her home front- it was time for her to be with her husband and raise her children.
She joined him when he was posted on a naval ship that was a part of the Western Naval command. She came to Mumbai on her first visit for six months, and Narendra got posted to Diving School, Kochi.
In the subsequent years, he cleared his CD II and CD I courses. He became an instructor training naval divers and commandos. It is what he enjoyed, and he felt it was his true calling.
Many batches passed out under his training. He gained a lot of respect from his seniors, colleagues, subordinates and trainees alike.
On the personal front, he had one more daughter with whom he developed a special bond as she was the one whom he saw through birth and initial years of growing up. He had missed that with the other two.
He went up the hierarchy to higher ranks and set up some of the finest Command Diving Units of the Navy. Subsequently earning a bachelor’s degree. With that, his dream of being a graduate was achieved too.
He was awarded the Nao Sena medal for exemplary service. He with his team changed the propeller of a ship while it was in the water.
Saving time, money and resources; was something no one had attempted ever. He moved to many training bases, and after putting in 32 years of service he retired from the Navy.
All through the years, he gave back as much as he could to his village building things of common utility and extending help to whomever he could and whatever was in his capacity.
He ensured that his children got the best education, and he supported them in whatever they wanted to do. He gave his children all that he didn’t have and couldn’t even dream of.
Narendra is settled in Navi Mumbai, and his children are all doing well, as per the societal parlance. He and his wife are doting grandparents to 5 children and grandchildren- he is the hero who fulfils all their wishes.
Retirement did not mean hanging his boots, he still does what he loves- teaching and training. He is associated with a Merchant Navy Training institute and takes lectures and practical training sessions.
Narendra feels that God has been kind to him and is grateful to the brigadier who showed him the right direction when he was just beginning his life and embarking on his professional journey. That brigadier lives in his prayers and gets the salute of highest gratitude.
PS: This couple celebrated their golden anniversary on 23rd May 2022, and they are my parents- Tulasi and Narendra Kohli. This is with love to my parents, especially my feminist father- from a very proud daughter, me.
Image credits: Still from the movie Thappad
Laxmi Todiwan - Founder Indian Women in Hospitality. She is a Professor, Corporate Trainer, Motivational Speaker and a Blogger. An award winning hospitality professional with a career spanning over two decades; people engagement, training and development read more...
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