By Sheltering an Inter-Caste Couple, My Conservative Father Discovered His “Wokeness”

It was not a festival, it wasn’t anyone’s birthday in the family, as far as I could remember. It wasn’t even the weekend. So I was taken by surprise when my house was abuzz with energy in the middle of a workweek. There was a serious amount of pav bhaji and grilled cheese sandwiches that had been ordered. For a Gujarati family living in Kandivali, it felt like Navratri had arrived early.
Before I could figure out what was happening, mum told me we had guests – my dad’s colleagues. Really? When did dad start making friends at work?  
Pratik* from my father’s office had come home to visit us, all the way from Kalyan. Seated next to him was a woman, who I guessed was his girlfriend, but I couldn’t be sure. It was 10 pm on a Tuesday, way past my father’s bedtime. And yet everyone seemed quite content chatting away. “Why aren’t they leaving?” “They can’t be staying over!” “Do I have to sleep in the living room today?” My mind was overflowing with questions.
I smiled at Pratik and before I could start a conversation, mom gestured at me with her eyes, asking me to go inside. Then she followed me. Zero points for subtlety.
She came into the bedroom and started whispering, which is her code for “kuch gadbad hai”. Cutting right to the chase, she told me, “Pratik and Nisha got married but their families won’t accept it. So they will be staying with us for a few days.” Hello? Had I suddenly been transplanted into a ’90s Bollywood film? While it might have taken me a few minutes to process the information, all my claims to social media wokeness were forgotten when I blurted, “But why here? Don’t they have any relatives or friends?”   
My mother then gave me a quick backstory of how both families had opposed the marriage because they belonged to different sub-castes, but dad had helped the couple register the wedding. This indeed was a parallel universe. My father? Playing cupid? My dad, the same man who thinks Muslims are planning to take over the world? The same man who declares anyone who criticises Modi ji as a traitor and anti-national? Nothing made any sense.
With an instruction to move to the living room couch for a few days, my mother dashed out of the room. I heard her sneakily calling one of our relatives who owns a garment shop and requested them to open it for a bit. The newly-weds had no extra pair of clothes. A meeting was fixed for 11.30 pm, as if they were scoring some sort of contraband.
In all this excitement, I was getting acquainted with a new side to my father’s personality.
The couple looked worried, but dad kept trying to cheer them up. “Tension mat lo, ek do din mein sab theek ho jaayega.” Dinner was followed by some ice cream and small talk about cricket and what Nisha likes to do. Dad was cracking jokes, at least attempting to, and mom was being mom – extremely warm. I could see my introvert parents making the extra effort to make the two feel at home.
That day my respect for my father shot up faster than Chris Gayle’s strike rate in a T20 game. My dad was way cooler than I thought he was. This is a man who doesn’t know how to use a gas stove and still believed that women should do the cooking, but he had risen over and above the call of duty in helping out a young couple.
Pratik and Nisha stayed at our house for about a week. They’d head out to work in the morning and return at night. This is when the four of them would huddle up and have discussions about how to convince the couple’s family to accept them. Over a period of a few days, my father spoke to their family members and tried to reason it out with them that castes only divide us further. “The differences are all in our head,” I once overheard him saying. After days of convincing, Pratik’s family agreed and the couple moved back to their house.
I was a silent observer of all that was unfolding at home, watching my dad play peacemaker. The same father, who, like any typical middle-class uncle, still makes politically incorrect statements. He has been sexist and racist on several occasions in the past without even realising it. Often with relatives, I’ve heard him comment on politics and his thoughts have made me cringe. On days that I’ve confronted him or tried to engage with him, we’ve had endless debates, which end up with me storming out of the room.
To my mind, my dad was the conservative, the one with backward views. That’s the reason I’ve never added him as a Facebook friend – afraid that he’ll leave a comment on something I’ve posted and embarrass me. But in the days that Pratik and Nisha were with us, I saw a different side. When the time came to act, he had allowed his liberal side to emerge. He had done the right thing.
We waste no time in passing judgement about our parents, imposing our “liberal” ideas on them. Little do we realise that liberalism also includes the ability to open up to an opposing view, being unbiased and non-judgemental.
Unlike me and most people from our generation, who use social media to signal our virtues, my father had become the IRL definition of woke, without knowing or even caring what it meant. Not through his assertions but by his actions. What’s more, he did not bother tom-toming about it on Facebook. Maybe it is time to add him.    
* Names changed

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