The boy was only twelve years old but his caustic tongue was capable of wounding anyone. The elders at home often warned him for his disrespectful and rebellious ways. He often trusted his mother’s judgment about people and remembered her comments about them even better than she did. He had heard his mother remark that his father was not very intelligent, not as intelligent as her. His father had told him, he had failed at school once and then once at college. Due to lack of encouragement and funds, his father had quit studies after an undergraduate degree. Father often boasted about this degree. Even though he had failed in the Economics paper, he had stood second in the whole college, in his Psychology paper.
Father had this habit of opening his cupboard and fishing out a folder. In this folder he kept his old black and white photographs, a few crumpled bills, old letters from his own father to him, and his degree certificate. The boy had seen this certificate a few times. He did not think much of this certificate because he thought failing in one subject should mean that his father was an idiot. He liked seeing his father’s class photograph though. There was a man in it, with oiled hair that was parted right in the middle. Father wore big glasses, much bigger than his face. A professor sat right in the centre with a suit that was two sizes bigger. Everyone looked awkward. Some of them smiled rather sheepishly. The boy found it fascinating that his father should have been so young once. Yet, he did not see his father as a great student. His father told him how he had won the third place in an intercollegiate singing competition. That made him proud. His father always sang well. No doubt about that.
Father told him how he had wanted to study a different subject and how he had to compromise and study Economics because of the financial situation at home. The boy thought that his father was making up a story. How could his father have done well at any subject! He was not capable of it. All his life, the boy had not failed a single examination.
One day the boy went to play with the neighbour’s dog. His father called out to him from the other side of the compound wall. Father warned him to come home and study for the impending exams. The next-door uncle stood watching. The boy pretended to be deaf and continued playing. Father said, “Come and study or you will fail your exams!” The boy retorted in his usual unthinking manner, “You have yourself failed your B.A. exam! Why do you advise me?” The uncle was shocked by this impertinence and said “First you pass your sixth standard and then you pass your B.A. After that you can speak like that to your father!” The boy thought elders were a bunch of bullies and went in to study with brimming tears.
The degree certificate kept popping out of the cupboard and the folder. The boy thought that his father was shameless to open that failure folder. His father was messed up and paranoid. He fought with mother and was also taking psychiatric treatment for his violent temper. The boy was not sure he liked his father.
The boy was now struggling with his B.A. The father reminded him of the words that he had spoken in front of the next-door uncle. The boy thought it was sadistic of his father to remember it and to remind him of it at this point in time. Yet he retorted, “In your period the syllabus was much easier despite which you did not perform well.” Father grunted and went his way.
When he was in his second year of college, father was diagnosed of cancer. It was in the secondary stage. Multiple myeloma had eaten through his bones. The bone scan revealed that his entire shoulder and pelvic regions were affected. Father was given rigorous treatment. He responded well to the treatment. He did not complain about the treatment even a single day. The boy had to wash and clothe his father everyday. He had to take care of every need the father had at the hospital. His studies suffered. Father was in so much pain at times he screamed at the boy.
Father never knew he had cancer. The doctors had told the boy and his mother, not to tell this to father. After spending several thousands of rupees, there was an unfortunate accident in which his father succumbed. After father died, the boy was in severe shock. His mother had had a severe shock as well though she did not express it. One day mother was cleaning father’s cupboard. She cried so much on seeing his clothes and photographs. She wanted to escape from all his memories. She gave all his clothes away to the poor. She cleared out all his papers and things. The boy walked by that room where she was emptying father’s things out. He saw the degree certificate lying on the floor amid a heap of papers. He asked his mother why she was throwing these things away. He was afraid to ask her. She did not say anything. He concealed the certificate behind him and took it to his room. He put it in his own folder.
When he passed his B.A. in first class with a university rank, father was not around. He went to his room and placed the certificate underneath his father’s. He had misunderstood his father while he lived. Now he had understood everything.