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VICTOR ~ Kiran (she/her)

Updated: Dec 15, 2023


The only possessions of my father’s that I have, besides a lifetime’s stack of hoarded papers, are a Canon camera and three pairs of glasses.


He spent so much of his life looking through them, at me. They let him see what was there, or what he wanted to see.


Glass inside metal, cures for myopia and dystopia; now dusty, smudged, broken, creaky. His old eyes.


Every photo my father ever took of me was on that camera.


Sometimes I pick it up and look through it, just to imagine what it would be like to see through his eyes.


I wish I could have known him better.

But he was an enigma: he was never really there, though you squinted to make him out.


a black and white pixelated photo of a child sitting
Photo 1 Credit: Kiran

It started from the day he was born. Or maybe a year later.


No one knows, because no one was quite sure when he was born.


Not the day, the year.


There’s a photo of him my family has, of a man with four young children; the youngest, pale and long-haired, on his lap.


On the back is written ‘1947’ but we can’t tell if my father, the pale baby, is one or two years old in it.


It’s hard to believe how that can happen, especially because that year, my father’s family moved to Mumbai (then called Bombay) because of the partition of India.



‘Did you have an infant with you when you were running to a new place?’ I often wonder at my grandmother, who I never met.


‘How did you travel there?

‘How did you bring all your things?

What happened?


The answer is: nobody knows.

A black and white photo of a person wearing a black suit and white garland around his neck. His face is excluded from the photo
Photo 2 Credit: Kiran

My father talked about his parents like they were gods. He would have done anything for them and spent as much time with them as he could.


He was proud of his love for them.


No doubt, he made them proud by moving to London and starting a business, an imperative for a man from his background.


He was probably on his way to greatness.


There’s a photo of him being met by his parents at the airport, probably Mumbai, with a garland around his neck.


Then in 1977, one of the worst things that can happen, happened.


My grandparents were murdered at home.


My father was in the UK with my mother, not long after they had met. He heard through the grapevine that the police wanted to speak with him urgently, and he made a call from a roadside phone box.


It must have been the loneliest moment of his life.


I was born five years later.


I would have liked to have asked my father about his parents.


What happened?

What were they like?

Am I like them?


But by the time I did, his memory was failing.


He barely knew who I was.


In one of our last lucid conversations, in 2017, he showed me photographs of his parents’ funeral that I didn’t know existed. He had kept them safe and hidden for 40 years.


I don’t believe you can ever really recover from a rupture like losing your parents. You may try, you might do things that give the appearance of living.


You might create a life around it, but the center will not hold.


A pixelated photo of a man's face. He has a mustache and dark black hair.
Photo 3 Credit: Kiran

In 1981, my father moved to California with my mother; they married and had four children.


He took on a Western name to make life easier for those who met him.


It was also probably a chance to start from scratch, to sketch the person he wanted to become, the one who wasn’t soaking in grief and rage.


Victor.


When you choose a name like that, it’s clear that you intend on beating the Goliaths of your life.


It’s inevitable, nominative determinism.


But in the end, he wasn’t a victor. He didn’t win, and he didn’t lose with grace.


The grief, the anger, the betrayal, the searing sorrow from his parents’ deaths swallowed him whole.


For whatever reasons, because of his generation or gender and a million other little things, he never healed.


Therapy was not for most people - never mind him, Victor.


So he seethed and fought an invisible fight with the universe on a daily basis. The anguish must have been excruciating. He had to let it out, and he took it out on us.


In the biggest ways a father could let you down, he did. For most of my life, he and I were strained or estranged.


As the first-born child, I feel he handed his grief to me, and that we never really had him.


People talk about being lonely in relationships. He and I were lonely for a father-daughter relationship. It was never to be, because he was a boy who missed his mother and father.


******


Among the stack of hoarded papers is a huge, blurry dot-matrix print-out of his photo, like a passport photo magnified 100 times.


The dots somehow gather to make out his image: a few dots show his white shirt collar, many fill in his black hair and handlebar mustache.


How and why did he take this picture, and why did he keep it?


Like him, it’s a mystery.


I don’t even really know how he died. The nurse who had just walked into his room said he took a very deep breath, and was gone.




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©Kiran and © Gulabi Stories


STORYTELLER BIO:

Kiran (she/her) is an American with parents from other countries. She has mostly lived in Europe but is now back in her homestate of California. Kiran is fascinated by identity - especially how we see it onscreen - as well as Italian food and a disco dancefloor.


LOCATION:

West Coast, United States

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