By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Joseph Sebastian; parents Joseph and Ritty; Anup Singh Rashtrawar and wife Madhu
September 17 was a momentous day in my father’s life. He had turned 90. Amazingly, he still has black hair. There are two reasons for this: one is genetics and the other is castor oil. So, for those of you who want black hair at an advanced age, use castor oil for at least 40 years.
Meanwhile, like all parents, my father, Joseph, had a profound influence on me. Like him, I get up early, and make the bed, whenever possible.
In his spare time, my businessman-father had been an editor of a social-service magazine, in Kolkata. So, from my childhood, I have seen him edit matter and type his articles on the typewriter. I am doing both, although, instead of the typewriter, I use a laptop.
At age 90, he pays his own electricity, telephone, water, food, and newspaper bills. He has never depended on the government for pension or help. He is a self-made man, as well as a liberal.
When I wanted to be a journalist, he never insisted that I should become a doctor or an engineer. As a result, I have spent the past 30 years doing a job I love.
But there is one aspect of my father which I have never absorbed: his passion to help the poor and the downtrodden. The few times I went into a slum, at Kolkata, where I grew up, (I live in Kochi now) it unnerved me. The atmosphere of defeat and despair coupled with the filth and the smell was too much for me to bear. I ran away. And never went back.
But, amazingly, my father had an impact on my neighbor and childhood friend, the tennis coach Anup Singh Rashtrawar. He wanted to do what my father was doing.
One day, at the Calcutta Gymkhana, Anup noticed a boy staring through the railings at the courts. So Anup called him in. A Muslim boy, Rashid (name changed) lived in a nearby slum. He told Anup he wanted to play tennis.
So, Anup taught him the basics, even as Rashid earned his keep as a ballboy. Soon, Rashid took part in competitions and began to do well. A few years later, he was able to secure a job through the sports quota of the railways.
Today, Rashid owns a flat and his children are studying in prestigious English-medium schools.
Eventually, Anup rescued more than 30 boys from the slum. And they are all doing well. Anup, himself, is doing well, as a coach in a millionaire’s club at Florida. And he has helped countless others over the years.
Here is another example. Last year, he saw an article in a national newspaper about a Muslim girl in the middle of Madhya Pradesh who wanted to go for medical studies but did not have the money. He called up the Delhi office of the newspaper and got the Bhopal number. From there he got the reporter’s contact and got in touch with the girl. Now, Anup is funding her medical education.
And, even today, whenever he calls me up he inquires about my father's well-being. The question that is asked of people, at the end of life, is this: with your actions, did you do good or harm? My father only did good. Thank you for being such a remarkable role model.
And happy birthday once again Daddy!
(A shorter version was published as a middle in The New Indian Express, South Indian editions)