My child, my guide: How roles have reversed for one proud father

We do not see each other often, so the changes appear sharper, neon-lit and easier to spot

Soumya Bhattacharya with his family in Vancouver, a city his daughter now knows inside-out. Photo: Soumya Bhattacharya
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“We’ll catch the Number 99 bus to City Hall,” she said. “From there, we’ll take the Skytrain. Three stops, and we’ll emerge near the Number 48 bus stop. It will take approximately 20 minutes.”

My wife and I were planning a trip to Steveston, a historic port, fishing village and one of British Columbia’s breathtakingly beautiful tourist attractions at the mouth of the Fraser River. Or, rather, our daughter was planning it for us.

Seated at the dining table, ably aided by Google Maps, intent with concentration and purpose, a filament of hair falling across her brow. The visit turned out exactly as she had planned it. She led, and her parents tagged along like overgrown children.

Few things compare with the delight of a father being witness to the blossoming of his child into a fine, admirable, composed adult

A few days later. “We must go to Sahel, a Persian restaurant. You’ll love it. Both the ghormet [beef stew with green lentils] and gheimeh [beef stew with red beans, split peas and vegetables] are delicious,” she said.

“How far is it?” I meekly asked, although the sense that I was in expert hands was growing stronger by the day. “Oh, West Broadway. One bus ride. Barely 15 minutes.” She called, found out the opening hours and made reservations. Again, she led. We followed.

The food really was magnificent.

What a difference four years make! In August 2019, when all three of us visited Vancouver for the first time because Oishi was starting her undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, I was the one making plans. Where to go, how to get to those spots, where to eat and how to spend our days. This time around, when we stayed with our daughter through her long summer holidays (she is now doing postgraduate studies at UBC), the roles had been reversed.

She has staked out Vancouver as her very own territory. She has had a peripatetic childhood and young adulthood, but nowhere have I seen her so much at home, so comfortable in her skin.

She intimately knew the vast and excellent public transport system. She introduced us to new places. She took us to off-the-beaten-track restaurants – places that locals know offer splendid food with value for money. She knew which grocery store to buy fresh produce from, which ones to avoid because they were unduly expensive, which ones to buy meat and fish from.

There was a time when she used to come to my bookshelves. Now I found hers packed with treasures old and new for me

On any foreign trip, figuring out these small things takes time and involves certain hit-and-miss endeavours. Not on this occasion, though. Oishi became tour guide, stern guardian and expert in the place the writer Douglas Coupland, in his fine memoir-cum-travel book, calls “city of glass”. Oh, and since I wanted to read it, she got me a copy from the university library.

Previously, on any holiday, I used to be the leader of the family unit. In Vancouver in the summer of 2023, however, I ceded complete ground. It was both a pride and a joy.

It wasn’t just in the matter of outings, shopping and eating out that I noticed a remarkable change. We do not see each other often (once a year at most for the past four years), so the changes appear sharper, neon-lit and easier to spot.

There was a time when she used to come to my bookshelves to pick out books, to ask for recommendations about what to read. Certainly this was true when she was in grades 11 and 12 at school in Delhi. When we visited in the summer, because it was a long stay and our luggage was enormous, I had packed only one hardback book. I had my Kindle.

I found myself wandering to her shelves, finding them packed with treasures old and new for me. I read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf (to my shame, I had not before), reread Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Jacob’s Room (two great modernist texts that I enjoyed with renewed and heightened appreciation), and plenty more. Again, a role reversal that offered me pride and joy in equal measure.

Few things compare to the delight of a father being witness to the blossoming of his child into a fine, admirable, composed adult. And although one sees it for oneself, there is still an element of incredulity in one’s response – a fair bit of wonder. So this is how the past has segued into the present, is it? My gosh!

The late, great English writer Martin Amis once said that after one turns 50, the past becomes a vast continent. In my case, it surely has. Many of my waking hours are preoccupied with Oishi’s growing-up memories. But the present, at this age, is just as much of a vast continent. It is signposted with incidents of her having become a young woman full of knowledge, poise and charm.

Soumya Bhattacharya is the author of six books of fiction, non-fiction and memoir, the latest being the novel Thirteen Kinds of Love

Updated: October 22, 2023, 5:25 AM