FICTION: My Father, the Watchmaker

Next to the clock tower sits my father in a shop where he sells watches. His father had built him this shop and after having spent a year learning watch making in Switzerland, my father returned to the heart of this small bazaar.

Life is quite hum-drum here, as if it took nothing for this city to come into being. My father in his old ambassador car falls asleep while driving to work. I have no real memory of the shop, though I imagine that was what it must have been like. My father sitting with his eye-piece, repairing old watches in a cramped shop, thinking to himself that maybe some kind of truth lies lost in the heart of this marketplace.

Sitting idle in the shop are watches waiting to be repaired. Today my father does not go to work. Instead, he stays home on Sundays; Sundays are left blank on his calendar, days when he doesn’t feel the need to do anything.

There is, however, a mechanical wrist watch of a rock solid ruby bearing, ticking in his father’s closed closet, a family heirloom that has been in our home for so many generations now that we have lost sight of how it even came to be here, which is perhaps, at this time not really all that important. It is by now, however, almost certain that it will outlive us all.

*

A clock tower—located next to my father’s watch shop—constructed by the British in this far away annexure of an erstwhile empire still symbolizes the center of our old city. It has been working for almost two hundred years by virtue of not having to experience all that has happened here, looming comfortably above our town, continually being pulled into the future.

Meanwhile my father sitting in his watch shop makes me a watch with his own hands, like the two hands of a clock. Not very many children have fathers who are watchmakers. Mine was apparently a good one. The image of a melting clock recurrent in Dali’s paintings always bothered him and just because my father is a watchmaker does not mean that he likes to count time for someone who has wasted all his years.

*

He often used to look out on the highway on which our house was situated and watch the traffic. ‘The city is getting crowded,’ he used to say after a moment’s pause. When he was all alone and felt guilty for abandoning his family, he used to show up at the local police station at exactly 12 o’clock, begging the authorities to arrest him. When he did that, he made sure that he stopped his watch and switched of his telephone so that none of us could reach him. Once it has been told that he was found wandering our neighborhood completely naked—though I am almost convinced that was concocted by my aunt in order for me to drop all that I was doing in my life in order to rescue my failing father, so that she could with a good conscience abandon him, herself—and was discovered by the local chemist who took him home to dress him up. He would not have been my father without his clothes on.

*

My father claims to have lived through a revolution and that he, himself, also had a small hand to play in it, though I have not found any reference to it in all the encyclopedias at home and in the local library. He claims that perhaps, historically speaking, during the revolution’s most climactic day, several clock towers in different parts of the country were shot at, and in almost all cases, the hands of the clocks fell off. For many weeks thereafter, people looked up out of sheer habit to the image of a time that had temporarily come to a complete and quiet standstill.

In many peripheral towns of this nation—my father tells me—towns on edges of other countries, small towns where watchmakers never come, the clocks on the towers never get repaired, whereas elsewhere for the most part, they are reset to an entirely different and alien calendar, commemorating holidays, for example, no one really knows how to celebrate.

*

Selling watches is not like selling soap, my father used to say to my mother who was born a daughter of a soap salesman. He thought that her bland cooking must been because of all that soap that must have accidentally gone inside her mouth.

He came from a family of watch salesmen who owned a watch shop for many generations, initially established in Lahore which then later moved to Delhi after the partition, but in the long line of watch salesmen, it was only my father who knew how to make watches with his own two hands. His early success was his own watch company entitled SARACOM, after the initials of my mother whom he had recently married, his blood brother—a close friend whom he, in fact, had exchanged blood with—and his new bride, all of who went to Kashmir for a honeymoon together, during which they must have drawn the initial plans for the watch company.

In the years of Indira Gandhi’s emergency, watches coming from other parts of the world had been banned, but as soon as the markets opened, and filmstar heroes started advertising for these foreign watches, my father’s handmade pieces began piling up. He would walk in winters the expanse of Chandni Chowk, would talk to strangers and would occasionally throw his watches away. He spoke of watches that worked on water, on the human pulse, ideas that would later become inventions.

Gaurav Monga is a writer originally from New Delhi. He learned German to read the works of Franz Kafka and Robert Walser. He writes prose poetry and short fiction, much of which has appeared in literary magazines such as the Fanzine, Juked, Birkensnake, The Fabulist, among others. Family Matters, a collection of absurdist short stories, is published by Eibonvale Press. Ruins, a collection of prose poems is published by Desirepaths Publishers.He has taught literature, German and creative writing at schools and universities in India, Nepal, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. He is fascinated with the relationship between fashion and literature and is currently working on a poetry collection about clothes.

Image: A cellphone and watch repair kiosk in Mumbai, India (wikicommons)

Submit a comment