We took time for granted. As we did so many other things in adolescence. Conversations that began on a casual walk to class extended to long hours into the night, huddled in our blankets and mosquito nets. Sometimes we sat on the steps for long hours in the afternoon, discussing the mundane, obtuse and sometimes, the irrelevant.
Boarding school had lent a certain fluidity in our lives. Days melted into nights with ease and our conversations didn’t cease. There were flights of fantasy; we shared our dreams, passions and whims. We put into words our fears and insecurities. We argued, debated and sulked. We laughed at ourselves. We also contradicted ourselves.
We were carefree, spontaneous and noisy. Poise lay far away, contained in a word on some page in a dictionary.
I had assumed that we would always have the time and the inclination for such intense interactions. But I was wrong. Careers, paychecks and egos soon took precedence over our need to communicate. In every conversation I sought the carefree me, all the while burying myself under layers and layers of insecurities. I craved time and many many long conversations. But few, I realized, had the time or patience for it.
Conversations, I learnt, had to have a motive. With a defined beginning, middle and an ending. One couldn’t breeze in and out of them. They usually began with a cautious hi and ended with a smiley, often indecipherable. Leaving me cranky and underwhelmed. It stung when I was admonished for spending so much time on the telephone, for losing track of time at a friend’s place, for staying up too many nights.
I found some beautiful, very fulfilling, friendships along the way. But none afforded me the time I craved. I had taken time for granted. And now it was taking me for a ride.
They told me that she was getting old and feeble. That I should cut her some slack in her old age and not be so harsh with her. But I didn’t think that I had it in me. I was rankling with the pain of rejection. And in my scheme of things, she had yet to make amends for a lot of injustices on her part. I just wasn’t able to find it in me to forgive her. Not just yet. For every instance that I was reminded how much I owed her, I dug into my ever-growing list of grievances against her; most of them legitimate.
I became cool and distant. I did what was expected of me. Being polite, expressing concern but if you knew me well, you knew it was a well-concealed façade. Smiling on the outside, seething from within. Until this became a definite part of me.
Distance helped ease my pain (as is usually the case). Some of my resentment melted away. Mostly because I wasn’t pondering over it as much. And I was sufficiently beyond caring now.
So when she called me last week, and I spoke to her after a gap of two months, I wasn’t as perturbed. What left me troubled is how weak and helpless she sounded. She was due to visit the doctor. But no one seemed to be free to accompany her. So she let it pass, as a mother is usually wont to do.
For a very brief moment, it reminded me of a time, two years ago, when I had offered to accompany her and she had spurned me in favor of her grandson. Ever so patient, the father had consoled me then, “It’s her loss. You cannot possibly make the same offer to someone twice.”
That evening, a part of me thought that perhaps I could!
A note of gratitude…
Dealing with the extended family is like treading on egg shells. What to say, what not to say, how to say, et al. I hate having to do it. It’s annoying and draining and exhausting, all at once. I dreaded it every single time, until the mother, in absolute desperation, shared a gem of wisdom with me. She said, “Forget that they are your relatives. Treat them as human beings. Individuals, or perhaps, strangers, who deserve your respect, politeness and kindness. Remain aloof from the conversation.” A simple thought; it made my life so much simpler.
Over the last few months, I’ve learnt that conversing or spending time with an individual without the baggage of familial ties is refreshing. I approach them as a friend or sometimes, as a stranger would. Carefully, avoiding being personal, sticking to the mundane. Keeping aside the many yesterdays of discontentment between us, to begin on a fresh note. I’ve learnt to steer the conversations towards them. Ask them their thoughts, how they feel, what they are doing; making them the centerpiece of our conversations. And most people I know seem to enjoy talking about themselves. And they do so unabashedly, occasionally forgetting me standing next to them. The few who do remember, also remember to keep their discourse short, making it more like a dialogue…Continue reading.
*First published on Parentous.
Where I fight back the urge to pass a sharp retort.
I tried my best to slink my way into a room of a few unfamiliar faces. An old gentleman quietly enquired about my presence. Before I could put together the words to introduce myself, an uncle magnanimously staked claim upon me, “Beti hai, hamari. Very smart, very hardworking.” I flinched. Visibly. Something snapped within me and I wanted to protest. But I also wanted to believe that my mother had taught me better. And the world needed to know that.
I left the room soon after. Excusing myself politely, under the pretext of an errand. But I was angry. I was agitated at my uncle’s claim. Agitated at his audacity suggesting that he had raised me. Agitated that there was little I could have said or done.
It’s easy to take pride in me and my accomplishments when I’m on the other side of my twenties and someone else has done all the legwork. Today, it’s easy to show me off to the extended family, the acquaintances and prospective family and focus only on my strengths. But where was his love for me when I was questioned as to why I menstruate every month? Where were his paternal instincts when I had to fight for an education? Where was his affection when I was being berated for being a daughter and not a son (and not like I had a choice there)?
I wasn’t quite prepared to grant him a parental status in my life just yet. I just didn’t think he had earned it.
The actual parents, on the other hand, have never staked claim on me or put me and my accomplishments on such a display. They reprimand me often, sometimes in the presence of other people. But they are fairly private about their possessiveness, praise and compliments. Love for them has never been about wearing it on their sleeves or making a blatant display of their emotions…Continue reading
*First published on Parentous.