Lately I’ve had Roots on my mind – the botanical kind, the metaphorical kind and the ties that bind. Unsurprisingly, all this interest in ‘delving deep’ arises from the fact that they’ve are also the theme of this week’s Take52 Photography Challenge!
I’ve said this before and I’m saying it again – I consider myself the proverbial ‘Rolling Stone’, one that gathers a few bits of moss while otherwise going about merrily on its way. It’s an existence that suits my restless soul, and so the question of being rooted in a place, while occasionally seductive, is never a long-term goal. But as with all things, times change; and with Junior’s schooling to think of, I cannot quite give in to the ‘traveling’ urge whenever it strikes, which is fairly often! Consider the facts – I have lived in one city but changed 4 houses in 10 years! The longest I’ve lived in any house as an adult is 4 years! I’ve grown up in Goa and that’s where I’ve lived the largest chunk of my life so far, and yet, I cannot and do not consider it ‘home’. Not in the way I would like to. It’s my parents’ home, the house I grew up in, became a doctor in, got engaged in, got married from, lost my brother in…but it is still most definitely my parents’ home – NOT mine. So although it’s most certainly the closest thing to home, it isn’t quite the same.
And so it got me thinking about what ‘Roots’ really means? I feel happily rootless for the most part and enjoy the feeling of belonging ‘everywhere in general but nowhere in particular’ 😛 Am I kidding myself? Living in denial? Probably. Should I be concerned at these divagations and get myself a settled life, whatever that means? (Ooh! The very thought sends shivers down my spine!) Or is being ‘Rooted’ just a feeling in our hearts, like Christmas?! I like to think it is – after all haven’t we all been taught, “Home is where the Heart is.” But the heart is unpredictable, a wayward mistress who pulls this way and that, going wherever fancy dictates 😉 She is redolent with good intentions but we all know where those may lead 😛 At the moment she has brought me to Bangalore and so I try to grow roots yet again, in another new city! Do you feel ‘rooted’ where you are? And I don’t just mean geographically.
I often feel I’ve been born in the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong everything – and yet I have no idea at all of what the ‘right’ time and place would look like. At times the restlessness is so acute, it’s hard to find focus. I feel like a caged bird, staring at the open door, my gift of flight forgotten. Maybe it’s the Sagittarian in me – the horse stamping his hooves, chomping at the bit to begin roving. So no…I’m not sure ‘Rooted’ is for me, or that I’ll ever be rooted in place, although Time shows more promise 😉 Somewhere deep inside I want to live in Narnia, in Middle Earth – walk among talking beasts and Fauns, commune with Elves and Hobbits and bask in the grace of Aslan 🙂 When I look around me and see the World – ridden with strife and traumatised by the collective abuse of us arrogant humans – I want so desperately for the fantastical to be real. A sanctuary from all the chaos. If wishes were horses eh?
And so I try as best I can to bestill my aching heart, when that wanderlust strikes. And I think about where I might put down roots if I had to. Then I close my eyes and dream – of Narnia 🙂
Last week I forgot a birthday. That in itself is unremarkable. I do it all the time. I’m one of those people who remembers a Birthday months in advance and usually up to a week of the actually date…only to have it slip away entirely from memory on the Day itself! Truth be told, I have now reached a stage where I can’t even remember that I’ve forgotten (if you get what I mean!), without someone reminding me, like my friend did a few days ago! You know those nagging sensations one relies on…the ones that warn, ‘You sure you’re not forgetting something?’ or ‘Wait a sec, isn’t it so & so’s B’day today? What’s the date? Geez is it March already?!’…turns out those dim with age too (lets hope it’s just age and nothing more serious!). So you see, the whole thing is pretty hopeless!
With the advent of memory-enhancing tools like Facebook, one would think forgetting Birthdays, Anniversaries and any number of important dates and events would be a thing of the past…apparently not! Turns out, the mind only remembers what it’s focused on in the moment (at least mine does!), and so I am perfectly capable of logging on to FB, ignoring all important reminders, and heading straight to my farm for an hour of relaxing, brainless activity 😛 I know! That’s just me! These last two weeks have only served to make matters worse. It’s almost like 2011 has ushered in a period of frenzied activity. There’s been some cosmic shifting of gears and Life is taking on a rogue treadmill-like quality…repetitive, unending & perpetually rushed! Maybe I should just blame it all on Saturn? The scariest thing (to a lousy multi-tasker like me), is that it doesn’t feel like a phase. I look into the future and all I see is more of the same. When did Life turn into this giant hamster-wheel??
I know time-management is the key…whatever you may think, I’m not an idiot! But lets face facts here…I suck at it! I do! Being a ‘go-with-the-flow’ kind of person has it’s advantages but one of the biggest cons is that I suck at planning and sticking to schedules. I generally let my interests of the moment consume me to the point where I’m neglecting important but boring stuff, like helping Ishaan with his homework (although in principle, I don’t think toddlers should even have homework!), doing groceries, deciding menus (ugh!!), doing laundry, collecting laundry, returning calls and the like. Unfortunately, this level of involvement doesn’t affect my fondness for food, enhancing it instead to humongous proportions! There goes that particular weight-loss mantra 😛 No, what bothers me now, is that in all of this constant running around, the tables have turned and I haven’t even noticed! Suddenly I’m swamped in the mundane and it’s leaving me no time to do the things that keep me from losing my mind…writing, reading, taking pictures, having fun, breathing!!
But it isn’t just the physical activity that’s draining. The frenetic brain-buzz’s the real killer! There are many changes happening and innumerable decisions to be made…it’s causing serious brain-drain. It seems these days as if I’m always weighing pros and cons, considering alternatives, anticipating problems and researching solutions…whew! Who would have imagined ‘thinking’ is one of the most exhausting activities there is! Most days I live in a kind of fugue, moving from one thought to the other, one task to another, mechanically. Something’s gotta give! This is not a state of mind I want to be in for long, as you may well imagine. Who would?
Prioritize…that’s the key, but I find that easier to do with chores and the physical stuff than thoughts. Have you tried it? It’s much more difficult, given that, thoughts don’t obey any rules, popping in and out of the mind with irritating nonchalance! It demands an extraordinary amount of discipline and a steely resolve, none of which I seem able to drum up right now. So forgive & forget if this post irritates you as much as it’s irritating me right now! I’m just trying to write myself back into…writing. Trying to build up the discipline and gather the steely resolve, bit by bit, one post at a time. This post has been in my head for a while now, jostling for space with a million others, and I’ve only just managed to get it on paper, in short bursts of free time, over the last couple of days. It’s been frustrating, but I’ve got it done. I know I must find time (somewhere, somehow), to write at least 3 posts a week or suffer insanity. I think I can. I know I must.
I recently read Aatish Taseer’s, Stranger to History – a fascinating account of a son’s quest to understand his father through his religion, Islam. What interested me most were the author’s concepts of ‘Cultural’ versus ‘Traditional’ or ‘Historical’ Islam, which he uses effectively to describe his simultaneous affection for & disconnect from, a religion that’s as new to him as his famous Pakistani father. Estranged from his father before the age of two, he was brought up without any specific religion, by his Indian Sikh mother and grandparents in Delhi. His only sense of being ‘Muslim’ came largely from the fact that traditionally on the sub-continent, children follow their father’s religion. He is thought of as Muslim and largely accepted as such in the Muslim world (although not without doubts & questioning as we learn in due course), because his father is one. And there in lies his dilemma.
What does being a follower of Islam really mean? Is it a dynamic state of being that changes in historical & cultural context or is it a static constant determined simply by the accident of birth, that remains unchanged & unmoved by circumstance? Is being a Muslim more important than being a citizen? What does being part of the global Muslim ethos really mean in the 21st century? Do Muslims everywhere believe in a uniform Islam? Should they? Do they aspire to the same freedoms? Is there a place for those that believe differently within the community? These are the questions he sets out to answer, in hopes of gaining insight into his life and his father’s, and he does so by traveling through a major chunk of the Islamic world over land, from Turkey, through Syria, The Kingdom (Saudi Arabia) and birthplace of Islam, Iran and finally to Pakistan and his father’s house. Along the way, he finds some answers and more questions and his thorny reunion (if it can be called that), with his father who is at best distant, difficult and a slave to his political compulsions, doesn’t make for a happy ending, just a real one.
Through his journey I learned a lot about Islam & the Prophet – how it began, the initial struggles, its eventual spread and its inherent uniqueness in offering a set of written rules for practically every part of life, including paying taxes, which I find fascinating, if a little overwhelming! I identified with the author’s feeling of camaraderie toward what he terms ‘Cultural’ Islam. He uses the term to loosely refer to the Faith that allows him to wear a religious thread around one wrist & the Sikh ‘kada’ on the other; allows his father to be a Muslim while enjoying a drink; and encourages Hindus and Muslims to pray together at certain shrines across the sub-continent, without comprising their Faith or identities.
This book hit a nerve, mostly because a lot of the questions Taseer asks of himself, his father and of Islam are similar to the ones I’ve been asking myself lately. My context though is not religion but culture. Questions about what it means to be a Goan living in Goa and yet feeling disconnected and rootless. It’s not a new feeling. I’ve felt this way ever since I was old enough to think about stuff like this! I couldn’t wait to leave Goa fast enough, way back when, and the first chance I got, I did. I thought then, it was a combination of the usual emotions that makes people restless – a desire to escape the past and a belief that the grass is greener elsewhere! And for the most part it was. I did want to get away – from my parents mostly and be independent, master of my own fate, an adventurer! I stayed away for 14 years, and can honestly say that if it were not for family, would have been happy never to visit! (I can almost see the shock and disbelief on the faces of my Goan friends!). The thought of coming back to Goa to settle down therefore, you can imagine, was tantamount to suicide in my book! Scary, awkward and painful, more so coz it was a choice we made.
This August, it’ll be two years since we moved back to Goa and while some things are easier, others are not. It’s the not that worries me. There seems to be a Goan sensibility that everyone is a part of but me! And it’s not to do with the fish-loving either (although I will never quite understand that!). It runs deeper. I don’t fit in. My views and opinions on almost everything from politics to people seem at odds with everyone else. My Mom says it’s coz I’ve lived away for so long, but that’s not really true coz I felt disconnected when I was in my teens, only then I blamed it on hormones & teenage angst! Where does it stem from, this reluctance to become part of what seems a happy Goan collective? Not from my family that’s for sure, they’re model citizens and cannot imagine a better fate than living & dying in Goa! Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve never felt truly at home anywhere, except for the years I lived in Bombay, coz I’m a city girl at heart and Bombay offers anonymity & privacy, which I prize fiercely. Blending into the background – that’s me. And yet sometimes that frightens and disappoints me. What does it say about a person, when all they want is to be left alone to live their life in peace, free from judgments and expectations? I always thought there was nothing wrong with that, but moving back to Goa, brought stuff back into sharp perspective.
It’s a cultural thing. Or is it? You tell me. One is expected to do the right thing, be strong for one’s children, for one’s parents, be willing on occasion to sacrifice individuality for the sake of societal acceptance and the greater good (whatever that may be). And while one is being advised on how to do all of the above, the underlying hypocrisy is revealed. I see that rules and principles are broken and bent at will, if the rewards are big enough…usually monetary. That rules do not in fact apply to all, only to those who do not have the means to get around them. That corruption has come to mean ‘being practical’ and that ‘being practical’ is an accepted way of life. All of this and more scares me. The insistence on trivial religious practices and superstitions simply because it’s been the done thing for centuries. The desire to conform, to not be the one who rocks the proverbial ‘boat’, to accept the unacceptable out of fear or worse nonchalance. Wouldn’t it scare you? And the scariest thing of all – knowing for a fact that even though you can fight against the system, you can’t ever win, coz to do that requires unity and these days unity is like a rare metal…precious & scarce. This is not the way of life I want for my son.
But not everything that bothers me culturally is earth-shattering and system-related. I can be petty! Or not! I like people to be punctual and the Goan lack of respect for time, drives me crazy. ‘I’ll be there in 10 minutes’, is best interpreted as ‘I’ll be there when I feel like. Don’t wait up!’ I have lost count of the number of times I’ve called up people after days to remind them of an appointment they didn’t bother to keep nor cancel. “Couldn’t you just call and say you couldn’t make it?” I ask, only to be met with sheepish excuses or more often, awkward silence. (It’s been two weeks since we called the guy to service our ‘Inverter’, a contraption that gives us electricity during Goa’s infamous power outages!) It gets my goat more than anything else, especially when I hear people bragging about Goa being such a paradise to live in…beaches need cleaning people and tourists need facilities, and as far as I know self-cleaning sand and self-developing infrastructure have not yet been invented! And don’t even get me started on driving and Goan drivers…complete disregard for every traffic rule combined with supreme confidence & pride, in the ability to get out of every scrape through political connections, and a healthy dose of road-rage especially when caught in the act, best describes it!! Compared to these, the penchant for gold displays and a tendency to equate over-the-top with ‘good’ taste, seems inconsequential. I know you agree!
When I complain about this, most Goans answer me with this completely inscrutable and to me unacceptable defense, ‘It’s a matter of time. You’ll get used to it. Things work differently here in Goa.’ They say it in a rather superior, irritably smug kind of way that excludes me from some secret formula they are in on! “Get used to what?” I ask. To unprofessional behavior and lackadaisical attitude? To the tattered state of infra-structure which results in random power outages and water shortages & an Internet connection slower than a turtle? “What if I don’t want to?” I persist. They look at me sadly amused, again with a secret knowledge that I will eventually surrender to this way of life coz what else is there? I don’t know what it is that makes me so unforgiving of their presumptions. They all seem happy, successful and at peace with their assimilation. And yet here I am, struggling to hold on to my individuality and the things I believe in, against all odds. And no, I do not think that sandy beaches, great cocktails, the famous Goan ‘susegaad’ lifestyle, and the fish (especially not that!), make up for all the stuff that bothers me. Coz I ain’t living on no beach!
Regardless of the rant, I don’t hate Goa or Goans 😛 (Hah! You don’t believe me! Don’t blame you ;-)) It’s just that sometimes it feels like you have to love fish, gold and land (the Holy Trio!), to fit in and I couldn’t care less about all three! So where does that leave me? Bemused and bewildered! Perhaps that’s why I identified with Taseer’s dilemma. I have a Goan pedigree. Indeed, in my case, there are no doubting Thomases! Why would there be? I’m born to Goan parents with impeccable pedigree, married into another family with equally impressive credentials and belong in a sense to the Goan Hindu elite. But that is the key isn’t it…everything says I belong except my own sense of disconnect. For the most part, I make the right noises now in public. “Yes, Goa is beautiful” I say, (No problem there!) 🙂 “Where else could I possibly want to live!” (Anywhere but here comes to mind! No matter what Goans think, Goa is not the first and last beautiful place in the world!). I don’t blame for thinking that though coz they hate to travel and the thought that any place comes close to Goa is sacrilege. Perhaps it’s easy for them to feel that way, coz to them Goa is home!
Sometimes I think people can sense the charade, smell my underlying discontent. Perhaps that’s where the real problem lies, in people defining me within set parameters, trying to fit me into their idea of what a Goan should look like and behave. Or perhaps it’s me, trying to fit in, knowing I never will and not really wanting to, that leads to the stress. Or perhaps it’s the original small-town ethos, that made me so happy to leave all those years ago. A place where everyone knows (or thinks they know), who you are, is free with unsolicited often bad advice, and where attempts to assert one’s individuality are often met with stubborn resistance and narrow-mindedness. That’s the Goa I left, and in many ways the Goa I returned to remains unchanged. Perhaps that’s what scares me more than anything…the resistance to change and even scarier, the inability to consider that some change might be for the better and that in the long run, all change is inevitable!
I guess what I’m wondering is, how long does it take to feel like you’re no longer a stranger to your own culture? And all I can say for now is…as long as it does.
There…now you know why I like to call myself Crazy Goan Girl 😛
p.s. For those of you still awake after reading this post…read the book 🙂
Munira, this poem is dedicated to you, coz it came to me after our conversation yesterday 🙂 It’s a thought that repeats itself to me ever so often, in the midst of the busy days and overwhelming events that threaten to run riot. Silence IS truly golden. Essential, life-saving, energizing and rejuvenating! We could all use a bit of quiet in our lives, nah?
So here goes! It’s the first time I’ve abandoned rhyme and not been disgusted with the result 😛 Hope you like 🙂
Silence is Golden
Buzzing like bees in my head,
A million thoughts,
Like scrambled eggs and mindless static,
Bubbling white-hot, in molten frenzy.
Amidst the chaos, a slippery thread…
Slim & tenuous…of sanity.
My own personal SOS to the cosmos.
Help it signals, Listen…
Help me unscramble, cool and simplify
Breathe, it says. A voice or is it just sound?
Inhale! And I do.
Deeply, without reserve, with confidence.
As if my breath were a cleansing breeze,
A luminous zephyr piercing the dark.
At first, Nothing.
No sudden bursts of clarity,
No jagged bolts of enlightenment,
Again. Breathe. Deeper, with abandon.
Watch. Wait. Surrender.
A slow shimmer on the horizon,
Dream or reality?
A gradual glimmer of hope,
Illusion or fact?
The beginnings of a magical dawn? Perhaps.
Watch. Wait. Surrender.
Yes! Yes, I do believe!
Silence. Golden. Peace.
Munira is a fellow Sagittarian & a sensitive, talented, witty writer! In the words of Anne, ‘A Kindred Spirit’ 🙂 She lives in Karachi, Pakistan and offers a slice of her life and times through her blog Munira’s Bubble. I love her tag line – Have fingers, Will Type! Enough said. Do check her out at the link above 🙂
On the 4th of this month, my parents completed 44 years of married life. We had a quiet celebration at home, just us, which was what they wanted.
What with Hubby and me completing 19 and their 44th, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage in general and my parent’s relationship in particular. I’ve been around for 42 of the 44 years they’ve been together, and I can safely say that their relationship is as mysterious to me today as it was when I was younger…perhaps mysterious is not the right word, perhaps enigma is a better one (Yes, I know they mean the same thing, but enigma is just so much more sophisticated!). Marriage is such an intimate relationship between two people, that it’s impossible really for anyone else to understand it’s mechanics. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s been that nowhere are the old adages, ‘Appearances are Deceptive’ & “Still Waters Run Deep’, more true than in the context of marriage. I’ve seen (and I’m sure you have to) seemingly happy couples who are on the verge of separation, seemingly happy couples where either one or both partners are having affairs, obviously unhappy couples who can’t seem to let go, couples who let go only to reunite, and thankfully, obviously happy couples who are just that – happy!! But you get my meaning…anything is possible.
I’m no relationship expert and the only reason I think I know my parents’ marriage is coz I’ve had an awfully long time and many opportunities over the years in which to observe them at close quarters. And still the key word here is ‘think’! They had a traditional arranged marriage as was custom at that time. There’s a funny story there. My Mom went along with her uncles to meet my Dad who had come with his friend. The friend had played match-maker and is Dad’s oldest friend to this day 🙂 My Granny, had given my Mom, instructions on proper conduct at the meeting! “Don’t talk too much! Don’t talk at all unless you have to! You can have a look at the boy but DO NOT make it obvious! Just do as your uncles say!” and more advice along the same lines. My Mom has always been a shy, reserved person and I imagine an occasion like this one would only serve to make her more so! She tried to steal glances at the boy she had been told would make her a good husband. She had seen a picture at home. Back home, my Granny asked her what she thought of the boy and my Mom with her trademark stoicism, said he seemed alright, but that she was surprised at how different he looked from his picture and he wore rather thick glasses which were also absent in the picture. My Granny was a little surprised and took up the matter with her brothers, who said No! The boy didn’t wear glasses and was very smart-looking and a worthy match. His married friend however did wear glasses and apparently that’s who my Mom had given the once over!!! Every time I hear this story, it makes me laugh 😀
They made a handsome couple 🙂 He was dapper and she was beautiful and they were both blessed with a rare generosity of spirit. To this day, they never hesitate to help a stranger in need. Indeed, it’s a habit that has often cost them dear and that makes me equal parts annoyed and proud! Theirs is a traditional marriage – my Dad is most definitely the ‘Head’ of the household and has the last say in most everything. My Mom defers to his judgment and opinions in almost everything. And yet she has perfected the art of getting her way and still making Dad think it was his decision, in the manner of all seasoned wives 😛 I live and learn 😉 My Dad’s love for us children is rather legendary in the family 🙂 His stern demeanor effectively hides the fact that he is the world’s biggest softie!! I cannot remember ever being told ‘No’ as a child and it’s a miracle I’m not a spoilt brat! I’m not! (You’ll just have to take my word for it!). My Mom often speaks of how my Dad has always put us kids first, not enviously, coz I think she did it too (it’s what parents do right?), but wistfully, I sometimes think, and I can’t say I blame her.
I think (or maybe it suits me to think), that the most idyllic years of my childhood, were also the best years of their marriage. Dad had been transferred to Japan and we spent a happy six years there in the seventies 🙂 I still get teary-eyed when I reminisce about those golden years, when life seemed so simple and happiness just a cartoon away!! We socialized, traveled, had picnics and did all the things a young family does! It’s no wonder Japan has a special place in my heart 🙂 My parents though, Dad especially, never had any intentions of settling down in a country other than their own and so we were back in Bombay and then to Goa which is their birthplace and which is where their dream of building a home for the family was realized 🙂 This is also when our family split up for the first time and that’s how it’s been since, except for short periods during which we were all together. My Dad was transferred back to Bombay and we stayed behind, my brother and me with Mom, because I wanted to be a doctor and admission into Medical College required 5 years domiciliary proof in the state of application. My parents did what most parents would do (or so I console myself), and decided to live apart for my sake, a fact that never fails to make me feel guilty and sad to this day. Now that I’ve been married so long, I know how terribly hard that must have been for them. Yet despite the distance, I like to think we were still happy. My brother was born in 1980 and for a few years after that, we were still the perfect, picture postcard family, epitomizing the ‘Hum Do, Hamare Do’ policy of the then Indian government! Could we have known then the turn things would take? Was it Nature’s great balancing act? Having given us great happiness, was she now showing us the dark side? The evil eye perhaps? I used to think a lot about why our life changed so dramatically, when I was younger and it made me angry and frustrated. Not any more. Age has some advantages…wisdom and acceptance among them.
And so, my turbulent teenage years mirrored the turbulence in my parents’ marriage. My brother being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, was the turning point and much as I would like to say otherwise, it was all downhill from there for many years. Even when we were able to finally accept and rally as a family, there was no going back. Life changed irrevocably and finally, and nothing was ever the same again. I was twelve and I cannot remember being more scared than I was then. I saw the ugly side of marriage then, as my parents went through stages of denial to acceptance and settled down into a permanent grief that hasn’t left them completely even now, two years after my brother passed on. It never will. I watched them, tense, as they battled both inner demons and external monsters in an attempt to make sense of it all as their hitherto perfect world crumbled all around them. My Dad was always angry and bitter and my Mom retreated into her shell, resigned, finding solace in religious rituals and hundreds of Gods. I wish I could say that I was understanding and helpful and didn’t cause them additional pain. I can’t and I’m not proud. My only excuse is my age and the fact that my world imploded too, although I tried hard to pretend nothing had changed.
It was as I said, an ugly time. I grew up then, quicker than I would have otherwise. I realized that my parents were human beings after all (not Gods on a pedestal), fragile ones at that, capable of being hurtful and destructive, and of shattering like so much glass. It’s a hard lesson to learn about parents, to discover that they are not the perfect, all-conquering heroes that one has idolized and venerated through childhood, but human beings like everyone else, vulnerable, trying to do the best they can and capable of failure. With help from family and God’s grace, we got through those turbulent times and yet many things changed forever, as they are wont to do after major upheavals. I’ve always felt my parents have carried their guilt with them ever since. They always blamed themselves for my brother and dedicated their lives wholly to his care. Everything else took back seat and that included their own relationship. And again, despite the surrounding debris, there were happy times 🙂 Dad was transferred to Singapore and much to my delight, my brother had the same experience I had in Japan 🙂 He went to a fabulous school, traveled, partied and had a ball!! I’m so very glad he did, coz he always referred to that period as his ‘golden time’!
I got married at 23, when my parents were still in Singapore. The year I got married, they celebrated 25 years of togetherness and there were grand celebrations with most of the family who had come to the wedding 🙂 It was a happy time, if bittersweet, coz I left home to make my own life and it took me away from Goa and later from India. I visited home as often as I could and yet often my visits resulted only in increased stress for my Mom in particular. I have been a difficult daughter at best (still am), and the empathy and compassion that come so easily for others, desert me when it comes to my parents, especially my Mom. I don’t really even know why. Perhaps it’s residual feelings of anger and guilt from my teenage years, when I craved attention and didn’t get it. Perhaps it’s me being judgmental (which I’m not with anyone else), about the way they cared for my brother and the fact that they ignored everything, most of all themselves, occasionally to the point of illness. Or perhaps it’s just the disconnect that I feel from having lived my own life and being apart so long. I like that third option, makes me feel less guilty and evil. I always relied on my brother who acted as a buffer between my parents and me during these visits!
Over the years, Dad has mellowed and Mom, well she’s mellowed too I guess, in her own way. In the two years since my brother passed away, they have come to rely on each other again and I think they are gentler with each other now, more forgiving. They revel in Ishaan’s company and he brings them the kind of joy that only children can – innocent, pure and magical. They see my brother in him and it’s no surprise, given how Ishaan has inherited his uncle’s love and talent for cricket! They are not the kind of people who discuss their feelings or relationship. Being reserved and conservative, they have definite ideas about what children need and don’t need to know and that’s not likely to change. Their marriage has survived 44 years of Life, and when I think that they hardly knew each other when they made their commitment, it blows me away!! The kind of dedication, compromise, understanding, perseverance and sheer gumption it takes to make it through all these years with their sanity still intact takes my breath away. I have in them an excellent example of how to celebrate the good times and make a relationship work through the worst crises. What daughter could ask for more?
I am so very, very proud to be known as their daughter and I do hope in my own small way, I can make them proud too. (As I type I can hear them both saying “You Have! You Have!”)
Freedom has been on my mind more often this last year than at any other time in my life. Probably ‘coz I feel the lack of it – acutely and painfully, ever since we moved back to live with my parents (I know!) and I became a new Mom – two hugely freedom-sucking events! There are times when I regret both, times when I accept that this is just what I need at the moment, times when I convince myself, ever so fleetingly that this is just a temporary situation. Then there are times when I’m in such sweet denial that all is well with the world; others, when I think eloping with self is the only way to stay sane, when I can’t stand the family, can’t stand myself and can’t stand myself for not being able to love and need the family like ‘normal’, ‘good’ people should. To show you that I’m not a complete people-hating ogre – there are times when I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I like large, open spaces – physically, mentally and spiritually. I cannot stand being caged in, whether by wooden fences or absurd expectations. I’ve been independent in thought and spirit for too long to allow myself to be penned in now. And yet, breaking the shackles of ties that bind and love that suffocates is proving to be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Don’t think I’ll ever get it done to be honest. Assertion within family is tough to do – emotional minefields are everywhere and one mis-step can ruin a lifetime of trust and loving. I’ve trampled my fair share of hearts and egos, and the only reason I’m still loved, I gather, is because families are like that – they love and hate, but rarely like. Well, mine’s like that. I love them, deeply from a distance and painfully when near, one of the reasons, my relationship with my Mom was so much better when all we had were weekly long distance phone calls!
Now that we live together, things are different – very different. And to add color, my Granny stays with us, my Mom’s Mom, so we have a definite hierarchy going here and no prizes for guessing who’s at the bottom of this particular ladder 😉 But strangely or perhaps not so strange, my Mom and Gran think they’ve got the worst deal! It could be because I’m short-tempered and impatient and can get real loud and aggressive if I think that’ll help me get my way! It could be because, I’m the intruder into their hitherto safe haven, where they were reigning queens and have managed to upset their carefully balanced apple-cart of housework and daily routine, with my impossible & impractical (or so they say) suggestions for change and betterment. “Who does she think she is? Waltzing in here and thinking she has all the answers and can do everything better?” I can see the thoughts in their heads! Do I learn? Sigh…oh well, all’s fair in love and war 😉 When I was younger and wet behind the ears, I always wondered, why whoever coined that phrase, imagined that love and war would have anything in common. Hah! Now I know!
My Granny is 84, extremely loud and deaf, and uses her high-pitched shrieking (I take after her :P) with devastating effectiveness on my Mom, who as the only soft-spoken one in our little trio, is always at the receiving end of one of our outbursts. Poor Mom! But she’s an ‘enabler’ if ever I saw one. She’s always trying to keep the peace and make the whole world (which in her case is her family) happy, which I’ve tried to tell her is impossible. You know what they say about keeping all of the people happy at all times? Can’t be done and a waste of time to try! Does she listen? Duh! In the process we’re either walking on egg-shells around each other or impersonating screaming banshees (That’s the third time I’ve used that particular phrase to describe us! This is getting serious.). It scares me, ‘coz I’ve begun to believe, this is how it’ll always be (which of course it will, if I don’t do something about it), days of uneasy peace and politeness, followed by edgy days with a definite ‘calm before the storm’ feel, if you get what I mean.
And yet…where else can I find not one, not two but three human beings willing to sacrifice everything and anything to put a smile on my face? Do you see, why I said this was a losing battle? I struggle with wanting what’s best for them (which ideally they should get to decide) and wanting what’s best for me and sometimes it’s difficult to reconcile to the fact that the two are so different. I mean, there’s plenty of love here, maybe too much, maybe it’s getting in the way…my hubby certainly thinks so!
He keeps telling me to stop thinking for them and let them do their own thing, however silly and laborious their attempts may seem to me. I hate admitting he’s right, I do! But he is! I know! I need to learn to let go, to allow them their own space, knowing how fiercely I protect mine. I understand that perfectly in my head and on paper, just not so easily in my heart, especially when I see them cling to old time-consuming routines and energy-sapping superstition; insist on ancient ways of doing things that can now be accomplished by the click of a switch; spend every living moment in the kitchen, and think nothing’s wrong!! If only they would occasionally meet me half-way or even a couple of steps down the road, things would be a lot easier. A lot this, is me trying hard not to disappoint them, ‘coz they’re not easy to please. They would disagree, but I’ve always known my parents to egg me on to do better, without really making a big deal of my successes (which admittedly have been few and far between). I know they’re proud of me, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it once in a while. But there you are, that’s just how the family is, praise is confused with vanity and the good stuff remains unsaid. I should know, I’m no different! But with the arrival of my son, I’m trying hard to be the change I want to see. It’s tough!
I’m making a start of sorts, starting with Mom. Her birthday’s coming up and I’ve made plans for a lunch together (Just the two of us! Can you feel me tremble?!), followed by a manicure and pedicure, and a surprise party at home with a few close relatives. If we don’t strangle each other, I’m planning on making this mother-daughter thing, a regular event, one tiny step at a time 🙂 Heaven knows we both need to find a way to be free with ourselves!
It’s been a long time coming!
p. s. With 15th August fast approaching, freedom and all things freedom-related are on the menu! These are my thoughts. I thought I would start with what I know first – family. Part II on country follows shortly.
This year is different…it’s happy-sad, the mood sombre, the festivities low-key…
There’s a darkness in my heart, that no amount of light can fill, the emptiness my brother left behind…this is the first Diwali at home in Goa without him and nothing is the same…
Yes I’ve sent out Diwali greetings to friends and family and yes we took Ishaan to Margao (it’s his first Diwali) and yes on the surface of it all, we had a good Diwali…but…but…such a killer this but! Although Ishaan has brought me great joy, it doesn’t lessen the pain of my brother’s loss…how can it? They are two different people, both unique, both precious but one irrevocably lost…
Monday is ‘Bhaubiz’, a day that celebrates the brother-sister bond. I don’t dare think about it. Have taken the easy way out and will be going to my niece’s so Ishaan can celebrate his first ‘Bhaubiz’ and I can busy myself with him, hoping the joy he brings will drown my sorrow…but…but…there’s that but again…
I knew it would be this way, I’m not an idiot. Was just living in denial for as long as I could…not long enough…not long enough…
Feeling a bit better after the yesterday’s rant…nothing’s changed of course, but have managed to hang on to my silence and have tried to be civil, when I can’t avoid speaking. I can tell you straight off, it isn’t going down too well with the rest – but do I care? Not at the moment, no! Just enjoying being in my spaced out zone for a while. We’re all entitled to that privilege every once in a while, right?
Am looking forward to leaving for Bombay this Sunday – get back to civilization, buy books, eat chinese, have interesting conversations…just chill 🙂
This post is just a rant…it’s not what I do on a regular basis publicly…vent I mean, I save that for my hubby, usually…but I just feel out of sorts today…one of those days, when nothing seems right, everything irritates and everyone is out to get you – or so you think!
Let me begin with what I think is a fact of life – certainly in my life experience – “There’s nothing scarier than 3 generations of women in the same kitchen!” It’s a sure fire recipe for disaster!! The fact that it’s your Mom or your Gran makes it worse not easier. Is it just me, or is it truly easier to forgive and forget strangers? People who pass through your life, leave an imprint or not, bring happiness or not, change your life’s course…or not. I’ve always considered myself to be a rational, non-prejudiced, non-judgmental kind of person – and yet when it comes to family – every rational thought goes straight through the window! For the life of me I can’t figure out why!
Why can I tolerate irritating friends but not an irritating Mom, a frustrating job but not a frustrating Gran, difficult help but not a difficult Dad? Don’t tell me you haven’t felt this way or thought about it…if you haven’t – you’re a saint and more power to you! Share your secret ‘coz I’m at my wits end!! Truly!!
So there it is – out in the open – I love my family but don’t like them an awful lot of the time. I never understood how important ‘like’ is! In my opinion – it’s crucial – much more important than love. Or maybe it’s the proverbial ‘Generation Gap’ ‘coz I live with a 65 year old, a 70 yr old and an 84 yr old, (I’m 40 – no baby myself!) all of whom are constantly telling me, how they have more life experience and therefore are ALWAYS right, no matter what the subject under discussion! A corollary to this statement is often – ‘We’re old, so we can’t change, you’ll just have to learn to forgive and forget what we say. We don’t really mean it anyway!”, which is code for “Shut Up and lump it!”
And yet after years of the same fights and arguments over and over – I cannot seem to stop making the same mistakes. The only way I know how is to be silent – if I say nothing, nothing will break! Right? Not! Silence as a rule, makes it all worse – ‘coz then they’re on my back about how I’m not normal (read – like them), how I’m so irritable (inherited – from them), and when all else fails, the tried and tested emotional blackmail card – played to perfection, every time, victory assured – “Can’t you just forget what we said ‘coz we’re old and how long do we have! Do whatever you want then!” I’m waiting to be ‘old’, whenever or whatever that is, ‘coz when your old, everything you say or do is automatically right and you can always play the ‘I’m old, forgive me, I know not what I say!!’ card, until the good Lord himself takes it away!
We’re different – like chalk and cheese are different, like cat and mice are different. We do everything differently – eat, drink, dress, sleep and think, most of all think differently – about people, about life, and very often we have nothing to say to each other, except cold words and sharp insults. Was it always like this? I think it was – just that when I was younger, they were younger and we each hid our feelings better. It’s makes me sad and yes I want it to end, but at the moment I don’t care. I’m tired and exhausted from trying to make changes for the better when all they want is to stew in the same routine – though that’s not what they say. “Oh no!”, they keep saying, “we want to make the change, of course we do! Just don’t expect it overnight.” “Fair enough – not a problem,” I say. Just that I’ve heard this line for 10 years now…how long does one need to change habits? Forever, my guess….but to be fair, what I think is better for them, may not be – and yet somehow I doubt that.
So, we all carry on, squabbling most of the time over trivial issues, maintaining an uneasy truce during the good times and me trying to be as silent as possible (mostly failing miserably – hence the post!)…after all they say ‘Silence is golden’, and when all is said and done – Family matters…right?
I wrote this a while ago but couldn’t think of a title until recently. It came to me when I realized that I was thinking of the bond between my brother and my Mom – unique, special & unbreakable. They were so dependent on each other, their lives so entwined that it seemed sometimes like they existed in a universe all their own, unreachable to the rest of us ‘mere mortals’. They always seemed perfectly in sync with each other, something I’ve never felt with my Mom – you know how it is between mothers & daughters!
And so I guess, this is my ode to their relationship of mutual compassion, nurturing and love…
He found her waiting for him, one misty winter morn, She sat silent beside him, in the slowly waking dawn. He thought she felt familiar, like an old and trusted friend, Her eyes shone kind and gentle, her presence a godsend.
“Who are you?” he ventured, “Have I seen you before?” “Why do you seem so lonely? Tell me,” he implored.
She smiled at him and said, at once both sweet and sad, “I have this longing in my heart, I think I always had. My story is the same as yours, for I am but your shadow, I feel all that your heart does, your dreams, your joys, your sorrow.”
Gazing into those wise brown eyes, twin windows to her soul, What he witnessed, deep within, shook him to his core. He saw in them his loneliness, his darkest thoughts and fears, Rage and guilt and tears he saw, piercing liquid spears.
Stunned, he dropped his eyes to earth, shielded from her gaze, He wondered how she would survive, the awful burden of his fate.
She looked at him once more, with her wry and tender smile, “I carry all your weight,” she said, “so you may rest awhile. So give me all your troubles, your worries and regrets, Let me smooth away your pain & ease your tortured breath.”
In her honeyed voice, she sang to him, he gave in to her plea, The best thing he ever did, was lay his head upon her knee, He gave in to deep slumber, as she softly stroked his face. And found his peace in dreamless sleep, grace in hallowed space.
Come morning, when he awoke, to a world awash in dew, Together they rose, Mother and Son, refreshed, alive, renewed.