In between our mothers and fathers lies us.
We set out to be our own people. And then there comes a moment – maybe quickly, maybe in our middle age, maybe later – when we turn around and think, “I have become my parents.” However much we may try to insulate ourselves, it is true that we are turning into our parents in strange and insidious ways. In our ways of looking at the world. Ourselves. In our ways of being happy, sad and everything in between. In our ways of living and loving. That’s the treachery of inheritance. Research says that 32 is the age when it usually happens. I am way past that, so I am sure I am a huge blob of dichotomy by now. Albeit a happy one.
When we were kids, Sunday mornings were about dosas. Actually, every other day was about dosas, but Sundays was when we could have them leisurely, all crisp and brown, ghee-roasted and paper- thin. My mother would be in the kitchen, doling them out one after the other, keeping up with the collective appetites of three kids. As we crunched on the ghee-roasted crispiness, we would bellow requests to the kitchen. “Make the next one light brown, not dark brown” Or “Don’t fold the next one please, I want to fold it.” Sometimes, our neighbours would smell the dosas and step in uninvited. I often wondered how my mother kept pace, since I am sure we ate faster than she made them, despite having two tavas on. Very often, by the time we were done eating, the batter would be over, and my mother would be seen eating the ‘rejected’ or ‘burnt’ ones. I would ask her why she hadn’t ensured there was enough for her and she would say, “When you children eat, I feel like I have eaten.”
When I became a mother, I realised this was the biggest load of bullshit ever. That if mothers have martydom written on them, it is their own doing. Perhaps that’s why mothers are more scarred by parenthood than fathers are. They start putting themselves on the back burner and some never reemerge.
I started baking after Re was born. Whenever I made a batch of cookies, I ate the crumbs and gave him the best pieces. I felt like my mother, although she never ate what she baked. A few weeks ago, a friend came visiting and got me mawa cakes from Kayani’s. Re staked his claim to them. I was a bit despondent, because sometimes, you want your treats to yourself. When it was down to one, I asked him if we could share it. He refused and proceeded to eat it all by himself. Once he was done with the exciting brown top half, he handed it back to me saying, “Okay, you can have it.” I felt cheated. The next time mawa cakes came to the house, I kept three aside for myself and ate them all alone. It felt good.
I remember my years of singledom in my cute little apartment that I always loved coming back to, shopping for produce, planning meals, deciding what I wanted to eat.
“How can you cook for just one person?” they would ask. It was as though doing things just for the pleasure of it was an indulgence.
My father gave us a childhood full of journeys, never mind if some of them never made it to the destinations. Our means were limited, but our hearts were full and our lungs always had more oxygen than they could handle. He got off platforms and missed trains, he forgot to confirm reservations, he made us ride back from Dhanolti to Dehradun on a truck laden with peas, as we missed the only bus for the day (we ate a lot of peas on that ride). He spelt wanderlust.
At 74, my father left home to pursue his dream of becoming a farmer. When he showed up at the ration office to get himself a separate ration card, he was reprimanded for abandoning his family and leaving his wife in her old age. He waited all his life for his ‘someday’, but when he exercised his option, he was written off.
I exercised mine much earlier. And almost in the tradition of my father, I was abandoning the known for the unknown. Leaving something I could do in my sleep to doing something I had no clue how to. Like my mother, there is frugality even in my dreaming. But like my father, I take my chances and there is method in my madness. He is still the young-at-heart, living-life-to-the-fullest guy. My mother is still the one who worries for all of us. I am somewhere in between, the worrier and the liver in equal measure. I think they did good.
We all need to claim our crusts back. We need to stop eating crumbs and broken cookies and demand the whole brownie. We all need a place in the world we don’t have to share with anyone – children, parents, siblings or spouse – to find the essence of us.
My father called me a few weeks ago and asked me,”How’s life?” He was at his farm, I was on my hill. “I heard about your new adventure,” he said. “It must be so thrilling!” Yes, I said. When I am I seeing you? “Let me finish my harvest. I will hop on a bus and come there. We can share stories of our adventures,” he said.
I can’t wait to.
This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on September 15, 2014