All these years I have been trying to figure out why people who run away from home come to me in the first place. At first I gloated over the belief that in me youngsters recognised a fellow rebel. Then I realised it was for a more practical reason: I never turned them back. My first runaway was a teenaged girl, normally a very quiet, thoughtful girl. My husband and I had just finished breakfast when there was a timid knock on the front door. “I have run away from home,” said the girl defiantly. “Good,” said my husband. “Have you brought your toothbrush?” The girl nodded. “You’re doing fine, come in,” he said. And then the whole tale came out.
Her mother had been unreasonably harsh. I must clarify at this point that it is always nagging mothers who make children run away from home. Dads are always understanding and forgiving. The girl’s father having made a short list of likely shelters, guessed right about us. Of course, he was understanding. So after two hours of coffee and ice-cream, the girl went home with Dad.
The second runaway was a teenaged boy. I was then living in a barsati in Golf Links. I was reading Kafka in bed, when there was a loud thumping on the front door at midnight. “As you know, my mother is a monster!” he screamed, “I have left home for good.” “Come in,” I said soothingly, “Have a glass of cold water.” He went on to elaborate how foul a monster his mother was. “It’s a cool night. Why don’t you take this mattress and sleep on the terrace?” I said. After having made sure he was asleep, I rang up his mother and said he would be back next day. And so he was.
My last runaway was more complicated. A charming 23, his parents were convinced that one day he would go to the dogs. Why? Because although he left home at 9 am for his high-level corporate office, his parents wanted him back by 9 pm to join them for dinner. Joining friends after work was out of the question. After they had rung me up many times to check if he was with me and having a drink and I replied tersely, “He is not here and I am not having a drink... Your son is old enough to look after himself. Why don’t you leave his dinner in a hot case? He can let himself in with a duplicate key.” My formula did not impress them.
Soon I got a call from the young man. “Can I come and stay with you ?” “Certainly,” I replied, “I’ll get the second bedroom ready.” “I’ve told my parents I have taken a room in Karol Bagh, so promise you won’t tell them.” I promised. But within 10 minutes his sister rang up. “Don’t bother. I am also leaving home with him. We’ll find a place in Karol Bagh.” Leaving the siblings to sort it out, I am happy to say his parents at last accepted my formula. But in this case both parents were nagging, possessive monsters.