What they don’t tell you about parents is that the clock is always ticking, says Charles Assisi
‘It is always a hard point to negotiate. How much of your life do you claim, and how much do you dedicate to the people who have loved and raised you?’Updated: Nov 20, 2020, 19:06 IST
Now that I’m in my 40s and have the benefit of hindsight, I can say with sureness that my parents were fundamentally peaceful people who let me be. Soon after I landed my first job, I put it to them that I’d like to move out. Perhaps they were heartbroken. I guess that’s how all parents must feel at such a time. But they didn’t make a fuss.
I had my reasons. The workplace insisted I keep late nights. There were also friends to hang out with, parties to go to, and other pleasures of life with which to engage. I thought it unlikely my folks would be comfortable with these changes all at once. I thought a little distance would help me craft the life I wanted without causing concern or consternation. All in all, I figured I needed my own place.
Dad threw a googly and suggested I stay put. He and mum would move, he said, to their home in south India, in the town where they grew up and first met.
“You’ll visit us once in a while, won’t you,” Dad asked, amid the chaos of their leaving. I was too overjoyed at my newfound independence to pay attention.
On the blue moons, I would visit. I noticed they had settled into a gentle rhythm — they went on early-morning walks with friends, had breakfasts out, and the occasional lunch. Afternoon siestas were the norm. All of it looked like a terribly slow way of life to my fast and furious eyes.
There were evening routines as well. They had movies to watch and the news to discuss in animated tones. Every once a while they’d try to include me, but I thought their conversations far too sepia-tinted. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, back to where I belonged. Life was happening elsewhere.
Their systems for dealing with the everyday business of life felt exasperating too. Agents of all kinds trooped in to complete tasks I thought of as no-brainers — paying utility bills, updating software. Offers to show them how to do it all online were resisted firmly. Often, arguments would follow.
Looking back, I think that in trying to make them more independent, perhaps I was trying to assuage the twinges of guilt I felt. I could see how much assistance they needed and this is always a hard point to negotiate, isn’t it — how much of your life do you claim as your own, and how much do you dedicate to the people who have loved and raised you?
Back in my own home, every once a while, I would think of my visits and the care with which they cooked the food just as I liked it; how lovingly fresh towels were placed in the bathroom that I used; how I could drop off to sleep with the lights on and invariably wake up tucked in where I was, a nightlamp left on to guide me to my bed. I could go on and on. They were thoughtful in ways that I would never be.
It’s strange how the cycle repeats itself. I’ve been talking, lately, to people around the age I was then. So many have been compelled to move back with their parents after being laid off or suffering pay cuts. Freedom is expensive, and when you can work from anywhere, it makes no sense to still pay rent in a metro when a warm bed awaits you in your hometown.
It’s not an easy transition to make. Abhishek, an entrepreneur in his early 30s, moved back to Hyderabad from Mumbai and appreciates how his parents bend over backwards to accommodate him, without a fuss. What is also obvious to him is that they have a life of their own. They miss that life as much as he misses the one he’s left behind in Mumbai.
Once upon a time he wanted to move out because he thought they’d intrude upon his life, he said to me. Now he thinks of himself as an intruder who has had to knock on their door because he doesn’t have a choice. There is so much love on both sides, but it’s hard on both sides too.
If I could offer a suggestion to the young people chafing at the change, it would be this: if you love your parents, and they love you, count yourselves lucky for this time.
When Dad was dying, I pleaded silently every day. I would have given anything for more time, but what I really wanted was to turn back the clock. So I could hug him more often, go on more walks, thank him for always taking me to get the new Amar Chitra Katha when it came out.
So I could return to that moment when we were both so much younger and answer him when he said, “You’ll visit us once in a while, won’t you?”