For years visiting home during summer and winter breaks seemed to be a lot of tasks. Reason? My parents’ dependency on me for getting their stuff fixed. The demands varied from setting up online banking to sending out bulk emails. Every time I visited them, I had to teach them from scratch and yet during the next visit, I would find out that they have forgotten those lessons again. But in the last few months, during the lockdown, things changed. My father as well as my father-in-law have become pro at using Zoom. They even got a paid subscription so that they can take online classes. And I am impressed and amazed. Of course, teaching is their profession and passion that has pushed them to finally learn technology and its usage, and now they are Aatmanirbhar. But, how many times do we assume that our parents being old won’t change their habits and thoughts and leave them as they are? This incident got me thinking.
One fine evening I was chatting with my parents while strolling in the park. I mentioned to them about meeting an old friend. The first question that came from the other side was, “When is she getting married. She’s really old now.” To say that I was annoyed, would have been an understatement. Here I am writing volumes of books on feminism, equality, choices etc and my own parents are behaving like typical aunties and uncles. But I held my dissent. I calmed myself and told them instead how well my friend is doing in her life and how happy she is. “wo sab to theek hai but shaadi to zaruri hoti hai. Uske mummy papa ko kitni chinta hoti hogi.” (Marriage is important. Her parents must have been worried). I again tried explaining them how people nowadays are driven by their personal goals and questioning other about their choices would only make us a part of the problem. I reminded them of the times when we are at the receiving end and how painful it is. If half an hour long lecture was enough to change their mindset, is a million-dollar question. But I am glad I was able to articulate it clearly that it’s an unhealthy practice to judge others’ life based on your scale.
And suddenly it struck me- the memes and jokes about the distant relatives, our neighborhood aunties, and uncles, who make our life hell. Those are actually about our parents! They are the uncles and aunties. By cracking jokes on them, we successfully manage to distance ourselves from the issues but in reality, the problems exist within our own families. So what should we do? Just accept the harsh reality and disown them? They never did that to us. So why should we?
I always find it funny and melodramatic when I have to tell my parents- “Aapka zamaana kuch aur tha” (Your generation behaved differently). However, it is true, unfortunately. When I look at my parents’ life when they were my age, it seems so different. It was as if they grew old in their twenties only. My father’s life was limited to the office. His friend circle consisted of colleagues only. His morning walk destination was the nearest grocery shop. His only me-time activity was to watch a movie on Doordarshan on Sundays at 4 pm. My mother hardly had any life. Her routine was wake up-home chores- handling kids-sleep-repeat. It wasn’t because they didn’t like doing any stuff. Whatever little creativity I have, I owe it to my parents. My father loved writing poems during college and my mother was an expert in art and craft. But somewhere they had internalized the fact that after marriage, family is the only important thing. Unlike us, they didn’t have any influencers in their life to look up to. This was the only life they knew.
Imagine meeting a stranger in an event or on the train. Our conversation could go anywhere, in any direction. What books do you love? What type of music do you enjoy? What are the causes you support? Can you suggest me an app to plan my finances well? Thanks to the information overload we have, we meet people and we vomit data. I remember train journeys during my childhood. The conversation between families had a set pattern.
Hello, my name is _____________. This is my wife and __________ kids.
I work at ________________________________
How many kids do you have?
(If the kid is young) Which school do you send your kid to? What are your future plans for him/her?
(If the kid is older) is he/she working? Has she/he got married? How many kids does he/she have?
And by the time journeys got over, the two families had discussed the entire Ramayan of their clan and the entire Mahabharat of Indian politics. That’s our parents’ life in brief. They have held the value of relationship and society very close to their hearts for a very long time. They are the perpetrators as well as the victims of society. We as the younger generation often refuse to be a part of this culture and get irritated. But for them, it’s the key to a good life. I have experienced this strange thing that happens to me every time I visit my village. Some old lady or man, distant relative or acquaintance only, who I have not met in the last 10-20 years, holds me and cries bitterly, singing some ancient song about longing and yearning. It’s then I realize- beyond the layers and masks of taunts, frustration, gossips, etc is hidden, the innocent love for fellow humans and community.
Does it mean that we should just let them be? Just accept their intrusion even if it ruins our inner peace and mental health? No, but we need to give them some time and support for realigning themselves to the new world. They already have to make hard choices- between staying home or staying close to children. Sometimes they have to become the punching bags for us when we blame their parenting style for our shortcomings. The fact remains that no one is perfect and knows it all. When we were kids, our world was limited to families and friends. Our parents knew more than us so they taught us how to survive. Similarly, our parents have been left behind in the fast-changing world and now it’s our turn to teach them. Three years ago, when I shared with my parents that I was suffering from depression, my dad asked me to read Bhagavad Gita and assured me that I would be fine and visiting doctors and therapists is futile. It took only three more months for them to understand what depression actually meant. My mother read about it in books and magazines to understand it in-depth and gave me a kilometer long list of do’s and dont’s, like a typical mother. So, the bottom line is we need to identify the uncles and aunties in our parents and grandparents and engage them in constructive debate and convince them not to become the nosy neighbors in someone’s life. However simple it sounds on paper, it’s an awkward conversation but let’s discuss that next time. May God bestow us with a lot of patience!