Normal is boring

I realise that the reason I have trouble saying No, is because I didn’t hear it much when I was growing up (take a moment to crack your jokes about entitlement). My parents rarely said no to the Mad Sibling or me, and neither was it said to our friends, or theirs. Which meant we constantly had people in our home doing things that were highly inconvenient to us. Early risers would walk in before we’d got out of bed, latecomers would watch us float around with our toothbrushes in our mouths. And this was a joint family. Grandparents, old uncles and aunts come home to die, cousins we were local guardians to, and a surprising number of refugees – Sri Lankan, Palestinian, all sorts. You never knew who you’d bump into in the next room.
We learnt to step around camp beds, speak in whispers if some bed-ridden oldie had just fallen asleep, share one kg of chicken across 30 people and be grateful for the gravy, and to get dressed in the bathroom!
And we learnt to study in the midst of chaos. It’s a wonder we passed our exams at all. If I had a friend over and was blasting Chura ke Dil mera, the sibling would bow his head over his book and block me out. If he had a break and was strumming away, trying to get some Satriani bit just right, with friends, I added my tuppence and kept studying.

The year of my 12th boards, we were sometimes 12-14 of us studying in my room. I recall a friend lying under my bed and studying for his accounts paper, while trying to teach me.
This was my normal, and I was shocked to learn that most people didn’t live like this.
I swore that my kids would have a regular normal home unlike the madhouse I grew up in. And there would be times for friends to come and go. Except that the first time I was tested and the doorbell rang, I opened it, saw a hopeful child waiting there, and opened my mouth to say, ‘Brat is studying, beta’, but strangely the words that came out were, “Come in, darling!” I knew right then, I was incapable of anything else. 
Now both my kids do their homework each evening on Skype with their father who lives in another country. I don’t know when they have exams, I don’t know what their homework is. They scan the chapter and send it to him. He reads it, writes questions and mails them back. Then they study over Skype while chatting with him about their day.
This evening the Brat has a friend over, and they’re supposedly studying for a physics paper. Except that this child is a year younger, so the Brat is ‘teaching’ him his physics lesson when he should be studying. The father called on Skype and I steeled myself for chaos. But now all three of them are chatting online and discussing the chapter. We have a new normal in this household. One where we have a houseful, and the OA often on Skype joining the conversation!
I wonder what my kids will seek to change.

Chaddi solidarity

Thought long and hard before writing this one and finally said, what the heck, let’s overshare as usual.
I noticed over the last few days that the ten year old daughter had begun to wear shorts under a short-ish dress. She’s outgrown it, but it’s a thin, cool, comfortable cotton slip – perfect for these awful summers.
I wondered if it was an attack of modesty and asked her about it. It seems her 12 year old brother had been teasing her about the dress flying up and her undies being on show. I let it pass without interfering in the sibling relationship, until I realised she was wearing it everyday, and that it could no longer be dismissed as a joke or a sibling thing.
My son is being raised by a mother who thinks hijabs and veils, and the policing of women’s bodies and chastity culture are the devil’s own idea (smash the patriarchy, yo!), so this is just unacceptable.
A casual chat with him and I realised he didn’t actually have a real issue, and wasn’t playing protective, patriarchal elder brother. He’s actually more of a feminist than his sister. He was simply playing annoying sibling. Very pleased to have found something to annoy his sister about.
It wasn’t his attitude I was worried about, it was hers. I didn’t want her to lose the safe space of home, covering up even when there was just family around. Choosing modesty over comfort.
So I did the only thing I could. I took off my jeans, and sat down by her side. Just. Chaddi solidarity, sistah. The son gaped. The daughter began to giggle.
I swim with them, so they’re used to seeing me in swimwear, which is much less clothing than the tee shirt and undies I was in. It wasn’t the sight of undies that was supposed to horrify him. It was the reminder that mama is also a girl, and she feels hot too, and has every right to be comfortable in her own home without anyone commenting on it, even as a joke.
The maid who realised what was happening, was in splits. The daughter smiled widely, and took off her shorts. And the son conceded that it was unfair to tease someone and make them self conscious, specially in a world where women are constantly being told to cover up to make others feel comfortable. That it might be a joke in this case, but in the real world, society and men, force women to cover up.
In case you feel strongly about how traumatised he might be, I’ll send you my bank account number. You can donate some money towards his therapy at a later stage.

The Leader of the Band

I often forget what my parents give me, just by their very presence, just by living their lives the way they do. And while I often thank ma for her never say die spirit and her unconscious living of her life as a feminist, I don’t say thank you to my dad often enough.
I grew up slamming doors at and with dad. I inherited his volatile temper, his love for music, plants, decor, politics, ability to forgive fast, love of socialising, thinning hair, and hearty laugh.
Today I carried his luggage out to the cab and he patted me on the head with a – I have a few more years to go before you have to do that, sweetheart – bringing tears to my eyes.
And this is what he left me with this afternoon – a song from his youth, introduced to my brother and me, over WhatsApp (something we introduced him to!), a day ago.
The give and take is endless, but parents always give more than they receive. I didn’t pay enough attention to the song when he played it for me, and now as I sit in my empty living room and play it over and over again, I am reminded anew that you’re never too old to be introduced to something by your parents. And it’s never too late to be grateful for them.
Enjoy the song – and you can thank him, not me. Funnily, he was reminded of his dad, the thatha I never knew, when he sat there listening to it.

// The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band. //

The fledgling

Academic question. Not at all personal. *koff koff*
In fact, I’m asking for a friend.
At which point does one cut the cord and stop missing one’s parents?

Years ago I would sob every time I left for college and my parents spoke to one of my professors about it. He was very nice about it and told them an anecdote about how the eagle keeps removing the feathers it lines its nest with, until the nest becomes too uncomfortable for the fledgling to stay.
My parents are failures clearly, because it’s been twenty years and they’ve only made the bloody nest more comfortable. Of course it is all their fault – raising their child to be dependent and dysfunctional when she is not within an 800 km range of them.

I have a couple of plans in mind now

  1. Act increasingly nasty when I next see my parents, forcing them to fight with me, vitiate the environment progressively so that by the end we’re all happy to see the back of each other.
  2. Be nasty to my kids starting today so that they hate me. This nips the issue in the bud and they don’t end up being miserable babies at the grand old age of 37. This whole business of being a good parent is overrated and misunderstood. You must raise them to hate you so that they don’t miss you too much.

If you have other ways to handle this mess, please give your solutions in the comments box. The winning comment will get – oh, I don’t know. Tear-free evenings?

Goodbye, Carmen

CarmenCarmen left our home today (January 14th). It’s rather aptly a cold, grey, rainy morning as she leaves our home, taking all light and color with her. Why is she called Carmen? Not because she’s a gypsy at heart. That would be too obvious. She was christened Carmen because she’s a car, men! Simple.

She joined the family a few days after the Bean joined the family. The OA had booked her and sold our other car and we’d been waiting for more than a month. I went in to hospital cursing him for the bad timing. He wanted a red Verna ‘because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford a red Ferrari’. Hyundai didn’t have enough orders for a red Verna to paint up a batch so we kept waiting.

The day the doc declared me fit to leave hospital, we took a cab home and I insisted on going straight to the dealership. I did a dharna there with a 3-day old Bean in my arms (explains so much about her!) and refused to leave until they gave us our car. When I opened my shirt to nurse her, junta cleared the showroom double quick and begged the OA, ‘Please take ma’am home, we’ll get you a red Verna asap.’

Carmen arrived a few days later. She was worth the wait.

From some of the highest motorable paths to forced off-roading, her gypsy soul took her places few sedans go. Cousin K and I learnt to drive on her and she showed us how a fantastic turning radius can change your driving experience and save others’ lives! And once in a while I’d take her out of the Gurgaon traffic and on to the Faridabad highway and let her stretch her long legs, the wind in my hair, just two slightly reckless girls having fun.

As she left this morning I ran out to see her come out of the garage and turn the corner to the exit gate. Low slung, shiny, soundless, she glides like a model on a ramp. I grinned through my tears – in her head, she thinks she’s a red Ferrari.

Have a good life, Carmen.