I was born in the South of India and after passing through School & College became educated enough to work in my first Job in the South as well, not too far away from Home — a Village near Salem, Tamil Nadu, where my family tilled the land for a living, cultivating sugarcane, tapioca and rice.
During the holidays it was customary, almost mandatory, to visit Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Grandfathers and Grandmothers living in the vicinity: the near, the not-so-distant and the quite far-away relatives, all in the family blood line. Of course, you made friends with the in-betweens and either carried them along life’s journey or simply allowed them to fade away from your memory, depending on the weak or strong bonds you built.
While studying in Boarding School, in the 1970’s, I used to come Home only twice a year: a short fifteen-day ‘Half-Yearly Holiday’- it was called, and a long three-month Annual Holiday — at the end of the academic year. Looking back, I spent a great deal of time, of these Holidays, with relatives who I never got to meet otherwise. Visiting Temples, to pray to the Gods to help me pass my Exams — mostly on a well arranged offer, was as important an event as was attending Weddings in the family, or riding in a bullock-cart, tractor-trailer or motorbike, or bicycle to see a movie running ‘in the nearby Town’. Beyond this, during such visits, I was almost always entertained with good food: sweets or quickly prepared savories, or freshly cut chicken meat, considering the fact that being in Boarding School, it was assumed that I was always short of ‘filling’ food. Further, I wore that half-starved, bone-showing skinny look and relatives took it upon themselves to feed me — ‘Kumar, you need to put on flesh to hide your bones’, was a popular comment.
When I grew older, I kept up the visits but the time spent on such outings grew shorter as I had lot many things to do, other than go visiting. Meanwhile, I graduated from University on an engineering degree and started working on a full-time Job.
I then evolved to the stage of being a ‘suitable boy’ to get married (arranged) and when I did marry, in 1991, my wife’s side of family & relatives joined the ever-growing ‘Bandwagon of People to Visit’. The post-marriage travelling, on the family-visiting Highway was treacherous, with too many speed-breaker drop-ins, stop & see signals and cross-road way-finding. Then suddenly, the complaints started filing in, ‘you no longer visit us; you have become a big guy; you have forgotten us, you run behind your wife seeing her side far more often’… By now, we had a new-born addition to our own family — my son — and as he grew-up we dutifully dragged him to the many visits on my side and my wife’s side in equal measure, whenever we visited Home, and thus introduced him to the world of family visiting.
Over time, it had to happen, the son started protesting, ‘Dad, do we have to go visiting all these people every time we go Home — as if they were some kind of monuments and museum pieces. Why cannot we go on a true sight-seeing holiday (instead of a people-seeing one)?’ I scratched my fading hairline for answers, which were mostly ‘low noise grunts’, a chuckle, or a vague shrug of the shoulders. He made a point, and gradually the visits started dwindling, reaching staccato levels.
Years rolled by, during which time I travelled to the West and North of India — even abroad — for work and a better life. After more than a decade of the Northern lights, a new job brought me back to the South, and eventually on losing this job — near the age of retirement — I found myself among the bloodline family & relatives, in true flesh and blood at Salem in a House I had thoughtfully bought, while in the North! Visiting Hours were beginning to be counted!
Old habits die hard, and my wife and I began with yet another, ‘Hey! I’m back’ visit — only this time we’ll be sticking around permanently, in the neighborhood. We hoped to reap the fruits of our cultivated visits over the years. But it was not to be!
My wife & I started a garment manufacturing business in the near-abandoned palatial House of my wife’s Parents — where lived a ghost of a mother-in-law, with nobody (her son choosing to live separately) around, following the death of my father-in-law. Meanwhile, my son, fearing the worst (of being sucked into endless Visiting) had already left abroad for Higher Studies and later found work in London.
We made a reasonably good start to Visiting, but it turned sour, when my wife — fully educated and vibrant about the laws of the land — demanded her rightful, equal, lawful share of her late Dad’s Estate. The bloodline yelled, ‘how dare she ask: everything belongs to her only brother — the son, not the married-off daughter’ — never mind the law! (It’s an ass, isn’t it?) I suggested a one-to-one brother-sister talk in the presence of the widowed mother, to sort things out. But then, ‘what are we there for?’ shouted the bloodline. After months of livewire simmering tension, during which time the blood-flow almost turned-off, a deal was struck based on an offer made by the brother and a broad agreement found acceptance. Signatures hit the dotted lines and words were frozen on judicial stamp paper! The brother-sister talk never happened and turned into a cold war, of sorts, with silence pervading every space between them & us!
While all this was happening on the outside, my until then non-working homemaker wife and I, found ourselves facing each other full-time for the first time, on the inside: without an outside job on my hands, and more on her hands! She was the Designer and I became the car-driver, book-keeper, errand-boy, and got my self a fancy title of… CEO-Operations! Facing each other the whole day brought many skeletons tumbling out: you speak too loudly; you are too forthright & blunt; you snore — I just cannot sleep; you bang the doors too hard — my ear drums are shattered…the list goes on. Of course, to keep up the faith, she says I am a damn good guy, I smiled…but! We play the Tom & Jerry game and get along frighteningly well: I stick to being myself — others are taken! It worked for over 20 years of being together but sometimes it does get awfully challenging!
Meanwhile, going deeper inside, my Dad and I never had a Father-Son relationship, in the true sense. He just provided the money — albeit, with out much hesitation but often with a stern look on his face — and beyond this there was no other bonding. It was left to Mom to make-up with the love and keep our special relationship on top gear — caught though she was, in-between a to-depend-hubby and a very independent son. My visits called for a farm chicken to be chased and cut down for a meal and my car boot filled up bananas and coconuts, off the farm; otherwise, Dad just looks the other way when I drop it and grumbles that I don’t stay long enough to understand his misery (working on the farm). Our conversations are the scarcest ever — much like drops of water in an endless desert: maybe we used to talk much more, when I was farther up in the North.
It’s winter now, and the warmth of family and bloodlines have vanished, turning awfully cold. No visits at all either way: we ostracized each other — despite not having drawn long daggers or spilt first blood. I counted the visits we had made to all these people — when we were living in the North — and it was way above, vertically — with many branches, without a single horizontal visit by the nearby Family. Does the count matter? Is it a, I-come, you-come relationship? Why then do we have families at all, I wondered!
Looking back, I realized that that there is so much hypocrisy in our relationships: the fake smiles, the anchorless talk, great expectations, the high-brow attitude, mundane conversations (How’s the weather; did it rain in your place; where are you working; and the unashamed, how much salary do you get?) Genuine conversations have vanished and the best I ever have is with the many friends I made at the various places I’ve lived. Sometimes, I get into a scintillating conversation, with a complete stranger — never to be seen again — and they give me the warmth to face the cold days! If I were to choose between Family and Friends, I would chose the later, for sure!
With the year 2016 drawing to an end I find myself in my own island, with so many broken relationships all around and have decided to mend, nurture and build on those that truly matter to me in 2017 and in the upcoming years. Perhaps it’s for a reason that I’ve broken so much, so that I can find my own peace!