Don’t Take Your Parents For Granted
Before the idols, incense sticks and diya of our small home temple, three portraits hang. They are of my Nani, Nanu and Dadu. My maternal grandma, maternal grandpa and paternal grandpa who’ve now left for heaven. One morning I sat looking at their solemn yet humane portraits — I noticed they resembled Mama and Papa. My memories of them are fond but fewer than I’d like; scant and dimming.
In a spontaneous moment of speech-feeling, I got up to stand level to their frozen eyes.
‘I never fully knew you, but I know your children. And I know you shaped them into the people they are. They bring so much grace into my life — and for it I’m eternally grateful to you.’
Later that night, I asked Mama to recollect some of her memories with Nani. As she related her clearest anecdotes, I realised my mother did the very thing Nani did on festivals to this day.
‘No matter our budget that week, your Nani always celebrated festivals with spirit. She rose at dawn to cook something special, and engaged all four of us in puja tasks around the house.’
As she spoke, a thought came to me. Mama was recollecting the stories of a mother, who now only existed in her heart and memories. I realised I may do the same one day for my own daughter. And in that moment, you need to take a little control of your inner response, or else, you’d make it a miserable thought. You’d be hurt and shove it under the carpet; tell yourself to stop thinking it.
I needed to look at this real truth, and respond to it with grateful wonder for life’s circle instead. Above all I realised that I just couldn’t take my mother’s presence around me for granted.
The value of being around a loved one
One afternoon I sat down to eat lunch with my parents.
‘Are you sure you can take the time?’ Papa mocked. ‘Have you finished all your writing?’ Okay, so there’s some truth in that.
Comfy silences exist with the people you’re comfortable around. But if you’re not careful, you can forget to wonder and converse with them.
I sat pondering for a while, then thought of something.
‘What are our birth stories? Do you remember the days me and Bhai (bro) were born?’
Now I went full-flown Sherlock mode, throwing interview questions at my bemused parents. They looked up from their plates in surprise.
‘Of course we do. It’s like a whole reel’s worth of memories in here,’ said Mama indulgently, tapping her head.
‘The first night you were strong enough to sleep with me, the the nurses who took care of you came at our bedside wailing, ‘Oh our baby! Where’s our baby?’ You were so small and frail that I slept shivering without a blanket that whole night. I was afraid you’d quietly choke under the blanket as I slept, and I’d never realise.’
Papa was more humorous.
‘There was this huge motherly dark nurse carrying you in her arms. You were as small as a mountain rat, a preterm baby, and they only let me see you for a minute before rushing you to the incubator.’
‘And you were this size.’ He opened his palm and tapped a finger on his forearm. ‘Small enough to fit into my palm. I couldn’t believe it, because holding your own child for the first time, of course, is a overwhelming new emotion.’
For all his jokes about my mountain rat size, Papa was kinda a big crybaby the first time he held his firstborn son in the hospital.
‘I was still in Army uniform, and pacing the corridor that night half terrified I’d fall sleep. It was your Nani who first cradled and brought Bhai out.’
‘I saw him. He had such bright eyes. The brightest, sharpest gaze I’d ever seen in a baby.’
‘It was like he was looking directly at you, through you.’ Mama nodded.
‘They were Bapu’s eyes,’ said Papa, mentioning his grandfather. ‘I went home and told Dadu that his first grandchild, has his father’s eyes.’
As I sat listening, I felt absorbed like a wonder-child at the people who remembered me before I remembered myself. They told me of my unknowing courage and death defying recoveries. They’ve known me for for 16 years. People who’ve nurtured and protected, done more for me than I could ever imagine.
And it was such a gift, I realised. To be around people like these.
Family means love, trust and going through everything together. It is with the people who know us best, that the most fulfilling and fruitful conversations blossom. But we need to remember to more often, make them that way.
My mother has always said this to me and my elder brother:
‘I can’t ever choose between both of you. It’s like asking me to choose between my right and left eye.’
Papa, later said this to me when we’d sat down this week and we’d been talking about the first novel journey I’m on right now. ‘I thought of telling you this,’ he said. You can write it down, baccha.’ (Child)
‘For as long as you live, you will never find a better friend than me. Remember that. You’ll never find a better friend.’
When you’re a teenager who takes her mother for granted…
‘You’re not talking to me these days,’ Mama quipped at me one evening.
She has a great sense of humour, but I could sense the genuine indignation and worry behind her words.
‘You’re a teen growing up. And I know you’re so good, I know you. But I feel like I don’t know this teen who’s growing up.’ Even now, she was hovering around my desk as I wrote.
‘I don’t know the books you read, the people you watch and listen to. You don’t tell me! How can we live like boarders in the same house? We’re living in two different worlds.’
Teenagers, myself included, often grow irritated and file away such sentences as the run-of-the-mill parental emotional blackmail. But somewhere inside, it pricked me. I needed to ask myself if it was true.
Thus I did it the way I discover most inner truths — I picked up my pen and a journal. Scribbling to myself, I hit upon a breakthrough and realised all the signs pointed my way.
It was honest truth that whenever she came to speak to me, I was distracted in a ‘please buzz off, I’m writing!’ way. When I wasn’t finished, I let the food she made go cold for hours. Every time she passed me, I ended up asking her to get me food or a glass of water. Even this liner was a biggie:
‘Could you turn the fan off?’
The fan, mind you, was three freakin’ steps away.
Ah — the cringe is strong in this one.
If I hadn’t shared before, I’d try and share teenage-hood with Mama now.
I realised how stupidly oblivious I’d been this whole while — kinda a moronic douchebag. I’d put her on hold, took her goodness and words for granted. The irony was, I loved her so much. Dang it.
The thing is, I already love her. It’s just time to listen and pay attention to her now. Respect her.
Isn’t that what love really means?