The New Normal 6.0: This is what it looks like
“When you had finally gotten so close to him as to understand what he desired”
“Oh, India lost the match in the last over! I am feeling so depressed!”
“She is fuming and ranting at her juniors since her transfer order came out. She is having a panic attack for sure.”
You heard such exclamations for as long as you could remember. Usually you would smile and avoid or, if you are impacted, react to ensure a behavioural correction from the person exclaiming.
Then life happens! You understand that clinical depression leads to 12–14 hours of sleep. Sadness on the other hand is much gentle. Panic attack heightens the sense of hearing. Ticking of a wall clock sounds explosive under its influence. Throat is parched, thumbs twitch involuntarily, pitch of speech gets shrill or silence engulfs the soul.
The symptoms become familiar to you. It’s not anger, not frustration, not something that may keep someone expressive yet functional. You learn how to guard yourself when the person closest to you exhibits such behaviour. Like they announce on the aircraft, you protect yourself before proceeding to protect the affected person.
You didn’t always know this. You brought gifts for the birthdays,but you never asked what he expected. You thought you knew best. You were sure the gifts would improve his knowledge. Your thought was always, always…
“If I would have liked it as a child or a teenager, so should he.”
So, you got him a Physics toolkit on his 12th birthday. He told later, much later, on a day of extreme polarity, that he was expecting Bumblebee, the Transformer toy. He was sure that you will get him a Beyblade, an advanced one, on his 10th when you brought him a navy blue T-shirt. He never said these things then, for he thought it would hurt your feelings. May be, he believed that you knew what was best for him.
He was wrong. So were you. Physics toolkit was never opened. The navy blue T-shirt lost its colour after a couple of washes. Those gifts never mattered to him. He lost precious days of abundant joy. You realise now, you never knew what’s best.
Even though he qualified with success for the coaching class for engineering preparation, what never occurred to you was to ask him whether he wanted to join it. There was nothing to ask. Every kid on the block was appearing for the test to join that premium coaching class and all you thought was why should my child be left behind.
It was routine, regular and conventional for the students to consider the altar of engineering as their divine destination. He was very good in biology. But all the bright ones take Computer Science as an additional subject, isn’t it? Soon he was coding to boredom.
You could never really put your finger on what put him off this track. Was it the parroting teachers who read from the same yellow pages year on year and explained the same maths in a monotone? Was it his new found love towards the amazing world of comics, cartoons and games? Was it his psycho-somatic weakness that did not allow him to concentrate and strain for long hours? After all, it is so essential for condensing the information contained in the thick books into a teenage mind.
You would never know, nor would he ever understand.
The drift happened within a couple of months of joining the coaching classes but you noticed it much later. He had become the master of disguise by then. When he confessed his dislike for the classes, for the courses and for the education system altogether, it was quite late. You could only hope for miracles and pray after that.
In the meanwhile, his 18th birthday arrived. You had learnt your lesson and despite all your wishes to pamper him on his adulthood, you decided to keep it a low key affair. You thought it is wiser to let him ask for what he wants. You didn’t know that he was past asking for a gift, or asking for anything for that matter.
His mother thought it apt to buy an embroidered black shirt for him. She liked it so much in the showroom that by extension, she thought he would like it as well.
He had locked his door after dinner on the eve of his birthday. Both of you kept knocking the door taking turns when the clock struck twelve. He didn’t respond. It was not unusual but your hopefulness made you believe it would be different that day.
He hadn’t opened his door till you left for office the next day. Your heart felt as heavy as a lead box, but you knew forcing him out of his room won’t help.
His mother missed the point, like mothers do, their logical minds getting clouded by the love for their children. You came to know that, when you saw shredded pieces of that beautiful black shirt and a loving mother’s face swollen from crying. He was forced out of his room on repeated requests and offered the gift. He screamed when he saw the gift, pushed his mother away and shredded the shirt into pieces with his bare hands.
“No gifts, don’t you understand, no gifts!” was his battle cry.
On another birthday, when you had finally gotten so close to him as to understand what he desired and gave him that gift, he was happy. In that moment you very carefully asked him,
“Why had you shredded that shirt? Ma bought it with so much love!”
He responded late, in staccato.
“I always thought that on my eighteenth birthday, I will get some superpower. Like Peter Parker, or Barry Allen, or T’Challa.”
He smiled in penance.
“I waited behind the closed doors. Nothing happened, Baba. I was so angry with myself. Then Ma showed me that black shirt. It was not the costume I wished I wore”, he gesticulated to indicate bursting of his mind, “I went pfff…”.