By Nisha Susan
This piece is the first in our new series, Family Drama.
Many years ago, all the girls I knew were at war with their parents. Our parents wanted us to attend CAT coaching, IIT-JEE classes, take a nice photo for a boy who was finishing his MD in Manipal, lose weight, comb our hair and come home at 4 in the afternoon. The girls I knew sometimes, occasionally wanted to go to CAT coaching, IIT-JEE classes, take a nice photo for a boy, lose weight and comb their hair only so that they could get away from their parents. None of them wanted to come home, at 4 pm or otherwise. Their nice, fond parents had slowly, was it that slowly, in the span of a couple years, gone bananas. If I close my eyes I can hear the daily soundtrack of non-stop rage cycles.
Then we all got away. We got jobs, moved towns, met men and women we wanted to be with. We shared homes, fought with landlords, broke up with lovers, divorced husbands, got promotions, got fired, left the country. Some of us discovered that it wasn’t bad periods, it was endometriosis, it was PCOS, it was cancer. Some of us discovered we needed therapy, avoided going for years, went sporadically. Some of us started keeping vrats.
For all of us, parents receded into the background. We were in the warm, giggling embrace of our busy cities, our bustling villages, our long days and short years. We were slowly growing fond of our parents. We were beginning to tell jokes about those fights. Imagine my parents thought I would become an engineer! Imagine my parents thought I couldn’t become an engineer. Imagine that guy that my parents thought I was going to run away with. Imagine the kind of things my parents used to say about Muslims, Christians, Dalits, women, gay people. Imagine the things I used to say. Imagine who we were all back then.
What we didn’t imagine was what would happen next.
We came home. This happened in complicated ways. Some of us returned to our hometowns. Some of us moved back in with our parents. Some of our parents moved in with us. Because it was cheaper. Because it was simpler. Because it was nice for our kids to have grandparents. Because we had finally convinced everyone that we were never having kids. Because some of our parents chose early retirement and were excited about having a life without transfers. Because some of our parents were broke. Because one day your father saw your grandmother in distress, started the car to drive her to hospital and had a mild heart attack even before he left the gate.
All the girls I know are at war with their parents, again. Their nice, fond parents had slowly, was it that slowly, in the span of a couple years, gone bananas. TV is louder in our homes than it ever was when we were 15, except that we are the ones gritting our teeth and saying rude things about the volume and what is being watched. Our parents are obsessed with WhatsApp and annoyed by Twitter. We, the exact opposite while also making hesitant moves (simultaneously sheepish and crab-like) towards Snapchat. Our parents would like us to spend less on meals out, send our kids to tuitions, not send our kids to tuitions because we are too hard on our kids, lose weight, drink less, learn to drive, stop driving. In many cases, we would like our parents to lose weight, drink less and for god’s sake, stop driving.
In the last year or two, these are things women friends have reported their parents as saying: You should be ashamed for not doing as well as Sundar Pichai. I don’t want your money. When are you coming home? The neighbour has a bigger job than you and she comes home on time. You only want my money. Of course, your chicken curry tastes so much better than mine because you put so much salt and ghee in yours. Of course, your husband has no respect for you. Of course, no one has any respect for you. Of course, you have no self-respect.
I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the daily soundtrack of non-stop rage cycles. Doors are slammed. Meals are missed or eaten in bedrooms. WhatsApp groups are exited.
How did we get here? We are heading back to therapy. We are thinking of therapy. We are avoiding therapy.
But the one unexpected bonus, the only bonus, about this new war is its bad, black comedy. Back in the first war, we were too young to have a sense of humour. Now you can somehow find amusement in your mother shouting, how dare you lecture me, I knew you when you liked to play with your own shit. Your father saying: your uncle said that I have the best daughter in the whole family and for the first time in my life I had to lie to my brother. Your mother shouting through your 20s about saving money and then plunging you in the biggest financial crisis of your life. Finding your father’s porn on the desktop. Watching astonished for the first time as your mother tells your father to shove it. And then later telling you grumpily, “It must be your influence.”
Here we are again, plunged in war, and this time we are here for the jokes.