Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A birthday just went by..

I turned a year older today ..well, it neither made front page news, nor was I thronged with bouquets and brickbats.I was simply overwhelmed by the wishes from various people - virtual and real, ex bosses and ex colleagues, travellers and bloggers, family and friends , classmates I had not seen for many years and people I had known for less than a year..

My maid looked at me at 12 pm and asked me - " Madam, how come you are looking so fresh ? " She is so used to seeing me in my bed clothes that she probably must have wondered if it was a new year resolution to wake up early and have a bath..I muttered something about a birthday and she was all excited demanding for a cake and rushing to the balcony and returning with a small pink flower..I was touched and promptly ordered for cakes for her children..Nevertheless, I wondered about all the good people out there who took time to wish me by phone and the internet.

I also realized that I had reached an age when my mother had my brother . I was a gawky teenager then and was excited at the prospect of a young baby at home.Today I dont have kids, but somehow that thought doesnt affect me. I also thought about my mother who was in a different generation, learning to cope with a teenager like me and a baby boy at home. We were in transition then. We had just moved from a joint family to an individual home, but that hardly made a difference in retrospect. It simply meant that we could eat my mother's cooking instead of the old cook's saltless food . It also meant that my mother did not have to rush and ensure a cup of curds is kept aside for me, much to the chagrin of her inlaws. It also meant that she didnt have to "help" the cook who was my grandmother's buddy as a dutiful daughter in law and we could eat an extra chapathi or a serving of rice without asking for permission.

We were still living in individual houses in Madras , in a large compound - under the watchful eye of my late grandfather, the family patriarch who controlled among many things our freedom. My mother was gently balancing the politics of a joint family and her own disappointments at not being able to fulfil her music career . Her life was not just ruled by us and her inlaws, but my grand aunts and uncles and their many many children . She managed us- my father's slowly failing health and my brother , who was just a baby and me, a growing rebel. We were so preoccupied by our lives that I hardly remember her falling sick or talking about her insecurities.

Somewhere in her life was me, a growing rebel, whom she had groomed to be a first ranker in academics , but who was learning to look at life beyond books. I was learning to discover my own emotions and form opinions of people. I was vulnerable, but a rebel alright. I rejected everything and refused to conform. I wanted independence and loads of it. We had no phones then and needed our grandfather's permission to use the main line at home. My mother used to take me on long bus rides to see her parents, very often being denied the car at home which would have gone to pick up one of my uncles or drop my cousin at school. If she complained, I didnt pay attention then.

Initially there were just two houses in a compound. Then two became three and later four. I grew up with cousins and I enjoyed my childhood a lot, but I somehow could not deal with the barrage of second cousins and their parents and grandparents who constantly landed in our lives.We were always thronged by relatives who came to see my grandparents. If a relative died or a baby was born to some distant cousin, our grandparent's house was the nucleus of activity. Probably today, we are starved of relatives and festivities, but then those days, I was waiting to throw a bomb at them. They literally invaded our lives. We had no concept of privacy or freedom. Even worse, such concepts didnt exist. My mother hardly complained.

Today I dont have the mental strength or the patience of my mother. I dont have the ability to balance and juggle life. I constantly have emotional upheavals , work tensions and health issues. I dont have the health or the ability to even pick up my health like the way she did. I have all the independence in the world. I dont have people invading my life and I can choose to bathe at 12 or at 3 or not bathe at all - I still remember being told then when to wash our hair and how many times a day as well.Today, she has got the freedom that i craved for, but she is at an age when she needs a support system. The relatives have all walked away into oblivion and she still manages her life, my dad's ill health, my brother's and mine highs and lows. Today she complains a bit. I hear, but I can do nothing much ..