It was a Friday night. Jagia had informed his parents that he needed his share of ancestral wealth before agreeing to divorce Anandi. I was aghast at his chicanery. (All this happened in my house in our presence, but on the television screen in the Serial Balika Badhu). My children had vanished into the bedroom and closed the doors. I was feeling sleepy and had stretched myself.
Then my grandson along with the rest of the family trooped in and took me to the living room. A white fruit cake was kept ready with candles. Everybody wished me ‘happy birthday’. I cut the cake and shared it with all. The most beautiful gift was a lovingly prepared birthday greeting in a maroon paper card containing a collage of pictures and photos representing many memories.
1998 Chennai- on the Marina
Priya is the architect behind this beautiful creation with Devi on the wings. Each picture has a tale to tell. They all trigger various memories going across last five decades. The black and white photos are rare and irreplaceable. I wondered were we ever this young?
The morning dawned. I went to the Gym. Every gym has certain class of members. First is the hard core members who have enviably fit body with rippling muscles. We ignore them as we are jealous of their body and assuage our hurt sentiments by believing that we put in equivalent efforts at sharpening our intellect (Edward De Bono philosophy). The next is the senior citizen group who walk in at 5.55 a.m and furiously ride the cycle (that goes nowhere as per Swami Udit Chaitanya) for 15 minutes and them amble in the treadmill talking to each other. The third group is Young Executive type who wear the Rebook shorts and shoes and walk in briskly and jump on the treadmill immediately. The last is the ambivalent types like me who flit through the gym trying not too hard to put our muscles and bones to great hardships. (remember we put our intellects through a harsh fitness regime).
The Hon. Secretary of our group of four buildings with( 656 members) way laid me at the Gym (a hard core gym type) and discussed the forthcoming election of the Managing Committee . He spoke darkly about some misdeeds and defeating the opposition. I wondered whether my decision to contest the election to be an office bearer of the Society was a wise one. In a weak moment (I am generally strong willed, though Padma would have different views , but then why would any one marry if the spouse would always agree with you) I had filled the nomination form to contest the election and thereafter each Committee Member started exhorting me to be more visible and prominent in Society activities. My children suggested that I should have small cards with my color photo and a legend “Vote for Anjeneyan for —- Post , if you want a honest, efficient—“ and give it to every adult I meet in our elevator. Perhaps, that would brighten my chances of being visible and prominent (for doing strange deeds) in the Building Society.
After lunch , we went to a painting exhibition. Two or three landscape paintings were eye catching. I casually asked for the price and quoted one third of the list price. They readily agreed putting me in a quandary and some cutting remarks from my family for being impetuous. Perhaps, I should have quoted even lower.
What makes our birthday special? It is the enthusiasm of those around us who express their love and happiness of our presence around them. Otherwise , there is limited cause to celebrate birthdays after crossing the 50 year mark.
Looking back to the journey so far has only sentimental value. Any regrets? Yes, there are many, but no point in dwelling on them. What to do henceforth? No bright ideas. Like most individuals, I will let the circumstances influence the future, nudging it in my direction wherever possible. Does money mean a lot? Yes and no. Lack of it means that it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN LIFE. Having enough to lead a decent existence (by purely subjective standards – LG AC vs O General AC) and our capacity limitation to earn more of it will compel some level of self satisfaction.
With both my progeny being married and one of them with offspring mean that by comparative standards, Padma and I are” settled in life”. Really ? Does God and our willful nature ever allow us to settle in life? When do children cease be so and become adults to be treated as such? Priya made a very perceptive comment that I treat my children as akin to WWF’s endangered species like Red Panda and White Tiger to be protected as such. It touched me. Perhaps, some parents (like me) keep the umbilical chord chained to some corner of our mind, though the other end is dangling in the air.
We are sometimes prisoners of our past experience. There was , at one time, clear distinction between employment related commitments and personal life. As we moved higher in the ladder, the quality and quantity of personal time tended to improve. Today, it seems that the interval between two working days is the time allowed for a person to go home , take rest for some time, change to a presentable appearance and come back. Sunday is allowed as a holiday due to an almost universal acceptance of Christian concept of Sabbath and not due to the need for a weekly off.
The earlier concept of a family, where there was a bread winner, mother to tend to the family and its needs, grandparents who pottered around doing nothing much, and children who went to day school and returned home at 5 p.m, then went off to play and returned by 7 to study and then sleep by 10 p.m is vanishing. This is replaced by various other realities. Grandparents have replaced the parents for the physical caring aspect- breakfast, lunch, taking to and bringing back from school, accompanying to music classes and so on. Parents are torn between employment generated requirements and domestic compulsions. Home maker mothers would sneer at employed mothers on open days ( subtly) and employed mothers would talk loftily about how they balance both lives.
Net result is advertisement at McDonald or Pizza Hut advertising rates for celebration of children’ s birthdays at “competitive rates”. Few weeks back I walked into an Italian restaurant in a suburb which was quite noisy- a teenage birthday party was going on. You can imagine that the dishes at such restaurant are not at prices comparable to Rava Masala Dosa (my favourite). Even two year old kids have birthday celebration at such restaurants. It is a different world they grow up in.
Why is all this relevant here? This is a current reality which impacts all of us and would continue to do so in the years to come. A casual conversation with similarly placed friends and relatives (couples with married children) indicates the changes taking place in our society. To me, it represents the need to adapt to an evolving reality which tries to straddle the old world (when possible and needed) and the modern and non-traditional approach where nothing is sacred or sacrosanct. The rigidity of my beliefs and values would need to be tempered accordingly .
At an individual level, we rarely do set goals for ourselves. My son often tells me to have interests or activities outside the family life or in other words live have a life beyond family. I love photography (or is it cameras?). I feel impressed at times (quite natural !) with my own efforts at capturing flowers within the frame. I wish to learn photography formally and then go to distant places to record at least a part of the beauty that our eyes behold. I want to visit Iguazu waterfalls in the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is said to be the largest one in the world- bigger than Niagra or Amazon. http://wikitravel.org/en/Iguazu_Falls
I often wonder what or how our small world would be two decades hence. Would Shivam have taken an Engineering course (like most others in Tamil Nadu where he stays now) or be a CA like his father or uncle? Would Devi be more mellow and tell harsh realities of life in a palatable form? Where would the career orbit have taken Anand and Kannan ( our Son in law)? How would Priya’s life have changed and how she would change in these two decades? Would we have changed our residence and city?
How and where Padma and I be? How much would we have changed – externally and internally?
Do you have similar thoughts on your birthday?