Changing Priorities- Part 2.


It was 10.15 a.m. RK and Madhuram were sipping coffee at the restaurant opposite US Consulate. Their Visa appointment at the Consulate was at 11.00 a.m. They were warned not to come too early and hence the coffee break.

Originally RK was to seek US Visa and Madhuram to stay back to look after Marge during Sunita’s (their daughter in law) temporary re-location to Geneva and London. But a brief conversation with an IAS (Indian Ayah Service) couple revealed some horror stories of totally arbitrary Visa refusal by US Consulate. The result was both RK and Madhuram were outside the US Consulate on a sweltering Monday morning seeking US Visa. The idea was that one of them would definitely get Visa and hence US consulate could unwittingly decide who stays back in India.

The Visa Officers who met RK and Madhuram seemed to have had a peaceful week-end granted Visa to RK and Madhuram without much fuss. He seemed amused by RK’s dream of visiting Grand Canyon –based on the visuals seen in a western movie of 70s – McKenna’s Gold- a cult movie in India of his generation. RK and Madhuram remembered holding hands and watching it in Strand Cinema in 70 mm- stereophonic sound- understanding the dialogues  somewhat because Omar Sharif  and Gregory Peck spoke with some clarity.

They were back to square one. Logic dictated that Marge needed Madhuram and so RK was aboard Emirate flight via Dubai to NY in Business Class (thanks to conversion of frequent flyer miles by Siddharth – his son in law). Siddharth was there at the Airport with his two sons Raj and Kaushal. They seemed genuinely glad to see RK and even called him “Thatha” (sounded like they were calling the Industrialist Ratan Tata) rather than grandpa. Raj had grown and was showing promise of being tall like Siddharth, though his smile reminded RK of his own father. Kaushal was quieter of the lot and thoughtfully picked up RK’s bags and soon they were at New Jersey.

Kausalya was hovering between excitement and some anxiety at dragging RK (perhaps unwillingly to an alien world). RK could sense the conflict in Kausalya’s mind and tried to put her at ease.  Siddharth explained that one of the Governing Body Members had come across Kausalya’s educational background in their records and had gone out of the way to meet her and understand her views and vision for the new venture. Kausalya’s had described her vision in an animated manner and Paul ( the Governing Body Member) was hugely impressed as  Kausalya had brought in her Indian experience of dealing with students from  economically and socially disadvantaged background and combined it with what she had seen and experienced in USA. What was most significant was that her vision had a sincerity and a powerful but different insight despite being only a transient visitor to USA and had no inkling that she could be asked to contribute significantly to the project.

Kauslaya and RK were having the morning coffee (filter coffee- with Colombian seed) when RK asked her how she had impressed Paul. Kausalya diffidently gave an overview of what her ideas were and why any US citizen would find her views having a different insight… RK recalled Kauslaya’s vehement argument with her Headmistress on the School’s approach to an optional subject, which had resulted in a change in policy in subsequent academic year. RK felt slightly guilty that Madhuram and he had not encouraged her as much as they should have.

RK found that Raj and Kaushal had grown in the interregnum from the previous visit. Raj had entered early teens and there was a sense of worldly awareness with a residual tinge of childhood innocence. He had become more aware of his Indian origin and the confusion that it brought.   Kausalya and Siddharth were slowly becoming horrified with some of the American extremes – such as liberal gun licensing laws in spite of small children killed in schools by unstable individuals holding guns, obsession with same sex marriages, unending discussion on abortion laws and death penalty. No one saw a contradiction in   keeping an individual as prisoner for 60 or 70 years- which in their view was worse than death penalty.

This had prompted them to re-connect with Indian roots with renewed vigor. The family visits to local Venkateswara temple became a more regular, with both Raj and Kaushal gently prodded to learn Vishnu Sahasranaman, which they surprisingly acceded. While their main social circle comprised of Indian friends and some distant relatives, they had a set of American friends with whom they had developed a genuine long term relationship. Raj and Kaushal intuitively sensed the cultural distinction and had begun to appreciate the conflicts which their parents were undergoing. They were fascinated with a culture and practices- some of which had remained unchanged for more than two thousand years.

It was Saturday morning. RK had, as usual got up early, had made his morning coffee and was waiting for NY Times. He saw Raja’s and Kaushal’s School bag. Out of curiosity, he went through their text books/note books. RK was fascinated by the Maths and History books. He found their approach to Maths quite interesting (it was his favorite subject in his student days). He could sense that both Raj was undergoing some struggle with maths while Kaushal seemed to have a grasp of the basics but prone to commit silly errors. Their History promised to cover the era from ancient to reformation. Asia- in particular India- seemed to be somewhere in periphery. RK had read Romilla Thapar’s books on Indian History and appreciated the logic underlying her approach to this fascinating subject (for him).

Within days, RK could make inroads into Raj’s and Kaushal‘s minds. They found his approach to these two subjects quite easy to understand. He made history look live and interesting. The dull one dimensional figures in History books were transformed into live characters whose impact could be still seen. The wanton destruction of ancient monuments and statutes in certain countries due to sectarian conflicts pained them. What they found most “awesome” was that while Indian history traversed several millenniums, USA, in spite of being a large continent, could trace its history for around 500 to 600 years. It could not boast of old kingdoms and long epics, interesting battles and historical characters who changed the course of world history.

In short, Raj and Kaushal found Indian Thatha a lively person to live with.

Madhuram was secretly proud that Ravi had at last accepted a foreign posting- albeit a temporary one. She looked up the net to know more about Geneva. Switzerland, as seen through various Shahrukh Khan Movies, always seemed to be a great place to go – either as a tourist or as a resident. All her friend’s children were in US or Australia. No one had been invited to any European country. Madhuram with a feigned nonchalance spoke about Ravi and Sunita’s impending relocation to an exotic city in Europe – with family accommodation- to all her friends who seemed to now view her with envy.

The real joy was staying with Marge and watching her day to day life and be able to influence her mind positively to some extent. Marge now attended a prestigious day school which had normal (old fashioned hours) – 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. This allowed Madhuram to complete her Morning Prayer rituals, cook breakfast and lunch for both of them and then go to the nearby Krishna temple after watching Marge board her school bus. Madhuram took some prayer books with her and spend time there till the temple shut for the morning. On some special days, there were discourses or singing (Narayaneeyam – a Sanskrit poem with emphasis on Srikrishna written some centuries back) which she enjoyed. She formed new friends and even found a few who had shifted to villages close to Moovur and altered between Bangalore and village.

Marge was growing fast. She had a mixture of innocence and trust while exhibiting an innate curiosity which reflected an underlying intelligence. Marge spoke both Tamil and Kannada with equal felicity showing an ability to adapt to different circumstances. She found Madhuram a curious mix of old traditions while adapting resolutely to a new changing world order. Madhuram had a credit card and e mail address almost a decade back. She was active on Facebook and loved computer games. Madhuram could mix well with Marge’s friends and also their parents without in any way showing a generation gap in either direction. Marge’s friends were secretly jealous of her as none of them had a comparable grandparent.

Madhuram had a fixed morning routine. It comprised on an hour of prayers, followed by cooking, temple visit, lunch, a brief siesta and then welcoming Marge back from school. Marge’s school bag underwent a thorough check each day. Madhuram was up to date on Marge’s progress on each of her subjects. Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry were a bit alien to her. She called up RK on Skype and found solutions. Marge found Madhuram’s attentions rather aggressive as compared to her mother Sunita, who had a softer personality. But Marge found that she overtaken her closest rival for the last four years in the latest exam for the first time- more due to Madhuram ‘s unrelenting focus on exam success followed by knowledge of subject. Sunita’s approach was the other way round which lead to Marge being seen as more intelligent rather than most of her peers, but not pragmatic enough to understand how to score in exams.

Madhuram‘s next area of focus was to make Marge attempt a more proximate communication with God. Like most of her friends, Marge’s attention to God accelerated closer to exams and their results. Madhuram found this a rather hit and miss approach to God, who (Madhuram so believed) could be favoring a less intelligent class mate who had a more organized and systematic approach in such external communication. No wonder, Madhuram thought, other girls got better ranks after taking guidance from Marge.

Madhuram started a devious campaign to bring Marge closer to the deities whose photo frames adorned the prayer area. Marge’s duty now included cleaning the prayer area of yesterday’s flowers, lighting the lamp, reciting few prayers – with emphasis on deities who governed each day- Monday Lord Shiva, Tuesday Lord Ganapathy and so on. Marge agreed because she had yet to learn how to tell “no” to her grandmother, who could be quite bossy at times. Marge taught her how to sit for prayers, how to chant the mantras, how the mind could be focused during this brief period, the concepts behind these seemingly empty rituals, how it helped each individual irrespective of age. Marge found that her grandma’s instruction to empty her mind of all thoughts and focus on prayers (rather difficult Sanskrit slokas} made her feel fresh. Grandma’s instructions were to use a similar approach for studies. Shut out the external world and focus on what you are studying were her advice. Marge had an ability to understand concepts fast when being taught and studying the lessons everyday made her ahead in exams also.

Madhuram‘s crowing moment was when, during the interval in discourse at the temple, Geeta   asked whether she was Marge’s grandma. On inquiring, Madhuram learnt that Marge’s flight as a swan in studies had not gone unnoticed. It seemed that Marge innocently told her friends about Grandma’s single minded approach to studies and focus (flowing from prayers) had brought in results. Geeta’s request was whether Madhuram would guide her daughter also with a hint thrown in that some pecuniary consideration could be considered.

Paul personally invited RK to attend the opening day function of the new school. RK along with Siddharth and children were given the front row. Paul along with other Governing Members (some of whom were quite well known) were on the dais. There was an empty chair between the Governing Board Chairman and Paul. Kausalya, wearing a light blue silk sari, came hurriedly into the stage after giving some last minute instructions at the back stage. The Chairman and Paul stood up to invite Kausalya to the empty chair. Kausalya smiled nervously, slipped on her glasses and went through the folder in front of her and then sat back.

Raj and Kaushal were staring awe struck at their mother occupying a center stage in the literal sense itself and wanted to wave excitedly at her. Kausalya notice them and gave a small wave with a sweet smile. After some brief introduction, the Chairman requested Kausalya to present her vision for the School to the audience.

Kausalya stood up, went to the podium, adjusted the papers and started to speak. She first referred to the paper in front of her and commenced her presentation haltingly. After two minutes, she kept aside papers, put down her glasses and started speaking from her heart. She drew word pictures of what the disadvantaged sections of the society were undergoing, the loss of available opportunities, how small steps and gaining of skills would make a significant difference in such individual’s life which was reinforced by some personal anecdotal experiences and ended by describing the School’s vision for such segments of the society and how they intended to achieve it.

There was a stunned silence for a minute after she ended her presentation and then the applause started. What stood out was Kausalya’s sincerity and depth of feeling for disadvantaged segments of a society of which she was only a temporary member. The Chairman, Paul and other Members of the Governing Body stood up to receive her back to the table. Kausalya looked embarrassed by all this attention and made an Indian bow in the form of Namaste to the audience.

After the function, Siddharth in a moment of ecstasy, held her in warm embrace and said something into her ears which made her blush and made Raj and Kaushal break into laughter. RK just held her hands and by the time he could complete a sentence of appreciation, his voice broke and tears threatened to flow. He recalled Madhuram‘s prediction that Kausalya’s submerged talents coupled with her sincerity and vehemence in beliefs would lead to unexpected success in her life.

Every parent dreams more about their children’s success rather their own. Kausalya fulfilled one such dream that day.

Kausalya’s next few weeks went in swirl of activities. Raj and Kaushal displayed a level of maturity which though anticipated, still surprised RK. After the public appreciation, Siddharth viewed Kausalya not just as his spouse, but also an individual having a talent which none of them had seen or felt. The lack of any pecuniary element enhanced the value of the achievement,

The holiday season was coming early next month. Siddarth had heard RK’s desire to visit  Grand Canyon. The family had also never seen it. RK enjoyed the visit and envied the grandeur and vastness of the country and its comparative youth.

Kausalya took RK to NY. Siddharth booked accommodation at their office guest house and toured NY as a tourist. A short visit to Niagra falls completed the trip.

Kausalya opened up for the first time on her post marriage experiences. She had instinctively realized that RK- like most fathers- had little stamina to accept or understand the trials and tribulation most Indian daughters go through  post marriage. She had walked into a family which was different in several ways from her own. Siddharth –like most academically brilliant individuals- could be quite insensitive to domestic environment and  come across as an indifferent spouse. Fortunately, Siddharth’s mother had not forgotten what she had endured and smoothened the passage into the new era in life. Kausalya had completed post graduation at her mother in law’s insistence, which finally borne fruit in New Jersey.

RK  understood that he had just seen, but not observed Kausalya’s life. When he spoke to Madhuram next, he asked her about whether she knew all this. Madhuram said that it was obvious to naked eyes and RK due to living in his own world was oblivious of reality around him.

Madhuram told him that Ravi and Sunita would be moving to London the next month coinciding with vacation  period in India. They wanted RK and Madhuram to come to Geneva along with Marge for an overdue European visit.  Madhuram had already decided which Saris and which dresses to take. Kausalya persuaded him that they could now manage without him and RK should not miss this opportunity .

Ravi had booked Eurail Tickets for all. Sunita had taken care to pack Indian food to cover a major portion of the visit. RK held hands with Madhuram at the spot where Kajol looked back at Shahrukh Khan in DDLJ and asked Ravi to click some memorable photos.

RK, Madhuram along with Marge returned to Bangalore with a promise for a similar visit to London during Ravi’s stay there. But that did not work out due to lack school holidays during that period.

It was a cool winter morning. RK and Madhuram were sitting on the ledge of the yet to be opened fountain. Marge had just left for school. RK looked around whether anyone was around. He held Madhuram‘s hand tightly and whispered “I missed you”. Madhuram blushed and whispered back that Kausalya had told her that RK snored soundly at night and hence missed her only marginally.  After few moments of silence, Madhuram said “I felt lonely”.

Two Months later.

RK and Madhuram were recollecting their last years’ experience. What they could conclude was the following.

Conclusion

  1. As senior citizens what do we want out of our life- rather the balance part of it? What is it that we should do, what is it that want to do and what do we land up doing?The answers to these questions need honest answers.
  1. How to sustain and create novelty in three or four decade relationship between spouses?This is a continuing journey. Each day should be looked at as a new day to create and strengthen the bond. Nothing should be taken for granted.
  1. Are we too old to express love to another human being who matters most to you?Do we express love in an equivalent situation in a perhaps more mature or adult way? Rarely.
  1. How important is money at this stage of life?It is very important. It is a weapon which gives us independence. It is not a goal to run to. It is resource to be husbanded carefully for appropriate use.
  1. We should have our own life which does not center around our children and their progress.
  1. Can we influence our children and their family without causing too much of a ruffle? This is the question to be asked before venturing freely with our view and actions.
  1. There is pleasure in watching the growth of next generation and even bigger pleasure in participating in it. But somewhere a fine line should be drawn on the level and depth of involvement.
  1. What survives is human relationship. Sunita and Siddharth who are comparatively new entrants into the family matter the most as they have the maximum influence over their two children Ravi and Kausalya. We need to accept this fact and not live in an imaginary world where the parents come first for their children and then the rest of the world.
  1. Both wanted to see Kausalya and her family once again and spent more time with them each year. They promised to make it a reality.
  1. How does one face the loneliness of solitary existence? When we grow old, awareness of mortality increases. One of pair would fly off first leaving the other behind. They had no answer to it. They were too used to each other’s presence besides them to imagine any other world. Madhuram- emotionally stronger of the two- felt that RK would not know how to endure the loneliness of a life without her.

The above scenario ( purely out of  my imagination) represents a slice of today’s middle class reality. The next generation has travelled and settled abroad with a good percentage getting local citizenships. The parents have one foot in India and one in a foreign country. I know of a few who have emigrated abroad and others who live alone in  India. There are also instances where the couple have returned to India after a long overseas stay ( and citizenship in certain cases) to take care of aged parents.

The above scenario is viewed ( perhaps selfishly as I am closer in age to RK and Madhuram rather than to Ravi or Siddharth) from a  senior citizen’s eyes. What would be the view or Ravi, Siddharth , Kausalya or Sunita to the same events? Would they not prefer that RK and Madhuram stay closer to one of the two  children at all times  so that they could be attended to personally if need arises due to ailments? Would the situation change as age progresses ? Perhaps.

Would parent’s influence wane with age and time? After all children also grow into adults, reach middle age, have grey hairs and have children who are in high school or colleges. In such circumstances wisdom lies in accepting the adage that  ‘discretion is better part of valour”.

I personally feel that Sunita remains the most understated character of the scenario. She has retained her core while adjusting to a new reality while enjoying life on her terms.

Perhaps Sunita deserves another blog.

I would love to get feedback, views and reactions to this blog.

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