A Grown-Up Inside A Child

This article is part of the author's column 'By Grace of God'

My parents came from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. While my father was from a middle-class family having strong roots in village, my mother came from a higher economic echelon and had never seen a village. My mother walked into an environment where most of her in-laws were sceptical of her ability to adjust, suspicious of her attitude and felt threatened of getting robbed of the darling of their family. My father overestimated his responsibilities of balancing between his uncomfortable relatives and a probable snooty girl from a city and likely condescending in-laws.

Parents of my mother were cool, particularly her mother. Her advise: “You are beginning a new life and you have to gel in the new environment, groom and cement relationships and craft your nest. I will not be available for discussing internal matters of ‘your’ family.” My mother risked being condemned without a trial; she had to prove her credentials as a new member to the satisfaction of the in-laws under the vigilante eyes of a strict husband. She managed pretty well, but the issues never got fully resolved.

By the time I was about four, she found my shoulders broad enough to rest her emotional burdens. It appears, once when she was cooking all by herself while all other ladies were having fun, I decided to give a piece of my mind to the frolicking ladies for their indiscretion. Reprimanded by a child was quite fun for all but it didn’t do much good for my mother. So, she had to teach me how to handle such delicate situations. My initiation to complexities in relationships was rather early in life.

Till implementation of the recommendations of fourth Pay Commission in 1986, government servants were poorly paid. When I was in class-VI my father was posted in Cuttack and I have vivid memories that money to run household was the main cause of skirmish between my parents. His pay packet was always insufficient for my mother. To keep spendings under control, they decided that she would keep a daily record of all spendings and he would make weekly reviews. But this left little scope for unaccounted spending by my mother. I gave her an idea, “Why don’t you ask your mother for some pocket money, she can always afford that.” She managed to get a princely Rs 50 as monthly allowance, which was good enough for her sundry expenses. Another point of conflict between them was the amount to be budgeted for marriage gifts. I told her: “What will you do with so many gold ornaments. During each marriage season you sell some without his knowledge.” My mother was very happy as she was confident that my father would never come to know about the missing ornaments.

My brother, younger to me by one and half years, excelled in sports and extracurricular activities. He was good in lawn tennis (was State Champion), cricket, football and badminton, besides being a good athlete. He was a very good actor and mimic and participated in stage shows. But, during school days as in most middleclass families, academic excellence was considered to be the panacea. Particularly, if you are the second child and your elder sibling is perceived to be better in studies, you are doomed. So, he had to bear the brunt of constant comparison with me. This made him revolt, after all he was a normal boy. As a teenager, he defied each and every thing that my parents expected him to do. The stricter they were, the more rebellious he became. Then he did the unthinkable; he fell in love. As the ‘grown-up’ big brother, I took upon myself the onerous responsibility of shielding him from the ire of my parents. Not that he wanted me to do so. Rather was more than willing for confrontations, but somehow I felt I was obligated to maintain peace in the family. As a spinoff, I became proficient in fabricating stories and telling lies.

My father had a very strong sense of justice and was finicky about fair distribution, sometimes going to ridiculous extents. He would never usurp anything from anybody but at the same time would never give up what rightfully belonged to him. He also ensured that any acquisition, however small or large it might be, must be equitably distributed. But he had a feeling that I had a tendency to forego my fair share. He also had a conviction that I could do no wrong. Such blind trust put a lot of pressure on me, although it gave me a great sense of elation.

I grew up balancing three divergent self-imposed responsibilities; providing consultancy services to my mother, shielding my brother and protecting others from the wrath of my father due to perceived indiscriminate action against me.

When I had my family and lived with my wife and children I often wondered: “How come I don’t have any demands? I am happy with whatever is cooked at home, whatever dress is bought for me, whatever my wife and daughters do. I also realised I am not at all romantic, I am like Girish Karnad in the film Swami. I cannot dream sitting with my wife on a beach on a full moon night, thinking ‘how romantic it would be to transcend time and space’, because I would immediately start exploring whether that could actually be achieved. I just want to be a realist and buy peace and happiness at any cost. I guess I was born old. My adolescent posturing has shaped my character.

Some reality shows in TV channels showcase children behaving in very matured manner that ‘amazes’ the judges and gives immense satisfaction to the accompanying parents. Should parents ‘use’ children to flaunt in reflected glory by making them a source of entertainment for viewers? Indeed, there is a child in every man, but I am not sure if it is true the other way around.

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