Sunday, 19 October 2014

Generations


Meena was sitting on the settee staring at the TV screen. Evening news was on, but nothing registered in her head. She was fretting over the row she had with her daughter Geethu the previous evening. Geethu was completing twenty six in a month and Meena was more than convinced that time was ripe for her daughter to settle down. Geethu was equally determined to pursue higher studies. As expected, Meena’s husband, Balaji wholeheartedly supported Geethu. To Meena’s annoyance, her mother-in-law Rajammal did not come to her aid either. Geethu, in her anger, said lot of unnecessary things, which were best left unsaid.

“You have no ambitions, Amma... Don’t expect me to live like you...” Geethu yelled before storming out off the room.   

Meena wondered whether her life had any meaning at all. She was married to Balaji for twenty seven years, and had been performing her duties at home diligently all these years. She was a senior clerk in a nationalised bank, as she persistently refused all promotions in her three decade long career. It was indeed a difficult decision every time she had to turn down a promotion offer. She did it for the family, mainly for Geethu, as promotions would entail frequent transfers. Balaji was a well established auditor in town and she did not want to disturb his practice either. She didn’t regret these decisions, but now she wondered whether she had a laid back attitude. Come to think of it, she always faced emotional challenges with aplomb. However, her physical responsibilities at home or at work were rather repetitive. Others might even find them monotonous. Nonetheless, she had always felt comfortable, contented and even happy. For the first time, she felt confused. 

Meena was distracted from her musings by some noise. She shut the TV off and looked around to see the source of the sound.

“Mmmm.... Geethu....mmmm...” the groan was feeble, coming from the bed room. 

She rushed in to find her mother-in-law moaning with pain and sweating profusely on the bed. Unaware of the surroundings, Geethu was sitting in front of her computer with the headphone on. Meena instinctively reached for sorbitrate tablet on the side board. After giving Rajammal the medication, she telephoned for the ambulance and called the consultant cardiologist. Realising the emergency, Geethu started helping Meena. Rajammal was a heart patient and had a heart attack two years ago. However, Meena was confident of handling the situation and she informed Balaji as they headed towards the hospital...

*********

Rajammal had to undergo open heart surgery and was back at home a week ago. Meena had applied for long leave to manage home. This crisis had put other problems in the back burner. Rajammal was still weak, but improving satisfactorily. These days Balaji was held up at work for long hours owing to the financial year-end pressure and Geethu was busy with her assignments. Who would manage the show if I was ‘ambitious’, thought Meena ruefully. 

*********

A week went by and Rajammal had almost returned to normalcy. Meena cleaned up the kitchen after dinner and headed towards Rajammal’s room. Old lady was sitting propped on her bed and reading a book. 

“Can I get your pills?’ asked Meena.

Rajammal looked up and smiled. “I shall have the medicines later. Why don’t you sit down?”

Meena sat on the rocking chair by the bed. Rajammal put her book down and asked “Are you upset with me for not supporting you on Geethu’s marriage issue?”

Meena shrugged “Leave it... This is not the time to talk about contentious issues...”

“So you are upset... Please lend me a patient ear now... Will you?  I didn’t study beyond eighth grade... Got married at sixteen and had four children... Three girls and one boy... I never worked in an office... All my life I looked after my family... I am happy and contented... That’s all I needed and wanted... That’s all that matters to me...” Meena looked at her quizzically.


Rajammal smiled gently and continued. “Remember the tantrums Balaji threw when you wanted to work after Geethu was born?”

Meena remembered vividly. She had joined the bank job soon after graduation. Hers was an arranged marriage and she continued to work after marriage. Balaji’s sisters were already married and settled well. She stayed with her in-laws in a joint family. Except for the few initial hiccups, she felt comfortable in the joint family set-up. Rajammal took great care of her during pregnancy. Three months post delivery, when she wanted to return to work, Balaji threw a tantrum unexpectedly. He wanted Meena to look after the baby, as they did not need her income. Very true; Balaji’s practice was doing great and her income was peanuts compared to his. No amount of persuasion could convince Balaji and he walked out in a huff. Rajammal caught her crying quietly in a corner. 

“Do you really want to work, my child?” asked the older lady kindly.

Meena nodded her head and said, “I don’t want my education to go waste...”

Rajammal took it upon herself to convince Balaji that the baby could be brought up successfully even if Meena was a working mother and moreover, she was there to lend support. Rajammal had kept her word. She looked after Geethu during sickness, holidays and all other unforeseen occasions that required Meena to be away.

“Meena...” Rajammal broke her reverie. “I supported your decision because you really wanted to work... Same way, now Geethu wants to pursue her education... What is wrong?”

“She is already twenty six... At this age, I had a child... We can’t delay her marriage any more... Let her study after getting married...” 

“But the times are different... Don’t you see? I got married when I was sixteen-years-old, and you at twenty one... We can’t have the same yardstick for this generation...” retorted Rajammal.

“So you think Geethu has good career options... I have no ambitions... and so, I don’t understand...” Meena was on the verge of tears.

Rajammal sighed. “No my dear... definitely not... All I am saying is that Geethu has to make her choices... whether we like it or not, her life is for her to lead... You stop judging yourself based on Geethu’s rules...”

“What do you mean?” A tear was running down Meena’s cheek.

Rajammal continued patiently. “I had never had a ‘career’... You know something? I never wanted to work... What if I start thinking that I should have worked? I would only make myself miserable... Mind you, some women in my family indeed worked as teachers then... But, your times were different... Unlike our times, it was alright for girls to study... a bank or LIC job was considered most suitable for girls... Good pay... Fixed hours... So, you wanted to work in the bank... and worked happily all these years... Is it not?”

Meena nodded her head and let the old lady continue. “Why are you now questioning a life that has been happy, peaceful and comfortable? Just because Geethu said you are not ambitious... Geethu’s time is different... All these children are itching to achieve something or the other and catch up with the rat race... Yes, they are successful in a way... They make good money and live a better materialistic life... But, I am not sure, if they are peaceful and happy... Look at Shyama or for that matter Shailu...” 

Shyama was Rajammal’s eldest granddaughter and Balaji’s niece. She had a flourishing financial career at the US and had decided to have a DINK (double income no kids!) family, a choice that was not accepted by the extended family. Geethu idolised Shyama. Shailu was another granddaughter, who was divorced - the first divorce in the family’s history! Career kept Shailu literally away from home most of the time. She was unwilling to compromise on her career and take up a less demanding job. Hence, the marriage broke up in due course. Meena heard that Raj, Shailu’s ex is married to a college teacher recently. She did not tell her family yet. The way ‘gen-next’ had turned out increased Meena’s anxiety manifold. 

Rajammal continued, “After Shailu’s divorce, I understood how little we could influence our children’s lives... our intentions may be good and honourable... we can offer our advice... but, only they can make their decisions... It is not fair to judge them based on our lives... it is equally unfair to judge our lives based on their expectations...”

“What if her decision goes wrong? Then I would have failed as a parent...” Meena’s voice shook. 

“No, Meena... you have taught her the right values... they will keep Geethu grounded... Ultimately there is no freedom without responsibility... When we make choices, we have to take responsibility for the consequences as well... Trust your sincere parenting over the years... It will help her face the challenges...” Rajammal’s eyes were full.

Meena leaned forward, kept her face on Rajammal’s lap and broke down completely. Rajammal stroked her hair and said, “Let go...Meena... Let go... I know it is difficult... But, you ought to do it now...”

Meena felt the old lady’s warm fingers on her forehead. She knew what Rajammal said was true and eventually she would let go. But for now, Meena wanted to savour the comfort the moment offered and hoped for a better tomorrow.

*********

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Bows & Arrows by Khalil Gibran

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