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The author recalls the life stories of her parents and grandparents and the impact they have had in shaping her life
I recently came to know about the last Sunday of July being Parents Day – I was a little surprised because I was hearing about it for the first time. How strange is it that the people who gave us our entire life have just one day dedicated to them – actually three because there is the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day too.
Though I am against the concept of giving lip service to a cause by giving just one day to it but at least one good thing came out of it – I got an opportunity to write about my parents.
There is no denying the fact that our upbringing forms our attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of the world and our life. Sometimes, that upbringing can give us a jumpstart in the race of life early on and sometimes it keeps us shackled to our own notions of self.
The reason I am mentioning both the good and bad influences from childhood is because often when we talk about relations – more so parents – we tend to just put them on a pedestal very high. While in reality being a parent is frankly a role that they perform – we tend to dehumanize them or fail to understand them as human beings.
That is especially true about the role of mothers who tend to lose their identity as women once they become mothers. The unrealistic expectations and demands of society compel women to behave in a certain way as mothers, wives, daughters-in-law.
For men we always keep on hearing adages like “Men will be Men”, but a woman loses the right to be a woman the day she is born. I remember my mother telling me that the day I was born, that she decided to keep aside an heirloom jewellery piece aside for my marriage.
So, from birth itself a girl starts preparing for the role of a wife. Throughout childhood, we dream of a perfect marriage, how the day of the wedding would look like, what would I wear, how the decoration would be and so on. I have never seen a boy dream about the type of marriage he wants.
Coming back to the topic of parents, I would like to dwell on both the points I made – how their parenting shapes our entire life and how some day we have to start empathizing with them as humans and cut them some slack on the highly unrealistic expectations we and the society places on them.
My father died when I was 12 and his absence in my life shaped my personality. I never really got to know him very well because after all how much can a 12 year old child absorb or understand. I do have some very good memories of him like, me sleeping on his stomach, or him telling us stories from Ramayana in the funniest, modern way possible.
This is how he used to narrate the episode of Kaikayi being in ‘Kope Bhavan’ “Raja Dashrath came from office and said Kaikayi Darling – where are you?” So, for a child on late 70s & 80s hearing the word darling being used for the wife was quite modern and that is also what he used to call my Mom. I remember my parents were not shy of displaying their affection for each other in front of us kids because of which I guess I became a very open minded person. I remember my father sewing his own shirt buttons if they were torn and our entire family cleaning the house if the maid had not come.
My mother was also working – she was a teacher and I remember the division of work between both of them. My mother used to leave by 6 or 6.30 AM so mornings were the rush time. My father would bathe us and send us out wrapped in towel while my mother would dress us. My mom would make food and my dad would pack our lunch boxes.
I took my first cooking lessons from my father, even though his cooking skills were very limited but at least he made great omelette & halwa. I saw my parents’ marriage as a very equal partnership because of which I could never bring myself to accept any relationship which was not equal.
Both my parents came from very different worlds and I would say that it was only destiny which brought them together. My father was a refugee from Pakistan, he was 7 when the partition happened and he came with his 2 elder brothers who were already married. His father had died when he was only 6 months old and he was the youngest child of the 14 kids my Dadi had, out of which only 3 survived.
My Dadi was the second wife of my Dada, his first wife had died during childbirth. My Dadi was an illiterate woman, her brother who loved her did not have the economic means to educate her, the one who had the economic means had left his family because he had his wife’s side to feed as well.
So my father was somewhat a male version of Cinderella. He would work in his distant uncle’s tea stall in the daytime and would attend night school. He was a brilliant student or so I am told by his best friend, my mom and others. I have reason to believe so because from his humble background he rose to the position of General Manager of a big Indian corporation and was drawing the same salary as the President of India.
He wanted to become an engineer initially but there was a fees of Rs. 150/-to be deposited which he could not afford. So, instead he joined the Indian Air Force as a civilian. He then joined Army & saw action in 1965 Indo- Pak war and Goa liberation in 1961. Later, he left Army to join the corporate world where he kept on rising in ranks due to his hard work and brilliance.
My Mother on the other hand was nothing less than a Princess. My maternal grandfather was in the British Indian Army & my mother was born after he had left for World War II. My grandfather was taken in as a prisoner of war & was declared Missing in Action for 3 years but he along with a few of his friends escaped prison & was given Queen’s recommendation for his bravery.
So my mom was already 3 when she saw her father for the first time and she refused to accept him as her father and referred to his picture as her father. She was also the youngest of 3 kids & the only daughter on whom her father doted. Her mother on the other hand was a strict disciplinarian and very particular about my mom’s education.
This was also the cause for somewhat strained relations between mother and daughter for some time which my mom came to regret after my father’s death since she realized how it was her mother’s stubbornness to get her educated and have a job which came to our rescue after my father’s death.
My Nani was the first feminist of our Family – I give the credit for my feminist streak more to her than to my mom even though she was suffering from schizophrenia for most part of my childhood.
And strangely the thought that caught roots in my mind about understanding our parents as human beings and not just parents came from empathizing with her situation. She belonged to the family of the wazir of a princely state & her father was a Bar at Law from Cambridge and I am talking 1910 or so.
In her family history – there was also history of how girls were killed at birth and how her grandmother survived as her mother did not bring her back from her parental home till, she was 5. My Nani’s father educated his daughters & my nani’s elder sister did a MA in Sanskrit, in those times, and my nani was a matriculate.
However, he died at a young age of 32 after which my nani was married off and not given opportunity to study further. She got married into a conservative family where her education & western manners were ridiculed – like her asking for a spoon to eat rice since she did not know how to eat with hands. She was taunted as ‘Memsahib’ by her sister in law.
My mother strongly believed that my grandparents had a loveless marriage since my nana was exceedingly handsome & my nani was fat. I totally get her insecurities since I had body image issues for long myself. So my nana was always surrounded by beautiful British women, wives of British officers, no wonder my Nani was insecure. Not to mention the fact that the most important woman in my nana’s life was his mother – again a woman widowed at a young age who brought up her kids single handedly.
So, here was a brilliant, educated, modern young woman who was suppressed & ridiculed for the very same qualities by people much lesser than her. Add to that a dominating husband who perhaps never showed any love to her. All those suppressed emotions of a lifetime had to come out somewhere. I wonder if that is what caused her schizophrenia.
So, my nani made sure that her daughter was educated, employed and financially independent. She always used to tell my mother that if you don’t study & get a job – will you also hear taunts & clean her husband’s boots like she did. This meant that my nani got my mother admitted into a prestigious convent boarding school in Simla so that her education did not suffer because of continuous transfers of my grandfather. However, this created a rift between the mother and daughter as my mother took it to mean that she kept both her sons with her and sent her away to boarding school because her mother did not love her enough.
Also, my grandmother was strict about my mom’s education and my mom was somewhat a mischievous child which used to get quite a few slaps on her cheeks. Then my mom came back from school and asked my grandmother to get her married to which again she got a stern no from my nani who told her that she was not going to be married off till she got a job and we are talking 1960s here. But my mother was a good student too and did her MA in English literature from Miranda House & then a B.Ed from Delhi University before getting a job as a senior teacher in Delhi Administration school.
But that meant that my mom was 28 and unmarried, highly educated and economically independent – not the best things to happen to a woman in 1960s in the marriage market. Most eligible men were married by that age and she was getting proposals of divorcees, widowers with kids which my nani never said yes to.
So you see it was nothing short of destiny how my father met my mother.. The story goes like this – my nana and nani were going back home in an auto after another disappointing meeting to get their daughter married and were talking about it when the auto driver overheard their conversation.
He asked my grandparents that if they mind his suggestion of a suitable boy for their daughter. The driver said the boy was no match to my grandparents family’s stature but was a gem of a person and had a very promising future. So, even though my grandparents were a little skeptical to meet a boy who stayed with his 2 brothers in a refugee colony in Delhi they decided to go with it anyway. They met my father who in my nana’s words had 1 saucepan, 1 table fan & 1 Rajdoot motorcycle as his only possessions but would one day be the Sikandar that his name was..
So, my father along with his sister in law and the same auto driver came to see my unsuspecting mother in their south Delhi bungalow. My father would later tell my mother that 2 of her qualities impressed him a lot – one – my mother’s long beautiful hair. Second, the way my mother spoke very nicely to the auto driver when she served tea & snacks to them – my father felt that a girl from such a well off family who is treating the humble auto driver so respectfully would not frown upon his brother’s families and would treat them respectfully. And what clinched the deal from my mother’s side – the above-mentioned prophetic lines from her father.
Finally they got married – it wasn’t easy – meeting of 2 different worlds but my father proved to be the husband that my nani would have always wanted for her daughter. My father always called my mom his greatest asset. My mom stayed in joint family of in- laws for a few years in Delhi while my father kept on getting transferred from one place to another – Kanpur, Ambala, Jalandhar.
My mom supported both her brothers-in-law’s families financially and even got one of their daughters’ married giving away things from her own dowry. My parents’ love kept on growing for each other as they kept on writing long beautiful love letters to each other which they have kept preserved and are still in my home.
I hope to write a book on them someday referencing all that documented history of my parents’ romance. Finally, my father moved to Delhi & then when I was about 4 years old, my parents would built their own huge house with as much financial contribution from my mother as my father.
My father proved to be as much of a son to his in-laws as ideal daughter-in-law my mother was. It was my father who would stay with my nana in the hospital when he had gangrene in one of his feet. My parents had moved to a house just a few houses away from my grandparents and so I was brought up a lot by my grandparents.
I grew up on war stories from my nana & traditional Punjabi and mythological stories from my nani – perhaps that is why I know so many of their stories or maybe that destiny made me curious to know their stories as their memories would be the only thing to stay of them with me for most of my life.
Like I always used to ask my mom to wish me best of luck for all my exams 5 times – I guess the extra 4 were for the times when she would not be there to wish me best of luck to last me for the rest of 3/4th of my life without her.
My entire life has also been shaped by the circumstances of my parents in my childhood just like they were shaped by the those of their parents. I remember when I was 12 & my father’s dead body was still lying in front of me – the first words my mother said to me were “now you have to be on your own”. So, I became the ‘Man of the House’ at the age of 12 – fighting off the relatives who suggested that my mother should start wearing only whites. I used to do my mother’s shopping and I never let her wear whites, The saree that she was bid farewell in from this world was my favorite, a flame orange saree with mehroon border – I would not let her wear white even in her death.
My grandparents moved in with us when my father died which is when I saw my nana’s love for my schizophrenic nani for the first time. He would do everything for her – feed her, dress her & my nani leashed out all her repressed feelings on him & would curse him for all the things he did to her in her youth. Strangely for something that seemed to be a loveless marriage – my nana said when my nani died that now I will also not live beyond 6 months and precisely 6 months after my nani’s death he died.
It was my father’s death which made my mom realize that how much good my nani had done by educating her and getting her to be financially independent as my father’s death we went through terrible financial troubles as the factories that my father had set up ran into losses and we had to close them. The financial troubles ended eventually after we closed the factories and sold off our house. My nana sold off his house too as he moved with us and did leave a portion of his wealth to his daughter who took care of him.
As far as my relationship with my parents is concerned – my mother was the center and is still the love of my life. I don’t think I ever got over her death but now the photo of my parents goes everywhere with me – now they are inseparable from me. When I bought my own apartment and did my ‘grihapravesh’ – their photograph was there with me.
I do feel though that my relation with my parents has been unfair to my father, it was not his fault that he died so young but I have lived for 36 years without him, so my memories of him are few and more from other people though everyone tells me that my habits are more like my father.
But the death of both my parents has been a turning point in my life. While the first one marked the end of my childhood, the second one would usher in my never ending relationship with myself. The day when there was no one left to take care of me, I decided that I will do everything for myself that anyone else would have done. So, I gave to myself the diamond ring and earrings with my salary which I had wanted to give to my mother, I bought my apartment in Gurgaon at the age of 34, fought 6 year long court cases in 2 courts to get back the apartment that my mother had bought for me.
I have travelled the world – seen Niagara Falls, Disneyland, New Orleans, Northern Lights. I decided to stay true to myself & not allow anyone to make me second in my life or make me feel less about myself. So I chose not to make Himalayan compromises to get married simply because the men in this society were not ready to compromise with my extra kilos.
I had a bout of meningitis about 8 years ago and I remember telling my doctor that he should not let anything happen to my brain as it is my biggest asset and I feared for it since my nani had schizophrenia. I remember him telling me that I should not worry and that I would not have schizophrenia. I believe him today because I did not repress my feelings the way my nani had to.
While my Nani’s genes gave me the ability the fight for right, my mother’s teachings taught me to be humble & to learn to forgive. My father and maternal grandfather taught me that your perseverance will see you through the darkest of moments in life and it doesn’t matter where you started your journey from, what matters is how steadfastly you can keep going. So, yes our lives are about Parents – Mine & Theirs Too…..
I would like to end this story with a few lines my Mom used to teach me, which have stayed with me forever.
Dedicated to my Parents – Saroj and Sikandar and their Parents – Tara & Ram.
Picture Credits: Pexels
My career in IT gave me the perk of travelling the world and opening my mind to endless perspectives, giving me an opportunity to grow as a human being. I like sharing those experiences with read more...
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