I belong to a dysfunctional family.
There are four members in my family – my father, mother, sister and me. The four of us live by ourselves, without the need/necessity to be with any of the others. We have found our own paths, and drifted as far away from Pangea as Iceland and Australia.
I lived in a boarding school for 10 years, and by myself for the next 15. As you might have guessed, family values have never been an essential part of my existence. Over the years, I have tried to analyse my life and see if it was better or worse without my family.
The pros far outweigh the cons.
For one, living independently shaped who I am today.
I was kicked out of the house by both of my separated parents. The teenage me was angry and resentful about it. But when I look back, I learned to scrape through, to hustle, to do odd jobs, and become an independent person. Everything I have achieved today are due to my own efforts – not my parents, friends, relatives, or God. And all this wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been inadvertently kicked out of the house by my parents.
Without the nagging, half-knowledge pressure that Indian parents masquerade as ‘affection’, I was free to choose the life I wanted for myself. I was answerable to nobody in the world, and my only consideration was my own interest. It’s been great!
The only con I can think of is the lack of empathy and compassion in my life. I believe that living with a family teaches you kindness and compassion. It teaches you how to talk, how to behave, how to empathise – skills that are nonexistent in me. I am as emotive as Arjun Rampal in Asambhav.
But be that as it may, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to have led my life. Somewhere down the line, my parents became side characters in my story. I knew they existed somewhere, and had general updates on their lives, but I wasn’t concerned too much about making peace with them.
Last year, wisdom-in-hindsight presented itself and waved to me.
I figured my parents were about 22-23 when they got married, clueless about love, life, marriage and kids. When I was that age, I used to masturbate five times a day. That was my level of emotional maturity, so why was I judging my parents with alien barometers?
I decided to get in touch with my parents. I began with my mother, and sailed through without too many worries. She has retired from her government job and found solace (I think!) at the ashram I grew up in.
But it was getting back with my father that had me on my toes.
I do not have too many memories of my father. I lived with him till I was about five years old, and then for a year in 2003. I remember him being efficient and emotional – those two words probably best describe the personality that I remember.
He was a boy from a village who came to the city with the proverbial 10 rupee note in his pocket. He got a job, got his brothers educated, got his nephews jobs, and spent his life being the village adarsh baalak.
I was away when most of the above happened, so my connection to him was through the letters he would write to me at school. They were all inspirational in nature, harping about how he knew I would make the nation proud one day (gotta start working on those weed legalisation measures!!). The letters were well-written, and the teacher usually read them out to the entire class. He was also the person who sparked an interest in reading, writing, and stories.
But there was also the fact that he possessed an extremely short temper, was abusive to people around him. That he ran away from our home when things got sticky, and married a girl decades younger than him, to start a family again.
On a personal level, he kicked me out of his house when I was 16. At an age when fathers are supposed to have matured discussions with their kids, my father mouthed unthinkable words and tossed me out on my own. Moreover, in the 16 years that followed, he never bothered to get in touch with me, or even ask for my number or address.
There were long-buried issues between us, and I was skeptical about facing them.
I have started a scholarship for my village school, and on that pretext, I called up my father.
He didn’t answer at first, and then called back a little while later. We got talking, and the only thing I felt from his voice was a sense of relief. Like he could tick off a long-pending item from his life’s to-do list.
I traveled with him to my paternal village to supervise the nitty-gritties of the scholarship. I was hoping to make a connection with him after all these years. Tell him what I’ve been doing with my life, describe my life as a writer, standup comedian, and journalist. Ask him what he’s been upto all these years.
Inspired by an Osho video that I’d watched, I was hoping my father would be less of a father, and more of a friend. That he would acknowledge that I have grown up, and that he doesn’t need to be the same person he was decades ago.
Unfortunately, I found that my father cannot stop playing the father.
He pretended like nothing had ever happened between the two of us, that it was all normal. I have always found the habit of Indian parents constantly monitoring their children’s lives suffocating. I don’t know why they do it. Perhaps it’s the only kind of parenting they are aware of. Perhaps they fear the neighbours would be offended if they let down their walls.
I found my father’s constant advising, guiding, cajoling and correcting to be excruciatingly frustrating. He gave out weird reasons for the last 15 years – ‘You were born on Ramnaavami. These 14 years were your vanvaas!’ Really? No they weren’t. The last 14 years were me busting my ass around, trying to stay afloat while you were frolicking about with a younger woman and experiencing the joys of being a father at the age of 45!!
I wanted to tell him that it was alright. That he could stop performing, that he could get off the stage now. The play had run its course, the cast had retired, even the theatre was crumbling. But I knew it would be of no use. I could see him flinch a little every time I expressed an opinion, as if he was scared I would burst out again, and vanish from his life.
I wanted to put up this post immediately upon my return.
But that Sunday coincided with Fathers Day – that fuckall Archies Greeting Cards day that we have all foolishly imbibed in our lives. All the posts on Fathers Day are so dumb, so demeaning, so insulting to fathers worldwide! It robs fathers of their agency, their right to have an opinion.
No! Your daddy is not the strongest in the world. No, he is not a superhero without a cape. Shut the fuck up, and let him be who he is. Such posts only add to the problem, by burdening fathers with the pressure of being Amitabh Bachhan in Baghban – of being the upright, selfless father.
Fathers are not extraordinary human beings who attained wisdom when children are born. If all it took was becoming a father, Osama bin Laden should have been the wisest person on earth. The dude fathered 25 children!
Fathers can be criticised, reasoned with, and spoken to as an equal. You didn’t choose to be born to someone – it just happened. Being proud of your parents is illogical and childish – like being proud of your country, language, or sun-sign.
I tried talking to my father. Explaining that I am 32 years old now, that I do not need to be told to brush my teeth. That nagging constantly is not love, it is annoying. It is encroaching upon my carefully-gardened personal space.
But I am pretty sure my father won’t get it.
And that is the sad part. I am not obliged to be nice to my parents, I don’t owe them anything. I grew up completely independent of their support, their backward ideas, their egos and their narrow-mindedness.
What I was hoping for, was to have a discussion. To catch up on life. But the pressure of being an Indian father does not permit him to stoop down from his high pedestal and meet me half-way.
There is no break from being a father. Which is probably why I do not see myself being a husband or father – it is method acting for decades at stretch!!
I still speak to my father over the phone these days. Generic shit like ‘go to bed early’, ‘work hard’, and other outdated lines that his father had told him. Being passed on to me like antique wisdom without any context. That is when I realised something that I was trying to wrap my head around for the longest time.
The greatest burden that fathers shoulder, is of being a father in the first place.