To my parents!
Recently, my father had to receive some unsolicited advice from a conceited relative. He was told that his children did not conform by the social norms as much as expected and it was a consequence of a bad upbringing. This saddened my father and he expressed it to my elder sister and me. The comment was responded with silence from us, considering all the differences we have between ourselves.
My issues with my parents, especially with my father are now not a repressed emotion. Both of us have openly expressed our disagreements with each other. My father complains that I do not interact with him as much as he would expect me to. On the other hand, I feel that he was not affectionate towards me during my childhood, which made me feel neglected, and makes it harder to change my opinion all of a sudden. However, for years, I had kept these feelings within myself and brooded over it.
Now in my mid-thirties, when I no longer need to hide my emotions, I began opening up with my sister and some of my friends. And what I found out was that every single person I spoke to also had similar issues with their parents. Sometimes-even worse.
Somebody's parents were over possessive of them and others were dominating; some displayed biased affection between children thus boosting sibling rivalry and few were always complaining and comparing them with other children, some of them felt pressured by parental expectations while a few others felt neglected. That sad revelation was rather relieving and the magnitude of my own differences with my parents seemed relatively insignificant. I knew now that I am not the only one experiencing this. However, as we grow older, we realize that the bad memories supersede the good ones and form a miasma of misunderstanding that refuses to clear, thus promoting a fallacy that life is just in those unpleasant memories. And by constantly reminding myself of it, I might be creating a similar haze of sad impressions for my parents. But we all recognize that life is not only in those unhappy recollections because there are the thoughtful ones too. Further, it is astonishing to note how an unwanted advice, driven by vanity, from someone insignificant can set you down the memory lane to find those.
I have always been a rebel. I did not hesitate going against the society or my parents if they were found to be wrong according to me. In spite of belonging to an upper caste, in the Hindu religion, I did not think twice before making friends who belonged to the lower castes or another religion and I frequently invited them home. That was a very sensitive subject during those days and perhaps still is in my part of the country. Though that broke a few rules of an orthodox Brahmin family, I was allowed to continue with it without any remark from my parents. Moreover, when my parents had a major quarrel with some of the relatives or neighbors, they would discontinue all association with them. Though never explicitly mentioned, being part of the same family, I was probably expected to follow the decision. However, I was never the one to blindly obey such assessments. I had to evaluate my relationships and decide for myself. Thus, I often rejected my parent’s resolution, as their animosity with a certain individual did not seem to affect my relationship. That must have disappointed them but they never objected it. They let me do what I wanted to do despite their displeasure in my act. I strongly believe that they permitted me to be myself and in many cases supported my decisions.
When I expressed a keen interest in painting, my mother recommended that I learn from my uncle who was a renowned artist. Due to his old age, he had stopped taking additional students and thus refused to have me over. But my mother was not the one to give up. Her repeated request finally convinced him. My father happily accompanied me to his cousin brother's house and introduced me to my teacher. Subsequently, they took pride in the results of my creativity. Moreover, whether it was my entry to one of the best pre-university colleges in Mangalore or my admission to one of the best tuition centers, my parents played a significant role in making that happen.
Graduating from an engineering college during a recession (2001) was not easy. My mother played a crucial role in finding me, my first job. My father requested my aunt and arranged for my stay in Bangalore. Additionally, they rescued me out of a trouble that I once found myself in.
I once rejected a job offer. As a commitment, the company had collected my tenth grade marks card and refused to return it if I did not join them. The greedy HR manager demanded Rs 50,000 and then tried to negotiate. But, for me, time was running out as my new company expected me to travel to the US immediately. It was my father who had to deal with the fake corporate world to acquire my certificate back, while I flew to the US.
My stay in the US made me independent and vitalized the development of my personality. This independence permitted me to further define my values and principles based on my own experiences in life and not necessarily by what were taught by the others. Of course, the cultural background I had received from my parents supported my evaluation. Thus, independent opinions that existed since childhood strengthened and were reinforced by experiences. Some of which dissented from certain customs followed by our religion or caste. That did offend my parents but they did not force me to change my view. I would like to believe that they respected my beliefs despite its divergence from their own.
Today, I am passionate about traveling; painting makes me feel transcended; I take comfort in expressing myself through writing, and I enjoy gardening, learning new languages, photography and making short films. And my parents secretly admire all that I do. Of course, they might have their disagreements with some of my decisions, specially related to my refusal to assist the annual family events and my indifference towards certain religious rites and rituals. However, I strongly feel that my visits to Mangalore have to be counted by the visits I make to see my parents and not by my attendance to the annual family events. For me, my parents are more important than those rites and rituals. Nonetheless, what I do not fail to notice is that my parents never turned their beliefs into an obligation for me. One may prudently note that these disagreements between us affirm the fact that over time I have developed a personality for myself.
After so many years, if there is one thing that I can confidently speak about my upbringing, it is that, today, I have an identity of my own. I can think for myself and I can be who I want to be. This would have been impossible without my parents who always allowed me to be the person I chose to be. The freedom I received as a child to do what I wished, allowed me to develop a personality for myself, just like I desired. How many people can perhaps claim that?
Many I know are living an illusionary life, considering an identity unique to them. However, most of it is predetermined by the society they live in. They and their life, nearly resembles that of the person walking next to them on any given street in this country. Closely observing some of my relatives and friends, it is easy to infer that they have been raised in an authoritarian surrounding that is often made to deceivingly appear protective. They are told what to do, what to speak or how to dress or which profession or hobbies they could have. They are constantly expected to report their life and decisions to their parents and sacrifice all their wishes for the need or demands of the family or even worse, society. Additionally in the name of cultural and tradition, they are tamed to carry over the thought process to the next generation. What saddens me the most is that they (the children) have not even developed a capability to comprehend that. Some of them do understand it and decide to live a life in hiding. When I came of age, whether planned or not, my parents provided me the space I needed to explore myself. However, I won't tell that my parents are always right or that they are perfect. I do not claim that I necessarily agree with all their acts. But then nobody is perfect. No family is.
My parents too might have made mistakes but so have I. It could have been driven by our own insecurities, bad judgments, and poor communication or by the societal pressures and hence the differences, just like in any other family. But all I want to convey is that if there were anybody who can question our parents about our upbringing it would be only my two elder sisters and me. A relative or anybody waking on the street cannot come over and point fingers at my parents because we did not abide by a certain rule of the society. Because they neither have the complete understanding of our life, nor do they have the right to do so. They as well might be the reason for such a demonstration by us. And the irony is that these people have surmised that they have been perfect parents because their children are obedient to them, like dogs are to their masters. Thus they continue to fail in understanding that the verdict on them needs to be passed by their children and not by themselves.
Moreover, we have to grow beyond a perception that religion, caste and society can dictate our identity and lifestyle. A demonstration of eccentricity to a certain way of life does not become a misfit to the society. Every individual has a story that has shaped him or her to be what he or she is and if everyone is let to defend oneself, it might become a crucial step to change the society itself. Hence, it would be utter stupidity to abide by the rules of a society by suppressing ones own personal peace and harmony because the society itself is an unstable entity that has been constantly changing or hopefully evolving over the years. Irrespective of all these thoughts on the society, I am an extremely social individual.
I have always enjoyed the company of people and I have always looked forward to make new friends and to me a society can exist peacefully only when there is mutual respect. However, I also know someone who thinks that social gatherings are fake and the people who attend them are phony and would prefer to remain in her own comfort zone. I perfectly understand that and I would regard that as her respective choice reinforced by certain experiences known perhaps only to her. The people who criticize her behavior might have also played a crucial role in the formation of this view. Forcing her or expecting her to behave like us would be dogmatic and believe me; nobody likes it, including the individual laying those rules.
Despite the difference in opinion we have, that is bound to exist in a relationship; for allowing me to be the person I wanted to be; for not moulding me into a replica of yourselves; for giving me the privilege of developing my own personality (that many children in India do not get), I cannot thank you enough, my parents!