“I am 26 and I laugh with my mother. I also chat with her nearly every day just like 80 per cent of millennials. As for rampant drug abuse honestly, it’s is very hard to go on a week-long bender if your mother expects you to check in every day…The only risk factor that has increased with this generation is ‘obesity’.”
What wonderful sentiments expressed by Jennifer Wright in her article ‘We are the lamest generation!’ on Salon.com. Images of cliched uncaring young westerners are banished forever, with just these few simple words.
Yet how many of us would sit down and think of whether we actually do laugh with a parent, or grandparent, given our Indian traditions? We laugh easily with our friends, even chuckle at any age with closer friends and share much laughter, with our dearest friends. It comes easily and naturally, but with a parent?
In a recent film entitled ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, set in Jaipur, a young entrepreneur wishes to fulfil his late father’s dream of turning his haveli into a tourist hotel. With the arrival of six elderly British visitors, he has a vision of outsourcing “old age”. “Nobody wants them,” he informs his exasperated mother; he feels he can make them welcome enough to stay on and goes about making them smile and laugh with his words and antics.
For those of us born in the mid-fifties, in independent India, postcolonial, we are the ‘transitionals’. I travelled to London at the age of five with my mother and two sisters to join our father. We were brought up in the Indian tradition yet with a touch of what is now being termed as ‘cultural diversity’. After our return five years later, coming into a conservative extended family, I began to feel yoked by tradition that became rather restrictive as I grew older. It was a difficult transition. Somehow, I always listened to the elders, accepted their decisions and smiled at the recollections of their youth. My grandfather would chuckle when I would defend not getting married at 18 by retorting he had run away from the village twice! He explained he had to finish his medical studies in Calcutta (Kolkata) without being tied down with marital duties.
My mother whispered he was locked up the third time and married to my dearest grandmother, which I also confronted him with, drawing more mirth. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, walking up and down the veranda. And how my maternal grandfather’s eyes twinkled as he recollected his decision to return to studying for a proper medical degree (he had first qualified for the LMP) and how some of his professors were his former students. They would often look at him for support to continue their classes! And my father’s anecdotes! One when he and his friends wanted to enter a railway bogey only to see my grandfather in deep conversation with a friend. My father says he ran from the station so fast, to get home and study, before my grandfather’s horse-carriage drew up at their house! And my mother eating lots of pickles at a friend’s house and being sick for hours later at home!
Life was even harder for them. They did not question authority and lived by the traditions handed down to them. They must have laughed with their parents, perhaps more with the mother, as children, but that would then transform into polite laughter, as they grew and matured. It was common in most families the world over. Of course, each family had a few rebels who caused anxiety and misery, but that was ‘Life’. Endless unpredictability. I did ever so often want to disagree with my elders on certain life-changing situations, but somehow held my thoughts and anguished feelings in rein.
As a ‘transitional’, I too gave in, to all that was meant to be good for me, for fear of hurting sentiments, especially for all the sacrifices and adjustments made for me (and later, two of my younger sisters) to study at Delhi University. The youngest two graduated in Orissa and Allahabad, one in medicine and the other with a post-graduate course in Management. Expensive even then, for a one-income family of seven, though I had left when the youngest was nine, expenses grew while salaries remained stagnant. Laughter became restrained with such responsibilities and expenses.
When my parents were young, we all laughed together. I can remember our camping trips, helping them put up tents, my mother cooking on a gas stove, all of us huddled in our sleeping bags, trips to the zoo and riding a camel… then came the tears of separation, our lives away from home, at university, then the making and breaking of some of our marital homes and subsequent changes to our lives. My parents have always supported us and till today, are the shoulders we can rely on, without question, but they are getting older and frail. We want them to laugh like they did fifty years ago, but life has dealt them some severe unwarranted, unasked for setbacks, bewildering them. Yet, they smile when they see us, their eyes light-up as they recollect anecdotes from the past (some of which we may have heard many times!) and we gladly share their laughter, so well-deserved.
I too, wish to share my laughter with my adult children, scattered the world over. The spaces in this large residence only echo with the cries of the maribou storks walking in the garden. I have grown accustomed to sms’s now. Texting is as important as talking, I am chided at, and no, I am not to send personal messages on Twitter. Thankfully I am not on FB, though I doubt any of my three, as I call them, would be’friend’ me! There are long silences on the cell-phone. Does this portend the swansong of conversation? An sms that says ‘Will talk soon’ means perhaps another sms in a week’s time (one adult child) or in three weeks (another) or maybe not – everything wrong was my fault, I was a strict parent, too disciplinarian.
I tried to be a good parent, to keep my children healthy and safe. I still try. We all must move forward, leave the past and all the unpleasant associations behind. Instead, recollect the happier moments… chasing colourful butterflies, raking golden-brown autumn leaves in the backyard, lighting up a barbeque grill or shovelling snow to make a snowman in sub-zero temperatures, or tying ice cubes into a towel to sponge one’s face on hot Delhi summer afternoons…may we please smile at these recollections?
From early childhood to the brink of adolescence, the bond is unwavering. The comfort only a parent can give, to soothe away frightening demons in dreams, wipe away tears from cuts and bruises, high fevers and toothaches, visits to the doctor for preventive shots. Only a parent can hug you and an unpleasant day at school vanishes, giving way to a new topic of discussion. Soon you are skipping alongside, chattering away, your hand firmly held by a parent. Then it slips away, as you become a young adult, a mature adult, a parent. But your palm remains implanted in a parent’s hand forever, no matter how old you are. Imbibe the fragrance of the roses or tuberoses in the garden and laugh as the first monsoon shower drops drench your face. Smile along with the wide grins of the street-children, as they splash through puddles and sing in the rain, their difficult lives forgotten for the moment.Laughter does not cost a paisa AND it reduces stress!