Tuesday, July 08, 2014

End of an Era


3 years my junior.
Then. And now. But I am not sure about tomorrow.

My younger brother.

We, a small family of four have always lived together.
Dad was transferred to so many places: when we were babies, when we were children and when we were adolescent.
While many fathers travelled to distant lands leaving behind their families to continue living in the cities so their children’s education ‘would not be disturbed’, our dad took us with him everywhere he went. We did not even know there was any other option.
We learnt Hindi, learnt Gujarati and changed schools half a dozen times.
But we lived together.
And we ate together.

Like all children we ate from our mother’s hands but unlike most children we also ate from our father’s hands.
For ever since we remember, it was always he, who, after every meal, carried out the duty of peeling fruit, cutting it and making unequal portions of it, the smaller ones for himself and mom and the bigger ones for me and bro.

At the turning point in my life, which came after 12th standard, my family relocated to Mysore and it was decided I would join a degree college in Mysore and forgo engineering since that would mean having to live in a hostel in Bangalore, away from family.
Togetherness took a priority over everything else. But I had hated him then.

My dad was extra protective and extra possessive of us.
He would lock up the TV for 3 months every year when it was exam time; he wouldn’t let us halt overnight at friends’ place, for God alone knew what we were up to; he wouldn’t let us watch ‘bad’ TV programs; if we didn’t return home by 7 after our evening play, we would be admonished. There was no pocket money system, for he saw more harm in it than good. I was not to ride a guy’s bike even if it meant waiting for an hour at the bus stop during lunch time.
We did complain about not having enough freedom; but today I wouldn’t say he should have brought us up differently, only he should have been more tactful.
But I had hated him then.

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Mom and dad belonged to a generation that believed that expressing love spoilt the child.
There were no hugs, no kisses.
I wish they had known that we were tiny and had no way to take a peek at their love behind a tall dam with strong floodgates.
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In many ways, my brother had a more sheltered upbringing than I.
Like the ‘younger brother’ in all homes.

He would sleep in my parents’ bed, in between my father and mother.
Until he was sixteen.
My dad would swathe him in blankets to make sure he was warm.

My father made sure I and him were in the same school everywhere we went.
His teachers would summon me whenever they had complaints about him. I would go home and report everything to my parents.
There was this fat nun, a mother, in brown or black habit that he was particularly afraid of, when in UKG. Whenever I had to get him to do something that I wanted, I would warn him that I was going to complain to ‘Dummi Mother’(fat mother) about him at school the next day, and he would become subdued at once.
Wicked me.

Both of us had a cupboard each. His cupboard, we called it ‘museum’ for it was filled with all kinds of curios – strings, a little matchbox, nuts, bolts, screws... Whenever he fought with me or angered me, I would walk to his cupboard, put my hand in, grab thin air, close my fist and tell him I had taken something from it. The next minute, he would be pleading before me.

He always struggled with math. For a few days, I appointed myself his tutor. I would be very patient in the beginning but when he made the same mistakes again and again, I would give him a few beatings. Sometimes he would cry.
Wicked wicked me.

Those were days when I was taller than him. And then he grew up. I stopped at 5, 5” and he went on to become a 6-footer.
Things changed.

But not quite. He was still the youngest in the family. And it was everybody’s business to ‘look after’ him.
After his difficult 12th standard, we would gather every evening in our hall to decide what he should take up next. He would sit among us quietly as we discussed and debated.
My father decided he should take up Dilploma.
And he did.
It was a wrong decision but my brother didn’t say so.
I did.

He learnt 2 wheeler driving without any of us knowing about it. After much cajoling, he was allowed to ride my father’s scooter but only up to the nursing home at the corner of the road 100, meters away, no further.

When my father bought his first 4 wheeler, my bro was strictly forbidden from driving it for he had not ‘grown up’ yet; but he was allowed to wash it whenever it got dirty, and this my brother did diligently.
So much so that my dad never got to wash it even once. It was my brother’s prerogative, an unwritten duty; washing the car, week after week, polishing it to a sheen, but no driving, to be sure.

When I relocated to Bangalore for my first job, I stayed with my cousin’s family for 10 days, bought ‘ad mags’, looked up PG listings, made a couple of calls, checked out a few places, chose one and finally when everything had been decided, informed my dad about it. He came with me during the shifting and left, convinced that it was a safe place.
After that I changed my PG 4 times to remain close to my office that kept moving to different locations. I was entirely on my own, checking out places, negotiating, packing, shifting...

My brother was 24 when he relocated to Bangalore for his new job. Man enough you would say.
But all of us ‘looked after’ his relocation.
I had found him accommodation in the same building where I lived. My dad brought him to Bangalore. We went to CMH road to buy him a bed. We visited a couple of shops choosing the right bed for him. We then went to Corporation circle to buy him his almirah. When it was delivered home we arranged everything in his room.
I remember that something had yet to be bought; my father was to go and my brother was to stay back to receive the Almirah delivery or something. When I offered to accompany my father, he said I had such little concern for my brother who was all alone in that new place and asked me to stay back with him.
When father finally returned to Mysore, leaving us both, he entrusted me with my bro’s responsibility and asked me to take care of him.
He would call me up from Mysore asking me to go up to his place and check if he was inside, if not, where was he, why hadn’t he returned home after work, and so on.
Was he attentive during his training classes, did he go to work on time, why was his mobile always engaged, were other regular concerns. We were both in the same office and I had to keep my father informed.

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While brother’s equation with mom and dad was one of acceptance, mine had turned to a love-hate thing.
Sometimes, I would cry after a fight with mom, pack my bags, return to Bangalore, thinking on the way, that somehow, this ‘taking for granted’ business should end, we were grown up, that I would cut off for the next 6 months, teach them...
The next day, the phone would ring; had I reached, what time, why had I not called, surely I was going to visiting them the weekend after the next one? Also, don’t diet, eat some rice... and two chapattis...

Every time I stood before the dam, the floodgates were shut tight, there would be just a trickle of water at times.
After I had turned away in disappointment, thirsty as ever, the gates would open – but alas, I was gone. ‘eat some rice, and two chapattis...’. Indeed.

But we were reaching the danger levels.
They had too much love bottled up, and I, too much thirst.
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Bro’s marriage too was the family’s decision. He was not yet prepared he said but before he could say anything else, every aunt and every uncle had called him up and persuaded him to say yes.

And so it was that he and his child bride, all of 23, 6 years his junior, set up their house to begin their married life.
But this too didn’t change everything. In fact, it changed things in a way you would not expect.
Now the family had not one, but two people to take care of!
Bro and child bride were trying to adjust to one another and there were teething problems.

There was no end to my dad’s worry.
Every few months my parents came to Bangalore to live with my brother for a few weeks to see how the two were getting along.

to take my sister in law’s side when my bro rebuked her
to take my brother’s side, occasionally, when he bewailed that no one was on his side
to teach her a few more recipes
to take her for evening walks
to take over the kitchen, so she could prepare for her bank exams
to keep her company until my bro returned from office, late in the evening
to persuade her to go with him to the futuristic movie she would not understand
to persuade him to join her in her evening prayers
to ask him to watch less of TV, talk to her instead
to remind him that he was now married
to ask him to give away the bike, it was not safe
to buy fruit, peel it, cut it and make unequal portions of it


The VISA came all of a sudden.
In the rush that followed – the packing and moving of furniture, opening of a bank account, selling the car, making ready all kinds of powders for him to carry, paying visits to all relatives,... there was no time to realize that bro was parting. From the family that had always lived together.
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Almost at the same time as the VISA, there had come to me, a poignant realization.
That we must be an incredibly close family. Not because we didn’t have a single serious difference, but because we had too many petty ones.
We were all tactless. Just like children. We were insensitive. Like children.
We were not aware of such a thing as personal space between us. Each one’s space belonged to all of us.
We took the liberty to ask each other any question about what they did, where they went and said to each other anything we felt like saying.

It was poignant because so many precious years had been lost in futile struggle in which every child in the family expected the other to behave like an adult. And made each other cry. And craved each other’s love.

No, I would not cut off...
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Now, it was bro who was leaving. With his child bride who had by now, grown up, though just a little.
During the last few hours, my parents, especially my dad, kind of made up for all the ‘looking after’ he would be deprived of for years to come.
They totally hijacked his luggage.
They packed into it, cooker and mixer wrapped in bed sheets, some provision, Sambhar powder, Chutneypudi, utensils, plates, tumblers, spoons,...
And when they finally handed it over to him, there was hardly any room for his clothes.

Dad would weigh each of his bags on the weighing machine.
Bro was forbidden from lifting up his luggage for he might sprain his back and that would be disaster.
He carried all the luggage to the taxi.
We reached the airport and brought the trolleys to the car.

I shall remember the picture of my dad hauling a suitcase on his head like a porter and hurrying a few steps, before dumping it on the trolley. It had wrenched my heart. Mom scolded him. ‘Too much...’, she said.
He said ‘He who can be slave can also be king’ and laughed it off.

Bro entered the airport and we stood huddled, waving and waving.
It was sinking in now. He was leaving.
And then we walked along the glass walls, as he walked to the check-in counter, not taking our eyes off him, waving now and then, hurrying along opaque walls, pausing at the next glass, eyes searching for him.
We missed him once, and called him up to ask which counter was he at, we could see 63 from where we stood.
Counter 82, he said. And we hurried.
We spotted him and after a final bout of waving, we turned.
He had left.

As we drove back in the taxi, in the dead of the night, all of us were awake, but no one spoke a word; two seats that had been occupied, just a few hours ago, were now empty. Though all of us were silent, the void of those two seats hummed and hummed.
My baby brother had flown out of his nest.
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I see my father cutting fruit, and I see him like never before.
For now have I realized that it is the tenderest thing in the world to have someone fall asleep in your lap or to have someone eat from your hands.
And the love that inspires you to pat someone to sleep or to feed someone is the tenderest of all love. My father’s.

As I see my father cutting fruit, I wake up after all these years, to the sea of love behind that tall dam.

2 comments:

Sirisha said...

Very nicely written :) Totally agree that our previous generation was not generous in expressing parental love. Also, birth order determines our perception of our parents, your bro may have a totally different feel of parental love.

Nitish Ratnam said...

Meanwhile Murli is watching Transformers 3D in Rhode Island :)