The time on my phone read 3 am. It had been four hours since I lay down on my bed to try and get some sleep; coz today was going to be a big day in my life. I was finally stepping out to become “my own man” as they say it in a lot of those Indie Hollywood flicks. I had been waiting for this day for over a year now. But somehow, it wasn’t excitement for what’s in store that I was feeling at this juncture.
Have you ever had multiple cups of coffee late in the night as you’re trying to stay awake to study or perhaps binge watch a TV series? After a couple of hours, you feel very exhausted; when it’s quite late into the night, but the caffeine is working in top gear and so, you have no chance of falling asleep. As you drift in and out of consciousness; your mind begins to drift to corners and incidences you didn’t even think you would remember. Thoughts of all kinds of things; experiences begin to pour in, and pretty soon; you are overwhelmed with what you remember.
I was having one such experience, even without the caffeine.
I remembered an incident that took place in my 12th standard.
It was the beginning of a new term, and I was back in my room at my college hostel. I had been informed that some of my juniors from my school days were also joining in 11th standard. I thought it was only natural that I step out and greet them.
There were three such students out there, two of whom I was good friends with; and one of whom I was just an acquaintance (let’s call him Adi). The three of them looked visibly excited to be finally stepping out of home and staying on their own. As I began chatting up with the three of them; trying to tell them that it’s gonna be alright, this is a good place to be in; I noticed Adi’s mother had come as well. The trio looked visibly uncomfortable, as if a tiny bit of that freedom that they have been waiting for was still out of their grasp coz of her presence. I could understand that feeling, coz I had been at that exact same spot a year ago. She also happened to be one of my teachers during my early days of schooling. So I excused myself and went and touched her feet. The three of them joined me. The teacher asked them to go on a round and see the campus; and asked me to kindly stay back. The trio obliged eagerly.
As they took a leave and where removed from our sight, the teacher immediately took my hand in her hand. I was a little surprised by this gesture, and I looked up to see her expression.
Her eyes were moist, and she was visibly fighting a storm underneath. She looked straight into my eyes and said, “He’s a good son, my kid. He’s never stayed away from home. Please, please look after him” and she broke down into uncontrollable tears.
I was stunned into silence. All I could see until this moment was the three guys getting into a new life, all excited and raring to go. And now, I had a totally different perspective. A doting mother, whose world clearly revolved around ensuring the happiness of her child, looking after him, taking care of him; and ensuring his safety and happiness. A mother, who would no more have that glow in her eyes as her son would be off to a world of his own. She knew that this would be the first step in a long list of steps, which would perhaps change their dynamics forever. It would all start off well.
The mother would go back home. The child would call every day; telling about all the new things that he was experiencing in his new life. With the passage of time, his daily calls would turn into more routine weekly and then monthly talks; the brimming phone calls would be turned into monotonous one’s where the child would complain that he’s having a routine life and doesn’t have anything new to say. And slowly over the years, they might become absolute strangers. Other people would replace her as the most important person of her child’s life, a position that she had begun to lose years ago. The son would come home occasionally, the mother would make her child’s favorite dishes for him every time he came home, but by then the son becomes more like a guest in his own home than an actual member.
It’s a very painful sight. To see a mother; and your teacher in tears as she knows the course that life is going to take from that point.
The tables had turned, I knew I should say something and perhaps be a pacifier to my teacher who might have done so a thousand times over!
As I collected my thoughts and opened my mouth to try and say a few soothing words; the teacher wiped her tears as quickly as they fell; almost embarrassed or perhaps even ashamed of the sudden display of emotion. She turned on her heels and walked away and didn’t turn back to even look at me again, and stood by the next corner to see if her son was just around the bend. The teacher had taken over!
Parents and teachers are people who you look up to as kids, who you somehow think are more balanced and several times better than what you are. It is perhaps for this reason, that our teachers and fathers are our childhood superheroes, until the moment we start idolizing toy characters from comic strips and they become just other people.
It was 3:30 am by my mobile, and I was an absolute puddle of emotions; overwhelmed with all that was happening in my head. I sobbed my way to sleep, only to be awake again by 6 am by a glass of tea beside my bed that my mother had just prepared.
They say there is a lull just before a storm. There was a different kind of lull in my house that day. The house was almost silent; the TV that would normally be turned on from 8 am in the morning wasn’t even looked upon until 4pm when I switched it on myself to watch the match.
The father, mother and son enjoyed what was going to be one of their last shared memories together for a very long time. As the clock struck 8, it was time for me to leave.
The mother still struggled as she tried to call an Uber, only to look towards me for help. I began wondering again how she was going to manage without me, or I without her. I rushed towards the bathroom to wash away my tears. This was rather strange. I hadn’t cried in years, and now I was doing it multiple times in a day.
The cab arrived. The luggage was placed, and one by one, my mother, father, grandmother and I climbed in and drove away from what was my world for the last couple of years.
There was pin drop silence in the cab. It was only broken by the father’s short instructions.
“Eat your food on time”.
“Everything will be all right, you’re ready for this”.
“Do respect your seniors, and behave pleasantly at all times”.
Soon, it was just a just a touch on my shoulder.
The airport had arrived. All the enthusiasm of starting a new life had absolutely died down by then.
A storm was brewing under me once again. As I bent down to touch my parents’ feet’s; I was almost ashamed of the thoughts and happiness that I was feeling until yesterday that I find would finally be “my man”.
Until yesterday, I had elaborate plans of all that I wanted in life. A good job, all the time in the world to read, write, paint and travel, friends who you can call on at any time of the day, or night; maybe travel to far off countries and see the world, and finally live in one of those beautiful places that actors and actresses so often sing and dance at in our movies.
Now, I hoped I never have to leave my parents again, wishing that my job and my life keeps me at places that are a stone throw away from where my parents are; if not at the same place itself. All my dreams and aspirations had been flushed out. A dream and a life that tears you apart from your family is no dream at all.
Nothing in this life matters more than seeing your parents happy and proud of your decisions, and to actually have them around as they feel so.
As I looked towards them, my father held me by my shoulders and said, “Take care of yourself; son. We are proud of you” and smiled.
I turned immediately and walked towards the entrance of the airport. I didn’t turn back. My parent’s in tears was definitely not the last image of them that I wanted in my head. For the nth time in the day; I was an absolute bundle of emotions.
As I turned and knew that my parents cannot see me anymore; there was no stopping those tears this time around.
I was wobbly, so I sat down and held my face in my hands and cried for as long as I could.
I was going off to live my own life now, but somehow; this last day had brought me closer to my parents that years of togetherness had failed to do.
I wasn’t leaving home. Actually; I was on my Way Back Home.