The Hustle and the Bustle
I love this time of the day, the sense of gratification it brings is immense. Especially after a day that is packed being the creative head for an advertising agency. Stringent deadlines hang like swords around the neck for most of the month. A young, exuberant and vivacious team to handle. All of this and the management of a finicky boss who has a self proclaimed OCD. Every morning for me is like stepping onto a roller coaster, the initial hiccup arises along with unexplained nervousness which is drowned by steaming cups of coffee. The gradual ascent brings stability and balance as priorities get worked out and the bubbling enthusiasm of the team is put to efficient use. Ha! And by this time, I realize the day is half gone. Along with the descent of the day, begins the descent of the rollercoaster too. Going down isn’t a mean feat either. Forgotten meetings get scheduled, client dissatisfactions crop up and a highly fussy frustrated boss emerges from his den, fuming! All this and maybe more till we say, “pack up” physically. Years into this chaos, I enjoy it for I love the adrenaline it kicks in.
It is the drive back home that I look forward to. Everyone at the office knows well that I take no calls for the one hour drive heading home. It is my ‘me’ time. Lost in the deep, soulful music of Jagjit Singh, it is the time I reminisce, repent, appreciate, wish and envision. This time works as a tranquilizer, helping me relax after the muddled day. The car sways along with the music at a constant speed symbolic of my monochromic life. The familiar turn and the society stands in sight, my heart skips a beat. For amidst all the fanfare that surrounds this ‘Creative Head’, I now stand facing the loneliest place on the planet and sadly it is, ‘my home’. This statement evokes a multitude of reactions but truthfully I feel homeless despite having this four walled structure which most of us call home.
Unwillingly I swing the car towards the designated parking, braking to a screeching halt and alerting the dogs of the neighbourhood. Their sudden barking embarrasses me for having woken them from their slumber. Reluctantly collecting my constant companions, the laptop and the phone from the car, I trudge towards the lift. All of this feels such an effort, quite similar to treading the desert in search of an oasis. Yes…..when the glitz of the advertising agency becomes a shadow, I stand facing the dry desert of my soul, questioning where I’m headed to.
I prefer to keep my own keys to the house because the welcome is never heartfelt I know. I slip the key into the keyhole in a bid to make a silent entry, but just as I am about to click open the door, it stands ajar. It is Mom. A robust lady touching the seventies, she is active enough to keep the household in a tizzy. Having been the queen of the racing track in her hay days, it is only the athletic built that is a remnant of the glorious past. Something that Mom has been very fond of boasting about. I always smirk the moment she begins the tale of her great sacrifice which she presumes should be motivating most of the young women of the current generation especially me, her rebel, non conforming progeny!
“How can a woman be so proud of narrating the sacrifice of her dreams?” I often wonder. These are the thoughts that have alienated me in my own house.
It was my thirteenth birthday and there was happiness all around the house. I was excited to be a teenager for now I was allowed many relaxations in discipline. A special cake had been ordered and I couldn’t wait! After the festivities were over, Mom and Dad called me to the kitchen.
“Probably for a special gift,” mused in childlike innocence.
“Hey! C’mon closer”, Mom pulled me into her embrace. I reciprocated hugging her back. I was taken aback when two glistening gold medals dangled in front of my eyes.
“What is this?” I remarked in my childlike curiosity
“These belong to your mother.” Dad chimed, “She is a state level athlete.”
When I learnt I was the daughter of a state level runner, my confidence grew leaps. I started walking with a bounce in my steps. But as I grew older, the nonstop ranting of Mom, started putting me off. I realized that more than reiterating her achievements and motivating me, she focused on how she sacrificed her dreams and that the only dream a girl is allowed is to be devoted to a family as a caretaker. Thus began the anxiety attacks as I felt a sense of insecurity grow within.
Today, I understand the significance of the medals shown to me, it wasn’t any pride of achievement. Instead it was a trophy of sacrifice for which she gathered acclaim from everyone in the family. This became the primary reason for my detachment from the house. I now feel a negligible sense of belonging and surprisingly I enjoy the solitude.
As I step inside a hesitant smile and a miffed “Hello Mom” escaped my lips. Seemingly she was leaving for an errand as she just whizzed past with a slight pat on my shoulder. Dad waved at me from the living room as he devoured the newspaper.
“Hey Dad! How has been your day?”
“Well nothing out of the ordinary,” came a bored reply as he returned back to the haven of the sports page.
“How was yours? Any pay cuts on the anvil,” he looked up again.
“No Dad. I don’t think so.” I wasn’t comfortable divulging too many details to both of them because soon the conversation shifted to other realms. I do earn an enviable amount given my experience, level and the fact that I am in the advertising industry. But I know my parents. First the salary is discussed and soon it’s time for the most probable conversation for any woman in her later thirties, ‘Marriage’. This is one conversation where I falter and all my management skills become redundant.
As I make myself comfortable with a cup of steaming soup from the kitchen, Mom is back.
The Face Off
“Tasty soup na Mala?”
Is this a question or a statement, I fail to comprehend. But since I am in no mood to begin a debate I choose to stay on the safe side. “As always Mom, anything from your hands is tasty.”
“When I was your age…………”
“Oh No! There she goes again.” I just feel like hiding somewhere before the interaction becomes messy. I know the floodgates would be open within seconds.
“When I was your age, you were already a teenager. I had mastered Chinese cuisine since it was your father’s favourite and I was easily cooking for thirty people on office parties.”
Stumped, I sit still. But something inside me twitched. How long can this continue? The last few months her nagging has been relentless. So though it is a Friday, and clearly she cares two hoots for a weekend her daughter looks forward to, I decide to take this head on.
I stood up placing the half full soup bowl on the kitchen counter and walked towards her.
“Yes Mom. I know you are a superwoman. I don’t think there is a single day when you haven’t reminded me of that.”
“But don’t you see, I’m not in your league and I DO NOT want to be either.” Now it was her turn to be stumped. I wasn’t normally the kind to engage in any such verbal duets with her but off late she wasn’t leaving any option for me.
I knew I had struck the wrong chord and the player’s aggression soon erupted.
“These big, fat salary checks have gotten into your head. No sane man will willingly marry you. And children, you can forget about them. After me and you Father, you are finished. No marriage, no children and of course no future.”
Ah! I knew I was right about her.
“All your cousins are married and have children. They are moving on with their lives.”
“I too am moving on with life Mom. Don’t you see it? Are you oblivious to the recognition I have gained?” I grunted.
I hated this moment but then it had to come for I was trying to evade all the cold shouldering, the cold glances.
“This is the reason I hate stepping into this so called HOUSE,” I was furious.
“Yes!Yes, sure. Now your parents are your biggest enemies. Thinking about your future is a crime na. It is a crime to wish that the house is filled with the laughter of children.” Tears rolled down the wrinkled cheeks but the hardy athlete was unwilling to relent.
“Okay fine” I stood up and looked at both of them firmly. “So you want the laughter of kids, so be it. There will be kids.”
“Arree…deva deva,” Mom was aghast. “Just to remind you my dear, you need to be married to have children.”
“Oh!c’mon. Give me a break you both.” “What world do you live in Mom?” And then I faced Dad, “You are into the newspaper for at least three fourths of the day. Do you both have the slightest clue of where this world has moved to? Well! It may come as a surprise but I no longer need a man in my life to have children.”
“I will be a mother and I will end this myth you hold, a happy home will have me and my child. I don’t need a man.”
Mom marched across the lobby seemingly seeking partnership from Dad. Her expressions did most of the talking as she said, “Do you hear your daughter? She has gone mad.”
“Now she is talking of having children without getting married.” It seemed like her head was going to blow off as she kept fuming, panting and muttering under her breath.
Retreating into my cocoon seemed like the best option and so I did. This and many similar instances continue to widen the gap between me and my parents. It was affecting me emotionally and today I was driven to make an important decision. I had to move on with life on my own terms and for that I would have to move out of the house. It had weighed on my mind for some time but somehow that fleeting feeling of care had made me linger on.
Marriage and kids seemed to be the only agenda on my parents mind and I refused to accept it. Born and raised as a single child had made self introspection second nature to me. Over the years I continued to realize that despite being raised in a deeply patriarchal set up I was thinking out of the box. I hated to be confined. The first resentment I gave my parents was my choice of career.
“Advertising? Is this even a career? Just selling something….how much brain does it take.” This was the clichéd response and it was an instant put off. Probably the disconnect started there. It got worse with every achievement I made, nothing made them proud because my world was a stark contrast to their perception.
I cried myself to sleep, dismayed and grievously disappointed in my family. Is having kids the only symbol of well being in this society?
The Morning After
The morning was quiet, I was up far before the usual time. Probably the chaos of the past evening was still unsettled deep inside. It felt as if my soul was hit and everything seemed isolated. I gathered myself physically as well as emotionally. There was a lot to be done.
I was happy about my basic research on rental apartments a few months back. I had just looked around the areas near office. Today it did not take long to make a few calls and fix up meeting and site visits. There wasn’t much to pack except clothes from the house. Memories……sadly they were too few and were limited to the early years when my grandmother had lived with us. I had them secure in my heart and journal. Finally I was heading to the end of this treacherous chapter of my life where I had eventually made the choice to break free and choose an independent path.
Freshly brewed tea was waiting for me at the kitchen counter. I opted to avoid that and made myself a cup of coffee. No…there was not going back on the decisions made. There was no room for reconciliation. Gulping down the coffee, I continued texting to see if I could drop by one of the rental properties on the way to office.
“Good morning Dad”, I mumbled and walked out of the door.
The drive to work seemed much less stressful and the mind was at ease. The day passed in a humdrum of meetings and deadlines. I spent the rest of the evening looking up places since I wanted to finalize one at the earliest. Thanks to the efforts of Aiesha, my BFF, my sounding board, my fire engine who stood by me like a rock through all of life’s thick and thin.
We are poles apart yet inseparable. Thankfully she took on the unpacking and settling role as I knew my time boundaries were cringed due to ever looming deadlines. That evening I drove back home feeling inner peace.
Much happier, at ease and looking forward to my new life. House ticked off the list, Man…not needed for the time being, Kid…time will tell but definitely on the list.
As expected my announcement of moving out had the tsunami effect sending Mom and Dad in a tizzy. But this time I was determined and no cajoling and coaxing would make me change my decision.
“Mom, Dad, I do not want things to get so messy that we cringe at the sight of each other. This is the best option so that the sanity of our relationship remains.” I said firmly.
“I will keep visiting. Moreover I’m not moving out of the city.”
They were speechless.
I restricted myself to the living room in an effort to be around them incase either of them wanted to say something. Nah…it wasn’t any feeling of guilt. But mostly everything remained silent. None of us spoke. It was a silent dinner except the occasional remark on the weather or food. Surprisingly neither of them asked where I would be living.
The next morning the unusual silence continued. Soon it was time to leave, so I paid my salutation and the customary hugs before dragging away my suitcases. From thereon it was life as usual. I felt as if I was beginning my life now and all these years I had stayed trapped somewhere.
Three years later
It is a day as busy as ever. My anxiety level is high. No it isn’t any new client or presentation nor a new boss. It is my appointment at the IVF clinic. Yes, I am content, I feel privileged to have all the perks in life. A great job, an enthusing work environment that enriches my life every single day, great support from friends and colleagues. My relationship with Mom and Dad is still on a status quo. Occasional visits from them have brought in some thaw but still they are not all open to my life choices. And here I am all set to throw another one at them…….I still don’t feel the need for a husband. But yes I definitely want to share love with my child and this is what has encouraged me take this big decision. I will be going in for pregnancy through IVF with the help of a donor sperm, medically termed as Assisted Reproduction Technology. I have no hope of Mom and Dad being close to even supporting this decision. Yet they ought to know. After passing through some grueling sessions involving mental and physical preparedness, I communicated my preferences so as to enable donor shortlisting. Through the entire process, it was important for me to know what to expect and how ready I was. Well at thirty eight, I felt mentally clear and prepared to accept the big change that would come into life. I sat facing the doctor for one last time along with my buddy Aiesha.
“Look, Mala by now the last three months of counseling has given you a transparent picture of what lies ahead.”
“Yes Doctor! I truly feel I’m ready to take the plunge.” I smiled.
“I want to convey to you one last time that pregnancy may bring along complications, given your age and some unforeseen factors. You have to be brave and also totally devoted to caring for yourself and the child.”
“I realize that doctor and I’m completely prepared.” I nodded as I squeezed Aiesha’s hand.
“Also, I would reiterate that IVF does not ensure a hundred percent success rate. So as your doctor I should tell you that in the first short we will not go beyond three tries. This is for the sake of your health.”
“I understand that very well doctor and have given my consent already.” AIesha patted my shoulder softly.
The documents were signed and I was wheeled into the operation theatre for the first shot. I closed my eyes and prayed hoping for the best. I knew I wanted an opportunity to give this child the most memorable childhood free of judgement and past baggage.
Hopefully, this decision was the end of many doubts and apprehensions I lived with. It was going to be the birth of hope, a new life and dreams.
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