"And that's the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too." Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
It took me years to realise that my parents loved me selflessly.
As a kid, my daily routine was a dull one with little change for months- heading to school by 7:00 am and back by 2:30 pm; homework time starting by 4-5 pm extending till 7-8 pm; dinner by 8:30 pm and straight to bed by 10 pm. In those days, there were no cable television or mobile phones. Life was very different from the one I lead today.
Back home after school, I was welcomed by Mom with a glass of nimbu paani (sweet and salted lemon water) and/or something to eat, on most of the days. When my grandparents were around, my grandfather seated on a not-so reclining chair, placed in the front verandah of our home, anxiously stared at the road heading straight towards our house. He feared for my safety on the streets and got restless if I was delayed even by a few minutes.
My mom was usually half asleep when she received us in the afternoon. She often, in a hurried tone, instructed me to change quickly. Within a few minutes, she went back to bed to finish her quota of an afternoon nap. She rarely shared how busy was the first half day. She opened up as I grew up. She explained her routine after we left for school and then all other tasks she completed at home. Since the late 1980s, I accustomed to the fact that my mom needs a two-hour afternoon nap without any deviations. Today, she prefers to sleep and asks her granddaughters to join. I am at work and get to hear about the afternoon sleep, which was an eventful one on most days.
As a kid, I rarely stepped out after reaching home. I played cricket all alone that involved throwing a tennis ball at the wall of our courtyard and then swinging my bat to face, as it bounced back. On some days, my father bowled while I batted. He worked in shifts at a factory and was available in the evenings, every second week. My grandparents resisted me, opening up with neighbourhood kids. He feared I getting spoilt and picking up the local slang mixed with foul words- the likes of an abbey, BC, C....., MC, etc. Later, my parents adopted the same thinking about my outings after my grandparents moved to our ancestral village in Punjab.
In the year 1991, my parents left me with my aunt to attend a marriage in Punjab. In a fortnight, when they returned, I was lying on a bed in the hospital recovering from typhoid fever. My father rushed to hospital in the night, moments after de boarding the train. I still remember Dad leaning over me, placing his hand over my head, and enquiring how I was. And trying to put up a bold face, I failed to hold back my tears. I had missed him and Mom.
A lot changed in my life after recovering from typhoid. I was subtly appreciated for being so bold and tolerant of pain without any complaints from my aunt and elder cousins. I drove a moped (two-wheeler bike without gear) for commuting to school. Back then, schools did not allow kids bringing their vehicles to schools. My father took permission from the school principal, citing my recovery from typhoid fever and exertion of bicycling 10 km to and fro to school was not advisable.
My habit of staying indoors was deeply ingrained in my personality by the time I turned 17. I was not comfortable at the social gatherings of families and relatives. My father wanted me to change this habit of mine. He became more confident in my abilities as I cleared my school board exams. In a couple of months, after I joined a new school for higher secondary education, my parents decided to send me to Chandigarh. One of my cousins from the maternal side had picked up cycling as a sport to be pursued alongside completing high school.
The idea of separation rose varied emotions in my parents and me. My Dad was emotional at the thought of parting. He, with mixed feelings, warned me to study hard and stay disciplined. My mom had little to say except to take care of my belongings. At this time, Dad's emotional side dominated my mother’s. Considering Dad's emotional state, she may have preferred to focus on pacifying him rather.
I cried when my Dad decided to return home after helping me settle down in a new city and hostel. My Dad asked me to not worry about expenses. "You should not be washing your daily wear. It will be too hectic for you. You better get them dry cleaned." The time to call parents was post-dinner from a public telecom booth. The tariffs back in the 1990s were pretty high, and the rates were 75% lesser for calls made post 10 pm.
I stood in a long queue of callers waiting for my turn to call our neighbours. My Dad attended the call, first, followed by my Mom. My responses to Mom's queries were a repeat as my Dad handed over the phone to Mom. I was at my innocent best, talking like a kid detailing every little thing. The smiles of people behind me seemed to conform to the love of a child for his parents.
As years went by, my detailing over the calls got replaced by inquiries about them. “All is well” replaced the sharing of as minute a detail as possible. My roommates took jibes at me for speaking about every small event to parents. According to them, I was yet to be an adult to make decisions on my own. I took pride in myself for loving my parents. And felt lucky to have them love me like a prince.
My grandmother was in her 70s when she traveled to Chandigarh from our ancestral village. She believed I was deprived of a nutritious diet and carried panjeeri in a large tin box. “Why do you bring so much Mata Ji?” To my query, she replied, since you have roommates who may take their share, and you being too agreeable will be left with too little for yourself.
In another couple of years, I started dating a girl. We fell in love. My parents were shocked. For the first few years, they presumed it to be a magic spell by the girl on their gullible son. I did not relent to any of their reasonings and continued to date. I was termed adamant for hurting their trust. It took half a decade for them to agree to my relationship. Since then, it is not 'I' but 'We' for my parents. My spouse is equally close to them.
Today, the love of my parents for me has evolved. I am trusted for decisions. The preaching has ceased. I talk to them very sparingly (especially when they are away). They continue to affirm their love for us by calling my wife daily. My Mom now is busy with her granddaughters, whether with us or elsewhere. She stitches frocks and gowns for them. My Dad sets up the house, repairing practically everything that is not working correctly on his return to us.
My parents are not convinced about taking rest when they come to stay with us. They participate and gradually take over the daily chores, leaving my spouse and me idle. We are left to just taste the new delicacies after returning from work. The house is sparklingly clean, with everything in perfect order.
My mother asks me for tea and water the moment I step in after work. She makes me recall the school days when she received me with a glass of nimbu paani.