Welcome to the (Dysfunctional) Family

I sat for my entrance exam today. I marked two options wrong under the same question; kills me to think about it. If only I could undo the momentary spark that made me see the utter foolishness of 5 seconds back. Isn’t ignorance bliss?

I seem like a robot to myself. Even though human brain is capable of amazing multitasking by dividing tasks into multiple concurrent threads, mine takes it to another level. I am on auto-pilot for most of my time. Just like that stupid question above; even as I was deliberating over the question’s contents, my hands were marking the wrong options on their own. (Two times! Who does that?) I wish I had control over my own body to stop it when I want it to and especially when I need it to. There is a very unfair weight assigned to inertia in my brain’s functioning: I wish to get off at a bus stop but I don’t because I prefer sitting but when I start walking I don’t want to stop. Or the love of everything Norah Jones, which is mostly inertia right now; at least until she comes up with another album. Now given that I have a theory for my laziness, I am even less compelled to get it remedied. Worse, I know that this is my personal failure. It is like I try to break out of loop, but there is a voice inside me that tells me it is of no use. I eventually agree after futile resistance. I even recognize the voice at times – it is my father’s.

My childhood evidently was not a very pleasant one. I used to be slapped for spilling milk on the floor and then I had to clean it up too. I was once dragged out of bathroom and beaten up badly because I took too much time in bathing. I know there were people waiting but I had a fear of water – still have to some extent – and you are not helping by making me fear you too. Me and my sister have dissected our early years in idle time over the last few years. We laugh about it or swallow it like a bitter pill, but we share stories like it is long past. Is it really? Every commentary about our past is tinged generously with the flavour of the current season. What we choose to keep secret is as important as what we make public. And that means, I can’t really pity my father openly, I am supposed not to. It would be like crossing over to the dark side.

He was abusive when we were small, particularly to our mother. I read regularly about it from others on the internet but to accept that my own father is manipulative and cowardly seems odd and so right at the same time. Not to say he doesn’t have any good qualities; if he didn’t have any, it wouldn’t be much incentive to stay in the same house. But they cannot redeem his behaviour of the past. Who cares about a good cook when the cook is also controlling, selfish and discouraging? He was the poison in my childhood. Thankfully, that we had minimized contact with him for most of our lives since we had school from 7.30 in morning to 1.30 pm, and he would already be gone to office by 1.00 pm not to come back before 9.00 pm. Thus we had to deal with him only in early mornings and late at night. And this also made Wednesday the most hated day in my life: it used to be his weekly day off from work. Even now, when he says I am not going to office tomorrow due to XYZ reason, one of us mutters ‘oh shit’ almost reflexively.

Still, his presence was always felt in the house like a haunting shadow over all of us. He was the one who used to make big purchases and decisions, my mother was practically a nobody in the grand scheme of things. The funny thing is she was earning a good deal more than him at that time, always was and still does, and was the one who financed the whole budget. She was a meek woman back then. The moment this story was happening, think of a woman with two children, 10 and 11 years-old still living in her mother-in-law’s house on ground floor in joint family. It was an old structure augmented with rooms and structures along the way to make room for more families since our grandmother had 6 boys and a girl. Our room particularly had no windows. It had a small attached kitchen and a little verandah in front. That was our private dingy space in the building. All families shared the bathroom but our stuff used to be confined to our space only. We had to pay (justifiably) our share of rent to our grandmother. And the rent used to come out of the pockets of my mother, like all other things in our home.

Back in those days, salary was given in cash; my mother earned a constant 13,000 rupees income for quite a stretch of time. She would silently put a fixed chunk of 10,000 rupees in my father’s locker every month (yep, they had different lockers). He didn’t have to face the humiliation of receiving the money; I say humiliation because it was how he felt exactly. He didn’t like the idea of having his wife earning the major portion of income. Or how my mother better puts it, he liked the idea of free money from a timid wife but didn’t like it when the wife flapped her wings to get control over her own money. We had the remaining chunk of money for ourselves which is why clearly remember the figures.  Intermittent bonuses and Diwali gifts would augment our 3k figure but it used to be plentiful for all three of us back then. We used to be pretty well-off; we could get however many drawing books we wanted and used to blow most of the extra cash at our stationery shop itself. Our mother wanted to avoid confrontation at all costs, but there was one thing that we could always bank on – that she would always root and fight for us; she still does. She was our protective blanket, the one we could trust to fall back on. And I am proud to say that we didn’t take advantage of this fact and this was also inculcated by my mother herself unknowingly. She used to tell us exactly how much money we had, how much we had to spend and always left to our discretion how we spent the money. We had a say on how to manage the money from a very early age since we were her only confidantes in a lonely world. This fact makes me guilty because if there is something I regret, it is my inability to spend time with my mother. I feel sometimes that our relationship is less of mother and child but more of a spoiled dependent person (me) and a caring friend. I am ashamed to say that after all these years of her labour, I haven’t given her the respect she deserves.

I don’t absolve myself of this grave crime. But our home is not a fertile ground for love with a bitter father in the background always up with caustic comments against my mother. Her own home, grown kids, time and perspective forced my mother to reclaim all the power she deserves. She took control of her life in small but firm steps. My mother made a decision to buy her own house early on and it triggered so many other things: her refusal to sign blank cheques to him, buy groceries for the house, freedom to buy clothes whenever she wanted, at one point refusal to give him any money at all and so on. It has grown to the point where she can purchase a car or a laptop without bothering with the hassle of my father. It has been a long journey since that dark time, but the man is still with us: mellowed and aged with whom I find spending more time than my mother. He is teaching us how to drive nowadays and he takes me to examination centres for my entrance exams, a tradition since my 10th Board exams back in 2008. My mother has taken up music which I repel as much as I can; and I wind up many times sitting on the couch opposite my father.

Today, outside the examination centre (KV R.K. Puram, Sector-2: an excellent school — I am a KVian after all) when we had time enough to kill before exam started, we started talking about the church and Christianity in whose grounds we were sitting. How we wounded up talking about my mother I don’t know — it was related to the money I took from him temporarily for newspaper, unnecessary details — but he said something very apt in frustration, and I quote, “This very society that you don’t care about is the only thing that makes me put up with you all. There would come time soon enough when I would just rent a room somewhere else and be done with it.” Juhu! However on the top of the world I might feel about such a positive statement for us, it still shows how difficult it is for he himself to live in our house. My mother nowadays is not the docile woman she used to be; she is ambitious, stubborn and annoying. She plays harmonium whenever she wants to. I don’t have much problem with it, but my father does. As with most of what goes on in the house, he sits on the settee and mutters continuously under his breath. There was a time when he used to do whatever he wanted; I don’t see why he should he have problem when the tables are turned against him. *evil grinz*

I am not as hating to my father in real-time. We are at a truce most of the time but who am I kidding? We both siblings are just biding our time till we run away from this hell. I am still torn as to how to proceed with my mother. I decided to go to Germany for some time and made the mistake of telling it to my mother. She now thinks that I would never back. I am 100% sure right now I would come back but what if I don’t? That is why I don’t promise her anything; it is already bad enough that I told her that I would go away at all. I leave open a possibility that I would find my life-partner there. But I can’t leave my dear country, so I don’t think he would really be a life-partner if he wouldn’t come with me back to India. In any case, Germany is not as big an issue as much as my future in India itself. Would I let our mother live with me? That would certainly mean she would have to know I am gay. And I am torn on this issue as well. But she is my mother and though she doesn’t expect it from me that we would live together, she still yearns for it. I would be heartless to let her perish alone. Therefore, I just accept that I need to sacrifice half of my life for her, like she did for me. That is only fair, no? So yes I accept that I am thinking aloud here and that I can’t leave her even if it is out of guilt. Hopefully, a better home and independent social lives, we would make us get along better. I really don’t care for my father at this point; he could be good and all but since any decision involving him has to weigh against my mother, he doesn’t stand any chance.

Where is my sister in all such future plans? This post wasn’t for her so she doesn’t figure. But for those interested, she is the only person whom I truly love in my little family. She doesn’t need to know it though. We all have a tradition of heaping only disappointments on each other, not gratitude ever. Welcome to the family.

PS – Now I am wondering why did I write this at all. And yes, one thing instantly comes to my mind. To not forget who my father was. Even if we talk at times, I don’t want to forget the sacrifices made by my mother. And writing things down does make it easier and clearer. This should have gone into my private diary but I have wrote it here, it can’t be undoed. I do have the choice to not publish it, but I want people to know how dysfunctional families look from inside. And I am deeply grateful to my mother from saving me from my father. She might not be the woman she used to be, but she is where she is due to us in part. So, I can’t really leave her in a lurch hoever much I may be tempted to. That is a promise to myself.

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