“Papa, can you drive this car with one hand?”
“Yes, of course. I can even steer it with just my little finger. Here. See.”
“Priya, you’re taking out the candies again.”
“No I am not.”
“Yes you are.”
“No I am not, Mummy! I just came in to keep this comb back.” (Priya thinks: “How could she tell I was stealing them? She’s not even in the room.”)
There were many such instances that deepened my belief that they, my parents, were super-humans. That my father had unexplainable motor abilities and my mother apparently had X-ray vision brought them quite high up on my esteem. Even when I grew up from my child-like fantasies, they continued to be invincible for me. Even when I realised they are, in fact, not super-humans (She came to know of my candy stealing because she could hear the rustling wrappers from the other room. And she knew me well. It dawned upon me much later in life. About the driving, well, you know.), I continued to see them as such. A pity. Because that’s expecting too much from humans without the proverbial ‘super’. But, somehow, they’ve rarely disappointed.
Like everyone else’s, most of my childhood experiences have some relation or the other to my parents. Out of those who have either influenced my mould or impressed me enough to remember them, my parents remain the ones with the most remarkable impact. What made it possible is perhaps they’ve been the ones who’ve had tremendous faith in me. Always. Mummy and Papa, as I call them, are people who have given me immense sense of fulfilment, warmth, intense misery and anxiety. That completes the picture of a normal human being, I suppose.
Let’s begin from the now.
After having lost their son when he was just 27, my parents have continued to live. Some things, however, have influences over lives that are simply so decisive, that they change the course of everything. Arun and Neerja, my parents, are people who have bravely faced setbacks and lived on. Relentlessly. Much like the names their parents gave them. Arun means the Redness of the Rising Sun. He, my father is the warmth that engulfs you after a long, dark night. Neerja is a synonym for Lotus, the flower that blossoms in slushy mud. Ever fresh, ever pure.
Grief has a certain strange quality to it. It either makes you walk into a closet and shut the door, or, if you choose to sit in the drawing room and laugh over friendly jokes, it makes your deepest weaknesses surface like never before. Ten years along the path of living as grieving parents, they have succumbed to their weaknesses, which were formerly just an addition to their very normal being. That’s where my misery and anxiety surfaces, just in case you were wondering in one of the paragraphs above. My undying faith in their super-humanness began to wobble a little, when nothing I said or did made them like they used to be.
But, when I think of those countless memories of a child much in awe of her parents, I feel a sense of wonderment at their immense patience with my failings. How could I feel exasperated with them, then?
I was a flighty child with flighty moods and convictions. While my mother was the firm hand, my father provided me the much-needed warmth. When I faltered and suffered, they held my hand like I could never expect from any other individual. And all this without ever saying ‘I told you so.’
My mother had been regularly warning me about my latest infatuation. Voicing her misgivings. Like I always do, I followed my heart. On the Day My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again, I came back home and sneaked into my room, sobbing to my pillow. My mother came in, lay down with me and cradled me until I fell asleep. There were no questions asked, none answered. I woke up a few times in the night, and was vaguely aware of her form still hugging me. She must’ve begun her share of crying when she had made sure I was asleep. I don’t think she slept that night.
There have been many Days My Heart Broke Like It Never Will Again. I just had to remember that night to know she, my mother, would never let me suffer alone.
No, it wasn’t all love and hugs between us. I hated my mother deeply when I was an ‘independent individual’ during my teenage years. I hated her. I am glad, in a way, that I did, too. Because when I stumbled through the stones I’d created for myself, everything she had said that I had thought would undermine my independent, free spirit came back to me in a rush. I needed that.
It was different with me and Papa. I always loved him. Always thought of him as my best friend. When I flunked maths, when I wanted to know what ‘fuck’ meant, when I wanted to back-bite my mother. Unlike my mother, he does not question my failures. Like her, he has never made me feel insufficient. But he did and still does demand that extra from me. When my brother’s body had arrived, we decided to cremate him in the clothes he had been wearing. But they needed to be washed. “It’s your brother’s blood, Priya. If you won’t, who else should?”
Papa has made sure that I got everything, but taught me to never demand what is not rightful. He has been trying to teach me the value of being assertive, but has failed miserably. Not a super-human after all, eh?! My loveliest memory (or one of the many) with him is as a six/seven year old. After dinner and some moments of this and that, I’d pretend to sleep on the couch. He’d pick me up to take me to my bed and tuck me in. When he’d picked me up, I’d open my eyes and stick my tongue out at my mother and brother, happy. I suspect he always knew I wasn’t asleep, but played along.
My parents created the mould for me, but deliberately kept it pliable and supple, so that I could make my own choices.
After all, they have always been game for ‘Up, Up, and Away’ towards here the moment they hear an S.O.S. from this end.
And it is only right that I end this post by telling you the meaning of my name as well. Priya means the Loved One. What else does one need?