The son is not happy with his lot these days. He goes around with a puzzled, triste, scornful kind of look these days. If he knew the lingo of adolescence, he’d turn around at us and say, ‘You just don’t understand me!’ That is what we were charged with saying in our adolescence. Knowing this generation – not too well, I find – he’s just as likely to say, ‘I don’t understand you guys, you’re so square!’ The problem is he’s not into adolescence yet – at least not in chronological terms. But maybe that’s how it is these days: you’ve barely got them to stop making trees in the bed at night, and they’re raring to tell you, you don’t understand. Well, I don’t.
I remember the time, not too long ago, when the son would race for the door when the door-bell rang. Amma used to warn me direly, ‘One day this boy will open the door to a thief!’ It took a great deal of lung power to wean him from the door, but it seems we were more than successful. For now, after a hard day at work, I find myself opening the door all evening to his friends, who trickle in strictly one by one. If I so much as pause to put on my slippers, the bell goes again, insolently insistent, while the host of this informal gathering shouts from the garden, ‘Can’t someone get that door?’
Informal seems to be the key word, for when I finally open the door, I find this big hulk walking past me, through the house and straight into the garden. Not so much as a ‘Hi Auntie!’ (I gave up expecting the more polite ‘Good Evenings’ we were trained into, the day they learnt to talk.) No one looking on would guess that I’ve known the hulk since he was three, that I’ve dangled him on my knee, and even mopped up his tears when he fell and hurt himself not so many years ago.
Games over for the evening, the four of them will troop in and spread themselves over my sofa, dirty, grimy and exhausted. Amma and I sitting in a corner of the room continue to go unacknowledged, as they discuss the game of the day. Then begins the raid on the fridge. Bottles of cold water disappear down four young male throats faster than Amma can fill them. I don’t mind, really. Water is good for you, as I have stressed repeatedly to the son when he reaches for the cola bottle.
But I do think their social science books should include these little bits of useful information: those interesting looking rectangles outside the door serve a purpose – that of getting the mud off your shoes before you step inside; if you put muddy shoes on the sofa, you can’t expect me to get it re-upholstered the next time your girlfriend visits; rubbing grimy fingerprints off fridge doors needs as much muscle power as playing football; used glasses are better off in the kitchen sink, for otherwise they are liable to become homes to interesting forms of life; fridges work best when they are kept closed; whatever your mother may have told you in a moment of weakness, there is no such thing as a bottle fairy – empty water bottles have to be filled if you want cold water the next day.
Offer them food in a moment of kindness, they seldom want it. The fault could lie in the kind of food that is being offered, but, in general, a bottle of Coke is welcomed more enthusiastically than a plate of halwa. Probably, like their entertainment, they want it all in pap form. Or maybe, after years of total incontinence, they’ve swung right around to total retention and no space for hunger. Many of the son’s friends certainly look retentive, or, as the husband puts it more baldly, constipated.
And if any of you think I can exact appropriate revenge after the party, no sir! Remonstrance, I have learnt through experience, is seldom any use. The son merely looks quizzically at me and says, ‘Okay, okay!’ The next I see of him is at the dinner table. Obviously, no one has told him that his mother’s psyche can be scarred for life if he does not spend quality time with her each evening.
But back to the party. The next session is in the study, before the computer. Much shouting and yelling will occur. As will reams of animated discussion. Yesterday, when I went to check out the scene, I was greeted with total silence. Four pairs of eyeballs stared at me, no recognition whatsoever flickering in them. At last, the son, who does realize once in a while that Amma and I are the only women in his hearth for the next ten years at least, said with politeness dripping like icicles in his voice, ‘Mum, you wanted something?’ I could have danced with joy. At least he recognized me.
First published in The Financial Express.