Call Me:

When I left my husband I moved into my parents’ old house. That was almost forty years ago. He was not a terrible person- a struggling engineer, a conservative man, with strong family values and a slightly bewildered conscience. The first time I smoked a cigarette in front of him, he almost fainted from disbelief. When I wore my mother’s antique saaris with their low backs and short blouses, he tried to muster the patriarch inside him but was silenced with one swift swish of my puloo. Oh, I knew how to bully him. Eventually when I left him, I did so for both of us. I did not want to bear the burden of destroying a perfectly decent human being. I was fierce, hot tempered, irrational. He was not concerned with the wonders of the universe. He wanted a family to struggle for, he would be happy spending an entire lifetime in devotion to a social norm. I miscarried four years after our wedding, and when he came to the hospital room to see me, he did not have anything to say apart from this: “Don’t worry. We will be blessed with ten children.” That was when I decided I could not spend my life with a man who understood me so little. Often, when I remember the pain of that baby’s loss, I feel secretly thankful I did not have to bring a child into a family with such different opinions on love and solace.

My parents were unhappy with me. There is no way to explain to the parents of any generation that you have left a perfectly decent man because he bored you, and because you could not be his friend. Forty years ago, it was impossibly hard. I had three other sisters, with families and struggles, but they stayed put to fight it out. I ran. I always was a bit of an escapist. I ran to the house I grew up in, and there, I tried to find myself. It was cowardly perhaps, and it was wrong. But that is who I was then, and something has to be said for the charms of youth that still make room for these baseless rebellions. I began to teach English at a college nearby, began a short love affair with the dean, and started reading. For three years, life was beautiful. Then my mother died, from what many believed was the stress of my situation (her heart could not understand my freedoms), and suddenly I was in charge of the household, the kitchen, my father’s medication. It was a lot of work, and in the capacity of a partner, my father was not an easy man. He was dispassionate about all things- about the garden my mother adored, her favourite trees, her birds. When he stopped giving me money for their upkeep, I began to use my own salary. I discovered I was desperate to maintain my mother’s memory, to be good to her home. The only place I would find comfort in was around my mother’s birds. She had an enormous cage up on the roof, where she would spend her time speaking to her pets, feeding them, cooing and reading to them. I would go there, and reflect on her life and mine. I cannot say I regretted things, but I did wonder about what could have been different. I had no time to be irrational and hot-blooded, to be the passionate, artistic woman I was, who could throw lives and people away when they did not fit into her scheme of things. I had to stay put and fight it out, be my father’s caretaker, manage the home, earn a living and fight loneliness every day.

My father died in 2008. By the end of his life, he had wasted away completely and was immobile for almost ten years. Until he died, I think he blamed me for my mother’s death. And though that has not affected me, I do think now that I would have dealt with my life differently. It would have been better had I planned for the future, had I tried to find marvelous things in ordinary people and places. Perhaps that is the most wisdom one can hope to gain by the end; this realization that there is no escaping the trials of growing older.

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