I surrender myself to the wisdom of older women, and go on a short holiday after finding a good, but expensive respite care facility for my father. (It was worth it. If I were wealthy, I would do it all the time.)

Older women know everything.

Together they have witnessed and borne everything. Abandonment, relationships, miscarriages, children, abortions, surgeries, divorces, deaths, and interminable but magical life that can change or end in a spasm. It makes them cold and loving at the same time.

In many ways, when I teach in a classroom, when I allow lovers to touch me, when I console and counsel friends and students, I am already that woman.

But here, now, in my life, I am still a little girl crying for her papa.

I love daddy play (is that even a surprise?), but this time there is no safe word. Only adult choices. And I no longer know how to play.

My mother who has foresuffered all and borne it all by turning simple cooking into a fine art, puts her foot down and says, “We need a break. From this man, this life, this house. We should reclaim our lives.”

So we go to Munnar.

For what it’s worth, by day 2, I am smiling easily and I am breathing more air. My mother is all giggles and laughter and delight.

This is what we need, I can hear her think.

But my mother is also thinking about the rest of our lives.

For nearly a year, I think, she cared for her aged and dying father along with her siblings. The three youngest were responsible for an old man who did nothing more (it seems to me) than produce child after warring, toxic, narcissistic child. They would be family only in the trauma they cause/caused each other that bound them so irrevocably together. Still. Each one talks as if they were a victim. Still. But in those days, my mother and her two youngest brothers aged between ten and seventeen were victims. They cooked, kept a clean house, and cleaned their father when he soiled himself in bed, even as they went to school or college, tried to keep part time jobs.

That cannot be duty or giving back to our parents. No child asks to be born.

I am determined that neither my mother nor I will do that for my father. We’ve done it once already, rather she has, on our last holiday as a family when my father was so disoriented he lost control of his bowels, his bladder, and even his gait. In those green and wet valleys of Wayanad, I promised myself we’d not do this for his remaining life.

His life seems interminably long.

It’s cruel to live, I think, when the mind starts shrinking and your base nature comes to the fore.

I see him greedily eat (seldom offer to share, so unlike him) food that he likes. His heart is full of distrust and hatred, he could be mirroring today’s political landscape. Our help, without whom, my mother and I would just crumble, is a noted thief; our friends have all stolen money. And his tongue, sometimes his hands, are reserved for the two people he loves the most. Snapping at us all the time, glaring balefully, stumbling about in confusion and discontent.

Yet he wishes to live. He is grasping at life. The fear of death is in every sentence he utters.

“Do you want me to die?”

“Get me some poison; kill me.”

“I will go away somewhere and die, and then you will know.”

These are not the responses to bitter fights. These are responses to banal, transactional things like, ‘here’s your tea’ or ‘why did you close the curtains?’ or ‘go have a bath, why don’t you shave?’

I wonder if it’s only the physically fit people who feel so attached to life.

I know I don’t feel that way. One arthritis flare-up or a migraine and I am happy if it all ends soon.

But when we age, who knows what greed overcomes us?

Aren’t we always grasping at something, all of us?

Does age even matter then?

Friends remind me that I am still young but quickly ageing, and that life is ephemeral. They have seen previous generations elevate sacrifice, duty, and a generous dose of ‘what will people say?’ and lose the best years of their lives.

Sacrifice is a problem. It’s such a hyberbolic action, it’s not a virtue.

What will people say has never ever been a consideration, much less a concern for me.

No. I vacilate between thinking as an adult and feeling like a child.

My mentor, the wisest woman I know, told me that this too is because of the way I was reared by my father.

What is a parent’s duty?

To rear their offspring to the best of their abilities and ensure that they grow up to be functioning, independent, self-sustaining adults.

My father ensured that I would always also be the adult he could depend on. Whether he did it consciously or events transcribed to make it so, is something we’ll never know now. Once in the throes of insulin shock, he did ramble smugly to our neighbour who had come to help us lift him and put him back on the bed from where he had fallen, “I brought her up. Now see, she will look after me.” Even at that moment, it was a rude shock. I suddenly felt unseen, depersonalised.

I had the world’s best childhood. Everything given on a platter. Love, attention, affection, praise, lessons, and all material things. If I craved a sweet, I would get it. If I wanted a book, I would get it. I liked to study. So I did well in academics usually. My tenth boards were surprisingly good. That was the only time my father spoke to me about boys. “I will put you in whichever college you want, you study whatever you want. Don’t waste time running behind boys. There’s plenty of time for that.”

He never insisted on me getting married like other parents. Yes, the tumour got in the way of all that, perhaps. If, like most other women, I had children to run behind, I wouldn’t be parenting my parents today.

My mother doesn’t believe that, though. His inaction when it came to planning my future drove an irreparable wedge in their marriage.

So when my mentor said that my upbringing is why I am in so much conflict today, I know it to be true. As a child, I grew up without disappointments, without having to adjust or feeling threatened or having the need to manipulate. I was a princess.

They rear you like a princess but never let on how heavy the crown of queendom is. You are just expected to wear it and rule.

This is the resentment then. That I wasn’t warned. That I couldn’t prepare. That I have to be the adult in my relationship with my parents, and decide what’s best for all of us.

They think I am stressed and unhappy because of love. Yes. But also no. I am resentful at having to take a decision. This decision-making is a burden and I have been doing this since I turned eighteen. I am exhausted.

All the women in my life are counseling me to put him in a facility. This is not a burden worth bearing, they say.

So I sulk like a spoilt child even as I surrender to their wisdom, and my own practicality. But my body tenses; my jaw is clenched all the time; my dentist tells me that I am grinding my teeth; I don’t get my period at all when I am regular like clockwork usually (perhaps the menopause has begun) but suffer from PMS all the same; and I call various dementia care facilities in a tight voice.

A stranger’s sales pitch becomes my undoing for a hot minute. “I can hear it in your voice, Ma’am, how fatigued you sound. Our facility is well-equipped to handle frontotemporal dementia patients. You must be knowing, Ma’am, that it’s the worst kind of dementia one can get. Very difficult for the caregivers, Ma’am. But don’t worry, we will help.”

“I… Thank you.”

I almost cry all over him on the phone at this sudden sympathy and kindness from a stranger. I feel hopeful. All for a quiver.

He continues, confident he has reeled me in. “My pleasure, Ma’am. It will cost you 71,500/- per month for single occupancy, with a refundable deposit of two and a half lakhs, and a non-refundable deposit of thirty thousand only. Also, we charge 3,500 additional for co-morbidities like BP, cholesterol, diabetes, Ma’am. Heart conditions and others will be extra. When would you like to visit us?”

I can visit them only if I surrender my body to the general populace, day and night, week on week, naturally. Even getting back to a corporate job won’t cut it.

Or I can suffer as only a daughter can and make my mother suffer as only a wife can, and we look after what’s left of my father on our own, for however long he or we last.

So it all boils down to Sophie’s choice, really.



About Bhumika's Boudoir

I love to laugh, and end up being a part of high drama and stormy emotion even when I don't pursue it. Being creative, and communicating with people get me going. I enjoy all the good things in life especially those that are slightly risque, and apologise little, if ever, for all that I do. Literature is a passion and so is music.
This entry was posted in Blue Funk, Idle Thoughts, In Sickness and In Health. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s