I was not all that close to my Ma growing up. Temperamentally I am completely my father’s child. She is social, extroverted, garrulous, thoroughly down-to-earth, street smart – the bindaas bambaya typified. I am/was shy, quiet, reclusive even (it’s a bit of mystery where I got this reclusive gene from – my father was also quite social), imaginative, moody and quite a space cadet.
It’s only in my twenties that I have learnt to understand, and more importantly appreciate the strength and courage she has. Through these years, after my father’s very sudden death, the relationship has evolved into a partnership – of sharing decisions, worry and responsibilities – and a united team against the outside world. And in the process I have learnt to value her judgement, recognize her mettle and admire her indomitable spirit. And I know ( I hope rather) she is sure of me, my involvement and my love as any parent can be.
But somehow an infinitesimal change seems to have come in post marriage. Somehow I think in her mind, she doesn’t have the sole proprietorship of my life anymore.
I do exactly the same things I did earlier, say the same things, behave the same way (God knows, there are enough disapproving people telling me that “you haven’t changed at all after marriage”). But I sense that things which would have been taken in her stride earlier or shrugged off in the spirit they are meant, hurt her a little bit. For instance, if I cut off a conversation while at work in Mumbai because I was occupied, that would have been perceived as exactly that. Now I sense a hint of disappointment in her tone.
The reality is I probably talk to her more now than I did when I was in the same house – where chaotic advertising hours meant that I would totter in past midnight, too tired to speak and sleepwalk out again the next morning.
I am pretty sure it is not S either. She is certainly not intimidated or threatened by him (touch wood), they have a comfortable relationship where he goes and turns on the charm at full blast and gets her to cook all sorts of things for him. They also derive a lot of entertainment from ganging up against me.
But still that sense of wistfulness. The wistfulness which I hear on Sunday dusk phone-calls when she nothing to do.And however much I call or speak to her on the phone or get her to come and stay in Pune that sense of wistfulness doesn’t seem to go away.
And also I sense a little bit of purposelessness now. Her whole life she has had to battle and plan for projects – whether it’s starting to work at nineteen soon after she graduated – to become the first working woman in her household, putting her elder brother through college in the process. Or getting married into a family where working women were definitely not approved, but fighting against conventions to provide my father with financial support as he had to fund his younger brother’s education and his sisters’ marriages. (Changing an auto + 2 buses while nine month pregnant each way and coming back, buying vegetables and coming home to cook? I get exhausted just THINKING about that). Or to the most recent project of finding broom/my marriage.
Now for the first time, there is no big project on the agenda. Nothing which requires planning, involvement or working towards – and this leads to loneliness .I have tried my hardest to get her to shift to Pune – but she has her friends and her activities there and beyond three weeks she starts getting restless. Pune also doesn’t solve the bigger problem of adding purpose to her life – God knows I struggle to find purpose in mine at half her age. So I really don’t know how to get her engaged in something else.
And I worry, nay am paranoid, that this drifting and loneliness might start impacting her health. I know she had started doing shortcuts with her food until I found out and threw the mother of all tantrums (no pun intended)
I know a few of my friends have also sensed this in the parents. This loneliness.
This empty nest phenomenon – but what no one seems to know is how to deal with it. It doesn’t matter whether there is a spouse or as in my mother’s case there is not. The last thirty years invested in their children, who grow up to start lives of their own. And sensitive people, intelligent people know that they need to let go. Need to allow their kids to test their wings and form new nests without interfering or involving themselves beyond what is seemly. Leaving behind a big void.
I wish I knew what to do.