I am, at present, snuggling under comfy sheets in a nice hotel in a smog filled city where the hubby has come for his office work. The son and I have accompanied him (as faujis do not have the luxury of spending every day with the family through the year). So yes, this one week (until Saturday) is surely a blissful getaway for me. No household chores, no homework sessions (although I have got work for the son to do, but I wasn’t really going to make him study here, was I?) and no social engagements in the station. This is bliss! Bliss because I am in a space where I can write whenever I want, wherever I want and whatever I want to. And also because, we are spending quality time as a family in the evenings (something which we don’t get to do often).
So, today I came across a very interesting post by a soul sister as she pointed out how the current generation of kids are absolutely pampered and inept. She further mentioned about the air conditioned class rooms, kids not knowing how to cover their books and a lot more about the ‘ready to use’ culture. And boy, she is so right! I have to agree with every word she let.
Both of us, being the products of 80’s are modern day parents. But, we kind of realized how far we have left the age old parenting means behind. There was a time when vacations were supposed to be refueling stations for recharging our batteries, learning about importance of families and relationships, learning kitchen tricks from grannies and aunts, playing board games with grandfathers and uncles, visiting new places etc… Today however, vacations are meant to be exotic and they are meant to be getaways, away from our own people so that we can post about it on Instagram! Worse, the very vacations that we took by train in sleeper class in our childhood, undergoing all that humid wafts of monsoon airs gleefully are now looked down upon. I have observed how kids feel when such discussions crop up. It is as if flights earn you more brownie points among peers who travel by trains. It is real, people. The struggle to find a ‘status’ is real among kids.
So, today we speak of air conditioned classrooms, air conditioned cars and exotic vacations. Things we assume our dreams are made of. Are they?
Meanwhile, I see a pattern in my extended family too. While the cousins of our age had a humble upbringing, they fail to follow the same for their own children. For instance, lavish birthday parties, exotic getaways and, too many outfits for one child seem to be the norm. It is here, I am suddenly reminded of the many beautiful moments my mum shared with me about her childhood.
The lost era!
My mum speaks very fondly of her father – my maternal grandfather Mr. VenkataSubramanian Iyer. She has been a daddy’s girl through out and, despite having lost him immediately after her marriage, her eyes well up even today as a granny herself , every time she speaks about him. It is as if her best memories of her life have been only around her father. She recants how my tatha owned just a pair of shirts and pants for a decade and more so that he could save enough for the family. And, he used to wash his clothes everyday, dry them without a crease and then, iron them with a hot vessel filled with steaming water (the old time ironing means when an iron box was not exactly a luxury)
His teachings that have been carved in my mum’s memories include:
kandhaiyanalum kasakki kattu – Even if your clothes are old and faded, wash them before you wear them!
Koozhanalum kulithu kudi – Even if your meal is very simple, make sure you are clean before you sit down to eat.
Seivana tirunde sei – Whatever you do, do with absolute devotion!
My mum follows these life lessons to the teeth. When I see her connection with my tatha, I truly know why a father daughter bond is so so special. My mum grew up in a joint family. Besides her three siblings (my two uncles and one aunt), the family comprised of her grandparents, her uncle and aunt with their four children and, also one of mum’s aunts (my tatha’s sister) whose husband had disappeared for while. So, it was indeed a huge family with its spicy share of drama, emotions and a lot of love and care. My tatha who was the eldest and, perhaps the proverbial epitome of unquestionable obedience towards his parents, gave his entire salary for the family. Therefore, there were many things my mum and her siblings were deprived of in their growing years. My mum recalls the heartaches she felt when the cousins would have ice creams from outside and my grandmother would eyeball mum and her siblings – “Don’t look up like that when someone is eating!” And, my tatha would pat my mum on her head and explain – “Some day, I will get you all that you want. Someday, I will take you all out just like your cousins are getting to do. Some day, my darling. But that some day is not today. Have faith. Our times to enjoy all that will come too. But, for now, let’s enjoy what we have, right?”
When my tatha built an independent home, my paati moved in with the four children that comprised of my two uncles, my younger aunt and my mum. And, as promised my grandparents ensured that mum and her siblings got ice creams on every Friday. The children had hit the teens. However, they had transformed into beautifully adjusting adults understanding what their parents were doing for them.
My mum explained how adjusting in an environment with the faith that things will turn around comes with raw courage. And it is here, she regales me with the role of my grandmother – Kalyani Paati (who I miss even today). Kalyani paati came from a rich and influential family. Her father was a banker with Lloyds at the time. So, when paati married my tatha in a traditionally arranged ‘stars meet stars’ marriage, she found herself in an environment radically opposite to her Maika. It was a life that began with tough adjustments. But those adjustments became trivial as my tatha was a very loving husband who loved his wife 12 years his junior with all his heart and soul.
I have heard from people how my paati emerged strong post my tatha’s untimely demise, determined to give a good life to the other three siblings of my mother (as mum had got married then). Perhaps, it was my mum who noticed how my paati would shut herself in the bedroom and cry silently for hours, wetting the pillows. Those were tears that never left that room lest the children’s morale got affected. My tatha paati raised four children, took care of their parents and, lived a life of simple living – high thinking and, importantly left a fortune to their children so that the children and their children have a good life. They may not have led a luxurious lifestyle. But, they left the world with absolute satisfaction that they had raised good human beings. Now, isn’t that the best feeling for parents when they know that their children have done well for themselves and that, they are financially independent and, can take falls with grace no matter what? How confident are modern day parents on that aspect? The question is frighteningly difficult to answer.
Sometimes, when I sit with my mum, I ask her again and again about my tatha-paati (her parents), her tatha-paati (her grandparents) and, the many hilarious chronicles as were passed to her from the storyteller of her grandma and much more. I did not have the privilege of knowing her grandies or mine, except I was lucky to know my Kalyani Paati until she joined the stars above when I was in ninth grade. So, whatever I hear of them, brings me closer to their souls and, I wonder if my grandparents and their parents feel what I feel, like – “Do they miss knowing me as much as I miss knowing them?” or, “How would they have reacted when they would have seen me as a mother?” or perhaps, “What all have I missed learning from them?” et al. (I almost choke as I write this. It is as if they are hearing me. Only that I cannot see them.)
It is said that my tatha’s mum that is, my mum’s paternal grandma was a Math genius and, she never went to school. My mum recalls how she solved algebraic equations and riders but, since she never went to school, she could never explain how she did it. And, she aced aadu-puli attam like a pro and, was perhaps the greatest story teller of her time. My mum, who was one of the few grandchildren who adored her (my great granny was quite a firebrand who ran the household with an uncanny nerve and, handled finances very well), probably inherited her Math loving persona from her granny. All of the experiences my mum shares from her childhood with me, I gather that raising good children and making sure that they turn good does NOT stem from the fact on what parents provide children with. It stems from the fact on how parents let children be unapologetic-ally themselves with comfort of kind words and timely understanding even when the world around tries to seduce them in becoming one among the crowd.
The thrill in spending trumps the question WHY
As parents, we are drawn towards fulfilling materialistic desires. When kids place a demand, we instantly gear up on how to fulfill the demand. Seriously, how many of us analyze before fulfilling the demand. We comply. Almost instantly. Why? Only because we can afford to. We have the money. Damn! Why can’t we spend it?
My husband who has had an extremely rough and tough childhood, with my mother in law passing away at an early age of 38, when he had just turned eleven years old, understood quite early in life that there was a crucial difference between needs and desires. For him, it was a game of survival in his formative years especially when my father in law slipped into depression post my MIL’s demise and, did not go for his job for two years almost leaving his elder son to fend for himself. (My BIL grew up in a Ved Pathshala down south, getting ready to take up the profession of Brahmins) Those were the toughest times for the husband who was not only dealing with a harsh world outside his home but, at the same was also struggling to understand a father who could not could not tell a dream from reality at the time. Later, times improved when my FIL recovered from the depression and joined work again. But that phase can neither be forgotten by the husband, nor my FIL, nor the neighborhood that witnessed helplessly the four years of darkness that loomed large for the men.
So, my husband’s understanding of the difference between needs and desires was far deeper and clearer, unlike mine. Given that I was raised in a rather luxurious environment with a big home, a garden, a car, a bike and good schooling in a convent, I was oblivious to real struggles faced by people on a day to day basis. So, let’s say our marriage was an enlightenment for me at many levels. Ours is a love marriage. While many in the extended family raised concerns over my decision marrying into a home that was deprived of a female presence for almost fifteen years, my parents knew their parenting has not gone wrong at all because while people pray for good son-in-laws, my parents got more – the Universe gave them a son!
And, how I adjusted in a small home (500 sq feet home) post marriage and, how beautifully my husband adjusted to my idiosyncrasies then, one of which included my poor home keeping skills appended by my tendency to splurge every now and then, is a story that I shall be writing soon about, in near future. So, after seven plus years of marital life (the package now with an adorable son included), preceded by a humble upbringing in an upper class neighborhood during my growing years, I have finally understood why understanding the difference between needs and desires is crucial while we play the role of parents.
Fan is a need but, an air conditioner is a desire.
A ball pen is a need. A Parker is a desire.
Vaseline is a need. A Mac Lipstick be a desire.
Titan is a need and, Edifice be a desire.
Hashback cars be your needs and, Mercedes be your desires.
Comforts are desires. But, companionship is a need.
So, if our kids are unable to differentiate between needs and desires, then as parents, we ourselves are failing somewhere crucially. Without a doubt, we all are doing better financially than what our parents did way back. And yet, our grand parents and parents made fortune better than us. Why? Low cost of living is NOT the only reason. Their understanding of needs and desires was as clear as crystal. They would not spend a penny more on what they felt was not worth a long time. Rather, they spent good money on festivals, families and good food, each of which is needed to sustain good mental and physical health.
Apparently, as adults today, our priorities are reigned by desires. Worse, we fear the flirtatious nature of money. What if the comforts leave us one day, even without a goodbye? Money has always been a butterfly. It rarely stays with one for long. It is like a river. No wonder, we call it currency, right? And, time is another conniving partner of fortune. It only takes an erratic turn in time for someone to go from riches to rags or, from rags to riches! As adults, most of us live in that fear subconsciously. We do not talk about it loud. But, we do harness it and, so give in to many investments like SIPs, mutual funds, real estate et al here and there, while the splurge takes its own course of action from the other hand in terms of shop-aholism, binge drinking and, show off of fortunes! So, how can we blame our children when, we ourselves are chained by our fears of being unapologetic-ally ourselves – the simple beings that came from simple families eating simple food, wearing simple clothes and leading simple lives?
We do not live in peace. We live in constant fear of failures. And that is exactly what is stopping our children from breaking free from their cocoons.
While we believe in freedom in parenting, most of us fail to understand that we are giving a hard time to our wards by not letting them be impenitently themselves while we push them into being perfect, ideal and competitive, without realizing that the word genius springs from Mother Nature’s palette where the oceans are not only rogue and unpalatable but, are also unrestrained and fearless. No two trees grow with the same patterns even if they are from the same family. No two rivers flow in the same direction. But, our reptilian brains cull our intent to understand this truth, a universal truth.
Today, we feel obligated to provide our children with almost everything. However, we are overlooking the ‘if’s’ and ‘buts’ that are nefariously hidden inside the knuckles of destiny. Failures, storms, curve balls hurled by time change a lot of junctions in our journey of life. Are we preparing our children to understand that? After all, comforts are merely tentacles of desires that continue to grow like weeds and that, there is no end to satisfying them. Are we anywhere close to making our children understand the importance of sustenance in a limited pay?
It is difficult but not impossible to lead a frugal lifestyle despite having the fortune to splurge. Fortunately, I have been raised in a state that has more rich people, many of who I know live a parsimonious life. While I have seen and understood class in the richer than rich acquaintances in my hometown, I have also seen in other closer circles (among close relatives and friends) where money and status is flaunted as class. And, my hometown, not a big city but with a big heart taught me just this –
Class is how you treat people regardless of what they have or not. And, it goes notches higher when you add kindness to it.
If we want our children to understand self dependence, humility and simplicity, we have to take the first step and that is, Stop preaching and start acting. Like my dad reminds me every now and then – “Preaching is the biggest bane of human existence. You want your kid to do something, don’t tell the kid. You do. He will watch. He will do. That is it. That is all to it.”
That explains everything. Pretty much. Right?