I was reading ‘Why Didn’t They ask Evans?’ by Agatha Christie the other day and sat laughing yet again at the Vicar and his youngest son’s efforts to communicate with each other.
Bobby shuffled his feet.
If his father couldn’t see that of course you joked about a thing because you had felt badly about it – well, he couldn’t see it ! It wasn’t the sort of thing you could explain. With death and tragedy about, you had to keep a stiff upper lip.
But what could you expect? Nobody over fifty understood anything at all. They had extraordinary ideas.
“I expect it was the war,” thought Bobby loyally. “It upset them and they never got straight again.”
“Sorry, Dad,” he said with a clear-eyed realization that explanation was impossible.
The Vicar felt sorry for his son – he looked so abashed; but he also felt ashamed of him. The boy had no conception of the seriousness of life. Even his apology was cheery and impenitent.
They moved towards the vicarage, each making enormous efforts to find excuses for the other.
Didn’t we all have such moments with our parents? It is wrong to assume that only 3-12 year old’s say sweet things. Parents surprise you all the time with things that they say in all seriousness and in staunch belief. It has a different air of vulnerability to it from that of a young child and I guess once you start appreciating it, is when you start feeling protective towards them in the age – old cycle of role reversal.
Example 1 – Mom and I are having a chat, I am around 16 at the time, and she tells me something funny and I burst out laughing. Now, if you must know I have an extremely maniacal laugh. Its loud, it starts from the pit of my stomach and if you are not aware that it’s coming your heart might skip a beat or two in fear. I remember Mom was folding laundry and she suddenly stopped and looked at me very contemplatively. I immediately stopped laughing wondering if I wasn’t supposed to and maybe it was a ‘wasn’t funny to grown-ups’ thing. And then Mum says, ‘You must not laugh like that. Young ladies should laugh softly and cover their mouths when they do so.’ Then she went on to demonstrate with a hand over her mouth and a polite, falsetto ‘heh- heh’. ‘See!’ she says. There was a silence of about 5 seconds before I started laughing till I had tears in my eyes. She left in a huff.
FYI – I inherit my laugh from my Mum.
Example 2 – Movies were not a family thing in our household. English movies even less so. So when we did watch them they were usually horror stuff like ‘Jaws’ and ‘Child’s Play’ where I had my eyes and ears closed for half the duration out of fear or Black & White classics like Tom Sawyer. And of course at the first sign of intimacy on the screen I would rush off for a glass of water, not returning till all was safe. I mean it was yucky to see people kissing and to watch it in front of your parents was yuckier still. (Yes, I was young and sweet too once upon a time). Time passed and I grew up, went to college, came home for the holidays and sat down to watch television with Dad. There was an English movie on. Suddenly there was a kiss on-screen. Nothing raunchy, in fact, very demure by today’s standards. The remote was a little far away. Dad cleared his throat. I ignored him. He fidgeted. I still ignored him. Finally, he couldn’t take it any longer and burst out with, ‘Don’t you want to have some water?’ I turned and gave him a sweet smile and said, ‘No, Thank you!’ and continued watching the movie. Dad was crestfallen. ‘I don’t think you should be watching this’ he said after some time. ‘It was only a kiss Papa!’. Now the look on his face was one of sheer alarm. Mum walked in and he conveyed the news to her in tragic accents that their daughter thought that watching ‘only kisses’ was no ‘big deal’. It was too much for my delicate teenage sensibilities and I started giggling uncontrollably. Mum gave an indulgent smile. Dad looked more tragic by the minute.
FYI – Now, I only watch the news with him and National Geographic.
Example 3 – I read a lot ever since I was a kid and being an army brat gave me ample opportunity to fuel this habit, without spending any of my parents money, through the huge, well stocked libraries of the army bases. One afternoon when I was 15, my Mum, who had been to the Ladies Meet the previous evening (where all the old aunties probably aired their wisdom on rearing young girls in the big wide world to young impressionable mothers like mine), suddenly walked into the room and said in withering accents that ‘Nancy Drew’s’ are not the thing for young girls to be reading. ‘They are dirty,disgusting and amoral’ and so on and so forth. I was looking at her wondering where all of this was coming from, quite apart from the fact that I had finished with the Nancy Drew phase 2 years ago. After another fifteen minutes, inspiration struck and I hazarded a sentence, ‘Did you mean M&B’s?’. Silence. ‘Are those the ones with the sex scenes?’ she asked. ‘Yes’ I said. ‘Right! those ones!’ she exclaimed. I nodded and said ‘OK’ and decided it would be safest not to tell her that I had read my first M&B when I was 12 and was so disgusted by it that I never read another. At the time my mum warned me about them I was in a particularly bloodthirsty phase reading horror and crime all the time.
Which brings me to a book I forced my dad to buy for me, ‘World Famous Criminals’. He was extremely quiet the whole ride home. And stayed that way for dinner. Finally, after mulling it over for 3 hours he presented his views with a single withering quote, ‘The kind of books a person buys reflects his/her mindset!’ and stormed off to his room. Implying that I had one of a criminal. I thought he was too cute.
Example 4 – I was watching ‘Bend it like Beckham’ with the family. We were thoroughly enjoying it as Dad teased me with the dialogues in the movies about making ’round-round chappatis’ and ‘gobi ki sabzi’. If you have seen the movie, there is a scene where the Indian heroine gives her footballer mate played by Kiera Knightly, a hug in the street. As events progress, both their families begin to suspect the girls of being lesbians. It was hilarious when the heroine’s grandmother is told about this and she proclaims plaintively,’Lesbian??? But I always thought she was a Piscean!’ Dad had begun to think by this time. He cleared his throat and then looked at me sternly and said,’This is why you shouldn’t go around hugging and stuff on the streets!!’. Quite apart from the hysterical situation that my Dad thought I might be mistaken for a lesbian, I was horror-struck that he even knew what the term implied. Alas! the snobbery of the young.
Example 5 – Two years ago when I was home for the holidays, my friend and I were very diligent about taking our evening walks. One evening my friend asked me to wait for her at her point ‘C’ while she fetched her daughter from her playmate’s house at point ‘A’ and deposited her home at point ‘B’. Now all these points lie in a straight line and as I waited at point C, I watched her go down to point A and into the house to fetch her daughter. Meanwhile my mum and dad were leaving for their evening walk too and mom came and stood with me while dad talked to some neighbors. Just then we heard a loud wailing and turned around to see my friend striding along with a determined stride as her daughter walked behind her with staggering steps and screamed and ranted at the top of her voice. My friends face was set and I could see her explaining to her daughter that she couldn’t spend her whole life playing with friends while people popped out of their houses to see what the commotion was all about. I was so absorbed in this little family parody that I had almost forgotten my mum standing next to me. Suddenly, she looked at me and said in tones of great suffering,” You people drive us mad!!” and stalked off in search of my father. It took me some time to realize that by ‘you people’ she meant my friend’s 5-year old daughter and me, her 30-year old one and by ‘us’ she meant my friend and herself as the long-suffering mom’s!
Of course, writing these anecdotes down makes them lose quite a bit of the punch, though every time I think about these stories or narrate them to anyone with appropriate theatricality, I feel a gush of love and protectiveness for my parents who are essentially simple and honest people and not very interfering in the lives of their children. They gave me just the right blend of freedom and restraint growing up to become the person I am and I am eternally grateful for that.