I walk into the house to a loud argument. For the past five years, that had been the rule rather than the exception. Invariably, it’s my mom in full battleship mode with someone, usually the folks she terms the help in her mind. She would never say it out loud, since she’s socially sophisticated enough to realize that word went out with buckram underskirts. Yet, it lingers in her mind.
So it started with the movers who broke her precious Noritake ceramic plate while transporting it, the cleaner who cleaned her new residence was hauled over the coals for not meeting her standards, the watchman was scolded for not sending up the courier with her bank documents and so on. I wonder what this day will bring as I consider her situation too.
In a reverse migration, my seventy plus mom moved from Pune to Mumbai. She gave up a sprawling 5 bedroom Bungalow to live in an apartment complex in a Mumbai suburb. She also gave up the rights to being a cranky punekar since those who know understand you can never make a Punekar happy. They are constantly searching to improve life while the Mumbaikar takes life as it comes and does not expect anything from anybody.
However, there are two things even the most staunch Mumbaikar is wary of and those are leakage and pests in the house. Termites, wood borers and silverfish are perhaps the biggest demons of the city and treated brutally to eradicate them.
It turns out my mom’s latest battle is with the exterminator. I wince at the loud arguments and can tell from the home grown accent of the exterminator that he is from the Maharashtra rural belt, and won’t take any prisoners while my mom always shoots first and then asks questions. This could take long.
To say that my generation has been oppressed by both our parents and our children is not an overstatement. However it’s not an excuse for spineless behavior. I get into the fray, ignoring the fact that their decibel level is way beyond normal or civilized and offer water or tea all around. I’m waved off impatiently. Somehow they both discover during their conversation that she has a dog living in the house and that changes the tone of the talk. They begin discussing ticks and add that onto the list of pests to be controlled.
It seems ticks are not to be squashed. You nuke them with chemicals. Squashing them releases their blood and they regenerate from it. I joke about mahishasur the demon who was also called raktbeej and the exterminator says, the demons got to stay on earth as the blood parasites.
Sobered by the thought that the gods have left the human domain but the demons stay behind, I now find that the brief truce has been called off. They are now haggling over price.
In the middle of a heated statement the exterminator stops and asks my mom, “who painted that?” my mom points to me. It’s a recreation of vermeer’s girl with a pearl earring and I painted it while my daughter was in her nappies and I wanted to feel like something other than a human udder.
While looking at the painting, they both agree on the price and the deal is done before tea is served.
Next, I help my mom rig up a temporary tray outside her window. The following day is the day she feeds her ancestors and her tray of food has every possible delicacy her dead relatives could want to munch on in heaven. Capsicum bhajji for my grandma, kheer for my grandpa, mung Dal for my aunt. And of course pumpkin and cluster beans for the priests who recommend the standard platter.
On the actual day, I know the family dog will bark and drive the crows away and my mom will fret that her ancestors are going to starve in heaven, hell or purgatory or wherever she has sent them. Crows are famously associated with death rites and every community stuffs their beaks on the all souls day.
The dog would love to help, but apparently you feed dogs to get friends who are loyal, not convey food to the departed. So we court the crows and wait till they are done before we attack the holy meal.
For every story and rumor I hear of seniors being left alone, mistreated, brutalized even, all I can say is only a wearer knows where a shoe pinches. We put up with a buttload of crap from our kids who are old souls, hoping for spiritual growth and other paybacks and attempt to please our infantile parents hoping to earn human and divine goodwill. But we seem to forget that the young and the old are willful and willing to battle the odds to get what they want. It is we the middle aged whose lives have sagged out of shape and want some peace.
Which will come eventually even in the midst of heated arguments and chaotic interludes. The key is to just enjoy the ride, I guess.
Dedicated to the very young and the very old. Though you all can be major pains, we love you to the moon and beyond.