TW: Talks of life, death, aging parents, and all that.
On my last trip to Delhi, I met a senior from MDI (let’s call him A) and we got talking about aging parents, time, regrets, closure, and all that.
He and I faced the same dilemma – on one side both of us wanted to be good children to our respective parents who are aging fast; and on the other, both of us wanted to chase our respective bliss (family and career in his case; more travels, money, and dreams in mine). And both of us wanted both things at the same time.
A simple solution could have been to co-live with parents – like families in India have lived for centuries. But the vagaries of modern life, the stubbornness of old age, and the enthusiasm of infinite ambition make it tough.
I mean, at least in my case, I can NOT live in the same city and thus not in the same house as my parents. My work, my life, and my ambitions are in Mumbai (and inshallah, at some point in the near future, out of India). My parent’s whole life is concentrated around a 500-m road, a park, an army of domestic helps that they manage, and neighbors they’ve lived with for more than 35 years now. The only time they leave this geofence is to visit doctors. They go on travels once or twice a year, for about two days, and are content with that.
A’s parents are home-bound as well and they live in a small town about 150 KMs away from him. One of his parents is bedridden and needs 24-hour assistance. His parents also are geofenced to their neighborhood and the townsfolk that they lived with all their lives. ce In my case, this distance is about 1400 KMs. A’s work requires him to be in a city and the parents can’t leave their row house and the familiarity of the town to move, even if they want to be with their kids.
When I met him, he was exasperated at the prospect of staying away. I had a more morose emotion. I was disappointed, sad, and full of guilt that I was not being a good son. I mean I want my parents to be with me. And I want them to be comfortable. At the place I am in in my life, I don’t have enough to get them even a room of their own in Mumbai. Plus I will move out of India soon (I don’t know how to do this with my aging parents needing constant medical supervision). At these times, I think that I should’ve done a Naukri long ago and with time I would have made enough to have a house that my parents would have converted into a home.
In that conversation A made a very pertinent point. I don’t recall the exact words he used but here is my articulation of that. He said that we need to be mindful ALL THE TIME that EACH interaction with our parents could be the last one.
When I first heard this, something snapped in me. While I can see my parents growing old and fading, the reality of them not being around me never occurred to me. I know it’s inevitable and I am a hyper-realist, I should’ve thought of it and planned for it. It reminded me of this post by Tim Urban about the time of life. I had read it a few years ago but the chat with A reminded me of it all over again.
So, A further said that since life is so unpredictable and so fragile, you never know what will hit you when, and often you may be left with things unspoken, unsaid, unexpressed. He then said that each time you speak with your folks, you need to get closure on each conversation, however small, tiny, or insignificant it may be.
Again this closure thought had never occurred to me. Like all things in life, I assumed that it was an ongoing relationship that would stretch to infinity. No, I am not dumb and I am aware of the shortness of life (and the importance of the sense of urgency) but it never dawned on me to get closure on simple conversations. Reminds me of my thing with “closing windows” when I sleep. Reminds me of the frailty of human thought and emotion in the wake of uncertainty.
In fact, most relationships go sour when this closure is absent from them. It could be as simple as saying sorry for the time you snapped. Or could be as large as being at the bedside when someone passes away. Even when someone is leaving the city, the action of dropping at the airport and checking in once they have reached is a closure of that “transaction”. I have famously shied away from these. To the point that I find excuses to not be around when someone has to go. I can’t say goodbyes, even when I know that they are going to a better place. And of course, there have been times when I was denied the opportunity to say goodbye. It still inches often. I regret that I could not. For example, when Poo left, I wanted to hug her tight at the airport but I couldn’t do that. Fucking Samaaj and all that. Not just with friends like Poo, each romantic relationship I’ve had since the beginning of time, I have not got closure. And at least in two of those, I did not offer closure. With my conscious as my only alibi, I know that I tried in both cases but I could not. I needed to try harder. Now, it’s going to be too little too late. I mean how do you tell someone you loved with all your head and heart that the neverending, forever love couldn’t stand the test of time and withered away? How do you tell someone you shared a room, a house with that you don’t feel as special about them as you did once upon a time? How do you tell them that you don’t feel loved when you are around them?
Anyhow. Rant. Again. Arrghh. Need to be better. Coming back. To A and our conundrum.
So, in an ideal scenario, both A and I wanted to be able to chase our bliss while keeping our families together (in A’s case he’s got a wife and two kids and then A’s wife’s parents and all that). If the two things (bliss and family) could intersect and coexist, nothing like it. But they clearly aren’t.
So there are a few options that we seem to have…
A/ Give up on bliss and go family first
A decision that millions of people make every day. And there’s nothing wrong with it.
Come to think of it, at the end of the day, all of us are dead and life has no meaning per se. We are all just space dust floating around without a destination or a reason. Don’t want to get started on the raison d’etre narrative. Will take another million words.
B/ Find a way to chase bliss while you are near them.
So, in my case, rather than being in Mumbai (or out of India), build a life in Gurgaon / NOIDA, etc.
This seems plausible but I am not sure if I want to do this. I don’t like the weather (winters I love but am not okay with heat). I don’t like the lack of professionalism. I don’t have the flexibility or the freedom that Mumbai offers me.
Wait. I think all my decisions in life boil down to this one trait – freedom. I don’t know why though. As a child or a young adult, I have always had the freedom to do more and thus I don’t understand what demon am I running away from. Or what goal am I chasing. I mean, in each thing I do, I seek freedom – not wearing shoes, not submitting to a calendar, not conforming to a dress code, not sitting on the window seat in a plane (cos I want to escape from the aisle fast), not wanting to not drive while I am not in a car. I can list a thousand quirks that make me and I am sure I can trace all those back to my want of freedom.
C/ Accept the inability to be a good son and drop that and chase bliss.
Even if I am unsuccessful at it.
I mean I am
40 41 and I still need to scrounge around to make ends meet). Thanks to the people that work with me, I am able to earn some money but if I look at my life and my work independently, I think I can do more. LOT more. I was destined to change the world. Right now, I am having trouble changing the wifi network on my phone.
No, I do not write this from a negative lens or from a place of self-pity. Neither do I expect any slack from anyone. I am very very grateful for my life and how I’ve been lucky. I mean I write this on an expensive laptop tethered to an expensive phone that has two high-speed internet connections, sitting at a premium cafe in probably the most expensive neighborhood in a country that is not home. And I am here for no reason. How many people have this? Few! So, I am ok.
Just that I am aware of the gap between my potential and my reality. And the opportunity that fate has given me. If I don’t bridge this, it would be unfair. Of course, life itself isn’t fair but we all try. No?
The only open window would be that in chase of grandeur, I would have neglected my parents. And that’s not a good thing.
D/ Find a compromise.
What I am doing right now is a compromise. I travel to Delhi as much as I can. And I continue to try and build a life that I like. I am not doing any of these things well but at least I am trying and doing as much as I can.
Like most things in like, you become a reflection of what you tried and what you left behind.
No. I am not clear on which of the four paths I need to take. When I wrote this, I was leaning towards B and C. When I read this again before publishing, I thought D was the best. So, I don’t know. Let’s see what I end up doing. Stay tuned to find out what I did ;P
Okay, this became a long rant. If you’ve made it till here and you want one takeaway from this 2000-word piece, let it be this – our lives are fragile, and unpredictable and we need to aim for closure in each interaction we have, especially with our loved ones.
Over and out.