What Grandma Knew Better

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In spite of my perpetual inclination towards the unbridled egalitarian human spirit, that invariably stereotypes me as a radical or even a painful rebel within an otherwise-perfectly-normal-and-peaceful-family, there rests a hidden world within me that brings out the apparent antithesis and a conflicting need within me. The latter world emerges out of the deep waters once the tides are low, at an innocuous hour when the sun is yet to rise and the entire cosmic space rests in unstirred silence and darkness. When I step into this world, individuality seems slightly overrated and even self-centered and lonely whereas the concept of conformism suddenly seems comforting even if it may be a little out of my comfort-zone as a giver every now and then.

This facet of my mind reminds me of my yearning for a family, it confesses to me the significance of those attributes of warmth and affection and bonhomie whose gravity soared above the realms of petty conveniences and practicality and whose impact could leave a heart altered and touched for life. Even today, when my mind is agitated by the silence within my self-drawn boundary that defines my own space, my mind wanders off into a remote yet apparently undesired possibility of a space filled with people and voices. That space around me that I so zealously guard from time to time from intruders seems no more than a barren land, unfriendly and forbidding. And I wait or even crave at times for someone to barge in with a booming voice and destroy my obsession for my sense of individuality and redeem my spirit of being an unguarded wanderer of the unknown.

In a world where most lives are gradually moving towards a more disciplined socialising pattern adorned by well-manicured protocols that I on a normal day would most naturally defend, the memory that comforts me most is of how I was always welcome at my grandparents’ house where I didn’t have to think of the convenient hours. I just knew I could go there anytime I liked and they would love me and be so happy to greet me! Grandma would pretend that her backache was gone so she could cook me my favourite bake! On the contrary, if I were to pick up the phone and call someone of my own generation I would have to think a zillion times about the hour and its appropriateness. To be fair to them I am, myself, duly guilty of the same practice most often when I prefer a prior heads up on how my following weekend would look like so I could plan my work around it. You see, it’s flawlessly convenient!

Any last minute variation to the revised almost accurate chronology that might involve more than five people on the surprise guest list would most invariably leave the likes of me hyperventilating inside, even more if it were on a weekday where the chances of winging it would be even lower for some unexplainable reason. Thankfully these freakishly scary mental images of being roped into impromptu action rarely spills onto the face, which by then carries the ‘what-a-pleasant-surprise!’ or ‘of-course-I’d-love-to-help!’ look in rehearsed reflex when inside it would feel like I had run out of oxygen or someone was plunging a knife into my hand.

Sometimes I wonder how the Smartphone generation got this way. On the contrary I grew up in a house thronging with guests and filled with laughter and parties. There were fewer bedrooms yet we never seemed to run out of space. Sometimes we even slept on the floor after we all had chatted for half the night over innumerable snacks and cups of coffee that mother quietly supplied from the kitchen. I don’t recall a single episode when my parents looked unhappy with visitors or uneasy for having to help people at an unearthly hour. Instead, our exams came and passed by like seasons, but that didn’t alter the pattern of guests at home – they were always welcome even if that meant that we had to quietly cancel our own plans. Declining a guest unless for an emergency was not an option. In those days, even the help at home wasn’t adequate nor were there enough machines to smoothen out the cleaning and laundry work. Yet, I am still to see my parents hit the panic button when the house is brimming with guests. It seems like such a pleasure to be visiting people like these.

Well, whom are we kidding here! Of course there were times when my parents and their parents too wished that they didn’t have to entertain those many guests at an uncomfortable time of the year! But they handled it differently. And guess what, they had their guests over anyway (most of the times)! How is that a smart choice? Well their loyalties and concern for one another wove them so close to each other that even during times of utter discontent my mother had a long list of people she knew she could trust with her eyes shut. Also, during times of celebration my parents knew they had so many loved ones who would be happy for us, who would bless us too. That is what that generation had earned! Loads of love, loyalty, companionship, good wishes and blessings! After all, this was what a family was meant to do, to flock together just like the birds, ants and elephants!

Instead it had started to seem too primitive or even obsolete a concept to many of us, by now, whose aspirations were driven primarily by convenience or a self-designed sense of individual space and justice. The head prevailed while the heart waited for a trial. Families slowly disintegrated into fragments where our only string of communication rested on the frail shoulders of the previous generation. Even today, the little that I know about my cousins and their lives is mostly through my mother. Sadly enough, even Facebook hasn’t played a vital role in establishing my loyal intent towards my family yet. We seem to have conveniently discarded things that haven’t suited us and tagged those as among the felonies of some manmade society while we have embraced ideologies that promote individuality to seem undeniably superior!

Most of us from this current generation tend to go incognito socially or explicitly announce our super busy schedules in advance so no social link starts to grow on us and weigh us down. We schedule dinners and lunches proudly as we conform to the practice where everyone is at the right place at the right time and there is also enough room and grub for everybody. Under such conditionality clause how easy is it to remain unpretentious? I have often felt a blatant disconnect between relatives and friends in such gatherings where only the unfaltering rapport among the previous generation has seemed assuring and comforting to me.

Today, even when my mind can relate to those of my generation and beyond, my heart yearns for that unconditional affection that I once received from the generations before mine. Sure, there were pitfalls then but it isn’t fully correct either to believe that we have got ourselves a fair deal – and that is the point here. I find myself a complete misfit as I crave for those family reunions that I grew up watching. I have decided to dismantle my panic button for good and step up for some traditional-style family time!

While I am no patron of social sanctions, I still wish we retained our abilities to distinguish between the attributes within a society that resonate with our human spirit of bonding and belonging as against those that we deceivingly device and construct only for the sake of it. I doubt if this is any less of an apocalypse for humankind and I won’t be surprised if our future generations called us primitive too for selfishly deconstructing a society that our forefathers once built. Perhaps this is where we stop and ponder…

© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013

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