Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Rules from a different era

As I rode the cab back home a little after 11 pm, I was reminded of so many late nights from a different era.

In my family, dad has always been the stricter one, laying out rules that we were supposed to obey and not break. I am sure every middle-class, conservative Indian family has those. Mom was more chilled out and malleable, and gave us more freedom, as long as dad did not come to know of it. For example, sleepover parties were a strict no-no, even if it was my best friend who lived a few blocks down the lane and our families knew one another well. I could spend as much time as I wanted to with my best friend, but I was supposed to come home to sleep. Being the rebellious one, I had tried to coax and cajole, and ultimately rebel, but no good had come out of it.

Dad had a strict rule, that the children should be back home early, preferably by evening. Now the good thing is, dad himself used to work somewhere faraway, and usually took the last metro home. So mom had made this amendment, that as long as I was safe and arrived home before dad did, and this socialization did not affect my grades, it was fine. She is pretty cool that way. But when dad made rules, there was not much room for negotiation.

I have gone through different phases of introversion and extroversion in life, and college was a phase when I had suddenly turned into a gregarious kind. I used to attend biology classes in southern Calcutta, and instead of immediately taking the bus or metro, I used to hang out with friends and walk to the metro station before taking a later train home. Some days, I used to spend some time walking with my best friend, having fuchkas, exploring the shops, and chatting up before coming home. That was also the time when I was taking an active interest in knowing the city, so I used to accompany my friends to Howrah, Maidan, College Street, Gariahat, and where not. The expectation was always the same- Be home before dad is home.

Now those were the days of a struggling, penuriousness student. I could not afford a cab, so I had to take the bus or metro back. While taking a late metro, I used to dread bumping into dad. Instead of walking, I often used to run, hop, and scramble my way home during the homestretch from the Mode (the home bus stop) to the apartment, a good 10-15 minute walk (I did not have much money for taking a rickshaw either). My heart racing and adrenaline rushing, I would pray that I reach home before dad did. I was rebellious enough to not follow his rules, but wanted to be respectful of mom too, since she let us have a lot of leeway. Sometimes, when he took an earlier metro, mom would text me, and make up a story like I was just 15 minutes away, fetching groceries for home. I do not know if being an overprotective dad was a gender thing, but I am not going to judge or analyze, especially after all these years. If nothing, it taught me that wherever you are, whatever you do, there will be rules, and it is best to play by the rules to avoid conflict.

Anyway, I graduated, moved out, and forgot all about rules. In the US, I no longer needed to come home at a particular time. I partied late night, stayed over at friends', went to Bollywood dance nights, traveled for work and fun, took late night flights, rented and drove cars at night, took off to other cities or national parks Friday nights, without being answerable to anyone. 

So that day, after a decade, I was coming home late (late by our family standards), and it felt like reliving my twenties. The only difference is that this time, I could afford a cab, and I was visiting temporarily. I usually do not stay out late at night in Calcutta now, I am just too lazy or jet lagged to beat the heat and traffic and go anywhere. As the cab stopped at the traffic light, I could feel my heart racing, me impatiently looking at my watch and wondering if dad is home. My own present response to memories more than a decade old made me uncomfortable. I don't know why I was worrying, it was probably old programming. I'm older, just as wise as in my twenties, and totally independent. But I hopped off the cab and scrambled upstairs, wondering if dad would be mad at me after all these years.

As expected, dad was home early from work. However, he never said a word about me being late, leaving me a lot relieved, and somewhat confused. Some old habits die hard. His did. Mine clearly did not.


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