(Published in Business Standard on December 13, 2014)
“The Sundarbans mangroves were amazing, and we saw a fresh tiger pugmark one hour old. Now I’m at the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland. We had to stop at the liquor shops at the Assam border—Nagaland is dry!! I’ll text you when I get to Dimapur. What’s your news?”
“I told U. to use the clothespins on the laundry line, and asked L. to dust the tops of all the cupboards, bookcases and air conditioners. Now I have a tea appointment with M. Are you warm enough? Expect the temperatures to drop sharply at night. If you don’t send me your itinerary I’m going to cry. Can you please tell me that you’re warm enough and you’re going to survive, so I can stop chewing my fingernails!”
“Stop worrying, you silly old goat! I’m having a blast.”
This exchange between my mother and myself should tell you what it told me: our role reversal is now fully and horribly complete. She’s tracking man-eating tigers and hanging with tribes in the remotest corners of the country; I’m overseeing the housekeeping and worrying myself sick over her health and safety.
It took her three days to send me her itinerary, and I spent them grinding my teeth. How cavalier she was being—what if something happened to her? How would I know where she was, how would I reach her? I fretted until I knew she had left Bengal without getting eaten by a tiger. I was all nerves until I knew she had landed safely in Jorhat and gotten the hell off that plane they make out of tin and scotch tape and fans.
I was anxious about her remembering to take her mask and jacket to the Hornbill Festival because the dust and cold is bad for her asthma. I reminded her to take the jacket even if it didn’t feel cold when she was setting out for the day. I texted her to ask how it was going, and was nearly out of my mind by the time little miss independent finally deigned to reply, a day later. She was so distracted by her friends that she “just forgot!” I was so stressed that all my heart bits curled up into little shrimpy knots and are plotting some kind of insurrection.
And when she finally got back home—I couldn’t rest until I knew she was getting a ride back from the airport with one of her friends—she announced that she is leaving again in a few days, for a couple of weeks, this time to Pune.
My heart sank. We get so little time together—they grow so fast—and all I want is to have her around for the holiday season; but of course she would rather be with her friends. I do understand, I’m sure it’s boring for her to hang out with someone my age, but I still can’t help feeling a little hurt. Couldn’t she just bear up with it occasionally, for my sake? It’s so hard to let go.
I’m dealing with my empty nest syndrome by taking on extra work. One of my meetings ended before the bottle did, so we stood outside the office for a bit, finishing up (waste not, want not).
When my mother heard about that, she said: “You stood in the street, under a streetlight, drinking rum! Like some kind of hoodlum!”
I swear, sometimes I do not understand the woman. But that’s the comforting thing about family: the life cycle may include slowly and awfully turning into your own parents; but some things, at least, do not change.