Forty Going on 14: How to Live With Your Parents as a Single Adult

First Person

Forty Going on 14: How to Live With Your Parents as a Single Adult

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I was the quintessential Mumbai single woman living by herself. Envied by all, bound by no one. No questions asked if I skipped coming home one night. Alternating between maids, refrigerators, and microwaves for various meals of the day. Greeted every other evening by a Blue Dart courier slip stuck at the door, gently crooning “We missed you”. Yes, living alone sometimes makes you normalise behaviours that others would deem preposterous, but that is the point of living alone. You do what you want, when you want to, answerable only to yourself.

Then, two years ago, my parents returned from their longish stint in the Middle East to move back in with me. The party – or exile, depending on how you looked at it – was over. Ring out the eggs and maggi, ring in the idlis and paranthas. Slowly the questions started flowing in: How would it feel to live with my parents after eight years of living alone? Would we be locking horns over my life choice and my lifestyle? Would I have to change my routine drastically to fit in my parents? Most importantly, was that even possible after crossing 40?

I needn’t have dreaded it so much.

It starts with the difficulty of acknowledging that the parent-child equation will never change. Shuttling between nagging and caring for each other, we play the notes quite effortlessly, like a trained orchestra. Mom still stays up in the night with me because my coughing bouts keep me awake. Often, she slips that banana into my lunch bag to make sure I am getting my daily dose of vitamins. In turn, I bully her into taking a break from her long hours spent working online, remind Dad about fixing his cataract operation, and chide both of them for booking flights at unearthly hours.

Every morning as I get ready to leave for work, Dad asks, “Which office are you going to today, Powai or Worli? Worli, I say. Ok, he nods and then goes back to reading his newspaper. I can see that he has made a mental note of the distance that I will be driving. And the traffic that I have to navigate through. I don’t know why he asks me this. But he needs to know. Like his coffee, it adds to the predictability of his morning routine.

Conversations around investments and income taxes are the most dreadful.

Coming home from work, I catch him dozing off on the sofa while watching TV. I’m conscious he is getting older. Then I notice he’s watching some inane soap where some saas is beating her chest and howling her lungs out about how her bahu is a wicked witch who has cast a spell on her pure-as-gold son. In less than a minute, I start wishing he would grow up.

Food has become integral to our relationship. Stuffed brinjal means “I want to pamper you today”. Carrots in the sambhar means “Grow up, stop complaining, and adjust”. Banana muffins means “I want to post some pictures for my blog”. Pasta means “Carb-loading before a long run”. Rasmalai means “Dad went to Vile Parle for vegetable shopping and stopped over at Brijwasi”. Most of the dishes on our table tell a story. Stories which reflect our widely different tastes, giving out details of what we have outgrown and what we have acquired. On many nights, these don’t converge on the dining table. And so you could find a fig and asparagus salad looking sufficiently awkward next to a bowl of bisi bele bhat, or spiced pumpkin pancakes along with gourd peel chutney and mor kuzhambu.

Conversations around investments and income taxes are the most dreadful. “Have you filed your returns for the year?” Dad asks. Seeing my blank expression, he piles on with, “When will you ever be on top of your finances?” It gets worse. “When did you last update your passbook?” There is also a faint mention of LIC and National Pension Scheme somewhere in between. I know that he knows that I am no longer listening to him, and he knows that I know that I will never get a passbook, but the conversation will happen every six months. It is our father-daughter ritual. And it doesn’t get any smoother with age.

With Mom it’s different. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She gets me. With one book released, and another underway, she has promised to induct me into the world of published authors, while I diligently edit her prefaces, making sure she mentions “the unflinching support of my daughters” in the credits section, gently prodding her to give up those silly stoles she wears, and cajoling her into wearing a bottle-green linen kurta instead of that ikat sari for her author photograph. As I sit to plan a splash for her book launch, I’m wondering, is it possible for a daughter to live out her unfulfilled dreams through her parents?

Ever since they came back to live with me, I can sense they’ve been treading with caution. Wanting to be around, and yet be invisible. Be the parent, and the friend, and even the critic sometimes. The thing about living with your parents after you have crossed 40 is that you have to become comfortable with being taken too seriously and being dismissed as completely senile, sometimes in the same breath. It is somewhat pathological, and I must admit I’m getting used to the madness. Because eventually, life takes over. Pass the bhindi please, and let’s get on with it.