Papa Tussi Pussycat


Papa Tussi Pussycat

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Back in 2011, a few Indian media companies had the genius to look at the British Royal wedding in 2011 and see the potential of turning it into a saas-bahu epic. I spent three hours in a hotel room in Patiala watching the same 10 minutes of Kate Middleton et al in wedding gear being spun magnificently into newer and bigger parabolas with every iteration. Would Kate go down the path of her “mari hui saas”, given her own tendency of wearing “chote kapde”? Would her zinda saas warn her against such profligate behaviour? Which saas did Kate consider her asli saas? You have to work hard to see mythological patterns in news events. Not so much for the two stories that have sent India in a tizzy over the last few days.

One, the Tatas dumping Cyrus Mistry and putting Ratan Tata back in charge. And the other of Mulayam Singh Yadav sticking with the old guard of the Samajwadi Party rather than son and Chief Minister Akhilesh. The patterns were so obviously there for all to see that everyone unanimously agrees that Akhilesh and Cyrus should get a drink together or at least get on a Whatsapp group called PapaGoHome to commiserate.

Who of us hasn’t been there? Especially with the older men in our families making that hissing-slowly-building-to-shouting pressure cooker imitation, as we put our hands on the steering wheel. Sometimes it’s literally the steering wheel.

Last summer, two friends and I were driving around a Boston suburb. It transitioned from being politely “on holiday” together to bonding as soul sisters when we lost our way. Each of us in that car had a story about how we’d rather die than ever admit to our fathers that we had lost our way for even a second. You’d think being lost merely means taking a moment to stop and ask the way or consult Google maps. Perhaps even confess your fear to your family and be united in not letting the taxi driver know that you are clueless? No. You need all your energy to protect yourself from the terror back home because that is the second which our fathers would choose to rain down decades of our fuck-ups. To convey to us that we were slackers without direction from our dark beginnings down the uterine channel. Because why don’t you already know the way? Daddy/Tau may be sitting a million miles away, but Daddy/Tau always know best. In all matters in the past and in the future.

We all know how Akhilesh and Cyrus are feeling right this minute. The frustration of the old guard claiming to know best, ganging up against your ideas for the future, the change you so desperately want to bring in, the mistakes you should have the right to make. Whether it is the sale of unprofitable family heirlooms in the case of Mistry or expunging old cronies in the case of Akhilesh.

A millennia of avuncular suspicion toward nephews, from Kamsa downwards, must have moved Shivpal Yadav’s hand as he snatched Akhilesh’s mic.

A friend once told me a story of being stuck in unbearably long and tedious Diwali pujas in the family she’s married into. As is the case, in every family puja, everything is done just so because it has been done so last year. (Or as a man in charge of protocol at the Republic Day parade once told me at a party, “If a fly sat on the third horse last year, I have to make sure that it happens this year.”)

The patriarch in this case, conducted the puja full of mystery and self-importance while the family sat behind him mournfully doing things like pouring oil in a hundred diyas, rolling a hundred wicks, joyless, sleepless, and hungry in their cottage industry. At one point in the puja, the daughter-in-law muttered to herself, “This feels like a rehab programme for sex workers.” The mother-in-law nearly passed out stifling her giggles. Since then a new tradition was born:  Sometime near midnight, the mother-in-law rolling her fiftieth wick will remember the remark and begin to giggle, the daughter-in-law will elbow her, and the puja-doing patriarch will complain about the giggling behind him. And yet, it is precisely that kind of disrespectful giggling that led to the grave discussions about the schism between the old guard and the new guard.

A recent photo of the Yadavs with Akhilesh’s wife Dimple performing a puja with an eye on her cell phone has been doing the rounds. Sitting in chairs, staring into the distance is Mulayam Singh Yadav and contentious uncle Shivpal. Akhilesh and some other unidentified guest are smiling at something on Akhilesh’s phone. This photo has become a sign of the younger generation’s flagrant disrespect/zabardast family drama. One essay quotes a Facebook post as saying, “Dekhiye… internet ka khamiaza! bahu aur beta dono mobile par… baap aur chacha akele.”

Disrespect takes so little work in our families. In my house, for instance, my father has always decorated the Christmas tree. When we were in school, there was some notional gesture toward the tree being for the kids and that we should hang around while my father actually hung everything. If in a moment of adolescent honesty, you asked if you could read a book while your father got on with things as he clearly wanted to, oh the shouting and the yelling about the lack of gratitude.

Disrespect is the favourite word of the old guard. We’ve known from childhood as we witnessed warring grandparents take our parents to task that the new guard will be eventually accused of being disrespectful, and the transition of power largely unpeaceful. A millennia of avuncular suspicion toward nephews, from Kamsa downwards, must have moved Shivpal Yadav’s hand as he snatched Akhilesh’s mic. A millennia of disappointed pitajis must have been wagging Mulayam Singh Yadav’s tongue when he found himself talking about what a good and obedient son Narendra Modi is. This is the gold standard for Dialogue for Angry Daddies and Angry Uncles everywhere. Suddenly the neighbour’s son, who they’d never give the time of day to before, is looking like a radiant Shravankumar. Because the one you brought up has turned out to be the ullu-ka-patha spoilt brat (to quote the great poet Amitabh Bhattacharya), you always knew he was.

We’ve moved houses, countries, lives since that first Christmas tree. The tree is new, much bigger. My sibling and I have nothing to do with it and my father indulges himself, as he likes while my infant nephew blithely breaks an occasional Christmas ornament. I am afraid to ask whether my father is now doing the tree for his grandchildren, because what if he shamelessly says yes. Then I’d really have to join my nephew in mass destruction. And then there would be a headline like this blissfully unselfconscious one about the Tatas: “‘Family Jewels’ Were At Risk, Say Sources Close To Ratan Tata.”