Why Can’t Indian Families Let Us Adult In Peace?

Modern Family

Why Can’t Indian Families Let Us Adult In Peace?

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

If there was one thing I learnt from spending countless hours watching Hollywood films during my teenage years, it was that once I was 22, my life would turn out exactly like the women in them. Like them, I would live away from home, revel in my financial independence, and travel across the world as and when I pleased, no questions asked.

Now that I am 22, I’m indeed financially independent and have moved out of my parents’ home. Yet the only difference is that in my case – unlike the women in my favourite films – I haven’t been able to free myself from the constant questioning of my parents.

It’s weird that for all the energy our parents spend on lecturing us about making our mark in the world, they end up suffering from a strange adjustment crisis the day we do. It’s a combination of being unable to acknowledge or accept that their child is now a fully functioning adult who no longer needs to rely on them. It’s amusing how they interpret our self-reliance as their personal failing – a shameful blot on their parenting skills.

If my first two months of moving to a new city has made me realise anything, it’s that our mothers are but a tiny speck in the ever-expanding universe of interfering relatives. Uncles are ever-ready with financial advice, aunts want to know who you are dating, older cousins come with their own share of gyaan. They turn into hawks who swoop down on you the minute you commit an unpardonable crime like missing your grandfather’s birthday.

The entire family committee suddenly takes it upon themselves to sacrifice their free time and pool in their cumulative judgemental skills, life experiences, and largely personal opinions, to help turn me into an adulting champion. As a child, I was a harmless chick in this family nest, responsible only for completing my training of flying far, far away. Until then, I was everyone’s favourite and the most amount of small talk I had to make with the honorary members of this committee – mama, chacha, chachi, bua – was updating them about my exam results. But now that I am a self-respecting, salary-earning individual, the family committee has suddenly woken up to the possibility of me being one of them. And now that I can make my own decisions, they have joined forces to guarantee that I can never be allowed to do so.

The entire family committee suddenly takes it upon themselves to sacrifice their free time and pool in their cumulative judgemental skills, life experiences, and largely personal opinions, to help turn me into an adulting champion.

Cut to my first paycheck, when the overachieving uncle suddenly came out of the woodwork. Equipped with a CA and an MBA, this uncle believed that it was his birthright to instruct me about how I should be saving for the future just so I can die rolling in money. After all, according to him, unopened funds are a greater risk than any market risk and the only high I should be experiencing is my rate of returns. Even if we leave aside my own MBA and the fact that I am not comfortable discussing my five-figure salary, this needless crash course in handling my finances is far from serving its purpose. Now on the first on every month, instead of being thrilled about spending my money on yet another Nicobar dress, I panic about how little I make.

Then there is trusty old mom, demanding to know every trivial detail of a trip I am scheduled to take soon. “Aren’t you spending too much on travel?” “Why are you taking a flight when you can go by train?” “Is Goa even safe?” This from the woman who generously used “Do what you want when you are old enough to make your own money” as a comeback for most of my childhood demands.

If mother can’t digest the fact that she is powerless to stop you from spending your own money, your father is flummoxed that you are no longer spending his money. To him, a full-time job is just another internship – an attempt by his daughter to earn some pocket money. Naturally, his coping mechanism as a now defunct ATM, is to either constantly enquire if I have enough money, and follow that up with a sarcastic demand that I buy him the latest iPhone considering I “no longer need his money”.

Just when your family is forcing you to contemplate whether you are really independent after all, your grandparents make a cameo appearance suggesting that you schedule the next stage of your life around their life expectancy. Unlike your parents and uncles, your grandparents are least worried about your money. They treat my new-found independence as a temporary phase of self-fulfillment that all young girls deserve until they surrender to their ultimate fate — “settling down”, which, according to them, can only happen with a husband and while they are alive.

Any protests about relegating the dreams of women only to marriage are supported by the ultimate projection of hypocrisy in my family. You know, the family member we can’t help but loathe: Regressive-on-the-inside, but progressive-on-the-outside aunt. This aunt strongly believes that women have the right to work and will instruct you on how to gossip at work, but will also tell you to leave early from work and be home before 7 pm, because “only uncultured girls stay out late”.

At this point, you are at a stage where you are contemplating which family member to tackle first. And then I have my eureka moment: I realised that my elder cousins have been silent all along. They have mastered the skill of keeping mum and nodding along, even when they vehemently disagree.

They follow a simply mantra: If you can’t beat them, it’s best to let them believe that you will never be qualified enough for adulthood.

Determined to not adopt the silent route, I’m currently planning a celebration — okay, an intervention — to congratulate my parents on turning their child into a happy, confident, and most importantly, “independent” adult. Nowadays, in my free time I draft the lessons to my crash course titled “Unparenting 101”.