By Preeti Vangani Jan. 04, 2017
Younger millennials will never understand that we once lived in a world where fathers were milder, yet authentic, replicas of Amrish Puri in DDLJ.
The other night, my youngest cousin was rushing out of the house to go on a date. I instinctively asked her, “Ghar pe kya bataya hai?” What have you told your parents?
I will never forget the look of utter cluelessness that I got from her. Ghar pe kya bataya hai? For the young ’un it was such an anomalous question. It had never struck her that she had to create a story for the folks at home. She’d just told them the truth.
It took a few minutes to sink in: A new generation that did not need to create parallel realities when it came to their love lives had sprung up around me. This is a generation that doesn’t have to drown itself in lies and excuses or maintain registers with their folks every time they sign in and out of home. This is a generation that will never understand that we once lived in a world where fathers were milder, yet authentic, replicas of Amrish Puri’s character in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
Just like Kajol’s Simran, I spent my teenage years speaking to friends over our cordless landline in hushed tones, tucked in the remotest corner of the balcony in my room, making sure my dad never heard us. I remember in Class XI, a friend had just introduced us to the phrase “Bhakt Prahlad” (BP, standing in for Blue Print) and we giggled about it over the phone. My father must have overheard us. The next day my mother was commissioned to give me a yelling about the obscene company I was keeping. That incident made me realise that all talks of LSD (Love, Sex, and Dhoka) were meant to be treated like guest footwear – best left outside the door of our house.
I was so petrified of being reprimanded, or worse, being “married off” to an old family friend’s son that I convinced my first boyfriend to keep our “affair” a secret from everyone in college. Of course, everyone around us knew, and we only became the butt of all eyebrow raises and forced throat clearings from our friends. But stepping outside home to meet my special friend meant maintaining an accordion of excuses that had to be delivered with rigorously practised effortlessness.
A weekend getaway became a sudden work trip, office annual conference became an anniversary night-out, Valentine’s Day conveniently arrived on Shruti’s birthday.
I must have repeated the line, “Haan, hum sab log saath mein picture dekhne jaa rahein hain. Saat log, aath baje tak aaungi, phone mat karna” several times in the bathroom. It was to be delivered just as you opened the door to step out to avoid further questioning. If your timing is off by a moment, be prepared to append it with the names of friends you are fictioning about. The last step in this complicated dance of deceit was sending a giant SMS of the best-laid plan to all those friends involved, because my folks have been using the “Phone A Friend” lifeline much before Kaun Banega Crorepati. This has had potentially unhappy consequences for some friends: One, who was exchanging rings on the evening of her engagement, smiled for the cameras but seethed inside at the 17 throbbing missed calls from PREETI DAD. I, meanwhile, was poeticising sunsets with my secret love in Matheran without network.
Over the next few years I got better at this. A weekend getaway became a sudden work trip, office annual conference became an anniversary night-out, Valentine’s Day conveniently arrived on Shruti’s birthday. The intensity and intricacy of the made-up plan was always directly proportional to its geographic proximity from home. I took to this double life like a child to spectacles. It was uncomfortable and heavy at first, until it gradually became an indispensable body part. Every now and then I’d get growling questions from my mum like, “Yeh Shruti ka birthday saal mein kitni baar aata hai?”
Now you can codename Nishant as Nisha and rechristen a dirty weekend to Goa as a rural education project, but you can never rearrange the astronomical distance that this silence creates between you and your parents when things start going downhill. The complete breakdown of communication with my family in times of a break-up has been a bigger villain in my life than all of Amrish Puri’s screen roles. Unbearable period pain, exam tension, fight with my best friend, inexplicable recurring headache are some of the excuses I have made, to cover up for my uncontrollable crying and mood swings, every time a relationship has ended.
My parents have never explicitly been “anti-love”, but the idea of love for them is like a handwoven scarf knitted with the needles of culture and religion. The conversation can find its way to the dinner table so long as love is from the same religion and transforms into marriage even quicker than it takes a Yashraj film to break into its first song sequence.
The only time I did in vague, uncertain terms tell my father about a boy I was meeting regularly was when I found him through shaadi.com. Potential matrimony is the only kind of dal my parents are ready to eat and are willing to digest “romance” for its sake.
In my late-20s I realised something had to give. I made several attempts to slowly retract from all the hiding and lying, reducing its intensity one notch at a time but it never really happened. The silent resentment and disappointed looks made me quickly discard my newfound openness and go right back to the dance of deceit.
I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may never have my “Ja Simran ja” moment, where my father finally frees me from the lies. Our resolution is to remain silent on the issue – and in silence we find our peace.
Preeti Vangani is a writer, poet and spoken word artist. Fuelled by films and chai, she is currently an MFA (Poetry) student at the University of San Francisco.