My Life of Onlyness


My Life of Onlyness

Illustration: Sushant Ahire/Arre

Until I was seventeen, the words “only child” only signified privilege to me.

I was your stereotypical, pampered brat who never had to share his toys, his Diwali envelopes, or his parents’ attention with anyone. Also, to compensate for not being able to “give me a younger brother”, my parents let me keep not one, not two, but three pets. My dogs Kuku and Zippy along with my cat Needy still remain the closest entities I’ll ever have to real siblings. Like most single children, I also made more than my fair share of “friends who are like family”, cousins who I consider siblings, and an entire comic-book universe of imaginary friends.

But beyond the turmoil of being someone who values his personal space a little too much in the second most populated country in the world, having no siblings also meant that while all the other kids in my neighbourhood had the option of teaming up with their brothers/sisters in badminton matches, I was the kid being forced to team up with his mom. I recall being a tad embarrassed about it back then. But looking back now, it was one of the first memories I have of my mother always taking it upon herself to make sure I never felt left out. In fact, both my parents stepped in now and then to double up as back-up siblings. My dad didn’t care if he was too old to be smashing on the second player remote while we played Mario Kart or Contra. All in all, our little three-member family (six, if you count the animals), was a happy bunch.

But then my father died.

Nothing made me feel the lack of a sibling more than my father’s untimely demise. They say our siblings become the only connection to our childhood when we grow old and that’s when I began to feel it. I won’t ever be able to discuss my dad’s little nuances and traits with someone who was there to witness them. There is nobody in the world who feels like the way I do about my dad. My mom’s grief is different. A brother or sister would have known what it’s like. Being a single child didn’t feel like a privilege anymore. Death and ageing beat toys and Diwali envelopes any day.

Now with just a single parent as immediate family, I’ve developed a crippling fear of having no anchor to support my ship some day.

A couple of years ago, one of my closest friends went through the same tragic loss of losing his father. At the prayer meet, as I drew closer to my weeping friend to offer him the same comfort he offered me during my time of need, his elder brother grabbed him before I could. The déjà vu of it all made me feel two parts envy and one part self-pity. The idea of facing such a devastating loss again, without the comfort of an equally heartbroken companion, made me painfully anxious.

Since then, the true meaning of singledom has come to me in many ways. Now with just a single parent as immediate family, I’ve developed a crippling fear of having no anchor to support my ship some day. Not to mention, I am beginning to realise how completely oblivious I’ve been to the weight of responsibilities as the only person to carry my family name forward. Then comes the daunting realisation that I do not have the liberty of being a fuck up since I lack the luxury of a mature sibling who can make all of my mother and father’s dreams come true. On my own, I am too inadequate to fulfill the expectations of a half Gujju, half Maharashtrian household.

Perhaps, this fear of being inadequate is also the reason why the prospect of marriage is still not as frightening to me as it is to most of my 25-year-old bachelor friends. In fact, I’ve fantasised more about fathering multiple children than I have about having the perfect marriage. I’d want my kids to have the comfort of peers who can also act as a nostalgic time portal to their shared childhood as opposed to the painful memories of deceased pets and countless hours of single-player games that their father had.

My onlyness is something that I am battling with furiously. I am constantly connected to my huge extended family, I’ve always had steady girlfriends on whom I depend for support, and a bunch of close friends who’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. It’s taken a lot of work and I’m hoping like hell I won’t be the old man sitting in the park talking to pigeons alone.

Maybe it’s a destiny we are all hurtling toward, and I know that in the end we are all alone and yada yada, but it would have been nice to have a brother sitting on the park beside me, telling me to stop talking to pigeons and check out that hot woman with a walker.