By Ananya N Aug. 25, 2017
Moving in with my parents was supposed to be a temporary thing. I was supposed to find a place, make friends, and have new experiences. Three Ganesh Chaturthis later, I’m still here.
It’s 8:30 am on Ganesh Chaturthi. One hand reaches for a cigarette pack above my head and the other hand groggily searches for a bottle of water. As my hands hit a wall, I wake up with a mini panic attack. There’s no cigarette pack and there’s no bottle. All there is, is the smell of agarbattis and ukadi modaks. My father lovingly shakes my shoulder saying, “Darling, wake up, it’s time for puja.”
Living in my parents’ house post separation was supposed to be a temporary thing. I was to get my act and finances together and move out into a place of my own. Living alone during my twenties was about being rebellious. At thirty, it is about staying sane. It was supposed to cue new friendships, travel, love, life experiences, and maybe even a hobby, such as teaching or farming. But this is my third Ganesh Chaturthi here and zero life experiences have been added thus far.
If you’ve been born to parents of Indian origin and happen to live in India, the only time you get away from your parents is if you get married/study/work away from home, or are a celebrity who can afford what they call, “bachelor pads”. If you’re a regular, middle-class joe, try telling your parents you want to live away from them in the same city and watch the fun. My parents look at me as if they’re speaking to a person with limited mental faculties. With agonising slowness meant to enunciate my stupidity, they say, “So, you want to move from Bandra to another place in Bandra. Why? Are you crazy? Are you depressed? Do you want to see a psychiatrist?”
It’s all downhill from there. After the sarcasm follows an emotional trip of a sentimental joint that they have obviously smoked together.
Mother: “You don’t like my food? Who will cook for you if you stay by yourself? You’ll starve?”
Father: “I don’t know what we have done wrong.”
While I listen to their grievances with grace, I suspect they think they’re doing me a favour by not letting me go. They worry about me, and the mistakes I will make again.
Unlearning your love for loneliness can be a difficult process, and the more you’re pushed away from it, the more you want it.
Their constant worrying for me, their fear that I will never manage by myself, is exhausting. I’ve run a house for eight years, raced ahead in my career, and played a sport at a national level but to them, I will forever be a person who needs to be reminded to eat her vegetables. I am to be heaped with “I-told-you-so”, “you-should’ve-known-better”, “yellow-doesn’t-match-with-red”, “happy-Ganesh-day-why-aren’t-you-wearing-new-clothes”, and other words of advice that they deem critical for my survival. I’m thirty and I have an 11:30 pm deadline. Who does that?
I first moved out of my parental house to live in with my then boyfriend (now ex-husband) fresh out of college. At 21, to say that I was exhilarated by my freedom would be an understatement. I designed my living space the way I liked it: I picked my own upholstery and uplighters carefully, and I chose not to have a puja room.
But now I’m home. And it’s time for puja.
I like my parents; they’re a sweet bunch. But I cannot for the life of me live with them any more. I cannot live by their rules any longer. I have rules of my own. I cannot live with their taste in furniture or their habit of piling up the house with “stuff”. I cannot live with their ideas of what my life, friends, and early mornings should look like. My ideas don’t involve agarbattis. Plus, it’s a fucking holiday.
Of late, the conversation on moving out has changed. The emotional bribing has given way to challenges of my ability.
Father: “You’ve done this before. Sorry, but I think it’s one thing you’re not very good at.”
Mother: “You just want to beers and cheers every day with weird people like you and that’s why you want to stay by yourself.”
Beers and cheers. She actually says that.
So I grin and bear it. I do the “taiyyari jeet ki” ritual – sanitiser, perfume, chew paan/gum every morning after my bathroom smoke so that they don’t smell it on me. (Don’t lie, you do that too, you fucking cowards!) And despite that, they still smell it. I could catch a train to Allahabad, take a dip in the Ganges and come back after a thousand years, and the first thing my mother will do when I step into the house is give me the death stare. I’m tired of taiyyari jeet ki. My 17-year-old pimply cousin should be the one doing that. Not me. I’m tired of getting no sex, of not being able to tell my Tinder date to come “Netflix and chill” with me.
But beyond the booze, cigarettes, and sex, the fact is, I like staying alone. I’ve lived by myself for over a decade, and I like it that way. Rather, I’ve learnt to like it that way. Unlearning your love for loneliness can be a difficult process, and the more you’re pushed away from it, the more you want it.
But nobody understands that. Least of all my mother, who is now ringing puja bells in a frenzy, as if pushing the Gods to get me ready. This will be my last Ganesh Chaturthi at home, I promise myself as I head to the bathroom to transform into my mother’s idea of the perfect daughter, one with a freshly pressed salwar kameez who sings aarti with all her heart.
Next year there shall be no singing, I tell myself as I slam the door. The holiday shall be celebrated as all holidays should be. With beers and fucking cheers.