©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved
The midwife placed the squirming baby wrapped in a blue blanket in his trembling arms. For the rest of his life, Jay would remember the exact moment he realised his dad had been right, after all. That he had been right all along. He happened to glance at the bedside clock just before stretching out his arms to receive his son. 9.37pm. It was the moment when the world, as he had known it until then, turned on its axis and changed forever.
Jay looked down and a pair of brown eyes, startlingly like his own, peered short sightedly up at him. His heart did a flip, a quick somersault, a couple of cartwheels and then settled uncomfortably in its usual place, somehow damaged and uplifted simultaneously. ‘I don’t own you; You own me’ he thought, and the words hit him in the centre of his chest, causing a dull ache that would now never leave him for as long as he lived.
‘Hello, son’ he whispered and was greeted with the rosebud mouth widening into a sleepy yawn. The image of his dozing baby blurred, the years spun into a tangled web, and Jay was once again eighteen , confronting his furious father after having returned home at 4am from a friend’s birthday bash.
‘Is this a time to come home?’ his father had asked that morning fourteen years ago, as the first flush of dawn kissed the horizon.
‘Dad, you knew I was going to be late’ Jay said, annoyed at being treated like a child.
‘I knew nothing of the sort.You never said anything about coming back the next morning. Couldn’t you have at least rung your mother? You know she worries…..we both worry’
Jay threw up his hands in anger. ‘Worry. Worry. Worry. What is there to worry? If something had happened to me, the police would have called you’. With a furious toss of the head, Jay had stormed into his room and slammed the door with such force that their little house quivered and shook under his wrath. He could never understand why his parents worried so. Why he had to call if he was unable to get back home at night. Why they always wanted to know who his friends were, what kind of families they belonged to.
‘They suffocate me’ he complained to his long-suffering friends who had similar stories to share.
‘My dad paces the floor for hours until he hears my key turn in the latch at night’ said Renu.
‘My mother is hysterical when I have the slightest accident. The other day, I fell from my bike and listening to her sobbing, one would have thought I had died’ said Dev, with a smirk.
‘My dad is the worst coward. He won’t let me stay at any party past midnight’ pouted Mira.
Jay had looked around at his friends, feeling sorry for himself and them all. ‘Mira, it’s not just your dad. They are all cowards. Our parents. Each and every one. Sometimes….sometimes…I hate them. I wish they would leave me alone. They don’t own me’
The little bundle in his arms let out a piteous squeal. Jay shuddered, shaking off the memories and glanced down at his newborn son. ‘I don’t own you, son. You own me’
It all made sense now, more than a decade after that conversation with his father in the early hours of dawn. It had made sense the moment he had held his son in his arms for the first time. Within a millisecond, he had turned into a coward himself. For the rest of his life, he would never know peace again in the true sense of the word. He understood now why grown ups weep when their children are in pain, why fathers pace the floor and mothers sob silently into their hankies when their children go missing for an entire night, why ‘if something happened to me, the police will call’ is simply not an acceptable reason to live without worry.
He understood why parents bend anxiously over babies who oversleep, giving them a gentle shake to make sure they are still breathing.
He understood why his mother had marched into school years ago, half crazed with rage after he had been beaten by a school bully. ‘If you touch my son ever again, it will be ME you will have to deal with’ she had screamed, and he had barely recognised the demented woman who was shaking her finger at the terrified offender.
‘I’m sorry Dad’, Jay said and a lone tear escaped silently and fell on his son’s nose. The baby stared at him, and Jay could have sworn there was the tiniest hint of annoyance in those brown eyes, so startlingly like his own.
‘That’s right, son’ Jay smiled. ‘For the next twenty odd years, you will love and hate me in equal measures. I will enrage you, suffocate you, annoy you. You will sit in the embrace of your friends and call me a coward. You will despise your mother for her timidness and hate me for my stubbornness in not setting you free. I will pace the floor till I hear your key turn in the latch. I will eavesdrop on your phone conversations until I am assured you are not in wrong company. I will beat the daylights out of anyone who lays a finger on you. I will die a tiny death every time you go somewhere without telling me where or with whom. And you will hate me till the day you hold in your arms for the first time a tiny bundle wrapped snugly in a blanket. You will know no fear till a pair of sleepy eyes look up at you with trust.’
Jay wiped his own tear off his son’s nose. ‘Sleep well, darling’
Dear readers: This story was inspired by a brief conversation I had with an elderly gentleman at a recent social event. In the course of the conversation, he said to me: ‘Nim, I remember the exact moment I realised my dad had been right about almost everything he had ever said to me’. He then went on to tell me that cowardice is assured once you are a parent. It will plague you forever and your children will never share your angst until they become parents themselves.