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Normal Family

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“What a nightmare I had last night!” Dad said.

Though I hadn’t any faintest interest in knowing what it was about it, but his eyes prodding me to ask, so I asked, “What was it about?”

“Your Mum was trying to kill me,” he replied.

I shook my head, and sighed, “Not again.”

“I’m serious, and it felt so real. She was choking me to death.”

“I wish it was real,” Mum said. She was in kitchen, might’ve heard him.

Dad shifted his chair a little bit, facing Mum, and in his sarcastic tone, he said, “I knew it, you must’ve even searched it on the internet ‘How to kill my husband’”

“No, I didn’t. Because it was really a stupid thing to do, and I ain’t a fool like you. Killing you might be satisfactory, even if momentarily so, but for me, it ain’t worth it. You got what, 5 years, or 10 years on you at best, till then my imagination will do the work, darling,” she said plainly.

“So, you did fantasize about killing me,” Dad said, in an animated voice. Consoling himself that Mum was no longer as indifferent to him as much she used to be.

“I wouldn’t frame it exactly like that, but thinking of it now, I had my own share of  fantasies of getting rid of you,”Mum replied, plainly, as if merely stating a well known fact. 

This was how every morning conversations sound in this house. It’s a mad house filled with mad people, who piss each other off, with passive aggressive vibes. The couple who ready to be at each other’s throat, but never find a nerve to either apply for the divorce or join a couple’s therapy session for a change – is the kind of couple my parents are. They are miserable together, and not planning to change that situation, atleast not in a near future. And if you come and think of it, that’s what Indians are quite good at – staying married and be miserable.

“Mum, atleast you stop it,” I urged her.

“Your dad started it this time, and I don’t give a shit about him anymore,” she replied.

“I can see that.”

I get up from the table, pick up my plate, and headed straight to my bedroom. 

No, I’m not going to crib about my parents’ marriage anymore than I supposed to do. I guess, quite sure actually, that most of the marriages look more or less like this, for years being strange to each other’s feelings, and then turning into complete strangers stuck together into a gutter, but doing nothing to get out of it. Mum and Dad were not essentially alone in this shit, they brought three fucking kids into this shit – Me, and my sisters. 

***

Tara, the oldest one, successfully took an early ticket out of this shit-hole, far away from these people who’re constantly whining to each other, about each other, pointing flaws, and a long list of habits – they accumulated over a period of time, in their shrilly voices, day in day out. She, for a time being, works in some advertising agency in Mumbai. She might be selling just shitty things to people, but earns really fucking good salary. She’s, in real sense, advocating mindless consumerism, which I did mention to her twice, and to which she replied to me, by waving a middle finger at my face. 

She, now aged in her early 30s, a strong, financially independent individualist unlike her brother – that’s me, who despite facing many objections, dropped out of engineering course, and instead went on to pursue arts major, which presumably considered as the most useless degree, a statement which I’ve always found troublesome, and deeply pathetic as well. 

Tara claimed to me once, that she’s leading a good life, if one was of belief that money is the measurement of a good life. As goes for her love life, she did share some highlights with me, which hadn’t contain anything interesting. But I used to revel in the fact that she preferred me as her confidante. I was relevant to her, even though my big sis won’t admit that. And I used to be her correspondent too – updating our crazy parents about her whereabouts.

Tara was living in with Arjun, who works in the same agency as my sister’s, and he did appear in three episodes of some famous 90s show as a child actor, a trivia he randomly fit in every conversation I happened to have with him. My Mum did re-watch the show he talked about to confirm this information, and find it true, but didn’t seem impressed with his acting. He was mediocre at best, she told me. The show though was pretty decent. I agree, I said to her. 

An unexpected outcome come out of that incident was that my Mum later re-watched all the famous 90s Television shows, and started her own YouTube channel ‘RetroTelly’, and it’s been a year since then, it got 12k subscribers, which was pretty good thing. And it was satisfying enough to preoccupy her time, and a relief to me, as it limited the bickering sessions my dad had with her. It was useless, such a waste of time, my dad commented, when she just started posting videos on web. That comment, unusually didn’t get any verbal reaction, but visibly she did look hurt. After that, she extended her viewing to classic cinema, and analyzing it’s relevance in a present context. It garnered attention, but not enough to generate revenue yet. Appreciation might be a form of currency of no monetary value, but did contain a satisfactory value to her. I feel heard, she said. That’s great Mum, I told her. And it is great, to be heard, to be seen.

My dad still didn’t subscribe her channel, but I know he secretly watches it, and did save some of her videos in his phone. He posted a link of it on his FB account, and also forwarded it to some of his old colleagues on their whatsapp group, but the response to which he got in return, fallen on two extreme ends, from no acknowledgement to mockery. Although Dad himself mocked Mum initially, but the same when done by others pinched him. It felt strange, to allow oneself to hurt someone you know, but not extending that authority to another person to do the same. There lies selfishness in this too, to having the sole right to hurt the person, with whom you once share a home, and now sharing just a place. 

***

I knew this weekend was going to be little difficult on everyone. Every family has that one date, when their lives took a turn from which they could never be the same. It’s more like many battlegrounds within a battleground, everyone was silently fighting themselves. Mini, my youngest sister, too was going to come for dinner tonight. It’s been 4 years, I haven’t seen her. She wrote a travel blog, and got a book contract with a famous publishing house. She seemed to be set for life, but that has not been the case for always. She was the youngest, not spoilt though, just spirited, and too adored by everyone in our home. She did change, not on her own terms and condition, but instead on the account of circumstances, I believe. Her advent readers, and her family got to know which place she’s now from the same source – her travelogue. On her blog, she essayed everything in 1000, or more so words, but talk in monosyllables to her own family. Maybe, there isn’t much left to call these people her family, or maybe there wasn’t any in the first place. 

Situations, and their after-effects skewed our way of thinking, how we perceive those around her. How easily people we trust break our hearts, opened a floodgate of revelations, and a gamut of emotions. Mini got, like the rest of us, her heart broken. The nature of that event, it seemed, too futile now, and too ugly to be discussed openly. But I hope, with time, Mini would recover. She appeared fine, but is she really, I wonder. She’s going to come tonight for the dinner. I heard Mum talking to her over the phone. I hope she really did. It’s been a long time.

***

On 29th February, all the members of my family got together, to mourn, or better to dig out the old not so lovely past. It’s that weekend when my dad won’t have his usual two glass of whiskey but rather drink down a full bottle, my mum would smoke a whole packet of cigarettes, and my other sister, Mini, the youngest one, comes out of her hiding place to pay a visit to the rest of the family. Tara, too eventually came around, accompanied by her boyfriend, to pay visit, but only to dissolve the tension between our parents which tends to escalate to another level on this day. 

The table was set, dinner was ready, and a great war of words expected to happen soon. My mum and dad sat across from each other, Mini, and Tara, tagging her boyfriend/ once infamous child actor – Arjun along with her – settled firmly on their chairs. Arjun, yet not an official member of this family, acted cool, and smirking. I really wanted to slap that smirk off his face, but I can’t. It’s not a sensible thing to do for one, and second it’s impossible for me to do that. 

Before they began throwing taunts at each other, till then a sense of silence quickly spread its wings quite wide, and while each and every member might be having their separate monologues being played inside their messy heads, and gulping down water, and chewing their food real slow. 

“Congrats, Mini,” Tara said.

“For what?” Mini asked. She was still looking down at her plate.

“You got a real good deal, from The Hitchens, for your book. I read from internet,”

“Oh thanks, I was going to tell you,” Mini explained. She wasn’t going to, Tara knows that too.

“Your sis printed out that news. It was on some digital news platform. It featured your face too, you looked decent in it,” Arjun said.

Mini smiled. She felt guilty, not being in touch with her at all over the last few years.

“You still seeing that friend of yours?” Mum asked. Mini looked up, knew that it was her that question was addressed too. 

She shook her head, and murmured, “No.”

“How’s the food?” Dad asked. He certainly wanted to deviate the attention.

“It’s nice,” Mini replied.

“What’s that pervert doing now?” Mum asked.

“Oh for god fucking sake, Mum, will you not start again?” Tara said. She must already regret coming home.

“I told you, I don’t see her anymore, Mum,” Mini said. Agitation got to voice.

“Good, we don’t want anything to do with such people,” Mum continued.

“What bullshit are you saying?” Dad said, and looked really angry.

“You know it damn well,” Mum took out a cigarette, and burned it. She tried quitting it, and then she stop quitting altogether. It did help her in her writing, that’s what she told me. 

They’re talking about Vishali, Mini’s friend/crush/potential love interest. And, she was not a pervert, she kissed my dad. But that wasn’t the biggest deal as it turned out later, she convinced Dad to lend her some money, which my dad quickly did, but out of my mum’s savings – a large chunk of it was gone in matter of few minutes.

 And considering Vishali was of the same age as Mini, roughly 30 years younger than my dad, which made matters worse. Along with Mum’s life-long savings gone, so does her trust in her husband, and certainly in their marriage too. She partly blame Mini for this fiasco, and partly herself for letting Dad had an easy access to her savings account. The lesson was in it for her, no man can keep it in his pants, and lose their brain, with such an immediacy when it comes to someone so young. All men are, to some degree, morally bankrupt. 

As far as it comes to my dad, with an intent of giving back Mum’s money to her, he invested his in some business which tanked, and proved to be a great setback. And Mum guarded rest of her money in her saving accounts with her life. She doesn’t need one penny from Dad, she said to me, and she ain’t giving even single one to him either.

Since then, it was a tough terrain ahead for everyone of us, but especially for Tara. Tara couldn’t take admission in the top B-school, got a gap year, and took a full time job for a about a year. She saved most of it, and applied for education loan. She recently paid it off, but it was hard for her to not resent Mini for that. With time, I think Tara would also let go of that ugly past. The past, but it seemed, a blood sucking leech, and it might took her some time to get over it. Tara loved her, she’s her big sister after all, but Mini still carry a big load of guilt. So, she avoided her family for so long that she forgot she has one. 

“I’d kept on wishing that you hadn’t brought that friend of yours in our life ever,” Mum sighed. There wasn’t anger in her words. She didn’t understand it then, and she doesn’t understand it now, but I understand that. It’s real hard to hate your own child. One might be disappointed, but couldn’t punish them for so long, atleast not wholeheartedly.

“I wished that too,” Mini said. She’s still hurting, I guess. 

“Tara just got promoted,” Arjun said.

Tara hit his elbow hard. Arjun grouch, “Ouch.”

“What?” Arjun said.

“Just finish it, we got to catch our flight,” Tara said. She shakes her head, and sighed.

“Congrats, on your promotion.” Mum wished her. Tara smiled back.

“But it would be nice if you pick our call, once in a while, won’t it?”

“I will, Mum, if you stop pestering me about getting married,” Tara said.

“I won’t anymore,” Mum said. She was genuine this time. “Marriage didn’t do anything for me, so why would be any different for you? Don’t mind Arjun beta,” Mum said, her claim partly genuine and meant as a taunt to Dad. And Arjun doesn’t mind a bit, smiled at my mum, and continued to enjoy the dinner. What an insensitive fool he is! I said to myself. 

“What do you want from me?” Dad asked Mum. He got the taunt finally.

“For you to move out, a room is vacant now,” Mum replied.

“It’s Dev’s room. What are you implying?” Dad fumed.

“He doesn’t live here anymore. He doesn’t live anywhere at all. He doesn’t live at all.”

“And that’s my fault, is it?”

“You know it, I don’t have to tell you,” Mum said, and took a sip of water.

Dad walked out of the room, and went to the balcony, and looked up at the vacant, empty sky. His eyes welled up, and I wanted to put my hand on his shoulder, and tell him it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Life screwed up us all, just in different ways.

Despite what happened at the dinner, they all silently agree to meet again. There wasn’t going to be any closure for them. Life doesn’t grant it, even if you demand it desperately.

***

.The only detail I could recall from the moment when I knew I was going to die was I’d been lip-syncing to a song – the theme song of the same show Arjun once starred in. It got really catchy background music. Then out-of-nowhere I saw an SUV approaching my car with a fast speed, and I was trying to stop mine, but the breaks failed. As all the other matters in his life, Dad forgot to repair the car on time, the information I got to know a little bit late. I said, “Fuck.” Yes, that’s the last word that came out of my mouth, and later blood, and my white teeth came out splattering as this another car hit me straight. After that I don’t remember much, except the thing my ghost decided, for time being, to currently crash at my old home. Nothing’s changed much, seeing my parents bickering daily, and it became my ritual. When they get tired with each other, they both addressed me through my photo which they kept on a side-table in the dining room. Dad regularly cleaned the frame, and the table, not letting even a speck of dust to settle on either. 

I thought to myself, how unremarkable my life was, and now I’m reduced to just a memory. A memory that eventually fade with time, and then nothing would be remain of me. And that’s little existential thinking a dead person could do, having infinite time on his hand.

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2 thoughts on “Normal Family

  1. Really a beautiful story.