The Story of Issac and Abraham is one of my favorites from the Bible, because it is so telling of what parents do to their children, are willing to do to their children, in order to bring about their desires and expectations. Abraham, wishing badly to be validated by his God, thinks his son is an okay enough price to pay. I’ve written before about someone in my life who was badly affected by parental expectations. Most of us don’t quite get to Abraham, but we still cling subconsciously to the idea our children are only tools to serve our purposes, to fulfill our needs. I’m back to write today, again, after a while, because I have been watching from the sidelines of a brutal, cold war.
She is one of my oldest friends, and one of the closest. I’ve watched her grow from a precocious child who was stubborn and often temperamental, to a woman beautiful and accomplished who fights the arsed-up society back home everyday silently and with grace. It isn’t the battles outside that gets to her, though. It is the one at home that chips away at her. The scars that are hidden are often deeper than ones that we see.
I remember her long hair, her glasses, her expressive soulful eyes, and her fierce temper. We were close, and she is one of the few who’s known me so well for so long, as we grew up together before I knew to construct a simplified facade over myself closer to what the world wanted to see, an artifice that was hurt less by the callous and the thoughtless than the flawed flesh and blood creature within. It took me quite some effort, after I reached the age of twelve or thirteen, to give the whole of myself to friends I made, to let them know me without distillation, without refinements and tweaks. I am not writing of myself today; I am writing of her, because she loved me for a long time for what I was (and I’d like to think she loves me still, across oceans and circumstances changed), and I’ve always wished her well and hoped for many good things come to her.
Living in that country I left was something that scared me; and the thought of returning is something that scares me still. I was very unhappy there, unhappy to the core of my bones. She is worn down by the society. I was broken down by it. So I admired her for her resilience, for how she managed to make things work for her, for how she carried on doggedly with her dreams even when all of the odds were amassed against her, even when she had to deal with indignities and financial constraints, even when she had to watch the rest of her friends go ‘forward’ with their lives in ways that the society deemed necessary, even when she has to constantly engage with well-meaning elders who think all of this has gone for too long and that they’d rather put a drastic end with a true and tested method (marriage). I am insulated by distance from them (and even then I shudder at the thought of returning for Christmas often). She is not. She bears the expectations gracefully, and when she is called a failure, she still finds it in her to brush off the harsh words, the psychological manipulations, and outright witch-hunt to focus on her plans and goals. I was never like her. My flight instinct has always been stronger than my fight instinct. So I watch her fight and I wonder how she does it.
[It is a cycle. You marry early because you are asked to, and then you are pushed to, and then you might be manipulated into. And you do all of it in another twenty odd years to your child. You break them enough until they are tied to your apron strings, emotionally dysfunctional, careening towards anxiety as they clamor for promotion, for new cars, for new houses, for a pretty bride or a rich husband, and two kids, and then having those kids ace every entrance examination of their lives, and then making sure that they marry right and early, and all over again. I am not here to write about that cycle. Many others have, at length, and with eloquence and passion.]
We went to see Jumanji. I heard her laughing carefree throughout the silly film at the actors’ antics, and I wondered how she lightened her burdens. I came away inspired, trying to lighten the burdens in my life as she did in hers. Over here, people try to find God, or at least a cult, or chemical aids (prescriptive or otherwise), or crossfit, or meditation, or a hundred other external sources. And there she was, strong in herself, resilient in ways I never was, fiercely focused and light of heart despite her burdens, despite the fact that even at home she had no respite. She isn’t just carrying on, which is the most that most of us can do in her place. She seeks out joys actively and doesn’t stay down. I don’t know how she manages to do so. And I don’t know how to do that. Many years ago, when we first met as children, I had fancied myself the stronger one. Time has proven me wrong and I don’t grudge her this victory at all.
And yet, at what cost? So many of us internalize the expectations placed on us until they frame our psyche even if we’ve resisted, until they determine our reactions, our anxieties, until they dictate what we stress out over, what we strive to like even if we fundamentally don’t.
Someone once tried to teach me that sons doing things right bring honor to the family, and daughters doing things right meant not bringing dishonor to the family. They don’t speak to me anymore, resigned as they are to the fact that my life has veered off sharply in directions they don’t approve of and have no control over. What they said though, registered in the child’s brain, and I still think about it often, and I see imprints of it all over in how most women pursue their dreams, and I have walked amongst women who say they lean in and help other women though they fight like dogs for a male supervisor’s approval, and the Raj isn’t dead yet in the country where I was raised.
He was known as the son of Joseph,
the son of Heli,
the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,
the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum,
the son of Esli, the son of Naggai,
the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein,
the son of Josech, the son of Joda,
the son of Joannen, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel,
the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri,
the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam,
the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,
the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim,
the son of Matthat, the son of Levi,
the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,
the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,
the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha,
the son of Nathan, the son of David,
the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,
the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon,
the son of Amminadab, the son of Aram, the son of Arni,
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah,
the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg,
the son of Eber, the son of Shelah,
the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared,
the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan,
the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
Not a woman in there. Where did the mothers go? I remember asking my catechism teacher about that, as a child not yet ten, and getting scolded furiously. I ran away. It was only the beginning of what turned to be very many years of running away from many matters, primarily rooted in faith. Faith, as I had realized then, was a powerful tool to psychologically manipulate us not just into arcane rituals and superstitions, to take our work and bread, but also to keep some of us down and lift others up, and even when we break away, the scars are still deep in us. So most of us end up sacrificing ourselves on those altars down the line, voluntarily, psychologically impacted by society and family as we are, even if we managed to rebel and resist when we were dragged there. And since it is our own doing now, everyday, in our daily lives and choices, it doesn’t even register.
I know what it’s done to me, as I stand here free and in exile. I wonder what it’s done to her and how she keeps her flame going.
Here, I cooked for Vishu and invited friends over. My new apartment rang with laughter and smelled of traditional food. It was delicious. We inaugurated a new tea service and had an impromptu violin recital. Later, there was tawny port and the plum cake my family had sent over. Now I am well-fed, quite drunk, and sleepy; the combination has left me content and in the mood to torment my neighbors with another impromptu recital. Fortunately, they have been quite tolerant of my quirks so far.
I was a shoddy driver last week and smashed the front of my car against a pillar at the office parking lot. The dent and the scratches look woebegone. I will get it fixed in a couple of months, I’ve decided.
I sneaked into the opening night of the Death of Stalin here at the local theatre. The crowd was an eclectic bunch of professors from Stanford and conspiracy theorists. I stood out rather.
There is a float spa nearby which is all the rage these days around here. You get in a water pod and they shut out the lights. Then you float in the dark for a hour or two, and it is supposed to help you bring self-awareness and peace within. The parking lot is full of cars and taxis, and so are the side-streets, and I have to park a few blocks away to get to my dry-cleaners which is alongside the spa. Seekers all, and I wish them luck.