My 80+ year old father and I were hospitalized almost at the same time about a year back. I was discharged from the hospital within 5 days. My father was critical and had to stay in the hospital for almost two weeks before he was fit enough to return home. I missed my home, my pillow, my bed sheet and my kitchen! I mourned the loss of my uterus. I wanted to have a bath. Heck – I just wanted to walk and fetch myself a glass of water. I had despised my husband with all my heart the previous week because he had been too busy with his work to take me to a doctor. Today I love him with all my heart because he had gone home early in the morning, made me a cup of coffee and brought it back to the hospital so that I could drink it as soon as I woke up. I had given him hell the whole of last night. He could not even hold my hand because I was on IV fluids.
He stood by my bedside all through the night. I was glad I could be my normal self with him. I cried. I slept. I squeezed my eyes shut and bit my lip when the nurse found it difficult to find a vein in my swollen hand.
I had chatted merrily with my sister before the operation and told her not to come to visit me again. I would be fine. She knew this too, but she came anyway and I hugged her tightly and wept for no reason at all. My father was giving my brother and my mother an equally tough time in my maternal home. I came to know about it much later though. Here I was – a wife, a daughter, a mother, a sister, a daughter-in-law and a friend to a handful of people, at this crucial juncture of my life and only these relationships mattered to me. I was a normal human being. I had argued and fought and loved and hated, and laboured for and demanded from my loved ones. There was no single perfect relationship out there. There was no single perfect person out there. We agreed, all of us – that we all had our fair share of flaws. But the relationships mattered more to us than the issues. My father too has experienced this and is still experiencing his fair share of ups and downs with all his relationships. Yes, even at 80+ years of age. But he leads by example – and has taught us that a relationship is always to be revered. To this day – Amma’s advice to us has always been, “Agar ek garam hain to dooje ko naram hona padhta hai”, which when loosely translated means – if one person is hot-tempered, the other person needs to complement the situation and be calm and cool at that time.
A youngster in our family got married a while back. In a casual conversation he said, “Let’s see if it works.” And my only words to him were, “The relationship never works out on its own dear boy, we have to make it work.”
Recently I read a column in the newspaper with amazement. The columnist was a relationship expert and was discussing the in-law issue. Apparently, a solution to the problem was ‘earning your own home’. And I loved the beautiful phrase – ‘respecting the robe’. The ‘earning your own home’ bit somehow unnerved me. So many questions buzzed around my mind that entire day. Is that what relationships are all about? Is money central to everything? Yes, I was married to a lowly clerk over two and a half decades back. And yes, we have truly ‘earned our own home’ with the sweat of our brow and the toil of our labour. We moved up the ladder of success one slow rung at a time. We paid the last instalment of our home loan three months back. And we learned so many lovely things along the way. Yes, we do feel secure with the money that we have in our bank accounts. But somehow, I still don’t think that money can ever help us cement a broken bond. And ah! Yes – the notes of discord in our marital home began with money. Two and a half decades back, my spouse was a lowly clerk. I will never forget those days. But today, I choose not to let money cloud my life.
Yes, it does have its value and place in everyone’s life including mine. But it is not the – be all and end all – of my life. Maybe I learned this from my parents during my early years. But I think it is a lesson that is worth imbibing.
And as far as I know, ‘respecting the robe’ is something we all need to do if we want to live with dignity in our married homes. Even if we don’t get along with the seniors of our family, we need to respect them at least when they are around us. We can cry foul when we see the unfairness in the domestic scenario several times in a day. But eventually, we all find ways and means of dealing with the unfairness and finding our own peace and sanity within that space. Yes, I have been called a hypocrite for putting on such a façade, a farce, by a loved one. But I don’t really see it that way. I don’t really make it my business to go around teaching people any value or anything for that matter. I prefer to focus on the quality of my life.
I value my peace and my sanity. So, I choose - to remain quiet, a very conscious and deliberate choice.
But real respect, ah. Come on, that is a different ball game altogether. Real respect must be earned, by doing the work around the house instead of tossing random orders to abstract people. Real respect can be earned by being empathetic to the problems that the other people in our family are facing. Instead of simply ‘respecting the robe’ maybe we should all shift our focus a wee bit and focus on earning respect from our immediate family members first. Maybe if we focused on complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we could create more peace within the home. Maybe our home would be then become a haven of peace that we would love to go to at the end of the day, every day. It would not be something we have to put up with, but something we look forward to. Maybe instead of neatly snipping a bond forever, we will realize the value of how rich we are when we have loved ones hovering around us when we are hospitalized. Maybe we will realize how rich we are when we see children playing with glee and with gay abandon in our own homes. Maybe we will realize how rich we are when our loved ones realize how much we really mean to them.
Maybe they will realize how often they took our labour of love for granted when we are too sick and too old and too frail to take care of them any longer. Maybe our love will return to us manifold when we are too old and need it the most then.
Maybe we will really realize that four walls don’t really make a home, it is the love, the compromises and the sacrifices that we make for our loved ones that create a harmonious feeling in the family. Maybe we will realize on our dying day, that all the money in our banks pales into insignificance compared to the love that is showered upon us by our loved ones. I am most certainly not a relationship expert – so maybe I am very foolish to believe in such outdated notions and concepts called ‘inclusive love’. But I would much rather be a happy, peaceful, blissful fool than a monetarily rich, insecure and unhappy human being.