Monday, November 07, 2011

What do you want to be?

I have had a very traditional, middle class and conscientious upbringing. My mother decided never to work to raise us, and she did a great job at it. When I was growing up, we had limited resources, but plenty of love and laughter. My parents never fought. Not in front of us, at least. We could take them for granted, and I am thankful for that. I grew up being loved and pampered by the whole of the extended family. Two big vans and jeeps full of relatives would arrive at our house around our birthdays, and the party would last a week. Most of the times, they would come for my birthday on December 30 and leave after my brother's on January 26. Everyone would stay in the two bedroom houses we lived in and my mother would be completely unreachable and out of sight, always in the kitchen, with her salwar-kameez and a pink cardigan over it, dough on her hands, but never without a smile on her face. My father is the epitome of principles. He would live with days of troubles and threats from local goons but refuse to sanction a bad loan, he would not save a penny but never refuse to meet the needs of his immediate as well as paternal family, which was tragedy-stricken, disease-ridden, big, and had only him to depend on. My father was the perfect son, my mother the perfect daughter-in-law. My brother was the blue-eyed first born on both sides of the family, I, the lucky second. I would carefully observe everything my brother would do and try to be like him all the time. He was a quiet and observant child, inquisitive, intelligent, and respectful. I tried to be him. But I was not born to fit in. I was defiant, talkative and I would always want to judge wrong and right on my own. 'Rules' never made much sense to me. But we were looked at as the perfect kids to have. We loved each other ardently, protected each other fiercely, and never fought.

But this is not about my childhood. This is about my dreams. But to know someone's dreams, to understand them truly, you need to know who the person is. I have very early memories of myself. I remember being all of three or four, conversing with 'God' when my mother took her afternoon naps. I would close my eyes and talk silently, and pray to grow up to be someone who would make my parents proud. I remember believing that I did not need to speak it out for him to listen, for he is supposed to be everywhere, even within me. I don't know how I had that idea at that age. Perhaps it was the number of stories I had heard while having my meals. I would always ask questions about God, about who was right in the story and why. I remember having given my mother a hard time after I heard about Sita's 'Agni Pariksha'.

My parents believed in not sending kids to school till they were at least five. So we were taught our initial lessons by Mom and Dad. I would insist on learning everything my brother learnt, and in that enthusiasm, even before I could actually read the words properly, I knew all his lessons by heart. Once, when a friend of Dad's was visiting, I sat on the chair opposite to him, and started to read a chapter on 'Gai'(Cow) putting my fingers on the lines and speaking out the words that I had heard my brother read so many times. Dad's friend was amazed, because I was too small to even know alphabets properly. He started to express his amazement when my Dad smiled and asked him to make me read a random sentence. At this, I laughed and ran inside. When he came to know that I couldn't read and was just reciting it from memory, he was more impressed; by the pronunciation and the confidence. I guess it had already begun then, the love for words, and for the way they were pronounced.

Another time, at a family wedding, a relative asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. "Hindi teacher", I had replied. The whole big family had laughed a hearty laugh. Some had said, "She is already so preachy, she could do a good job at it." I was confused. I didn't know what exactly was so amusing about wanting to be a language teacher. Then, I was told that everybody would like me to be a doctor. I thought about the job of a doctor, and thought it was a noble profession. So my answer to "What do you want to be" changed, to everybody's satisfaction.

Growing up was difficult, as it is expected to be for any independent spirit in a highly traditional family. But growing up, my dreams changed from those of just being successful to make my family happy, to those of travel, and a dream home, and leisure. In those days if you asked me what I wanted to be, I would probably just say 'a successful software engineer' which would imply being able to fulfill all other dreams.

When I was twenty, I was on a bus one night with my best friend, when I told her, "I don't like the idea of being twenty. I am not sure I am everything I wanted to be when I was twenty".
"Why do you say that?" she asked.
"All the wrong choices and mistakes I've made."
"But they make you who you are. They're going to make you a better person of twenty-one or twenty-two, or seventy-eight. And, you still have your dreams." she had told me.
Just the words I needed to hear at the time. So her.

I am twenty-three now. Am I who I wanted to be when I was twenty-three? Yes Sir, I am. It took me many mistakes and downfalls to be here. But I am here, and I am happy. Not because I have attained a perfect job, or because I have fallen in love. But because I have lived every day of my life for the past few years. I have laughed, I have traveled, I have made friends, I have risked being hurt, I have been hurt, and then I have received love and friendship. I have lived like a child, bruised my knees, and I have grown immensely in the process. I have lived in the mountains, listened to fireflies in the wild, tasted the sea water and witnessed the life under it, I have listened to the whispers of history in ancient ruins, I have been to war museums and ancient churches, and I have coloured myself with different cultures and cities. This was exactly my dream. This is still my dream. To always have wheels on my feet. To never stop exploring. To never miss the opportunity to play with an animal or a child, to never miss an opportunity to make a difference, and to always, always learn. Thankfully, the world is large enough to fuel this dream for a lifetime and still leave a lot to be done.

Ask me again, "What do you want to be when you grow up?". My answer: I do not want to grow up, thank you. But I want to be. I want to be so much that being is looked at as an art. I want to quit my job. Sometime soon. And I want to start something with a difference to make a difference. It will take care of old people, because I love them, more than I love children and animals. I love them because they, who once knew the spring of life, are learning to deal with its fall, and they are trying hard, alone. I love them because they are ours to love, they are stories, they are old buildings and history, they are a bundle of memories. I want to teach. Because education in the true sense is the solution to all our problems. But we never educate people. We make exam-experts and desk-jockeys and perfect corporate slaves. I want to 'educate'. I want to write a book. A marvelous, glorious book that creates history. But before that, I wish to read and travel, a lot. So that I can do justice to my first baby. It needs to be right. I do not like apartments, I wish for a beautiful bungalow, with enough garden space for my kids to grow up in. I would have a lot of pictures and quotes on the walls. I would have a large white room with just a canvas and a glass wall that overlooks a beautiful garden, or a sea. I would have unique furniture in the whole of house. It will be a practical and useful house, with space to walk in, lie in, run in, play hide and seek in, and a lot of light and air. And of course, I would always, always have the wanderlust. I would go to unknown places and experience their cultures, deeply and genuinely. I would taste different types of cuisines, learn languages, traditions, hear stories, listen to the whispers of nature, and continue to grow and share the joy, till the last breath I take in, wherever in the world that is.


ayala said...

A great post are blessed to have a wonderful family and a wonderful life. You will make your mark in this world, I am sure of that. You possess a lot of spirit and curiosity and that will lead you to greatness .

Helen said...

Your words have a way of making your reader (me) contemplate my own life and dreams as you write of yours.

Mary said...

This is beautiful writing! Truly, you never have to 'grow up.' I myself am decades older than you and still growing. You 'grow up' all your life, and each year brings new adventures and new learnings. But you already know this, so you are ahead of the game!

Darshan Chande said...

That's a sweet story, Tiluka! And great, beautiful dreams! May you succeed at everything. When you write that book let me know, I'll want to buy a copy. Signed one. :)

Anne said...

A lot of what you say resonates with me, deeply, including wanting to be there for the aged. I do hope you get to do whatever your heart desires. You post took me back to my own childhood :-)Loved it.