It is day nine of your paternal grandparents’ visit. All recent family events have been recounted and discussed. Fraying familial bonds have been mended with the timely exchange of family gossip, a round of cards, and photographs from a throwback era.
Your younger brother and you set the table for dinner – he lays out plates, spoons and glasses while you serve the food – you both work like a well-oiled machine.
“Don’t give her so much achaar,” Baba says in reference to Dadi’s plate.
Everyone sits down, and there is silence at the table. For nine days, you’ve all had a drawer full of topics to discuss, everyone has had daily events to share and laugh over.
But now, locked up together because of a pandemic, one has nothing else to discuss. You don’t recall who begins the discussion, but as a condescending undergraduate media student you have a lot to say on the topic. You counter every WhatsApp forward. You have a rebuttal or snide comment on everything, because you’re no longer the kid who can just autotune out of ‘adult conversations’.
You have an opinion, and you love to let everyone know what it is – whether they like it or not.
“The dinner table is not a place for conversations, it is a place to eat in silence. We don’t talk while eating,” your grandfather says.
The ‘smash the patriarchy’ trigger goes off in your brain – why did no one say that over the past nine days? Why only now, when you’re dominating the conversation?
But that doesn’t make sense! Why do people sit together to eat if they’re not supposed to talk? Why do they go to restaurants? Why is food the centre of attention at every social gathering?
Your Dadi tries to pitch in, but Baba waves his hand dismissively and remarks, “Tum thoda chup raha karo (you should stay quiet).”
The warning bells in your head ring more furiously. The man sitting in front of you is no longer adorable, loving and old – he’s a chauvinist, sexist, egoistic snobby know-it-all idiot, your mind screams screams. You feel obliged to debate with this man, to talk back to him because your Dadi cannot; your Dadi will not.
You keep up the discussion for a while – both encouraged and dismayed at your parents’ silent looks and smiles of approval. Your brother just wants to wrap up everything quickly so that he can finish his chores for the day and watch his football match. You keep at it, until your grandfather remarks, “You’ll do whatever you want anyway, you rarely listen to your parents as it is.”
The cold tone breaks something in you. It angers you so much that you shut up and vehemently clear the table afterwards, hoping that your demeanour will speak louder than the futile devices your words are.
The next day at dinner, you play some music in the background, hoping to avoid catastrophe. A song from Haider comes on, and you point out the Kashmiri influence to your brother. Your Baba makes a snide comment about how intellectual and artsy your tastes are as compared to their generation’s simplistic Lata Mangeshkars.
Your Dadi attempts to rectify the situation, and asks the story of the film. But your grandfather aggressively asks you to explain the first line of the song, intending to test what he thinks is your passion.
You ignore him and respond to your Dadi. He waves his hand dismissively at her again, and the alarm bells in your head get louder. He’s a misogynist, you want to scream. He’s dominating you! He’s manipulative! He’s taken all your decisions for the entirety of your life! The young feminist icon that you are, you want to shake her up, give her a good talk, tell her to stop tolerating this silly man’s tantrums day in and day out, divorce him, move in with your kids, be with people who actually care about you.
But she’s doing alright already. She has a house, three loving kids, her adorable grandchildren (should we only count the ones who’re not yet opinionated adults?), she’s got family she FaceTimes with, she has a local gang of friends to hang out with.
Sure, your grandfather is a little rude and domineering, but he’s old and old people cannot change; they can only be tolerated. He’s a good man. The reason he interferes with her decisions is because he cares for her. He’s seen more of the world, he’s the one who earned the money, so obviously he knows better. He’s the oldest in the family, so obviously he has more insight than the rest of his family members when it comes to any topic under the sun.
They’ve made it 50 years together, they love each other. Only you see the problem, if there is indeed one.
While on a night walk you vent to your parents and they empathise, appreciate and let you know that they’re proud of you.
But they also tell you to let it go, to ignore things and move on, to find refuge in acceptance. And you cannot help but wonder that maybe the fault is not in them but in you, in the liberal thinking that you’ve been exposed to in your literary theory classes. Theory is full of verbose ideas that seem revolutionary, but what of the real world? What chance does theory stand in front of family and marriage?
Family is forever, but your course in literary theory lasted only a semester.
Shreya Kapoor studies Media, English, and Psychology at CHRIST University, Bangalore. You can get in touch with her on Instagram @justanotherkapoor. She’s quite active when not accidentally burning another batch of brownies.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty