When I moved back to my parents’ house, I knew there was going to be trouble. I just didn’t think that the first problem we’d have would be bats in the air conditioner. Yes, you read that right. It turns out that, when a room and an air conditioner are left unused for about two years, sometimes, bats decide to nest in them. We all thought it was mice until the nice AC repair man came out of the room at a fast clip and we realised that it wasn’t. The bats were summarily dealt with and the repair man gratefully paid and sent on his way as befits a saviour, and I was left surveying the heaped accumulation of who knows how many days’ bat poo scattered across my bedroom floor.
As I cleaned up, I wondered to myself how this had happened. My parents, when they finally built a house of their own, had built a large one, with four bedrooms and two floors, and enough help to keep it running. Only, that had been 14 years ago, when we were all much younger, help included. My sister and I had both left to live independent lives, leaving Amma and Appa in the house with my grandmother.
People were always horrified that I didn’t live at home when I worked in Hyderabad. To be honest, I was getting tired of kindly parental questions such as “But you just went out last night, why do you need to go out again?” or “Are you really going to sleep till SEVEN?” My mother would delegate things to me, but then she’d want me to do them when and how she’d have done them. My father would stay up till I came home when I went out at night, and god forbid I should be back at 11.05 pm instead of 11.00 pm — he’d be halfway to the police station.
I was, of course, most resentful. They wanted me to be an adult but they insisted on treating me like a teenager. I raged and argued; I wrote so many letters I never gave them, I ranted to my sister and on my blog. Moving out was for the greater good.
But moving away was a different ballgame. Living in a DDA flat in Delhi meant I had to be up by 6 am to fill water. I rapidly built up close and sustaining relationships with the local plumber, electrician and carpenter. There was the wonderful convenience of everything being delivered to my doorstep, but I still had to chase after the maid and threaten to cut her pay if she took another day off without warning. I must say, maintenance hassles aside, I loved being the mistress of my own house. Best of all, when my parents came to stay, they left everything to me. I was getting that adult treatment I’d always wanted, because they were in my house, and I was loving it.
And then I decided to quit my job and go to business school. I couldn’t afford rent in Delhi anymore, and I really didn’t want to be Person-In-Charge-of-House either. I had only one place to live: the parental home. And so back I went, to my bedroom on the first floor, preparing myself for more battles. But this time, something was different. For one, it didn’t really matter that much to me that I be treated like a grown-up. I knew I was one and that was enough. Besides, my 30s had made me a person who wakes up at 6 am, curls up in a ball of denial till 6.30 am and then just gets up. I even managed to make certain decorating decisions as we integrated my possessions into the house.
I found myself luxuriating in the magical way water turned up in the tank (because Appa ran the motor) and the groceries appeared in the kitchen (because Amma did the shopping). I loved that I just showed up and food was there; I didn’t have to think about it. But I also found myself voluntarily chasing the maids and offering to get groceries. I noticed that my parents had become slower and seemed to be narrowing the focus of things they used their energy for. Appa, who used to raise hell if the living room wasn’t dusted, hadn’t noticed the truly awe-inspiring network of cobwebs behind the blinds.
I took over the kitchen and hosted brunch one day when family friends came over, cooking while Amma did the crossword. We both enjoyed it. When the cook takes a day off, Amma leaves me to cook. Appa lets me take the car to be serviced. I sat down with Appa and told him one day, after an invigorating chat about the current value of money, that however much I loved them, living with two 60 year olds and a 90 year old was extremely isolating and I needed to get out and find some friends. He nodded emphatically, and never has a word been said about how many nights a week I go out and how late I get home.
I expected moving home to be a sort of regression. Instead, I find that this time around, our relationship is very different. I voluntarily participate in running the household, and I’m willing to forego my naps to enable theirs. For the first time, I see them willing to relinquish more responsibilities to me, and I find myself eager to take it on. Instead of them worrying about my being out partying, I’m up late worrying about how we are going to make this household work with the next generation living abroad. Who is going to put suitcases in the loft and argue with the mechanic? For the first time, such questions are not something to be blithely ignored; they are queries that will need answers in less than 10 years.
This is the biggest change that moving home has brought in its wake. My relationship with my parents is slowly tilting. From always being the adult child who lives with her parents, we are moving towards the day when they will be living with their adult child. And it’s a future I consider with delight and alarm.
Ameya Nagarajan is a Hyderabad-based writer and editor