By Smitha R
Who knew a repeat telecast of a mythological series based on the life of a man/God would set me on the road to new discovery about my own parents. When Ramayan began to be re-telecast on the national television, I had no intention of being glued to it. I am not a big fan of men who abandon their wives, even if they are the Supreme Being/Leader. So, it was a surprise that I ended up watching a whole episode of the series with my family.
Now, you need to understand that the drawing room, where we have our TV, is the war room of my home. It is where all the wars in the family are fought so as to ensure those passing by our house know every minute details of the bombs being dropped. A stranger can walk into our house and determine how the hierarchy works by looking at who has the remote.
It is also the place everyone in my family rushes to while talking loudly on their mobile. They then proceed to glare at the occupants until the television is meekly muted. It is where we have our breakfast, lunch and dinner and where we perform acrobatics sitting on the sofa to avoid getting up when the maid comes to clean the room. It is where my mother finds it necessary to place a chair bang in front of the television so that 80% of the occupants get to watch her back and not what is on the screen.
Since my parents won’t let us have a slice of television time, I have, like a true scavenger, taken to stealing bits and pieces of their fun time. I do it by pestering my parents with intelligent queries about the dumb soap operas that they like to watch.
So, when I sat down together to watch Ramayan, after losing yet another remote war to my parents, I had every intention of ruining their fun. The over- the-top acting, the poor production and the almost hilarious expressions the actors had in the name of emotions gave me enough ammunition. I began a running commentary that could rival that of Navjot Sidhu, the cricket player turned commentator. But my mom was not pleased and she soon sent me to shell some peas. Yes, my mother, the innovator that she is, has over the years devised better punishment-cum-chores for her adult children when they outgrew their ‘face the wall’ disciplining.
As I sat with the peas, I could not but help notice the delight with which my mom watched the series. Her face mirrored every expression that the characters had. I felt bad for trying to ruin it for her and could not help but ask, “Why are you so excited about watching the re-run of a series you watched three decades ago?”
“I never watched it. We did not have a TV at home then,” she replied, still glued to the television.
“What, then how do I remember watching it?” I asked.
“You kids would go with your dad to the neighbour’s house to watch it on a Sunday. I had to cook for everyone, so I never came,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
Suddenly it occurred to me that watching Ramayan on television was not the only thing my mother had given up. I remember going on trips with my dad on his scooter leaving my mom behind as the vehicle could not ferry all five of us. Everytime we went to do all the fun things, my mom voluntarily stayed back because a taxi was a luxury we could hardly afford. Three decades of living with my mom and there were chapters of her life I was never privy to. I decided to shut up and vowed to ask her more about her life as a young career woman with three kids once the episode came to an end.
Since multi-tasking was never my strength, I ended up ignoring the peas and actually watched Ramayan with my parents. While my parents seemed to follow the series, I felt like I had skipped several important chapters in the story.
So, when the episode came to an end, I had several queries. What forced King Dashrath to grant a boon to his third wife Kayekayi? What is Parsuram’s background? How come two avatars of Vishnu happened to inhabit the earth at the same time during Ramayan?
My dad seemed to know the answer to all the questions I had and that is when I discovered what an amazing story teller he is. As a kid, I don’t remember him ever reading us a bedtime story. A voracious reader himself, he bought us a lot of books but never read to us, maybe because he preferred Malyalam and we deviated towards English. I think it was also because both my parents were caught in the struggle to provide the three of us a decent living and at the end of the day, they did not have much energy to do anything other than order us to go to sleep, bedtime stories be damned.
I soon found out that he had extensive knowledge of Indian mythology and could weave a story that could put the best bards to shame. He had read the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible and could quote couplets from them with ease. When had he learned this? How is it that living in the same house I had missed so much about my own father? Why is it that despite having no pressure, I had not taken out the time to interact with my own parents? How had I taken them for granted to such an extent that so many aspects of their life had remained hidden from me?
As I interacted more with my parents over Ramayan I realised that they had earned the right to hog the remote. It was their attempt at ‘having fun’ at an age where their health limited the avenues for entertainment. For them, it was not mindless television watching. It was their way of relaxing after a life spent giving up on things. The way they saw it, it was time for the kids to return the favour.
Smitha R is a former journalist with a passion for travel that often fails to take into consideration her poor financial health. When she is not whipping up a disaster in the kitchen, she is busy distributing ‘an honest opinion’, unmindful of the perils..