Mum, Dad and I sat on the stone bench watching the waves scatter themselves on the rocks. The tide was high and in the distance a few boats dotted the ocean. To our right, the lighthouse of Kapu stood tall and majestic against the sky. I was drawn to its beauty, the way it portrayed grace and strength. Mum was narrating some anecdote as usual, the strong wind making her voice fade now and then. Dragging my eyes away from the lighthouse, I focused on her. A no-precept kind of woman, who rarely preaches, she has always believed in doing what she needs to do. What can be more exemplary than a compassionate and righteous person, I thought.
My parents recently moved from Mumbai to Udupi and I was visiting them. Our five days together only augmented how terribly I missed them. It also made me think a lot about the role of parents, how much indirect influences matter and the myopic attitude we have towards our own kids, the so called millennials and post-millennials.
Consider for a moment, the little things you do as a parent. Do you just preach or do you lead by example? Do you remember and live by the values your parents taught you? Think about your own childhood when family and friends just dropped in without intimation. How your parents welcomed them with so much warmth, making sure they were fed with whatever little was available while enjoying genuine conversations. Do you recollect how involved family, neighbors and friends were in each other’s lives?
I grew up in a tiny house and yet our home was always filled with people. When guests stayed the night, we happily offered them our bed, and slept dorm-style on floor-mats covered with thin quilts. When an uncle or aunt reprimanded us, neither we nor our parents took offence. How things have changed now! When we bump into someone, we half-heartedly say, “Hey, it’s been long. Drop in sometime. But please call before you come.” If a family member drops in without an invitation, we get upset because it ruined our schedule. How often has your child needed attention while you were busy watching a game on TV or reading nondescript forwarded messages on your phone.
The first thing we need to do is throw open our hearts and doors. Growing up in a chawl, the only time we used to shut our doors was at bedtime. We walked into neighbor’s houses and ate from their pots without the least inhibition. We visited family regularly, spent summers at an aunt’s or grandparent’s place, went on Sunday picnics and lived like humans should. When did we become islands? What happened to us? Where did the community spirit go?
I once read an article about how during the ‘wintering in’ period in places like Antarctica, it has been observed how much isolation affects a human being. Appetite, sleep patterns, ability to concentrate, etc. are greatly affected. Boredom from being around the same people leads to annoyance and dislike. Is this why our kids at such a young age seem to have a compromised immune system? Why we ourselves in our 40s and 50s are suffering from cognitive decline? Have you ever thought about the perils of social isolation and how we have shaped a generation that is completely shut in?
On my return flight, as the airplane bounced around on the iridescent clouds, the turbulence reminded me of the lighthouse. How it never moves or jumps into the unruly ocean to rescue floundering ships, but stands quiet and firm, its beacon casting light so the mariners can find their own way to safety. I thought of mum saying goodbye with a trembling smile, her small frame lost in my embrace and realized how akin to a lighthouse she was. Was I taking her legacy forward? Was I being a good parent? Before I found fault with my daughter, was I willing to point a finger at my own self?
It is rightly said that children come through us, not from us and all we need to do is set a good example. My dignity as a parent lay in standing firm and strong, upholding values and just being a guiding light when required, much like the lighthouse. Life for our children can sometimes get more turbulent than they can handle. In the words of M. L. Stedman, “There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only Gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed the most.”