A fallen walking stick and a wheelchair can change all perspectives
My father dropped his walking stick into a railway track right after he got photographed with Narendra Modi. The wax version of course, at the Madame Tussauds in Sentosa Island.
I thought my mom would want to stand near film actors – Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Kajol – but they were all dressed in black. “Too dark,” she whispered. Steeped in jewel-toned, colourful southern silks and cottons, my mom cannot fathom the Little Black Dress or suit. Why would anyone want to dress in something so plain, she often asks plaintively. Why not dress it up with a dash of colour – or in her case, a rainbow palette of colour?
My parents liked the way the Indian Prime Minister was dressed – in a sandal-beige kurta pyjama. So they stood beside him and got photographed. By then, my father was in a wheelchair.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I planned a full afternoon in Sentosa. Like babies, my parents need to rest after two hours. Leaving our service apartment at 1pm and returning at 8pm was foolhardy. Yet, that’s what we did, in part because a part of me refuses to accept that my dad is aging, at the end of his tether really. I am tethered to him in ways that are beyond articulation. His ways and personality are kneaded into my psyche like water into atta. I look like him, worry and forget like him.
Both my parents have strengthened and damaged me in several ways. Today, I do the same to my kids
People talk about fathers and daughters, or mothers and sons. But really the parent-child bond is like an unequal triangle with mom or dad taking stronger roles at different life stages. Both my mom and dad have strengthened and damaged me in ways that they do not know. Today, and every day, I do the same to my kids. We want the best for our child or children, and yet, we pass on all our psychic baggage – fears, frailties and complexes to them.
My dad sees the world differently from my mom. While we rode the cable car into Sentosa island, my Mom marvelled at the ocean, the foliage and the butterflies. My father noticed language – how all the signs were written in English, Tamil, Arabic and Chinese.
Once in Sentosa, we rode up to the highest point on the Tiger Sky Tower, then took a cable car to different parts of the island. Everywhere the staff were solicitous. This then is the advantage of old age. When you become physically vulnerable, you lose all pretence of ego. My mom reaches out for a helpful hand when she climbs the stairs or down an escalator. Male or female, Hindu or Muslim, young or old: she doesn’t care. And truth be told, neither do they. In Singapore, she got the full spectrum: hijab-clad young women selling ice-cream, Chinese waitresses, and Tamil-speaking Indian cab drivers who told us stories of their grandparents who had migrated from Chettinad to Rangoon to Malaysia to Singapore over many generations. Then the penny dropped – or rather the stick did.
On our way to see the somewhat cheesy sound-and-light show called Wings of Time, my dad dropped his walking stick as he got into the Sentosa monorail. This was a disaster. My father needs his walking stick almost as much as he does my mother.
We called the supervisor of the monorail and told him our woes. No problem, he said. Once a month, the tracks underneath the monorail were cleaned. They would fish out the stick then and mail it back to India. As improbable as this sounded, our problems were more immediate: how were we going to spend the next three days without a walking stick?
A surprise awaited us after the show. I got a call from Farham, the manager at the monorail station, asking us to wait at the taxi line. He had climbed down into the monorail tracks and fished out my father’s stick. He and his assistant, Tawfiq, raced over with the stick and put my Dad into a cab. I took a photo of them to send to the Sentosa authorities.
Service staff dictate how tourists experience a country. We may sign up for sightseeing tours and pay for museum entrances, but it is the tinker, tailor, soldier, spy or the tourist version thereof who colour our views of a new land. How these people behave impacts our trip. The immigration official, flight attendant, cab driver, restaurant manager and hotel receptionist all contribute to whether we think of their country as “friendly,” or “helpful,” or “cold.” Singaporeans think of themselves as aloof but we found them to be helpful. Perhaps because I was travelling with elders.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
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From HT Brunch, August 19, 2018
First Published: Aug 18, 2018 20:41 IST
BRUNCH Updated: Aug 18, 2018 22:55 IST