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I caught sight of a very vibrant and colorful bikini-clad woman walking towards us. She was too tall for a woman, around six feet and had a relatively broader frame. She might appear sexy to a lot of men walking on the street and men did ogle at her unconventional beauty but to be honest, I was intimidated and scandalized by her looks. Even more scandalized and scared when I realized that she was a transgender or what people commonly refer to as a ‘Lady Boy’. That day, I was walking on a very famous street in the popular tourist destination, Phuket in Thailand with my mother. Yes, you read it right! I was on a vacation to Thailand with my family which included my parents too.
The ‘lady boy’ walked towards us and though my Mom was oblivious to this situation, she came and suddenly held my Mom’s hand. My heart started beating fast. I had heard of strippers, pole dancers, transgenders, etc. walking freely in these tourist areas of Thailand and they were also known to be quite expressive in their approach. I was anxious that my Mom might get scared or repelled by the ‘lady boy’s’ sexuality, looks and gesture. However, to my surprise, she smiled back at the ‘lady boy’ and shook her hand. The ‘lady boy’ had a soft expression on her face, she smiled back again, left my Mom’s hand and waved her a goodbye. So did my mom!
There was warmth, respect for another human being and acceptance of one’s sexuality in this encounter between my Mom and the ‘Lady Boy’. I learnt a very important lesson which is synonymous to our generation but a challenge for the older generation. However, I learnt this lesson from my Mom who is very much a member of the older generation. I remember my friends asking me with a baffled expression that how can I go on a vacation to an erotic place like Thailand with my parents. But there wasn’t even an iota of discomfort with my parents around. They were flexible and adapted to the cultural changes, different palatable experiences and the bikini-clad women, semi-nude tourists walking around them. My parent’s demeanor and modern outlook towards the world during the vacation made me realize that I have some serious parenting goals to achieve now especially while I am raising my son.
Another episode that I remember from my childhood days also brings back some memories of my parents being liberal during a time when not many accepted illegitimate associations. Our maid’s daughter who was barely eighteen ran away with a guy and got pregnant. She gave birth to a child out of the wedlock and wanted to resume work after sometime. In the conservative society that we lived, our maid was fired from most of the houses she was working when people came to know about her daughter’s affair and the illegitimate child. The daughter also couldn’t fetch herself a job and was facing a tough time to raise her baby. When my parents heard about this issue, they gave work to the maid’s daughter in our house. I would also see my mother giving baby clothes, toys, milk and food to the maid’s daughter. They didn’t judge the young woman by what she did but gave her a second chance to live her life with dignity.
I have grown up listening to my father sing old Bengali folk songs, humming to classical sitar strings, reciting inspiring/melancholic poems by Rabindranath Tagore and other famous Bengali personalities and writing his own poems and thoughtful short stories about his life experiences. On the contrary, nobody can beat my Dad when he grooves to a Bollywood dance number like ‘Lungi Dance, Lungi Dance’. My Mom being a Kishore Kumar fan loved singing his songs loudly while cooking and finishing her household chores.
I can never forget how one day my father invited home my school auto-driver uncle and his family of four for lunch just because he had expressed his love for Bengali food. He had been driving us to school since the last six years and was known to be a responsible and honest man. Parents and children vouched for his good behaviour. That day, my Mom cooked authentic Bengali food and we sat across the dining table and ate together with the auto-driver's family. I could see there were tears in his eyes and his wife didn't even raise her head even once while eating out of a sense of inferiority. My parents tried their best to make them feel comfortable. I remember feeling a bit ashamed when my auto-driver happily and emotionally told my friends who took the same auto to school about the feast. I was worried how my friends will judge me for being ‘family friends’ with an auto-driver’s family. My Dad explained it to me one day, “It is not the financial or professional status of an individual or family that defines a person, it is the character and a beautiful heart that the person has”. I remember the day my grandfather fell sick and had to be rushed to emergency in a critical condition, the auto driver uncle came to our house in less than five minutes and took him to the hospital.
I remember as a teenager discussing all kinds of issues with my parents - be it studies, love, infatuation, friendship, controversial and adult topics with ease. They would never ridicule the subject or an individual but always guide us to the right path. Even now, at the age of 31, I get more joy talking about my traveling or people experiences with my parents than my same-age friends. Their child-like curiosity and flourishing knowledge about the worldly affairs has broadened their horizons and makes them an interesting duo with whom you can talk about anything under the sun.
I wish I can be that parent who goes with their grown-up children on vacations, explores the world, befriends different people from different parts of the globe, learns about their experiences, laughs out aloud, sings and dances when happy, races down the street on a bicycle and enjoys a guilt-free ice-cream treat to say the least. I don’t want to be the ‘quintessential parent’!
What next now? May be an adventurous road trip to one of the remote hills with my parents? Who said that only young people can have all the fun!
Photo credits: google images