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"Ma, Baba and your magic has gone! Last night I went and sneaked into your room and lay down between you both but I still could not sleep!" This was the sleepy announcement of my 16 year old daughter last morning as I went to wake her up. It made me pause, it made me think.
I remember myself. I was about 10 and had been given my very own bedroom. At night I used to sneak into my dad's room to listen to him snoring. Appropriately soothed, a little later I would return to my own bedroom and calmly fall off to sleep! Little did I know that that was why sometimes I would find my daughter cuddled up next to me at night and be gone by morning! I never got round to asking her about it. Now I've discovered why.
If you ask me, I cannot remember when I stopped venturing into my father's room to listen to his snoring. When does the magic go away? When does a child stop believing in fairies and elves and toadstools in the bottom of the garden? When do we let go of the things we believe in, in the things we can become? When is it that we stop feeling the fairy dust that is all around us?
I remember walking into the Calcutta High Court well over twenty years ago with a head full of dreams and a heart burning with ambition. Over time I got married. Over time, I had my two girls. Somewhere amid all that I got swept away in the waves of domesticity. My home took precedence over my career and that big flashy neon bus marked "success" passed me by. Thanks to my mother-in-law I never actually left the profession. Being self employed ensured that no stuffy boss could sack me. It also means I have no one to blame for the choices I have made.
Do I regret it?
For some time I thought I did. But as time passes I realise how we keep evolving. Happiness and contentment are not things that come chasing after us, they sit quietly in one corner of our lives and wait for us to acknowledge their presence. Yes, I may not have the high-flying legal career I dreamed of, or the fat bank balance or even the killer abs, but I'm happy.
At the end of the day that is what matters.
A lot of my colleague's children sat for the ICSE exams this year. Most of the children have high scores in the 90s. One colleague today came and asked me how my daughter had done in her ICSE. I told him I was happy with her results. And why not? I did not have any unreasonable expectations of my daughter, academics have never been her strong point and I knew she would not score in the nineties… but she has done well enough for herself.
"So, has she taken Humanities?" he asked, "does she have Elective English?"
I answered in the positive.
"Good, it will help her when she studies law and then later on in the profession."
"She doesn't want to do law."
"No, no," he said, "you never know when she will change her mind and do law, see?"
I did NOT see. As it is I could not understand what this person was getting at. I actually explained that my daughter was considering sitting for the law entrance tests to do her graduation in law but her real dream was some college in Bombay offering some post-graduate course in Social Studies. In fact I have told her that then she should consider doing a three year graduation instead of LLB which takes five years.
This man's face fell. "Bombay?" he said, like it was the other end of the globe.
He thought about it, "What to do," he said sadly, "and you'll have to accept it, no?"
That's when it hit me. He actually thought he was consoling me. NO, no, no way!
"See," I said. "I have only one demand from my children: they have to be happy. They can study what they want or do want they want as long as it keeps them happy."
The man smiled sadly.
"Seriously," I stressed, wondering if a knock on the head would help him understand, " I don't care what my children do. I do not want them to look after me when I am old, I do not want them to visit me or even call… as long as they are happy with whatever they are doing."
The man shook his head and left.
You know what, I stand by what I said. I repeat: The only thing I want from my children is that they are happy. What they study, what they do, where they live…. these are all immaterial. At the end of the day, contentment and happiness is something only they can find whatever their routes are.
I am no fortune-teller, I have no idea how their lives will unfold or what they will do or not do nor do I want to know. I can only stand by and watch and hope I have given them the strength to pick themselves up when life throws a punch at them.
Because the way I see it, parenting does not mean raising a child to live your dreams. Parenting is raising children who will have the strength to go out there and live their own dreams.
And you know what? That's where the magic goes: into the wings of the child who is getting ready to fly.