It’s hard seeing your child out of sorts in the home in which you raised them. Hard to listen sympathetically as they complain about how much they miss a city far away and loved ones that are no big part of your life.
It’s also hard to renegotiate the little things. Bad habits like smoking (and leaving the fridge door open) become harder to ignore. Old arguments that never surfaced on the two- and three-week visits begin to rear their heads all the time.
Ranjeet Kaur, 52, whose son Ramandeep is home in Jammu from Mumbai, says she’s had to get to know her son all over again. “He’s a changed man. I listen to him talking, and see how much more confident he is than when he was growing up here in Jammu. I see his skill with technology. And I marvel.”
His father, Gurcharan Singh, a businessman used to being the family patriarch, is finding it a bit harder to adjust. Ranjeet has to play mediator to keep the peace, she says. “His father is 68. He has his own understanding of things. Have two swords ever rested easy in one sheath?”
It’s hard on both of them to hear him talk of how much he misses Mumbai, when they really want him to stay in Jammu.
“We know there’s no social scene here. We know he’s restless. So I tell his father we must meet him halfway,” Ranjeet says. “I no longer ask him the minute he steps up to leave the house, where he’s going or who he’s going out with or when he will be back. With a grown-up child, things have to change.”
There’s been quite a lot of change in the home of Gouri Shankar, 64, a former bank MD who lives with his wife Sunita Rani Gupta, 60, in Noida. When she had surgery in March, both their children and their children’s spouses came to help. His son and daughter-in-law flew back to Texas just before the lockdown. His daughter Gunjan and her husband Dhruv, both theatre artists, stayed on.
In the weeks that followed, Shankar says, he had to come to terms with what he could and could not do in his own home. “I am used to playing devotional music in the morning. That disturbed them. The sound of me making our morning tea disturbed them and they asked me to try and keep it down.”
He understands the anxiety, he adds. “Their work is at a standstill. Whom will she vent to if not her dad?” It helped when they started doing things together — cooking, doing yoga (Dhruv is an expert, Shankar says).
“For the first time, we really got to know him. That made my daughter very happy too. And they’ve realised that the morning music is how I start my day. It helps if they instead wake earlier so I can work in my kitchen in peace.”
Being with family is one thing and being stuck with family is a whole other ball game, says Naheed Varma, 50, a career counsellor in Lucknow whose 25-year-old daughter returned home from her Delhi campus for Holi and has been “stuck” there since.
“The joint family as an idea has already ruptured in urban India; it cannot be recreated overnight just because it is in some senses needed again,” says Manish Jha, a professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, whose research centres on migration and the middle class. “Most of the current inter-generational tension stems from different sets of ideas about freedom and autonomy. This manifests as differing opinions about social lives, habits, opinions, even food. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that this return to the home comes at a time the child is economically dependent or more dependent than they were before they moved back. That adds another layer of complexity, because when you are in a state of dependence you have that much less leeway to live the life you were used to.”
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