The Diaries of Harish - Part 6

11 September, 2011.

I must be getting old because my responsibilities are getting fewer by the day and the time I have for myself is increasing. I'm not complaining but it does feel slightly weird, not having to worry about my son all the time. To be honest, I worry even more these days but I just don't have the means to spend real time with him or advice him. I can't seem to find out what's happening in his life. I don't even know the name of his close friends. It's all so different the minute your child goes off to college. I'm sure no parent has the secret formula to find out how to continue to be in touch with their children once they take off on their own. But's this is just a phase. It'll pass for sure. All the tantrums he began to throw soon after his engineering entrance exams were just out of anxiety and pressure. Latha is broken-hearted when she thinks that our ties with our only son may have been permanently severed in the events from two years ago.

We should have sent him to a better coaching center that would have catered to his specific needs. A boy like Nikhil doesn't need to be spoon-fed the way children are at these coaching centers. The rules were too strict and the overall pressure on him finally broke him. A day before his exams, he called us from India to tell us that he wasn't going to appear for them. It was terrifying, that phone call. We had plans to get him into any college in the country as long as he appeared for the exams and did moderately well. And we were sure that he'd do well. But without him even appearing for the exams, our son's future would have been over. Latha was fainting from the thought of the public humiliation if our only son were to end up like an average "repeater", having to go through the entire process once again, the next year. We didn't sleep that night and tried to convince him as best as we could that this was important for his future. Latha told him how disappointed we'd be if he were to let us down after all this. In her moment of weakness, she even told him about our secret fund to get him a management seat in a reputed college. All he had to do was appear for the exams. Thankfully, the next day, he did write his exams but refused to talk to us about them. In fact, he refused to talk at all. The months leading up to the results and the admission process were by far the worst in our lives. He was back in Jubail and never even spoke to us properly. He always locked himself up in his room and refused to come out even for food. At one point, this drove Latha so crazy that she stormed into his room and manually broke the lock so that he wouldn't be able to lock it anymore. This made the problems even worse. Whenever we approached him with anything, he would start ranting about how we had failed as parents and how we imposed our choices on him. He even went to the extent of saying that we thought of him as our mini project that we could work on and experiment with as we pleased. That we raised him without giving him much of a choice. And many such extremely hurtful things. Latha completely stopped talking to our son. I was too scared to approach him. Even when Latha was sick and unable to get up from bed due to a high fever, he wouldn't so much as visit her in the bedroom or attempt to bring her something to drink. I can't completely blame him either, though. She would have been rude to him anyway. Both mother and son were acting in a way that was making me hate even the prospect of returning home from work.

Finally, when the results were announced, he got a rank that's not even worth mentioning. These exams are tough, I agree, but it was obvious that he hadn't even tried, just to spite us. This made Latha even more angry considering how she had to lie to those nosy relatives of hers. Yes, she lied about his rank and score because we were going to get him a management seat anyway. One by one we began the admission procedures and most of the top notch institutions rejected even the management fee we were ready to pay. Finally, with a lot of push and pull and after paying a heavy sum, we got him into the Vellore Institute of Technology in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. It's a respectable Engineering college with good merit and no one had to know that we got him a management seat. A month before he had to leave for college, mother and son had another falling out and Latha ended up saying some harsh things to him as well. She came back to me and told me that she couldn't wait for him to leave and go away for good. She couldn't handle the emotional stress of having to deal with his tantrums anymore.

Ever since he went away to college, he never called us even once. We get to talk to him only if he answers his phone when we call. Sometimes he sees our missed calls but never calls back. That's how things are right now. Latha never calls him anymore and it's been over five months since mother and son have spoken to each other. I'm tired of trying to persuade either side to make an attempt to resolve their conflict. He didn't even come home during his vacations last year. So this year, I decided to go to India at the time of his vacations so that he can't have an excuse to not meet us there. This would also be a good way for him and Latha to renew their relationship. It's so much better for us now when we come home to Kerala. We have a place of our own and finally, it feels like home. It feels good to be back. We had our regular reunion ritual with the family and as it turns out, Vishnu completed his class 12 with a mere average 83% aggregate and is planning to not apply for engineering! We were surprised by is choice and although he isn't our responsibility, we thought that we had to do the right thing and guide him in whatever ways possible so that he doesn't mess up his entire future.

"For someone from this generation to think of going into the social sciences, and that too for a boy to think of picking up a course meant for girls, was just sad."

He wanted to take up Humanities and Social Sciences! The thought was appalling! For someone from his generation to think of going into the social sciences, and that too for a boy to think of picking a course meant for girls, was just sad. Latha was genuinely worried that he was making a mistake and since she trusts my insight into these things, she asked me to have a one to one conversation with him. I thought, well, if his parents aren't doing it anyway, I might as well help him out. What could I lose by guiding a child to the right path. We sat him down and explained why it was important to go into something futuristic and sustainable so that he can build a successful career. But he wouldn't hear of going into engineering because he wasn't "interested" in a career in engineering. This is the problem with this generation. Because they haven't felt the pressure of working hard to thrive and survive in this world, they think they can waste their lives and pursue anything and everything. Only very few people succeed with this mentality. Vishnu wanted to do Sociology. A subject that had no chances of getting him employed. And even if he did find a job, it isn't likely that he'd be able to support himself at all. I tried advising him that if he was so adamant about not doing engineering, he could maybe take up economics or commerce that would actually help him in the future. But he had made up his mind and was more or less rude to us towards the end. Latha eventually had to tell him that he should mind his tone when he's talking to people who actually cared about his future.

When Nikhil came to visit us in Cochin (finally), Vishnu also came over to spend some time with his cousin before going away to college. During this time, we again tried to make him change his mind. But it wasn't easy having Nikhil around all the time, consistently supporting Vishnu's decision and by doing so, trying to get back at us for getting in the way of his choice. Some day, Nikhil will surely thank us. Some day when he sees this very same cousin struggling to make ends meet, our son will come back and thank us for guiding him in the right path.

This was around the time when one of my friends from Jubail returned to India and started his own company. After a casual chat with him, I found out the salary scale he was offering for various employees. So at dinner one night, I brought this up at the table. Latha was quick to catch on as usual and when I mentioned that commerce graduates were earning a mere 8000 Rupees salary these days, Latha turned to Vishnu and asked him what he was even hoping to earn with his Sociology degree. The best way to drive children forward is by posing questions to them and making them think. This even embarrassed him a bit, I'm sure. I could see it on his face. But he didn't even respond to that question because as usual, Nikhil came to the rescue by saying, "You'll probably earn more than I ever will, because I might not even pass my course." and bursting into laughter. These are cheap tactics by our son because he is immature and at this age, all he wants to do is spite us. So we decided that we wouldn't try to help Vishnu in Nikhil's presence because he would do anything to embarrass us at this point.

"Those words stung, as do most one liners that she delivers from time to time."

Another evening, when we went out for dinner at a Thai restaurant, I wasn't too happy about having to tag Vishnu along. The restaurant was Nikhil's choice because of a Thai food festival that he found out about and this dinner could easily have led to some family bonding time, had Vishnu not showed up. I just felt irritated and disappointed by his presence and tried to avoid talking to him as much as I could. But when everyone began placing orders, I couldn't help but laugh when Vishnu picked "chicken lollipops" for his starters. Who even comes to an authentic Thai restaurant to order chicken lollipops? I told him then and there that he was being stupid by ordering something that's not even from the Festival menu. The waiter immediately mentioned that even the things that are not on the festival menu would be served and I asked him to go ahead and get the boy what he wanted. Soon after this happened, I sensed that I probably shouldn't have said anything because all the people at the table went silent. Even my wife. She didn't seem to share my amusement at his choice and Nikhil was just glaring at me. As for Vishnu, he just stared down at his phone for the rest of the evening. That night after returning home, Latha was acting very strange with me and before climbing into bed, she said, "Don't let yourself stoop to such an extent that even a common waiter at a restaurant is more polished and refined than you are.". Those words stung, as do most one liners that she delivers from time to time. But I didn't want to engage in a conflict so I just closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

The next morning, Vishnu was returning to his parents' house and the initial arrangement was for him to catch a bus. But because of the previous night's incident, we decided to drop him off anyway. Latha was back to her normal self and everyone except for Nikhil was acting like nothing happened. Nikhil refused to come on the ride to Vishnu's house and so by 10 a.m., we started without him. In the car, Latha and I were being chatty and casually talked about everything happening in his life. That's when we realized that this could be the right time to advice him once again especially since Nikhil wasn't around. She kept asking him about the career opportunities sociology would offer him and he told us that he hadn't thought about it much and was planning to take things one step at a time. First he'd have to do his graduation and then maybe a post-graduation. The whole thing would take around 5 years with no promise of employment whatsoever. By this point, I wasn't even interested in hearing any more plans when Latha said, "He's just like that Manoj from your old office in Cochin, isn't he? No aim in life. Look where Manoj has ended up now. Same office, same post, probably the same salary and lifestyle. It's like looking into the future and seeing how things are going to be for Vishnu.". And to that, I wholeheartedly agreed. Latha and I continued this conversation while he was sitting on the back seat so that he could hear about other failures around him and try not to be one himself while it's still not too late.

When we dropped him off, he left without a word. It's so different, dealing with a kid like him. He never says anything back. If we were talking to Nikhil, he would have at least defended his choices but this boy doesn't even have it in him to speak for himself! Latha asked me if what we said was a bit too much but I assured her that our intentions were good. We just didn't want him to ruin his life and it takes these kinds of insults for children to finally grasp what's best for them.

When we got back home, Nikhil went back to square one. It almost looks like his life's ambition is to ignore us and throw tantrums. Towards the end of his holidays, it got to the point where Latha told him to his face that she had half a mind to disown him. And within two days after that incident, he left to go back to his hostel. And we haven't heard from him since. I just received a reply to a text message informing me that he had reached his hostel. The least I can do for him at this point is make sure that there's always enough money in his bank account. I just wish things would go back to being less complicated. I'm getting old and tired. I want the best for my son. The minute I manage to secure both his and Latha's future, I can die in peace.

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You might also be interested in Part 1 of this collection.