It was another day in the intolerable Delhi heat near my college, just the usual traffic and irksome urbane, Us, 3 friends sipping on soft drinks in the summer’s heat, when suddenly one of my friends exclaimed, “Hey, I have had enough of this Delhi heat and all this noise is making me sick, let’s go on a journey into the hills, na ?” She said.
“McLeod Ganj has been on my list for a while, the cool sky there and the soothing cold will do us good. Let’s go before this Delhi sun kills us.“ My other friend and I, being the non spontaneous nerds, challenged her to convince her parents for this trip, knowing somewhere that the idea of a girl going off on a journey with two guys would at-least delay her getting her parents’ consent if not break her resolve when they would refuse her permission to , and in turn this would buy us both time to convince our parents while she haggled hers.
Avoiding eye contact off, hoping for subtle patriarchy to win while she called up her mom, my friend and I discussed debating and college, but before we could be done with our conversation, our friend was already on for the trip and now it was our time for some persuasion. The ease with which her mother allowed for her to go on this trip made me feel both inspired and envious, delighted by how liberal her mom was to send her off on this and jealous of the fact that it would require me three Alan Shores to convince my mom for the same trip. My other friend had a plan more conclusive than I. He would convince his meek grandma with sugary words and she’ll convince his dad to say yes, and in no time he’ll be there at the ISBT waiting for that bus to leave for the night.
It was I who was stuck in an inconclusive haze, my already disappointed self breathing down all those words of discouragement down my ears, bringing about a black and white flashback of all those times my parents did not allow for things as simple as this, just on the account me being a child. But alongwith with this grey disheartenment, I felt somewhere a rebellious spark, a spark shaped like a knife trying to cut through the grey concrete of hopelessness that my parents would refuse my first attempt at a spontaneous plan. But I was an adult now. 19 years old. Not a child anymore, and with this I will be able win all that was about to follow. All these feelings came to an abrupt bubble burst as I heard the announcement that my station had arrived. I rushed home back into an e-rikshaw, with every gush of wind reminding of all the arguments my parents would throw into my face.
My other friend called up and said that he won’t be able to come, and his words just made that knife go ‘’creek’’ on the concrete. But still, each modest gush of wind on my face during the ride was enough to inflate me with optimism. Optimism neither grand nor unique, but small enough just to be sensed.
“Gosh this isn’t that big a deal, I go home, I ask them, they agree. That’s it’’ I murmured. Coincidentally my fellow passenger happened to laugh, almost insultingly to kick down my heart into whatever was the opposite of confidence. Even I laughed to hide my unreasonably huge nervousness. My anxiety turned somewhat into a rushed and uncalculated enthusiasm, as I blurted out with imbecilic honesty “Mom, my friend asked me to go to McLeod Ganj with her, so I need to pack my bags and I’ll leave for Kashmiri Gate at 8. Hurry up I have to be there, the bus leaves at 10 !”
Mom was dumbfounded, with her face blank with an expression of fear that her son will be going out of the town for something other than a wedding. She held off her fears and calmly said “What ? All of a sudden ? You just got back from college, get rest. You’re not supposed to go on this trip” and with this the gray concrete of hopelessness thickened further. “But mom the temperature there isn’t even that low and all I need are some light woollens, which I have. I’ll not have any problems please let me go ! “I said to her in a voice disheartened enough to be dismissed but angry enough to be listened atleast. Helpless, my mother just like any other Indian woman went to her husband to convince me of something she knew he agreed with but I didn’t. My father too drifted off into those never ending speeches describing the same old fears that once my grandfather inherited from his fathers. Whether it be my health, the expenses, the lodging up there in the hills, all his utterings were just so expectable. His concerns for my safety, the bus, all his objections I handled one by one with an ease that I didn’t know existed.
After hours of shooting down his irrational arguments with solutions that I uttered in a muffled voice, I thought I had won my right to the trip. My past self would be proud for me going to such heights to go on a trip that I myself didn’t know if I would enjoy or not. “Okay, fine. All that settled, we still cannot allow you to go with a girl. My heart doesn’t agree’’ my father said “ How can a girl’s parents even allow her to go on a trip like this !? Don’t they care for her well being and safety !? Take ill of it if you have to, son, but I don’t agree with this girl-guy trip idea and honestly I am shocked at the fact that your friend even considered this ! “ Both my parents spoke in parts and shouts, all the while trying to avoid facing me, and talking either to the fan or the wall to avoid my angry stare. I had only heard accounts of my friends who said that they hated their parents for not allowing them certain things, but I never believed them because I thought it was impossible to hate one’s parents, regardless of the inner suffocations and contradictions of the good ol’ Indian household. But, in that moment of their refusal, I truly, verily, experienced that very hatred for my parents, a hatred that shouted at me for allowing it no outlet apart from my eyes. The sheer disgust that their mentality generated in my heart is still the ugliest feeling I have felt as a teenager. “How are you of all people saying things like this !? At fucking best you should learn some thing from her parents, who trust her enough to let her go on such trips. I am her friend, and I can assure you, nothing that you’re imagining right now would happen on the trip. Again, she is a friend !” I shouted at them, mustering all the strength I could to raise my voice against the two people I thought to be the most “modern” parents I knew, all the while still holding on to the illusion that I could convince their minds.
There was no way I could go on the trip now and enjoy it, especially not after this argument. Every single gasp and breath I made was just a pathetic attempt for me to steam off the sheer disheartenment I felt at what my parents thought of this trip. “Rahul think for yourself. She is a girl and you’re a boy, trips like these aren’t even supposed to happen! Are you not yourself shocked by that girl’s parents allowing her to go off like this!? FOR GOD’S SAKE SHE IS A GIRL AND YOU ARE A BOY ! Who knows what all can happen on this trip “ they both muttered, with the same eyes trying to avoid my angered face, with the same surprisingly dumb arguments. I wanted to say something, revolt against this unknown narrowness of their thinking, or succumb to the laziness that pervaded me at that moment from all the arguing, but I was in a state to do neither. “Don’t give me that stare ! I work for this family, provide for it and have been doing so for more than 30 years and this is what I get !? An angry rebellion from my child !“ my father said.
My mother complemented this move of his, and then went about to use her relevance to the household as a counterargument to everything that I said. I somehow heard everything they were saying but understood nothing of it, sheerly disappointed and repulsed by their mentality, although not shocked in the least. The debate lay still, both the sides lay silent, they because they feared a response and I, because I feared one too. It is almost as if I tried too hard to combat authority by requesting something small, a permission to go off for 2-3 days into the peaceful hills. With a friend. But I guess that was too much, for the fears and doubts implanted in their minds made them stubborn and shrewd, and my parents, being the pawns of this culture feared this freedom as much as the culture did itself. “If you’re going to be angry or cry, do whatever you want. But I’ll never agree to anything like this. She is a girl and you’re a boy, something you can’t understand somehow. Whatever the reason, however beautiful the hills, I am sorry, but I can’t allow’’