Thursday, March 17, 2005

Expectations- Great and Otherwise

I've been doing some emotional auditing recently. Trying to figure out where I'm headed. Its the sort of stuff "self help" book authors make a fortune out of. I refuse to help them get even richer, so I'm stuck with the skills I have. While trying to figure out my skills (or the lack thereof) I got thinking. Many of these skills are the results of being pushed/goaded/guided/cajoled and directed by my parents. I often wonder what exactly they had in mind ...what end product they could have aspired to as they brought me up.
First things first. My parents belong to the immediate post independence generation. Their lives (and those of their parents and contemporaries) were unsettled by the 1947 partition. My father may have wanted a better-and further-education but was expected to handle the family's assets (or what remained of them). My mother came from a generation where the education of women was seen as positively seditious. This lack of a serious education caused my parents to drum into the me the fact that I was going to get a university education, probably outside of Pakistan. Ok so I was to be educated. In addition to that, it was made plain to me that I was expected to work for a living. Only my country bumpkin barely literate cousins worked on the lands and I was not expected to follow in their abysmal footsteps. So I was to be educated and to be a professional.
My father's Aitchisonian education dictated that I excel at some kind of sport. This was doomed to failure from the outset of puberty. My limbs grew, the rest of me never quite caught up. To say I was ungainly was to put it mildly. I sorely lacked a spirit of competition. The only sport I enjoyed (swimming, riding) was where there was no competition involved. Even today I detest competition and am unable to understand people who live on gulps of adrenaline. This was a lost expectation and ended, predictably, when my father gave away all the gear he had collected as part of my aspiring career as a polo player. I grimaced recently when I came across some unused fishing rods and a barely used airgun which had been mine once upon a time.
It's not quite that simple though. When I returned from college they wanted me to revert- part time- to helping with the land. So not only was I expected to be an educated professional most of the year, I was also expected to occasionally transform myself into a landlord. Easier said than done. This effectively means undoing my very expensive education, putting my brain into idle and undertaking activity for which I lack the technical and linguistic skills.
But that's not all. In addition to being an educated, professional, part-time landed estatesmen, I was also expected to marry and sire a brood of children. This is where life became difficult because my sexual orientation dictated otherwise. I decided on the path of least resistance - which, in my case, was to grin and bear the conveyor belt of vestal virgins who were paraded before me, declining each without ascribing any comprehensible reason. It took about a decade for the paisa to drop and taxed my frayed sense of humour to its very limit. The alternative lay in outing myself to my parents. In hindsight, I tried to tell them as much as I could without articulating any of it. Nothing was ever locked in my room at home. My drawers and cupboards filled with incriminating objets pleaded to be opened and pried through. My friends (designers, hairdressers, artists) yelled out for sexual recognition. Although I never "came out" in the sense many of my younger friends have, there was eventually a kind of detente on the subject. Clearly, I failed on the marriage/2.7 children expectation that was held by my parents.
Finally, in their later years my parents have come to see me as some kind of general dogsbody. Although I do not live with them, everything from water bills to property disputes are passed on to me. Although this can be a real pain in the neck, it is something I have come to live with. So apart from the educated professional, part-time landlord, unmarried person that I am, I also expected to be a general troubleshooter. From the list of expectations so far, this role has provided the least hassles.
Some caveats: By listing some of these issues I am not for a moment ascribing any blame. I think I remain responsibe for myself. It is interesting though to pause and think of how different life could have been had some of these influences or expectations not existed at all - or if they had come into play in differing intensities. The ultimate accolade came in the form of a rare email to me from my father. This was a "thank you" note for having looked after him when he came to visit me. The P.S at the end read : "And thank you for always having the courage to be yourself." That said it all.


Blogger Sin said...

I do know how you feel, to an extent. My parents are much the same way as yours (well, my father perhaps a little less inclined to desire athleticism), and in some ways, I feel that I'm in the same boat as you are (see: necessary arbiter of all, production line of eligible girls, etc.). I suppose though, that I've been more morbid about things, constantly reminding myself that the huge age differential between my kinfolk and myself means that I will most certainly outlive them, and still be young enough to indulge myself senselessly.

8:09 pm  

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