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Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sunday I realised I was 21.

In my mind, I am still 19. If you ask me my age that's what first pops out. Up till one particular Sunday during these last Christmas holidays while I was back home in India, I felt like a kid who needed permission.


I woke up groggily and put the house keys on the rack before brushing the alcohol from my teeth. It was 7am and my dad was already in the middle of his yoga class. My mum was still in bed. I watched the Lakers against the Heat on the sofa in the TV room and ate the piping hot cheese dosa that Bhagia brought me every 10 minutes from the kitchen. Shambhavi emerged from her room and flopped down on the sofa beside me and ask how last night was. My parents also made the same inquiry later at the breakfast table but more out of courteousness than interest or even concern.

How different! How different to years ago. How do I put this... that Sunday I answered to no one. I did exactly as I pleased and didn't even realise it. That is what scared me. I hope this doesn't come across as some cheesy coming-of-age picture montage.

Something unspoken had evolved subconsciously. I don't know if it was trust or acceptance. I keep feeling this need to justify where I'm going or what I did last night but there is simply no need. I told my dad that I'd gone to UB City for some drinks and then to a friend's house in Indranagar before being dropped home by someone who also lived in Whitefield. It was the truth and the fact that I'm even saying that illustrates the novelty of the situation. My dad peered at me over his reading glasses for a second before returning to his newspaper and crunching on the watermelon Bhagia had freshly cut. My mum meandered into the kitchen and kissed me on the head. She didn't even ask about last night. How different! I only realise now that I was a grown up in their eyes.


Prahlad had his car so he picked me up at around noon and we went to the mall near by. His car made the U-turn near my front gate that I'd seen it make for the last 7 years. But again, today was different. It was not his driver driving - it was him. And it was normal. It was totally normal, as if this is the way it had always been and would always be. I remember going with him, his driver and his mum in the red Toyota to take our SATs; today it was just him and he drove the Merc. The scene was the same but the characters had changed. The characters were older though they didn't feel it. We were just driving through Whitefield - our Whitefield. The road was wide and constantly meandering and the men sat at junctions, drinking tea and watching the world go by. The road hadn't changed, the bus-stops hadn't changed and the lake hadn't changed but this afternoon we had decided without a second thought that we would go watch a movie and we would go in his car and that was that.

Do you understand what I'm trying to say? We were 21. Where had the years gone? Where had the concept of permission gone? Permission was a laughable afterthought that Sunday.

The most telling part of that day was playing football in the park where we'd played as kids. Arun had joined us and so now we had 2 cars. We used to have to lie to the security guard to let us in. Now we just rolled down the window and nodded at the gate and he let us through... with a salute!

We walked out onto the grass like we'd done when we were 14. But we were 21 and the kids who looked so small and so scrawny were 14. And we were to those 9th and 10th graders what the unimaginably cool college guys who used to occasionally turn up were to us. We had our own cars, we could kick the ball the length of the pitch and we picked the teams.

As I sat on the bench and let one of the smaller boys sub on for me, it hit me that this wasn't like seeing yourself in the mirror - it was like seeing yourself running around 10 years ago. It was strange. I remembered when we had to have someone drop us to football in the evening. I chuckled at the notion.


The way that day ended summed it up. As afternoon turned into evening, I caught myself reaching for my phone to let my parents know when I'd be home. I looked at my reflection in the car's mirror and realised they didn't care. I was a different kind of son now. They would tell me what their plans were and ask if I wanted to join.

We picked up some cold beers at the bar across the road from Palm Meadows and went to Prahlad's balcony to enjoy the cool Bangalore evening air. Palm Meadows: the world of white-picket fences and tuition lessons was now just a bunch of houses. Pristine, imposing bungalows yes, but not a world unto itself like it used to be when we would round up the boys for football in high school. I can't imagine ever looking as young as the boys we saw riding their cycles to the clubhouse. It seems as I'd been away at university, Palm Meadows had lost its mystique. I hope the rest of the world doesn't.

The "Hi Aunty!" that Arun and I said as we greeted Prahlad's mother on the way up his spiral staircase was also different. Though it was respectful, it was not a child's squeak of acknowledgement but an adult's cursory salutation. We sat on his terrace and talked about the past. About the difference between university in England (me), the US (Prahlad) and Australia (Arun). We remembered our first beers together as teenagers, as we sat there sipping these ones like... men. I am afraid to use that word because its connotations, I fear, do not apply me... yet. We're just kids right? I remember this place and this life through my school eyes and seeing it now as a free, unaccountable adult left a hole in my heart.


I had done exactly what I'd wanted and thought nothing of it. I had gone where I'd wanted, when I'd wanted. I'd eaten what I'd wanted and watched what I'd wanted. I had the keys to the house. I got home and the stubbly face that looked back at me in my bathroom mirror was an adult. It was terrifying. Have you ever felt it? Have you ever breathed that empty breath when you look in the mirror and realise you're not 19?

I don't know why you've read this far. But thank you.


Revacious said...

I read this, hoping that by the end you'd have some moral of the story: "so this is what growing up means."
But you didn't. Boo. :\

Farcenal said...

Moral of the story? Don't expect to get life advice from 21 year olds :)