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Sunday
, September 29, 2002

Life Ties

When a son thinks of divorcing his parents
Taru Bahl

RAHUL was born to Ila and Arun when they were not prepared for parenthood. Ila had failed to find that understanding which can serve as the foundation for starting a family and Arun at 23 felt too young to shoulder the responsibility of marriage, leave alone being a father. The thought was alien and given a choice he would have liked to reverse both decisions. He should not have succumbed to his motherís whining and pleading when a year after his fatherís death she wanted to see him settled so that she could be free to go to the Chinmaya Ashram.

For he now had a wife alright but not a friend, companion and soulmate whom he could look forward to growing old with. They were poles apart temperamentally. While Arun was a serious-minded person who sought meaning in everything he did, Ila was frivolous and confused. This led to an erratic behaviour pattern, dark moods, volatile tempers and contradictory mannerisms. They disagreed on everything from basic values to dietary patterns and leisure pursuits. Before they could create a level playing field with functional harmony, Ila became pregnant with Rahul. His birth was heralded more with feelings of trepidation and anxiety than acceptance and unadulterated happiness. Both felt that the choice of exploring freedom from an imperfect marriage were now sealed. Coupled with the emotional upheavals in their minds were constraints of demanding jobs. Both were in professions which demanded high levels of commitment, effort and time.

 


Caught in the crossfire between husband and wife, little Rahul learnt early to be independent. His infant mind sensed the unstable aura of his parentsí relationship and the fact that they could rarely see eye to eye made him keep his thoughts to himself and take his own decisions. What toys to play with, which friends to befriend, what food to partake, when to sleep, how to dress and get the most out of their live-in maid were things he learnt to do when he was barely four years of age. He was clear about his needs and quietly went about meeting them. He was more comfortable with the maid than he was with his parents. He turned out to be a hassle-free kid and physically sturdy child who rarely threw tantrums or demanded undue attention. He seemed self-sufficient.

Trouble started brewing when they were summoned from school. Rahul was very self-willed. If he did not want to do something, he would defy authority without batting an eyelid. Unlike other children who played truant and then covered up for fear of a backlash, he would announce his indisciplined ways without guilt.

If the teacher asked him why he did not do his homework, his reply would be "because I did not feel like"; To the query as to why was he inattentive in class, he would look her in the eye and say, "because I find your teaching style repetitive". Things needed remedial action when Ila received a note from school informing her that Rahul had taken a few CDs from the boy sitting next to him and was refusing to own up. Could they intervene and help please?

When gentle questioning did not help, Arun, in a fit of exasperation, picked up a bat and thrashed Rahul. Throughout, the child maintained a stony, "I-know-nothing-about-it" stance. He just flinched physically when he was beaten, but did not break down or try to stop the thrashing. It was only when Ila found the CDs in his cupboard, under his clothes that he said, "yes, I took them, but I would have returned them after downloading them on my computer." His response to why he did not own up in the beginning was, "I didnít feel like it."

Ila and Arun were stumped by the boyís attitude. How had things become so bad and when had he turned this defiant, they were quite clueless. Rather than examine reasons and do a serious stocktaking they decided to send him to boarding, which seemed the only option which both husband and wife agreed upon. It required minimum effort and it also transferred responsibility on to an external source, something they were again comfortable with.

Rahul resisted the change, more because he would be uprooted from his familiar environment. The television, computer, the maid and a few friends had been the mainstay of his existence. Being the resilient child that he was, he came to terms with his anger by internalising it and deciding that he was going to like hostel life.

He did a SWOT analysis and came up with the conclusion that whatever hostel would be, it would still be better than home. He went through the brochures carefully and prepared himself for what was a significant turning point in his life. His parents were surprised at the sudden change in his demeanour and were relieved at not facing any resistance.

The shocker came when they went to meet him at the end of the year for the annual day programme. He categorically told them that he did not want them making these cursory trips. He was happier without their contrived presence. Also that he had talked to his house master. He would not be coming home during the vacations. He would stay back in school and learn the violin.

When Ila and Arun protested, saying that he would be the only kid in school, he said, "that is because I am the only child here who has divorced his parents". This was said with the calm and certainty of an adult mind. It had a definitive ring to it.

Ila and Arun were now in a contemplative mood and asked questions like: "Where exactly did we go wrong ? There are so many parents with a similar problem but not all their children disown them. Is Rahul a problem child or is he much too intelligent with needs we could not meet ? Would psychiatric intervention help? Is it too late to make amends?" Rahul still was neither hopeful nor was he expecting them to resolve anything. His academic grades were getting better, he was more focused on sports and was actually turning into a well-rounded achiever. He was completely disconnected with his parents. He neither felt sorry for himself nor did he want them to change. He had reconciled and had perhaps done what they could not do. They had stuck around in a bad loveless marriage whereas he had exercised the choice of disowning parents he did not love. When Ila and Arun left the hostel they also knew that they may try to remedy the situation but their son had actually blossomed away from them.

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