Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Like a Rolling Stone

As much as I dislike the family on my Dad's side, they're the only relatives I'm in constant touch with. I have a couple of cousins who are a class act, but that's about it. My great grandfather migrated to Bangalore a longtime ago and brought his whole brood with him. I'm not sure what the full story is (and I'll be damned if I ask anyone), but soon the entire bloodline was living and breeding in the "big city". They came from a small town and lived a very rigid conservative life. The ideals were passed on to my grandfather's generation, and almost entirely to my dad and his siblings. A few adjustments were made to suit life in the 21st century, but nearly everyone in the family is capable of behaving like we're stuck in colonial India.

The clusterfuck of mediocrity drove my ambitious father insane and he joined the army. He cut ties with the family for a while, and rejoined the fold cautiously, and is still aloof from his folks. Mum had a big role to play in this, and you can bet she's not very popular. But everyone would like to ignore the scandals of the past and behave like nothing happened until it suits the conversation/accusation. For instance, I'm the eldest male child in my generation and that makes me heir-apparent to the position of patriarch. Yet, as a none-too subtle "fuck-you" from my parents, I wasn't given the family name. Although no one has brought it up, I get the feeling this is a bone of contention in family dinners we're ritualistically excluded from. When I grew my hair out, everyone realized that I'd been blessed with wavy hair like everyone else (and male pattern baldness, thank you very much). That actually got me pockets of affection from the high and mighty that make the rules. And yet life stumbled on, one sly insult at a time. Until last weekend.

My grandfather was the head of the family, and that meant absolutely nothing in the age of nuclear families and job postings. It was a nominal post that his brother has inherited after his passing. Although he's my "grand uncle" he prefers I call him my uncle and that's fine by me - fewer the syllables to utter, the better. Now that the "uncle" is the head of the family he's set it upon himself to "right the wrongs" in the family brought about the advent of globalization (and education, one suspects). He was visiting his kids, and decided to stop by over the weekend. On the ride back from the airport, he brought up the topic of bloodlines.

"Family's important" he said. "You're the only guy left in our family to take our clan ahead" he opined. I reminded him of a male cousin, who bears the family name. "yeah, but you'll be the head in due time", he retorted. Silence from me. Soon he went off into a tangent about other survivors from the clan, but nearly all conversation from then on revolved around glory lost from the past, and pride to be had from insignificant ancestors. He got the hint later on, and there was no more talk about the great family. I must say, I got off pretty easily. It also helped that I cook like a champion nowadays.


My grand-uncle is 78, and watching him go about his day is pretty interesting. He suffers from the usual maladies of age (frequent bathroom breaks, vision problems, discomfort with computers), but apart from that he's pretty sharp. He can walk at a brisk pace, remembers everything that happened after the 40s, is well aware of modern politics and has informed opinions, and spends all his waking time on sudoku and newspapers. I'm exactly a third of his age and I felt almost ashamed of myself. Apart from a few minor niggles, I have a sound body and stable mind. I can digest nearly all kinds of food, sleep and rise when I want to, can go without a bathroom break for almost a full day. Why do I get the feeling I'm pissing this away? It can only go downhill from here. Joints will begin to creak, fat will fill out my contours, memories will fade. I should do more with my body. I should correct some of that fat %age, add some muscle, get out more and use my body better. It's not that hard.

And yet, I know I won't. And 50 years from now, I will miss the body of today. What a bloody waste.

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