When I decided to major in Arts, my mother went bonkers! And when she came to know I was interested in psychology, she even mocked me saying, why choose arts if finally, you’ve to indulge in a scientific subject?
My Dad, always the optimist, told me when she was out of earshot that I should be happy. She at least considers psychology to be scientific! And just like that, he relieved the tension in the atmosphere.
After three years of studying human psychology and applying all the concepts in real life, I understood why everyone in my family behaved the way they did. You’d think such psychoanalysis would give me some kind of power over them, but in reality, we do not have power over anyone but ourselves.
Hence, I only became more considerate towards them than I was before.
I had topped my class and was a gold medallist at the university, I had too many dreams for my convocation ceremony. But I never had an official graduation ceremony.
The pandemic knocked on our doors before that and we were all homebound.
Like any other family, my family is dysfunctional too. There are many reasons for our dysfunction but the one reason which I think is the most relevant is our birth orders.
Arun is my elder brother and the first child. Hence, he is bossy, responsible, perfect and everything my Mom wants him and all her children to be! Here, you should note that my Mom is an only child. And well, they’re worse than first-borns when it comes to having their way!
My sister, Riya, is the last born. She’s Daddy’s princess and Mom’s darling! She is Arun’s sweetheart too because of all the attention-seeking she does. Well, it’s her birth-order trait after all (rolling my eyes)!
I am obviously the middle child. The peacemaker, the left out one, somewhat rebellious but a great negotiator. Just like Dad.
My Dad is the only management guy in his family full of doctors. My Mom is an HR because she loves to be the boss. And their high paying corporate jobs never really left them with any time for us. We grew up with Nirmala Maushi who had to visit her native place right before the lockdown! Leaving us completely paralysed in our huge 3 BHK!
It was not only her absence and immense presence of household chores that made us go insane in the first week of lockdown. It was also the fact that we never really knew how to live together! Most of us had separate lives and private space. Mom and Dad would stay busy all week at their office and we would stay indulged in our academics and social life. All of us would sleep through our mornings on weekends and go out for dinners at night.
Our dinners were the only times we spent as a family. We would celebrate everything, big or small, by reserving a table at a diner. It was like a stepwise drill. We would dress up, drive to the place, during the journey, Dad and Mom would discuss their office politics and we would be hooked to our playlists on our high bass earphones.
Once at the restaurant, we would spend the first half deciding the menu, the next half clicking pictures, making small talk while eating, mainly catching up on whose exam was next and how prepared we were. After the dessert, we were always too full to talk at all.
But now, we actually had to live together!
It was insane!!!!
I and Riya shared a room. I used to share rooms with Arun but once he started preparing for his JEE Advanced, I was made to leave so that he could concentrate better. Well, he did make it into IIT so he never had to share a room again.
I used to take up the living room couch during the day and enter my room only during the night so that Riya and I could have our space too.
But now, Mom had taken up her room and Dad had no option but to take the living room for his ‘Work From Home’ shenanigans. I and Dad only shared a knowing smile when he entered the living room with his laptop and headphones. We knew that was going to happen.
It wasn’t like I couldn’t share space with Dad, but he used to be on call most of the time, and all that corporate talk was getting on my nerves. I had no option but to go back to my room.
I and Riya had our beds on the opposite ends of the room. She was supposed to give medical entrance exams, but guess what she was just scrolling Instagram! I tried to talk her into studying but she said the exams are going to get postponed, she would study later.
As if she’s going to make it! She thinks she wants to be a doctor but I think she doesn’t even want to be a person! She’s just an attention-seeking sloth. Well, she has Mom’s approval for her “big dream”. Something I would never have. When she expressed her wish Mom had said, “At least you will be a doctor when you have your own clinic!”
I just smiled. I was going to be a clinical psychologist, a sad addition to the prodigal family of parents who studied at IIM and a brother who studied at IIT and sister who was now going to become a doctor doesn’t matter where she does it from! Even if it is a Deemed University, she’d still be some high-end cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist!
But, I was passionate about my work. I was the best at it so far and I aimed to be the best later too. I know and Dad agrees, that passion brings success. We need good brains in every field.
Anyway, living with Riya and watching her warm the bed all day, makes me want to drag her and make her do something productive. It has only been a week and I have enrolled in 3 online certification courses, I am attending webinars and trying to stay at the top of my game.
Mom is highly pissed off. It has been a week and she has had to cook all meals of the day. Something she had hardly done in her life. Dad helps her. We don’t because entering the kitchen is like entering a warzone as Mom hates every minute of cooking.
I, Riya and Arun decided to divide dusting mopping and cleaning amongst ourselves. I took Monday and Thursday. Riya got Tuesday and Friday while Arun took Wednesday and Saturday. We gave ourselves off on Sundays (something Nirmala Maushi never took!). We all did our own laundry on specific days. Dad took up dishes. And we finally had a plan to survive this phase.
But our Sundays were empty. Mom and Dad didn’t work on Sundays. We all had no housework. How much time can you spend on YouTube? Riya practically lived on junk food and she had started showing withdrawal symptoms. So, we decided to cook something nice.
But this time, our family dinner was different. We were not ordering food, dressing up or clicking pictures. We had no social/work/academic life to discuss. Our lives had practically stopped. We were tired of the news and discussing the virus.
Our first meal was Pasta and Riya insisted on trying the trending Dalgona Coffee (she has such a huge FOMO). I think she only wanted to cook to show off her culinary skills on Instagram. Skills she lacked efficiently. But she’s not a bad sous chef, I’d give her that!
Anyway, I had assisted Nirmala Maushi on several occasions, this was my first independent venture and I had succeeded quite well. So well that Mom suggested I take up cooking and she’ll do the cleaning on my days! I rejected that offer because well, cooking every day wasn’t that thrilling. I liked making special dishes, not daal rice!
But I volunteered for Sunday.
Every Sunday, we sat around the dining table and talked about the food, the recipe, something new that we watched on the internet, the virus, politics, and I realised that every week, our scope of discussion widened. As good as it was that we were REALLY spending time with each other now, our differences were also getting highlighted. We were reaching the brinks of conflicts and every time, the middle children saved the day!
Arun and Mom were both equally rigid about their ideas. And it was a horrible thing when they disagreed. Somehow, in all these years, they had never really realised how much they disagree! They had always got along well because Arun was the “ideal child” just like Mom. Out of the many things they had in common, they both lacked the ability to accept that the other person with a different opinion could be right too and the dire need to make sure they prove their point and make the other person agree with them. So Mom and Arun were in the red zone almost always, unless they both had the same views about a certain thing.
I and Dad would sometimes add fuel to the fire or ignite a spark between them just to have a little fun! However, it was always the both of us who eventually had to pour water and calm them down. This was turning in favour of my relationship with Mom. This phase had finally led her to see that I may not be a disgrace after all. She was starting to notice the qualities I possessed as a person and also starting to value my opinions.
She was also starting to see how ungrateful Riya was. And her lack of motivation for practically anything. But this was just making things worse. What my mother didn’t see was WHY was Riya this way? She just saw the outcome and started nagging to suddenly undo the effects of 18 years of parenting (or should I say lack of parenting) on her!
Riya didn’t have to struggle for anything, ever! Our parents always had enough money and she never even had to remind them to fulfil any of her demands, she just had to say once! She wasn’t overly ambitious like Arun who just had to make it to IIT! So, she never had to really work hard. She wasn’t doing anything unconventional like me hence she never had to struggle for parental approval and acceptance! Suddenly, if Mom realised that her “princess” had no substance in her personality, it was because she never got to “learn” anything! She was an irritating millennial who would loosely use the word “depression” if her make-up got smudged at a party!
And who made her like that? Our parents and their lack of interest and supervision! But telling this to Mom would be like dragging her in front of the mirror that would make her look ugly. And I didn’t want to do that considering I was finally getting on better terms with her!
Approaching Dad against his princess was also a bad idea, especially when I was suspecting her laziness to be much more than a teenage phase. I was pretty sure that she had a boyfriend. And my brotherly instinct wanted to break the face of the guy who dared to look at my sister that way. The saner part of me wanted to be supportive but at the same time protect her. She was ruining her best years of her life by being so unproductive. And if that guy was one of the many reasons, I wanted to change that!
I would’ve never suspected such a thing if I had not started sharing so much space with her after the lockdown. But she had that particular secret smile on her face whenever she was in front of that phone screen. She always checked if I was looking at her and waited for moments when I wasn’t. More than anything, she was a teenager and this is what teenagers do! Get into silly relationships!
The day she was so engrossed in her phone that she didn’t realise Dad was choking and needed water was the day Mom literally screamed at her and borderline insulted her. She wasn’t used to such treatment and before she started resenting her family and finding comfort in the douchebag who claimed to love her but couldn’t inspire any productivity in her; I wanted to be there for her. I needed her to feel that she doesn’t have to look for the comfort of home on her phone screen.
As soon as she entered the room, sobbing, I asked her, “Who is he?”
I could sense the tension in her shoulders. She broke eye contact and focused on her sobbing.
“Come on, tell me!”
“Who is who?” she feigned nonchalance.
“Well. Your boyfriend!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I am talking about the guy you were talking to while Dad was choking!”
“Do you spy on me or something?”
“Dude, I’ve been your age. And I see you literally blushing all the time looking at your phone screen. So you can tell me. I am not a tell-tale!”
“Well, he’s actually from school!”
“WHAT!!! YOU’RE DATING A SCHOOLBOY!!!” all the rationality that I had mustered to put the primal brother instincts away were flooding in. She’s about to enter university and she’s blushing over a schoolboy!!!!!!
“He isn’t in school, idiot! He used to study in our school. That’s how I know him. Now he is into GMC. 2nd-year med school.”
And then, it rang a bell.
“Don’t tell me you’re dating Akhil! Akhil from MY school group!!!!”
I took a sharp breath. This was not so bad. Akhil had spent 1 year after his 12th standard in coaching to make it into GMC. It was a prestigious college and Akhil wasn’t a bad guy. But things change in the university. Most students who make it to prestigious colleges start thinking that they have “arrived” and they do not need to work hard now. They start with all the things they could not do in their teens because they were studying. I had to check if he really cared about her or she was just a pretty face and a conquest for him. Because to be honest, my sister was just a pretty face at the moment.
“Will you answer a few questions honestly?” I asked.
“Is this some of your psychoanalysis shit?”
“No, it is me looking out for my sister. Now???”
“How serious are you both about each other?”
“Pretty serious. I mean I know this is not some fairytale but IF things work out that far I may even marry him!”
“Does he say the same thing?”
“I am not stupid to bring up marriage at 17, Harsh! But yeah, he says he wants this to work and we have scope for a future with both of us being doctors and all!”
I nodded. At least my sister wasn’t as stupid as I had thought her to be.
“What does he like about you?” This was crucial. I needed to know if he was simply attracted to her, using her or genuinely interested in her.
“Well, he thinks I am pretty. He likes that I am confident. Something he has struggled with despite being smart. He likes that I have a carefree go-getter attitude. And that I am free-spirited, not caring what people think about me. Also, he was always a fan of my performances in school.”
I realised I was actually a little judgemental about my sister being good for nothing. I mean she was a spoiled brat and all, but she also was all those things her boyfriend had pointed out.
“Okay, sounds nice. I hope you’re not forgetting you’re only 17 while talking to him and he is also not using you in any way. I mean….”
“Oh God, Harsh!!! Stop it! Stop it! I don’t need “the talk” from you! It’s awkwarddddd!!!!” she put fingers in her ears while she said that!
“Okay! Fine!! But don’t you think you are wasting your time? I mean he has achieved something. He is in a prestigious medical college on merit. And even though your parents are willing to pay for your education don’t you think having a decent score is important for your own personal growth, self-respect and self-confidence? When you get something after working hard for it, it gives you a sense of contentment. I’m not asking you to make it to top medical colleges, the system in our country is too broken and the competition is insane. You can still work on yourself a bit? You just sit on your bed all day! It kinda sucks!”
She started laughing over that. “You sound like a parent! And to be honest Dad never really tells me anything and well, Mom just screams!” she thought for a minute, “maybe I did need someone to tell me that this way! I mean… Thanks, bro!”
There is nothing more awkward in the world than an emotional moment with your sibling with whom you have spent the whole life-fighting. But after that day, something changed between me and Riya, we got closer in a way. I don’t think our parents noticed this but Arun did. And to say that he was jealous was an understatement.
He loathed this. He wasn’t close to Dad from the start. Mom and he were always in harmony but lately, that was getting disrupted. Riya was his teddy girl but suddenly she was growing closer to me. I think he started feeling lonely. And that made him cranky. He would pick random fights with us. Ruin our Sunday meals. Criticise my cooking skills. And was downright irrational. To top it, Mom reprimanded him immediately which boiled his blood and they would start recalling each of their fights every time they sat on the dining table.
It was not fun anymore, to be honest, to see them fight. I and Dad literally tried our best to avoid drama, but Arun seemed to WANT to create it.
I understood to some extent what he must be feeling. But to understand and advice is easier than to understand and act like a sane person when you are IN that situation. After one of such outbursts when we all retired to our rooms, Riya decided to talk to me about Arun.
“I don’t understand what is wrong with Bhai. He is being so angry all the time!”
“He is lonely. He doesn’t have many friends. I don’t think he ever even thought about a girlfriend. He is too focused on his career for that and he plans literally EVERYTHING. Plus, he always had Mom’s approval; and suddenly they are fighting. With you and me getting close he thinks the world is against him and so he is picking fights everywhere!”
She was looking at me with a blank expression.
“So? What do we do about this? I mean what if he commits suicide or something? So many people are committing suicide these days!”
It was cute how she got so concerned immediately. Of course, Arun wasn’t suicidal but in her own innocent way Riya had pointed out something that as a future clinical psychologist I should have seen first. Arun was going through something, he was showing early signs. And I could somehow figure out that he was feeling lonely. Yet I did nothing to help him. He could go further and develop mental-health issues if he didn’t share what he was going through yet as his brother I took no step in making him feel better due to probably my own bitterness and anger. Or maybe for the first time in life, I was enjoying being the centre of attention. I am human after all. Knowing human behaviour doesn’t prevent me from indulging in it.
So, I decided to defeat my pride and ego and approach my brother. Riya volunteered to accompany. When we knocked at his door, he opened it in annoyance. But we just barged in and settled on his bed. He came angrily to announce that we should get out but we just dragged him on the bed and started hitting him with pillows. In no time we were in a full-blown pillow fight, with Riya not playing fair and tickling us as we tackled each other. We were laughing like hell and all our anger and bitterness was getting dissipated with all the adrenaline rushing through our systems.
Mom and Dad could not really fathom how we had suddenly started laughing after the heated drama at the dinner. They came rushing to Arun’s room only to find us happy and reconciled. They smiled a very warm smile. Dad held Mom’s hand really tight. Maybe he was trying to calm her down too. I never saw them standing with each other and expressing wordlessly in this manner. For a few seconds, we just kept smiling at each other. Basking in the warmth of that moment. And then Riya started the pillow fight again. We don’t know how long we were doing this or when Mom and Dad left us on our own. Yet, we knew our dynamics had changed considerably and exponentially in that one moment.
After we calmed down a bit, I suggested we should video chat with Nirmala Maushi. It had been months and we were really missing her now. We called on her phone and the tech-savvy modern aunt that she is, she picked in no time. We chatted for almost 2 hours telling her our success stories in the kitchen and housekeeping. She told us she felt really bad that we had to do all this and she would join us back really very soon!
We really didn’t have to TALK to Arun to make him feel better. We knew he wouldn’t open up to us that way. We just needed to make him feel wanted and included. And that worked wonders for us in every way, especially our Sunday meals.
Even in the next two months, the pandemic didn’t get any better. Our lives were stuck exactly where they were at the beginning of the lockdown. Things started to open up again. With Amazon back in full function, we ordered some board games to stay sane! Nirmala Maushi returned and got home quarantine for 2 weeks. After that Mom took a sigh of relief when she finally got off from her kitchen duties. We were eventually adjusting to the new normal. Our lives, still a mess were now heading somewhere. We were growing as a family. But most importantly, we were learning to value the things and people we had in life. We were learning to count our blessings.
Being financially stable amid this pandemic was the biggest blessing. Both of our parents had their jobs. Another blessing was that none of us needed to be out there working. None of us were front-liners. We could stay in the comforts of our homes, taking all precautions without the looming fear of death encircling us constantly. With the cases on the rise, every day brought in bad news. So many people dying. So much pain. Everywhere. It was exhausting. In such times, we were all each other’s strengths.
Our dinner time conversations had grown in substance. We discussed the sadness and despair around us. Our families and friends who were going through something, we talked about how difficult it must be for them. We worked on what we could do to help others. We were blessed in many ways, but not unaffected. Suddenly, we stopped talking about petty things. Office politics became a trivial affair. Scoring in exams was not a primary goal. The pandemic brought us close to ourselves. Gave us lessons we wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
Amid all the pain and suffering, we realised what mattered the most was family. We saw each other going soft. We reconciled quickly after fights. We held together no matter what and even though we drove each other crazy, we were also keeping each other sane!
I cannot really say that I am glad this pandemic happened. Neither can I say that it has a “positive” effect or I am not DYING for it to be over! But I can really say that this experience has changed the dynamics of this world and I sincerely hope that we come out a little kinder out of this!