UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 11/2011
AN IDOL IS FOREVER, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS
10th May 1979. Margaret Thatcher has just become the new prime minister of England. Pluto moves inside Neptune’s orbit for the first time ever since either planet became known to Science. The Sahara desert experiences snow for a period of thirty minutes.
In a small dusty village in the remote interiors of a large state of west India, a tall young man is anxiously pacing the floor outside his house. From time to time, he stops to glance through the open door, then resumes pacing as vigorously as ever. He is oblivious to the heat of the afternoon sun on his bare head, unaware of the scorching earth beneath his naked feet, their skin hardened and toughened with years of working the plough. A flurry of activity is going on within the cool darkness of the room inside. Fleeting snatches of the bantering chatter of the midwives float out now and again. The accoucheuses are waiting for the woman to dilate enough to grab hold of the baby’s head as it emerges. They wait patiently, knowingly, while the woman groans as the painful contractions rack her body more and more frequently.
Before long, a strong, insistent bawling rents the air and the tension is broken. ‘It’s a girl!’ With a cry of relief, the man darts into the house and returns a few moments later beaming with pride and carrying a small bundle swathed in yards of clean white cloth. That bundle of joy is me.
I am the apple of my father’s eye and subject to lots of pampering in my childhood, which I take full advantage of. My father indulges me to no end, bringing me small gifts of some kind every day and teaching me tricks with which to delight others. When I follow in his footsteps and take to reading at an early age, he encourages me to widen my horizons and even guides me in my juvenile attempts at story compositions. With him, every day is an adventure with something new waiting to be discovered, every night is a stepping stone with big dreams to follow and grand plans to make. My evenings are spent at my father’s knee, listening with wonder to strange stories made familiar by his rich baritone – tales of bravery and honesty and fortitude in which characters come alive and I can see the sights, smell the smells, hear the sounds and feel the action. My father is my hero.
10th May 1989. The Golden Toad becomes extinct. A 4400-year-old mummy is found in the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Rain Man wins the Academy award for Best Picture. The Internet boom is around the corner.
I am about to sit for my first secondary school examination. Although nervous, I am confident of scoring well in English, my favourite subject. It is taught by Mrs. Fernandes, whom all of us kids adore. She is slim and pretty and intelligent and funny and knows everything. She takes great pains to inculcate the love of the language in all her students and gets immense satisfaction when we do well in class. All children are treated equally and fairly by her and inspired to explore new ideas and give voice to their thoughts and opinions. Mrs. Fernandes never talks down to us. She is my favourite teacher, the shining beacon in my life now and my poor father can’t hold a candle to her. As my sparkling teacher lights the way ahead, the image of my father gradually blurs into the background.
10th May 1999. The six billionth human being in the world is born. The Euro is established. Two teenagers massacre their teachers and classmates at Columbine High School.
I am in the final year of college. My family have left the ancestral home and are now settled in the city of Mumbai where prospects are finer. Soon I will be hunting for my first job. I observe how my mother, who works as a music instructor, successfully manages to balance home, career and family. She toils ceaselessly day and night, she is always cheerful despite the relentless burden of responsibility upon her, she is never too busy to make the time to patiently listen to my complaints about the innumerable insignificant things that occupy a twenty-year-old young woman’s life, she gives me practical sensible advice when I need it the most but may not know it. I wonder honestly if I can be half as good as her when I have a family of my own. My perfect mother is my role model. And Mrs. Fernandes has all but disappeared from memory.
10th May 2009. Deadly bushfires kill hundreds in Australia. Barack Obama becomes the first African-American President of the United States. The global economy crashes due to the credit crisis and the recession is predicted to be as bad as that of the 30s’.
I have gotten married and moved to a different country. My son has just turned four. He worships me and my world revolves around him. We hold long conversations that make perfect sense to both of us, we love doing things together and in his eyes I can do no wrong. ‘Mum, you’re the best. I love you,’ breathes my little boy reverently. I am his idol. My own mother has not heard from me for the last two months.
10th May 2019. The future is here. The future is now.
I hate this city. I loathe my job. Life’s experiences have smartened me up. There is no place for paragons and apotheoses anymore in the real world. I rarely catch up with my friends; I am out of touch with what is happening in my parents’ lives. There is a surly, angst-ridden teenager living in our house who I have trouble recognising as my own child. He refuses to respect his parents’ authority, he aggravates us with his disobedience and he rebels on the slightest of issues. His room is littered with posters of the latest female pop sensation, who looks rather like a child herself. ‘She’s the best, I love her!’ he insists defiantly.
I’ve fallen from the pedestal and now occupy only a peripheral role in my son’s life. Alas, he has an idol, but it’s not me anymore! And when I look back at my own life, I realise that history does, indeed, repeat itself.
My fingers stray towards the telephone and dial a faintly remembered number. ‘Hello?’ says my mother’s beloved voice.
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