Eighteen years and two months – that was the time I got with him before my little fledgling learned to fly, and flew away to learn about life. When a child leaves the nest, a vacuum settles in that refuses to leave. Day in and day out you miss him, and soon the missing becomes as much a part of you as he is. I miss his towering presence, his tortured thought process, his disdain for conventions. I miss his quick hugs, the casual way in which he would use my shoulder as his arm-rest, even his annoying pokes. I miss his occasional anger tantrums that would end with a lot of soul searching on both his part and mine. There are countless other things I miss about him, but most of all, I miss our ‘lame philosophical conversations’ on subjects as varied as the tenth dimension, teenage psychology and what happened in school (his or mine) that day.
Though I am extremely grateful for it, half an hour once or twice a week over an often disrupted Skype connection is hardly enough to make up for all those hours of verbal sparring that used to be a regular part of my life. His course is as demanding as (if not more so than) my job is, so nowadays we have to make, not get time to talk. But we do manage, somehow. And each conversation we have leaves me a little richer, a slightly better person than I was.
“Ma (the A of the Amma usually gets swallowed), what is success?” He asked me the other day. Our conversation was picked up from where we had left it off another time. “What if my needs are smaller? What if I need less to keep me happy – if I’m happy with what I earn doing what I love doing, regardless of what the world thinks? Wouldn’t I still be a success?“ As usual, he left me with a lot to chew on. This came from a teenager who is content with two pairs of jeans and one pair of fraying cargoes, paired with a few un-ironed T-shirts – and one who thinks of travelling from Bangalore to Kochi sitting on the floor of the second class railway compartment as an experience that should not be missed.
It took a while, but I did get his point. I should too, considering.
Considering that around fifteen years ago, I quit the job that was then considered the epitome of success without a thought of what would happen afterward. I traded a safe, solid job in the State Bank of India for nothing at all. I paid no heed to all the good advice and words of caution from my well-wishers. And boy did I pay for it! Years and years of struggle followed. The worst part is I still feel no real regret about it – except when I think of the salary and low-interest loans that I missed.
Now once again, I’m on the brink of leaving a regular job for an unknown future. There are a lot of vague ideas in the head, but nothing that I can state looking my well-wishers in the eye. Once again, it’s going to be a struggle. “I’m scared,” I confess to my better half, “what about all those bills?” “Things will work out,” he assures me, as he always has. He has stood by me, to a fault. My boys are thrilled about my decision to quit. They too assure me that I need to.
“What are you planning to do after March?” ask my well-wishers.
I have no clear answer. Spend some quality time with my younger one? Play scrabble with him occasionally? Read and write? Paint? Cook? Tutor some students? I don’t know.
Being successful is one thing no one can accuse me of. But then, what is success?
“Success is what Bill Gates got,” says my younger one, looking over my shoulders and reading what I had just written. I can’t wait for him to grow up so that we can have some ‘lame (‘cool’, not ‘lame’, he corrects me) philosophical conversations’ together.