Remain a reflection


The first set of my married nieces and nephews have had their babies recently. Tears of joy did well up in my eyes when they began to happen one by one, some four months ago. But more out of instinct than reason. More instinct, because the announcement “It’s a girl!” or “It’s a boy!” will remain the world’s biggest breaking news no matter how many times you have heard it. Less reason, because it’s a bit complicated and takes time to figure out, especially when people you still see as children begin to have children of their own.

It is actually a huge redefining moment of life and relationships. But families don’t let it sink in. They break into celebrations.

People were calling each other, hugging, dancing and stuffing sweets into every open mouth. It was while attempting to swallow one such larger-than-mouth ladoo that an aunt came over, stuffed another and said: “Congratulations darling! You have been promoted! Now you have a new designation in life!”

Thanks to the dizzy dose of calories I’d had, the brain numbingly loud music that was playing, and an even louder family that was around, that comment passed off as a joke on my “Unemployed” fb status.

It was much later that it hit me that it was even worse. I ran to my wife for confirmation. She was busy discussing the saree to be bought for the baby’s naming ceremony.

I ran to my cousin with whom I had grown up, for consolation. He waved me off saying he was on a long-distance business call and didn’t wish to be disturbed.

(If you ever have to be in a disaster, choose large-scale national or international ones. At least everyone’s involved. Personal disasters, however small and insignificant, are eerily private and lonely. You are left to handle it, while the world celebrates.)

That day, amidst 150 partying people, I was alone.

That moment, a truth sunk in. No matter how many relatives, fb friends, Twitter followers, blog subscribers you gather all your life, when the moment arrives there’s none. In life there’s only one soulmate you really can call your very own, the only one you can turn to at all times, and the only one who’s always around until the very end.

The mirror.

Preferably, the bathroom one.

It’s always there to cry, laugh, sing, dance with you, and to make faces back at you. Never failing to reflect your mood back, honestly.

Yes, it shows you your paunch, blemishes, nostril hair and makes you hate yourself. But tuck in your stomach and strike a Michael Jackson pose, and it will make you feel This is it! Not Bad.

That night I went to my mirror. Like I have on countless occasions in my life.

I took a long hard look at the reflection it threw back, and yelled, “You Granduncle!”

It echoed to traumatic effect, whirling around that small bathroom space like a circus biker in a Well of Death, until it ran out of decibels and had a slow and feeble end. For a while, even the silence echoed.

People expect being called “Uncle” or “Aunty” for the first time in life to be this traumatic. That’s false alarm. I remember mine. It was an auto driver who called me that for the first time.

“Change nahi hai uncle!” (“I’ve no change, uncle!”)

I was annoyed but not devastated. Frankly, I am not sure what had angered me more- the fact that he didn’t have change or the reason he chose to call me Uncle when he had so many more acceptable options like Sir, Saab, Ji, Bhaiya, Bhai or, Mumbai’s very own- Shhh-Shhh.

But soon, I more than got used to it. Thanks to my hormone-surplus cousins, every other month I had new nephews and nieces coming into this world. Though their cacophony of “Uncle! Uncle!” resembled the dreaded bathroom echo, I must say, it was far less traumatic. In fact, I had found it cute and enjoyed my new designation in life.

I thought I had creamed one of life’s most feared experiences. I was wrong.

Nothing in the world had prepared me for “Granduncle”. It won’t. Simply because the world doesn’t really recognise anyone beyond Uncles.

Uncles are important because they are there to do what the parents won’t, and grandparents can’t. But we, the poor Granduncles are just old and unnecessarily superfluous substitutes to Uncles. Uncles without the power. The world’s first proof that blood is not always thicker than water.

Granduncles are nobodies. We have no roles to play in anyone’s life. Announced with a ladoo or not, this is a promotion to nothingness. A fancy designation that sounds grand but is hollow. A Lifetime Achievement award that says, “Thank you. Now just fade away!”

In front of that mirror that day, I realised another fact: Life, like organisations, never lets you be your best. It keeps promoting you to uselessness.

Take our birth.

A happy Foetus is promoted to Baby.

We are thrown into this strange world to fend for ourselves and stave off hunger by learning how to extract milk from human anatomy. Just when we manage to learn how, we are promoted to bottle-feed. They fool us into thinking it is the same. A rose is a rose by any name. But naming anything rose, doesn’t make it rose, does it? Same with nipples.

By the time we have mastered the art of tackling parents, we are graduated to teachers, books and exams. And then bosses. Just when we think we are getting good at this rat race, they tell us we have been escalated to the next level- a three-legged race where we will have to run with a partner, kids, career, colleagues, home loans and diets.

Tell me, do increasing incidence of heart attacks seem so unreasonable now?

Promotions and designations don’t cease all life. Son, nephew, friend, brother, cousin, uncle, husband, son-in-law, brother-in-law, dad, granddad…it goes on until it all finally ends at Granduncle.

In front of the mirror. The bathroom one.

It knows no designations or titles. Unlike in the world, in a mirror we remain a reflection all our life. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always a reflection. Of ourselves.


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