I wonder if it has been the insulation that freelance brings on but my hanging out periods have changed drastically. I used to spend spades of time at coffee shops, clubs or restaurants. I used to go around driving here and there and meet at least two or three friends a day at separate times. I'd love to know what they were up to, talk about what I was up to, talk about what the world was up to - and then, my day filled with glittering chatter would come to a close. On my way home late at night, there would be texts on where we would meet up next and what we'd do.
All this was not even a long time back. Barely 3-4 months ago, that was my story. I don't know what has happened since then but I just love being by myself now. Or actually, that's not strictly right. I have always loved my own company but I have enjoyed other people's company as well. Now, I find it a tad tiresome.
All my friends are my age or a couple of years older, maybe, but they all seem so different. So many of them seem to have aged considerably. It's like meeting people from some other dimension. There is a certain haggardness in the way they talk and think. A certain insistence on rigidity that, in their minds, spell maturity. And no-one wants to walk. That's my biggest grievance. I don't get why people would stand in one spot trying to flag down autos, getting more miserable by the second, but not walk thirty minutes to where they are headed. In fact, that's what I think about the city situation now - the problem is not so much that the autofellows behave like jerks and go nowhere. The real problem is that today, young people (barely over 30)are incapable of walking 4 kms. Surely, that, if anything, is worrisome.
This much I know about Bombay - walking seems a lot more intimidating until you start doing it. Once you get started, you'll be crossing milestones so quickly, it's exhilarating. And then you'll get a gleam of happiness mixed with sweat on your face. That's when you will get an auto that will ferry you to wherever you want to go.
I stumbled upon this shimmering insight during the time I worked in Andheri East. From my office, which was at Leela Business Park at Marol, I have walked to Andheri station many times. That is a good one hour stagger, at least.
Now, when you are stuck in an auto or a bus in Andheri East - Marol to be precise - you can't help but count the virtues of killing oneself. After demise, the soul may be subjected to many things. However, breathing in fumes while being sandwiched between beams for a mythical Metro system is not one of them. If death ever looked appealing, it's right there. But then, if you decide to walk it, there's a paradigm shift instantly. There's an invigorating push and jostle amidst thronging crowds. Opposite steel and glass structures, you see quaint oil-lamps lighting up bright vegetables stacked on damp sack-cloths. There are pokey, little garages with their own ghastly symmetry of tyres piled high. If you look up, the fading light of the day and yellow light from street lamps weld to to form art-nouveau distortions in the sky. Large flocks of bird return to roost. Their silhouettes are sharp finger smudges against a stunning backdrop. And when you walk across the wide Andheri bridge, you witness a shifting landscape with a steady stream of vehicles. It's like portable dinner theatre.
Marol remains bizarre but becomes beautiful.
Anyway, Marol and walking aside, I wonder why I can't relate to my friends anymore. In fact, I find it really surprising that I can relate a lot more to my mother than with these friends. I'm not just talking about a 'family-type' kind of bonding. But as person-to-person kind of bonding. Mom and I are nothing like each other. She loves luxury and has incredibly sense of style. Her notions of God and money are starkly different from mine. We rarely like the same things. But I wonder how this lady understands so much - this concept of personal space. I honestly wonder where that comes from. My friends who have traveled so much, studied so much, worked so much, earned so much, lived in the same time as me, don't.
I usually like to go to smallish, comfortable restaurants and cafes. Mom usually likes anything that has a 20 feet mirror fitted in the lobby. But she is open to meeting me half-way. My friends will automatically assume that I want to go to a smaller restaurant because I can't afford a better place. Then, they'll say stuff like, "Dont worry, it's not that expensive." or "Don't worry, we'll cover that." I wonder how my mother, who is so used to the good, fine life, understands that its not the money. But my friends who have shared much of my growing up experiences dont get that.
It's also the kind of conversation we engage in. I wonder if, after quitting a job, I have just drifted down a whole different stream. I don't understand how someone can go through life believing that living from one paycheck to another, one EMI payment to another, is the only thing that spells security. All this freelance-shmeelance is truly mumbo-jumbo to my mum. She is the product of a time when 50 years at a workplace was de rigeur. She's not even all that enthusiastic about my freelancing decision. But she understands that it works for me and that's it. She doesn't have the necessary wordly exposure that my friends have. But this latter group cannot even begin to consider an alternative way of getting secure.
The last time my mother and I were at Goa, I could go running at the beach while she had dinner by herself. I have been to Goa earlier with friends who insist that we do everything together every waking minute of the day. If there is one thing I can't swallow, it's a feeling of being held back. And unfortunately, I find myself held back with a lot of friends I earlier liked to be with. I can't walk if they're with me. I can't eat where I want to because it's "not the right place". I can't do something spontaneous because it's crazy. With my mother, everything is possible. It's not always agreeable. But she just lets me be. She doesn't hold me back.
In the last 8 or 9 months, I have realized that my mother's my most favorite person to hang out with. Most challenging, also - since we never agree on anything. And yes, she has such deep prejudices that make me wonder how unconstitutional her psyche is. But she is one of the most secure people I know now. She can manage things on her own and trusts me to do the same.
I know that to every child, her mother is the best. But my adoration for my mom is more for the kind of person she is, for who she has always been. She didn't have to be my mum for me to look up to her. She is really beautiful like her sisters and that entire side of the family shares a fiesty arrogance about it. In fact, they all at some point wanted to be in performing arts. Unfortunately, beauty aside, none of them could perform very well. I believe my mum had pushed someone off the stage in anger while my aunt had punctured the director's motorcycle (yes, they can be quite bratty that way.)
But she's incredible at investments, keeps home beautifully and loves plush, expensive things but will never make a hue and cry if she doesn't get them. (It's another matter that she always gets them.) She likes a few people instantly and dislikes the majority and no amount of cajoling will get her to change her mind. My dad and I have forced her into some kind of democratization because the two of us invariably befriend a type mom will hate. She makes it known very clearly that her standards of living have been severely compromised due to us. She can be quite an intimidating diva and she knows it. Prima facie, she's the sort of person who couldn't be on the same page as me even if she tried! But she is. Not like the way a mother and child are. But the way two reasonable people are.
There are many things my mum could have been. I'm glad she decided to be a mother to me. If I didn't have her in my life, I wouldn't have any friends to have lunch with.
I have to ask nicely, of course.