In the Bollywood movies of the ’70s, there was an oft-used shot: bare legs clad in shorts, which would invariably be running. Some fast-forwarded montages later the legs would still be running but suddenly they’d transformed to trousered legs, the camera would then move up to reveal the angst-ridden face of the hero, generally, Amitabh Bachchan’s!
“Absurd,” I’d say as a child, “as if people could grow up that fast!” Growing up seemed to be taking quite some time back then.
Trust Bollywood to give us something that unrealistic.
That was before I became a mother.
Though it didn’t appear so then, time was flying. What had then seemed interminable—the dreaded diaper stage, which is never as cute as the adverts make it seem—merged seamlessly into school-going age.
Having fought and won the admission battle, I dressed my tiny son in his crisp butter-scotch shirt, a tad-too-long brown shorts, and elastic tie. Small bag in hand, the two of us waited for the school bus. Soon it lumbered into view, and from the outside it appeared to be a seething, shouting, hurling mass of unruly legs and arms. I heaved him inside, wondering all the time how my little one would survive the mayhem inside.
He’d never been inside a bus, much less one that looked like this! I remember I spent the whole day restlessly moving from one room to another till it was time for him to come back.
Well, he not only survived the bus-rides but all the ups and downs of school life—the shinned knees, the broken heart, the matches lost, the ranks usurped, the debates won, the boos weathered, the accolades showered, accepted—and came out unscathed. He grew a lot, he was wiser, but by and large, he was still untouched by the big, bad world out there.
And yes, though the wispy moustache left a lot to be desired, somewhere in that journey he had graduated to trousers from the shorts. Memory blurs when I try to pinpoint the exact year…
College in Delhi was the defining step when the outbound migration actually began. The rush to pack the lunchbox in time, while hollering after my ever-relaxed son—who, as a policy, never hurried unless it was for a movie—abated suddenly and gave way to long, detailed calls where he’d ask me to explain many how-tos of the one region he had till then taken for granted: the kitchen! And there were those numerous visits to Delhi, sometimes for genuine reasons, more often with concocted ones, thanks to it being a mere three hours from my home. It was during one visit I noticed that somewhere along the way he had started walking on the outer side of roads and guiding me across roads, rather than I holding his hand.
By the time his M.B.A. was completed, without my realizing when, I started depending on him for things I thought he depended on me for, whether it was escorting me from one end of Mumbai to another on my infrequent visits there or at home during his holidays, forcing me to see a doctor when I procrastinated.
He now has a job, delighted with his new surroundings, navigating the sundry problems with an easy assurance and newfound confidence. And he still has the time to patiently explain the confounding thingamajigs of the laptop whenever I get stuck and hit the panic button.
I sit here looking with wonder at the pictures in front of me: a foot or two of cuddly innocence eating a banana and a personable young man with a protective arm around me … and smile.
How naïve I was as a kid! Could Bollywood ever be wrong? There was some truth in those shorts-clad legs transforming into trouser-clad ones so fast! That does happen.
Manmohan Desai and Amitabh Bachchan were right.
Madhumita Gupta is a freelance writer, teacher, and children’s author based in India.