Haunting Voices: Heard and Unheard

 Punadi Story by P.Sathavathi

-Syamala Kallury

Grandma– “We have already discussed this writer Ravi. But then when I came across this story, I thought this is more relevant to our times today.”

Ravi: “Is that so? What is the commonality between a story which was written about thirty years back in 1988 and today’s society? Have we not changed at all in all these years? 

Grandma: Some issues are culture based. In India, south India takes the lead in education and career orientation for the young. Parents plan the admission of their child in LKG, well before the child even knows what career building is— best schools and best ratings and the competition that arises as a consequence is part of their growing up. In this, parents especially mothers, play a vital role. Right from day one, the mothers’ ambitions, their unrealised dreams propel them to drive their children to excel. As a result, the children lose sight of what a great time childhood could be. This continues into their adulthood. I happened to meet a mother once who came to my mother crying bitterly. We all thought something terrible must have happened to the poor woman when we realised that she was heart-broken because her son failed to make it to IIT. If a mother’s reaction was such, how else would a young person start his life other than with a feeling that he was a failure? 

Ravi: How true! Whatever we do in life we expect our parents would understand and support us. If they feel disappointed and show it by constantly crying or nagging, life starts on a wrong note not only in one’s efforts to study but throws a bad light on their relationship at a very early age. They begin to cheat, to tell lies about their marks, sullying their relationship with insincerity. We should always be allowed to do what we have an aptitude for, not what the parents wants us to do, naturally.

Grandma: Yes, that creates an urge to love what they undertake in life. This is the story of one such mother and her son. The mother Visalakshi insists that her son should go to the best college in town. Her husband Satyanarayana tries to tell her the college hardly matters, it is the student who should study. If he works hard, the rank and name of the college hardly matter, but she would not pay any heed. She would not allow him to play cricket with friends, would not allow him to meet his friends, his natural talent for playing the guitar would never get a chance to flourish. If he tells her a lie that he was going to do combined study of chemistry and goes off to the movie with his friends it is not his fault as she would not allow him otherwise. His father meets him there and tells him that he would not tell his mother he should not worry as he believes that his son deserves some reprieve. He tacitly tries to support and understand his problem and keeps telling his wife to give Murali, their son, some space to grow naturally instead of controlling him constantly. 

He disappears when the results come as he gets second class. He could not face his mother. Visalakshi was so totally broken that she stops eating and becomes bedridden with worry and anxiety. All their enquiries fail to yield results. People try and console them. 

The mother who used sit on guard when her son was studying till one O’clock in the night, the mother who shakes him to wake him up and serves him tea, the mother who stands outside near the gate and sends back all his friends saying he was not at home, the mother who dismissed the maid to save money for her son’s tuition needs and spends her time washing utensils, cleaning the house and washing clothes. She was so totally and madly devoted to the idea seeing her son do well in studies that there as a wide gap between her expectation and his performance. This gap created a distress, both for the mother and the son. He loses his courage to face her when he could not make it and she became a wreck after he leaves the house. All she wanted was for him to do well, but she was so obsessed that she drove herself to an extremity. She is on the verge of a total breakdown.

You asked the question if the situation has changed now. We can, unfortunately, only say not at all. If stories like this change the mindset of parents, we can say it has served its purpose.

There should be a discussion about how parents also don’t want their children to struggle like they did. Or even feel inadequate among their peers in their later life. If their friends go on to achieve big things and they lag behind with some mediocre job then that also leads to disappointment. It’s not so black and white no? There should be a balance. You can’t let the kids roam free also. Especially in a country like India…career choices where you can succeed and make a good life for yourself are so limited. So, parents consider those things too…not just projecting their own dreams and ambitions. Because if the kids get stuck later, they will blame their parents for that also. It’s a catch 22 situation for the poor parents.


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