The call of duty

Shehtaz Huq 12 February,2016
Shehtaz Huq

On December 23, 2015, The New York Times publishes the article, “The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles from Mom.” Inwardly I thank myself that my mother peruses the web mostly to look for deals on bargain furniture and which cousin is currently in a relationship with which unsavoury individual on Facebook.

My parents also periodically threaten me with the prospect of them moving in with me, uprooting their second lives in Texas to start over here, in Rochester, with me. Two families, one roof.

The mythic joint family has ushered my generation into adulthood, hovering over our heads even as we grew up in single-family households with fathers who worked, and mothers who (mostly) held down the child-rearing fort and grandparents who occasionally visited but mostly tucked themselves away in musty homes of peeling paint and china cabinets.

Grandparents that we, the grandchildren, were forced to visit every few weeks, answering the call of duty that our parents could not drown out. We bundled into cars and drove the hour, two hours, six hours, until we got to our final destination, where payesh and polao awaited our ungrateful stomachs.

Sometimes our grandparents moved in, the pair diminished by one as our parents buried their parents. Grandparents shuffled around our homes with their prayer mats and prayer beads and starched white cotton attire. They slipped us crisp bank notes for Eid and crowed down the telephone when we brought home good grades. “My grandson this, my granddaughter that.” “I have three doctors in this family now.” “My son is going to be the minister of agriculture someday.”

Now, in the bubble of English-daily-reading Dhaka, the joint family of multiple patriarchs cowering under the thumb of a grand supreme patriarch is a thing of Hindi soap operas and family lore. Now siblings and aunts and cousins are denizens of many countries, scattered over many continents, spanning the expanse from Gulshan to Dhanmondi. Now, maintaining family ties requires not only the semblance of true caring but also the commitment to hop into a car (or plane) and drive (or fly) the distance.

Now, the generation that grew up speaking English in school (supposedly) and Bangla at home, grew up taking selfies on Facebook and courted other millennials, boldly, parading relationships on social media, is slouching towards adulthood.

With it comes the inevitability of ageing parents, parents who pushed their kids into English medium schools perhaps without anticipating the hybrid breed they’d heralded, a breed that eats phuchka but also wants to be “free,” make one’s “own choices,” live one’s “own lives.”

These children sometimes say “no.” These children sometimes lie about being pre-med when really they’re English majors. Sometimes these children fumble over their duty, to care and nod and obey and avoid eye contact when their parents are chastising them, to be willing to relocate or make room without a second thought for a parent.

Perhaps this is the generation that wants to move more than 18 miles away from mom, perhaps because child-rearing can be accomplished in ways other than relying on grandparents-slash-nannies.

Perhaps the wanderlust is equal parts the desire for physical as well as emotional distance, equal parts the lure of freedom and the call of duty.



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