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When you miss family politics

When you miss family politics

Musings on everyday life

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 13 Sep 2019, 2:00 AM

Hand-pick the craziest guys in Indian politics and put them all under one roof, so you got people as oligarchical as Sonia Gandhi, as doltish as Rahul, as manipulative as Amit Shah; as maniacal as Mamata Banerjee; as demented as Sadhvi Pragya; as erudite as Manmohan Singh; as cocky as Sitaram Yechury; as racial as Yogi Adityanath; as hubristic as Narendra Modi; as opportunistic as Chandrababu Naidu.

If you imagine all of them as members of the same family, what do you call such a grouping? In political terminology, it's a great alliance, or mahagathbandhan. A human family is essentially a coalition of opinionated people brought together by a minimum programme. In more ways than one, we too were such a mahagathbandhan once upon a time. It was more conspicuous when we were in Singapore, probably swayed by many ethnic groups we hobnobbed with in the territory. While wifey was mostly in the company of Indian expats, I swanned around with Chinese and Singaporean Indians. While daughter played with Chinese and Malays, son was in league with Japanese, Filipinos, Indonesians and North Americans.

On weekends, like any Singaporean, we refused to incarcerate ourselves inside four walls. We would typically come down in the early afternoon and cool our heels on the footpath, deciding on our destination of the day. There never was consensus. I would refuse to switch on the car unless and until the final point was decided.

"Let's go to Orchard Road." Girls obviously love the place, deemed the most sought-after hangout haven in Southeast Asia. So it wasn't any surprise if my daughter's first choice was Orchard Road, the Fifth Avenue of Singapore that is chock-a-block with iconic shopping malls, upscale restaurants, lifestyle choices, and flagship fashion houses.

"Nooo. Go to Pasir Ris Park. Let's have some fresh air and throw ourselves in the lap of the nature. And seafood dinner at Fisherman Village." Wifey's a nature lover who famously shipped her Dubai-grown money plant to Singapore. The mahagathbandhan is still debating if the motive behind the gesture was riches or nature.

"No way. Acha, drive to Little India, where we all belong. Orchard Road is so plastic; Little India throbs with life. You can smell India in every corner. I feel at home there," said son, an Indian patriot who refused to become a Singaporean PR.

"Yeah, bro loves the Indian trash and murukkan (betel leaf) stains. Go, I'm not coming." Daughter creased her lips in disapproval.

"Should we drive to such distant places and burn petrol? Can't we just sit in the neighbourhood kopitiam and have some drinks?" That's my two cents' worth.

We literally fought street battles on places to see, movies to watch, restaurants to visit, malls to shop, and makkan (food) to order. We never begged to differ. We fought to dissent. At times, for the sake of it. Life's meaningless sans a bit of cacophony.

And on a rain-less evening, son invited us to watch a Bollywood movie at a theatre on the other end of the city.

"No man, I'm not game," I said, knowing well that our tastes didn't match when it came to appreciating movies and he wouldn't take anything against his faves lightly. It's better to avoid a joint trip to keep familial harmony, I thought. But after several rounds of parleys, we all decided to make him happy. "If you drink, go public" is a Singaporean apothegm that everyone followed, so we took a cab back and forth.

On the way back, he asked as we squeezed into a taxi, "So how was it?"

"Oh, the same old stuff. Average Bollywood flick," I shot back. "The director finally lost control."

"Don't be a cynic, dad. You didn't like it because I liked it."

"Didn't I tell you to avoid watching movies together? You aren't democratic in arguments."

As the exchanges revved up and reached the acrimonious level, the cabbie pulled over on the expressway and screamed, "What the **** is happening?"

"Debating," said daughter.

"This isn't the way to debate. I need to drive. What are they fighting about?"

"The movie they watched."

"Are you mad? You paid to fight over a movie?" Then the Sonias and Mamatas of the mahagathbandhan calmed the situation.

Years later, we all changed as we grew up. Son brought a handful of foreign movies every time he returned from medical school. We learned to watch them together. Distance has blown meaningful harmony into our lives.

"Dad, did you watch Departures?" He called the other day to find out, referring to Japanese director Yojiro Takita's Academy Award winner. In my solitude, I think back to our mahagathbandhan days. How much fun it was, after all!

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