There was a quote in my father’s medical book that I don’t quite remember anymore. I remember faintly that under the pretty, pretty picture I painted for him on the front page of the book, there had been words that spoke about caring for children. That in the reflection of my father’s glasses as he pushed them up his nose to better see exactly what I had done to his book, there was more than pink paint. It had something to do with how the biggest crime one could do was to not care for one’s child. For children are defenceless, helpless, needy.
It was not until I turned 14 that I realised how one-sided this statement was. In the summer, I watched as my father gave his mother his hand as she walked up the stairs to our house for the first time. One hand clutched at her sari, attempting to keep it away from the floor, while the other clutched at my father’s hand. The smile on her face seemed to have been etched by age’s slow hand and the wispy white hair that had escaped her braid formed a halo around her head. On the nights he wasn’t working, my father would sit on the floor by her bed, talking to her about the weather, how India had changed, the deeper meaning to life or the show she had watched on TV earlier in the morning.
In the daytime, after meticulously doing my hair and exercising a bit, my grandmother would sit down to cut and peel vegetables, to chop and cook them to perfection and then wait for my parents to come home. When she got onto a plane to go back to her home, there were tears in my father’s eyes. Later when my brother called my parents to wish them a happy anniversary, though belatedly, there were tears in my mother’s eyes.
I applaud my younger self for doodling on top of that page. For creating instead of the smiling faces of a typical nuclear family - our family - where we all held hands next to our geometrically-perfect house of squares and a triangle roof. Because I believe that parents will always want the best for their children. They will always spend their days cooking and cutting vegetables and taking care of their families. They will spend their nights, worrying about their kids. Or stay up talking to them. They will be making sure to clutch at their children’s hands to make sure they stay close by.
But what about them? The greatest crime one can commit isn’t just to not care for one’s child - this may be an impossible anomaly. It is to forget one’s parents, to let tears replace smiles because of distance and separation - to let go of a hand that now needs yours.
Anjali Agarwalla is a student in New York and a trained Kathak dancer.