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The Cat & the Mouse

One day I decided I was being ill-treated, and I decided to do something about it. So I opened my front door, announced to anyone within hearing distance my decision to run away from home, and stepped out into the big bad world. I reached my Society’s gate, and was confronted by a dilemma. What if I ran left, and my dad right, and then he couldn’t ‘catch’ me? So I stopped and quickly changed tactics. I started bawling loudly and was soon gathered into the comforting embrace of my father. I don’t remember what my primary motive was, and whether I had achieved it, but I know I felt warn and loved and all was right with the world again.

Another day not too long ago at work, I messed up. So I resorted to my age old ally in times of duress and dashed to the bathroom to have a good cry. But I had to keep my voice down, and sneak out when I was done. I also had to creep out like a jewel thief, wash my face subtly and saunter back to my desk and pretend like I had gone out to whisper sweet nothings into a lover’s ear. Repeat entire process 3 times, and I still felt miserable. In addition to that, I felt embarrassed of my swollen eyes, angry at myself for having been seen by a cleaner, weak for confiding in a colleague.

When filling in autograph books, when I came across the question ‘Your greatest fear’, without a moment’s hesitation I filled in ‘Cockroaches’. And while my irrational, paralyzing fear of these scum of the insect world has not reduced even by an iota, my answer to such a question, now most likely asked during a pseudo- philosophical discussion over a drink, would be a tie between being unsuccessful and not being able to find ‘the one’. Or ‘someone’, at the very least.

As a kid I fretted over whether or not I would make it home from school in time for the opening chords of the catchy tune of ‘Swat Kats’. I still worry about punctuality; and mostly about whether I will make it to office before my boss notices my tardiness. Every summer we played hours and hours of Monopoly. The fervent praying that went into every throw of the dice to turn chance in our favour is the akin to the sudden spike in belief in a higher power while clicking the inbox icon while expecting a response to a scholarship application or a job application.

I grew up in a neighbourhood which had a majority of boys. Once we ‘outgrew’ Hide n Seek and Land n Water, I found myself an acute drop in my popularity level, being picked last to a team every day, since we now played cricket. I continued to play with them daily, hoping everyday to not be bowled out at duck or to manage to catch a ball that came my way. My cricket playing days left far behind, but this lack of self- consciousness has completely disappeared now – and unless recovery is alcohol induced, I will not be caught dead indulging in another popular activity I completely suck at i.e. dancing. Chess was another game we loved to play. That’s where I learnt that an oversight while playing a measly pawn can cost you a queen, just like in life. And just like in life, you can’t undo a stupid move.

So while a lot has changed, there seem to be many anomalies to our general philosophy and rants about how everything changes as we grow up, and nothing is the same. We had responsibilities then too, and ones not to be belittled – to score well, lead a sports team and listen to your parents even though you are absolutely sure cabbage is meant only for cows to eat. Our problems were just a big, compared to our size. The unknown future bothered us then (will I be as tall as my dad?) just as it does us now (let’s not even go there.) Fears remain fearful, and if we are lucky, even our fights with siblings, friends and family remain the same.

So what is it that’s different? Why do we feel so pressured?

For me it’s the constant awareness of time. It’s a kind of guilt that I can’t ignore if I waste my time being bored. Now, to be clear, watching silly movies or sitcoms, day-dreaming about romantic impossibilities or making endless exercise routines to lose weight don’t count as a waste of time. The time just has to be accounted for, however worthless the passing of it. But months and months of summer vacations passed by with absolutely nothing worthwhile achieved, so much so that I don’t even remember them. But it never seemed to bother me then. So this is obviously something I’ve learned growing up, and I can happily blame the world for passing on to me this disease, this constant obsession with time and its utility. In this grown up world, even a holiday must be planned, to get maximum satisfaction and relaxation. A vacation must be ‘made the most of’. And even a weekly holiday is ‘wasted’ unless I actively participate in some holiday- pastime, be it cooking, eating out, meeting friends, reading or watching a movie. The days of doing nothing are gone. I crave the sense of achievement that comes with a ‘day well spent’. Everything else about our childhood can be relived. We can watch cartoons, play board games, laugh mindlessly till we choke and tears cloud our eyes, eat maggi and steal cola candies. But we can’t do it without constantly looking over our shoulder to see if time is catching up with us. And that’s what’s heartbreaking about growing up.


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