Paromita Vohra: It's my treat
So, you decide to take your parents out for dinner. You know how that goes. "Shall we go out for dinner, someplace nice?" you ask. "Okay, if you like" will be the answer. "I obviously would like," you respond. "That is why I am asking. But would you like to go?" "Okay," they will say, "we can," as if you are doing a PhD in zoology and have asked them to attend a lecture on Grazing Patterns in The Lower West Himalayas and they want to be supportive of your interests.
Choosing the restaurant will be wracking as parents reminisce about restaurants that shut 12 years ago, insisting they are unparalleled by all the restaurants parents have never gone to. They will answer questions like, "would you prefer Pan-Asian or Coastal South Indian" with, "Dorabjis in Pune had the best biryani."
The drive to the restaurant will be without any verbal incidents, but only if you chant 'om mane padme om' through the drive. At the restaurant, they will allow themselves to appreciate the hipster décor and you will feel they have come round to the outing after all. Then the menu will arrive and suddenly, they will become readers of Urdu, yaniki, read the menu right to left. First prices, then dishes.
They will also become ancient khansammahs. We can make most of the dishes at home, for 100 rupees, so why order here? I was 24 when I first took my parents out for a fancy meal. In a very recently liberalised India, Delhi had just got the first of its now one million speciality restaurants. When the bill came, my father asked me twice if I had enough money and then tried to pay the bill despite being reminded several times, "Papa, it's my treat!" That night, he came into my room, cash in hand and tried to give me what I had spent.
Remember, do not attempt to make your parents try anything experimental, like sushi or gilauti kababs stuffed with cream cheese. They will look at you with tragic disappointment, as if to say, "When did our child become a degenerate drug peddler?"
Ordering may also be accompanied by dire statements of the life and death variety. For instance, my mother, when I recently tried to coax her away from her insistence that she really wanted the cheapest thing on the menu, to ordering something fancier and costlier, declared: "I think it's a bit much. We will not die if we don't eat it." "True Ma, but we won't die if we do either!" She looked unconvinced.
Perhaps this discomfort emerges only in moments of frivolity, because when parents see that things aren't what they were when they were young, they must confront that aren't young anymore. Perhaps, money stands in for time then, that feels like it should be conserved, not squandered. Or perhaps they suddenly see that their child isn't young and
careless anymore but that the cares and responsibilities they've struggled with, now also lie on their adult children's shoulders, who are trying to forget them with a little spendthrift fun.
How else to ward off these thoughts then, except by accuse us of being careless like children? They're only trying to keep us young, and that feels kind of nice.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com