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Shabalikar Chinta

  • Published at 04:50 pm December 20th, 2018
WT, Vol 6, Pg 22, Dec 21
Photo: Courtesy

When will I grow up?

In searching for the Bangla word for ‘adult’, I found “praptoboyoshko”, “porinoto” “shabalok” “purnoboyoshko”, and of course plain and simple “boyoshko” (Google, aar ki..?).  

Why was I looking for this word? Because several months ago I was called a ‘pakna buri’ or something along those lines, and I thought, “Hang on, I will be 50 in a few years, and I am very much an adult, and you seriously cannot call me pakku. Can you?” 

Hmmmm, can you? Well, it is not a straightforward question, and neither is the answer, and the uncertainty lies in the reality that there is no specific age and stage where one transforms into an adult. 

When I turned 18, it was not the celebration of adulthood, but rather the excitement of finishing regimented school and transitioning to permissive university life. No one told me I was a grown-up, instead I was cautioned against becoming too ‘bideshi’, repeatedly told to not become distracted from my studies, and expressly forbidden to put on weight. 

At 21, it was “Happy Birthday!” followed by a stream of unsolicited advice about how to manage my complexion and marriage prospects. 

And right before my ‘akht’ ceremony, two months before I turned 25, it was frowned upon that I read through the Nikah Namah several times and discussed its details (to be) with my husband (to be). Apparently, it was completely normal to sign the most significant contract of my entire life without actively contributing to its contents or even reading through the document, because I was not of age. Old enough to be married, but not old enough to question or understand my rights thereof. 

Sadly, becoming a Mrs (and a home-owner) did not catapult me into the hallowed ‘praptoboyoshko’ status. I needed to become to mother, not once but twice over, and even that did not work. I was a ‘bachcha meye’ myself (under 30), and how would I manage two small children?

Those tiny tots are now 20 and 18, adults in the Western world they currently reside in, however whether their mother, aged 47, has reached adulthood is still debatable. While being their sole guardian in a foreign country, eyebrows were raised when I mentioned I looked into my tax returns, questions were asked when I was on a flight as to who was paying for my trip, and there was worry and concern as to whether my husband had given his consent when I sent my girls on school trips or encouraged them to pursue music. Clearly, all my actions indicated that I was recklessly under aged and taking decisions without the requisite adult supervision. 

I can understand that perhaps I am not considered ‘responsible’ as I have never been gainfully employed so to speak, as in I have not earned enough to support myself or any other family member. Added to that is my shortcoming in living away and not being a participant in many of the social rites and rituals of family births, weddings, and funerals. My unconventional lifestyle has not helped either, and neither the fact that I am an eternal student enrolling in course after course, subconsciously determined to reclaim lost academic pursuits. 

I was, however, hoping that all my life experiences (dysfunctionality, financial distress, immigration, and travel) and my numerous qualifications, and the prescience that they usher in would qualify me to graduate to ‘purnoboyoshko’, but no, I only become ‘pakna’. 

My last desperate attempt: a surgery with a six to eight week recovery period. It was my body that was cut up, but I was asked when attempting to walk normally, “Does your husband know you are doing this?” 

Sigh. Growing pains. 

Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.