Nursing the dawn and soothing the dusk: Parenting and `Soning`

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By Dr. Ksh. Imokanta SinghLong before my father became terminally ill, I had been trained to be a good nurse, if not excellent, by virtue of being a hard working father of an angelic daughter. I am not claiming that I am doing more than what my wife has been doing since the coming, and even before, of our baby into this world. It is unimaginable for me what my wife has been engaging herself to make our baby healthy and lively even at the face of her own worries pertaining to her career. In fact our baby became her world and somebody meekly told me that mothers were blessed with certain hormones to be able to devote themselves selflessly to their babies during their growing years, at least during the breast feeding years. I am obliged to give my obeisance to the motherhood in general and my wife’s motherhood in particular. Comparing to hers my contribution was just a miniscule. As a matter of fact, most of the fathers contribute just only one sperm (some two or more) and leave the rest to the mothers. But comparing to many in our locality do, mine is some 100 metres ahead if not a kilometer, given the archaic tradition that fathers should not show emotion for their children, should not take their babies in their arms or backs, should not help in feeding milk from the bottle, should not help in changing the diapers, clean the dirt from the babies’ bottom, should not wash the soiled baby clothes, should not fetch water, should not cook etc.. The list is exhaustedly long. All this is despite the fact that the mother is also engaged in other household chores than taking good care of her baby. The social pressure mainly comes from the female members of our society, seemingly because they want to remain carrying the burden for eternity defying any help from the male members. For me such pressure is less of a pressure than just a sheer jealousy that their own husbands are ashamed of or not ready to do what I do. Lately, I feel some fathers have followed me in my own locality and also I feel that my perseverance has paid off. I think the times are changing and we cannot stick to our rotten tradition.
My perseverance and training as a father came handy also as a son during the ailing days of my father. The defining moment came one day while my father became bed-ridden and vegetative. On that day I found my father urinating on his bed since he became increasingly unconscious of what he was doing. Suddenly I thought to myself, ‘what a similarity with my baby’s toilet behaviour.’ Without any hesitation I took out the wet bed sheet lifting the body of my father and changed with a dry one which was similar to what I had been doing for my baby. Then came the days when he was too oblivious of this world and was serene in his own world, if there was one since we did not know what was in his mind. The urine was followed by stools. Cleaning his bottom with wet napkins, changing bed sheets day and night became a routine chore for me and my family members. My baby would occasionally come and call out ‘pupu’ from her little lips in her sweet voice but my father would not answer her and was still away from the maya of this world. My father was never able to break the walls of his other-worldly abode and come back to the midst of maya. One day his pulse was irregular and we called our local maiba fearing of what could be the worst (the service of maiba is indispensable when a Meitei dies). Maiba searched the pulse and was trailing its receding flow gingerly but he would not tell us the truth at that moment. Finally my father’s breath bade adieu to his body with his eyes and mouth still open. Tears would not come to my eyes feeling disbelief and also having the impossible feeling that he would breath again. (People iterated me to cry in public as a sign of my love for my father. In fact crying is regarded as a social ritual and not entirely a personal matter. Crying also for others to cry, which means creating of wave of emotions, becomes a part of after death affairs. This social phenomenon notwithstanding, for me grieving is purely a personal engagement, even if there is none to console me.) Even though he was unconscious for days at least we could attend to him. The day he stopped breathing forever was the last day to see him in person. Even though his body had been consigned to the holy fire and had merged with the earth and water, I still remain his son and father of my baby. The tree of ancestry and legacy still grows with its roots interconnected. Friendship between the death and living becomes immortal.
For death to be existent living becomes more important, living for oneself and also for others. Living as a son and a father true to their definitions, I feel, is the basis for solidifying other relationships in the society. Learning to be one, if not self taught, becomes an essential ingredient for a satisfactory living.  There are so many literatures on ‘parenting’ (the term itself is very popular) in the market but very few, I suppose, on how to take care of parents or ageing people. I have not come across the specific term for the latter and for that reason I would humbly call this special relationship as ‘soning’ i.e. a person performing the duty of a son (‘daughtering’ might serve as the antonym).
There are similarities, and of course differences too, between dawn and dusk; and being a baby and becoming old. Similarities first, both are passengers flowing with the stream of progression; are contents of circle of nature and life. Both are in the threshold of light and darkness; and agility and docility. Here I am reminded of what we often say of death or old age as ‘angang onba’ (turning to babyhood). I was literally amazed to personally witness the profound similarity between my baby and my father during his last days, though I heard and saw it somewhere before. Both babbled; had to be fed; had to be nursed etc. In terms of chronological progression both followed the same trajectory. However, the differences are obvious. One is dusk, resigning himself into the silence and oblivion of the deep night never to see the light of the day and the other is dawn rising its fangs into the high sky of brightness with increasing degree of intelligence and energy; curiosity to discover the world around; gaining of self confidence and self-reliance subsequently; eagerness for promotion from one stage to another and then facing the hustle bustle of life before the dusk calls into its home.                               
Now that my father is gone and I do not have any regrets. What mattered most from my part had been performed as a son during his living years. It is least of a matter whether his shraad or sorat was performed with ‘pomp’ (considering the culture of conspicuous consumption in our society) or other rituals were performed true to their specificity or monthly Usop is arranged. I am least bothered of those who are addicted with the after death rituals when they did not care for the dead before his/her death. For me my father lives in me and I live in my daughter. This means caring for parents is caring oneself (to be selfish, if you want) and it does not need any demand but a responsibility. If I regard bringing up my daughter as my responsibility then my daughter should also feel that taking care of her parents when our days are done is her responsibility. The same feeling must have been there in my parents’ mind though they did not express that. The defiance of nature’s course through human’s unwanted culture will defeat the nature itself and we human beings are not immortal.
When decay comes callingFragrance fades away into hollowness;Into the western sky glued are the eyes with tears,Distant are the morning hymns,Just a voice for lullaby andA hand to sooth is heart’s desire!

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