Sunday, January 15, 2012

Family history - "Wait a minute, I see a pattern here..."

On a cold wintry morning in February 2009, I was wrapping up the very first video biography interview I had ever created in my life. There was a pause in the conversation and the lady I was interviewing tilted her head sideways and thought for a bit.

"You know, I never realized my interest in arts and crafts came from my mother," she said wonderingly. "And now whenever my grandchildren come and visit, they look forward to crafts-time with their grandmother. It's a continuing legacy."

On my part, I was thrilled to have helped connect the dots. I did wonder for a brief second how interesting the human mind was that a chance question posed by a stranger could help a woman in her 70s realize something new about the bond she shared with her mother and grandchildren... but the thought vanished almost as soon as it had occurred to me.

Then, a few months down the line, I interviewed an elderly gentleman who had served in the air force during the second World War. I happened to ask if he remembered the first time he had ever been in an airplane, and he had to think about it. He decided it was when he was a teenager. They were offering 30 minute rides up in the air if you paid a dollar or something like that, and he and his brother decided it was time to look down on everyone around them (literally). So up they went. And he said rather proudly, even now 60 odd years after the fact, that he never got sick while others around him did. And he thought it was all right. Then he looked directly at me and said:

"That's probably one of the reasons why I signed up for the air force during the draft. That and the fact that I couldn't imagine myself marching to someone else's orders - so the army was out. I never thought about it, but that one plane ride probably set the tone for the rest of my life."

But it wasn't until I interviewed my own father many months later that I experienced the same shocking (or rather, shall I say surprising?) sense of revelation. When I was young, my father decided to quit his very lucrative international job at a very prestigious firm, and return to India to do something new. Something more fulfilling and satisfying. He wasn't sure what yet, and though a period of uncertainty and most definitely doubt followed, he ultimately succeeded in doing just that. It was a risk but it paid off. It could well have not. And being at an age when none of these lofty ideals made sense to me, I was upset. I questioned his wisdom. And many times, his authority.

Years later, with a lot less at stake, I did the same things. Left a job when the future at the company looked promising just because it wasn't satisfying anymore. Left the country to be with a man I loved. Started a new life, and a new profession when my peer were getting promotions and moving on and moving ahead. But I was happy. And it felt good to not be dictated by illusions of how things should be, but rather do things I had not done before and learn and grow from the experience.

It seems painfully obvious where I learned these lessons from, but it never hit home till that interview with my father. And then, I paused, lost in my thoughts... looked at him clearly in the eye and nodded. He may well have thought I had lost my marbles and probably wondered at my interviewing skills. But in that one moment, things fell in place. Past demons had been exorcised. All was well. And it was because of him. So much of it was.