GROWING UP in the Middle East during the petroleum boom meant that my brother and I had every materialistic luxury one could imagine. From toys to latest accessories for school to a world of television channels and so on. Everything was ours. With everything served literally on a platter, need was an emotion that one never realised for all needs were met even before they were felt. Happiness for us was quantified by feeling dependent on material parameters. Today, I am the mother of an eight-year-old boy and earn a decent livelihood in the same place I was raised.
On his seventh birthday my son made some demands with a winsome smile. The gifts were not strange per se but were either “out of stock” or “sold out” in the market. Like any other mother of my generation and of that preceding it, I vowed to make him happy even if it was practically difficult. Taking days off from work, I visited every mall in the country that housed international brands, consulted friends and colleagues and made unsuccessful action plans. I scoured every corner of the entangling net and found the gifts that my son asked for and placed an order online. After a long wait I found myself wrapping his surprise gifts in multi-coloured glossy wrapping paper. The material mother in me rejoiced with pride for more than one reason. The birthday was celebrated lavishly.
On the eventful Friday morning I sat lazily in the balcony of my home staring at the main street. In one corner of the adjoining parking ground was a large waste bin the size of a family car — an interim home to the black garbage bags in the vicinity. Before my mind could take off on the wings of imagination, the mystery unravelled and a middle-aged, bearded man emerged from the bin with a torn garbage in his hand. The call ‘papa’ emanated from the bin. Dipping his hand into the bin, he pulled out a tiny figure from within. From the obvious warmth in the tone I reckoned that the little boy was his child. Years of Middle Eastern life had not once exposed me to such a sight. Together they scanned their loot, which was evidently a whole lot of litter. The little fellow pulled out from their plunder a pair of kid shoes that he took an immediate liking to. The father-son duo could barely suppress their thrill, which they expressed in toned sighs and smiles. The boy slipped in his little feet one after the other and looked up at his father who patted him approvingly. Wearing his new shoes, he jumped up and down in delight and did somersaults like an acrobat. Father and son hugged tight before walking away with the torn garbage bag.
Hot tears racing down my cheeks competed with each other and, in no time, the duo became a haze in my eyes. But the imprint they left on my mind was to stay with me forever. Barely a week ago, I scanned literally every outlet to fulfill my son’s demands. Pushy salesmen paraded my office with the promise of getting me the desired goods. Emotions of expectation, disillusionment and excitement alternated randomly. Soon every other person knew about my quandary. Was I dramatically overdoing my role or was this trait a legacy that I had inherited? Perhaps, but it never struck me until the father-son duo unknowingly taught me certain lessons of life that I failed to learn as a child.
In our wait for that big thing to materialise, we miss out on the little joys of life. I related the incident to my son. Thankfully, he is inquisitive and intelligent. He does not demand proof for every lesson that his mother tries to impart. When asked what he desired for his eighth birthday that was quietly celebrated three months ago, he replied, “To have you come home on time from work”! I realised that there is light at the end of the tunnel!