Look Mommy, I’m back!

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on August 14, 2020

Homeward bound: Unable to pay rent and other expenses, many young professionals are now banking on parental support   -  Getty Images

Empty nesters dust off parenting skills as kids, out of jobs and money, return to shelter from Covid-19

A whistling pressure cooker indicated daybreak for Nabanita Sarkar. A cup of tea — without sugar and milk — served in her bedroom was the next wake-up call. By the time the 53-year-old was ready to leave for work at 8.45 every morning, breakfast was laid out at the table and her lunch box, stuffed with salads and sandwiches, sat next to her laptop bag.

Morning rituals in this Kolkata household have been the same for almost a decade. Sarkar, who teaches English to executives and students for a living, and her 74-year-old mother have had few breaks from routine barring the occasional holiday in Santiniketan, where the two own a house. The first week of June 2020, however, ushered in a change they were unprepared for. Sarkar’s son Arko (26), a copywriter who left home at the age of 18 for a job and “independent life” in Mumbai, rang the bell one morning. He walked into the house with a suitcase and the news that the pandemic had robbed him of his income. Unable to pay rent and meet other living expenses in a city like Mumbai, Arko chose to pack his bags and leave for the house he had walked out of eight years ago.


While Arko has settled into a spare room, Sarkar, who has been a single parent since her husband’s demise in 2004, lies uneasy in her bed. On the one hand, she is happy to see her son return home — even after years of tension between them. On the other, she is worried about his future (job, marriage, financial security et al). She is also concerned that he sleeps through the day and loves to spend the night listening to music or playing video games. Arko’s sleep patterns have upset Sarkar’s morning routine. The pressure cooker is not allowed to whistle any more; the saucers and cups in the kitchen have to be inaudible, and the dining table chatter between the mother and daughter has moved to a small balcony adjoining Sarkar’s bedroom.

Conversation between Arko and his mother, however, is yet to flow freely. “He hasn’t been able to accept that his life as an independent young man has come to a halt,” Sarkar says. “He keeps to himself most of the time, occasionally joining us for meals. He says he is here in this house only for the time being — until things start looking up and he can find another job,” she adds.

Starting from scratch — especially after a good beginning — is not something that existed in V Karthik’s book of life. The 29-year-old engineer’s job with an agritech start-up in Hyderabad got him two promotions in the last three years, along with a handsome bonus, which he used to buy a hatchback and book a two-bedroom apartment in the city’s Tellapur area. Also on the cards was a visit to West Africa, for a six-month project. Karthik’s plans and enthusiasm were dashed in early May this year, when the start-up slashed salaries by half and also asked some employees to go on leave without pay. Saddled with two EMIs — for the car and the apartment — and a monthly rent of ₹24,000, he could only see hurdles in the road ahead.

The only barrier-free one he could see was the road leading to his ancestral house in Secunderabad. Karthik’s parents, both retired doctors, welcomed him with open arms and a set of rules (no loud music, non-veg food or smoking, for example) that he is now trying to relearn and obey. Between video calls with the office and presentations, Karthik is helping his father navigate social media and giving driving lessons to his mother. The trio’s evenings are now devoted to Netflix watching and post-dinner walks.

While he is thankful to his parents for the moral support, Karthik is also dealing with the setback to his self-confidence and life plans. Marriage is on the back-burner; he needs to bank on his parents’ savings for the EMIs; and the chances of landing a better job are slim. “Some of my friends are still sticking it out. I know I have gone back to my family to feel more comfortable. It’s not an easy choice... It’s like accepting defeat,” Karthik says.

Agra girl Shruti Bhardwaj (25) feels differently about going back to her family home after a gap of four years. Armed with a diploma in marketing and public relations, Bhardwaj left for Delhi at the age her two elder sisters had been married by her conservative parents. After a six-month wait, she landed a job in a PR firm based in Gurugram. She then moved into an apartment with two colleagues. All was going well until the loss of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Bhardwaj’s two main clients — both F&B companies — froze payments. Before she knew it, the young PR executive was sent on leave without pay.

Though the road to Agra seemed long and full of doubts, the warm welcome extended by her parents eased the blues. “I could see many questions in their eyes, but they didn’t ask me ‘What now...’,” Bhardwaj says. “I have started to think of this period as a long vacation and a chance to reconnect with my parents. They are growing old and it feels good to be around them during these strange times,” she adds. Bhardwaj’s return to normalcy — job and independent life — may take a while. “I have no clue about the future except this — I won’t leave the house like a girl desperate to get away from family,” she concludes.

Published on August 14, 2020

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