Akash Malik is the Chief Executive Officer at Cloudnine. An MBA from IIM Calcutta, Akash has worked for companies like Bausch & Lomb, PepsiCo India, ICI Paints and Godrej GE Appliances, through his career. The greatest move in his life, however, was not professional. It was, by his own admission, when his son Aayush flew the nest in September 2016. He shares his thoughts on adjusting to life as a long-distance father, how technology has helped bridge the distance and how being an empty nester has opened up new experiences.
My relationship with my son has evolved over the years, and I would say that there have been various facets to my role as a father. When Aayush was younger, I would vacillate between being his coach and his mentor. And at times, I would also don the guise of a disciplinarian. But as he has grown older, I’ve settled into a role where he regards me as a friend. Now that he is 18, he has come into his own, and he doesn’t need the kind of parenting he did when he was younger. And, as with most young adults, he seldom likes being told what to do.
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Aayush always harboured a dream of pursuing a degree in mathematics, and my wife Manisha and I knew deep down that it was best that he took up an education abroad. We knew that an equivalent degree in India would be taught very differently and could potentially pigeonhole him into a certain field, and so we favoured the idea of sending him overseas for university. We were immensely proud when he secured a seat in a programme of his choice in the UK. And yet, when the time came to bid him goodbye, a torrent of emotions washed over us. Our little boy, all of eighteen, was about to embark on an adventure thousands of miles away. Naturally, we were anxious.
You know, I don’t think we would have been as concerned or worried about Aayush if he had decided to continue his education in India, even if it was in another city. After all, he had completed his schooling entirely in India, and he wouldn’t have possibly felt a cultural gulf here. I think our apprehension stemmed from the societal shift he was about to experience. That said, I think India has progressed so much in the last few years, opening doors to an array of experiences. So, perhaps our doubts were unwarranted.
We dropped Aayush off at university for the first time on 27th September 2016 and visited him again a few days later. I clearly remember the day he had to complete his registration and collect his hostel key. A queue of students had formed by the registration desk, each of them waiting independently as they drew closer to the fore. As Indian parents, our instincts steered us to wait in line with Aayush. Yet, we held back and waited with the congregation of other parents who had gathered by the sidelines. About five days later, as Manisha, Aayush and I were sauntering through the university campus towards a coffee shop, Aayush quietly peeled away for a few minutes, as he noticed a group of friends nearby. He later told us that one member of the group was from China and another from Ukraine. What an interesting mosaic of nationalities, I thought. I was pleased that he had found his footing in such a diverse environment.
I’ve noticed a pleasant change in Aayush since he moved away from home. Before leaving for university, I don’t think he had ever even picked up a knife in the kitchen. Now, he seems to have discovered a long-lost culinary gene. He frequently Skypes with Manisha, exchanging notes on how to cook a certain pasta, garnish a sandwich or the quantity of chicken he should be adding to a dish. And once his little masterpiece is ready, he makes sure that he sends us a picture.
It helps that we live in a digital age, where we get to see Aayush’s face regularly, even if it is over a computer screen. It wasn’t possible when we were growing up, and I think it has helped both him and us adjust to our new lives without each other. About two or three months after Aayush moved to the UK, he became ill. And since he was alone and unwell, he spiralled into a well of loneliness. Until then, whenever he had fallen ill, Manisha had been there to pamper and indulge him. And so, it was a colossal change for him, having to manage on his own. Yet, he always tells me that the experience made him stronger.
I like to think that our little empty nest marked a new chapter for Manisha and me. Now that there are just the two of us, we have the opportunity to discover new interests and reinvent ourselves. I, for one, have bought a new motorcycle that I like to ride in my spare time. Manisha has taken to art and cooking classes. We go to a new movie every weekend and explore new restaurants every so often. We take trips within Bangalore and outside it, and we can finally book holidays that don’t coincide with summer vacations. Aayush visits us once every three months, and we cherish our time with him while he’s here. This summer, we might go on a family holiday, just like the old times. As much as we miss Aayush, there’s much to look forward to.