Little Things Season 3 Episode 5: The Moment You Know You Can Never Fully Forgive Your Parents

I avoided this episode, because I was afraid it would be too painful. But then the interesting thing is, it ended up being sadder because it was without pain. This relationship has a door that is so firmly shut, there isn’t even pain any more. It’s just over, and that is sad. (Little Things review index here)

Mithila’s episode was about visiting her hometown and realizing she could be happy there, she loves her parents and maybe should consider moving closer to them. Her home town is beautiful and blossoming, and maybe she should move there where things are happier and easier. Everything was just too nice, too homey, and that was scary. Why is she going back to Bombay if everything here is so pleasant? And Dhruv’s episode is the opposite. Visiting his hometown and his parents shows him that he was never happy there, and will never be happy there. It confirms, once and for all, that things are and were just as bad as his memory, if not worse.

Little Things" Mumbai Darshan (TV Episode 2018) - IMDb
This also shows why Dhruv bonds so easily and happily with Mithila’s parents. He is craving that parental interest and acceptance that they give freely, to all young people, Mithila and her friends and Dhruv too.

At the end of last season, Dhruv finally opened up about his childhood and how it still drives him. That he was unhappy for 18 years, his parents pushed him and everything was about study and work. And once he broke free, he never wanted to be unhappy again, he wants happiness moment by moment. This season came at his childhood from a different direction, Mithila was scared a little bit because she knew that once Dhruv left Delhi for college, he never returned, that life was just over, and she doesn’t want the same thing to happen with them as he goes to Bangalore.

In a traditional Indian narrative, Dhruv would return home and learn to understand and forgive his parents, appreciate them even, and realize it was his fault for running away and cutting them out of his life. But this isn’t a traditional Indian narrative, this is a narrative that is true to who these people are and the story it is telling. And the truth is, Dhruv’s childhood relationship with his parents, and what they put him through, and are still putting him through, is something that can’t be healed.

We never see his father in this episode. We only see other relatives from a distance, watching TV as Dhruv walks through the background and avoids them. It is about him and his mother, and a little bit about him talking to his old friend from the first episode of season 2, and his cousin who he runs into. All of the young men are unhappy, all of them are jealous of Dhruv because he escaped. Again, a traditional narrative would have Dhruv say “no, you are the lucky ones, I am miserable and you don’t know it”. But instead, he takes it in and understands that he is lucky, very lucky.

It’s just sad. Dhruv’s mother loves him, but she doesn’t know how to relate to him, doesn’t seem to want to know him as the man he is, wants to stay with her idea of him in the past. And Dhruv has given up, gave up a long time ago, on ever changing their relationship. He has one angry outburst in this visit, but the rest of the time he just represses and is quiet and lets it go. This is going to be their relationship forever, superficial polite conversations during stressful infrequent visits, and the occasional phone call. His father isn’t in his life any more and vice versa, his mother is a nice woman he has known a long time, their house is empty rooms that reflect back a sad childhood and even that is about to be gone. His childhood park is now a refugee center, his childhood friends have scattered into separate unhappy lives, his only relatives are feuding with his parents. It’s not the sad moment that everything goes wrong, it’s the sad moment after that, when it is done and dusted, and you have accepted that, and now you will have a lifetime of being vaguely sad because this is how it is.

Little Things | Netflix Official Site
This is why he and his friend were both willing to try so hard back in season 2, because back in their childhood, this was the only relationship where there was full love and acceptance, not duty.

This episode is such a nice contrast to Mithila’s. Mithila’s visit to her parents wasn’t anything special, she took them out for sushi, she learned they never set up the bluetooth speaker she sent because they couldn’t figure it out, she was a little sad to see them being old. But then we see Dhruv’s, and the difference is instant. Mithila saw her parents’ friends, saw her old friends, went out to eat, and enjoyed just casually talking with her parents. For her, this is “normal”, this is what visiting home is. When she reached out to Dhruv, he was brusk and rude and it felt like a dark spot on her happiness. But now we see the other side, and it is such a struggle, such unrelenting misery, that Dhruv’s conversations with Mithila (the same ones we saw from her side and seemed so dark and angry) become lightness. For him, even the worst conversation with her is so much better than where he came from. While for her, she came from a place of light and happiness and Dhruv is just a continuation of that, their relationship is no better or worse than her childhood was, or her relationship with her parents. Different, yes, but no worse.

In both their episodes, they end up looking at an old photo of their parents’ marriage and thinking. They are in the same place, beginning to tentatively consider an engagement, but they got there by opposite routes. Mithila looked at this happy alternate life (living with her parents who she loves in a beautiful city) and thinks about what is keeping her in Bombay, what makes Bombay as good for her as this place with her parents. And Dhruv is looking at the unrelenting stress and misery of his life before Mithila and thinking about how maybe it is time to make official what he already feels.

The one part that strikes a completely false note in this episode is that Dhruv’s mother apologizes. Not just apologizes, but does it with a whole speech. It shouldn’t be there. We see him struggling through this visit, asking his mother how she isn’t angry at his father for taking the loan and forcing them to leave the house, trying to talk to his mother about his life now and getting frustrated when she keeps drifting back to the past, being calm and pleasant and repressing again and again. And then we see him explode, unexpectedly, when she gives him his grandmother’s ring and suggests he propose to Mithila. And his mother explode right back. We can fill in years of mutual swallowed feelings and unhappiness behind this one explosion, and years of previous battles. It’s not just that Dhruv speaks disrespectfully to his mother, it’s that she speaks disrespectfully right back to him. This is not how parent and child should behave, there is something deeply wrong here. And we can see where it is coming from, Dhruv feels like his parents have not earned the right to be in his life, the life he built by himself despite them not because of them, this warm and loving and respectful mutual relationship that is unlike anything he had before. His mother feels like she should be given at least as much freedom as his friends, she has accepted that she will never have a good close relationship with him, but why can’t she even talk to him a little bit? And then he walks around, and comes back, and she makes him dinner in the cold empty apartment and he asks for her recipes. That is the apology I expect, not talking about the issues directly, just returning to the firm ground they have (food) and ignoring the rest. But while they are eating, his mother gives a speech saying they did their best and maybe it could have been better, should have been better, and that seems false. I don’t think this kind of parent, the one who messed up and knows it, and knows they are paying the price now, would apologize this easily.

Remembering Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge's Baldev Singh with this ...
10 years later, when Amrish is quietly cut out of Kajol’s life, will he every say “I was wrong, I thought I was doing the right thing but it was so so wrong”? Naaaaaaaah. He’s just gonna sit up alone at night and drink and pretend it isn’t happening.

This whole episode is quietly radical. Mithila’s character in the show, and the idea of a show about an Indian live-in couple, that is loudly radical. We have a happy successful working woman, with a live-in boyfriend, and parents who support her. Great! And we have a live-in couple who are in love and finding their way but not even thinking about marriage. Also Great! And then in this episode, we have a softly searing critique of the entire value system of middle-class Indian parenting. Dhruv was raised like all the other Delhi boys he knew, and they all hate their parents. DANG!

In the comments, we were talking about Dhruv-the-person and how much of him comes through to the show. I don’t think this critique is based on his own experience. I can find two facts about the real person, he went to an arts college, and his parents currently live in Brussels. That’s enough for me to say that his parents aren’t the usual urban middle-class parents, and he didn’t have the usual pressure to succeed in a “safe” field that urban middle-class boys do. To me, that makes it even more potent. Dhruv-the-person is telling this story not for himself, but for everyone else he knows who reached adulthood and looked back on their childhood and saw that there was no childhood at all, that their parents had treated them as investments not children, and now in return they treat their parents as stockholders not parents (not my metaphor, from Udaan, which is dealing the the same kind of parent-child misery but worse). I think Dhruv-the-person is more likely in the Mithila position, someone who was lucky enough to have loving supportive parents and a happy childhood, and therefore is able to look in from the outside and see how strange and wrong the alternative is.

Obviously there are many loving warm close Indian parent-child relationships. The issue I think this episode is getting at is that the outside markers of being a “good” parent don’t necessarily show that your child is happy, or guarantee a relationship once that child is an adult. Dhruv got good marks in school and got into a good college, therefore his parents did their job. Oh, and also he was fed. Dhruv sent home money over and over again, therefore he is a good son. Mithila had the same external markers, she sends expensive gifts to her parents, and she has succeeded in life. And yet the heart of their two parental relationships are day and night.

5 thoughts on “Little Things Season 3 Episode 5: The Moment You Know You Can Never Fully Forgive Your Parents

  1. Pingback: Little Things Season 3 Episode 5: The Moment You Know You Can Never Fully Forgive Your Parents — dontcallitbollywood – Sarah's Attic Of Treasures

  2. I finished the series last night, coming back to comment. I liked this episode a lot, really liked the pairing of the two home episodes, the parallel structure and the detail of the phone conversations. (Coincidental interjection, just did a virtual movie night with my friend watching Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and realized this is the same mom as Radhika Madan’s in the movie, Loveleen Mishra, and playing a very similar downtrodden traditional wife character.) I agree that it shows a broken home with many closed doors, but I think there’s more warmth in the relationship with his mother than you see. He wants to spend time with her, he cares for her and feels she got the worse hand in her marriage. There is this one key moment in the kitchen when he avoids the men talking in the other room, goes into the kitchen, and takes some leftovers out of the fridge. This is foodie Dhruv, always in search of and never finding the perfect food moment. And there in the fluorescent kitchen light, leaning against the counter and eating straight from the container he gets this ecstatic look on his face and starts devouring the food. This is the lead in to the recipe sharing, which yes, could have stood on its own.

    The other thing that’s woven in neatly to both episodes is how the expectation of marriage is all around them, but it’s also tied to other assumptions that (you see more later) they’ve always been fighting against. For Mithila it’s the idea of making a good match, what it means to be desirable as a bride prospect. For Dhruv it’s the conversation with his friend, who gives him marriage as the only meaningful thing when everything else in life is settling for what is comfortable and expected; and with his cousin, who has nothing in his own life figured out except that he’s ready to start looking for a wife. And of course the blow up with his mother over the ring.

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    • Finally a comment! Thank you! Looking forward to seeing what you have to say about the remaining 3 episodes.

      Do you think maybe Dhruv’s reluctance to look at marriage is because of what he sees in his mother’s life? I was thinking of it in terms of settling for himself, but you are making me consider maybe it is settling for the woman as well. All these men loafing around thinking that marriage and a wife will magically make them happy, and Dhruv seeing his mother saying “your father does the best he can, I’m not angry with him” as her whole life is being turned upside down without her permission and feeling the unfairness of that?

      It’s also interesting contrasting it with Mithila, where she is “settling” for Dhruv in some ways. The marriage prospects being offered to her are handsome, young, intelligent, successful, and would let her stay in beautiful Nagpur. Dhruv’s friends are talking like any woman will do, they just want to get married. Mithila is in a position to pick and choose because she is successful, because her parents are good people with a good life, because she is easy and pleasant to be around, because her parents are easy and pleasant to be around. Dhruv is male and young, but his career is uncertain and his family background and depressing, so like his friends, he could easily be the one hoping for ANYONE to marry him. Is it fair to tie down happy successful Mithila? Mithila’s parents are saying “he is the one you chose, do what you want with your life”, while Dhruv’s parents are saying “tie her down quick before she finds something better”. Or at least, maybe that is how he is hearing it.

      A teacher in college told me that class means choices, and I am thinking that class is effecting these two episodes more than anything before, including their fights last season over money. Mithila and her parents are just so relaxed about things. Jobs, money, home, marriage, they think about it and work towards it, but there is no feeling of endless struggle and fear. Dhruv’s family is on a razors edge about money, about relationships, about everything. In terms of actual money, they two households seem about the same, but while Mithila’s parents look at it as “we chose a nice job with stability and pleasant people, we chose a small house with lots of windows, we chose this and that and the other thing”, Dhruv’s parents look at it as “this is the best we can do and we are afraid it will be taken away”. Dhruv jumped classes when he went to college, which means he has started looking at money and life differently, he is looking for what he wants most of all, what will make him happy, while his mother is still looking for grabbing anything good before it is gone.

      On Fri, May 1, 2020 at 11:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I think Dhruv’s reluctance has more to do with him rejecting everything about the conformist, do what you’re supposed to do and check all the right boxes way he was brought up. I don’t get a sense of what his mother thinks about Mithila except she likes her, and knows Dhruv loves her. Dhruv’s friend too, seems to be saying, you found something meaningful, grab onto it, don’t let it get away from you while you run around chasing dreams. Both coming from a place of seeing that he loves her and wanting him to be happy in his life. Mithila’s parents seem to feel the same way about Dhruv. The guy she got introduced to was no great shakes, he lived in Mumbai too and had a job that was not as good as hers.

        The money issue is an interesting one, though. I do wonder if there’s a part of Dhruv’s reluctance that comes from insecurity at his lack of financial success so far. In the sense of never wanting to become his father.

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        • Dhruv doesn’t want to be his father, so he is running from the safe everything planned out small kind of life. But at the same time, that is taking him to a place of financial insecurity, which he also connects with his father. It’s a push-pull that I don’t think he can resolve, Mithila seems to have found great satisfaction and happiness in a high paying corporate life, but Dhruv isn’t going that way, the closest he came (the tuition teaching) was killing him. He is going to have to find a way to accept having no money, and also no achievements to point to (without a PhD, he will always be only an assistant), but just be happy that he followed his dream. And that he can get married without thinking of it as taking on responsibility for another person.

          On Tue, May 5, 2020 at 10:09 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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