May I join you?

The doorbell rings a bare 20 minutes after I’ve got rid of them. I push my chair back reluctantly, to answer it. Now what, I groan as I see the small figure through the peephole.

Only when I open the door do I realise that the Bean has tears streaming down her tiny face. She’s six now, but she’s built small and looks like a four year old. And there’s nothing like tears coursing a path down dusty cheeks to break a mother’s heart.

I kneel down and ask her what’s wrong. She is so upset that she can’t form the words and she hiccups it out. I am given to understand that the bigger girls in the park won’t let her play because she’s friends with another girl they don’t like. They made fun of her for even asking to join them. Cliques have existed forever. The Bean, however, doesn’t do cliques. She is very social, can play with kids of any age and sees no reason to restrict herself to one set.

But I’m not seeing reason right now. I’m seeing only a red haze. Anger and hurt. My baby is crying because a bunch of mean big girls aren’t letting her play with them. I know it took her a lot of courage to walk up to them and ask if she could join them. And I know she’s aching because they turned her down and then proceeded to make fun of her. I grab her by the hand and march out self righteously. The door swings shut behind me, I am not carrying my cell phone and I’m in my rubber chappals.

We reach the park and I ask her to point out the group of girls she wants to play with. They’re playing some new fangled game of tag that I can’t make sense of. I am out of breath, my knee is aching and the Bean is being yanked along by the arm, willy nilly. I am going to kill anyone, everyone who makes my baby cry. With my bare hands. And bury them. Under a couple of rocks. And then jump on their graves. Just to be sure.

As I close in on them the red haze fades. My feet slow down. My heart stops stomping in place and settles down to a regular thump. I feel my BP normalize.They are just a bunch of young girls playing the same games they’ve seen played before. Politicking, forming cliques, taking pleasure in another’s discomfort at being left out, knowing no better because no one has seen fit to talk to them about it. It’s a cycle. Other girls have left them out of cliques, and they are finally in a position to do the same. Vengeance will definitely be theirs.

I’ve never seen this happen with the Brat or other boys. Any number of them join a football game, anyone can bowl for the team. Any number can have a cycle race and they’re always willing to have an extra chor or police. It seems to extend into adulthood with men easily joining a gang going out for drinks or a smoke outside office. Women on the other hand will have a hundred hangups about joining an existing group or letting someone new in. Why do we do this? At what age does it start and why don’t we do something to put an end to it?

They all look up as we approach – some enquiringly, some nervous, some looking at the Bean and joining the dots. They don’t want my daughter and they certainly don’t appreciate her mother coming onto the playground to plead her cause, hair flying wildly around her face, in tattered tracks and a faded tee. 

Hi, I venture tentatively, feeling like a 5 year old in a new playground. Would they mind including the Bean in their game, please?

They look uncertain.

She’s small and might get hurt, one of them offers. 

That’s okay, I say gently. If she gets hurt and wants to leave, that is her choice. But do give her a chance.

A braver one, teenager, two plaits down her back says, ‘She doesn’t play with us, Aunty. She plays with X.’

I take a deep breath, remind myself that they are not my daughters, they don’t need to be preached to and that they are in a position to turn me down anyway. And then I point out, as calmly as I can, that she plays with everyone who plays with her, loves making friends and has not been able to join them earlier, because they’ve not let her. They might just like her once they get to know her.

And then I appeal to their vanity. All little girls look up to the didis – and the Bean thinks they are very cool. Would they mind having her tag along? I know she’ll win them over once they start playing. As soon as they get the fact that she is an ‘other’, not one of them.

Okay, they agree reluctantly. Unable to say no to an Aunty who is polite and reasonable.

I smile gratefully, thank profusely, hand the Bean over to one of them and walk away. Then just out of eyesight I settle down on a bench to watch. They explain the rules and she joins in, elated that she is one of them.

The line between being the interfering aunty who fights her child’s every battle at the park and uses her position to bully kids, and the mother who tries to show her child how to negotiate a new friendship, is a thin one. I’m very nervous about crossing it. I’ve seen many mothers charge in, yell at other kids, then their parents get dragged in and it’s open warfare. We don’t want that – we want to make friends. At six the Bean needs help with these relationships and older girls. At 16 she’ll be on her own and I hope the lessons she learns will hold her in good stead.

In a while peals of laughter fill that corner of the park. I listen carefully, trying to pick out the Bean’s gurgling, joyful laughter. But I can’t. All happy little girls sound alike and the wave of laughter just washes over me. Dusk is falling and I can’t see them any longer. I realise I’ve been wool gathering for a while so I collect myself and walk home.

Only to realise that I’d left the door open and my article incomplete. Sigh. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

But this is not the end. Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

Later that evening the two little figures stroll back home, shadows lengthening in the street lights. I’m always amused by the way children function – no sense of urgency, no purposefulness. They meander and chat and wander home, with no real time frame – they’ll get home eventually, won’t they?

I have a little chat about the Bean’s problem earlier that evening and ask her if she can handle it herself the next time. She nods confidently.

And then I do what breaks my heart a little bit more. I ask her not to walk home alone. To always wait for the Brat and come home with him. She accepts it unquestioningly and I feel like a bit of a failure. I tell the Brat to always walk her home and he nods unquestioningly too. She’s younger and can’t negotiate traffic yet, I lie.

But really, what am I teaching my children if I tell them that a girl always needs a boy to see her home safely? What am I teaching my daughter – that she cannot be trusted alone, cannot have a life of her own? What am I telling my son – that he must always bear the burden of bringing his sister home safe, must always be on guard duty? At the moment though, it’s for both their safety. There *is* safety in numbers and I worry with all the guards and drivers and househelp in the complex, none of whom can be traced once they exit the gates. There are predators lurking at every corner and protecting my children while giving them independence, is a delicate dance. I hope I can keep in step.

On that note, I hope you know that we’ve begun our usual month of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness. 

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

A lot of you have been asking us how to take part in this, what are the rules etc. We want to keep it as open as we can. Any thoughts? Please share. However for the convience of everyone we have put together the ways you can contribute as well as some very broad guidelines…

If you would like to add to the discussion or know somebody else who would, please note that we welcome entries

The list of topics is available here. Anonymous contributions are accepted and requests for anonymity will of course be honoured.

Please remember to send in a mail with all necessary links or just your input tocsa.awareness.april@gmail.com so that we can track your contribution and make sure that it is not inadvertently lost.

More details on the CSAA blog. 

Kitnay Aadmi Thay?

Guess what! I was one of the lucky few, invited to lunch with Diptakirti of Calcutta Chromosome fame (or should that be the other way around?) for the launch of his book Kitnay Aadmi Thay along with the winners of the contest.

If you don’t know that his book about absolutely useless Bollywood trivia is out, then you’ve probably just got back from a space mission or been hibernating under a rock.  Lunch was a lovely sit down affair at Zura, a bistro bar in Gurgaon’s Leisure Valley area and we spent a pleasant afternoon ribbing the author and harassing him to make a speech. He didn’t. Oh well, at least the food was good ;) There was also an impromptu quiz in the middle of it that was great fun.

At some point though, I’ve got to put aside my rather sibling-ish irreverence aside and admit that the book is fantastic even if I’d never say that to his face. I may not be as Bollywood as some, but I do love my Hindi cinema. So it’s very convenient to have someone else put in a lifetime of research and produce a handy book that you can flip through each time you just NEED to know which film had animated versions of the protagonists running around through the credits. Or the most expensive film that didn’t get made. The ultimate handbook for anyone who lays claim to loving Hindi cinema, I’m buying and handing them out to all my friends.

Dipta’s trademark wry humour ties it all up into a neat package and it’s now on my bedside table. I’ve been trying to space it out and read a chapter a night, like a well loved blog, instead of greedily gobbling it up. If you love Bollywood, you just HAVE to own a copy. Feel free to order off Flipkart, Indiaplaza, Bookadda and a dozen other joints if you don’t find it at a store next to you. And when he’s rich(er) and famous(er) I’ll sell the autographed copy I have and it can be the Brat’s college fund.

——-

Next up is Priya Narendra’s You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky. Kajal is a curvy, zany, spirited copywriter who fortunately, never seems to have a dry spell in her love life. And yet, Mr Right has not turned up – yet. Hunky researcher, suave investment banker (yes, we all seem to have one of those ;) ) and jholawala neighbour are just some of the love interest options she has. Definitely a frothy romance, it is also an interesting peek into the world of advertising. Witty, pacy and a fun, fast read, this is one of those books that makes you stop and rush to check out the meaning of bathetic and enbonpoint. Possessor of a wonderful turn of phrase, Priya is not a first time author. Her Two Chalet School Girls in India is a book I am itching to get my hands on and sooner or later am going to click that buy button on Amazon.

——-

And while we’re on the topic of pals writing books, you do know that our very own Yashodhara Lal of  Y on Earth Not has a book out too, don’t you? Even if you don’t know, it’s best not to admit to such ignorance in public. Just nod along and then head off here for the book launch event (Epicentre, July 19th, 6.30 pm). Just Married, Please Excuse, promises to be a laugh riot like her blog so I’m quite looking forward to it.

Now excuse me while I get back to my library corner.

PS: With this, I also go into the has-the-most-number-of-published-friends category.

On glorification

A few days ago I was talking to a friend who is in her mid-thirties, married, no kids. I love her. She has a great sense of humour, warm, intelligent, good fun to hang with. She loves kids, just doesn’t want to have any of her own yet. In fact, maybe never. Who knows and really, why should it matter to me.

The thing is, while I’ve fallen into the mommy blogger slot, I’m probably one of the few parents I know who doesn’t spend my time talking about my kids. That might be in part because I vent here and  get all my kid-related chatter out of my sytem, into this space. And for all of you who listen so patiently, I am duly grateful.

Anyhow, she mentioned to me that she is rather uncomfortable with the way mothers seem to be glorifying motherhood on various platforms like blogs and FB. Just constantly talking about their children. It made her feel like she had nothing left to say about them. I quickly ran a mental check on my last year of FB statuses and it was mostly about music, whining about my knee or work and least of all, references to my kids. That made me feel I was in a better position to have that chat. I rushed to reassure her because I knew exactly what she meant and where she was coming from. And I felt she’d misunderstood the whole movement.

So here’s the thing. I don’t think it is motherhood alone. We’re all living our lives out loud. Photographers are putting their pics up on blogs, professional sites, flickr, FB. Music lovers blog about music. People who are in to IT blog about IT. As a result just about every topic is now glorified thanks to the easy availability of platforms to wax forth on. Read this awesome piece by Anil Dharker on how ‘food, fashion and an unmentionable four-letter word’  have taken over print space. We’re all aware of the information overload. I write nothing earth shaking on this blog, yet so many of you read me every day. I have at least three friends who gives daily updates on their cats and another who has opened an FB account for her dog. They read this blog and I’m not judging them at all. These are things we love, and its only natural that they feature prominently in our conversations and our online lives.

As a society we seem to be focussing more heavily on things and this virtual existence gives us that space to obsess (if you must use that word) over them without harming anyone. Because this online focusing doesn’t impose on a person. A century ago people lead very different lives. You studied, you helped out at home, you got a job, got married, had kids, whatever. There was little space for hobbies and passions. You couldn’t say, “hey, I don’t want to get married or have kids or a permanent job. I just want to take photographs.” Today you can do just that and even find a platform to reach other to others like you. Today there is room for passion, specialisation, obsession and focus. Put that way, it seems like glorification. So why deny those who in a world of choices, choose to have kids and talk about them? More importantly, why single them out, or judge, or fear, or worse, be intimidated by them? **

Why is it that mothers, yet again, get the bad press? I know she meant no harm and neither do I. I want to reach out reassuringly and say ‘Hey, I can talk to you about other things too.’ Parenting does tend to take over your life in the early years. Especially if you’re the mother. Its a little tough to ignore your swelling belly and breasts. Your swollen feet. Your leaking bladder. The morning sickness. I could go on but I’ll stop.  If it’s acceptable to hear about a person’s scary accident or a new job, why is motherhood and any discussion around it so infra dig? Actually, I won’t even call if infra dig, I think it made her uncomfortable.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here. All of you who read my blog clearly don’t feel uncomfortable hearing me talk about my babies. But then I do talk about other stuff often. I think my nick was all a matter of timing. I just happened to start blogging when my baby was a year old. I was in a strange city, I had no friends, I had no househelp, and I was struggling with breastfeeding, teething, sleepless nights and dirty diapers, all while I did the sweeping and swabbing and cooking. If I’d started blogging 2 years before that it would have been about work, music, the OA, and books. It’s just a matter of timing.  There are plenty of bloggers who are far younger than me and were part of the internet wave at age 20 when they had no kids. At some point they began to blog about their kids too, but refuse to be called mommy bloggers. I don’t care either way. The point is, this is an important part of my life and I share it only with those who matter in real life, sparing mere acquaintances. And in the virtual world I get it out of my system knowing fully well that you will click the X on the page if it doesn’t interest you.

None of this is to say that my friend objected to people with babies or thought that people should never talk about their kids. I think she was intimidated by what she felt was the ‘glorification’ of motherhood – the status messages, the photos of babies, the blogs. To that I say, welcome to the culture of glorification of everything. Books, music, film, fashion, food, sickness, technology  - you name it, there is a group that focuses solely on it. And yes, most often it is about the good part. But I see no reason why you feel that anyone owes you every side. You don’t owe me your attention and I don’t owe you the three sides of the story. It’s a free world, the internet is free and so is choice. Unless its a magazine article or a desperate plea for help, most people who record stuff online, do it as a sort of record book. To look back on fondly, in the years to come.

It is in no way meant to glorify. As our lives grow more nuclear, we no longer have aunts and older ladies who can help us rear our children, give us home remedies on stomach aches and pat us on the head when we leak and say – It’s going to be alright. She is right. You’d never have come across this baby talk twenty years ago, because twenty years ago, when your friend had a baby, she fell off the social circuit. She lost her voice. She got relegated to the mommy group. Today even if I am tied to the house, I still have the internet at my finger tips and with no family around, its more imperative that I get a voice and an outlet. That I get to share.

And so friends, both male and female, parents and non-parents, bear with us as we prattle on about our children, just as we listen to you talk about work, that hot guy in the gym or anything else that interests you. Because thats what friends do. They are interested in each other’s lives. It’s not glorification. It’s just gratification. After ten minutes of talking about that part of our lives, we’re going to be back on common ground be it politics or literature or Bollywood. And because we’re good friends, we’re never going to judge each other on these matters. I’d hate to think that I have to guard my tongue and not talk about this important part of my life (and as a parent, if my children are not an important part of my life, I should be ashamed of myself) because it makes another uncomfortable. By the same token I can appreciate that there are plenty of parents who feel that being a parent is important yet don’t feel the need to talk about their children. Fair enough.

And oh – even if after ten minutes I continue to talk about my kids and you about something else, maybe we’ve just lost our connection. I’m okay with you talking fashion all evening (even if it doesn’t interest me to that extent) and I hope to hell that as my friend, you’ll be as tolerant of my interests without letting it intimidate you. Now then, you can start talking about foreign cinema while I nod along and pretend that I agree and understand every word you just said.

** Edited to add: Okay so this is a bit I wanted to add and forgot, related to the choice part. The thing with choosing to have a kid today is that it is all the more wanted. This element of choice means I’ve chosen to do this, just like you’ve chosen to save Rs 7 lakh and buy a Harley. Is there any doubt that I am going to be excited by it? We plan our careers, organise our lives and then have the baby when we feel the time is right and we want one. So many of us go through so much medication and surgery and IVF and maybe adoption, to get the baby we hold in our arms. A far cry from the day when 20 year olds were having kids because life gave them no choice and they didn’t have any means of birth control. Kids just arrived when they did and you miscarried some and lost a few in childbirth and there was nothing you could do about it. They were taken in your stride. Today I can’t take my baby in my stride because I’ve actually planned this child, put my career on hold and done this because I wanted it so badly. Surely you can appreciate that I feel about this just the way you do about something you earned?

Because it’s been a while since we talked about the Brat

The OA, Brat and Bean are reading Dr Seuss. The OA points to a picture and says, ‘This is ham.”

Bean: No, that’s a fish

OA: It’s ham

Bean: No, it’s fish.

OA: I said it’s ham and ham it is.

Bean: No no no. It’s fish.

OA: Who is reading the book here? You or me?

Finally a pained Brat  intervenes: That’s enough both of you. If you can’t read a book peacefully, then don’t read it!

Classic Bean – sticks to her guns. Classic Brat – aims for peace.

—————–

The Discovery Channel is on and the Brat who has his nose in a book looks up and says Is that a Columbian mammoth or a woolly Mammoth or a… ?”

I stare at him in utter confusion. I have no clue.

This is the kind of thing that drives the OA to despair. Our little chubby cheeked son goes down to the playground and while other kids are discussing the finer points of RipJaw and Omnitrix, he wants to talk to you about Servals and Caracals. The kids listen to him for a minute and they drift away. He is forced to drop his topic of interest and join in the game of football. There are fathers out there telling their sons that real men don’t cry when they fall and scrape a knee. The way we mould our children is so vastly different even though we live in a complex full of couples with similar socio-economic backgrounds, that last common denominator. The forced alpha male bravado. The insistence on femininity. The girls don’t join in the football and the boys don’t sit by the sidewalk chatting. How much of this is real and how much of it is social conditioning? What if my son wants to do neither?

“He’s going to be a loner,” says his very social father. The OA is a charmer. He smiles easily and genuinely. He doesn’t get into controversies. When last night I snapped at an extremely rude yuppie type and walked away, he stayed on to smooth ruffled feathers and later gave me a conciliatory smile too. He watches his son lie on the ground and observe a dragonfly. Yes, my green thumb has filled up my little balcony in dusty gurgaon and we have a profusion of sparrows, pigeons, butterflies and dragonflies fluttering around, filling the little garden with the sounds of nature.

The OA observes again – “What social skills are we helping him develop? He walks up to other kids and right after hello, he says, ‘Do you know the different kinds of bears? I’ll tell you. There are pandas and grizzlies and american black bears and…’. Which kids are going to like that?” I have no answers. I don’t know. But I do know that he is happy. That he is earnest. That his school report card says he shows an unbelievable connect with nature. That he stopped a bunch of boys from killing a grasshopper.. “Don’t do that. We’re giants compared to the grasshopper. He is scared just by our size. Why do you want to kill him? Is he bothering you?”  I am touched that the school noted down the anecdote. That they appreciate my little gentle child with the soul of a dreamer and his love of nature. I am grateful he isn’t growing up in my small town of UP where a kid like him would be beaten up and broken down.

Everyday I thank God for something new. Today I thank Him for this child being born into this home. That he was not born into a home where it would be whacked out of him. That he was not born in a home where he’d not get the opportunity to nurture it. But most of all I thank Him for giving me this child with a beautiful soul. And for giving us the opportunity to learn from him and to keep the gentleness intact. For giving us this child who will strive to preserve the connection man and nature are losing. Two of God’s beings, working to maintain the balance.

Your chance to win By The Water Cooler

I’m sure most of my regular readers read Parul at Orange Ice Candy. And if you don’t, well here’s my good deed for the day  - introducing you to her witty, clever blog. And what better time to do it than now, when she is busy promoting her second book – By The Water Cooler?

So here are the rules of the contest.

  • You need to write a post telling a story or an anecdote based in an office. It could be about you, your spouse, kids, neighbour, whoever – it just needs to be based in an office. It can be funny, serious, somewhere in between, but it needs to be based in an office. It can feature a single protagonist or multiple characters, but it…yes, I know, you got it.
  • You need to link to her post
  • You need to put By The Water Cooler in the title of your post
  • You need to leave her a link to your post in the comments section
  • If you don’t have a blog, leave her your entry in the comments section and it will be counted

PRIZES – Five autographed copies of By The Water Cooler are up for grabs. The five best entries will be decided by her husband, the esteemed M so please remember to pick up your grouses with him. 

LAST DATE – October 31st, 2010

I wish I had an entry myself but after my two bitterly unhappy years in office I am not even able to hark back to the good old days when I enjoyed the company of colleagues. I think I’m going to need her book to remind me of office fun! Alright then folks, take it away.

The Voices in Her Head

A lot of you ask me when I’m writing a book. Ermm – I don’t have one. But Unmana does and I’m loving every word of it. Go over and read it  here. The Voices in my Head.  You go, girl!

On another note. Here’s a great initiative called Red Earth. It’s started by a guy called Himanshu Verma. He is an art curator and is single-handedly trying to revive the Delhi that was. The genda phool, the heritage walks, the sharbats old homes used to make and much more. Delhiites might want to be part of the Monsoon Festival.

There you go – yenjoy the week ahead, all of you.

And oh – I got this in an email. Can you all help? All you need to do is send in old magazines. No money. Nothing.

“I was barely nine when my dear father committed suicide. My mother has worked really hard to send my brother, sister & me to school. She is still working hard to make our two ends meet… all she wants is ONE OLD MAGAZINE from you all, so she can make paper envelopes to earn & save environment… dear uncles & aunties, please-please do send us one old magazine every month to support us, so that we can go to better schools and live our lives with dignity and less suffering. My mother and other widow mothers like her will not hesitate to work hard to earn for us while saving the environment for the nation…I will be waiting with great expectations dear uncles & aunties for ONE OLD MAGAZINE from each one of you every month…If each one of you send one, it will become so many for my mother and other widow mothers to work hard to earn some amount every month…A very BIG THANK YOU from my brother, sister, my mother and me…SHEETAL RAMJI BARDE”

our address:

Sheetal Barde/ Support 4 Suicide Farmers Families

House No: 200

Opp: Dr. Harne’s Hospital Dhantoli Chowk

Wardha: 442001

Finally, I don’t know how you spent Independence Day yesterday, but I received this bit of news on the East India Company with mixed feelings.

Moving!

..virtually too.

In case you’ve been wondering why Deej keeps popping in to yell at me (because you have no life hence follow my comment space closely), it is because she’s setting me up at themadmomma.in.  And instead of hauling shell, I keep adding to the posts here. So head that way please, read, comment, give us feedback and help us (by which I mean her) improve on it. Be gentle with us. This is (not) our first time. And Jedi - thank you. Although I might never admit it in person, I lou you.

Edited to add: Sorry, sorry – some of you are having trouble while others have already begun commenting there. Chaos as usual!

Edited to add more – Sorry guys – the site can’t handle the traffic so we’re going offline for a bit to sort ourselves out. Shall be back soon. Bear with us. Until then, WordPress zindabad!