Flowers at her feet

“Mama, mama, mama! Where are you?”
Apparently, there is nothing that can get done in any home without mama. And of course, the most urgent issues arise only when mama goes for a bath.
But the 12-year-old rarely calls unless there is a crisis so I grab a towel and run out on dangerously wet feet, yelling – Who died?
Only to come to a squealing halt. He’s lined the corridor with frangipani flowers for me to walk out on.
I look at him in shock? surprise?
And like most men, he misunderstands the look on my face and says – “I didn’t pluck them, mama! Look, the edges are brown. I collected them off the ground on the way home for you.”
It’s been a while since I rushed out of a bath with soap in my eyes, and for the first time, it was totally worth it.
I must also admit, this one doesn’t take after the father!


 

You know you’ve trained your son well when he crawls under the table to retrieve a paper plane, encounters your feet there, and begins to press them!


 

Me: Damn, why did I do that? I feel really silly.
Brat: Everyone makes mistakes. The only thing you should feel silly about, is feeling silly about making a mistake.


 

The Bean gets eye infections, nose infections, all sorts of infections on her face, all the time, and we have to be careful not to touch her face with unwashed hands.
The Brat’s brotherly love prompted this suggestion, “We should put a sign on her face. Caution: Infection prone zone.”
In case you’re looking for him, he made a getaway when the cushions started flying and might be home around dinner time.


 

The doorbell is ringing, the landline too, and I’m rushing through giving the Brat his medicine while he chatters on about something and then my phone starts ringing, he sneezes, something-something, I honestly forget the order of events, and my hand shakes, spilling syrup on him.

Even-tempered and patient mother that I am, I snap, “If you’d taken your meds yourself this wouldn’t have happened… Now look what you made me do!”

He nods calmly and says, “Technically, I didn’t make you do anything. And I’m dripping with syrup. You’re victim blaming, mama.”

 

 

 

Goodbye, Justice Seth

Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book  We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.

Chaddi solidarity

Thought long and hard before writing this one and finally said, what the heck, let’s overshare as usual.
I noticed over the last few days that the ten year old daughter had begun to wear shorts under a short-ish dress. She’s outgrown it, but it’s a thin, cool, comfortable cotton slip – perfect for these awful summers.
I wondered if it was an attack of modesty and asked her about it. It seems her 12 year old brother had been teasing her about the dress flying up and her undies being on show. I let it pass without interfering in the sibling relationship, until I realised she was wearing it everyday, and that it could no longer be dismissed as a joke or a sibling thing.
My son is being raised by a mother who thinks hijabs and veils, and the policing of women’s bodies and chastity culture are the devil’s own idea (smash the patriarchy, yo!), so this is just unacceptable.
A casual chat with him and I realised he didn’t actually have a real issue, and wasn’t playing protective, patriarchal elder brother. He’s actually more of a feminist than his sister. He was simply playing annoying sibling. Very pleased to have found something to annoy his sister about.
It wasn’t his attitude I was worried about, it was hers. I didn’t want her to lose the safe space of home, covering up even when there was just family around. Choosing modesty over comfort.
So I did the only thing I could. I took off my jeans, and sat down by her side. Just. Chaddi solidarity, sistah. The son gaped. The daughter began to giggle.
I swim with them, so they’re used to seeing me in swimwear, which is much less clothing than the tee shirt and undies I was in. It wasn’t the sight of undies that was supposed to horrify him. It was the reminder that mama is also a girl, and she feels hot too, and has every right to be comfortable in her own home without anyone commenting on it, even as a joke.
The maid who realised what was happening, was in splits. The daughter smiled widely, and took off her shorts. And the son conceded that it was unfair to tease someone and make them self conscious, specially in a world where women are constantly being told to cover up to make others feel comfortable. That it might be a joke in this case, but in the real world, society and men, force women to cover up.
In case you feel strongly about how traumatised he might be, I’ll send you my bank account number. You can donate some money towards his therapy at a later stage.

The Leader of the Band

I often forget what my parents give me, just by their very presence, just by living their lives the way they do. And while I often thank ma for her never say die spirit and her unconscious living of her life as a feminist, I don’t say thank you to my dad often enough.
I grew up slamming doors at and with dad. I inherited his volatile temper, his love for music, plants, decor, politics, ability to forgive fast, love of socialising, thinning hair, and hearty laugh.
Today I carried his luggage out to the cab and he patted me on the head with a – I have a few more years to go before you have to do that, sweetheart – bringing tears to my eyes.
And this is what he left me with this afternoon – a song from his youth, introduced to my brother and me, over WhatsApp (something we introduced him to!), a day ago.
The give and take is endless, but parents always give more than they receive. I didn’t pay enough attention to the song when he played it for me, and now as I sit in my empty living room and play it over and over again, I am reminded anew that you’re never too old to be introduced to something by your parents. And it’s never too late to be grateful for them.
Enjoy the song – and you can thank him, not me. Funnily, he was reminded of his dad, the thatha I never knew, when he sat there listening to it.

// The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band. //

Coz you are so very

I just watched Pink and like most others, enjoyed it. But this is not a review. This is just a collection of thoughts. Every few months I end up recalling something from my eventful past – and this is one such.
( SPOILER ALERT)

There’s a scene where one of the girls’ faces is morphed onto that of a sex worker’s (discussion about why that is so chee chee, for another post) and the image passed around her office. That hit pretty close home.

It was the year 2000, when I was home for a break, and my parents casually tossed me an envelope that had been couriered to them. It had black and white printouts of my face, morphed onto a naked body. The body was too, err, well endowed to be mistaken for my 43 kilo self. Nonetheless, it was a horrific sight for any parent to be faced with and once again I am floored by how amazing my parents are, to have dealt with it the way they did. There was no melodrama. They just told me that I had clearly pissed someone off, so to watch out for more serious, physical harm. I assured them that I was unharmed and would stay alert, and the matter ended there.

A few days later, the images got more obscene, more graphic, sometimes my skinny brown face on massive white women’s bodies, emailed to me. I figured it was the same guy/s. I asked a few tech savvy friends to help me (I don’t think there was much in the way of a cyber crime cell in those days) and they traced the emails back to a most insignificant classmate. In fact, when they named him, I had to rack my brains to recall his face.
The story is such a stereotype, it almost writes itself – it is always the quiet insignificant type that burn with this sort of rage, because indifference is so hurtful. And because I chose to be friends with other boys, but not him. He was interested, I wasn’t. In fact I hadn’t even recognised his overtures for what they were and I suppose that is what was most galling. He’d waited four years to serve me his revenge, cold. I had the usual gang of friends offer to beat him up for me, but I’d been away from U.P. long enough to not take up the offer. He got tired of mailing me naked women. I forgot about him.

Today the movie reminded me of those who worry about our images being misused. Mine were misused 16 years ago when it was unheard of and to say I was devastated, would be understating it. I’m pretty much forged by fire now. (How did he find my pictures? I am guessing he got them off Orkut, off a common friend’s album.) I refuse to let the paranoia of pictures being misused, ruin my time and space online. I trust that my kids’ pictures are safe among those I trust enough to add on FB. To me this victim blaming of why-did-you-put-it-up-on-the-internet is no better than those who ask you why you went out late at night, wore a short skirt, or had a few drinks.

This is the internet, it is here to stay as a part of our kids’ lives, and I’m not going to tell my daughter to hide her image on Facebook because someone will photoshop her face on to a duck or a naked body. I’m going to let her know that worse might happen, and the only thing she can do is hold her head high, steel her spine, and say FUCK IT (Ooh, this is a first for me!) . I feel much safer and better for doing so myself. Sticks, stones and morphed images won’t break my bones. And it’s strange to say there is no loss of honour for a woman, in getting raped, while behaving like it is the end of the world if someone photoshops her image. We’re giving our girls contradictory messages. If someone does that, he’s a dick, just like the guy down the road who flashes you. Can’t put life on hold for it, so live it the way you want, fearlessly.

And while the movie ran on, I experienced what is common for most of us women. Manspreading. The guy on my right took over the common arm, and then stuck a leg out in front of my seat so that I was forced to squeeze into the OA. I didn’t realise that I was doing so, because we’re so used to making ourselves shrink and disappear. Move off the sidewalk, wear a veil so that you become faceless.I don’t think the guy meant to harass me – it was just his male sense of entitlement. He didn’t even *think* before spreading out. It didn’t bother him that his elbow was touching mine, his ankle bumping my knee. It was for me to move away.

The OA noticed it, and was about to tell the man to shove off and give me my space, when something snapped and I pushed back – it was my fight. It was a small thing, but a big one for me because I’m always so careful not to give offence – what if I’ve misunderstood? I defiantly crossed an ankle over my knee so that the sole of my shoe was almost at his knee, almost invading his space. He moved away. The OA saw that I was fine, grinned, and got back to the movie.

This is so much more about good manners than anything else. We were raised to be considerate, to not take up more space than we require, to never put our feet up on a table or stick our legs out so that our shoe soles faced anyone. Fighting back requires us to put our manners aside. And this is a hard line to walk. I find it really hard to teach my kids that they needn’t be polite to people who make them uncomfortable, because this is not a lesson that I have internalised yet.

PS: This song played in my head right through. Aerosmith’s Pink

Someday I’ll have a clean home

“Who left this bloody thing on the floor. It’s a booby trap. No, it’s a death trap. Someone’s going to trip over it and break their neck and DIE. And why are your dirty clothes on the ironing board? Can you tell the difference between an ironing board and a laundry basket. And this. This. Why are these books piled sky high? Are we building a Tower of Babel? What are those shelves for, if not to hold books? Why am I ALWAYS, ALWAYS cleaning up after the two of you? WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM? A..”

A sturdy pair of arms reaches around me, and a mouth that is almost at the same height as mine, kisses me firmly on the cheek and says…” A mom. You’re my mom.”

“Mum,” I correct him without any conviction… not mom.

Well played, son. Well played.

Yes, of course I know I’ve been played. And I’ll deal with it tomorrow.

For today I’ll just revel in a son who hasn’t stopped kissing me, or rubbing his sweaty face into my back every time he passes by.

Update blog: check

Each time I come back here to update, I feel like a fraud. When people ask me about my social media presence, I say I have none, other than FB. Because honestly, does this intermittent blogging count for anything?

What have I been up to that keeps me away from here? Well, I moved out of the country, hated it with every fibre of my being, sulked, sobbed, lost weight madly and finally moved back.

Yes, I’ve moved back to India with the kids. The OA shuttles between the there and the here. I had many reasons for doing so, but it’s been seven months since I moved back and none of them matter anymore except the biggest one – I wanted to move back.

This is home. This is where I can be who I want to be. This is where I want to raise my kids. Does it sound like its all about me? Well, it wasn’t. There were good reasons that the OA agreed upon too, and had I not waited to reach this place of calm and blogged while I was at my lowest, most devastated, you might have heard of each one of them in excruciating detail.

The Brat turned 11, the Bean turned 9, the OA and I have completed 13 years of wedded togetherness, some of it blissful, some not. Maybe I shouldn’t blog when I’m PMSing! But here we are. Right back where we started from. I look back on the last few years and wonder what I have to show for it. Nothing much, really. If anything, it is a reminder that I am not an ambitious sort of person. I was a go-getter and a topper and a winner until I realised I’d been conditioned to do so. It made me angry and aggressive and drained me. I still have days of wanting to go back to the rat race, but I am reminded of how it turns me into a person I don’t like, and I am happy to putter along at this pace, give the kids my time, my home some attention, and my dead-end career, what is left of my energy.

This is just a little note to tell you that I’m not dead yet, but at the rate I am going, the blog soon will be. Let it not be said that I didn’t give you any indication. 🙂