Maddy, maddy, quite contrary

Me when the kids begin their experiments: So good to see kids fly helicopters in the garden on a winter morning and conduct science experiments with their friends instead of playing on screens.
Me after they’ve spilled red paint on my wooden floor and Persian Kilim: Christ! Why can’t they just play on a tab like regular kids???

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Giving thanks

A couple of nights ago the kids and I were coming back from somewhere, late at night and they decided they didn’t want to have a homecooked dinner.
We’d already reached home, so we walked out and found a Subway and picked up sandwiches. Then we sat and ate in a public park, enjoying the cold winter night, chatting away. Trucks passed by throwing up dust and noise. Autowalas teased each other. They were just the sounds of a city.
We walked home singing and dancing down the road, the Brat ignoring the Bean and me because he was beyond horrified by our behaviour. Eventually, he made peace with the crazy women in his family and walked close behind.
And as I got home I was thankful for where we were. We grumble every day about the pollution, the aggression, the big city lights and chaos. We all want to move to the hills or Goa, and bugger up those places too.
But that night what kept a woman and two kids safe, were the crowds of a city on the streets. It was the big city-ness that gave us a choice of meals in the middle of the night. Had we been in the middle of nowhere I’d be slaving in the kitchen trying to dish up something new. Or else the kids would just have to lump it!
As I sit in what is arguably one of the most unsafe cities in the country, I raise my kids in relative safety within a gated community that not every place offers. We might not be here very long, or we might be here forever. I don’t know.
But for now, what we have, where we are, is where we were meant to be. And we’re happy and love it. I want to put this down here for the next time I’m whining about it.
 

Are you part of the solution or the problem?

It’s been weeks of anger and outrage and shock over little Pradyuman’s murder. And now it seems a 16-year-old student of the same school murdered him, just to avoid taking an exam. I hear the anger rise, the hysteria around this 16-year-old who is so desensitized. Questions about his upbringing.
I might have been part of that if it weren’t for a conversation I had with Kavita Krishnan after Jyoti Singh’s rape, when everyone was demanding that the juvenile be tried with the adults for what was certainly a very adult crime. I paraphrase her response to me – ‘When our children are brutal, it is time to turn the eye inwards and ask ourselves what we’re doing, as a society, to brutalise our kids.’ So this isn’t something we can shrug off as that boy’s parents’ problem. This is our problem. I am not exaggerating when I admit that I changed my mind on the entire issue in that one minute.
Years ago when the Brat was a baby I’d spend hours teaching him not to hit. This was in the face of much derision. So many friends who we thought knew better, telling us that raising a male child in the NCR and teaching him not to hit, was idiotic. And perhaps to a large extent it wasn’t just nurture, but also nature, because he got bullied regularly and once in frustration I told him to hit back and he said – ‘Mama, whether you hit first or second, violence is violence.’
It starts with, bachcha hai, moves on to – boys will be boys, and one morning you find you’re seeing a counselor for anger management and rage issues because the school complained.
The problem is, each time we teach a child to hit back (because you need to know how to defend yourself – against whom?) we’re only adding to the violence problem. Every day it is a choice – are you raising your child to be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Normal is boring

I realise that the reason I have trouble saying No, is because I didn’t hear it much when I was growing up (take a moment to crack your jokes about entitlement). My parents rarely said no to the Mad Sibling or me, and neither was it said to our friends, or theirs. Which meant we constantly had people in our home doing things that were highly inconvenient to us. Early risers would walk in before we’d got out of bed, latecomers would watch us float around with our toothbrushes in our mouths. And this was a joint family. Grandparents, old uncles and aunts come home to die, cousins we were local guardians to, and a surprising number of refugees – Sri Lankan, Palestinian, all sorts. You never knew who you’d bump into in the next room.
We learnt to step around camp beds, speak in whispers if some bed-ridden oldie had just fallen asleep, share one kg of chicken across 30 people and be grateful for the gravy, and to get dressed in the bathroom!
And we learnt to study in the midst of chaos. It’s a wonder we passed our exams at all. If I had a friend over and was blasting Chura ke Dil mera, the sibling would bow his head over his book and block me out. If he had a break and was strumming away, trying to get some Satriani bit just right, with friends, I added my tuppence and kept studying.

The year of my 12th boards, we were sometimes 12-14 of us studying in my room. I recall a friend lying under my bed and studying for his accounts paper, while trying to teach me.
This was my normal, and I was shocked to learn that most people didn’t live like this.
I swore that my kids would have a regular normal home unlike the madhouse I grew up in. And there would be times for friends to come and go. Except that the first time I was tested and the doorbell rang, I opened it, saw a hopeful child waiting there, and opened my mouth to say, ‘Brat is studying, beta’, but strangely the words that came out were, “Come in, darling!” I knew right then, I was incapable of anything else. 
Now both my kids do their homework each evening on Skype with their father who lives in another country. I don’t know when they have exams, I don’t know what their homework is. They scan the chapter and send it to him. He reads it, writes questions and mails them back. Then they study over Skype while chatting with him about their day.
This evening the Brat has a friend over, and they’re supposedly studying for a physics paper. Except that this child is a year younger, so the Brat is ‘teaching’ him his physics lesson when he should be studying. The father called on Skype and I steeled myself for chaos. But now all three of them are chatting online and discussing the chapter. We have a new normal in this household. One where we have a houseful, and the OA often on Skype joining the conversation!
I wonder what my kids will seek to change.

The men in corner offices

I was 22 and he was about 35 when we were introduced. Actually, I had no idea how old he was and only knew he was fairly high up the food chain. He was intelligent, charming, witty, interesting, fun. And then he hit on me.
And I went scuttling back into a corner. I was too young to know how to deal with his advances, I was in a relationship, I was intimidated by his seniority and in an awkward position, and I was not interested in him at all. Period.
And then I felt very guilty about it. About how uncool I was being. About misunderstanding what might have been jokes. But they weren’t. He was hoping I’d respond in kind. I cut off all contact. He got in touch with me again, about 2 years ago and I ignored his message. I was older and now very sure that he crossed a line he shouldn’t have.
He passed away a while back and while everyone was singing paeans, all I felt was resentment for how uncomfortable he made a young girl feel. How he ruined our mentor-mentee relationship, and denied me his friendship and experience, and turned it into something grubby and grimy.
A few days ago, I was working on a project, again, with a man who has been in media for more than 30 years. He was, once again, mentoring us. And there it was again – the inappropriate comment, the whatsapp messages at odd hours, the off colour jokes that I smiled painfully through because hey, I’m an adult woman and it’s okay, right? Because this is media. We’re cool like that. Until I decided it wasn’t cool. The best part is that I was shocked. I’m married, almost bloody 40, and have a soon to be teenage son. Am I still to be fending off advances at this age?! WTF!
I called my partner on the project and told her he was making me uncomfortable, that I was going to ignore his one-on-one whatsapp messages and would henceforth only interact with him when she was around, and in a strictly professional capacity. No jokes, no fun. Naturally, she supported me all the way, even if it meant losing his help on the project.
This is the problem with men in positions of power. They’re men, they’re in positions of power, they misuse them.
And we liberals, we people in media, we’re so forgiving of all their sins. Especially the men in media, who immediately band together in a fraternity. I feel particularly betrayed by them because I expect them, more than others, to understand concepts of consent, patriarchy, abuse of power, and yes, nuance. I don’t expect bullshit from them about not knowing when a feeble no means yes. If you and I are doing BDSM, honey, trust me, we’ll both know. Until then, let’s not be dishonest here.

//Women are unable to call out their harassers in real time for a variety of reasons — key among them the fear of being judged and disbelieved and the fear of losing one’s professional edge. And consent, like choice, is a loaded word in the gender debate, especially when it comes to a man who wields extreme power and a professional woman who is dependent on his approval to survive. Could Monica Lewinsky as a young intern have really said “no” to Bill Clinton? If a twenty something reporter’s much older boss maintains that she has a conflicted crush on him, is the onus on him or her to establish equality? In some cases, the violations are obviously coarse and need no debate. But when liberals become complicit in the conspiracy of silence that shrouds such cases, we only come out looking like weak and hypocritical frauds.//

The gradations of a no

I’ve always been the irreverent, cheeky parent. My kids and I horse around, wrestle, tickle, have pillow fights. Naturally, for years, I’ve held back and not used my strength.
This evening, however, the Brat and I got into a tickle fight and just like that he caught my wrist, and I knew I couldn’t release it without giving it my all. I realised that I’m no longer holding back, because I’m actually his equal. Actually, strike that – I’m not his equal, I’m weaker. If anything, I could sense him holding back, and gently releasing my wrist so that I didn’t get hurt.
This is how early the male realises that he is physically stronger than the female. This is how much stronger the average male is, compared to the average female. A grown woman like me, who doesn’t exercise, can’t beat a 12 year old boy who does nothing but regular play in school. He’s not a sportsperson, he’s not big built.
We were both laughing hysterically, with the Bean jumping in periodically and getting a poke in on any side, just to keep up the tempo. And I gasped through my laughter, ok, you win, I give up, stop.
This is how early he has learnt that even when you’re playing, even if you gasp it out, a no is a no. Even if I initiated the fight by whacking him on the head with a cushion, stop means stop. Even if he’s stronger and can get away with it, he *must* respect my desire to stop . I don’t know why so many adult males find it so hard to appreciate this simple rule. So Mr Farooqui might be a great artist, but if he can’t understand that even a ‘feeble’ no, is a no, I have no time for him.
For now I’m going to go sob in the corner over this milestone. My baby boy is stronger than me.
Title courtesy my friend Thinking Cramps.

But our parents did it too….

I didn’t share the video of the little girl being beaten, not only because I thought it violated her privacy, but because it upset me so. Years ago I whacked the Brat once and I’ve never been able to forget it, or forgive myself. It was an unacceptable loss of control.
But I’m following the conversation on every FB wall and almost everywhere I see people saying – but we all got whacked and turned out okay. Yes, we did. Because our parents didn’t know better. And maybe this mother didn’t know better either. And maybe we’d have turned out more than okay if we’d not been whacked (btw, I didn’t really get whacked, and the jury is out on whether I turned out okay or not!)
Our parents also let us go off with this driver bhaiyya to buy samosas, sleepover at that cousin’s place, and curl into bed with this uncle and listen to a story, never realising that we were being sexually abused by people we trusted. I have often written about being abused by the errand boy at our place, from the age of 4. He was a young boy himself and probably didn’t realise how much harm he was doing me. It’s why I don’t keep male househelp and won’t allow my kids to go anywhere alone with a driver. We know now that there are sexual predators everywhere, so shouldn’t we try harder? Only yesterday I got into a debate on a whatsapp group where one of the parents was planning a sleepover and had invited the Bean. I am not comfortable with her staying over in homes I don’t know well, with people I don’t know well. It wasn’t right to debate it on the group that the invitation went out on, but the conversation just flowed that way and before I knew it, I was knee deep in that one too. And yes, someone trotted out the good old – but our parents allowed it too.
The fact that we did it, or our parents allowed it, isn’t a good enough reason to do ANYTHING. Even animals can give birth. It takes a lot more conscious thought to be a halfway decent parent, and even then, life mein jitna bhi karo, saala kam pad jaata hai. Every day, ask yourself, can I do this better? Maybe it will contradict the way I parented yesterday, and I might even feel a little stupid – but can I reassess my stand? Should I always fall back on the old – My parents did it, so it much be okay, line? Our children are growing, evolving, and so are we.
So no, it’s not okay to justify such a tiny kid getting beaten up over a few numbers. We know now that corporal punishment does more harm than good. And the fact that it happened to us, sexual as well as physical abuse, is exactly why we need to protect our kids better. Even if from ourselves.
Yes, I’ll get off my soap box now.