A few days ago the Brat and Bean missed a birthday party – the child lives in our complex. So I called up the mother and asked if we could drop by and we took over a gift. As we set off, the Brat waved to a little boy across the park and called out, “Hi xyz!” The little boy came running over to us and before I had time to react, he put his palms on the Brat’s chest and shoved him hard. I had the big gift carefully balanced and just about stuck a knee out to stop the Brat from falling backwards. “Go away, Brat,” he said – “I don’t like you and I don’t want to play with you.”
The Brat’s face fell, “I was only saying hello to you.”
Rude twit of a kid – Yes, but I don’t want to play with you and I don’t like you.
And then he turned to the other kids and said – Okay, everyone? No one will play with the Brat.
And then he began to push the Brat off the lawn.
I had been silent till then, balancing the gift and swinging between the violent urge to slap the little runt right off the field and letting the Brat fight his own battles. Then it struck me that while it might be okay for the Brat to get pushed around when I am not around, I am setting a rather bad example by standing there and letting him be bullied by an older kid. If I am teaching him to eat with a fork and now his fingers, tie his shoelaces and form his alphabets neatly, aren’t I also responsible for teaching him to stand up for himself?
And so it was that I dumped the gift on the Bean who staggered under the weight of it and caught the child’s hands and took them off the Brat’s chest. “If you don’t want to play with him, don’t. You don’t have to come running across the lawn to tell him that. And even if you want to tell him that, use your words – NOT your hands. Are we clear?”
The child wasn’t exactly a meek little thing and he glared back at me. “I don’t like him.”
Fair enough, I said. You don’t have to. I don’t really like your behaviour either, but I am not pushing you and you will not push him. Is that understood? Brat? If he doesn’t want to play with you, don’t play with him, but don’t you allow him to touch you roughly.
By now the maids of the children who had been standing around watching their ill-mannered, rough, rude, snotty little rich wards appeared near me. A couple had been chatting on their mobile phones instead of keeping an eye on the kids. They considered saying something to me, took one look at my thunder cloud face, and realised that their wards who were in the wrong, needed that talking to. Which brings me back to my old grouse. Another issue with our fast ‘progressing’ country is that the childcare situation is so dicey. You either stay home and bring up your child or leave them to the care of uneducated maids who would let their own children hit and fight in the dust hence see no harm in letting your kids do the same. Who won’t say please or thank you and naturally can’t teach your child any better. Who find it easier to just sweep up all the toys after playtime and will never teach the child to clear up after play. It’s rare to find a maid who can teach your kids the manners you expect or even be bothered with reinforcing what you teach.
Grabbing my two kids by the hand (and collecting the broken pieces of my heart) I swept away. Once there the children played quite happily with the usual cries of “Mama he’s not sharing..” or “Mama, I want that” all of which I and the other mother ignored, letting them sort their issues out peacefully.
This family too has moved back from the US six months ago and into our apartment complex. In conversation I mentioned the incident on the way to her home and she said something that I thought I’d run past you all. She said this wasn’t the way we grew up. And I agree. Growing up in my small town we were a huge group of kids running wild playing hide and seek from home to home, empty plots, haunted houses and so on. The ages ranged from about 3 years older than me to about 8 years younger, boys and girls of every religion. I can’t remember ever telling a child to go away. Yes, as kids we were rude about some kid’s weight and another kid’s nose (that would be mine!) but it was good natured teasing. Not this shoving off a playground.
Having moved back after 10 years with a very rosy picture of people dropping in at odd times and kids playing together happily, she said she didn’t regret it, but was disappointed by what she’d brought her children home to. Grandparents were the only deal sweetener in this whole picture. Other than that, the fact that 33% of our tax was going down the drain while we drove out of our gates and went straight into a pot hole, was just frustrating. I listened to her, nodding and agreeing with so much of what she said. She said she would give it a couple of years more and then maybe ask the husband to move back to the States. “Where is the Indian culture we moved back for?” she asked. “I didn’t come back for puja-paath. There are temples there too. I came back for a certain warmth and hospitality and I see people literally stepping on each other to get ahead. There’s a new self centredness that wasn’t there in those days. People don’t have time to contribute to the community – and these very same Indians help at soup kitchens abroad. Double income couples earn so much that they have housekeepers who walk their dogs – but no one checks the dogs pooping all over the playground our kids have to play in. We’re paying through our noses for these facilities and at night you see some parents walking around in their nightclothes while their kids pee against trees. Everyone is aspirational and grasping. There’s no sense of community anymore.”
And it’s true. I’ve seen the aunties in their nighties walking around the complex at night, their children peeing against the wall. What exactly are we building high walls up and insulating ourselves against? And what is it that we’ve locked ourselves in with?
The truth is that you see none of this when you come to India for a visit. Uncles and aunties fete you and throw dinner parties to welcome you home. You go shopping to a select few places and eat chaat. And then you head back. How many of you moved back to India and found yourself disappointed? Go on. Be honest. I can take it.