Compulsory Hero by 1927 was a favourite song when I was a child (Click here for lyrics). I have no idea why such a melancholy song made it to my playlist at that age, but it did.
Last night as I sat in the park watching the kids play as dusk fell, the song came back to me. I usually feel rather cranky when I take the kids to the park. The sun shines down relentlessly on landscaped gardens struggling to overcome the dry Haryana heat and red mud. A bunch of eye-poppingly colourful swings scattered between straggling cactii and palm trees and in some Gurgaon complexes, that funny turf thing to protect kids from getting hurt. There are no trees to climb and no knees getting scraped. I sit there like the antique that I am, muttering to myself and wishing I could set the kids free to run wild like I did instead of being restricted to this tiny patch. I suddenly see why we hear of so many playground fights these days. They are turf wars. In our time there was enough place for everyone to do their own thing and you didn’t have to push someone out of a corner to skip rope. Running along the train tracks throwing coins, playing treasure hunt across the entire old Bengali locality. Never knowing a moment of fear, or a mother who is scared they’ll get hit by traffic on the state highway we live close to or get kidnapped or molested. There is something about the dusk that brings your worst fears out of hiding and even as I wished for a freer childhood for the Brat and the Bean I shuddered at the thought of letting them out of my sight.
The boys were playing some sort of army game, running around screaming, shooting, throwing themselves down in the grass and dying, crawling on their bellies around hillocks with scant regard for the clothes they were ruining. Imaginary bombs were tossed, the enemy was attacked and then one of them got hurt and a real skirmish broke out. The Brat who was part of the commando troupe was hidden behind something and I suddenly saw the bush erupt and this little whirlwind rush out. Oh my God, I said, he’s getting into the fight. But I held my ground and watched. And after a few minutes the noise died down and then the kids slowly drifted back to their positions, resuming the game. Peace was brokered. I was too far away to hear what he said but I sat there smiling, glad that no one could see my eyes shining with tears in the gloom.
Women love men in uniform and since I didn’t marry one, I ended up wanting my son to be one. Years ago I wrote a post my old blog about how proud I’d be if my son joined the armed forces. He was barely a year old and I had a heart full of dreams for him. By the way, that post too was inspired by a song – Lukka Chhupi from Rang De Basanti. I so wanted to wave my son goodbye in his uniform, Bollywood mother style. And on a not so filmy note, I also wanted to see my kids do something for the country/ for the environment/ forsomething other than themselves and not just buy a third house as investment.
But as he grew and I saw the quiet, dreamy child he was turning into, it was clear he didn’t have the temperament for it. His line ‘Even if I hit to protect myself, it is violence,’ ringing in my head, I set aside that dream, albeit with a tinge of disappointment. And made my peace with him coming home with a scratched face one day, a bite on the back the next and an arm twisted behind him the third. I could not always be around to protect him and if he didn’t learn to do it, there was nothing more I could do.
A few days ago I went to school for his progress review and sat there flipping through the wiggles and squiggles his teachers called art. Looked at his awful scrawls that didn’t resemble the alphabet in any language. And smiled at the lumps of clay that were supposed to be dinosaurs. Even as a fond mother I could see no special talent in them. And then the teacher mentioned that they call him the class encyclopedia. Why is the bald eagle bald? Do you know which dinosaur was mistakenly identified as another? Have you any idea which country has the most pythons? The class always turns to him for the answer. But that wasn’t what made me proud. It was what came next.
Apparently he doesn’t get into fights. And when there is a fight in class, the teachers ask the two kids in question – What do you think the Brat would do in your place? Apparently he is the shining example for solving conflicts. And if the teachers are busy, they send him in to mediate and he does! I sat there listening, and couldn’t help but remember all the many posts I wrote on how my son was gentle and kept getting hit and beaten and bullied through his babyhood. I worried, I fretted, I stayed up nights and when I did sleep, it was to have nightmares of him being bullied until he broke down.
In all my years of blogging or even life, I doubt anyone can accuse me of being peaceful or resolving conflicts in a gentle manner. So for my son to be the exact opposite of me is a constant source of amazement for me. Not only has he learnt how to settle a dispute and deal with bullies, he’s also learnt to help others do that.
I guess even without hitting back or being in uniform, my son is my hero.