Of sex and the supernatural

First off, I had the pleasure of reviewing Tarshi’s Yellow Book on their blog. If you are a parent or a teacher, it has all the resources you need to help deal with children and the S word.

In case you haven’t heard of Tarshi before, I quote from their blog –

TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) believes that all people have the right to sexual well being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality.

TARSHI addresses all people, especially women and young people through various programmes and is one of the few NGOs in India that works on sexuality, without restricting it to a disease-prevention, violence against women or sexual minorities’ framework, but rather from an affirmative and rights – based approach.

General information:

Call the TARSHI phone info-line for free, accurate & concise Information on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Issues @ +91-11-26472229
9:30 am – 5:30 pm (IST), Monday – Friday

For more, see: http://www.tarshi.net/about/about_tarshi.asp


And now on to the supernatural part of the title. Some months ago I was talking to another parent about how I came to be a work from home mother. I just didn’t find help I was satisfied with. I mean they were good enough to dust, wash, sweep, swab and make hospital corners on the beds, but they just didn’t seem right enough to leave the kids with for extended periods of time. Mostly, because of the way their beliefs influenced the kids.

There were dozens of maids who would react to the kids’ nudity with a Shame, shame, jao kapde pehno (shame, shame, put on your clothes). This, if the kids shot out of the loo, naked after a bath, because the game of Ludo they’d left on the floor just couldn’t wait. There was the maid who in a bid to ensure they didn’t go to the balcony and fall to their death, kept threatening them that Pigeon kaatega (the pigeons will bite you) and so on.

If you want your child to have some sense of what is a good touch, what constitutes privacy and which adults are trusted, it’s really hard to do it with a new maid every 11 months. It’s also hard to rewire the way a maid thinks and teach her not to say shame shame to a naked child. It’s almost impossible to teach the maids that there is no such thing as a ghost, and to prevent them from telling the kids not to go into dark rooms for fear of them, when the maids themselves are terrified of ghosts.

These pigeons and ghosts are small issues in the larger scheme of things and you can’t go around sacking people unless they’ve stolen the family silver, but I gave the scaring maids their notice and kept up the hunt until I found maids who did their housework and didn’t influence the kids in anyway. We all have our own lines to draw and mine is a dislike of fear. I don’t like my children being scared into bed, into eating, into being good. They are not taught that there is a heaven or a hell. They are taught to eat because their body needs it and to be good because there is no other option.

A few nights ago the siblings were whispering in a corner and the tension was palpable. I don’t interfere unless necessary and love that they have their little secrets and special shared things. So I plumped pillows, shook open quilts and began to herd them to their beds, tucking them in. As I reached to switch off the lights they screamed Noooooo. Don’t switch off the lights.


Because we want the lights on.

It’s always one thing or the other to squeeze the most out of any day and I knew they were weary, their eyelids drooping. They’d be dead to the world within minutes even with the lights on. So, unwilling to get into a prolonged argument I left the lights on and shut the door. Sure enough, when I checked a few minutes later, they were fast asleep and I switched off the light.

This happened the next night too. The third evening, anticipating it, I asked them why they wanted the lights on when they were not even used to a night light. The Bean answered – You won’t like the answer.

Try me.

Well, S told us, that if you light a candle in the night and say err.. a bad word.

Me: What bad word?

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.

Oh. Go on.

Brat: If you light a candle in the night and say Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, she will come.

She? Who?

Bloody Mary.

Me, tired of this circular argument: Arre, who on earth is Bloody Mary now?

Chorus: Don’t you know? She’s a ghost.

I see.

I called the OA and told him we were going to try an experiment that night. We were going to light candles and invoke Bloody Mary. I had not kept the kids away from ignorant, superstitious maids and blood thirsty pigeons, only to have them terrified by a frickin’ name off a cocktail menu.

The fear of the supernatural, of a vengeful God, these are issues even adults grapple with. Every city has its bhoot bangla and most of us have jumped the school wall to spend time in a cemetery and test a variety of supernatural theories. Clearly this wasn’t something we could erase in a single night, but we had an opportunity to make a start and I didn’t want to bugger it up by teaching them to depend on yet another vague supernatural figure like God or by keeping a knife or a rosary under their beds and so on, shifting their fear from one, to the other. They needed to learn to test theories, to be fearless. To know that courage lies within. Not in the heavens and not in rosaries and knives.

Bedtime came and we settled on their floor with a candle. The Brat shrieked and got under his blanket and stayed huddled there.

The Bean squealed and leapt into the OA’s laps and stayed there.

And we evil, bloody thirsty parents chanted, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary while the kids moaned and groaned and cried and cowered and waited for Bloody Mary to present herself.

Of course she didn’t and in a while we were thirsty and sick of chanting and tired of harassing the kids. :p

The experiment to prove she didn’t exist backfired and far from being at peace, the kids were terrified into wakefulness. #ParentingFail

The Bean was a soggy mess and the Brat was all wide eyed terror.

So yet again we left the light on and went out, sorry that our plan to face fears head on had failed. Of course there’s a lot to be said for the fun we had sitting there in the dark, around a candle, chanting the name of a cocktail we’d rather be drinking than sitting there!

In a few minutes a combination of the excitement and the exhaustion knocked them out. I slipped in quietly and switched off the light.

Come morning I waited for a reference to the night but they didn’t. Of course the true test lay ahead. Would they let us switch the lights off that night or not? (Cue music and spooky sounds)

Night fell and the twosome went to bed without any Bloody Mary talk and no objection to the light being switched off. The OA and I heaved a sigh of relief. They may not have brought it up with us, but they’d probably had their own little conference and come to the conclusion that Bloody Mary did not exist. At least not within their parents’ powers of summoning.

A couple of days later I found them playing with a couple of Lego toys, one named Bloody Mary and the other something else. Clearly Bloody Mary was no longer a name to be feared, but one to be tossed around in play.

We spoke about the inappropriateness of a child using the word Bloody and came to a compromise. It would be referred to as BM, not Bloody Mary. At which point it struck me that BM could also be bowel movement. A thought I shared with them and had them in splits. Thereafter they forgot about Bloody Mary. BM was bowel movement and potty jokes appeal to them far more than anything else at this age.

For the moment at least, we have this ghost under control.

36 thoughts on “Of sex and the supernatural

  1. “I had not kept the kids away from ignorant, superstitious maids and blood thirsty pigeons, only to have them terrified by a frickin’ name off a cocktail menu.” –> the world needs more people who think like this.

    Big hugs to the my fearless bacchas. The itch to see them and make creative things with pipe cleaners and be told innumerable animal facts I wouldnt otherwise know in this lifetime, is back.

    • So we briefly considered freaking them out but realised that was counter productive. The entire point was to prove that there are no ghosts! But yes, we are evil and evil thoughts of that sort do cross our minds 😀

  2. MM i keep reading u a lot though regretfully u write less n less nowadays!
    i dont always comment bcoz am a lazy bum but this post had me in splits n i had to comment. bloody mary attacked our house when my son was around 9 yrs n we had found it equally silly n hilarious. with the background of a staunch conservative christian family it was all the more amusing to know of a ghost named bloody mary!!(we connected it more with virgin mary than the drink! I got the impression it is a female ghost oozing blood!) then i realised this story is spread through internet n there r all kinds videos in youtube on bloody mary n most kids we knew believed in it sincerely!
    since we have this very laid back attitude to parenting we did nothing much to allay his fears except laughing at him and his friends and taking potshots at bloody mary. thankfully it went away after a month or two and now my son is a teenager with holier than thou attitude showing utter disdain to people who cant follow science logic and reason, your bloody mary post evokes all kinds of nostalgia – of innocence and gullibility and comical stories of childhood fears………thanks MM and it is always awe inspiring to read about the extra mile you travel to superior parenting!

  3. I am that stalker types who reads everything you write and never leaves a comment…but reading this I had to..you truly are an inspiration to a new mom like me.. I have been reading about brat and bean ever since apple (my almost 2 daughter) was born.. And I keep coming back like this is some parenting guide book…love you mad momma 🙂
    So when apple starts asking me about ghosts n goblins, I am coming to you 🙂
    You make parenting seem so much fun 🙂
    Arrrghh..its been an outpouring of emotions here 😉

  4. Halloween is catching on in India too, right? I just don’t like that annual obsession with ghosts and vampires and zombies. It’s hard to tell kids there are no ghosts when there is a day practically celebrating ghosts.

  5. Lol! Very well dealt with. And why do you say the experiment backfired? Afterall, they did learn that Bloody Mary doesn’t exist, or like you say, is not within their parents’ powers of summoning.

    What strikes me most in this post is the Bean responding with ‘You won’t like the answer’ when you asked them why they wanted the lights on. They seem to have a remarkable sense of what you will like and what you won’t 🙂

  6. We had the whole monsters under the bed drama when the daughter was 3, we went looking for them with flashlights for a couple of nights, practiced sword fighting during the day just in case they decided to show their dastardly faces. We were quite a sight, I tell you, brandishing plastic swords and yelling “Bahar niklo bhooton, C’mon out you mealy mouthed monsters” etc etc. It was a fun week.

  7. Maybe you should have made a virgin Bloody Mary (!) and staged its grand entry after your chants. But the red colour might have backfired too. 😉

  8. The visuals I imagined had me in splits. At work. Tears rolling down my eyes kind. Good job with the effort but admit it, the thrill of the chanting was more fun for you than the actual fear going away 😀
    Adorable and nutty family.
    (I typed Touchwood to end the above sentence and erased it since your post is about quelling superstitions 🙂 )

  9. Hey MM
    I must have been in class two or three at the time this incident took place and changed my life for good. Like any piscean worth her salt I had an imagination that required not much to ignite. From somewhere, (I can’t seem to recollect where) I heard about this well meaning lady bhoot fondly referred to as ‘the Aahat waali aunty’ (of course we weren’t allowed cable at home) and I almost peed my pants everytime I had to step out in our garden alone post dark. Of course the fact that we lived in a teeny tiny hill station where practically everything is dead post dark did not help much either and my fear of the unknown loomed large.
    Anyway, Somehow papa got to know about my new found fear of aunties and everything that went chan chan chan… Next thing I know it is 10:30 at night and I am sitting in middle of a tea garden right adjacent to my house, with a table clock and a battery operated torch in my hand, “Say namaste to aunty if she stops by and also invite her home. Tell her your parents want to meet her. I shall be back at 11. Here keep the clock, it will help you keep track of time. Also hold this torch.’ That said and my father left me right in middle of that tea garden (or so it seemed to me) later he told me he was right there behind some trees. And I remember crying, no, let me correct, howling madly, But post five ten minutes I was tired of crying and just sat their watching the fireflies. Soon papa came and took me back in.
    The whole incident came ringing back to me right now as I read your post. But can u believe it was that day and its today. I have studied in convents and prepared for my exams right in the middle of a graveyard, without a care in the world. All thanks to him. So i GUESS what I am trying to say is that you did the right thing and I don’t think that the bean and the brat shall ever be scared again.

  10. That is one of your most hilarious posts! I am still laughing.

    Adding my own story to it..at primary school, there was this mass hysteria in Bangalore where all the kids (and their parents) were writing ‘Nale Baa’ (‘Come tomorrow’ in Kannada) on their front doors to keep away this ghostly midnight knocker. I was convinced our whole family would disappear one night because (only) my parents (among all the people we knew) refused to write it on our front door 🙂

    On a slightly more serious note, I have often thought that, much as we try (at home) to raise kids without fear and prejudice, there is some element of societal conditioning that cannot be kept away completely…

  11. Such a cool strategy!! But this thing about scaring children into doing something is not exclusive to maids but also parents. I keep hearing all kinds of ‘kaala kutta, buwaji, watchman, policeman, etc’ while with other parents 😦 n i have to, at times, fight battles at home from keeping the dad here frightening his kid about darkness…at least u have an evolved man around 🙂 guess things are fine with kiddo at my home coz he recently got stuck in the lift with others but me and seemed to find it amusing!! Tarshi’s book seems good too. We need more like them here in Calcutta #rolling my eyes

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