One, two, three, four, five…

How do you define the perfect family? One mommy, one daddy, a boy and a girl? One mommy and a son? Two daddies and two daughters? A man and a woman with no babies? It’s good to see that definition is increasingly fluid. There may not be a definition at all – after all, ties are not always of blood. At least not for some of us. For the rest, there is always a nosy parker commenting on your life.

Surabhi wrote this post on the kind of statements she is subjected to, Sanah being an only child. As many pointed out in the comments, the world will always have something to say to your situation. In our case, the OA and I and the kids are a traditional, picture perfect family. Banker father, work from home mother (look, she works but she is also home with the kids, how perfect!), a boy and a girl bunched into two years. But dig deeper and we face other questions – How can a Hindu and a Christian get married? What are your kids going to be brought up as? How do you worship? I realise that these are all huge issues that keep many people up nights even even though it is not their business. But bug our bedroom and you will discover that the biggest fight is what temperature the AC needs to be kept on ( if you want the answer  – we settle at 22 degrees) and who gets to sleep on the cooler side of the bed (I, in case you care).

Hum do, hamare do is what the government suggested and we don’t take them any less than seriously. Two it has to be. Why exactly is two considered the perfect number? Cousin J who is studying psychology mentions that the ideal family is meant to have three children. The OA almost threw her off the balcony that evening when he saw the glint in my eye. But I speak for myself. I wanted two because my childhood without Tambi would have been incomplete. We had a joint family and people of every age lived in it, each one with more than a few minutes to spare for a child. A huge rambling old house with a pond and mango, jackfruit,  lychee, guava and orange trees to climb, pick fruit, read under and hang hammocks and tyres from. My grandmother was the principal of two schools and the best person to rear children as educators usually are. It could have been the perfect existence for a single child and I’d never have needed a companion. And yet, YET, the best part of my growing years, was my brother – everything just shone that much brighter because of him.

The perfect playmate – I didn’t have to wait for play dates to be organised. No one needed to come down to a child’s level literally or otherwise. We hung sheets and made castles, we floated boats in the monsoons and ran around the wide verandahs that encircled the house, following their route. We set up a bird watching club, built a treehouse and and climbed up there at the crack of dawn with binoculars. I sat atop the dhobi’s cart with cousin K and J on a cushion while Tambi pushed us around the house on our “boat”  – until the day we dropped the 4 month old Cousin J off the cart. *shudder*. We went for early morning walks and flattened coins on the railway tracks. We escaped from our hotel room one night in Lucknow and found a phone booth and called up friends at midnight. We had the same friends and held big dance parties where both sexes could meet – a big deal in a small town. We went cycling around the house and then his bike arrived and we were free as birds, shooting off for ice cream when the need arose.

As we grew older and more secretive about our lives, my parents took comfort in the fact that we’d never get too deep into shit because the other one always knew. So when I lay whispering on the phone all night and couldn’t wake up for school in the morning, my mother would panic that I was sick, but Tambi would roll his eyes and say, she’s fine. When he crashed up his bike, we painted the scratch on the bike with my nail polish and I ensured that he went to a doc and got the wound dressed. When I dated someone he quietly checked him out and kept an eye from a distance. When he dated anyone, I promptly said I hated her and thought she was unsuitable, hence confirming his suspicion that she was perfect for him. And most of all, for children like me and my brother and now my children, we don’t come from typical traditional families with communities and languages and histories of our own. In our own muddled up way, we have only our own little traditions and community. And years from now when my oldies are no more (I don’t want to think about it) I will be happy to have someone to say, “Tambi, remember the time we … ”

But what if the siblings hate each other? asks a friend. I shrug. No relationship comes with guarantees. What if you hate the man you marry? What if you and your best friend fall out? What if you and your only child don’t see eye to eye? I was always sure I wanted two kids. And no, not because I feel the second one is a requirement for the first one to be entertained by the second. Nor because I wanted an heir and a spare. But because I love kids. I want my house to always be full of the sound of childish voices and clutter and noise and laughter. I don’t think I’d have stopped at two if I could afford it, if the country could afford the population explosion and if my battered body could take it. For me, three, four, five, would be the perfect number.

But yes, now that I have two, I can’t imagine having it any other way. When I see parents with one child I sometimes wistfully think they have it better. They ended their diaper routine with one child, they only had to potty train one, they spend less on fees and clothes and birthday parties, they have to put away one less college fund and the big one – ONE CHILD CAN’T GANG UP ON THEM!! My two on the other hand learnt early to gang up and the house resounds with war whoops at all times. I scream at one who is launching himself off the back of the sofa only to realise that the other one just came sliding down the stairs on a cushion. They feed off each other’s exuberance and they inspire each other to great heights of mischief. I scold one, the other takes up for her. I give one a time out, the other sits down next to him so that he isn’t bored. And even as I feel like taking their heads and banging them together, there is a part of me that smiles at the fun they’re having. Glad that they are what kids should be – imaginative, spirited, happy, compassionate.

But for every calm, well settled only child that I see, I see one who isn’t. The key I think, lies in being content with your choice. Some people I feel, just aren’t content with their decision. I know of at least eight couples who have stopped at one child, not because they wanted only one, but because they have some hereditary illness which surfaced with the first and they don’t want to risk a second one. Or because they are unable to finance the second child. Or because they have no childcare options and cannot afford for the mother to stay home. Sometimes they are undecided and just end up waiting too long after the first and then feel too exhausted to get into the diaper routine again and worry about too huge an age gap. Sometimes they make their peace with this choice enforced on them, sometimes they pass that discomfort on to the child as well as to others, in things they say and do.

I have come across many siblings who fuss and can’t sleep if the other has a reading light on, who throw tantrums for special time with the parents and so on. I am often told that my two children don’t get enough adult time because they are so close in age and also because they are two instead of one. I can think of at least 5 single kids who are quite neglected by their parents and raised entirely through daycares/nannies.  So that argument similarly falls flat because how much time a child gets depends on the amount of time you are willing to give them. I’ve also had people tell me that the Brat needed more time before I had the Bean (she was born when he was 22 months). Which tempted me to ask them to check with the Brat – he loves his sister who is his best friend and he’d have had a different life if he’d not had her – if anything, she’s responsible for him coming out of his shell and being more of an extrovert. As for attention –  I was home full time, I was their primary caregiver and we all had a blast. And I am glad I picked what I thought was the right time for them, because they are such great company for each other and I don’t have to juggle two entirely different sets of needs. They fill my home, my heart, my life and each other’s lives too. And the last one is a bonus because I didn’t really produce them as two parts of a whole. It was merely that what I wanted out of my life and God was good enough to give me what I desired.

But the last two holidays gave me lots to think (and blog!) about. When the OA and I were exhausted and wanted to catch forty winks, we’d lock our hotel door and sleep, leaving the kids playing around us (the only rule being that they don’t push pencils up our nostrils) knowing very well that each one was the other’s safety valve. But there were days when another harried mother would beg us to leave the kids playing in her room because her child was bored and driving her nuts. The mother of a 13 year old watches him head to the TV room to watch a cricket match and tells me that for the first time in so many years she’s had a peaceful holiday because she has to be her son’s constant companion since he has no siblings, playing cricket, watching TV with him, everything. Another watches her screaming kid grab the Brat’s toys and then refuse to share his own, telling me (as though that is a good reason) that he has no one to share with and so doesn’t know how to. A terribly violent young boy we’re acquainted with begs his parents for a sibling everyday. His parents are really old (I accidentally called his mother ‘aunty’ the first time I met her in a store) and I watch them limp slowly as older people do, walking behind as he zips across the lawns. “We adopted him so late, how do we explain to him that we’re too old to raise any more children?” the mother asks helplessly. Another child cries every time we leave her  home after a playdate and begs her mother for a sibling who will stay and not go away like other children. I don’t know about the parents and why they have made the choices that they have, but I do see that the children aren’t completely comfortable. They aren’t the kind of self sufficient children that Sanah or the Brat are. Who would be happy as one or one of two or three. I also think they need to be taught the skills to deal with their lot in life, just like siblings are taught to share and adjust regardless of their temperament and nature.

I don’t buy any of the arguments that single children are by definition selfish, unable to share, unable to adjust, or any of those silly statement. I think that is all the result of a personality type as well as their nurture. I see plenty of siblings who can’t share with each other – what is their excuse? Neither do I believe that children who have siblings aren’t self sufficient. The summer holidays have begun and while the Bean naps during the hot North Indian afternoons, the Brat crawls around the floor with a plastic pencil box, talking to himself and organising a grand prix. He is perfectly content and very calm. And that again, is an individual characteristic, nothing to do with being one or one of two.

And that is where I’d wind this up. How many kids you have depends on what you want, not what society dictates. Reminds me of a friend who recently said to me (after much societal pressure to have a second) – When I look at my daughter I feel like I need nothing more.

And that is all there is to it. In fact if you look at your husband and believe that there is no more you need in your life, then that is also a perfectly perfect place to draw the line.

Advertisements

Parenting in public

… is probably the hardest thing. It’s one thing to stick with your beliefs when you’re in our own comfort zone. But it’s quite another to be observed minutely as you take each decision. The last two holidays gave me a lot to think about. I particularly talk about these because most holidays are with family and friends. But these were 2-3 day holidays on resorts where the kids got pally with other kids and we were forced to hang out with the parents of those kids. They were neither strangers we could ignore, nor friends who know what we’re like. They were a strange in-between.

The Brat and Bean are running around a resort and playing with a bunch of kids. A grandmother is there with her son, daughter in law and grand-daughter. Her chubby little grandchild is hampered by flimsy sandals and a dress but joins  in anyway and runs with them happily.

The older lady watches with her heart in her mouth and finally turns to me  with a plea in her eyes. What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to be rude, so I smile but ignore the plea. They are kids and they need to run around and scrape knees.  The kids are laughing and shouting and I am happy to see the brat and bean leading the pack. I forget about the lady and get back to my book, only looking up once in a while to see if they’re okay.

And then I see the lady come and not just grab her grand child but also the Bean and tell them to sit down and play with some dolls or something quietly. I get really pissed, because she is telling them not to run around and I’m honestly not interested in what her child does, but I brought my kid here on holiday to have fun. I’m not having anyone else telling her to sit down and entertain their grandchild. I watch and wait.

The Bean comes up to me – Mama, that aunty says I mustn’t  run around. She says to sit down and play with X. She’s got dolls in her room.

MM: What do you want to do?

Bean: I want to run with the Brat and the other babies.

MM:  Ja beti, jee le apni zindagi. (Or words to that effect)

Bean runs off and plays.

Old lady glares at me and struggles to hold her child down and finally gives up when the child’s father tells her to let go. Child runs a bit with the other kids and then realises she can’t keep up and panting heavily sits down. The OA was amused but I was not. I don’t tell other people’s kids what to do if they aren’t doing something illegal/ dangerous /hazardous to the environment and I don’t like people dictating what my kids should do.

A little while later the Brat is touching something in the hotel that is not allowed and I warn him off it. Within seconds another child walks up to it and starts pulling. The parents look on, unconcerned. The Brat argues with me – But why is he touching it? Why can’t I?

MM: I can’t tell him what to do. His mama and dada must decide for him. But you’re my son and I can tell you what I think you shouldn’t touch.

And then I give up. This whole public parenting thing is a pain. How do I tell the Brat he can’t do what the other child is doing, without it sounding like I am criticising their parenting?

A little later the mother of the chubby child decides to do something to entertain her daughter sitting glumly and starts some game. I join her to help out. Within minutes the kids are all over the place doing what Simon Says. Simon asks them who their favourite girl is – Hannah Montanna or Barbie. Bean’s clear little voice rings out – I like Batman. Err.. okay. Batman is not a girl, I want to tell the Bean, but hell, can I help it if she’s out of options?

At this point all the mothers are looking at me. Doesn’t she play with dolls?

Umm… I fumble. What is okay as a personal philosophy and as a blog rant, goes into grey areas when you have to say it to someone’s face. It’s not something that I don’t stand by. But it is the exact opposite of their beliefs and comes across as criticism. I’m thinking of a polite way to phrase this. So I say I don’t buy guns and dolls  – the only ones they have are gifts and both have lost all interest in them since I don’t encourage it in any way.

Next, which is your favourite cartoon? Shinchan or Pokemon (I hope I got the names right). The Brat and Bean consider this and say they love Lightning McQueen. The mothers turn to look at me.

I finally say, “Yes, we don’t watch cartoon network at our place, I usually play a VCD for them so that we don’t have to suffer through advertising.” I can see that I’m already That Weird Woman We Met At The Resort.

The Brat now pulls a rubber scorpion out of one pocket and a rubber cobra out of the other. He hands one to the Bean and they begin to crawl around in the mud. The Bean by now looks like we tied her to the bumper and dragged her through the dust and mud. A look  she specialises in.

“How do you keep them away from TV all day?” one asks, genuinely surprised.

I realise how draconian I must sound to people who are hugely different from me and I wonder how to temper what comes next.  So I warily tell them that I’ve just told the kids not to put it on and they know that a no is a no. I might have to take stricter measures later, but for now they don’t defy me. Also, there is really no time for TV. In summer they nap away the worst hours and then run down to play. By the time they are back its time for a bath and dinner and maybe, just maybe 30 minutes or less of TV. In winter they go down to play the moment they are back from school and stay there till dark. Then some reading, some games, dinner, and maybe a little TV. Simple.

She shrugs and says, “Oh we don’t want to live in an apartment. We have our own house even though it is Bombay (err.. good for you!) so we don’t have too much garden space for her to play. ” Ah, so you were crowing because?

These  conversations are so pointless. I live in an apartment and hate it, but I know my child gets loads of friends and space. You live in a house because.. whatever your reason.. and your child has no space. There are pros and cons to every situation.

How do you keep them entertained, they ask? I shrug. I don’t. I spend time with them but they have each other, they have their books, their toys, their friends. They have a lot to do and not enough time.

At this point the conversation peters off and we notice the other kids are all playing together – a good 8-10 of them, the Bean even drawing by the hand an older girl to join them. Everyone except this kid, who again, doesn’t know how to play with others, follow rules of a game or get up, dust herself off and run around. I feel a twinge of sadness because its not her fault. On the other hand, its is not the other children’s fault either. They’re all playing together quite sweetly with no violence or aggression.

A gentleman (and I use the term loosely) walks up to the little girl, pinches her cheeks and says, “Never mind beta. You look so cute in your little skirt and long hair. When you grow up all the boys will come after you. They won’t be interested in those girls. You don’t need to get dirty and tanned and lose your chubby cheeks.” And he nods towards the grubby kneed Bean who is by now climbing up a rock, egged on by a bunch of kids. Her hair is out of its pigtails, her teeshirt is filthy, her hands look like they need to be disinfected.

I can see he wants to be helpful and cheer that child up, but what he’s really doing, is making a complete hash of it, ass that is. Also, scarily, that is exactly how such people think. And then they infect our kids with their thinking.

What I want to say is, Really?  Have you missed the obesity memo? This is what you tell an overweight 3 year old who no doubt makes for a cute chubby kid. Her parents are overweight and in a country where the number of obese kids is increasing, we’re telling our kids its okay to sit around, not run around and play, but stay fat because the boys will like it?

It is so wrong. Let me count the ways.

1. She’s overweight – you need to encourage her to run around. Pot bellies only look cute on toddlers. No later.

2. She’s shy. That isn’t her fault, but you’re making it hard for her to join the other kids in her rather sexualised short tight denim skirt, her belly button baring halter neck, heeled sandals.

3. You’re teaching a girl child that the most  important thing is for boys to like you? Nothing else? What about spunk? Personality? Friendliness?

I lose my cool because I’m a short fuse person by all standards. He just dismissed my daughter in her presence. And he taught this little child the wrong lesson.

So I smile and say – ” Ha ha. Don’t listen to uncle, darling. Girls should be smart, intelligent and confident and they should learn to have fun. How does what the boys think matter? Come, I’ll show you some fun” I take her by the hand and help her up the rocks while her mother sits there looking confused. The Bean reaches down, grabs her hand and hauls her up next to her.

It’s not a big deal but I tell the OA about it when I get back to the hotel room. The OA laughs at me and maroes the Tamil saying (that he doesn’t ever get right) about even crows thinking that their kids are very beautiful. Actually I don’t. I think the Brat who looks a lot like his father is an exceptionally good looking boy. The Bean, she takes after me and has a sweet but ordinary face other than her big eyes (I don’t even have those!). But she has a lot of personality if I say so myself. She’s full of fun, makes very good conversation for such a young child, is sharp as a tick and picks up on nuances of conversation that grown men would miss (actually men are no benchmark) and has a lot of empathy and compassion. She’s everything I probably am not and I am very very mad that someone told her to her face that what she is, is of no worth. Never mind that he is of no worth, but these are the kind of messages our girls don’t need. She doesn’t need to be told that the overweight girl with a plain face is going to be more fun because she is even at this age dressed so inappropriately. Would I want some strange man coming up, leering at my daughter’s 4 year old butt and telling her that the boys will soon want her? I think not.  And oh Mr Cheek-pincher, someday she’s going to thank us for the genes that currently make her a skinny child. I’m the last one to criticise someone else’s child’s looks but at some point parents need to wake up to the perils of childhood obesity leading to health problems as an adult.  It’s not about the looks. It’s a health problem. And oh – last but not least – I am a mother and I refuse to be apologetic for thinking that my child is bloody awesome as she is (or else I’d be unreal) or for getting mad at someone who had the gall to criticise my child to my face and walk away.

I’m not sure what the correct responses to strangers are, but in the last 5 years that I have blogged, my opinions have only been aired on this blog. Never in the living room. Never as part of conversation. I don’t comment on how others rear their kids or on anybody’s personal life which is why I have so many single people still hanging out with me. I don’t do the smug married thing and I don’t suggest to people that they should have kids.  We have friends who do things very differently from us and we’ve known each other long. Neither of us questions the other. We all just go with the flow. Discussion never arises.

But to suddenly be confronted by a bunch of mothers and questioned so deeply rattled me a bit. I am not sure what they wanted to know and why they felt the need to examine our lives so deeply, but they did. Also, I am sure they didn’t mean to be judgmental or critical, but I suddenly realised what a bug under a microscope feels like. And by the end of it, when I’d answered each question, I was quite tired of the whole thing and still pissed with the man. I called the kids and we went to bed.

It has been disappointing

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.

Who is the real criminal?

It’s been all over the news and I haven’t had a chance to write about it, but I guess better late than never. Have you read about Ilham Mahdi al Assi? The 13 year old child bride in Yemen who was tied up and raped by her husband and then left to bleed to death.

Apparently she was given to a man twice her age as part of a bride swap. Something that happens in cases of extreme poverty. Now I understand that parents who are poor will go to any extreme. But is your child such a burden that you can’t even wait for her to be old enough to be married off? Here a 12 year old died in childbirth. Why not the desi system of getting the girl betrothed (this is the best option I can think of) and only sending her away at 18 or something? And this seems to be rather a common situation. Much like our own child marriages – but atleast our laws don’t support them.

Apparently the husband took her to a hospital, first  for tranquilisers, and then carried her there the  second day because she couldn’t walk and was told not to touch her for ten days. Even her mother told her to have sex with him and not shame the family. I don’t know what to say. I know there are 13 year olds around the world having sex, but I still shudder at the thought of them doing it by choice, let alone being victims of marital rape.

The beauty of this – and I read this in every news item, is the mother saying – What have you done to her, you criminal? I like that. If you, as parents who have given birth and raised a child, can’t be expected to do the right thing by her, why expect anything from the man animal you’ve handed her over to?

Three years ago an 8 year old bride actually managed to get her marriage dissolved and got herself a divorce. I am amazed at how that worked. At 8 I could barely make myself breakfast – let alone walk into court. A lot of social conditioning goes into giving you courage at the age of eight and the girl had to be exceptionally gutsy to come from a backward family that married her off so young, and fight them still. May her tribe increase. The law has at various times set the age limit for marriage at 15 and 17, but each time caved to public pressure calling it un-Islamic, and saying its a parents choice as to when the child should marry. Heck, if everything is going to be governed by personal choice, why have a law at all? Why live as civil society, within certain boundaries? Why not let chaos reign supreme? And if we’re talking personal choice,  shouldn’t it be the girl’s choice whether she wants to have sex or not? This makes my stomach turn.

Another article on the same issue says women themselves marched with the Quran over their heads, protesting it. I’m horrified. What kind of women want their own little girls to be violated in this way? Particularly when you realise that the men are almost always double the girls’ age for economic and practical reasons. What do you do when your own sex fails you?

Be it telling you not to have your kids as your screensaver if you want to get ahead at work. Or marrying your own daughters off when they’re still playing with dolls. At times like this, one begins to think female foeticide isn’t all that bad. Atleast you’re not rearing them as your own, only to hand them over to animals who tie them up, rape them and leave them bleeding to death. How can you say that a little 13 year old kid being given to a man twice her age is fine just because her parents say so? This of course wraps up with my theory that you can’t justify everything you do as a parent and say oh well I am a parent and I am doing what I think is best for my child and my family. Because then you leave us no scope to work towards protecting this child. Where are the moderate voices who should be speaking up against something like this?

And why oh why do people take something unacceptable and make it a religious issue? When they march with the Quran over their heads, they’re taking something that is precious to others who would never believe in something like this and claiming that it sanctions this. And I don’t know if that is fair  – or if its fair to shout Jai Shri Ram while knocking down a mosque or even if Jesus sent the Pope a fax telling him that homosexuality and condoms should be on the banned list. I’d like to begin by speaking for myself and saying that Jesus/The Bible would never support anything that spread hatred or harmed anyone. So say what you want for yourself, but don’t take my religion and use it as a crutch for your own contemptible, putrid, bigotted, illiberal, segregationist, brutal, inhuman schemes.

Integrate or get out

…seems to be a common refrain.

Be it the injured Marathi manoos Raj Thackeray who considers everyone else a threat to the Maharashtrian ‘culture’ and langauge – never mind what they contribute to the state.

Or the French burqa ban earlier in schools. And now objecting to it on the streets.

Or then this new one – foreigners who refuse to integrate will politely be paid to leave Denmark.

I don’t know which side of this argument I am on. In principle I oppose bans of any sort. And yet, I also believe there is something to having your rules and guidelines and expecting citizens to follow them. If you don’t like it, move to the next school or country! After all every community/ school/ country has a right to its rules…or doesn’t it?

Of course there are shades to every one of these arguments and it’s not a simple black and white situation. But is this what globalisation is about? Turning into clones the moment you move somewhere and wiping out all traces of your identity? What exactly is integrating anyway? Is it also applicable to all the foreigners who come to India and look down on us while pushing our rents up and enjoying the maid service?

And where do you draw the line at holding on to your culture and offending your host country? And do you draw the line between school uniforms and cultural identity?

So many questions and I have no answers. What are your thoughts on this?

When will people learn

…that death is not the answer to anything. And that no one has a right to take life. No matter what the reason.

On the other hand, when will people find a middle ground between freedom to choose and right to life, as this lady says.

I’ve just finished reading this book called Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult and it’s about a child who suffers from OI or Osteogenesis Imperfecta – a brittle bone disease that means she will have a lifetime of suffering broken bones even through something as small as a sneeze.

I enjoy Jodi Picoult for the gamut of issues she brings up. Morality, ethics, life, lawsuits. And in this one, the mother decides, when her daughter is almost 6 years old to sue the gyne who took care of her during the pregnancy so that the money she wins can go towards the child’s medical costs. I understand. Except – that the doctor is her best friend and did suggest an abortion, which she clearly said her husband would not appreciate. The book leads you through a tangle of emotions and relationships with the elder daughter who is neglected in this situation, becoming bulimic and her husband who is against her suing the doctor and calling their daughter’s a wrongful birth – and the impact it has on their marriage. And of course the 6 year old who gets the idea that her mother wishes she wasn’t born. Which of course is what the case is about.

The mother does love her, and hopes that she will understand this is only about making money (although I again, couldn’t relate to her here because she is suing her best friend despite having clearly told her that she wouldn’t have the abortion) and walks the slippery slope between telling her daughter that she wants her and telling the court that she’d have aborted her had she been given a chance.

The court case is followed with much interest by the entire town and what really touched a chord was that people with special needs were talking to the media about it. And asking – how special is special? When do you draw the line and say that this person’s needs make him unworthy of living a life. They bring up the life of Helen Keller which is a common example but I am sure there are many more. This is not to get into the anti-abortion debate, but it makes you wonder what goes through the mind of a man in a wheelchair when he hears of a child being aborted because it might have a handicap. How does it make him feel about his own life?

I won’t tell you how it ends, but in all Jodi Picoult’s books, I notice the mother is made into this obsessive creature who forgets home, husband, career, other child in her bid to take care of the child with special needs. I wonder how true this is. The last one I read was My Sister’s Keeper and I remember writing a post about how I’ve tried hard not to let the Bean’s asthma and eczema make her different and ensure that the Brat is not neglected during her attacks or made to suffer because we’re so focussed on her.

What really bothered me though was the cop out. The end. Anyone read it?

In which case why don’t you tell me if you enjoyed it and who you sort of sided with in your own head.