I’m going to stop making excuses for the long absences because I have a feeling you’re used to them now. I’ve been meaning to write for a while but and it took two things to shake me out of my stupor. The more recent of Indians ill-treating their kids in Norway and the film, Talaash.
Every family has it’s own way of handling matters and I don’t think any of us can be arrogant enough to imagine that ours is the only and best way. But not every parent always does everything with their child’s best interests at heart. If I had a rupee for every selfish parent I’ve come across, I’d be a rich, retired woman.
It is very sad and slightly embarrassing to have at least one Indian couple pulled up every year on grounds of ill-treating their kids. Until yesterday the only information we had was that their 7 year old was bed-wetting and they threatened to send him back to India. I can only imagine the child’s mortification at wetting himself in school and I wonder how the parents thought threats would be the solution. Is it not clear that there is something seriously wrong with him? And who are these people go abroad on projects if they’re not even educated enough or aware enough to check with a specialist when they see something so unusual in their child, I remarked to the OA while watching the news.
At which point the OA pointed out that a degree in software engineering or geophysics is just that – a degree. It doesn’t make you any more aware as a person or more involved as a parent. It is a reminder of the premium we place on a degree in this country, without any effort towards general awareness. Sit and mug for your engineering entrances, never mind that you know nothing about the world around you. All the code writing ability on earth will not change the way some people think and there are still those who won’t step out in an eclipse if they’re pregnant or who will think their wife is unclean for 3 days every month. I notice compassion is a quality we rarely seek to develop in ourselves.
Interestingly, none of the Indian media until today mentioned the fact that the boy was apparently being beaten with hot metal items and belts. This made my stomach turn. If it is true, I hope Norwegian legal system locks them up for life.
In the Stavanger case the couple spoke of cultural differences – some of the objections against them were that they were feeding the kids by hand and co-sleeping with them. People who move abroad and consistently do stuff that is culturally inappropriate are my next peeve. I’m sure there is no law against feeding kids by hand, but when in Rome… Surely you realise that your kids will need to eat with a fork and spoon in school. Surely you know they will be teased by classmates who hear that they still sleep with their parents at age 6 or whatever it is that is culturally appropriate there. Kids depend on their parents to support them and give them their best and sometimes the best is ensuring that they don’t stick out like sore thumbs anymore than they already do, that they feel at home around their friends. Their social circle is not your village elders in India. Of course once it gets out and about in school, this is the route it will take, with social service knocking at your door to see why your teenage daughter is asked to eat away from the family for a couple of days and sleep on the floor. And then it is too late to cry foul. Years ago I had written a post objecting to a British (was it?) plan to give out little booklets to educate immigrants on the culture. I was offended because I can wield my fork as well as the next person, know my cheeses and certainly don’t go about spitting on walls. But I’d not factored in the likes of these who go abroad and give the rest of us a bad reputation in the name of culture.
If culture really overrides all else for you, then you should stay home and steep your kids in it like a teabag. Throwing them into the hot water of contradictions in another country is just not fair. And I’ve heard it so often from friends and cousins abroad during our growing years – the desi tiffin that no one wants to share (unless you live in some hardcore desi district), the teeka you wear to school and cannot rub off until your mother leaves the bus stop by which time everyone has seen it and begun to make fun of you. I’m not prescribing uniformity. I’m asking for compassion for kids. Childhood/ adolescence is hard enough without us making them banners carrying our political slogans. Culture is what we are deep inside – not what we take to school in our tiffin. A sandwich for tiffin is not denial, just as sleeping in their own cots won’t reduce the family bond.
I’m also surprised that the family is putting pressure on the Indian government to help them. How is it that people will jump at the opportunity to go abroad and work, make the most of the fantastic infrastructure, work life balance, blah de blah, but not give a fig about the local laws and customs that make it the fantastic country it is? And now you come running home to mummy for help. I’m glad the Ministry of External Affairs has put its foot down and refused to get involved. I’d be horrified if they did.
I took forever to write this post today because it was in between work and home. I stepped out twice to pick up the kids from the bus stop and one of those times I saw a mother walking her son back from school. Neatly oiled hair, ragged saree and ragged shawl, cracked heals in worn slippers. Her son on the other hand was in a neat albeit faded school uniform and dusty shoes with a girl’s woollen cap on his head. Now I know where the closest school for the disadvantaged is and I realised how far they’d come walking from.
Nothing we don’t see on a daily basis in India, but coming close on the heels of the Norway cases it broke my heart. How often we say the poor shouldn’t have kids if they cannot afford to give them the basics – an education, a good home. Well, who decides what the basics are here? I’d imagine love is the basic. Here was a mother denying herself so that her child was warm, and getting an education. And she has to walk twice the distance everyday to pick up and drop him so that he doesn’t have to maneuver through traffic each way. They were chatting cheerfully as they passed me and didn’t even notice the woman whose eyes welled up as they walked by. And on the other hand you have these rich families based abroad, ill-treating the kids society doesn’t grudge them. Yes, they give them better food, warm clothes, homes and education, but what about time and love?
Speaking of safety and kids, there is Talaash. At this point I’m going to warn you to stay away if you haven’t seen the movie, because spoilers lie ahead. Two emotions dominate my parenting. Love and terror. Love so strong, it hurts. Terror that I will lose this precious love, so fierce that it constricts. It explains why I have worked from home for the last 8 years. It’s not the best way to live, but it is the only way I know. The first time you hold your child, you worry that you might drop him. At the first sign of a cold, you worry about his health. For the first few days you’re terrified of drowning him in the bathtub. When he begins to take school transport, you worry about accidents. There is no end to the fears, just as the love is limitless.
And to me, that is all Talaash was about. I went with an open mind and didn’t look for loopholes in the thriller. To me it was just two parents who went through every parent’s worst nightmare – losing a child. And then it depicted the way their grief manifested itself. People are complaining that it is wasn’t what you expected of Aamir. Heck, why are you expecting anything from Aamir? He’s just another human, just another entertainer, just an artist who probably wanted to explore a genre he hadn’t. Personally I’m glad he picked this route and not the creaking gates and screeching ghouls. I’m glad he took the paranormal and with this gentle exploration said, hey, who knows… I’m amused when people pick loopholes in a paranormal film – who sent you the memo on what ghosts are supposed to do/say/look like?
It all comes back in a loop of course, to the Indian couples in Norway. THIS is what happens when you lose a child. How could you have taken this privilege, this blessing, so lightly? May God forgive them. I know I can’t.