A few days ago, while dropping Re to school, I shared an auto ride with a 12-year-old. He was charming, polite, well-mannered, and I couldn’t help thinking, “This is how I want Re to be when he grows up.” He then asked me what I did. Now this question usually makes me squirm when posed by an adult, particularly at a stage when I am ambivalent about my career (or whatever you could call it). But somehow, I was happy that he asked. I was eager to tell.
“I write,” I said. It felt good to say it in a manner that involved no legacy, no flourish, no validation. He then went on to ask me what I wrote about and that was harder to answer. “Everyday stuff,” I said, after some thought. “Marriage, children, food and things like that? But I try to make it funny.” I really wanted this boy to like me.
–“That must be hard. Humour is the hardest to write,” he said.
–“Yes,” I found myself saying. “It is.”
–“Does it make you happy?” he asked.
–“Yes.” It was a “yes” pregnant with extreme conviction, after years. It was a “yes” that set me free.
I love this boy, I thought. He just distilled the meaning of my life for me in this very short ride.
Re and I are going to have many such conversations in the years to come, I thought. This is going to be so much fun, my chirpy mind told me, while my body, still weary from broken sleep and the overtures of my child, an extremely “morning person”, did a mild grumble. I hushed it. My body is getting used to getting hushed by my mind these days.
Children are as liberating as they are limiting. On most days, I feel physically depleted by motherhood, but my mind has never been more fertile as it has been in the last three years. Re and I live in a world of green dogs, blue horses, pink hippos and cats wearing hats, and in that world, anything seems possible. Lions sleep with zebras, baby bears drive mamma bears around, fish climb up mountains, sharks have pet rhinos and cats lick dogs. I love playing along. I seem to be asking “why not” instead of “why” more often these days. I want to learn how to skate, write for children, do ballet, somersault.
I think we all reach that point in life when jobs and relationships make us more adult than we ever wanted to be and soon we find ourselves all grown up and nowhere to go. I was there too till I felt slightly rescued by my child. I am enjoying the growing down much more than the growing up. There’s definitely less angst. And more exclamation marks.
Very often, you also put your foot in your mouth. In a nice way. Like when Re asked me one day, while watching Shrek 2:
– “Mamma, why is Shrek beating Puss in Boots?”
– “Because he really annoyed him and that made Shrek angry.”
– “But he is a good boy, no?”
– “Yes, but sometimes, good boys do bad things too.”
I found myself thinking deeper about the treacherous dichotomy of life when Re told me one day:
– “Mamma, you are a very bad girl.”
– “Because you are a good girl.”
Children have that effect. Just when you thought you had reached a dead end, along comes someone “Youer than You” and you begin to feel grateful to Dr Seuss for helping you start all over again.
So I found “me” back. I found I liked mud and water, that clothes were limiting and that norms were lacerating. I found the joy in black, my child’s favourite shade of paint. I found that horses looked good in pink and a sheep had every business to eat a lion if it wanted to. I found my body. I found dance and how to let it all go. (He had me at “You did it mamma!”). I found that there was a whole new universe in children’s books, for even a die-hard realist like me. I realised that there can never be enough oxygen. Or words. I found a little room in my head where I used to live.
(This post appeared as my column in the Indian Express Eye on 1st July, 2012)