When I was your age…

Yesterday and tomorrowWhenever adults (primarily parents or teachers) talk about kids, it usually begins with, “Kids these days…”. They talk about kids these days having gotten everything all messed up. Or that kids these days just aren’t what they used to be. There is of course the usual  talk of lack of “respect” or “responsibility” and the mandatory flashbacks into their time, usually beginning with, “When we were younger…”

Adults love to begin sentences with, “When I was your age…” We have all heard our versions of: “When I was your age, children knew to respect their parents. We owned up to our responsibilities. We took advantage of our opportunities. We made our own road…”

The thing about teaching is that you end up spending a lot of time with children and adults alike. And your mind is throwing you in entirely opposite directions. Among adults, there is usually a covert and mostly an overt condescension of the times we live in, the access (and often luxury) that children have, and the scant regard they have for their resources or the abundance of it. Among children, it is often how adults don’t get them.

I don’t know whether it’s because I have a small child (he is five going on six) and that growing down with him has significantly helped in parenting, but I find myself veering towards the children and I often wonder what the adults are bemoaning.

Our parents did it to us:

“Do you know I had to walk six kilometres and them swim a river to get to school?”, my father would say.  “We had to stitch our own clothes and wear them till they were threadbare,” my mother would add.

And we do it to our children:

“Do you know your father works 16 hours a day so we can give you this education?

“Do you know that we didn’t have television in our house till we were in college? And even that one didn’t have a remote control?”

“Do you know that I had to wait till I got a job to get a mobile phone”

“We never had any toys or puzzles; we just played with mud, stones and leaves!”

Can it really be that every generation is so profoundly different? How can the past always be ‘the good old days’ or ‘tough old days’? Why is now never romantic or perfect? What is this obsession with nostalgia to feel good about ourselves, the things we do and how we do them?

The further away we get from the here and now, the more our perspective becomes skewed. In our reminiscing, we compare what we see to our so-called memories, not to facts. We see it all through the veil of ourselves, our own lives, our own transitions, our own selective remembering. It’s convenient, really. And isn’t it nicer to think that you were once better than all that?

It’s convenient to take the easy way out and look at all the signs that point to the shocking newness of the present moment—the power of social media; the seeming abundance of choices for today’s youth that make the options of yore seem quaint.

But then, wouldn’t the first telephone and television have caused a similar agony among our ancestors?

It reminds me of the last few lines of Shel Silverstein‘s poem, “When I was your age”

 My uncle said, “How old are you?”
I said, “Nine and a half,” and then
My uncle puffed out his chest and said,
“When I was your age… I was ten.”

In these lines lies the problem with our memory of the past. You can idealize the good old days and bemoan the sorry state of today’s youth. You can point out how much harder it was in the past and how easy everyone has it now. Whatever your version, one thing is clear: our memory becomes warped over time.

The truth is, we grow up when we need to grow up. And growing up is hard. It has always been. It will always be. Humans are unusually good at stepping up when they need to, at taking on responsibility and living up to expectations when circumstances call. But they should truly call for it to happen. Becoming an adult is not just a necessity, it’s also a choice.

But for the children of today, there’s less of a hurry. They don’t need to help on the family rice fields, take over the family cloth business. They’ll grow up when they need to. And if they have the leisure of prolonging that moment of not-quite-adulthood, who are we to blame them for taking advantage of it? They have the leisure of choice. But is it their fault?

 

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 2nd March, 2015)

Advertisements

2014 for mommygolightly: Thank you for flying with me

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 140,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 6 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

‘I miss you’ and other things that tie me down

Call me hard-hearted, unromantic, detached, breezy, whatever, but I have never been able to say the words “I miss you” and really mean it from the bottom of my heart. No, it hasn’t changed even after motherhood, which is essentially supposed to be a hormonal fix that renders you into a permanent state of mellow and mush. No such luck.

I am a fairly involved parent, but when the child is out of sight, it is usually out of mind, and my mind is usually yearning to get on to other things. I am quite unashamed to say that I love being alone and I can always find enough things to do by myself (and do). Aloneness is however a luxury when you are practically a single parent and I don’t want to spoil it all by saying something like, “I miss you.” It just seems counter-productive.  For me as well as the child.

Re occasionally gets into fits of not going to school (even now), and as I drop him and we exchange our mandatory five hugs and kisses, he sometimes holds on to my sari or whatever I’m wearing and says, “Don’t go. I’ll miss you.”

These words make me feel like I’m back to the drawing board. I try to explain to him that people need to go away so they can come back, and although it seems too adult a concept, he is slowly getting it. Or at least I hope so. But I have seen enough parents who feel empowered every time their child tells them this, or their partner or someone they think they have a hold over.

Re’s a sentimental Cancerian, unlike the breezy Gemini that is me. I know I am getting into Linda Goodman sun-signey zone, but there is something to be said about when we are born and the things we say.

Unlike most people who can say the fateful three words with a great degree of nonchalance (I am sure some of them mean it too) to their loved ones when they are away from them, I can’t. I think the whole purpose of being away is lost when you are constantly missing someone. It just means you never left. Am I making sense?

“I miss you” does not make me feel more loved. If anything, it makes me feel chained, bound, un-free. It makes me bound to miss the missee (person who misses=missee?) back, and when I don’t, I feel a bit weird (although not always)

I don’t miss people. Or places. I remember all the times I have been away, and there have been plenty of those, and the calls back home (whether to the mother or the husband) have always been more of an obligation than a need. I am in the here and now, so flashbacks seem like a waste of time. May be my homeopath was right. May be I do have too much testosterone. Or may be that I am truly in the moment.

I am too socially awkward to say, “I miss you too”, so I just smile and wish the moment would pass really quickly. Thankfully, my non-PDA family never says the fateful three words. They demonstrate love and caring by doing things for each other. I guess that works perfectly for me.

To miss people means to love them, to be partial to them, to be incomplete without them, it’s like you are missing the other part of what makes you whole.

Saying “I miss you” or something similar to that effect is also one of the easiest ways to mess with somebody’s head. It’s like you want to keep a foothold in their life without staking yourself to something you might be called on later to deliver on. It’s vague and it’s an expression of sadness and regret, but it’s not really saying anything. It’s like when someone says “sorry” without really knowing what they’re sorry about or having no real regret.

May be I need to find new words to explain this to Re. May be I need to tell him that when I’m not with him, I’m with me. And that me is important. May be I need to tell him that I love him enough to not miss him. May be he will get it. Someday.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 22nd December, 2014)

About a hug

photochonuIt’s cold these days, and Re and I are enjoying our cuddles under the razai. He is a hugger, and we end up hugging and kissing a lot. Each day when I drop him to his class, we have to exchange our mandatory five hugs and five kisses, and every time I cheat, or rush it, he reminds me, “We are not done yet, mamma!”

Hugging was never part of my DNA. My family doesn’t do hugs. I never noticed it until I went to my best friend Tina’s house when I was 10. Her mother extended her arms in a hug as soon as she saw me. “Tina can’t stop talking about you, it’s so nice to finally see you,” she said. I also noticed that her mother wore lipstick at home, and wondered how her hair was all in place even though she had just emerged from the kitchen after having made parathas for us. When I left, her dad patted me on the back. “Come again,” he said. I wanted to, just for the hugs.

I used to be a sickly child. I had bronchial asthma, which meant anything could trigger off my wheezing. Which also meant that every time the weather (or the city) changed, there were nights when I couldn’t sleep at all. Sometimes, when I tried to lie down, I choked so much that I thought I was going to die. Those nights, my mother would prop me up with pillows, and put a hot water bag on my chest, give me warm water with honey to sip. Sometimes she would caramelize some sugar and feed me, other times she would place a roasted sea salt pack or roasted ajwain pack on my chest. These were all home remedies she had heard from someone or read somewhere. She would do anything to assuage my pain, and she didn’t sleep those nights too. But what I remember quite vividly is those moments when my mother rubbed my back, my chest, caressed my cheeks and sat by me until I went to sleep, which was wee hours of the morning. Those were the only physically intimate moments I remember with my mother, and although the wretched asthma was a pain, I like the fact that it brought me closer to my mother.

Eventually I think my body immunized itself against the disease, but I missed my mother’s touch. It eventually came back when I had a child of my own. Once again, I was a baby in her hands, someone she had missed looking after for so long.

I became a nurturing parent quite unknowingly. I was hands-on, more so because I never managed to find any real help. I allowed him to wean naturally, because it was easier that way, and less traumatic. We always cuddled, sang and danced together, we both loved food and music intensely. Whenever I went for a walk, I strapped him on and we were good to go. I drove and chatted with him as he sat strapped at the back on his car seat. We traveled from the time he was eight months old. We talked and talked, and we are still talking. I was not on a mission to auto-correct my childhood, I just found comfort in the physicality of motherhood and it continues to be so.

As I grew up, I started meeting more huggers, and it became easier for me to hug people too. Perhaps what I couldn’t explain to my mother in all those years of her lining up suitable boys for me was that they seemed resistant to hugs.

I eventually married a hugger and birthed one. Re hugs everything including plants, so we are fine. Re has also converted my non-hugging family into huggers. For me and my family, it took longer, but the fact that my brother lives in America now and has become the official ambassador of hugs, we are getting there.

They say that the person who is the hardest to hug is usually the one who needs it the most. They also say that everybody loves a hug, even if it is their best kept secret. But more than that, everybody loves a real connection, and sometimes that comes even without the physical contact. But between then and now, the world has got populated with a lot of fake hugs. And I am still awkward around those. I’ll take a warm smile over a hug any day. Eyes tell me more stories.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on December 1, 2014)

 

Festivals and other reminders of family

photoMy mother is always the first one to wish me on Diwali. My aunt is next. In their innocent questioning — have you taken a bath, have you lit the deeyas, what sweet did you make — lies the reminder of my childhood, how we grew up and what we shared as a family. It was a lot. Somehow I always felt they were subtly reminding me to never forget to be myself, no matter who I married. After all, there are two things that can happen in mixed marriages. Rituals either multiply or cancel out.

I am good with the motions, and I have been going through them diligently, even after leaving my parental home, long before I got married. I have tried to make each festival special, and even invented new ones for Re. But sometimes, motions create fatigue, and when you succumb to that, it’s a slippery slope for our children, because they have nothing to hold on to and it’s a long way clambering back.

Diwalis of our childhood were about being rudely woken up at 4 am, doused in oil, and asked to take a bath with homemade exfoliants. It was usually cold that time of year and the bath hurt and left us even more bleary eyed. Sometimes, cousins were over and they followed the same ritual. Then we were given new clothes (sometimes we had a say in what was bought, but usually they were home-stitched). There are no photos and that’s perhaps that’s why the memories are so vivid.

Each year, the money allotted to firecrackers began to buy us less and less and we often measured the fun we had in minutes. Sometimes we even managed to make them last by taking them apart. I remember my brother and I would spend hours over separating the laal ladis, and lavangis which we would ignite as singles than as a bunch to make it last. It was fun. Soon our cousins picked up and did the same. Even when money could buy us less, we still had more.

When we were growing up, cousins were people you met because of the grandparent connection — you had to share them (the grandparents), whether you liked it or not. Now that the grandparents are no more, the cousins are more or less redundant. They show up randomly on Facebook, want to be added as your ‘relative’, they post comments on your photos, and make fleeting plans to ‘meet up.’

When you have a child, festivals become indicators of a family that was. And cousins’ children become more important than the cousins ever were. You look through their albums, you ask if their children are crawling or teething, you find bits of them in their children — the bond is renewed.

A strange thing happens when the festive season sets in. Families begin to coalesce. They begin to feel grateful that they are still families. Friends begin to remember they can’t take friendship for granted. Couples begin to find joy in their coupleness.

And colleagues, whose kids you yet don’t know the names of, send you a text and put a smile on your face. They say that when you say something positive long and loud and repeated enough, it becomes a truism. May be that’s why even couples in dysfunctional relationships send out messages and cards in the festive season that end with Mr, Mrs and Master/Miss. I get them all the time and they still put a smile on my face.

And it’s addictive. Soon, you begin to Whatsapp or e-card people who you have never thought about in the past year. You text numbers from your phonebook that have been never texted or called before. You even call. You begin to add instead of subtracting.

Festivals remind me that despite all our virtual connectedness and real disconnectedness, we are still not bankrupt as a people. Yes, we do click ‘likes’ on online rangolis and diyas and pretend we’ve made our own. We raise a toast to goodies people have pre-ordered and a small corner of our heads says we should have tried harder.

Family has various meanings, but it’s in festivals that it reveals itself the most. It’s a connectedness that is palpably real, a camaraderie that no selfie can capture, a boisterousness that cannot be contained, a memory that age cannot wipe out.

There was a time we weren’t even aware we were making memories. Now, if we don’t manufacture them, we will have none. Next year, I’m going to wake up Re on Diwali and douse him with oil and exfoliants. He may not like it, but he will have a story to tell.

 

(This piece first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 27th October 2014) 

Of bulbuls, sparrows and living in the moment

photo(12)

A few weeks ago, a red-vented bulbul started building a nest in the space between the tube-light and the wall in my classroom. To me, it was new; to the kids, it was the usual. They had seen enough of it in the wilderness that was our campus. We were all fixated though, by the intricate detailing of the bulbul, her carefully choreographed architecture of the nest, her to and fro trips, each time bringing something that secured it. Finally, it was all done, and it was the prettiest, most exquisite piece of craftsmanship I had ever seen. Although I couldn’t help wondering why any bird would choose to build its nest indoors when there were so many trees available on campus.

Soon after, she laid her eggs, and sat pretty on it, taking in the world around her and watching with faint amusement the goings on of Mr &Mrs Sparrow who were trying to build a nest of their own in the groove of the other tube-light.

The sparrows appeared to spend a lot of time fighting and arguing and not much got done, and most of their nest was on the floor and they just weren’t able to get it together. I kept musing on my theories on collaborative parenting and how true it is even in the animal kingdom – this whole agreeing to disagree business. Evidently, the sparrows lacked the skill and planning and aesthetic sense of the red-vented bulbul.

Meanwhile, one the bulbul’s eggs landed on the floor and crashed, and we all cried a little. She continued to sit in her nest, stoically for the next few hours and we thought she was incubating her other eggs. The next day, when I walked into class, the bulbul was nowhere in sight, but Mr&Mrs Sparrow had moved into her nest, and were now collaborating on how to extend it.

I had a few questions: Would this qualify as breaking and entering? There was no evidence of any other broken eggs, so the bulbul couldn’t have abandoned her nest. Did the sparrows break her eggs in the nest and cover the evidence? Was it possible that the bulbul left out of grief? Was it possible that she laid just one egg?

I was overcome by sadness, just thinking of what the bulbul must be going through. Was she grieving her unborn baby? Did she seek comfort in her nest and now felt betrayed? Were the sparrows right in moving into her home without as much as granting her a mourning period? Where was her partner when she needed him the most?

The children looked at me as they would at adults who tend to complicate the simplest things with their convoluted logic and questioning.

In the meantime, the sparrows were adding their own flourishes to the nest, rags and twigs from here and there, a wire, a piece of feather. And they had actually extended the neat, compact little nest built by the bulbul into a three-bedroom mansion of sorts. It was shabby, but huge, like those monstrosities in big cities.

The children had forgotten all about the bulbul and were now focusing on the sparrows and applauding them every time they managed to get anything into the nest without dropping it on the floor. The sparrows were also extremely sociable and talked back to the kids every time they talked to them, unlike the bulbul who was aloof and anti-social for the most part.

Why am I telling you all this? Because lost in the escapades of the bulbul and the sparrow, I realised something important. That living in the past is our greatest undoing as adults. We are never able to appreciate things for what they are because we never pay attention to living well in this moment. Children are able to do that. And each time they do that, they are able to make the next moment a little better, a little easier to bear. Soon they have strung together a whole big awesome life of little sweet moments.

As adults, we seldom do that. Instead we make five-year plans, and I have done my share of those. We have long and short term goals and there is no time to savour the moment we have now. I think one of the greatest things to learn and experience from children is the ability to live in the moment. We are so busy extrapolating the present into the future or the past that we are so often not here. Children are always in the here and now.

I finally know that the only way to complete anything five years out is to make sure that I’m making the most of this moment right now. Perhaps the sparrows will hatch their eggs and have babies and will live happily ever after. Perhaps they won’t. The important thing is, they are in the now. I will now go back and cheer those sparrows.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 6th October 2014)

 

On becoming our parents

In between our mothers and fathers lies us.

We set out to be our own people. And then there comes a moment – maybe quickly, maybe in our middle age, maybe later – when we turn around and think, “I have become my parents.” However much we may try to insulate ourselves, it is true that we are turning into our parents in strange and insidious ways. In our ways of looking at the world. Ourselves. In our ways of being happy, sad and everything in between. In our ways of living and loving. That’s the treachery of inheritance. Research says that 32 is the age when it usually happens. I am way past that, so I am sure I am a huge blob of dichotomy by now. Albeit a happy one.

When we were kids, Sunday mornings were about dosas. Actually, every other day was about dosas, but Sundays was when we could have them leisurely, all crisp and brown, ghee-roasted and paper- thin. My mother would be in the kitchen, doling them out one after the other, keeping up with the collective appetites of three kids. As we crunched on the ghee-roasted crispiness, we would bellow requests to the kitchen. “Make the next one light brown, not dark brown” Or “Don’t fold the next one please, I want to fold it.” Sometimes, our neighbours would smell the dosas and step in uninvited. I often wondered how my mother kept pace, since I am sure we ate faster than she made them, despite having two tavas on. Very often, by the time we were done eating, the batter would be over, and my mother would be seen eating the ‘rejected’ or ‘burnt’ ones. I would ask her why she hadn’t ensured there was enough for her and she would say, “When you children eat, I feel like I have eaten.”

When I became a mother, I realised this was the biggest load of bullshit ever. That if mothers have martydom written on them, it is their own doing. Perhaps that’s why mothers are more scarred by parenthood than fathers are. They start putting themselves on the back burner and some never reemerge.

I started baking after Re was born. Whenever I made a batch of cookies, I ate the crumbs and gave him the best pieces. I felt like my mother, although she never ate what she baked. A few weeks ago, a friend came visiting and got me mawa cakes from Kayani’s. Re staked his claim to them. I was a bit despondent, because sometimes, you want your treats to yourself. When it was down to one, I asked him if we could share it. He refused and proceeded to eat it all by himself. Once he was done with the exciting brown top half, he handed it back to me saying, “Okay, you can have it.” I felt cheated. The next time mawa cakes came to the house, I kept three aside for myself and ate them all alone. It felt good.

I remember my years of singledom in my cute little apartment that I always loved coming back to, shopping for produce, planning meals, deciding what I wanted to eat.

“How can you cook for just one person?” they would ask. It was as though doing things just for the pleasure of it was an indulgence.

My father gave us a childhood full of journeys, never mind if some of them never made it to the destinations. Our means were limited, but our hearts were full and our lungs always had more oxygen than they could handle. He got off platforms and missed trains, he forgot to confirm reservations, he made us ride back from Dhanolti to Dehradun on a truck laden with peas, as we missed the only bus for the day (we ate a lot of peas on that ride). He spelt wanderlust.

At 74, my father left home to pursue his dream of becoming a farmer. When he showed up at the ration office to get himself a separate ration card, he was reprimanded for abandoning his family and leaving his wife in her old age. He waited all his life for his ‘someday’, but when he exercised his option, he was written off.

I exercised mine much earlier. And almost in the tradition of my father, I was abandoning the known for the unknown. Leaving something I could do in my sleep to doing something I had no clue how to. Like my mother, there is frugality even in my dreaming. But like my father, I take my chances and there is method in my madness. He is still the young-at-heart, living-life-to-the-fullest guy. My mother is still the one who worries for all of us. I am somewhere in between, the worrier and the liver in equal measure. I think they did good.

We all need to claim our crusts back. We need to stop eating crumbs and broken cookies and demand the whole brownie. We all need a place in the world we don’t have to share with anyone – children, parents, siblings or spouse – to find the essence of us.

My father called me a few weeks ago and asked me,”How’s life?” He was at his farm, I was on my hill. “I heard about your new adventure,” he said. “It must be so thrilling!” Yes, I said. When I am I seeing you? “Let me finish my harvest. I will hop on a bus and come there. We can share stories of our adventures,” he said.

I can’t wait to.

This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on September 15, 2014