An English teacher’s ode to Bollywood

I am just back from a class excursion with 50 adolescents. We went rappelling, rock-climbing, jungle cooking, bird watching, star-gazing, zip lining, trust-walking, obstacle clearing, bonfire singing and dancing, tree-climbing and strawberry picking, among other things. It was my first excursion as a teacher. The kids’ hormones were on overdrive, their responses to everything was hugely exaggerated and their ability to talk endlessly often tired me out. But what was interesting is despite our age gap, we had plenty of common ground.

On the onward bus journey which lasted five hours, there were the usually medley of jokes, knock- knocks and smart one liners doing the rounds. I watched, curious, not knowing how entertainment in today’s generation would unfold. Eventually they began singing, and in a few minutes, the verdict was clear. Bollywood won. They were singing my songs, although they were singing the remix versions. I was warned about the power of One Direction in today’s adolescents, but I am sorry to report, you-cute-in-a-monochromatic-way-boys, that you are nothing in comparison to Bollywood. Within minutes, One Direction was out and “Badtameez dil” was in.

I felt a sense of excitement when I sang the lyrics of the original “Bachna ae haseeno” with Rishi Kapoor while they belted the opening bars of the Ranbir Kapoor version. I thought back and realised our excursions were the same. It’s just that our songs were different, our stars were different. It’s Ranbir, Ranveer, Varun, Arjun, Deepika, Alia, Priyanka, Katrina (they only refer to their ikons by their first name) for them. It was Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Singh, Rekha, Hema Malini, Reena Roy and the gang for us.

But I was overwhelmed that Bollywood music has the same power to unify, irrespective of how the world has changed and how technology has taken over. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I thought to myself, and smiled.

When I was in grade 4, my English teacher, Mrs Ferns asked us to make sentences with a few words she wrote on the board. One of the words was ‘favourite’. I had just watched Chupke Chupke (or was it Charas?) and I wrote, “Dharmendra is my favourite actor.” I knew it was considered ballsy in my time, but I liked him so much, I had to immortalize him on paper. Some of my classmates saw what I was writing and rolled their eyes. “They seemed to say, “I hope you are not going to turn this in!” They were the “good girls” and “good boys”, the ones who were not tarnished by Bollywood. I was the outsider who went for matinees with my dad.

Thankfully, Mrs Ferns didn’t judge me. “Oh, Dharmendra?” she said. “I prefer Vinod Khanna.” It was the first time I realised that liking the movies had nothing to do with doing well at the exams. I always cracked exams, especially English and Math.

For the music vocal exams in grade 4, while most of my class sang bhajans and patriotic songs, I sang “Na jaane kyun” from Chhoti si baat. Thankfully, there was a boy who sang “Maine tere liye” from Anand and so we sort of neutralized each other. I still remember thinking it was cool of him to wear his heart on his sleeve, and the funny thing is, I still like boys who do.

Now I teach kids of grade 7 and 8, and one of my students is high on Bollywood. She told me her role model was Alia Bhat and the only reason she wants to get through school and college is so that she can be more articulate in interviews later in life when she becomes a movie star. To that end, she really wants to get her English right and so that makes her one of my most committed students. I loved her clarity of thought. And thanks to Mrs Ferns, I didn’t judge her.

When I moved to Filmfare magazine as Managing Editor a few years ago, I could sense much speculation about my ‘shocking’ career move among my peers. “Are you sure? Bollywood?”, a few asked. I of course shrugged and said that I would try anything. Now I am a teacher, but my students never wonder about my non-linear career path. They love backstories, and the more I tell them, the more boundaries dissolve in their heads. To them, it’s a big deal that an English teacher comes from a Bollywood lineage, who thinks conversations about the movies and movie stars are also learning. It ups my cool quotient significantly, added to the fact that I have met some of their crushes, even interviewed some.

I think Bollywood is as much a part of our growing up as is Science and Math and the reason it connects with the youth is the possibility that if you are willing to put yourself out, anything can happen. And of course there are other things that Bollywood  teaches you:

  1.  You are only as old as you feel. So yes, you can be in your fifties and shimmy away (and contrary to what you may think, Madhuri Dixit is still a huge hit with the kids as is Shahrukh) if you dare enough.
  2. If there are hobbies or interests that you’ve dismissed as unattainable, it’s time to tackle them head on.
  3. If you can dream big, there is nothing that is truly challenging, scary, or nerve-wracking.
  4. If the boy or the girl rejects you, there is always a song to celebrate your pain.
  5. Thinking out of your league (boy, girl, career, profession, destination) is a risk we must all take.
  6. Never underestimate the power of a great dialog.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on Feb 23, 2015)

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365 days of being raised by my child

365 days is a long time when you are a parent. It’s a long time anyway, but hell, when you are a parent, you can’t have much unaccounted-for time, like time when you pass out in the delirium of youth, time when you sleep through the alarm, or the child’s nocturnal pee break or hear him grinding his teeth, or moaning in the middle of sleep due to a bad dream or sometimes, even hear him talk or laugh and decode what he is saying.

They told me one year is all the sleep I would lose when I became a mother. It is now five going on six, and I haven’t slept straight eight hours on any given night. Except the few nights that I have been away and I am grateful for those. I have now come to accept that parenting is a journey that is as long as you want to be. I also know I have signed an open-ended contract, so I have no use-before date.

This year, I have, for the most part, been practically a single parent, as I decided to move to teach in a school and live on campus with Re. I realised if I didn’t do it, I would always wonder what stopped me and I didn’t want to be in that place. And it is not necessarily this stint that has taught me a few things, but here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Having children does not necessarily make you understand them better. Some really apathetic people have kids and it doesn’t seem to change anything.
  2. Not having children does not necessarily make you less aware of them. Most of the people I would implicitly trust Re with do not have kids.
  3. People are always happier when children fit in, when they “love” going to school or to activity class or playgroup. It just means less work for the parent.
  4. Parents have really short term memory when it comes to children – why they cry, how often they whine, why they have separation anxiety, and so on.
  5. It is always easy to over simplify another’s child. But there always seem to be layers of explanation for the simplest things when it comes to your own.
  6. Everything seems easier when you can speak about it in the past tense.
  7. It is rare for children to only be seen and not heard, unless you are really intimidating or there is something really wrong with what you are doing.
  8. We are all secretly gratified when our children take after us, even if it is something about us that we are trying really hard to fix.
  9. Whenever we see a really happy child, we get more deeply connected to our own void and realise it is our own doing.
  10. If each one of us was more in touch with the child within us, we would probably be happier adults.
  11. We often underestimate tears and overestimate bravery. Not crying is not being brave. If more adults could cry in the free spirit of children, we would be able to untie the knots within, perhaps be a little more happy or a little less bitter.
  12. In our over-emphasis of children saying and doing the right thing, displaying overt signs of politeness that often doesn’t have its roots anywhere, what we are actually doing is rendering our children into clones of ourselves.
  13. We often choose the wrong means to get our children to do the right thing.
  14. Sometimes all you need to do for a child is just be there.
  15. We all need to learn how to truly lose ourselves from children.
  16. Sometimes, it is important to break the rules to just know how meaningless it was to blindly follow them without questioning.
  17. It is important for a child to celebrate every scar, every wound. Every scar is a story, an accomplishment. What growing up does to us is make us hide our wounds and scars, pretend to be brave when we are not.
  18. Every day is a new world. You don’t need to wait for 31st December to bring in newness. The year is filled with pockets of newness every single day.
  19. It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Or tomorrow. Or the day after.
  20. It is important to scream. And shout. And let it all out.

Happy new year all! It has been so lovely connecting with so many lovely people all over the world and I have learnt so much from you and your children.

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 29th December, 2014)

 

Yes, I have an only child and it’s fine, really

Pic By Bajirao Pawar

Pic By Bajirao Pawar

I never had a strategy to have an only child. I am the oldest of three married to a third-born of four. We have an only. Well, give or take a cat or two. I don’t think my parents intended for us to be three, but my siblings are twins. Everyone else in my family is a perfect two and there is only one ‘only’. He is my favorite cousin incidentally.

People make the ‘only child’ sound like a convoluted human being, devoid of social skills, compassion, kindness. They are supposed to be maladjusted, selfish and everything wrong with the world. For doing exactly the same thing, they could be branded as attention seeking or aloof and anti-social. Sometimes you just can’t win.

My friend Parul recently popped her third baby. Three is a great number, I always thought. Two is too symmetric, but three? Now that’s a crowd in a good way. When we were growing up, my father would often complain that we all didn’t fit into an auto, and so we would have to divide and conquer the movies. I was cool with that, as I got to go with dad and the siblings went with mom for kiddie matinees. It was the only time I felt like an only child and dad and I grew up as movie buddies.

I was never one of those women who dreamt of a house full of children running around while I fawned over them. I thought I accomplished a rare feat by popping a baby at 40 and that it would settle things once and for all. That it would end all the presumptive questioning (“when are you getting settled?” and “are you planning kids?”). I was wrong. Once Re turned two, it started again, and from completely alien quarters. More than questions, they were opinions cloaked in concern. Theories. Postulates.

“Have the second one quickly. Don’t wait too long. ”

“The first one is for you, the second is for the first.”

“He’d make an excellent older brother.”

“But who will he play with?”

The worst was, “You already have a boy, so it hardly matters what comes next!”

And my absolute favorite:

“Who will take care of him when you are no more?”

I felt like telling them, you don’t have to die so many times before you actually die. So get a life, because your child will eventually have one, and perhaps a better one than you. After all, family doesn’t have to be fate. Siblings are great, but sometimes, it’s a 4 am friend who pulls you together. For all the times my parents thought we would look after each other, well, they are mostly looking after us even now.

But it was as though there was unfinished business, that we were incomplete with just one baby. We also got the “you might not want another one now, but when he gets older, you’d wish he had a sibling!”

Every now and then, I would ask Re, So would you like a baby brother or sister? He thought I was cuckoo. When Re turned a happy five this year, I finally set aside my residual desires or concerns of a sibling for him. He’s winging it. So am I.

I wish people wouldn’t sound so patronising about “only child.” “They end up having a lot of imaginary friends,” they say of them, as if it’s an affliction. Are they kidding? I was one of three and I had more imaginary friends than Re. My imaginary friends had imaginary friends.

I get a lot of “He doesn’t behave like an only child” about Re. Like he has redeemed his ‘only’ hood by being kind and polite. I know that he will always be in his own head to some extent; he is comfortable in there. He knows where everything is, and he is endlessly evaluating his own perceptions of the world outside. I like that sometimes I am his buddy and sometimes I’m his mamma.

He is at an age where he loves board games and I often wonder if a sibling would have been handy. But that’s about it. The feeling passes away quickly, each time I feel like packing my bags and driving off for an adventure. With an only, you travel light. With more than one, I don’t think I could just get up and go the way I have been doing. Going into the back burner seems a necessary byproduct of motherhood for most women and I don’t fancy that happening to me again. It was important to claim me back after I had a child and it was important not to feel selfish about the whole thing. I never ask people why they have three kids, so I don’t see any reason why I have to justify my only.

I wanted a balance between selfhood and motherhood and stopping at Re helped me get that. I can focus on my own pursuits and goals, while I watch him grow, and it is getting more exciting with every passing year. Less is definitely more in our case.

 

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

 

Notes from a teacher to a child

The hardest thing about parenting is deciding at what age a child stops being a child. Perhaps children too are always under pressure to “grow up” or “act their age”. Yes, there are reams written about milestones and what a child should know by the time he/she is three, five, ten and twelve. I still get emails on baby milestones from websites years after I stopped reading them. But for lack of a better term, here is a list of what I think every child or student should know:

1. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t right. Your instincts are more valuable than you think. Grown-ups may look like they have thought things through, but they are mostly relying on instinct.

2. Coloring within the lines is overrated. It is usually the beginning of boundaries. It is usually a trap for other things. Looking like everyone else, talking like everyone else, also thinking like everyone else. Soon they will say, “You can’t do this” or “you can’t do that”. Soon they will say, “you are this” or “you are that”.

3. They may tell you that the sky is the limit, but they may still frown if you paint it purple. The fact is, the sky is whatever color you want it to be. There is enough of blue in our lives anyway. Go paint it orange!

4. Adults can control how you speak or what you wear or what you eat or read, but they cannot control who you are.

5. Books are not fiction, non-fiction, thrillers, fantasies or mysteries. They are things that let you inhabit a world and stay there as long as you want. Don’t label books, let them mark you.

6. There is something about you that is uniquely different from anyone else in this world. Keep it. Cherish it. Learn to love it. And don’t let go of it easily.

7. Happy is not a default state to be. Feeling sad, angry, lonely, jealous is as natural as feeling happy, elated, generous or chirpy. Although people will seldom ask you why you are happy, they will always ask you why you are sad.

8. It’s okay not to have an opinion when everyone else seems to have one. It just means you are still making up your mind on it. Take your time.

9. The teacher is as intrigued by the quiet ones as by the talkative ones. So may be it’s a good idea to conserve your energy sometimes.

10. Adults are people who have been in the universe longer than you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they know more. They are still fumbling around with many things, but they won’t tell you.

11. It is important to laugh, or act silly sometimes.

12. It is totally okay to not love numbers.

13. Or poetry.

14. If you were read to as a child, you probably are luckier than most people in this world.

15. Every time you ask a question an adult laughs at, they probably haven’t had the guts to ask it themselves. Or perhaps they have been caught off guard and never really thought of it and don’t know the answer. Or it perhaps takes them to places they don’t want to go to.

16. The world is a magical, amazing place and there are a lot of secrets you will uncover. Some will make you happy, others will make you sad or angry, but you will always be happier when you find this out on your own.

17. Very often, the things you think you love will not be the things you love when you are 18. That’s what growing up is all about. Finding new things to love.

18. More often, the things your parents think are good for you may not be the things you like. But you don’t have to dislike them just because they came up with the idea.

19. It’s seldom an either/or. Sometimes there is more than one answer to a question. That is how it’s going to be in life.

20. Zero has gravitas. Wear your zeroes proudly. But help them take you someplace you like to belong.

21. You are more powerful than you know.

22. You are going to create more long term memories in people than you possibly imagine.

23. There will always be someone who doesn’t understand your point of view. There will always be someone who does.

24. There will be times when your questions will remain unanswered. That doesn’t mean you stop asking questions.

25. Sometimes, you may touch someone’s life, but they may forget to tell you. But it still happened.

 

(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 8th September 2014)

 

48 ways in which you changed my life: A birthday post

Around this time four years ago, I was packing my bag. No it wasn’t that kind of adventure-laden bag, rather it was a hospital bag that I was packing, ticking off items in my little black book (still have it!), getting ready to give birth, annoyed that the child inside had already overstayed her welcome (yes, I kept thinking it was a ‘her’). Finally, a boy arrived, and I first thought I’ll return it, but then I chanced upon a curly top and a dimpled chin and I thought he could stay.

 


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Four years later, I am still reeling under the shock that I am a mother. To a boy!  I thought I will celebrate Re’s birthday (June 23) with a list. I love making lists. So here’s a list of 48 ways in which Re has changed my life (for the 48 months that he has been in my life.) (Disclaimer: It’s not mushy)

1. I have my tea in seven installments. The first two are perfect in temperature.

2. My idea of alone time is sitting on the pot.

3. My baths have become longer, especially when you are in the house. I am okay with opening the door and looking at the drawing as long as I can shut it back on you.

4. I have begun to really respect silences. And people who don’t talk much. Or ask why.

5. My definition of bad hair days is changing rapidly.

6. When I say ‘I’, and the father thinks ‘we’, it makes me really mad.

7. When I say ‘we’ and the father thinks “I’, it makes me even madder.

8. I have learnt that collaborating with a good cop is a really bad idea, so I just don’t listen to your father anymore.

9. I never cared much about nighties, but if on any given night, you don’t want to wear them, I become obsessed with them.

10. I am on first name basis with Cinderella, Ariel, Flounder, Rapunzel, Chota Bheem, Maya the Bee and Tatonka.

11. I have begun to appreciate the joys of nakedness after watching Chota Bheem.

12. I sometimes see the music in whining. Yours and your father’s.

13. I mostly don’t.

14.  I have found the joy of saying everything in triplicate. No, make that quintuplicate.

15. I love schools and any place that will take me away from you.

16.  I love my parents much more now. Especially when I leave you with them.

17. I take it in my stride when my friends ask me about you before they ask me about me.

18. I am obsessed with baths. Not mine, yours. And your father’s.

19. I often dream of being marooned on an island, and feeling very happy about it.

20. I have learnt to lower the bar for cleanliness, order and punctuality.

21. I think folding clothes is a waste of time.

22. And ironing is overrated.

23. I can be friends with women I don’t give a shit about just because their kid likes you.

24. I have a point of view on parenting. It’s called “My way”

25. Each day, I find seven new ways in which your father is annoying.

26. I can spend an hour looking for a Barbie shoe.

27. Or a lellow colored kydayon!

28. I am constantly reading books on “How to tune off”

29. I use you extensively as arm candy. It always works.

30. I have started hiding things I really love to eat. Like mango gutlis and white chocolate.

31. I am excessively allergic to OCD. I can’t understand what’s wrong if the shoes are not aligned on the shelf or if the purple crayon is next to the yellow one.

32. I cannot stand people whose sentences start with “You won’t believe what my <insert name of child here> did today!”

33. My desire to ask my mother what I was as a child is overwhelming.

34. I need a drink quite often.

35. On good days, I want to trace my family tree.

36. I love my cousins. Especially the ones who’ve made babies.

37. I suddenly want my siblings to have babies, so that there is some equality in our suffering.

38. I am trying hard to be really annoying so you disqualify me as the object of your affection and move to someone else.

39. I look at my non-communicative cats in a new light.

40.  My love for you is inversely proportional to the time spent with you.

41. I love watching you sleep. It makes it seem worth the while.

42. I have bitten your cheeks several times while you were sleeping.

43. When someone says good things about you, I am very happy to take the credit.

44. It pisses me off that your curls look good even on bad hair days.

45. I call my mother. Very often.

46. I always say “lovely pix!” when someone posts baby pictures. Even if they are ugly.

47. I love doggy bags. It’s one less meal to plan.

48. I am becoming addicted to your hugs. Please don’t stop.

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An ode to cutted, putted, telled, buyed and goed

Dear Re

In a few days, you will be four. The age of perfection. The age of saying things as they are. Of doing things as they should be done. I should be delighted, but strangely, I am not. I love it when you say things the way the way they are not. I already miss hippopotis, which has now become hippotenuse, and might soon become hippopotamus. You used to say emitet, now you say elephant.

Four is the age of being conscious, they say. The age of being politically correct and wanting to be friends with people who don’t want to be friends with you.

I don’t know what milestone years are. I have never kept a track of whether you were doing age-appropriate things. It has never bothered me. All I knew was that you were fun on a daily basis and you brought out the child in me. The child I was mostly exhilarated to find.

You wore my dresses, my shoes, my jewelry, you turned my dupattas into saris and gowns, you twirled me and pretended to lift me up, like a ballet dancer and it reminded me, this is how I was as a child. I too wanted to be a dancer, although I am sure I wasn’t as graceful as you.

People asked me why I let you wear your hair long, or try nail polish or wear pink, or my bangles and dresses and I smiled. It never bothered me. It still doesn’t.

Today we found Gia’s hairband in your toys and you said you wanted to return it to her. No, you said you will put it on her and she will turn into a boy. And then she will put her hair-band on you and you will turn into a girl. Do you want to be a girl, I asked you. Yes, I want to be a girl, you said. I don’t know what to say to you except that I really like you as a boy.

May be you still remember that I called you Tia when you were in my belly. But I am happy that you are a boy, you sort of equalize me, I don’t know how to explain it.  I have never felt so girl as I have after you came.  So thank you for bringing me to me. And thank you for all the twirls.

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The story of a Bourbon biscuit

It’s a weekday evening. Re and I are driving back home.  I have made an exception today and given him an entire pack (small of course) of Bourbon biscuits. As he devours them, one by one, I stare lustily. I am not big on chocolate or biscuits, but somehow the “I want to have what he is having” thought crosses my mind.

“Can I have one?,” I ask.

He hands me one, in  a rather grand gesture and says, “Take!”

I wolf it down greedily. Greed now takes the better of me.

“How about one more?” I ask, rather meekly.

“You cannot have one more becoz you are big. I am small no, so I can have one more. Then ony I can be stronger and bigger.”

“Then I want to become small also. Can I become small?” Now I want it real bad.

He ponders. “But you can only become big small. You cannot be small small like me.”

I rest my case.