Being a bully is not cool


A dear friend has been struggling with envy. From a close family person. Who one has supposed in being older and a parent and from a generation that is known to have been inclusive should have been at the very least a neutral presence.

The friend in her wisdom and compassion decided to be the ‘bigger person’ — finding reason to either excuse or overlook the older relative’s foolhardy, provocative and hostile behaviour and expressions — written and spoken.

A couple of days ago, when the older relative decided, unilaterally, presumptuously and inconsiderately to heap some more unwanted responsibility on my friend’s head without once checking with her, my friend decided, appropriately that enough was enough.

And she confronted the relative with plain speak about the series of unfair and unkind decisions that had been made over her head, requiring her work, involvement, time and energy. That she in her civility and maturity she had so far put her head down and just got done. For her own sanity for the sanity and safety of her children.

And she said, ‘no more’. And somehow, the newness of it — her changing tack, the unexpectedness of it, and the obvious injustice of the situation so far, together made the relative ‘turn a new leaf’. Or so it seems. The relative acknowledged, by not saying anything in response, that what had happened so far was indeed unjust and that the way she had conducted herself was, to put it mildly, a shame.

Sometimes it seems that the only thing bullies respect is just this — a loud refusal to cow down to their bullying. For people like my friend who are mild-mannered, peace-loving and not interested in contests, the need to have to do so seems an unnecessary drain on their energies, time and grace. But this episode to me proves better than anything else that sometimes we need to reach outside our propensities and fight the good fight to say no to bullies, no to habitually presumptuous behaviour and no to arrogant entitlements from those who profess to being close without a clue about the responsibilities that accompany it.

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A love for words; a love for song


One of my earliest adult memories of my father is about how deeply moved he was by an extraordinary turn of phrase, or a soaring song. In my teenage years I used to be puzzled by how his eyes welled up and then at times embarrassed that there seemed no immediate or evident cause for his momentarily altered state.

As I grew older, I understood more and more how receptive he was to the beauty of words and sound and how easily he was able to relate to the most distant and unfamiliar pieces of work irrespective of their place of origin and sometimes irrespective of the language that the eclectic music he gradually collected over the years and had us unconsciously partake of.

I cannot be gladder to have grown up in a home that every Sunday woke up to the scratch of a needle finding its groove on an LP – often classical vocal music from both the Hindustani and Carnatic traditions but also a lot of instrumental music and a fair bit of western classical and an equally fair bit of folk music from what was then called the Eastern Bloc, from some parts of Africa apart from silly favorites of mine including an LP from the children’s film Annie.

Now when I read to my little girl at night and sometimes insist on choosing my favorite stories (including right now the fabulous Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale) I find myself morphing into my old man, throwing my voice to suit the rhyming lines, terribly involved in what they portray and unabashedly moved by the perfection and beauty of the story it tells. And I think to myself it’s no wonder I can already see my little girl looking at me with a mix of concern and puzzlement wondering why her mum seems to tear up about a story so distant and unrelated to our lives – and yet internalizing in her own way, a love for words and a love for song.

Becoming a parent: Nothing goes to plan


If there’s one thing you can be certain of, ahead of becoming a parent, it is that nearly nothing will go to plan. The perfect, compassionate, smart, supportive, baby and mamma loving mid-wife will have a personal crisis the very night you go into labour. She will call and half feign an apology and say you’re going to be fine, that its going to be an awesome delivery, and you’re going to do swell without her by your side.

You would have certainly not slept as much and as well as you would have hoped as all the well-meaning nursing staff and mamma and papa friends had advised you to do before the marathon that labour usually is — and I’m not even going into the birthing itself. (Who ever told you the pain is natural needs to go take a walk.)

When labour starts, you will not be the picture of serenity, sitting criss cross apple sauce, breathing in and breathing out, calmly, rhythmically, shallowly, as your friendly neighbourhood pre-natal expert had so lovingly taught you to do the moment labour starts.

You will be by turn taken aback and too soon horrified at the intensity of the jabs, how they/it/whatever is in command, NOT, no not for a moment, you. You will have no shame in crawling the walls of your room, or whichever room you find yourself in when the jabs return, stifling a little cry, contorting your body in the most amazing ways to find some position of moderate comfort or escape from this incredible experience.

And no, you will almost not remember that all of this is about a little creature inside who is preparing to come out.

When you get on the phone to speak to the hospital you have selected for their emphasis on empathy, natural birth and mamma-baby centricity, you will not take too kindly to the trained, flat voice that you are met with which says the pain you are feeling is not yet good enough to come in with.

‘Jeez, lady, what do YOU know???!!!’ is what you will want to scream at the voice but instead, you will be caught mid-way in this primordial, involuntary convulsion that will make you feel infantile and make you do your breathing on the phone while the voice on the other end holds politely and encourages you to do your good work as though you were a young, anxious school-girl.

A couple of minutes or many minutes later when you are able to impress them with your raspy breath and they finally say what you’ve been dying to hear — ‘yes, you can come now’ — you will be suddenly aware that this is last time you are going to leave home as a woman with large tummy that has baby inside. And you will almost laugh and choke that your mind is able to think about this while being caught up in said primordial drama.

For all the tedious and loving preparations you and your partner may have made in reading up about, scouring for and investing in water birthing paraphernalia, you will not be flooded with images of how sublime the birthing is going to be. You will be consumed as you descend the stairs from your first floor flat (if that’s where you happen to live) or as you go down in a clunky lift while holding on tightly to your mum’s or partner’s hand/arm/wrist about how long anyone can possibly stay alive feeling the convulsions you are feeling and what if anything can make it stop.

When the cabbie comes, in the dead of the night (why is it always the dead of the night?) to fetch you and your attendants and the attending bags and said paraphernalia to the hospital, you will not be in the least interested in the small talk he will try his hand at. Although somewhere in your head you will wonder whether he understands the significance of his current undertaking, whether he has done it before and whether if the need should so arise, would he help with an emergency birth en route?

When you get through the gates of the tucked away entrance to the maternity ward, you will not be in a mood for wall-mounted phones with speakers attached. You will want someone to usher you in, show you your room, and leave you be.

If you’re lucky the room will not be chock a block with machines, artificial breathing equipment for an emergency, sterile trays, bright white light or anything at all that reminds you this is not home or a friend’s home or a hotel.

At which point I have to say, I managed in the middle of all this, to have a moment of epiphany. When all the ushering in rituals had died down, when a young, attractive, Greek mid wife had done her thing of poking me (why oh why is it necessary?) to make sure the baby was alright and at the same time inserted quickly a monitor on her head (while telling me the pain was worth it and gushing with pride on my behalf that the baby had a head full of hair, unheard of in the Nordic!), when I was happy to see my tired and spent attendants take a nap in their respective corners, I found myself marvelling at the quiet night outside, the geometic beauty of the street lights on the highway twinkling below, the reassuring and familiar sound of the rocking chair I was sitting on, rocking rhythmically to the dance of my body, and even if only for a few, brief moments, content and calm by myself with this creature inside me, on the cusp of being born, bewildered, moved and entirely accepting of whatever was going to come.

Fearlessness


Some of the greatest injustices are done unsurprisingly insiduously; to assert a sense of dominion and sense of entitlement over things and people one often considers one’s property.

And some of the worst of these acts of injustice are committed on those who are visually, physically, emotionally and psychologically the most vulnerable and dependent: young children.

In being mother of a young daughter, I have found it imperative to arm my girl with the unquestioned certainty that she is not under any obligation to do anything that she is not comfortable with in any way (barring of course having to eat, sleep, be safe and if possible courteous and kind to herself and those around her).

And although that has meant her being at times excruciatingly particular about what she is comfortable with, when, where and with whom, I think it is exactly the sort of deeply embdedded, fearless approach which will go a long way in breaking down thousands of years old notions of what is acceptable and what is not; what needs to be tolerated and what need not ; and what sets of roles, expectations and behaviours the two genders can enscribe onto each other in various equations, inside and outside the family.

I couldnt be prouder that she is only 3 and a half years old and already has such a nuanced sense of situations, relationships, people and places.

While of course still being a goofy, funny, lovely and loving little girl.

A mother’s gift


As a young child grows, some of the concerns and worries about her safety, happiness and well-being recede, as she becomes stronger, bigger and more articulate. Some don’t, of course, and stay for as long as one is alive.

Worry, as a fellow mother one said, especially on behalf of a girl child, comes with the territory.

But what has come to my mind is that nothing makes a young child feel more secure and confident than knowing that you are alive to her every small and big expression – especially when that of sorrow, hurt or discomfort – in any situation with anybody – and that you believe completely and utterly in her feeling.

My mother gave me that incredible gift as a child and I feel honoured to pass it on to mine.

The magic between children


At a busy street corner, a fair distance from home, there are nearly always a bunch of street children hanging around, doing cartwheels for anyone who may want to tip them for it, coming around to the car windows and pressing their noses against the glass, shielding their eyes from the strong mid-morning sun and trying to peer in to gauge the possibility of getting some money.

Many years ago when the spot used to be part of my daily trudge to work in the centre of Delhi, I had become a known face. A young girl would always come up to have a chat about what she felt like eating on the day and I began carrying fruits for her. She wasn’t usually impressed by my wares – usually bananas or oranges – wanting chips or biscuits instead but was eventually satisfied if not pleased to take whatever it was I had.

Little T began noticing these children when she was about 2 years old and used to lunge and hide behind me or mum while wanting at the same time to take a peek.

When she was able to say what she wanted to – a couple of months ago – she asked what they were doing there, why their Mamma wasn’t around and why they weren’t wearing shoes.

I told her what I could and said there was no reason to duck and hide – that they meant no harm. She wasn’t entirely convinced but has tried since then to remain seated and more or less in the same position when the children come around asking for money.

One time, a particularly cheerful girl came by and nearly lunged her hand in to ask for money which absolutely terrified T. But when the little street girl noticed the effect what she had done had had on a fellow child (T) she cringed, tried hard to make eye contact with her and once she had coaxed T to look at her, broke into an impromptu jiggle to make T laugh.

For her sake, the lights didn’t change for a while or the row of cars in front of us didnt get to budge much keeping us stationary for quite a while. And it was only when this little girl saw T relax and smile back at her did she stop her theatrics, pleased to have broken a barrier, to have established between them the fact that she had meant no harm, especially not to T and that the two of them were after all, although separated so horribly and unfairly by so many privileges and inequalities, children first.

The memmory of that episde still brings a smile to my face – the series of expressions on that girl’s face – at first the embarrassment and sorrow for having turned off a child and then the glee and gratitude when the child she was trying to connect to yielded – and eventually generously – with the biggest smile.

In our daily race of living, it is so easy to not have the time to notice the special people children are. If only we could provide more and more of them the kind of space that that little anonymous girl on the street had created, by herself, for her and T, we would make this a better place for them and us.