Sunday, May 17, 2015

Alas! The discord.

Is it that we are blind to our actions-
Or just refuse to see them in the right light?
Any explanation would fall on deaf ears,
Every other compromise reduce to a brawl...

The mask of tolerance that youth taught us to wear
Begins to shed, revealing the truth underneath;
Every attempt to appease tightens the noose
Every effort to break free pulls us back to earth.

That's why we cry when we listen to old songs,
They release old memories of promises, of hope,
Of a time when we entertained dreams, all vain,
Of a world we believed in that no longer is.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The million-dollar question of the day

“Auntie, why do Moms scold us all the time while Dads don’t scold us at all?”

This question – that has been asked by children since time immemorial – was recently asked of me by a sweet little eight-year-old. I am not facing it for the first time; I have myself wondered the same, and yet, when her innocent question hit me, I was rendered speechless. After a few seconds of ‘er…I think…you know…’ etc., I finally admitted to her that I did not have any insight on the problem. I wasn’t exactly relieved when her mother informed me later that some of the child’s astute queries often leave the universe itself fumbling for answers.

One morning, in the hustle and bustle of getting my son ready for school, he asked me, “Why does my Dad help me get dressed more quietly than you?” Yes, he used the word ‘quietly’. As opposed to his mother making all the noise – ‘get dressed!’ ‘fast!’ ‘your bus is coming!’ ‘my God, didn’t you eat anything yet?’ ‘you are going to be hungry and sick and under-nourished and ill all the time!’.

My reply wasn’t quite dignified, I’m afraid. I muttered under my breath something like ‘Okay, so get your dad to help you’ and walked away. In my defence, no mother in her right mind can bear a comparison like that, especially when she herself feels guilty for every single thing she does and doesn’t do, every single hour of every single day.

At a recent get-together with friends (all mothers), we, naturally, began talking of parenting (how do we always wind up in that topic?), and we had quite a laugh arguing between ourselves about who amongst us was the loudest when it comes to disciplining our children. Some of the comments went like this:

‘When I begin to shout, my neighbours escape to their hometowns. Did you ever wonder why the houses next to mine are always unoccupied?’

‘I suspect my parents-in-law returned to Kerala cutting their vacation short, because of my constant yelling at their grandchildren.’

‘Surely your voice is nothing compared to mine. When I help my son with his homework, the very foundation of this building trembles.’

‘Oh, was that the earthquake scare last week? As for me, I begin with, ‘Dear, please don’t drop your uniform on the floor, throw them in the laundry basket.’ After a few minutes I progress to ‘I told you to put your uniform in the laundry basket!’ and ‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Half an hour later, I thunder, ‘For the last time! PUT YOUR FILTHY CLOTHES IN THE STUPID BASKET!’ and all the kids in the colony would have thrown their clothes into their baskets, without knowing what had actually hit them. I mean, we aren’t asking them to wash their darn clothes, are we?’

(Dads who firmly believe that their wives are the only mothers who yell at the kids should be allowed to secretly listen in on this conversation.)

Frankly, hearing from other mothers that we all fall into the same tribe of beasts is very, very comforting and does wonders to salvage our self-worth.

So this little eight-year-old’s mother assured me that she does ask point-blank questions all the time, and that there was nothing to worry about being at a loss to answer. I face it every day, she said. That didn’t console me one bit. She’s only an eight-year-old. She hasn’t begun to question Newton’s third law yet. I can handle eight-year-olds. I probably should have told her that mothers are more responsible for their children – to show them right from wrong, to guide them to be good men and women, to teach them to be kind and behave with courtesy and compassion, and to respect others. I should have told her that it was easy to say ‘teach your child good manners’ but it took constant monitoring and correcting. I should have told her that mothers felt guilty for the slightest lapse from their child, as though she alone were responsible. I should have told her that our society blames the mother for every wrong thing the child does, and that the mother agonises whether she’s spoiling the child with too much attention or ruining the child with too little. This constant pressure – added to anxieties from her own career and aspirations and finances and other daily tensions of life – stresses her out and, unfortunately and unconsciously, she takes it out on her child, even while knowing she shouldn't. It is a clichéd statement (but true, like all clichés) that mothers are never appreciated for what they do. Everything a mother does for her family is ‘after all, her job.’ No one even bothers to see what she is doing, how hard she is managing, how she is shuffling between her varied roles, and whether she is a little sad about the sacrifices she is making. No one realises how much she would love to be told, once in a while, that she is doing a good job. But why don’t Dads react the same way as Moms? Of course they are responsible for raising the child too. I do not know the answer. Maybe it is a Mommy hormone. Or maybe, Dads have Moms to fall back on, but Moms have no one to.

On second thoughts, probably it is good that I did not say all this to her. She would have understood nothing, and she would have thought, ‘Why in the world did I ask this question to Auntie?’ and she might have stopped asking questions.

But I rather hope that twenty or twenty-five years down the line, I will meet her somewhere and I would remind her of her question, and then we will have a good laugh about it – because by then, God willing, she would have found out the painful answer herself. (If the world hasn't changed all that much by then.) I hope, when that day comes, I can hold her hand and reassure her that we've all been there, and there is no need to feel guilty, because she is not the only mother who feels every day that she is a total failure.

Because she isn't. No mother ever is.

Read - Scenes from Mother's Day 2014

Monday, May 4, 2015


'Why did you do that?!'
'What a foolish decision!'
'You must do this now.'
'Don't you know it will become this-or-that?'
'I could have told you that would happen.'
'Did you do this? Did you do that? Did you do this after that, or did you do that after this? Why?'

The moment we talk about a decision in our lives, or an illness, or a casual daily affair, there are people who respond immediately with comments like the above. They believe that as a responsible citizen of this wonderful country, it is their duty to point out others' errors and to move mountains to fix those errors. They are also convinced that we know nothing about how this world works and it is upon them to teach us a few lessons based on their vast experience. They also like to gloat a wee bit later that 'I told her to fix it this way.'

We flinch, and ask ourselves why in the world we had to start talking about it. Our murmured replies cement their conviction that we are ignorant folks who only add to the woes of the planet.

Those who know us better - even when they may not know the exact circumstances that led to our situation - may give us the benefit of doubt. Their questions - delivered kindly - are at least based on the belief that we can also think like they do, and  that maybe we have considered all options, and that maybe we are intelligent enough to figure things out when the time comes. They take care to put their responses in a certain way so as to make sure that we are not plunging into a mistake out of ignorance. To be fair, if we like them, their queries are okay; if we don't, they aren't. In other words, we like them if they know how to respond kindly; we don't, if they don't.

Yes, everyone is well-meaning in this world, the only difference is how you make yourself appear in the light of a situation.

Why do we talk to those people who make us feel small? Sometimes it is duty. Sometimes we need advice - and those people are experts in their area. Sometimes we have to visit them for the sake of preserving social niceties and such, and one conversation leads to another. There could be many reasons.

Until a few years ago, it had been difficult to explain this feeling. You feel wretched after each dose you receive, but you could never reduce the entire episode into a single word. You could not quite decide whether your attitude and actions were wrong - or did they jump to conclusions?


Among the many things that the West has bestowed on us in the recent years is a small but significant word that had slipped past us unseen, unnoticed. A word that we hear in movies, shows, talks, everywhere and is increasingly entering our lives and falling out of our mouths. A word that just by its existence tells us that we are not the ones who are wrong; we are not the ones who should feel guilty.

And that word is - judging.
(Often followed by a flood of Unsolicited advice.)

She was judging me.
Why are you judging me?
Don't judge me!

It is a relief to know that that well-known feeling of wretchedness goes by a clear, definite name. In that single word, we can compress the entire episode, and the listener would know what we mean.

We all judge others - openly and secretly. It's in our flesh and blood. At one point in time, I am sure judging helped our species survive subarctic temperatures and such. But it is probably wiser to keep the art of judging to ourselves or to people closest to us. Today it might not quite help the cause of survival.