Thursday, December 29, 2016

Many moons, many memories.

Last night I dreamed I went to Murari Pukur again (that's so Rebecca-ish, I know). A luxury resort had been built and within the pond, right at the middle was an intricate swimming pool which had to be reached by arched foot bridges. There was another huge square pool on the other side, covered by a mosaic tiled canopy, it stood shimmering in the light. The house was back, only the front fa├žade was covered in white and the current owner assured me that they were working on building ornate dining rooms out there. The rooms were cottages looking onto the pond, I asked the owner if I could swim in the pond and he was shocked that I wanted to, "it is so deep and such a long distance!" From memory I know that pond cannot have been more than 50 meters in length. At one time I could take a deep breath and dive in on one end and come out at the other, gasping and pretending I was some super sleuth in training. The lawns were neatly manicured and cut, plants carefully planted. None of those flowers and wild-grass jostling for space as I last remember it. Young Frangipani trees strategically added to the luxurious feel and I found myself marvelling at it all and wondering if the planner had imagined it a trifle better than I had. Yes, at one time, in my youth and brimming enthusiasm, I had told my father that what he should do is turn the place into a resort. He had sighed and turned away, smiling. I wonder if he knew, then, that Murari Pukur would be lost to me one day. Just as he would disentangle my fingers from the crook of his elbow and walk on ahead leaving me struggling to catch up….in more ways than one. 
I think of the old days a lot, those warm sun-kissed days, those lazy unstructured evenings, those long nights of balmy silence interspersed by giggles and secrets shared between friends. Is it likely that my dream may have been triggered by the visit of two such sisters recently? Possible. They dropped by one day  and we met after years. Years that melted away quicker than the ice-cubes in our glasses of orange squash from the summers of yore. They brought back memories not quite forgotten but hidden in recesses of my mind.
Or was the dream triggered by the fact that over the last two days I have packed up all of my late father-in-law's clothes into carton boxes that now sit in the living room waiting to be given away to charity? As I took out those suits and jackets I remembered laughing with him, visiting places together, holidays as a family and conversations that now echo only in my mind. That blue striped shirt he loved, that jacket we bought together, that sweater he said kept him as warm as a bear, that shawl we got him from Kashmir… it was all I could do to stop crying and carry on.
And at the end of the day, I think that's all we have. The warm snapshots faded at the edges of days gone by, of friends we laughed with, the joyous music lifting our spirits even when it is cold and the wind blows outside. Everything is magical: the scoldings from our elders, the lectures of that Uncle we all secretly despised, the histrionics of that fat aunty we all loved to hate and would imitate with a pillow stuffed down our front! The other day someone asked me what I wanted for myself for Christmas. I could not think of a thing; I am fortunate, I do not need any more clothes or sarees or shoes or even books. I'd rather spend money on an evening out with people I love than buy another handful of possessions I do not need. (Actually to be honest, the only thing I still like to buy are books, there are endless worlds awaiting and those fascinate me more than any new piece of clothing or accessory ever could!)
So what I am saying here is nothing I haven't said before and nothing new. Let's make memories. Let's just meet up, find friends we never stayed in touch with, catch up with people who have moved out of our lives, get closer to the people we care about and spend our energy on the things we want to do, not the ones we HAVE to. Memories are all we take with us when we go and all we really leave behind when we are gone. Because, you know, those clothes will fade and be given away, the jewelry will be stored away in bank lockers, all your possessions will gather dust somewhere, even the house you so lovingly built may lie vacant and locked… what you will leave is a smile at a shared memory, a laugh at a sudden thought, a spoken word about something you said or did and that is how you will stay alive, even after you are gone.

Life is too short and impetuous for much else. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why I should not be writing about Parenting!

It's been a busy few weeks. One daughter developed respiratory distress and had to be hospitalised for three nights, she has only just been allowed back to school. No, she does not have asthma. But with all the dust and pollution around, are you really surprised? Her pediatrician and pulmologist think it was caused by a bacterial infection. The other one has been suffering for a few months with pain in the joints of the wrists and fingers. Initially we thought it was a ruse to avoid writing, but she seemed to be in agony so over the past four months we have repeatedly been visiting doctors in succession: a pediatrician, an endocrinologist and a pediatric rheumatologist. (I have learnt so many big words this year!!)We have done a battery of blood tests and even a nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV) test which entails electric currents being passed through the hand and the doctors are as yet unable to come up with a diagnosis! Today, we shall try Homeopathy. I'm grabbing at straws here. Add to that the usual rigmarole of the wedding season, social obligations, school duties (bake a cake, collect a cake, deliver a cake), filial obligations and daily living. My work has not only taken a back seat but has also probably fallen off the wagon and I have no time to do anything but somehow breathe and stay alive, much less write.
In fact I have received a few emails with writing prompts and encouraging words saying that I have not written a blog post for a while and I should.  I have ruthlessly been deleting them all. You see, in all the melodrama  that has been going on, I have had a lot of time to think. And the primary thought that has occupied my mind is that I am NOT qualified to be writing on parenting.
Here's why:
1.      I am evil: As I have often explained, I am not mummy material. The sight of babies' drool does not send me into a tizzy. I cannot do the ga-ga goo-goo and am likely to do permanent damage on children just by glaring at them. Just the other day at a relative's place, a small boy was being naughty. I guess all small boys (and girls) are like that. We were waiting for the kids to finish eating so the adults could start. This child was sucking on a small plastic water bottle and refusing to eat. I asked him to leave the bottle and eat. He shook his head, no. I asked again. He shook his head more violently. He was sucking on the bottle so hard it was creating a suction. I tapped the bottom of the bottle. The rim must have hit his lip or mouth because the next moment, he had thrown away the bottle and tears flooded his eyes. Thankfully there was no cut or anything and I never meant to hurt the boy. I spent the next half an hour making friends with him and playing with him. My daughters, who were there and watched me trying to soothe the boy with unbridled glee, told me I was evil.
2.      My house, my rules: I do not hold back, I tell the girls exactly what I think and why. I tell them when they look like a tree trunk or need to diet. I do not hesitate to let them know that their work lacks depth or sincerity. I have been known to scream at my daughters ( and even their friends) in public or elsewhere if I felt it necessary and I have never hesitated to discipline them or make them apologise for their mistakes. I am told that it is wrong. I have been told that I should sugar-coat my words for fear I may traumatise them but I do not think it necessary. See the cover photo? Yes, that's me in a mask frightening my girls and their friends! When the girls were younger, we often visited my in-laws who lived in another house over and on weekends.  Often, we got late returning and the girls would fall asleep in the car. I used to make them get up and climb the four storey stretch of stairs to reach our apartment. I would walk behind them and prod them to keep them moving up the steps. If I had not, they probably would have fallen asleep on the stairs! My daughters tell me that this has scarred them for life; to this date they cannot climb the stairs (especially at night) without thinking that someone would poke them from behind.
3.      I have no maternal feelings: My relationship with my own mother has always been iffy. She came over and helped me when the girls were new-born and I was struggling with diapers and feeding bottles and I am grateful for that but it is only recently that we have mellowed down enough to have an almost civil relationship with each other. Maybe it's because I have now entered my purple years and have come to a stage where I am not bothered by anything anyone says or does and do exactly as I please. But I have never had a role model to look up to or aspire to be. I was, like all mothers, inundated with advice and lectures and after a short span of time realised that I had no patience for it.  So I threw away the guidebook pretty early on.  My brand of parenting is, at best, described as dictatorial. I order, they obey.
4.      I have failed: I order they obey. Did I just say that? My daughters do anything but obey. They bend all the rules, they do not listen to a thing I say. They can argue the hind leg off a donkey. Take this example:
"Can I watch TV?"
"Don't you have exams? Go Study."
"Please , I have to watch my show".
"I said NO, why do you ask if you won't listen?"
"Only while having dinner"
"Please Ma, only half an hour."
After an hour, the TV is still on. One child sits at the dining table chewing a chapati in slow motion. The other is curled up on the sofa, eyes glued to the TV.
"Why is the TV still on? Didn't you say you would watch only while eating dinner?"
"I watched when I had my dinner, now Isha didi is having dinner!"
 5. I'm an optimist. This is an obvious handicap while raising children in this competitive world. My girls are pretty so-so in studies, they manage to pass. Just about. And sometimes it is not even that. They do not play any games, they are not fond of any sport and generally lead unhealthy, in-active lives spent in front of some screen or the other . It's not that we did not try. We have been through dancing classes, singing classes, roller-skating, squash, piano lessons and what-not together. At the end of the day, you will only find them on the phone or on snap chat and even sending voice notes on Whattsapp. Even though ICSC looms round the corner, my daughter is seen more on Instagram than at her study table. We turn the wi-fi off, they sweet talk my sister-in-law (who stays opposite) to sharing her password. We confiscate their phone, they sneak them out of the cupboard. They lie for each other and cover up for each other except when they are fighting like wild cats. They eat an unhealthy diet of chocolates, chips and shortbread in the middle of the night and wonder why they are putting on weight! Yet I believe in them. I think they will turn into normal, well-adjusted, happy, responsible adults. I still think they will follow their dreams and succeed although there is every indication that they might not even get admission into a college of their choice. Such is the blind optimism I have been cursed with.
This is why I have not been writing. This is why I told myself that I should never write a word on parenting ever again. But then I realised that probably there are other mothers like me who go running about with a glazed look in their eyes and wonder if everything they are living for or doing is wrong.
All I want to say is that it probably is, but don't worry. As long as you are yourself and doing the best you can, surely, everything will turn out right!

Friday, November 4, 2016

"life is for the living"

"Life is for the living," my father used to say.
I never really understood what he meant.
Oh, I was familiar with death. I was never shielded from it and as a young teen, often accompanied my father on his occasional trips to the crematorium or graveyard. Later, on the way home, I would I would bombard him with questions and he would answer the best he could. The rituals baffled me. Sometimes he would also talk about his death. I would be appropriately offended and upset and he would wait for my tirade to be over before he would gently explain that EVERYONE has to go someday. I should get used to the idea, however dismal it sounded.
I made peace with that. In my mind, that day was a distant eventuality.
I was naive. I never imagined that day would come so early in my life. A day when I was barely an adult in my years and certainly an unruly child in my heart. Predictably, I fell apart. I hung on to my tears for as long as I was home only to cry myself a river as soon as I returned to college. It's a wound that still bleeds at the most unexpected moments, a grief that does not let go.
Unfortunately, the date of my father's death also marked my cousin's birthday. For the longest time I refused to wish her. For me the world ended on the 13th of May. Nothing good could happen, nothing shone brightly, no celebration was possible.
Two years later, a very close friend got married. On the 13th of May. I think that was when I first really got a taste of what my father meant when he said life was for the living. I attended the wedding, I clearly remember that day. It was a lunch invitation, I was in a borrowed red sari and I drove those ten odd miles like a maniac back from the wedding to my apartment near the Film Institute in tears. I think I felt I had betrayed my father somehow, that I had dared to go out and have fun on what was, obviously, a black day.
Looking back, I wish I could hug that young girl once. I wish I could stem her tears and explain that life, truly, is for the living and she had done nothing wrong by living.
And my father never went away. I find him everyday, in mundane everyday things, in a phrase someone says, in a song he used to hum, in a blazing sunset, in a starless night, in "a violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye."
Some years later, I had another father-figure in my life. My father-in-law. He took it upon himself to be a father to me, considering I had none of my own. I did not welcome it. But he wore me down with his love, his affection, his paternal pride at my achievements, however small. I found myself listening, talking, arguing back, airing my opinions, even bullying him on occasion. I'd like to think that he too found the daughter he had never had in me.
I started wishing the cousin on her birthday again. I learned to laugh and live, even on the 13th of May. It was not such a bleak day after all. I could raise a toast to my father and celebrate the years we had together. Life was easier.
My father-in-law passed away after a long fifty day battle with a cerebral stroke. As I sat by his side I hurled all my love and angst and frustration and joy at him, in the hope that he would respond, that he would smile at me once again and I would bring him home. On the fifty-first day I did for him what I could not/did not do for my own father: I sat by his side (along with my husband) as he slipped away silently into the good night. It was the 5th of November. Losing a father was bad enough, I always thought. But losing two? I thought I could never smile again.
But the years go by. Just as I was writing this I went outside where my husband is passing time flicking through TV channels. A dialogue by Mithun Chakraborty in some random Bengali movie I had watched and laughed at with my father-in-law caught my attention, "marbo ekhane laash porbe shoshane.." I had to laugh and I know he laughs with me somewhere.
You see, tomorrow is the 5th of November. I know, like on most Saturdays, I will go to the market. I will buy vegetables and fish and fruits and I will cook for the family. Maybe the menu will verge on food that I know he loved, specially when I made it for him, but it will be a normal day. I will do all my household chores, I will smile and greet people I meet, pass my trademark comments in the bazaar and live my day laughing with my daughters, smiling at the sunlight streaming in the windows and  no one will know that I still miss my fathers. And I still talk to them. Everyday.
You see, life, is for the living.
(The dead only wait in the wings, for us to call upon when we need them.)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Are we raising insensitive children?

Today, in the Kolkata edition of The Telegraph, I came across a book review of a book called “The Good Indian’s Guide to Queue Jumping” by one V. Raghunathan. It has been published by Harper Collins, a renowned publishing house that is known to be fussy about the titles it publishes. Now I have not read the book (nor can I genuinely say that I want to) and I am certain Harper Collins has its reasons for publishing the book, but what caught my eye was the title of the book: “The Good Indian’s Guide to Queue Jumping.” Seriously?
But then it made me stop and think. Let’s face it, queue jumping is a malady that affects us Indians, all the time. Be it at the airport, the check-out line in the grocery store, the entrance to a movie hall, even at the cash counter at the nursing home, we all seem to have been afflicted with a strange case of “I want to be first.” I particularly remember a trip abroad in my teens. While the whole world waited in queue at Heathrow airport, this extra-large family of Indians tried to jump the queue and was firmly put back in place by the grim faced officials. I saw the disgust on their faces. And I saw them looking at all Indians with the same distaste. And I felt sad because I wanted to scream that “No, all Indians are NOT like that!” but no one would care. Times have thankfully changed however, nowadays when you go abroad somehow you will find even Indians lining up, mostly peacefully, some lesson has been learnt over the years, maybe some awareness has come in? However, I have seen this too that the same family that stands in queue everywhere in the world suddenly finds it impossible to stand in line in our own country… does it have something to do with the climate or the air? I wonder. Nowadays, again thankfully, people do speak up when someone breaks a queue. I, in fact very loudly complain. Often I am told, rather condescendingly, “oh, really, the line is there, why YOU go ahead,” as if that solves anything!!! But I am helpless to change anything if the others behind me will not speak up.
Are you wondering why I am suddenly ranting about queues today? Or what it has to do with parenting? It’s not just the queue business. It’s basic decency. Holding a door open so that it will not bang on the face of the person right behind you. Driving in your own lane so that the person next to you will not be inconvenienced, listening to music on earphones on a flight, refraining from talking loudly on the phone in a movie hall, keeping the cell phone mute in a theatre, talking softly in a hospital, smiling and saying thank you to the guy who helps you in the supermarket, refraining from littering the street or spitting on the road, saying please to the waiter who is serving you at the restaurant… there are so many things. Somehow we rarely, or never seem to inculcate these.
And why? Because the bottom line is that in general we do not care about the convenience/inconvenience of others, we live in utter disregard to the other person, oblivious to their requirements or rights. Yes, we are insensitive. Oh, you’re protesting, are you? I’m glad you are, I’m glad I am irritating you because this needs to change. And who can change this if not us and our children and their children after them? Now it’s all very well for us to tell our children all this, maybe they will listen to you and learn. But you know, experience has taught me children only learn what they see. So the next time you feel like jumping the queue just because you are in a hurry, stop. Your child is learning that it is okay to be selfish and self-centered. The next time your feel like swerving into someone’s lane just to get ahead three feet while completely blocking the car behind that wanted to go left, restrain yourself. The next time the driver honks for no reason, in fact, do tell him off. Just try to be sensitive. Try to think that the person in the line ahead of you is equally busy and in as much as a hurry as you are. Waiting will not be difficult. Learn patience, practice patience. And your child will learn it too. Through you.
Let’s raise sensitive children. Children who smile and say please and thank you and hold the door open and do not honk needlessly because an older person is exiting the car in front of them and that takes longer than usual. Let’s teach them that it is not okay to roll down the car window and throw that empty packet of chips, that it is not okay to play video games with a loud volume for it may disturb the person next to you, that it is not okay to scream and shout and run about in a restaurant. Let’s raise sensitive children, who will care, not only for themselves but for the people around them and hopefully some of it will rub off on their friends too. Only then will the world stop thinking of us as an insensitive population full of queue jumpers.

Monday, July 25, 2016

teenagers and alcohol

I do not know how many of you are from Kolkata or follow the news here but last weekend an incident has rocked the city. A group of teenage boys and girls visited a friend's house to surprise her on her birthday. The family was in bereavement and did not want any celebrations in the house. So the group moved to a club where they were not served as the club does not allow dependent (read minor) members to introduce guests. They shifted to yet another club, presumably for food and purchased three bottles of vodka from an off shop and returned to the apartment complex of the birthday girl to party there. Apparently, they hung around the parking lot, having "fun". At about 6 PM one boy of Class XII was found injured and taken to hospital where he was declared dead. This is, in essence, what I have gleaned from the newspapers I have read, i.e. "The Telegraph" and "The Times of India", (Kolkata editions) although some of the facts are contradictory. For more on the story, in case you are interested, please check online. I'm not here to discuss the events or even say I have any knowledge about the same.
I cannot even begin to imagine what the mother of the deceased child (let's just refer to him as X) is feeling. Shock, rage, desperation… she is saying it was murder, while so far reports of the witnesses suggests an accident. She last saw her son at about 10:30 AM when X told his mother he was going to a party to be thrown by friends. The papers say he was a friend of a friend or whatever, some of the boys and girls there deny knowing him. But no matter what, can you imagine the heartbroken state of the mother?
I am no detective. I do not know where the investigations will take the police or what truth will emerge from their inquiries. I guess all that will follow hopefully sooner rather than later, I don't know what will happen. But what I do know and understand is that the life of a child of Class XII has been brutally cut short, in someone's house, a son will not be returning home. Ever.
I am no detective but I am a mother. And this is exactly one of the many kinds of fear that dwells in the heart of every mother parent. Even my husband has been affected by the incident. He, who normally never talks much in the car on the way to Court was waxing eloquent about the incident today. I realised then that he is just as affected by it as I am. A few days ago I was in Bangalore for a weekend. Three of us old friends visited a bar on a Friday evening. To our shock we saw a whole lot of under-age boys and girls at the bar. At the entrance we even spotted a classmate of my friend's class XI son, my friend said a lot of them have fake IDs that their parents get them!! These minors were partying, drinking and smoking like there was no tomorrow. I remember another occasion at a club. There was some carnival going on and the place was full of teenagers, we had gone to pick up our girls. To our shock we saw 14/15 year olds drinking beer. One of my daughter's friends actually came and asked me to help as one friend was so drunk that she had passed out. On another occasion I got into a fight at the bar because I told some kids they should not enter the bar and their mother did not like it. I asked the bartenders why they serve minors. Helplessly they told me that they did not, but often the minor's own parents or older friends would buy it for them. The bearers and waiters could not go and take away their glasses, could they?
I have nothing against drinking or having fun. But there is a time and place for everything. Increasingly we hear of minors drinking. My daughters tell me of their friends who regularly smoke hookah and others who drink. A single-parent friend worries about this under-age drinking (that is so rampant in her city) so much that she makes her 16 year old son come near her and smells his breath when he returns from parties. The boy obviously does not like it and they have huge fights but she insists, even at the risk of being hated by the boy. I laughed when I heard. But now I think that's probably one of the most sensible things she does
I keep telling my girls that they should not drink or smoke until they are 21.
How do I know they listen to me? You're right, I don't.
Just as my parents did not know.
My daughters are going on 16 and 17, vulnerable enough to peer pressure and wanting to "fit in". Old enough to want to "experiment".
Do I know all their friends? Or all their friend's parents? No.
Just as my parents did not know mine.
My daughters go out for parties occasionally. They also go out with their friends.  
Do I know who else will be there? No. 
Do I know where they are going? Yes, they tell me. 
But can I monitor them all the time? No.
Just as my parents could not.
Just as X's mother could not. Just like no one can. Neither you nor me. Nor that lady across the road.
Teenagers today have access to everything, if they want it badly enough. Those kids bought three bottles of vodka. "My", I thought, when I read that, "that's a lot of money." I wondered why the shop keeper sold it to them. Then I thought maybe he did not. They simply could've gotten anyone else to buy it for them. As I said, if the will is there, there always is a way. Don't forget we are talking about a generation that believes in instant gratification, be it clothes or games or smartphones or PokemonGo. If it's out there in the virtual world, they want it. And I am not saying that that is such a bad thing. Thanks to the internet and media, the world is within their grasp. They can dream bigger than we ever dared. They can fly higher than we ever imagined. They see worlds we still cannot fathom. And these worlds also bring with them new choices that we never had to face.
So what is the way out of this? How do I keep my daughters away from alcohol until they are mature enough to handle it? How do I ensure that my girls do not walk into bars or pretend to be older than they are? How do I ensure my girls will never fall into the "wrong" crowd or do stupid, irresponsible things? How do I teach them to walk away from situations that look like they are going out of control?
You know what? I don't know.
I can only teach them the proper values and hope for the best.

That is what frightens me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why I am afraid.

Last Friday, the twins went to their very first school. Yes, the youngest of my hearty collection of nieces and nephews, Satvik and Meenakshi, picked up their tiny little knapsacks and water-bottles and marched off to play school.
I was instantly reminded of other tiny feet marching off to school 14+ years ago.
Was it really so long ago?
I remember waiting outside the play school (it was compulsory) while the children alternated between playing and crying and going through several multi-colored stages of distress. Those days there was no candy crush to play, much less 4G internet surfing. It was distressing and boring. I couldn't wait for the kids to 'settle down' so I could get back home.
Oh, 'settle down' they did. They all do.
By and by they stopped crying. By and by they stopped looking back to see whether I was there. Those tiny feet grew bigger, the tread got heavier, the uniform changed, the needs changed until now I can happily say that my children do not need me anymore.

There are times when I cannot believe that I have been married for well near twenty years. My daughters will soon turn 16 and 17. How time has flown on soft winged feet. As I watch these two, Meenakshi and Satvik, and watch their parents and grand-mother fuss over them, sometimes I feel a helpless bout of nostalgia about my girls. And I wonder. Should I have been more patient when they were small? Should I have paid more attention to their hugs and embraces? Should I have not been in such a tearing hurry to get back to work? Should I have indulged them more? Did I do enough for them? Was I there for them when they needed me? Will I be there should they need me again?

And I remember those tiny feet that came running as soon as I returned home. Those eyes that followed me about as I went through my chores. That tiny voice that had declared that "when I grow up I want to be like my mother; I will drive and I will cook!" Those faces that lit up and hung onto every word I said…

Right now our house, as you know, is full of teenage hormones. No one wants to be like me, a creature they love to hate. I am the enemy, the harridan from hell. The one who doesn’t understand, much less care. We are always, but always, fighting each other. And if they are not bickering with me, they are shouting at each other and the house constantly resounds with "shut-ups", "disgusting" (apparently everything is disgusting!) and "I hate you"! 

Yet, I know even today as soon as I will enter the house the girls will drop whatever they are doing and come and greet me. I know late at night before going to bed one will come with a comb and a hug and talk about her day. Another one will surprise me with a hug when I least expect it. The thought gives me joy.

But I also know that these days are numbered. All too soon it will be time for them to leave home. In fact I keep prodding the older one about colleges and where she wants to go and keep telling her to find study options outside her comfort zone, outside the city of her birth. I WANT them to leave home and test their wings and stand on their own feet for only then I will know that I have done my job as a mother.  

You know, I used to think I was very laid back and prepared for whatever life threw my way. But motherhood changed all that. I became frightened the day I became a mother. And it has gripped my heart tighter as the children grow older and leave home. My heart frets and worries and I have to use every bit of resolve to not let it show.

I'm sure you all have been reading the newspapers and following the news. That kid who stayed back in the restaurant in Dhaka to be with his friends, the other innocent people hacked to death, that young Indian girl on holiday. The suicide bombers in Baghdad, in Beruit. The 7 year old run over by a truck, the ten year old raped, I can't imagine what personal hell the parents of those children are going through. My heart goes out to them, specially the parents of the Bangladeshi terrorists who are trying to apologise for what their sons have done.

Stop, I want to say. As parents we can only do so much, walk with them only for so long. Even then, they are living their lives and we, ours. Who knows where my children's lives will take them? Who will be their friends, what they will do, what choices they will make?

All I can do, as a parent is instill my values in them, educate them, teach them to be responsible, to think for themselves, to be gentle with the world and let them go.

I can never guarantee that the world will be gentle with them.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

House Rules for teens

Ah okay, time I faced things as they are. I am a lousy mother. A serious parenting #fail. I never seem to have the house in order and my daughters spend most of their lives stuck behind a screen deaf (and blind) to my attempts at discipline. Sometimes, when for the hundredth time, I enter their room and ask them to shut the drawer, they stare at me like I have fallen from the sky. They have no idea it is meant to be shut. Obviously I have not been able to teach them anything!
I also believe it's never too late to start making amends. So, instead of beating myself up about my inability to discipline them, I have, as of today, developed a set of "House Rules" which will be prominently displayed in the girl's room so that they (and their friends) know the rules and cannot claim ignorance!  Wonder why I didn’t think of this before!
So here goes, this is what they have been given: (I'll let you know if it worked, as of now as I write this one girl is howling with laughter in the next room, she has no idea how dead serious I am!!)


(My house, my rules. If you don't like them, find another place to stay)

1.      You have been given a room to live in. However that does not give you a right to convert it into a pig sty. Your parents will have right of entry into the room at any point of time and expect it to be kept clean. If the door is locked, you shall open the door as soon as a parent knocks. If the door is locked and a parent can hear you screaming, the parent has a right to break it open.
2.      The cupboards all have doors that close. Let's keep them that way. Shoes found outside the shoe cupboard can and may disappear and may not reappear in time for the next party or ever. 
3.      Books habitually do not jump in and out of shelves. Any book taken out of any shelf can and must be returned to its place when you are done with it. The same rule applies for DVDs, scissors, cello tape, nail-cutting equipment and the stapler, especially the kitchen scissors. 
4.      The washing machine will be turned on every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and occasionally on Sundays. Your mother will not touch wet stinky clothes that have been sweating in the bucket and you are responsible for washing the same and hanging it out to dry. It will continue to lie in the bucket and raise a stink till the needful is done by who-ever that stink belongs to.
5.      Meal times are known to everyone and are to be adhered to. Snacks are not a matter of right. Your parents are under no obligation to ensure that kebabs, bacon, sausages and chicken nuggets are permanently displayed in the freezer so you can eat them. Kindly ask for permission before gorging on such items.
6.      The refrigerator has a function and that is to preserve food. You do not open the door and stand there till icicles grow out of your nose. Nor do you eat all the ice in the freezer section. Cheese and chocolates are not bread or rice and do not form part of our staple diet, do not devour it as though it is.
7.      You ought to be old enough to know what purpose the bathrooms are used for. Kindly desist from taking your speakers and listening to music for two hours while you shower. Water is precious. So are the shampoos, conditioners and body washes that flow with it when you are bathing. When you exit the bathroom please ensure that it is dry, the toothpaste has been put away and all your odds and ends removed. Remember wet towels do not fly and hang themselves to dry, kindly do the needful to ensure that the damp towel gets some air.
8.      The iron is not a toy. As and when you feel the need to use the same kindly ensure that the appliance is switched off when you are done and do not keep a hot iron face down on the ironing board. There is a reason why the ironing board has a burnt chunk and you know what it is.
9.      Any items of yours (read shoes, slippers, bags, books, accessories) of any nature whatsoever must not be found in any room other than your own. If it is, you will be summoned to remove the same with immediate effect and no one cares that you are tired or sleeping. Whining will not help either.
10.  The television is for entertainment and the characters in your serials are not real. I do not care that you have to cry each time you seen that re-run of that serial just because the hot guy died. If it makes you cry, stop watching it. If it scares you, shut off the TV. Go read a book. Any use of this device should be limited but as I know you sneak in shows with meal times and have it on whenever I am not home, let me advise you on its use. You do not turn the cushion of the divan into a flat pastry by sitting on it. You do not eat on the sofa and wipe dirty hands on the upholstery. When TV viewing is over, especially when you have hear the car come in, kindly switch off the TV, the set–top box, the electric switch and the fan. Most importantly please remove personal effects like slippers and hairclips and brushes from the vicinity. Leaving them lying there will let people know you are watching TV when you have been pretending that you haven’t.
11.  The telephone has not been subscribed to with you in mind and it is not your birth-right. Please bear in mind that until you are old enough to earn and pay the bills, we are not under any obligation to ensure you get to chat with your friends. You have your own pre-paid cell-phones for a purpose, kindly use them. Top up is once a month and you know how much you will get.  Kindly be on notice that once the dying cordless phone's battery dies completely, we are under no obligation to get a new one. So it is in your interest to ensure that it stays in the cradle and does not walk around the house.
12.  Similarly, electricity bills are paid by us. Kindly desist from wasting the same by turning on every light and fan in every room you walk into and not turning it off when you leave. You talk about saving energy and the environment and conservation of natural resources; let's start by turning off all the unused devices in the house.
13.  The Wi-Fi is not supposed to be on for every minute that you are awake or asleep. To switch it on, kindly take express permission of either parent. You will specify the purpose for the same and used it for a limited period of time as granted permission for. Remember when you say you have to do research and spend all your time on FaceBook, Instagram and SnapChat, the Wi-Fi may be turned off without any warning.
14.  The maid is not here to make your life comfortable. You do not holler for a glass of water when you can jolly well help yourself. She does not have to fry you snacks or make you Maggi at the drop of a hat. Housework will not kill you and you do not become a servant if you help in household chores even when the maid is there. So make your own bed, dust your room, clean the dressing table and the study table. Believe me, you will feel better for it.
15.  You have only one job to do and you know what it is. You have to stand on your own feet. And be happy. Towards that end, your parents are doing everything possible to ensure you have a balanced, healthy life. All your indulgences, extra-curricular activities, socializing with friends, TV benefits, Wi-Fi use etc are designed for that purpose only. Obey the rules and your parents will also be happy. And do fit in your studies. You have a responsibility there and it is all yours as only you know exactly what you have to do: it is the only way to ensure a stress-free neighborhood.

Thank you for your attention. These rules are not absolute and may be amended, altered or added to by either parent at any point of time.
Therefore, all questions, comments, concerns, complaints, frustrations, tantrums, imitations, aggravations, insinuations, allegations, accusations, consternation and suggestions should be directed elsewhere.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Shooting from the heart.

Last month saw my husband and I vacationing in Goa with only the older daughter in tow. The other one took off for a IAYP camping and trekking trip in Himachal Pradesh.
We knew about the trip for a while. My younger daughter, who is 16, was over the moon with joy at the thought that she would spend ten days with only her friends for company. Yes, there was a lot of excitement and she could not wait for 22nd May 2016 to arrive! A week before her departure she dragged us to the newly opened Decathlon store in Howrah to buy a long list of stuff, right from a water bottle (which never returned from the camping trip) to hiking shoes and t'shirts and what not. Yes, the excitement had been building for a while.
Part of the deal was that the girls were not allowed to carry any cell-phones or tabs, they were not to be contacted save in dire emergency etc. Of course their group leader who is a school student herself, created a Whattsapp group for the parents of all 75 girls who were going on this trip. Yes, that's a huge number of mums and some dads and an extremely sweet and well meaning gesture from the child who sat and actually added all the parents in so that the parents could communicate with each other.
So even before the trip began, the worried mummies began talking about their little darlings and asking questions about the trip, most of which would have been answered had they bothered to read the notice. I sighed and muted the group.
The day before the trip the daughter in question developed a fever. I was worried because I knew it would break her heart if she had to be left out because of it. But the teachers accompanying the group were very sporting and promised to look after the child, assuring me that it was not at all uncommon for such a thing to happen. Call us evil or callous parents, we allowed the child to go.
Till here I am okay. What happened thereafter was not. The mothers went berserk. The comments, right from the time the little darlings were dropped off at the airport till their return flight landed were relentless. Specially from a section of mothers who barraged the camp instructor with so many phone calls that they were actually asked not to call so often. Then there was this lot who were missing their 'babies' as they had never been away from their 'babies' for even 24 hours before. And the others who would constantly ask where they were and how far they had reached knowing full well that most of what was being said was speculative and leading to panic stricken reactions from other moms who thought otherwise. Oh it was chaos. And on some levels, amusing.
Needless to say I kept quiet on the group throughout. I even turned off the data while roaming in Goa. I admit I smsed the teacher once each morning for three days for an update on the fever and stopped the day I heard the fever was gone. You see, I believe that everyone needs some timeout. Far from the influence, concern and interference of not only parents and/or well-wishers but also from technology. And there they were, in capable hands, away on a school trip. It was time to let them have fun.
Don't get me wrong. I also completely understand the concern of the other mothers, their fears, their need to know where the child is and what she is doing. I completely understand.
Which is why I find it somewhat ironic that parents will fret about a ten day school organised trip which the daughter is taking with friends but not think twice about sending her off to an arranged marriage to spend the rest of her life in.
Barely had we turned 18 in school than a host of my friends began getting married. Oh the families knew each other, he was such a good catch, the fathers were partners in business and blah blah blah, the excuses were manifold. A lot of these marriages have survived to this day (it IS awkward when my school friends have college going -and older-kids) but a lot have not. Abusive husbands, abusive in-laws, extra-marital affairs, adjustment issues, interfering mothers etc . The list is no different than any other in today's day and age.
So why am I writing this? Because people, I found out I live in a shell. I used to think that nowadays with more education and awareness among families, young girls study longer and are not married off when she's barely a teenager. But a friend recently enlightened me otherwise. "No way," she told me. In fact, in a lot of households, with the rising number of divorces and opinionated and independent women nowadays, it's thought that it's better to marry them off young so they can be molded to "fit In"! Oh horrors. "And then, even if they do become the independent types, it's the husband's look-out whether he will put up with such behavior."
WOW. I thought. Seriously? I do not know if even one parent on that Whatsapp group feels or thinks that way. I hope not. I seriously hope they all are parents that will allow their daughters to study, to dream, to live, to soar, to stand on their own feet before even thinking of arranging their marriages. And if not, I have only one thing to say:
Rewind back to May 2016 when that little hand left yours to have fun with her friends for (only) ten days and you fretted with a group of near strangers.
Before you let that hand go forever into a strange household where she may not have any friends, please, think. Let her live her life her way, let her taste freedom before you frog march her into domesticity. Please. Think. Won't you stand up for her?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

My daughters are right: I AM a hypocrite.

As a teenager, if anyone had ever asked me what was the one quality I abhorred in any person, I would not have to think to reply. The answer would be prompt: Hypocrisy.
In fact I was myself subject to a lot of criticism in my own teenage years because I refused to conform or toe the line unless I believed in it myself. I got into trouble at home and in school often enough over my "rebellious" nature and my mother often sighed that I was "difficult". Why? Because I had sworn that no matter what, I would not be a hypocrite. Because there was nothing worse than being a FAKE, right?  
So imagine my shock, when, the other day, my own teenage daughters accused me of the ultimate crime. I am a hypocrite, they said. It was one of those usual nights and I was chatting with my girls in my room when the discussion got a little iffy as they so often do with teenage hormones. Next thing I knew one daughter told me I was "…such a hypocrite!" The other one nodded and agreed.
I admit I was a riled. And hurt. Told them to leave me alone.
But then I thought about it.
And I realise now that my daughters are right.
I am a hypocrite each time I attend a formal do while inside I am screaming that I want to loll in bed and not go out. I became a hypocrite the day I married and went through rituals that were meaningless for me. I was  a hypocrite each time I was hurt about something someone said or did and I did not protest or say a word and only spoke to my husband about it later when we were alone because he once told me not to squabble with the family. I am a hypocrite each time I get dressed and go to work when I would rather stay at home and finish the story book I started the night before. I am a hypocrite each time I smile and talk to a relative or acquaintance that I would rather not talk to because I am just not in a mood to talk. I am a hypocrite when I wake up at 4 AM and go to the puja room and get things ready in preparation for worship of Gods that I do not believe in. I am guilty of hypocrisy each time I attend a dinner and smile and pretend to have a good time even though I'd rather be elsewhere because I don't want to be rude. 
Yes, yes, I am guilty. Because I realise now that no one is an island. We live among people and hence we have duties and obligations and often end up doing things that we may not like or believe in. It's not being fake. It's being grown up. It's having the maturity to deal with situations and people you may dislike or make you unhappy. 
And that is not something that teenagers will understand.
So I won't even try to explain.

My girls are at a magical age when they believe they can rule the world and make it perfect. It is not yet time to burst their little bubbles. All I can say is that I do not know where my daughters' lives will take them but when it is their turn to be a hypocrite, I only hope they are good at it!