Parsley and Thyme

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I think wherefrom I am

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It all begins with practicality, necessity even.

Mom I want a Barbie doll, the little one pleads as we linger at the toys section of the two-storeyed bookstore. A long-time hater of all things Barbie, I react almost instantly.

No, you can’t have a Barbie!

Why mom? He persists.

Taking a moment to assess his ability to comprehend point-blank logic, I decide to give him the quickest answer. One that I desperately hope will nip the whys I see sprouting all around this stubborn four-year old gene of mine.

You are a boy, that’s why!

Crrrr-ack! A big chunk of ice breaks off from my glacier-like resolve to never create stereotypes in his tender brain, and falls into the melted pool of quick-fixes below. The impact of that statement is as evident on me as it is on him. The little one is silenced for now, but my own torture has just begun. The first emotion I feel is guilt for having used such a pathetic short-cut to curtail his demand. But I convince myself – he’s little, he will forget. Besides, however cautious I may be, somebody else will surely introduce him to gender based stereotypes anyway? Momentarily clobbered, my guilt sullenly retreats to a familiar corner and proceeds to sharpen its claws for an opportunity in the future.

And it arrives soon enough. At playtime a few days later, a little girl, my son’s playmate from the neighbourhood, asks for a spanner from his toy tool-set and a question is immediately fired at me.

Mom, I cannot give her the spanner, no?

Why not? I ask.

Girls cannot play with spanners! He giggles and cups his mouth with soft, pint-sized palms.

Now my son has the ability (as I suspect most children do) of delivering knockout punches at the least expected moments. So while I have no clue how the gender associations took off from where I left them at the bookstore earlier that week, I wonder how a careless statement I made – and promptly forgot all about – has become a tool he will use to make sense of the world around him.

The girl looks at me inquiringly. Their play is paused and the silence is almost intimidating. Suddenly, in my head, their make-believe city morphs into a courtroom. My little one, the accused, is smirking at me from within a plastic dock – building blocks in bright yellow, red and green. The timid-looking girl, uncharacteristically so, has become the prosecutor and I, the judge, with a questionable bias toward the accused, hold the crucial verdict on my tongue. Thankfully for her, I am incorruptible.

What nonsense, girls can play with tools too! I declare.

While it seemed a minute ago that the future of their friendship depended on my statement, the children now sport none of my own seriousness once they have heard me. My son gives a momentary acknowledgement with an emphatic ‘no-oo-ooo’ and resumes playing. Perhaps he is confused that I didn’t stand by my statement at the bookstore, I will never know. The girl is silent, almost nonchalant, and for her sake I desperately hope she has taken my word over his.

I am struck by how my son’s personality is quickly being built upon imperceptible layers of influences from the world he interacts with. Looking at this little incident, I wonder how far into our own childhood can some of our likes, dislikes and deep-seated opinions be traced to.

If “personality”, in essence, is nothing more than a bundle of accumulated influences and learned behaviour, imagine the interesting situations that could arise if we were to eliminate the human ability to be influenced, altogether. Imagine a world where your personality would be immune to the thoughts and influences of others and instead be based on your direct experiences alone. Would it result in more open-minded individuals? Or would it lead to chaos?

As a hypothesis, in this case, since my son wouldn’t have built upon the concept of gender-based toys that I unwittingly introduced earlier, he might have shared the toy spanner with his friend. Which is great. But consider the other possibility. Stripped of the ability to “learn” from experiences that are not directly his own, he might not be able recognize the danger from fire, sharp objects etc. when he is warned, as an example. Or he might not consider my screams of disapproval when I catch him bending over the railings of our third floor stairway, for another. Basic safety issues that give me goose flesh every time I think of them.

On a less serious note, take the language learning process in children – when a child goes “A for apple, B for bat” as early as two years, he doesn’t “understand” why he is being made to do it, or that it is a process involved in building vocabulary. A child learns the basics of language simply by an unquestioning faith and an adherence to the learning process. In the same way he absorbs the basic ideas of society – possession (“That’s not yours, ask for permission!”), role-play (father, mother, teacher etc.) and issues relating to space and gender. Imagine a world where, owing to a loss of being able to extend and apply ideas around us into our own lives, critical cognitive abilities such as perception, reasoning and judgement would become so minimal that they might as well vanish.

But this isn’t to say that we do not possess a certain amount – however miniscule – of our own innate reasoning even when we were less than five years of age. Called the ‘formative’ years, many of the influences we were subjected to in our early childhood were weighed, readjusted or rejected based on our own experiences. For instance, how many of us believed as children that a visit to the doctor would turn out to be pleasant? And don’t we remember being repeatedly convinced by our parents that it would? But no one could convince us that visiting a doctor was essential or pleasurable. Cut across to adult life. If you have ever been wheeled into an operation theatre for surgery, you know you have taught yourself to believe that a roomful of masked strangers with sharp objects is your ticket to get healthy and whole again. Does it not seem ridiculous? So what happened to us along the way? And how the hell did those of us who screamed and kicked as children while being carted to a doctor end up meekly submitting and in some cases even taking the role of our own parents in offering false consolation? So it seems that in some situations such as this one, it is easier to influence adults than children.

Then there are those subtle influences that have held on to us like lifetime hypnotic spells. What is your first thought when you see a fox on TV? How does it change if, for example, you see a goat? If you answered cunning and innocent respectively, blame it on the bedtime stories we were exposed to as children. The fox perennially clever, the goat perennially gullible. Encounters between the two always crafted to ensure that the goat ended up nursing a raw deal. And to subtly aid the cementing of such perception within our brains, phrases like ‘sly old fox’, ‘foxy scheme’, ‘poor goat’, ‘stubborn mule’ etc. are abundant in colloquial language.

Okay being a child is not so gloriously easy afterall. But what about us adults? Don’t we have to struggle with those million opinions creating little pockets of judgement in vacuum every second? And thanks to social networks, as the ease of accessing them grows, the population of capricious individuals too varies in direct proportion. I have had the displeasure of conversing with many more people now than I did five years ago whose opinions on everything from nuclear power plants to parenting – heck even the bath soap they use – are gleaned off social networking sites swarming with self-anointed subject-does-not-matter experts. So while cow-urine therapy starts off as an undiscovered panacea for all afflictions on a Monday morning, by afternoon same day we have a thousand recommendations (courtesy Facebook, Twitter) from friends and foes advocating its greatness. By the end of the week, a bottle of the same on my mother’s medicine shelf is a possibility not to be discarded thanks to an overzealous internet-addict relative or friend. Excluding me, that is.

So is it fair to use quantifiers such as ‘too much’, ‘too little’ or ‘just right’ when it comes to being influenced by external entities? Is it fair to say, for example, “Oh lady so-and-so absolutely lacks originality, all she says or does is borrowed from her Page3 community” or “I respect Mr.X so much for his independent thinking!”? Then if it is impossible to lead a life without imbibing external influences, the consequent battle against settling into a monochromatic world is one that needs to be fought continually. How? Examine minutely your greatest likes, greatest dislikes, deep fears, idiosyncrasies and you will be surprised to see how many of them were not even ‘yours’ when you first sheltered them. Relinquish a few that threaten to make your view of the world that much myopic and feel the freedom I felt when I added a Barbie doll into my shopping list for that week.

Written by Kanchana

November 26, 2012 at 8:07 am

Aham Brahmasmi

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Chetu’s introduction to the metaphysical and the possibility of Self-realization has begun quite early. Or should I say rather early. This weekend, his father came up to me with a twinkle in his eyes after having given the little lad his bath.

Father : You know I have introduced Chetu to the concept of the Self. I have told him that at the core, he is God himself.

Mother : Okayy…

Chetu (shouts in the background) : I am God, I am God.

Cut to playtime. Chetu is messing around with his friend Pranav, a sweet little boy of the same age (almost 5).

Chetu : Pranav, you know you are not a human being.

Pranav : Eh?

Chetu : Yeah you are not a human being, you are God. I am also God.

Pranav : Give me your cycle.

Mother : Mmmfmf…

Written by Kanchana

January 2, 2012 at 9:02 am

Posted in Chikoo, Humor, Metaphysical

What I like at school

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Me : Chetu let us count the number of blocks you have here.

Chetu : 1, 2, 3, 6, 1, 5, 9.

Me : Chetu, have they taught you counting at school?

Chetu : Yes.

Me : Do you enjoy it?

Chetu : No.

Me : Hmm, then what else do you enjoy at school? Drawing..?

Chetu : Yes, I like drawing. Drawing, yes.

Me : Then, what else do you like?

Chetu : (Pauses for a few seconds and then replies) Tiffin.

Me : What?

Chetu : Tiffin, tiffin, tiffin. I like tiffin at school.

The next few minutes has both of us on the floor laughing and crying. Simultaneously.

Written by Kanchana

August 12, 2010 at 10:33 am

Posted in Chikoo, Humor

What’s in a name?

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It was bedtime. I had just read out to Chetu from his favorite story book, and switched off the lights in our room. As we continued talking in the darkness (Chetu, mostly. Only grunts from me) he asks “Amma, when I pressed that number on the telephone this morning, did it go to the police station?”.

Background. That morning Chetu’s again meddling with the telephone. He manages to dial a combination of numbers which, this time, results in a valid phone call. I am in the kitchen, blissfully unaware, getting lunch ready in a hurry as I am expecting my parents to drop in. Chetu comes running to me and holds out the phone (he has managed to activate the loudspeaker on it as well!) shouting, “Amma, I am speaking to Dada (my father) on the phone!”. I hear a male voice – so exactly like my father’s on the speaker – saying “Give the phone to Amma”. And I reply to the voice “Appa, where are you?”. The voice responds rather gruffly, “I am here only. What do you want?”. I reply, “What do I want? I am waiting for you guys to turn up, why are you taking so long?”. My “father” replies “Amma, this is the taluk office at Hoskote. Why are you eating my head? What do you want?”

I take one mean glance at Chetu who is still exulting with his “I called Dada on my own, I even put on the speaker!” and apologize to my fake “father”, hurriedly disconnecting the phone. It then takes me almost half-an-hour (in vain) to convince Chetu about the concept of “wrong numbers”. As I watch him again trying to make his own calls with the telephone, I make up the story about the police station. “Chetu, your call went to the police station, do you know?” I ask. And that’s the first time he listens intently. Immediately drops the phone to the ground as if faced with hot embers. He refuses to touch the phone again.

Cut back to present. I reply to Chetu’s question in the affirmative and again try to explain the concept of phone numbers. While I am on the topic, I tell him that every phone company delivers a book (telephone directory) where the phone numbers of people are listed. I say “Chetu, that’s the book where many different phone numbers are listed so that we always call the right people. Now what’s the book called…Let me try to remember…”

Maybe Chetu realizes at that moment how dumb his mother is to forget such a mundane thing as the telephone directory, and he chips in saying “Facebook…?”

Written by Kanchana

May 28, 2010 at 11:45 am

Posted in Chikoo, Humor

Stranger anxiety

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Little Chaitanya has a mind of his own when it comes to social behaviour. His reaction to “strangers” ranges from complete cold-shouldering of some, totally adoring a rare few at first meeting, to hurling abuses at the unfortunate others. While many of these little incidences have been tough for me to handle – popping eyeballs is not exactly my preferred way of mutual reciprocation while acknowledging people – they have also brought me the closest I can be to the utter honesty of an unconditioned mind.

Here are some situations that have occurred in the past year (in no particular order) that have left me feeling…oh well, confused.

Situation 1 : It is early evening. Chetu and I are playing a game of racing cars on our balcony.

Neighbor Aunty : Hi paapu, did you finish you afternoon siesta?

Chetu : Spit, spit in the lady’s direction. Which clearly indicates it is no coincidence and he is not doing it to get rid of a fly that suddenly flew into his mouth. Then does a kick-boxing action, again in the same direction.

Me : Sorry Aunty, he hasn’t slept too well today.

Neighbor Aunty : Exits. Sports the same sheepish grin as mine.

Situation 2 : We bump into old colleagues at a restaurant. We are meeting them for the first time since Chetu was born. Chetu is in his father’s arms, happily munching on the last mint candy his father bought for him.

Colleague : Hi Chaitanya.

Chetu : Ignores. Continues munching the candy and meddles with the candy wrapper in his hand.

Colleagues Wife : He (Chetu) must be keeping you really busy eh?

Chetu : Suddenly wakes up from his day dreaming. Throws the rolled-up candy wrapper in the wife’s direction. It just misses her by an inch.

Me, Hubby : Gasp in disbelief.

Me (to Colleague’s Wife) : Sorry!

Colleague, Colleague’s Wife : Sporting similar sheepish grins and promise to catch up with us soon.

Situation 3 : I am hunting around for a new housemaid. Two ladies have arrived at my doorstep for an “interview”.

Me : (After our discussions are complete) So when can you start work ?

Chetu : (Before the ladies can reply) Amma, we don’t need them! We have Renuka (my old housemaid) working in our house no?! If they come home, I will lock them up inside a jail.

All of  us laugh, for reasons not expressed.

Situation 4 : It is late evening. We are with a group of other people at the Ramanashram in Tiruvannamalai, listening to bhajans. Chetu is frisking around, looking for his favorite peacock feathers. A wizened old lady suddenly shuffles up to him and touches his cheeks. She then rummages around in her bag and takes out a few pieces of rock sugar which she offers to him.

Old lady : Take these few sweets dear, it is all I have today.

Chetu : Looks at me and replies – “Amma, we have lots of rock sugar in our house, no?”

Old lady : What does the little one say?

Me : He says he likes rock sugar very much. Thanks Aunty.

Situation 5 : A Tamilian friend of hubby’s comes home. Chetu is meeting him for the first time. Friend doesn’t speak Kannada, which happens to be Chetu’s only language of communication (atleast, we had assumed so!)

Friend : Hi Chaitanya!

Chetu : Silent. But we can see he really likes this friend of ours. He first parades all his favorite books to indicate his feelings. Then somehow realizes that the gentleman does not understand Kannada. So the little one slowly ventures out and talks to him the whole time – in lovely, broken English. Incidentally, that was the first day we heard him speak English.

The young protagonist of this story is all of three years old. Nevertheless, he carries such strong ideas, likes and dislikes that I sometimes end up having grown-up conversations with him. And that is when I have to remind myself to stand back and watch him discover the world around, on his own.

Written by Kanchana

May 15, 2010 at 11:55 am

Posted in Chikoo

We don’t need no education

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It was perhaps the toughest one hour of my life since childbirth. The umbilical cord was severed again, though this time metaphorically. All because Chikoo started school last week at Podar Jumbo Kids as a playschooler. It was the first instance that I gave him away to people I did not know, and to say the least, heart-wrenching.

I thought I had Chikoo well-prepared to face the fact that I wouldn’t be around at school, but this one hour on “first day” proved that I needed the so-called preparation more than he did.

The run-up to school week was somewhat confusing, but uneventful. I was alternating between bouts of peak anxiety and constant self-doubt. The thoughts that clouded my brain were innumerable and sometimes downright neurotic. To capture the loudest – “I am doing right by sending Chikoo to school ?”, “Will he acquire his negative impressions of life when I am not around to protect him?”, “Will he ever forgive me for leaving him alone with strangers?”, “Should I try taking up a teacher’s post in the same school so that I can still hover around him?”, “Should I pin a tiny hidden camera to his shirt to help me monitor the day’s proceedings?”, and so many more…

All through, I pulled a brave face and would sneak in conversations with Chikoo about school as soon as I felt that I had his undivided attention. That, on an average, lasts for around 5 secs at a stretch when Chikoo is at his behavioural best. I would say “Chetu, Amma is not allowed inside school. She will stand right outside and wait for you until you finish playing. Then Amma will bring you back home. Will you be a nice boy and not call out to Amma till then? Will you make lots of  friends?”.

Being the acutely observant boy that he is, Chikoo had formed his impressions about “leaving home” even before he actually did. We had to take him to school just once and he instantly knew that this was a place where moms (or dads) were forbidden from entering. On admission day, though he screamed gleefully while exploring the play area outside, he was firm about the need to have his father stand next to him all the while. And the idea remained.

Let me say, therefore he would either choose not to answer my previous question, or give his straightforward opinion – “School beda, Amma. Naanu manele irthini” (“I don’t want school, mom. I want to stay at home”). “What a precocious statement coming from a kid who just crossed two months off his third year of life! I was so innocent (read dumb) when I was his age!” I would exclaim to Suyog. And we would both laugh off the reply. Atleast then, we could.

The first day of school presented itself in a flurry of little clothes being ironed, snacks being packed off into a little tiffin box, water carefully measured and poured into a new sipper to avoid unncessary weight on the tiny red school bag with the lovable grey-and-pink elephant on it. Chikoo woke up a full half-an-hour early and was perhaps somewhat surprised when his usually lazy morning in front of the TV was totally eclipsed with all his activities (loo, bath, breakfast) being fast-forwarded and compressed into a mere 30 minutes. He wasn’t complaining however, and seemed excited himself. “Amma, ta-ta hogona?” (“Mom, let’s go on an outing?”), he would repeat every few minutes and I felt suffocatingly guilty as I would smile weakly and evade the question. Maybe he noticed it too, and tightened up once he saw the ID card with his photo being pinned on to his shirt. And then his fears became verbal. It started with a feeble protest to remove the ID card from the shirt, and then turned a little higher once we left home with the school bag in tow. “Jumbo Kids beda, Amma”, he said as the auto turned the corner into the lane that led to school. “Amazing sense of direction, and he is still so young!”, we said and tried to distract ourselves.

Then the moment arrived. The more-than-affable lady-in-charge smiled at us and said, “Hello Chaitanya. Good morning! Come in baby”, while she took Chikoo away from his father’s grasp. Chikoo seemed a trifle confused that we allowed him to be taken. Even as he followed her inside, he turned back and searched my face for an explanation. And waited for a few seconds expecting me to follow him. “She is removing her shoes like I did mine”, perhaps he thought. At one point, he looked eagerly as I called out to the teacher and handed out his favorite stuffed Dalmatian “Snoopy” to her. But seeing that I stood where I was, waving to him, the first realization of abandonment dawned on little Chikoo. I still didn’t see him cry, only saw him walking dazedly into a room that he was being led into with Snoopy firmly clutched between his tiny hands.

I struggled to swallow the thousand lumps that lined my throat, all the way down to my heart which, now only had the last glimpse of Chikoo preciously tucked away for the next one hour. The separation was as deep as when a loved one goes away for a week, month, or even several years. My logical brain, and my husband (a single entity during such emotional periods) reminded me that it was just an hour before we would being Chikoo back home.

We went to sit under the shade of a Peepal tree, a few blocks away, to spend that one agonizing hour which would be the first of many more in our lives as parents.

Written by Kanchana

June 15, 2009 at 11:59 am

Posted in Chikoo

Tagged with , ,

Pati, patni and woh

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He suddenly smiles at me from our balcony while I am casting loving glances at him. It has been a busy day and I am relaxing on the sofa for a few minutes, watching him from a distance. And I am engrossed – admiring the way his thick black mop of hair falls over his innocent dark eyes. I smile back, and he indicates to me that he is aware of my love for him, as well as of his own good looks. He goes back to his activity and I decide to read the newspaper.

Five minutes pass, and he is feeling my lack of attention. He gets up from his place on the balcony with an angry frown on his flawless face, walks over and gives me a hard whack on my thigh. I am startled, but not unnerved – this is usual, I think. Living with him over the years, I have learnt how to get him back into his best humour. I get up, give him a tight hug and ask him what he would like to have for dinner. That perhaps sounds assuaging – he gives me a wide grin and plants a kiss on my cheek, proving to me once again the truth in the age-old proverb that establishes the indelible connection between men and food. Now, c’mon…you know which one!

Though he shakes his head in refusal to the each one of the items on the victual medley that I suggest thereafter, I continue. Knowing that most items on our menu have to possess his seal of approval – a ritual that I have so willingly become accustomed to since the time I met and fell head-over-heel(less) in love with him. After turning down the ninth item on my menu for the evening (men can be so demanding and women so subservient), he finally agrees to settle down for his simple favorite – dosa, sambar and chutney. 

Well, that settles the dinner for the night, I say to myself and walk over to the kitchen to get it running. A few hours later, my husband walks in, back from office and heads over to the kitchen where I am still engaged. He looks over at the preparations for dinner and exclaims – “Oh, dosa ?”. I reply “Yeah, he wanted it tonight”. Dear hubby looks over at the young man who decides most of what we say, eat or do these days without a hint of jealousy. As I wait for his reaction, my husband says “I love you little Chikoo” and runs over to hug our oh-so-little son.

Written by Kanchana

February 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in Chikoo

Tagged with ,

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