Unresolved childhood treasures
Parenthood can take a lot away from individuals, even if they consider themselves a unit (read: couples). Raising a child looks like a breeze from the outside, with occasional unruly screams, but a baby can be ruthless in its demand and thankless in its gratitude. The age-old phrase ‘sleeps like a baby’ is a myth and that should tell you everything we, the non-parents, know about parenthood. Simply put, babies are wonderful monsters with smiles that can brighten up your sullen day. I think most expecting couples don’t realize the scale of responsibilities that lie ahead of them for years to come. Maybe they sign up assuming that it’s no big deal. Or maybe they are mentally prepared for the challenge. Who knows? After all, if you are somebody who isn’t OK with drool, piss, poop, puke and related unsavoury sounds, you are not ready yet. But then, your child will make sure that you are perfectly OK with all these bodily functions. Which might be the single greatest miracle of parenthood.
Chikmagalur is a tiny peaceful place, about 150 kilometers away from Mangalore, and I will definitely visit it one day soon. Coffee was first planted in India in this very place by Baba Budan, who smuggled coffee beans in his beard on his way from Mecca via Yemen. Legend has it that the weather in this hilly town is so nice that generations have gone treating ceiling fans like we treat fire extinguishers: a rare enterprise. One can imagine how cool-tempered the people must be. Those living in the estates, stretching large areas of greenery, are known to hunt wild boars and they boast of traditional ‘Gowda’ recipes to serve their guests in meaty abundance. Sounds perfect to me. The only surprise could be chewing a big piece during dinner and finding a steely object inside my mouth. Bullets must taste funny.
Whatever you choose to name your child, just make sure it’s something that the child doesn’t hate you for tomorrow. For instance, my registered name is Shaktiprasad but I could never relate to it so, actively discarded the second part throughout my adult life. Yes, a name is a name and nothing more but still, it becomes an important sound in your life. No matter where you go or become, whenever you hear your name—even if you are not originally addressed—you’d find a connection immediately. That is the same whether your name is X AE A-XII or Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. If we ever manage to adopt a baby girl, I’ll name her Aansu. People around would be surprised at my choice as the word means tears in Hindi. And like the badass wordsmith that I am, I’ll educate them that tears can be of joy too.
My life has been a long series of being surrounded by strong, not necessarily powerful, women. My amma (mother) is obviously the first name on this august list, followed by my ajji (grandma). Ajji was a kind, wise and very, very hardworking trailblazer of a woman. If I love stories today, then it has something to do with her storytelling back in the ‘90s. Me and my brother used to accompany her everywhere, from the farm to the river, from the local tea shop to the temples. She took us everywhere and we walked with her, matching her pace, like those two extra hanging feathers on a racket-tailed drongo. She would tell us random anecdotes from her life as well as mythological episodes with a perfect-fit lesson for the day. She was the one who told us about Jambhavan and the role he played in making Hanuman realize his true potential. (Who doesn’t need a Jambhavan in their life, right?) I remember vividly the night we were sleeping in the verandah on a carpet weaved out of coconut leaves and she pointed to the moon above us to tell us that rabbits live there. For the longest time, I thought they genuinely did. Once while standing in the paddy field, with water right up to our little knees, she declared that there is no heaven or hell. Whatever there is, it is between them, the sky and the ground below. I still believe this to be true.
I’ve been actively writing for about 15 years now and it’d be fair to say that I am a nanocelebrity in the online world, specific to Indian metropolis. The offline people might be oblivious to my work, even during my journalistic days, although they might be reading my articles in the newspaper. Well, in Mumbai, I used to get recognized by my readers—they will become my fans the day I start minting money out of them—yes, that’s the difference between a reader and a fan—at railway stations, restaurants, malls and ilk. Comparatively, when I moved to Gurgaon, such accidents didn’t happen much. So, naturally, I wasn’t expecting to be found by anyone in Mangalore. But something strange happened yesterday: a reader of mine recognized me despite my mask. This sweet tall fellow said he figured me out by my eyes and tattoos. I now have strong reasons to believe that I’ve made my first friend in this adorable city.
Are you a romantic? If you think you aren’t, you are mistaken. Every single human being is a hopeless romantic. This feature is already carved into our DNA by our Creator without letting anyone else know. Yes, maybe your idea of a romantic might be propped up by the non-achievable standards of art, particularly cinema, but deep down, you are a romantic. You like being liked and you love being loved. The expressions change but the language of this idea remains the same. As a boy in kindergarten, I liked this girl named S and went home to tell amma that I will marry her one day. She pulled my ear and giggled about it. As life would turn out, S and I both got married on the very same day, the same morning too, but to different people in different cities. Later, during school days, I watched this Shakespearean movie called Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981) and concluded that a true romantic is someone who dies for his love. If you aren’t dead, you aren’t romantic. Glad I didn’t stick to that nonsense long enough.
India recently crossed the 1.4 billion population mark but there was absolutely no news around it. On the contrary, we’ve been reading continuous reports about dropping TFR (total fertility rate; basically children per woman) and rising sex ratio. The former is dicey while the latter is a welcome change. Overall, it sounds good but we never know until it’s too late. Look at Japan. In 1966, its TFR dropped dramatically to 1.6 children per woman and it’s 2021 already and they are yet to rise above that point. As of now, they are at 1.3. On an annual basis, deaths in Japan outstrip births by 500,000. If this trend continues, its population might have shrunk by 30 million people in 2050. I am not an expert but here’s a helpful thought: Japan’s population might stabilize if they removed those annoying pixels from their porn.
It’s intriguing to note that not until very long ago, women were treated as a commodity. The origin of the word ‘dowry’ tells you a lot about the commercial aspect of womanhood in a historic sense, irrespective of geographies and cultures. Sounds primitive but that's how human society functioned for the longest time. Those in power absorbed women from those who weren’t: Maurya married Helena, Akbar married Jodha, and so on. Such exchanges were one-sided, giving the illusion of an equal society. In a relatively modern context, you note this in the European Christian missionary zeal in countries like India. Those so-called social reformers were speaking of an equal society for the natives/indigenous as long as the natives/aborigines didn’t get to marry European women in the end. In spite of the whole “one of us” verbal parade, there was already a caste system in place: the dark-skinned native/indigenous Christian remained confined to dark skin. The same logic pretty much applied for the Arab-centric Ummah. No matter how much a subcontinental Muslim man—hailing from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh—claimed that the Islamic world is equal, he isn’t to marry an Arab woman. The exact opposite route remains open though: old Arab men marrying young subcontinental women for a few rials. For all their heads and tails of identity crisis, women have been played around in this game of equal/unequal societies/religions across the globe.
Speaking of womanhood, my childhood was festered with unanswered questions: parents were too busy eking out a living that they had little time left to entertain their children. As a consequence, we, the half-tickets, were consigned to endless doubts and imaginary understanding of the real world. Back then, I used to hear a lot about youngsters eloping and the phrase in vogue was ‘bhaag gayi’ (she ran away). Please note that even if two people of similar age committed the act, the honour of interest would always rest on the young woman. Since nobody would tell me anything, I had way too many questions: Where did these women run off to? Were they still running? When will they stop? Do they all gather at the same place? What about food and shelter? So many unanswered questions.
Two things are worth giving a try in life: hope and meditation. I would love to add drugs to this list but I only write from experience and I haven’t tried narcotics yet. Last week, a reader wrote to me that she has tried meditation several times but she keeps getting distracted. I asked her, “So what is the problem?” Either she didn’t get my question or got my answer as I didn’t hear from her again. Another fellow wrote saying that he has found my past blog posts on meditation useful. I had to thank him for his positive feedback but I am sure he isn't aiming for nirvana anytime soon. There is a difference between seeking leisure and attaining mindfulness. As a consolation prize, I think masturbation is the closest our generation would get to a meditative state. Crass as it may sound, focusing on something takes a lot of effort and has to be appreciated once in a while.
The year is ending and you might have mixed reviews but remember one thing for me: everything that happened had to happen and everything that is going to happen won’t. Our present is not equal to our past but our future is. What we do today influences our tomorrow but does nothing for our yesterday. Which is why there are days you’d feel that you are left behind while the world has stormed ahead. Guess what? You are not alone in this pageant of self-pity. Gear yourself up and go steady even if you are going slow for a bit. The wonders are yet to cease and you are still alive. From equation 1 and 2, there is a lot to celebrate. Cheers!