I don’t know about you, but it is around now-three weeks into the summer holidays that began 1 April here in Bangalore-that I feel like killing myself. Either that, or give those saintly schoolteachers a Nobel Peace Prize. How on earth do they manage a class full of nine-year-olds and manage to stay sane?
Also Read | Shoba’s previous Lounge columns
As I write this, my kitchen has been taken over by five children, all under 10, who are engaged in the sweet if messy process of baking chocolate-chip cookies. The floor is creamy with butter and the counters are covered with white flour. My Labrador has just vomited quietly in a corner, having eaten a bowl full of chocolate chips left out by accident. And five children are standing in front of the oven, chanting, “20, 19, 18…” and so on, as if it were a rocket landing, not cookies coming out of the oven. I am sitting at the nearby dining table with a splitting headache, shiny with sweat, and cursing under my breath.
I love it, of course. I love having these children over every day, at all hours of the day. I love the way they refuse to leave when I try to turn them away: “You are having lunch, aunty? Can I wait? I can read a book. What are you eating, aunty? Dal-chawal. Oh, I love dal-chawal.”
Holiday blues: Month-long school vacations can overwhelm even the most laid-back of parents. Photo : Thinkstock
What do you say? You flatter yourself using rudimentary child psychology; you tell yourself that the reason children keep coming to your house is because they feel “safe” and accepted here. You bang an extra plate on the table and gesture to the visitor to sit down. Indian culture, isn’t it? Athiti devo bhava (The guest is god), and all the rest of that crap. Well, I have news for those sages who composed that particular hymn. They haven’t encountered the brats in my building.
For those who can tolerate high levels of noise and chaos—and I usually can—having little children around is a great ego trip. I love their shiny eyes when I remove the fragrant cookies and hold the tray aloft for a moment before succumbing to the chants of, “Aunty, me, me...” I love the way their hopeful eyes look at me, as if I can do no wrong, when I fix a toy, restart a computer, or spin a yarn. I love their innocence and the way I can manipulate it. The deal that I have struck with every child who enters my house on a regular basis is that they get one point every time they clean up their mess. When it adds up to 30 points, I say magnanimously, I will buy them a sour punk. Do you know how much this silly sour punk costs? Rs 24. I have six children ready to do my bidding for this ridiculous sum of money; for a whole month. Devious, aren’t I? And they hero-worship me. Naturally, I love them, until that moment comes when I hate them. And come it does, with depressing frequency.
“Who used my vetiver soap for the magic potion?” I will roar. “And who poured pink plaster of paris into the toilet bowl?”
“Bhaago! (Run!),” they will scream, and race out of the house.
For purposes of privacy, I am going to refer to all these ruffians by their false names, although you could wonder—and rightly so—about why any child who welcomes a new neighbour by asking, “Do you want to hear Vivek fart?”, would require a pseudonym. Nevertheless, these are children who live in my building, and for the sake of communal harmony, they shall remain unnamed. It helps that my sense of humour veers towards scatological jokes and juvenile slapstick humour. Unless I am at the receiving end—like the time I marched into my daughter’s room, skidded on the slippery floor and landed on my…ahem backside—I match these children burp for burp with pleasure.
What gets me is the constant mediation. Their multipurpose threat for all manner of sins is one that is almost goofy in its un-keepability.
“Aunty, Arjun said he won’t be my friend,” little Swetha will come and complain.
This goes on all the time. My daughter will come in crying and complain, “Diya won’t be my friend.” Two hours later, they are playing together. Most sensible mothers ignore this. I haven’t yet learnt to, mostly because I think it is cute and oddly pathetic that the only things children have to use as threats is their friendship. I, on the other hand, routinely threaten to withdraw chocolates, ice cream, playtime, television and toys. So I lecture them.
“Swetha, you go and tell Arjun that he was never your friend anyway,” I will say. “True friends are those who never threaten that they won’t be your friends.”
Two weeks back, a group of us had gone to meet the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) commissioner, Siddaiah, to submit a list of grievances about our neighbourhood: Ulsoor Lake was stinking with effluents; the pavements needed repair; the garbage wasn’t collected regularly. We handed him a typed sheet, which he handed right back and said to type the whole thing in Kannada, before he would even look at it.
Crestfallen, we stood in the crowded corridor of Bangalore’s corporation building, wondering how to plead, threaten or coerce the man to rectify our problems.
“Mr Siddaiah,” I announced loudly. “I won’t be your friend.”
I didn’t actually say that. But I wished I could. Just like the children. And guess what? We just heard that Siddaiah has allocated Rs 1 crore towards cleaning up Ulsoor Lake.
Would it be a simple world if you could tell Manmohan Singh, “Prime Minister, if you don’t clean up the corruption in your administration, I won’t be your friend.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the threat actually works?
Shoba Narayan is taking a break from writing the column this summer, so she can figure out how to make her home child-free, at least temporarily.
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