Ministry of utmost happiness – Review

04SMministryjpgThe latest book book by Arundathi Roy is not what I expected at all. Though I enjoyed her previous novel ‘God of small things’ for the brilliant play of words and superb portrayal of the characters, I was bitterly disappointed by the bizarre ending. I thought that was a very forced and desperate attempt to get attention.

So I braced myself for a similar disappointment when I started ‘The ministry of utmost happiness’.

But thankfully, the ending was a good one.

The book is a dark one, though.

It tells us the stories of the neglected and the marginalized.

The novel opens with a middle aged transexual taking up residence in a grave yard. How she came to live there is her riveting story.

This is the story of Anjum – the hijra, Saddam Hussein, Tilo – a rebel south Indian woman, Musa – Tilo’s Kashmiri militant lover, Naga – a diplomat’s journalist son, Garson Hobart – the diplomat and many more people who live in a parallel universe that we, the regular people look right through everyday.

The story seamlessly travels through the by lanes of old Delhi to affluent South Delhi enclaves to the beautiful Kashmir Valley where death, blood and gore are part of daily lives of people. It takes us briefly to Gujarat when the massacre happenes, to Kerala where Tilo’s mother dies and to rural Andhra rife with naxals.

The prose is beautiful and spell binding, but Arundathi Roy does not shirk from telling the brutal, bitter lives of these people.

This is an account of the misfits. The story exposes the atrocities committed by the government on innocent people and the unnecessary lives lost in the process.

This is a grim book, each tale sadder than the other, and each character with a heartbreaking sorrow.

But underneath all the gloom, I could sense a deep anger at the present government. She openly criticizes the ‘orange parakeets’ and ‘lalla of Gujarat’ in many a paragraph.

She does paint a very bleak picture of the future in India, hinting we’re about to self-destruct.

A haunting book, but a bit excessive in the political flavouring.

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Lessons in history

“Social activities in the Neolithic age included FaceBook, Whatsapp & Google Plus.” 

“A mummy is a dead body covered with toilet tissue paper and more toilet tissue paper to preserve it.”

  

I was baffled with the answers in my son’s history class work notebook he had got on the last day of school.

My son goes to a school that encourages freethinking and does not believe in pressurizing kids with exams. While its fabulous news for his creative side, my son takes total advantage of the system when it comes to serious studying. His main objective to go to school is to meet friends and play football. Oh and the studies just happen on the side.

This point was brought home strongly when we got his year-end report.

All the teachers had just one thing to say. He’s not attentive in class and does the barest minimum work needed and runs out to play.

Though it was pretty much the same report we’ve been getting since he started school, it’s no longer cute when he’s almost a teenager.

So this summer holidays, I decided take charge of his academia. No more easy-going mom who lets him get away with vegetating in front of the television the whole day.

I decided to start with rewriting history. Going through what he had done his notebook all year either sent me into a fit of rage or rolling on the floor laughing. He just did not have a clue.

In an ideal world, we would probably sit together companionably, go through the books with his full cooperation and my son would be an ace in history in two weeks.

But since we live in a world where a PS4 and football are the reigning gods, the television full of fabulous programs, we start off the morning bickering about setting the time for the lessons. And at the agreed time, he flies into a rage because I’m causing him to lose a virtual football game.

When I try meekly after an hour, I’m met with the same resistance. By then it’s time for lunch.

When I check with him after lunch, it’s the same tantrum. I’m at my wits end now and go into my momster mode. Then he swiftly changes his tune and with a woebegone face, starts on how he hates summer holidays and how I torture him with studies.

After all this we manage half an hour of sitting sullenly with each other and go through the books. But instead of focusing on the core of the lesson, we get sidetracked with so many unimportant details. Why isn’t the statue of the dancing girl in Harappan Civilization standing like a fashion model and not at all like a dancer?

Or he comes up with the profoundest of questions like “At what age do you reckon I’ll get married?” To which I replied scathingly, “It all depends on how good you study. If you’re going to goof off like this, you’ll never graduate and you’ll never get a job to support a wife and family!”

Stung, his bonhomie changes to open hostility and we continue the rest of the lessons with barely masked anger.

Of course most days are interspersed with me running behind deadlines, him busy with play-dates and we don’t even touch the books on those days.

It has taken us almost a month to cover 3 chapters. And there are still math & science books to open.

Oh how I long for those far away summer holidays of my childhood where clocks did not exist!

But, despite the tantrums, despite my working hours going crazy, something tells me I’m not going to like the strangely quiet, neat and tidy house, once the school reopens.

A wise man once told me, “There’s no quality time or quantity time when it comes to children. There’s only time.”

 

 

 

 

 

The iron butterfly

How easy is it to be me…

When I start my day with my morning cuppa, the most pressing thing on my mind is planning my schedule for the day – juggling school/football pick ups, deadlines, meetings and of course, the day’s menu.

A tough day for me, is a clash in my schedule or a tantrum-filled day with my tween.

But however tough a day is, a spontaneous hug from my little one or a kind word from my spouse will be all the pick-me-up I need.

I’ve also been lucky in having a father who lived to 75, providing with solid emotional support and a mother who was and always will be my conscience.

Still, I’m on edge most of the days, juggling schedules, handling irate maids, unresponsive customer-care, annoying telemarketes and so on. So many times in a day, I wish for some peace so I can just curl up with a good book.

*****

I have no political affiliations whatsoever, but in the last few days, during the wait and watch game on TV, which was followed by mourning of the iron butterfly, I couldn’t help feeling ashamed of all the cribbing I’ve done about my everyday life.

Here lies a lady who faced only trials and tribulations throughout her lifetime. Insults, injuries, court cases, imprisonments, were all part of a single day for her.

People ranted against her, enemies plotted against her, others waited eagerly for her to stumble and fall, but she held her ground through it all.

Without a family to support her.

Lost her father at 2, her mother in her twenties, no husband, no child to warm her heart.

She faced tough challenges on her own. And not just faced, but fought back with courage and determination.

Her only emotional support probably was the adoration by the masses.

Now, I don’t know, nor do I care, if she died of natural causes or was slow-poisoned by her trusted aides. But whatever it was, she’ll always be an inspiration to me and many other women of this city.

I suppose till now, we, the educated & supposedly worldly-wise women have been openly jeering her autocracy and winning elections with freebies.

But we did have a grudging admiration for her grit.

The same men who pulled at her sari and tried to shame her in public years ago were prostrating at her feet now.

The same arrogant men who threw her out of the cortege all those years ago were now reverentially carrying her body in one.

The feminist inside each one of us cheered. She won us all in the end.

I saw the sea of people milling about, tearfully seeing her off on her final journey,waving two fingers that symbolises ‘victory to the two leaves.’

But on this solemn occasion, I felt it was more like they were saying “Victory to you, Amma! In death, you conquered all!”

Rest in peace.

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Image courtesy:google

 

Dec. 1st 2016.

 

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Today marks a year since the incessant rains in Chennai that lasted days and led to the unforgettable flooding that caused many to flee their homes in the wee hours of the night.

Personally, it was an unforgettable night for me too – waiting seemed to be the order of the night and most of next day.

I waited restlessly for a train to reach Chennai…

Then I waited for the rains to stop, so a loved one can reach us safely from the railway station.

And when it did stop, I waited breathlessly for my husband to return after picking her up.

Soon after their almost-safe return, the flooding started.

Then I waited for the water to rise.

Early morning saw us waiting for the boat.

Once my son and I reached safe ground, it was a harrowingly long wait for my husband to reach our side.

 

At the end of that day, I said a silent prayer of thanks that after all that trauma, we were all together again. Safe and sound. And that’s all that mattered.

 

Within a few months, all of us bounced back to normalcy. We returned to our homes, got new cars, repainted the houses, bought new furniture, went back to work again…

The nightmarish morning soon became a distant memory.

But today, just thinking about the date opens a floodgate of memories. Not just the panic, but also the kindness I experienced from the people around me.

I remember the kind people who stood by us throughout that fateful experience with so much compassion…

My kind neighbor who served us all a hot cuppa that chaotic morning…

The gang of coast guards who risked their lives so many times tirelessly to enter into our street on a rickety motor boat, braving the strong river current to rescue scores of people…

The police officers who systematically controlled the evacuation with amazing organizing skills…

The kind man who opened his gate and welcomed us all to use his garage when we landed on dry land to wait for the rest of our families…

A kind friend who called me hundred times to say he’s booked a hotel room for my family and if we needed transport to get there…

The people on the adjoining dry streets who jumped on to the boats without a thought for their own safety, just to help us…

And after a few days, stories of selflessness and bravery started pouring in.

Hundreds of youngsters distributing food and clothes to the new homeless…

Kind people cooking tonnes of food in their kitchen to distribute to the people who were trapped inside their own homes…

People saving stray dogs from drowning…

Samaritans from all over the country and even abroad sending whatever they could…

The generosity and resilience of the human spirit shone brilliantly through this calamity.

 

As for me, the traumatic experience taught many unforgettable lessons.

First, the world is full of great people with large hearts.

Secondly, it is so much easier to handle a situation however bad, if you keep your cool. My street was full of cheerful camaraderie that morning. It made a difference.

And finally, all we need is each other.

Anything else can be bought.

Happy Diwali!

 

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For some strange reasons, I became very introspective this Diwali. Probably because for three continuous nights, I was out for festival dinners with family and friends. All 3 days were with a different group, with different sets of people.

A ritualistic pre-Diwali dinner that’s been going on for 15 years, an impromptu dinner with cousins, aunts & uncles and a relatively new tradition of Diwali dinner at another friend’s place.

All 3 were great fun. I caught up with some friends after ages, I chatted with my best friends for a while and I oohed & aahed over a new-born nephew.

Of course, there were a few absentees in all the groups.

Some who had other commitments, some who were ill and some because of ego issues with someone in the group.

I got thinking about the shared warmth, bestowed love  and conspicuous absences.

I suddenly remembered one of my role models in life.

An octogenarian who lives in another city, who never fails to amaze me every time he visits.

He still works full time. He has a huge circle of friends and he keeps in touch with every single relative of his.

He regularly organises family get togethers, movie nights with friends and he’s the first person to arrive for any wedding or a funeral anywhere in the country.

He’s so cheerful, hits it off with 3 year old with the same gusto as he does with a 75 year old.

He loves to travel across the globe and regales us with stories of his trips across decades.

He makes no bones about being in love with his wife too. Not in a soppy, filmy way, but he’s always fun & caring towards her. Never fails to call her every morning when he’s away from home to check if she took her pills and gives her his agenda for the day. And he calls her every night to give her a brief account of his day & asks her about hers.

As I was mulling over the last three days of festival cheer, I suddenly felt I want to be like him when I turn 80. (If I make it that far!)

Not that I want to be the main anchor for every group I’m in, but I want to look back at my life that is peppered with good feelings from my family and circle of friends.

I don’t want my friendships and relationships bruised by fragile egos, one-upmanships and possessiveness.

These things start small, but slowly gather momentum in our minds, split people up, turn friends into rivals (or worse, foes) and leave a bad taste that lingers long. They spread negativity all around. I know people who haven’t been on talking terms for 30 years.

Marriages sour, children are forced to take sides, factions form within groups, friends are torn between two people, dinner conversations suddenly turn awkward at the mention of someone …

… the list is endless.

So my prayer this festive season would be, when I look back at my life at 80, I should still remain best friends with my husband, be an important person in my son’s life and still retain the same love and warmth I share with all my family and friends for so many years.

So this Diwali, instead of crackers, let’s burn hatred, ill-will, pointless competitions and inflated egos.

And light the lamp of togetherness and true friendships.

Happy Diwali!

 

 

May I come in?

DoorToDoor

I answered the doorbell.

Two young women, probably in their early twenties, smiled brightly at me and said, “Good Morning Ma’m! Can we speak to you for a few minutes?”

They were decently clothed, each carrying a backpack and looked like any office-going girls we see on the road.

“May we come in?” They asked sweetly, totally ignoring my perplexed expression.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I could let them in.

I was home alone and I’ve read stories of thefts and scams by women like this.

They came in anyway, took their seats and started a sales pitch about caring for cancer patients.

They had been trained well. But despite their eager, hard-selling faces I was frantically looking for excuses to pack them off as politely as I can without parting with any money.

Sure enough, they took out a bunch of receipts & cheques to show me the transparency of their system. None of the cheques were made for anything less than Rs. 8500.

I gently told them I’ll have to check with my husband and will get back to them through their website. They were reluctant and tried to appeal to my compassionate side, but I didn’t give in.

They left after having a glass of water.

My sigh of relief was short-lived. I suddenly realised that while the girls were genuinely a part of a legitimate organisation, didn’t they put themselves in danger by entering the drawing rooms of so many strangers’ homes each day?

There are so many repressed, lecherous men waiting for a chance like this.

And two isn’t an ideal number for safety.

There is a report of rape in the papers every single day.

What exactly is the point of companies that use these women to canvas for their cause like this?

We, as parents teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to accept money or any other gift from strangers. Then when they’re barely out of their teens, we send them off to total strangers’ homes to do the very opposite.

On the other hand, crooks and cons use the guise of the same vulnerable sales force to gain entry into households for thefts.

My mother-in-law had a surprise visit one Sunday night from two women posing as officials from the gas agency to check the cylinder. They demanded Rs. 2000 to fix an alleged leak in the tubes. They left only after a belligerent neighbor from the next apartment stepped in and ordered them out.

*******

When I was in grade 8, there was this drive to collect money for an NGO for senior citizens in my school. A lady from the organisation addressed us during the morning assembly to enlighten us on the plight of the neglected elderly and how we can help them.

Each of us were given a form with our names on top with 20 blank lines below to fill with the donors’ names and the amount.

We were urged to ask our family, neighbours and friends for donations. We were also given a minimum individual target.

That evening, I approached 2 of my neighbours. One literally shut the door on my face and another reluctantly parted with Rs. 10.

Feeling very humiliated, I stormed back home and banned my younger brother from trying to get donations even before he began.

Once my father came back home from work, I related the incident to him and demanded he pay our minimum target to save us from further embarrassment. He readily agreed and offered to meet  my principal the following day to give him a piece of his mind. He reluctantly let it go, after I begged him not to.

Imagine our shock a few days later, my brother’s classmate dropped in home for a game of table tennis (on our dining table) with his pocket jingling with coins.

When we asked him how come he had so many coins & he replied it was his collection of the day for the drive. He said the teacher said he can ask strangers too, so he’s been asking people waiting in the bus stops on his way to school and everywhere.

We were horrified. We told him off and asked him to stop it at once. He was a very well-off boy, who lived in a posh house with his parents and brother. And he was so naive he didn’t even think people mistook him for a beggar! At age 10, he was just following his teacher’s instructions.

********

Really! Aren’t there any other means to raise funds for a cause without using kids and young women like this?

True, there are certain smart kids who are confident and capable enough to collect money, but what about kids like me, my brother and his friend?

I’m sure this marketing system was a successful business model once, but what is the point of hard-selling door-to-door, when SMS marketing and phone marketing have taken over?

Please, please let’s not support a system that puts so many children and young adults in danger. And help conmen misuse it so.

 

 

 

 

 

Second mothers

My mother was one of nine siblings. As a child, I watched her maternal home in a tiny village in South India,  play host to many, including me. Though the permanent residents were only my grand mother and my youngest uncle, the house was always full of floating population. Cousins posted nearby who used the house as base during week days, daughters who dropped in for short visits, sons and grandsons stopping by on their way to somewhere… and my own mother who used to shuttle between her government job in her hometown and Chennai till she got the much-awaited transfer.

So my brother and I used to stay there for months on end sometimes. Till my mother finally got her transfer when I was about 10.

During my stays, I spent a lot of time with a cousin. Though she’s technically my cousin, she’s only a few years younger than my mom, so she was more like an aunt. She has a bubbly personality, her kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling with mirth all the time. Being a school teacher, she was on to my tricks even before my own mother realised what I was up to. She was my hero. Thanks to her influence early on, I still cannot step out of home without drawing kohl in my eyes.

Once we settled down in Chennai, our meetings were reduced to occasional weddings. She too got married and was soon busy with the throes of raising her children while holding on to a full time job.

After a few more years even I stopped going for weddings due to the pressures of  academia and later, a career. I met her sporadically, may be once in 2 or 3 years.

I met her after a long gap of 8 years at a wedding, a few days ago. And the years just fell away. Except for the fact that she is a grand mother now and looks so frail and old, thanks to her illness, her eyes hold the same sparkle even now. We chatted away as much as we could and reminisced about my childhood and her youth.

Soon, it was time to go & I bid her good bye with a sudden lump in my throat.

On my way home I wondered, ‘Will my son ever have bonds like these?’

As a kid, I had so many mother figures in my life. My grandmothers, aunts, older cousins or sometimes even neighbours. I’ve spent days with and weeks with these women, stayed in their homes, eaten their food, confided in them and worried them to no end with my antics.

Of course, mostly it was because my own mother was so busy working full time & keeping house, she hardly had the luxury of a leisurely chat with me. Though my mother was a rock solid influence in shaping my health, conscience and general happiness, my emotional growth was pretty much dependant on these women who always lent a ear to my make-up queries and troubled teenage woes.

But apart from me and my mother-in-law, my son absolutely has no one else as a mother figure in his life.

True, he has his aunts and my best friends. But he sees them all with me around and only for short periods of time. He can never be close enough to go to them with his problems.

On the other hand, unlike my mother, I’m always around, ready to comfort him and offer him advice 24/7.

So I consoled myself that he does not really have the need for that kind of bonds in his life.

But after nine long years of my mother’s passing, it sure felt nice to look up to someone who cared for you as a child, feel safe and protected and not be the adult for once.

 

 

Now I know

“Never take ordinary days for granted,” I had read somewhere. “When you look back, those will be the days you will miss most.”

I realise the full meaning of that sentence only now.

Exactly 15 days ago, I fled from home, jumping on to a rescue boat from my first floor balcony. With a back pack with a change of clothes and other immediate essentials. (My son’s bag had a few comics and his sketching kit.)

The boat had hobbled a few feet above my husband’s SUV. Once we jumped in, we zipped and zoomed against the flowing current for the scariest 8 minutes of my life.

A few hours of restless waiting followed as we waited in the rain in somebody’s garage for the boat to bring my husband and sister in law.

I am one of the luckier few. Water did not enter my floor. Some thieves did, a few days later, but thankfully they didn’t take much.

Except for the loss of our cars and the locks on the front door, my family didn’t lose much compared to my ground floor neighbors.

They lost everything, but for some valuables they managed to save in a hurry, as the water level rose inside their homes.

My friend in the next building had just enough time to carry her dogs and cats to the safety of a floor above, that she couldn’t even think of her valuables.

We’ve also been luckier because we had somewhere to go.

Perhaps this was a wake up call to all.

Things can indeed change in a flash.

Homes can go under water.

Prized possessions can be washed away.

As can dear ones.

Your whole life can turn upside down in a matter of hours.

Though I know my home isn’t damaged and I can go back the minute power is restored and my street is clear of debris and damaged cars, a feeling of displacement is difficult to shake off.

A wave of homesickness washes over me when I least expect it.

I suddenly miss my morning cuppa with the day’s crossword, the bustle of breakfast and subsequent school runs, the mid-morning tea breaks when I have the whole house to myself, my bed, my favourite mug, baking the weekly bread, my tv shows, driving alone with my favourite song blaring….

Oh so many small things I took for granted.

If I can feel so much sadness for being away from home for a few weeks, I shudder to think of those who have lost their homes forever.

They will have to start anew. Build new lives. Create new routines. Make fresh memories.

Meanwhile, I will wait it out. Hold my breath a bit longer. Pause my regular life.

Till I can go back home.

And savour my ordinary days.

A fan mail…

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images courtesy: wikipedia

I grew up hero-worshipping Kamal Haasan. During my school days, every situation called for a quote from his movies.

But my movie watching hit a lull in the past few years. With my days revolving around my 11-year old’s schedule, it’s really difficult to include a 3 hour movie to my list of drops & pick-ups.

But slowly I’ve been getting back. Having missed a lot of his movies like Vettaiyaadu vilaiyadu, Manamadhan Ambu, Vishwaroopam, etc, I managed to catch Utthama Villain & Papanasam.

I came out of both the movies feeling very depressed.

Papanasam more than Utthama Villain.

A friend had told me he had walked out of Utthama Villain (UV) because he couldn’t take Kamal’s Narscism. And he highly recommended Papanasam because he felt the script was so brilliant and for once, Kamal had put the script before himself.

But I felt the opposite. I kind of enjoyed UV because Kamal delivered what was expected of him. He is one of the best actors in the country & he is larger than life. UV was him accepting that his days of glory are on the wane. Yes, the whole movie was about him and only him. But I quite enjoyed the movie because it had shades of him I had enjoyed during my growing-up years.

Only thing I did not enjoy was his looks. Though he portrayed an ageing actor coming to terms with his own mortality and played more or less a character close to his real age, he looked… how do I put it? Odd. I felt his head was disproportionately big for his body, his eyes were noticeably bulgy and his face has totally lost his charisma.

In Papanasam, he had obviously done a fabulous job. He put the script before him, yes. But he cannot play a common man! (Of course he did play the actual common man in Unnai pol oruvan, but he was a common man with an uncommon plan. He was so regal in every frame).

But here, something about his bulging eyes, strained smile and a latent power didn’t convince me that he was the caring father and husband trying to protect his family. It was as if he was a super hero who was forced to be a normal guy and was not allowed to use his super powers.

Was this the same Kamal who mesmerised me in Nayagan? Is this the same performer who had enthralled me in Salangai Oli?  Is this the same actor who had me in splits in Indran Chandran? Is this the same fabulous actor who portrayed 4 characters so brilliantly in Michael Madan Kama Rajan?

In most of the above mentioned movies, he had played characters on the wrong side of fifty. But how dignifiedly charismatic he had looked as an older man in those movies!

Now that he’s closer to that age in real life, it pains me to see him trying to stubbornly hold on to his fading youth.

After watching Papanasam yesterday, I was surfing the channels morosely late into the night. I chanced upon Nayagan. It was as if someone from above wanted to cheer me up!

What a movie! What a performance! This is the Kamal I used to watch with wide eyes and mouth agape. This is the Kamal Haasan we quoted verbatim.

We got goose bumps when he marched the streets with his fellow-men to teach the seth a lesson. We melted when he falls for Saranya. We wept when he tried to answer his grandson’s unforgettable question in the last scene…

But I just cannot relate this sad caricature of an actor to that legend.

Please Kamal sir, live on as the one and only Velu Nayakkar in our hearts… as upright dancer Balu… as the star-crossed lover Vasu… as chappani… as the dark hero Dilip…

Don’t make us lament your fall as Suyambu or Manoranjan…

Please come back when older, to play weighty roles like Mr. Bachchan.

His in-between Shehenshah days are not for you.

Magane Manogara!

I sit in a sofa looking around listlessly. A little away from me, sitting at the head of her dining table, the Tamil teacher presides over a small group of 10 year olds. There are two girls reciting Thirukkural loudly and a boy who is copying down answers from his open text book.

And there’s my son, sitting there bewildered..

The girls voices raise in competing with each other. The boy stops writing to check something with the teacher. Suddenly the teacher’s grandson who has been playing in the drawing room screams. Before anybody could react, one of the Thirukkural girls runs towards him and picks him up. “Auntie! He has done su-su!” She wrinkles up her nose. The teacher immediately gathers the boy from her and heads to the restroom, shouting instructions to the children over her shoulder.

Oblivious to all this, the teacher’s mother-in-law sits near me in another sofa, her head thrown backwards and is snoring softly.

The teachers comes back to her seat, settling her grandson on her lap and continues her lessons with my son.

“What day is it today? How do you say this in Tamil?’  She asks him.

My son stares at his toes. “Come on! Tell me!” She prompts him. He sinks lower in his chair. “Take a guess.” She cajoles him. “I’ll not mind even if you give me the wrong answer. Don’t feel shy!” She laughs. My son cringes some more.

Indru enna kizhamai!” She booms the answer. “You repeat what I just said!” He mumbles something inaudible. “Come on! Louder!” She encourages him.

Then she looks at me across the room. “Ennamma idhu? (What’s this?) Your son has no comprehension of the language. And he’s born and brought up in Chennai!” She clucks.

tlc051014bwevNow it’s my turn to cringe.

Before you judge me, let me assure you that I’m certainly not one of those hoity-toity moms who thinks it’s uncool to let her child learn his mother tongue.

But as Murphy’s law would have it, especially when it comes to children, you end up doing the exact opposite of what you had planned.

Before I had my son, I always looked at parents of misbehaving kids with diasdain.  ‘How could they let their kids get away with such behaviour?’ I used to wonder. ‘I’ll never be like that when I have my own!’ I used to resolve to myself, in my blissful ignorance.

Of course, once my son was born, I just had to add pepper & salt to my words and gobble them all up.

Tantrums in the mall, check. Screaming in the theatres, check. Making another child cry in a restaurant, Check.

By the time he turned 5, I’d been there and done all that and more.

Anyway,  I swore to myself that my son will never be one of those snooty kids who spoke only in English and think it’s infra dig to talk in their own language. I spoke to him only in Tamil and urged the father to do the same in Telugu. Though he played along most of the time, my husband invariably reverted to English after the first sentence.

But I plodded on. A friend still remembers when my son  was around two, I got palpitations when I heard her talk to him in English, . “How you yelled at me!” She recalls even now. “Like I slapped him or something!”

And I was very happy his baby-talk was all in Tamil.

Amma! Menaam!” He used to scream when he didn’t want something.

Inniyum’ meant another. “Biyam’ meant he was scared.

Our initial ecstacy over his utterences soon turned to worry when we realised he hadn’t graduated beyond his one word sentences at three, when my friend’s son who was a few months younger was belting out full sentences like an adult.

I panicked as usual. He had just started play-school and there were so many more to compare him to.

One friend suggested it was because we were confusing him with too many languages. “He just doesn’t know which one to communicate with. Just stick to one language and see the difference. I’ve seen the same thing happen to so many kids”.

It made sense to us and that was the end of Tamil & Telugu for him. We conversed with him only in English and lo and behold, he was talking nineteen to a dozen in a month.

Cut to present.

At ten, my son has made me eat my words all over again with a lot more pepper & salt. Since English is the only language he uses for communication and thanks to the All-American entertainment he gets from Disney channel, he is snooty and refuses to talk in Tamil.

And when he utterly has to, he sounds exactly like M.R.R. Vasu in an old Tamil film playing a Marwari money-lender.

I still would have shamelessly shrugged, blamed it on TV and went on with life. But trouble brewed when I had to choose Tamil for his second language. Only other choice was Hindi and my knowledge of that language ends with the sporadic bollywood movies I watch.

Last year I realised the gap between his textbook and his actual understanding of Tamil was greater than the widest of oceans.

So I now sit in this drawing room three days a week amidst a cacaphony of voices which strangely reminds me of a 80s Bhagyaraj film set and giggle shamelessly at my son saying things like “naan en amma veedu ponaan” (Which is supposed to mean I went home with my mother.)

When I asked him why I should wait there instead of running some errands he replied, “Because it’s all your fault Amma! You did the crime, so you do the time!”

Serves me right.

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