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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The driver who ditched.

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I must have been in the 12th grade. I was cramming for an exam late one night (it was past 10.00 pm which was really late by those days’ standards!)

I was plonked on the drawing room sofa with all my books around me. My father was at the dining table, having a smoke after dinner and listening to some old hindi songs. My mother and brother had retired for the night.

The door bell rang.

Our driver was standing outside looking very tearful.

My ears perked up while my eyes were fixed on the book in my lap.

The driver told my father that his child was suddenly ill and in hospital. He needed money for some important procedure if the child was to be saved.

Immediately my father gave him the money and also the car keys.

“Take the car.” he said generously. “You never know if you’ll need transport late at night.”

“Aiyyah!” the driver sobbed and fell at my father’s feet. “You’re my god! I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life! May you live long and help others like this”

Deeply embarassed, my father shushed him and sent him on his way, after asking him to update him on the child’s condition.

By this time I had forgotten all about my books and was gaping open-mouthed.

Needless to say, I hardly manage to retain anything I studied after that.

********

Early next morning the ringing phone woke me up. Still asleep and curled up in bed, I sleepily heard my father on the phone very somberly and my mother rushing from the kitchen…

Fearing the worst, I too scrambled to my feet and rushed out.

My father hung up and looked at our worried faces.

“That was a call from the police.” He said.

We gasped. “What happened?”

“Our car was found in a ditch in the early hours of this morning. The cops traced the number plate to my phone and called me. Thankfully the driver and his passanger escaped with minor injuries.”

“But you drove the car and was home early yesterday!” my mom said, totally unaware of the driver drama that happened after she went to bed.

She was quickly updated on that front. From what my father muttered to my mom out of my earshot, I gathered that the passenger the driver had was a woman of ill repute. And both were inebriated.

“I am 16, please!’ I wanted to tell them.

My mother was furious. “That means his child was never ill.” She concluded. “I can understand you falling for his story and giving him the money. But what was the need for you to give him the car?” She raved and ranted till my father  screamed her down.

My father then spoke to the cops he knew and left to sort out this mess and rescue his car from the ditch.

In school, I was shocked to hear my friends speak of the car they had seen in a ditch enroute and how big cranes were trying to haul it out.

I sheepishly told my close friends that it was my father’s car and the story behind it. And basked in the limelight for two minutes.

*********

Growing up and having my own share of such frauds like this and this and this, I still haven’t learnt my lesson. I suddenly remebered this driver incident from my teenage years and now convinced that I’m genetically designed to be the sitting duck!

It’s a wonder how I still manage to have faith in humanity after all this!

 

Decency & Decorum

Pardon me if this post sounds preachy… (But if I can’t rave & rant about things that irritate me in my blog, what’s the use of it?!)

Road-rage is rampant in our cities. I’m subjected to it on a daily basis. Even if I try to keep my cool, there’s always some boorish nut case challenging my resolve.

He honks non-stop when I have no place to move this side or that and even if I get fed up & give him way, all he does is get caught between my car & the car in front of him!

And some take great pleasure in overtaking you from the left… When you least expect it.

And of course with my 8 year old son travelling with me most of the time, I have to constantly watch what I’m saying.

Once when he was 4, we were off to some place. After ten minutes, he asked me “Amma, where’s that idiot uncle?”

“Who?”

“That uncle who always comes on the bike every time…”

It took me a minute to realise he thought there was just one guy on a bike every day who irritates me & his name is ‘idiot’!

Oh and don’t even get me started on auto drivers! Yesterday, an auto suddenly shot out of a side road, directly on to my path on the main road. The driver was not even aware of me screeching to a halt within inches of him because he was too busy talking to someone on his mobile.

The other day a group of us in a car burst out laughing at an auto driver who was casually manoeuvring his auto with one hand and holding a hot cup of tea on the other. God save his passengers if he had to hit a pot hole!

All these are just a few examples of the hundreds of irrational driving in our roads. In almost all cases, accidents are just waiting to happen. Only avoided in the last minute with some divine intervention!

I’m not getting into drunken driving. That’s a whole new ball game altogether.

This kind of behaviour does not stop with just driving. We encounter indecent, thoughtless, mindless stuff everywhere. People throwing junk behind their walls, spitting on the roads, talking loudly on their phone in public places… the list is endless.

The easiest way to lable these ‘don’t-care’ attitude of our people is to blame the government & corruption. But aren’t we living in a democracy? Shouldn’t we take the blame too, for keeping quiet & letting hooligans inherit the earth?

I feel the government officials, administrators, lawyers, judges, politicians should not be blamed.  They just go beserk with a little bit of power and their kith & kin get equally drunk with the reflected glory.

How will they know what they’re doing is wrong when they were never taught to behave with decency & decorum?

How will an illiterate auto/cab driver know it’s indecent to honk too often? How does a mechanic rushing off to his job on a bike know it’s wrong o overtake from the left? How will a man realise it’s wrong to urinate in public if his parents taught him to do just that when he was a kid?

Do you know what will really help? Catch them young.  Why wait for people to grow into adults and start teaching them ethics and values?

In my opinion ‘Decency’ should be taught in schools as a subject. Not just as an optional, with no marks subjects like Moral Science, but compulsory, up there with Maths, Science & the languages.

Children should be taught good manners, on being sensitive to other people around them, care for the environment, everything under the sun which comes under decency & decorum. People who fail in ‘Decency’ should not be allowed to progress to the next class.

Just imagine. After say ten years, we’ll have a new crop of people who’ll be courteous to each other. Road-rage will be extinct. People will patiently wait for their turn in queues instead of pushing each other like savages. Government employees will be punctual and treat people with utmost kindness. Auto drivers will drive carefully & return the exact change due. Maids will do their jobs sincerely and not bunk at the drop of a hat. Colleges will be more honest about the courses they offer and more transparent with what they do with the fees they receive. Builders will not cheat by using substandard materials for the price of better ones.

There will be less fights and more peace.

Less noise pollution and more happiness.

Less stress and more bliss.

Utopia, here I come.