...and then

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Even if you’ve been hit just once

The other day I saw a man speak very rudely to a woman at a supermarket. There were other people watching but that didn’t stop the man from being rude and mean to his wife. I couldn’t understand the language they spoke but their bodies and expressions spoke a lot louder than their words. In the end, when it looked like it was dying down, the woman grabbed the shopping cart jerkily and started to walk away. The husband, however, took that as an insult and raised his hand as if to hit her. Suddenly, becoming aware of his surroundings, he dropped his hand without striking and she, after flinching instinctively, walked away quickly, face red in embarrassment and, perhaps, rage.

This took me back to a place more than 10 years ago where I had gone to Rajasthani neighbour’s house. She had invited me over so I could get henna put on my hands, she specialized in it. There were other women and my turn finally came. Midway, her husband returned home and their toddler son went up to him for attention or whatever. He gave him a rude shove, the kid fell over, took it in his stride and ran around naked as he was doing before. And in five minutes, he went back to his father only to be rewarded by a slap across his face. The kid started bawling. The husband said something to his wife, even though his mother and sister were hanging around, about taking care of the kid. She, ‘modest’ in her veil, didn’t raise her head from what she was doing and said something quietly back. He responded. She kept quiet. In a burst of controlled temper, he walked up to her, took his slippers off and started beating her with one. To say that I was outraged and frozen in shock would be an understatement. Nothing prepares you for that. What was more horrifying is that this woman didn’t budge or raise her hand or cower to protect herself. She just sat there taking in the beating, not letting go of my hand on which she was giving way to her art. When he stopped and threw away his weapon in disgust and walked away, she mutely continued painting intricate designs on my hand. All I could see was the top of her head. And then, I saw silent tears of humiliation splashing her sari, wetting the soft cotton.

In an earlier relationship in my life, there were a couple of instances where I had been hit. I hit back too but it’s not half as effective when the guy is taller and stronger than you. Rage alone is not enough to do someone serious damage.

I grew up, like a lot of Indian kids, getting a sound smacking every once in a while. While my brother got it worse, I think, he now lives with having made complete peace with it. I, on the other hand, have never been able to do that. I believe a lot of the anger that still resides in me comes from there. I can’t quite tell. Maybe I am just discontent as a person, maybe I make excuses for my temper, I don’t know. But the truth is I have a pretty nasty temper. And on more than one stubborn occasion I’ve had to use a couple of hard smacks on my nearly-three-year old daughter (hands and legs only) to discipline or … dare I use the word… punish. I believe she’s a bit immune now and I worry seeing that. And it really hurts to see her flinch when I move suddenly in tense moments. And my brother, enlighteningly once said, “If physical abuse damaged you so much, then you wouldn’t as much touch your kid in a violent manner.” I felt chastised and saw he had a point. But then recently, it has dawned on me that it could have gone either way. Just like anything else – some people swear they’ll never beat their kids; others perpetrate the violence. As of now, unwittingly, I’ve chosen to do the latter.

Ever since this realization hit and I put my finger on my ill-inherited temper (my grandmum – who I love to bits – was a terror to my mum and her siblings. There are stories of her punishing them by placing a steel spatula heated over a flame on their legs, for lying to her) I have been looking at ways to change. And I lasted a good three weeks or more before the control broke and my daughter got a whack from me for scribbling all over the walls in my hall with crayons. She’s done it more times than I can count and I know all kids do it. But limits are limits. I’ve put her away in corners, not given her crayons for weeks, have spoken to her about it more times than I care to remember but nothing makes an impact. So I am left to assume that this bit of mischief holds so much wonder for her that she can’t resist. And at some point I may have killed some creative spirit but I hope not. If I have, I am not going to think about it now.

But I digress. In an earlier post, I said I much prefer a fist fight as a resolution to a problem than a silly cold war, if a confrontation and spilling of painful truths is not an option. It seems a bit immature but I find it the easiest way to get rid of all the negativity hanging around. When I wrote that post, I was convinced it was the way to go. But soon it began eating at me, and I wondered how someone with a brain and a thought process could prefer such a base way of dealing with things. How can someone who wants to get rid of the violence in her system prefer this way? How can someone who has an appreciation of beautiful things prefer this instinctual, violent way of handling a situation? I got no answers. I left it alone so that I could come to it later.

And today, while talking to someone, this whole violence thing came up and I was told, “If you’ve been hit more than a couple of times, by different people then it’s because it’s your fault.” I am a little offended. I know I drive people up the wall. I can be very exasperating, I’ve recently realised. But does that allow the blame to fall on my shoulders? (I use I and my in a general sense. I am talking about the person who is at the receiving end of any kind of domestic violence.)

Premeditated hitting is one thing, but can a person be faulted for the being hit in the heat of an argument? I don’t think so. I believe no matter how annoying someone is, no matter how exasperating, domestic abuse is not the victim’s fault. Just like rape or molestation. So when this came from someone tremendously close, I was forced to examine exactly why the person was saying this. I see that sometimes people will snap but what is it that makes some people walk away from a situation and some hit back?

As a means of control, physical violence works. It builds tremendous resentment and hate in the victim, but over time, it is an effective way of getting instant obedience. Abused women have been known to snap after years of being beaten and kill their partners. Abused children have been known to develop deviant personalities. Recently, I was having this conversation with my really wise sister in law and she said she had never been beaten by her parents, or even yelled at. And for me that’s a miracle because she’s so well turned out – sorted, organised, patient, never has a mean word to say about anyone, gentle and kind. How, then, did her parents manage to discipline her? Soon, she went on to say that her elder sister now whacks her son once in a while when he gets completely out of hand. And my sister in law and her parents are amazed that she does it. “Where is that coming from,” she said aloud, completely lost for an answer.

Indeed, where does this natural violence come from? And how does one undo the damage it has caused?

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Monday, 16 May 2011

Amma, don’t go

This is fast turning into a mummy blog I see. But never mind. This morning I ran out to an assignment, finished it, went to school to pick up my daughter and brought her back home. Without prompting, this beautiful child of mine said, “It made me very happy that you came to pick me up, Amma.” My heart was glad when she said that even though I had a bit of a tiff with someone close this morning, and it was preying on my mind. But seeing her sweet little face, gummy smile and answering questions like, “What is plants’ food,” cleared the clouds.

We chatted on the way back from work and she showered me with kisses, singing songs she had learnt in playschool and displaying her extensive vocabulary. (I am so glad she says still messes up her grammar once in a while and says “ch” instead of the “s” sounds, or I tend to forget she’s a baby, not quite three yet.) I dropped her home and was about to leave when she grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Big plump tears jumped out of her honest eyes as she tried to make a deal with me. “Don’t go offich now, Amma. Go tomorrow, when I go to kool,” she said. “I go to school and you go to offich.” It was all I could do to keep from joining her tear fest myself. No promises, explanations or bribes worked. All she wanted was to be with me. I know in a couple of years she won’t care and I know I will miss it. I know I want to be at home when she cares and is expressive of it. I want her to remember that she and her brother are the reason I go to work. Well, at least, the biggest reasons. But how do I tell her that? How do I make her understand that I’d much rather stay here at home with her, colouring with her and scribbling in her drawing book, than going out every day to work, when, the few times she has raised tearful objection, all I have told her in effect is that doing my work, keeping my boss happy and earning money are all more important than her helpless, honest tears.

I want to be home with my kids. I know I’ll go out of my mind but I want to be home. I don’t want to be telling them my time belongs to someone else and not them, when they are such a tremendously important part of my life, of who I am.
I miss those kids, as mad as they drive me.

For Shyama

I took the sun to sleep with me,
With it some flowers, a waterfall and a whole bowl of glass beads.
They swirled into my dreams and grew arms and legs
And sprouted a stubborn chin.
They got together, this tiny eddy of things
And became a little moon whose kisses I woke to.
They became my little girl,
A humbling piece of my heart, the purest part of my soul. 

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Saturday, 7 May 2011

Mummy for a mirror

I wrote this piece here. Cross posting it here. Also, head on over there are read more love for mums. 


I try not to make too much of a deal for mother's day, although last year I got my mum a pretty silver ring. Like I said, I try not to. After all, how is it fair to put your children in a position to do something for you, many times with them not wanting to because they don't believe in Hallmark Holidays? Because, hey, they didn't ask to be born, or nappy changed, or fed, or vaccinated or rocked to sleep. You were the self-indulgent, clueless cretin who decided a baby would totally complete you. 
But no point flogging a dead horse, is there, even if it's a mummy horse? Jokes apart, every single day, I make tons of decisions about my kids. I try not to make any at all, of course, but the fact that I'd mildly appreciate if they didn't grow up to be serial killers or Chetan Bhagats demands that I make some key decisions every day. I need to decide whether to tell them the truth all the time, I need to decide how to be on top of the game without letting them know I am quickly running out of skills and patience to beat them at it. I also need to figure out how not to give them a little smack -- sometimes more than -- once in a while. Apart from the other dozens of regular decisions such as what to feed them, how i can trick them into sleeping longer, what to do with them come evening time and it's too hot. 
And every day I wake up wanting to ask my mother if she'd be too uncomfortable if I made a shrine to her and garlanded the thing five times a day. And hire a priest to do Vedic rituals four times a day in her honour. And drown the shrine in gold and gems a la Tirupati. I know, with kids below the age of three I have no right to feel like this already but I do, so all you parents of teenagers, stop nodding your head smugly and saying, "Wait till they get older". Uh anh, I am not waiting. I can't. There's no time, see? Because between trying to raise them and thanking my mother to the nines of being as strong as she was in raising me to be my own person, I am losing hair, appetite and general focus that might lead me to sell the kids to a circus thinking the money they give me with their tricky, gypsy hands is more important than hearing the ear-splitting screeches of my screaming banshees. 
From having taught me to make my own decisions (which I am sure she regrets) to introducing me to the arts -- music, writing, reading, dance, colour, dressing up -- my mum deserves tremendous credit. I've seen where she could have done better but I also know she did the best she could. In my becoming a mother, I have blindly imbibed some things that I want to pass on to my kids such as music and light and independence. And yet, there are things I would like to not do with my kids that she did with me. That said, the first outweighs the second, of course. And therefore, I'll wish I am half the mother to my kids that my mother was to me. 
Happy mother's day.

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