Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blind Potshots and Dark Future

The worst thing about bringing up a child is the uncertainty. You never know for sure if your words or your actions will have the desired effect. And I mean long-term effects mostly.

When Riju was an infant, I was driven out of my mind trying to decipher what exactly his wails meant. Did it mean he was hungry or was it a mosquito bite? Was it ear-ache or tummy-ache? My actions were almost always a blind guess. I could only hope for the best.

Now that Riju is almost a teenager, the problem has merely shifted shape. As I scold him for not reading enough Bengali books or watching way more television than is good for him, I am not sure if I am doing the right thing. Will scolding make him rebel against all rules? Will my body language set a wrong example? And, on top of everything, why can't he enjoy life the way he wants to? We do it, don't we?

Even when I am being all disapproving or enthusiastic, I am torn in at least three more directions. The moral high ground which lends the ringing oratorical quality to one's preaching is lacking in me. If I can look for ways to ignore centuries-old pearls of wisdom, then what chance do these have with a 12 year old? But being a parent (a more experienced individual at least) means you need to try your darnedest to 'instil values' and 'discipline' your child. But how in heaven's name does one ensure that he's imbibing the correct values? If Riju switches off the television after a censure, is it because he realizes that too much television is a habit to avoid or is it because he merely wants me to shut up? In the long run, what is the 'value' he is learning? Obedience or hiding his irritation with boss figures?

Then there's the tricky bit of setting an example. After spending half a lifetime striving to get approvals (in the form of report cards and appraisal ratings) by putting on my best behaviour, don't I get to be myself even at home? Even if I feel like swearing at a stupid tele-caller, do I need to swallow and be patient if Riju is nearby? It's a bloody moral morass, I tell you!

Parenting at the end of the day is all about taking blind potshots and hoping for the best. I, for one, refuse to take any responsibility if my child turns out to be a coke-smoking sociopath. If, however, he turns out to be a warm, caring human being, then of course I'll write a book on How to Influence Children and Bring Up Brats. :-)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pushy versus Pushover

These days, we're in the middle of this great debate: whether to be a pushy or a pushover parent. 

It all started when Riju decided to quit the cricket coaching club. A couple of months previously, he had stopped his art lessons. It was in January this year that he expressed his wish to learn how to draw, and in March, he pleaded with us to enrol him in a cricket coaching club. For the first 11 years of his life, his extra-curricular activities were limited to watching television, playing computer games, and reading, mostly Geronimo Stilton and airlines magazines (don't ask). We were determined to let him be, even if that meant drawing flak for not 'honing' his talents. 

Then, to our delight, he wanted to learn something outside of school. But after only about 6-odd months, he dropped both activities like hot potatoes. And left us agonizing over whether we should force him to carry on or allow him to choose what he wants to do. 

The arguments for forcing is that an 11-year-old is not expected to know what is good for him. While he may not quite make the India team, but regular physical exercise in the coaching camp will make him fitter -- a good thing in the long run, no? Or, his interest in art may be renewed after a year or so and his talent will get the prominence it deserves. 

There's also the discipline angle. Are we tacitly encouraging Riju to be a quitter? Are we spoiling him by giving in to his wishes? This angle is particularly tricky. We, the new-age parents, live in constant fear of sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Yet corporal punishment seems rather unfair and harsh: just because we are bigger (in size), we can't go around intimidating little ones. That's bullying. And don't you dare compare with our parents, uncles, grandparents, etc. Times were different then, and how!

The case for being a pushover parent is closer to my heart: How can you force a child to learn something he doesn't want to? My disastrous forays into learning music is still fresh in my mind. I hated it after the first 6 months, especially when I had to appear for exams! My elder brother, who was coerced into learning music with me, rebelled big time when he saw that he was the only (teenaged) guy amidst a gaggle of young girls in the music class. My father-in-law tried hard to make his son learn guitar, but his son gave up midway, like so many of us. The twist in the tale is, though neither me nor my brother never want to take another music lesson in our lives, Dhiman regrets the fact that his parents did not push him enough to learn guitar, or swimming.

At the moment, we have stopped arguing with Riju. Instead, I gave him a list of other things he can learn. He is still considering. Under which header does our behaviour fall -- pushy or pushover? Not quite sure, but whatever it is, it sure adds another twist in the crazy little thing called parenting.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pitfalls of being the mother of a cricket fan

In all my daydreams about my little sonny growing up, I never imagined this particular pitfall. 

Riju is a cricket fan. Fair enough, in the country of Sachin. I'm a bit of a follower, too. Problem is, Riju is an IPL fanatic and his Team are the Kolkata Knight Riders. This is the franchise's 4th year and all three previous years, KKR has been at the bottom of the table. One would've thought that was enough to put one off KKR, but not my son. He's still very much a KKR person. And therein lies my problem.

Every time the Knights play, I must play the paramedic-cum-counsellor role. Comforting a traumatised pre-teen while predicting bright futures and hiding away the breakables surreptitiously is no mean task, mind you. And the bunch of losers make my task even more difficult. This year, just when things were going smoothly with three wins in a row, they had to go and lose the next two games. Pall of gloom at home, immediately.

These days, my mornings are spent crystal-ball gazing. Newspapers arrive; Riju's the first one to get to them; and then the dreaded announcement, made in a tone befitting the calamity: "KKR has slipped down one more place on the League table."
"Have they, dear?"
"Today, if the Royal Challengers win, they'll slip further down." [Voice nearly inaudible]
"Don't worry, honey, KKR won't slip further." [As if!]
"You sure, Mum-mum?" [Heart-breakingly hopeful]
"Of course! They'll play the Semis this year, I tell you." [They'd better!]
"Then, they can't lose a single game from now on..." [slight note of disbelief]
"And they won't." I close the argument with Nostradamus-like flourish, and send up a little prayer myself.

All through this conversation, I'm aware that the moment KKR lose another tie (and that's often enough, believe me!), Riju will turn on me furiously, holding me to my prophecy. And apart from cursing my stupidity, I'll have no way out. Try explaining to a fan that sports is all about participating (as opposed to, winning), and you'll know why I do what I do. Those hopeful eyes, clinging to every single word of my wild prophecy, just make it seem so right at that moment. Never mind my surging blood pressure the next game night.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Censorship Tightrope

I've realised something. Parenting does not get simpler, as one would expect, as your child grows older. It gets more and more complicated and convoluted. Take the issue of censorship, for example.

As a modern-day 'liberated' parent, you recoil from the very mention of the C word. An individual should be exposed to all kinds of things. If you raise a child sensibly, then he or she should be able to sieve the good from the ugly. In keeping with this philosophy, I have never changed television channels when a snogging scene comes up, nor have I stopped Riju from watching Hindi mainstream films. My books are also unlocked and accessible. I believe that adult content implies subjects that a young mind may misinterpret, not necessarily sex and violence that society at large brands as "adult".

But, of late, my belief is wavering. The most recent trigger is a game. I have, in the course of Net trawling and conversations with knowledgeable persons, heard of a famous and addictive game called the Grand Theft Auto. Riju was exposed to this game on a visit to his cousin's. He was completely enthralled and wanted to buy it, with his own pocket money. "Okay," I agreed.

He bought Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on a recent visit to a mall. On our way home, I was looking at the purchase when I saw that there's "18" written on the cover. Now, why would a PC game be only for adults? I glanced through the booklet that came with the package, and discovered, to my consternation, that the game features, apart from the usual mayhem and murders, foul language in the conversations between the characters, a gay bar that a player can frequent and a strip club full of friendly neighbourhood strippers. And, I found out later, the cheat codes for the game include one that allows a player to have sex.

Whoa! Now that was too much even for me. When I pointed out that this game is meant for people older than 9 definitely, Riju protested loudly. Anybody would; after all, it was his money he spent on the game. He offered to let me play it to see for myself how harmless it is. I couldn't turn that down. I played. And I did not come across anything that could be labelled 18-and-above. So, I let Riju play while I hovered in the background. It seemed innocuous enough. But even then, after he was through for the evening, I locked the game CD in my wardrobe. I haven't given it to him yet, coming up with one excuse or the other.

But sooner, rather than later, I have to give it to him. I can't really ask him to wait till 18, can I? And I also can't keep a watch all the time. So, I'm in a fix. Should I let him play GTA at the risk of seeing him spout foul language and harbouring not-so-innocent thoughts at the tender age of nine? Or should I clamp "Parental Discretion Rule" ignoring my son's protests and my earlier anti-censorship philosophy? Do I protect his innocence or preserve his individuality? Aaargh!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Kids and Consumerism

I wrote this piece over 4 years ago. But the point's still valid.

Raising a child in these times of rocketing consumerism is fraught with danger. One constantly hears stories of youngsters barely into their teens using rather crooked means to get their quota of cell phones, designer outfits, nightclub entries and what have you.

Doctors and social scientists advise us parents not to give in to our children’s demands, but that, like most pieces of advice, is easier said than done. I know. I have a four-year-old who loves his cartoons, but he loves the ads in between the cartoons even better. He doesn’t mind if he misses a minute or two of his favourite Popeye or Tom & Jerry show, but hell breaks loose if we mute the television even for a second during the commercials.

Last Christmas, he asked Santa for a washing machine—not just any, mind you, but of a particular brand—so that his mother, like the ever-smiling super mom in the ad, can have enough time on her hands to bake him a strawberry cake. That his mother doesn’t even know the recipe to begin with, or that even if she did, she would hardly have had the time or the energy (ask any mother, the phrase ‘energy crisis’ holds an entirely different meaning for them) to bake a cake after a hard day’s work seems to have escaped him completely. Luckily for me, Santa didn’t oblige. And I got him a strawberry pastry from the neighbourhood cake shop.

But I don’t expect all problems to come with such simple solutions. There’s a whole wide world of goodies out there, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts eyeing the pricier ones. Therein lies the crux of the problem: How do I explain to a four-year-old that all those nice toys lining the shop window doesn’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things; that he should focus on the smaller (read: cheaper) joys of life; that abstinence is the best policy to reach a higher plane of being? The explanation becomes even tougher in the light of the fact that his parents simply can’t do without their share of the latest gadgets, good clothes, and premium Scotch. We know, of course, that, we are well past the age when we are likely to give in to temptations like clearing out our parents’ bank accounts (we drain our life’s savings instead, but that’s another story), but it’s difficult making that distinction to my son. Consumerism is here to stay, and all we parents can do is pray that we don’t get our throats slit for refusing a camera phone. As of now, my son’s fifth birthday is coming up and he has asked for a house.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

All that Fan-Fare

Riju is now old enough to be a fan. A cricket fan. It started, though, with being a Shah Rukh fan. Last year IPL. Shah Rukh in town, doling out sound bites on his team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. Riju had just turned eight then. He was not really interested in cricket. Computer games like Need for Speed were more up his street. Like most children these days, sport, to him, meant a period in school. He had a football at home: deflated and neglected. His father cajoled him to watch soccer ties with him: to no avail. Formula 1 drew more attention.

So this was the situation when Shah Rukh came to town. Riju knew all about 'SRK', as he called the star. His movies are fun and had great songs. And boy, could he dance! SRK's team was a natural choice for Riju. The 8-year-old began watching cricket. Learned the names of the players, learned names of strokes, a few fielding positions and bowling actions. Listened to adult conversation and tried to copy. That was last year.

Then, he wanted a bat, balls, wickets. A playing companion. The last one was the toughest. But even that got sorted out eventually, sporadically. He began to shadow practise. He followed even normal cricket matches and the careers of his team players. Some players were gradually elevated to favourites' spot. He got himself a computer game on cricket and cheered when he learned the trick to hit a sixer.

And now, this year's IPL. Riju saved up to buy the Knight Riders jersey. From Reebok, no less. I winced on seeing the price tag, but then I was never a fan. Not like this. I cheered for India too, especially in Prudential Cup. I shed tears when Sachin got out, but secretly. I prayed for Ivan Lendl to win the Wimbledon and Graf the French Open. I lusted after Gary Linekar and, of course, Klinsmann and Maradona. But I never got myself jerseys: merchandising had not yet become so widespread. And I never become so caught up with team's fortune that I would want to dump that same jersey after my team lost consecutive matches.

Watching a KKR match with Riju has become fraught with danger. As the team miserably lurches from one loss to the next, the 9-year-old howls, sobs, whimpers, throws tantrums and anything around him. No amount of explaining that it's only a game does the trick. It's then that I feel the resentment welling up inside me. Resentment against the team management, coach, owner and the players. All of them. If only they could see how their mismanagement and ego tussles cause so much pain and misery to a single fan — a child who, innocent of the ways of the world, had reposed all his faith in his hero's team. If only they could see how they fail him and countless others like him who dreamt of a trophy. If only they realised how they are making cynics of nine-year-olds.

The IPL introduced my son to the charms of cricket. Would the same IPL make him turn away from the sport? Would the fan'fare' die or would it mature into love? Watch this space to know.

A Small Verse

In Bangla.

Mon kharap brishti holo eto

Shomosto raat mathaar charidharey

Ami tomar swapney pawa angul

Joriye chhilam jwoler adhikarey

Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Banned' Wagon

The country-wide smoking ban is nearly a month old. But no uprisings yet. Not even a candle-light protest vigil. Rights continue to get trampled in this world. Smokers are humans too. Humans with a different perspective: we will all die one day. Yes, you too, you non-smoking, non-guzzling, non-non-organic-food-hogging, non-lethargic fitness freak. We smokers just deal with it better.

Still, every time we feel the urge, we need to make our way down office buildings, adorned with paan stains in every corner, to the sun-soaked, rain-drenched roadside. That's what a smoke means these days: braving the weather, the stares of regressive men, and the traffic.

Even the Friday night tipple has to go without its accompanying smoke rings. How can a sane person drink without taking a drag from time to time? How can the interesting argument on the future of Indian cricket without the Big Three be carried on without cigarettes? What kind of one-dimensional character devised this form of cruelty? What's next? A ban on liquor? A clamp on adda? A prohibitionary order on a party?

For many of us, cigarettes are a friend. Yes, the friend demands its pound of flesh, but do you really think friendships are without give-and-take? A cigarette comforts us in grief, supports us in times of trouble, joins us in happier moments, relieves us when we are tense and anxious. It helps us overcome that awkward pause on conversation, strike up a conversation with that good-looking stranger...

Smoking helps us feel at one with the world. For however long we are in it.