Books I Could Not Read

I guess this is a strange post for a person who is such an avid book-lover. However, this is the first time that I borrowed four books from the library, and I could not bring myself to complete even one of them! That in itself is such a remarkable event that it’s worth recording.

The four offending books are:
1. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. This was a book I plunged straight into and I found it really engrossing in the beginning. A few hundred pages later, and I became weary of it. There was nothing uplifting about it, the characters were all rather dreary and just f***ing around with each other, and even that was so listless. I gave up half-way. There’s enough gloominess and ennui in the real world without having to be subject to it in a concentrated form through this book.

2. Letters from a Father to his Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru: I tried very hard to be impressed by the fact that he was in prison when he wrote this, and his daughter was just ten years old, but honestly, it did nothing for me. I felt like I was reading Lil D’s school book.

3. Migraine by Oliver Sacks: I love anything related to the human brain, and enjoyed greatly his earlier book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. This book, however, was a huge mistake because I did not open it before borrowing it. Horror of horrors, the print was so fine that I actually tried reading it with a magnifying glass, and then gave up. It was ironical — I could have ended up with a horrid migraine reading this book!

4. A book that will not be named. It was by an Indian author and I don’t want to take names, but this was just unreadable. I barely skimmed a couple of pages, then gave up and shut the book.

So, there it is. A day I never thought I would see. A sad day for me. :(

A Matter of Trust

In my school days, we had a Hindi lesson about a very good and pious man called Baba Bharathi, who possesses a beautiful horse. A notorious dacoit Khadak Singh (if I remember right) desires the horse. So he poses as a beggar in distress, and when Baba Bharathi goes to help him, he seizes the horse. Baba Bharathi stops him, not to recover the horse, but to tell the dacoit not to reveal this incident to anyone, because then no one will ever trust a person in need and help him out. His words affect Khadak Singh to such an extent that in the dead of the night, he returns the horse, much to Baba Bharathi’s surprise and delight.

I remember this story now because in one stroke, Mustafa the rapist has destroyed the trust parents repose in the school their wards go to. Now everyone is suspect, school staff are viewed with a jaundiced eye, and parents can never rest easy.

Not that these things never happened before. How many reports have we read of abuses in government schools? But we haven’t bothered because it didn’t affect our world directly. Now that this has happened in a school that one of our own kids could possibly go to, we are hit in the stomach. The invaluable bond of trust between teachers and parents has been breached.

For all the teachers out there who are striving tirelessly, this comes as an added blow. Not only are they busting their chops to do the rather thankless job of educating the children, but now they have to deal with the entire burden of suspicion. Being a teacher is not easy at all, and my sympathies are with the teachers who try so hard to do a good job.

This incident has made everything so much worse in terms of trust. We learn not to trust anyone, and we teach our kids not to trust anyone either. This does not bode well for the future, where trust becomes a low-value commodity.

What we can hope for is:
a) better CSA education by both parents and the school
b) more stringent checks on staff backgrounds
c) more random checks at school to lower the probability of this happening
d) more accountability from schools for the safety of the children
e) and most importantly, swift justice and stiff penalties for such abusers

As I was remarking to a friend before all this happened, I am so tired of protecting my child from all that is horrible in this world. Sometimes, it feels almost a waste of time to focus on the positives.

But then, that’s all we can do, the best we can do, and what we simply must do, in order to survive, right? Sigh. Some days, existence itself seems rather futile.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The horrible rape of a 6-year old child at school is haunting all of us parents right now. The fact that the child was special-needs makes it all the more terrible. This strikes closer home because we not only know children who go to that same school, but also makes us wonder about and fear for the safety of our own children.

When you come down to it finally, how much can you protect your child? For the record, I do not think our boys are any safer. In fact, it’s much worse given the way we condition them to thinking crying is girly and showing emotion is not macho. So it’s more likely that any abuse they suffer is suppressed more.

When I went to pick up Lil D from school after her after-school activities, the security was tighter, the guards looked more worried, and were trying to verify multiple times that the children were going back with the right people. Lil D was a little perturbed, and eager to tell me the news that the principal had addressed them and asked them not to go out of the school by themselves, or go with strangers.

Let’s face it, our children are not really safe anywhere. Bad things could happen at school or at home, with strangers or with known people, when alone or with friends. There’s no telling really.

So what I sat Lil D down and told her was this.

Bad things can happen anywhere and everywhere. Just because car accidents happen, we don’t stop driving. We just drive more carefully and are more alert. Similarly, bad people are everywhere, but more importantly, in all of her life, she has met so many good people who were not bad. And that is what she needs to focus on. That she doesn’t have to live in fear because something might happen. Yes, she needs to be alert and take certain precautions like not coming back alone in the school bus or being careful when she is out with her friends. But there’s only so much we can do. We can’t stop living because of all the perceived threats.

She seemed reassured and then went off to play. How much she absorbed is difficult to estimate, but I do hope she retains the essence of my message.

My heart goes out to the little girl, and hats off to the courageous parents who brought this to light. Every parent stands with them today.

Running a Little Behind?

While I’m in this ranting mood, let me get this off my chest as well.

I love this Bournvita ad. However, one line rankles. It begins:

Sirf Ek Maa…

When I heard this, I couldn’t help remarking aloud: Only moms? No dads?

Lil D shot me a quizzical look.

I persisted: Why couldn’t they show a dad pouring out Bournvita for his kid?

Lil D sighed.

I continued: Look at your dad. He’s always behind you to eat right, to eat nuts, to take your vitamins. If anyone ought to pour out Bournvita for you, it’s him! So why not on the ad?

Lil D shook her head in resignation.

It’s true, I pour out the Bournvita for her in our house. But the parent who’s really worried all the time about her health and fitness, who’s on her case to develop good nutritional habits, who goes that extra mile to ensure she’s doing well, is her dad.

So, it would be nice to see an ad that showed dads caring for their kids too (instead of kids worrying about their dad’s health, like Quaker Oats and Fortune Rice Bran oil!).


Standing in a queue at the cash counter of a reputed book store, I did a double-take. Rows and rows of a popular chocolate lined the sides, but they looked different. They were different.

They were Kinder Joy For Boys, topped with blue, and Kinder Joy for Girls, topped with pink! (not my pic above; source here)

Oh God, NO! was my first reaction. Et tu, Kinder Joy? One of the funnest chocolates ever, and now they go and do this?

Lil D wanted to buy a Blue one, just to see what was in it. I bought it for her, and after putting the little toy together, it turned out to be a kind of game.

Why do they have these silly girl and boy things, I fumed. Don’t you enjoy this stuff? Why assume girls will not enjoy this or boys will not enjoy that?

Lil D, in her own little wise way, put things in persepective for me. Girls won’t mind if they get this, mamma, but what about boys? How will they feel if they get a bracelet or something?

That got me thinking. We encourage our girls to do everything that boys do, but do the boys get the same encouragement if they tap into their “feminine” side? Or are they mocked or berated for acting “like a girl”? Somehow, I suspect the latter.

Still, I feel Kinder Joy should have stuck to being gender neutral. Chocolate is enjoyed by one and all. And that’s how it should remain, don’t you agree?

The Right Time

Over the years, I’ve come to realize something: There’s no really “right” time for life’s biggest moments.

When you fall in love, it’s not at the right time, when a cool breeze is blowing, violins serenade you in the background, and rose petals shower down upon you. It’s seldom (see how cautious I’m being? :D) that all these elements come together miraculously, precisely at the moment that you fall in love. That’s why they make movies! Love comes in little moments, when you’re laughing together, or sharing a plate, or having a serious discussion.

Similarly, there’s no right time to have the Big Talk with your children: when the TV is off, the hard chair is in the spotlight, and your podium is all ready. No, you can’t build up a scene like that; it’s just unnatural. There are so many aspects to the Big Talk that you can’t simply slot it into a one-hour speech and be over and done with it. Any questions? No? Good! You know how that works, right? You’ve nodded off or just tuned out of so many such sessions right from school to college, or during those mandatory training sessions at office.

The Big Talk with your children happens in little moments, like when you’re watching a movie together, or he/she tells you something that happened at school, or it’s that screaming headline in the newspaper that simply cannot be ignored. You explain, you reason, you argue, you convince, you persuade. More important of all, you listen and you discuss. It’s a two-way street, it’s not you dumping all over your child, not an item on your checklist that has a time allotment of 1 hour, to be checked off promptly.

So many parents labour under the impression that their child is a complete innocent. It’s just that they don’t give them enough credit. Children know the facts much earlier than you think they do. It’s the mystery, the surrounding smoke that needs clearing up, that needs demystifying, that needs a handy guide to make one’s way through. So many aspects need to be explored, not just the mechanical. The emotional, the practical, the fear, the hope…there’s really no way that you can educate your child on everything that goes with the territory. And everything need not be taught — your child needs do the growing up on his/her own.

What the Big Talk really does is to gradually open up a door through which your child can walk in whenever he/she desires, pull up a chair and sit down to learn from you and teach you. The right time is right now — this very moment, and the next, and the next.