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5 things I do only because my daughters are watching me

Things I do because the my daughters are watching me is becoming a very strong narrative in my life.

I have always known it technically, but lived experience makes me increasingly aware of the invisible yet inevitable impact of my behaviour on my children. Sometimes it can feel like a really heavy weight to carry, but often awareness dawns and I realize that I can toss the ball towards the sky, run and catch it as it returns, and basically make a game of it. More people will join in when I look like I am having too much fun all by myself.

Gossip like an old crone
I tell my children stories about everyone in the family. One by one I shall narrate them all. I’ve even got some of them lined up on a timeline for age-appropriateness. I will tell them about elopements and adoptions, about divorces and separations. I will tell them about heartbreak and recovery, about depression, addictions and suicide. About being uprooted and of healing.
My daughters and I will look at, fumble with, search for and feel around our own life stories and personal histories. You can call it gossip, because we do enjoy these conversations very much. We shall banish shame and taboos from our own discourse. We shall celebrate survival as if it is a miracle.
Talk to strangers
I was not very good at this as a younger woman. I was wary and shy and it took very little to make me feel threatened and act aggressive. The mere presence of children in my entourage changes the dynamics of communication between the world and me. People reach out and talk to or about the children. I have learnt to ask for help. I have learnt to recognize that I need help and that doesn’t make me a lesser person.

 

 

Because the children are watching, I am inspired to stay in control and keep calm, even when I don’t know what is coming next. This has made me chatty and relaxed. I talk to strangers in the Metro, malls, libraries, restaurants and public toilets as if I have known them for a long time. I need to demonstrate authority to my daughters. The world is not our enemy, it responds to friendliness. We are not helpless pawns, we influence situations with our own aura and power. I’m a woman, you are little women and we have tools that enable our happiness, safety and well-being.
Act like a complete clown
At home, I talk gibberish, I dance like a toy whose limbs are loose from the joints and I cry like a circus clown when I can’t find the last piece of cake that I thought was waiting for me. I want to exist outside my well-behaved body, I want to hear sounds that are not subdued, I want to express more than what is allowed in the cage of social propriety. This is my definition of being at home.
I am surprised at how homeless I can feel unexpectedly, I recognize it in other women and I don’t want to pass it on to my daughters.
“You are so funny, Mamma,” says my eldest child, and that’s all I have ever needed to hear. I tried all this tentatively, not really expecting a very hospitable response, but years of persisting has clearly made me a better clown than I used to be. I want to raise daughters unafraid of being funny.
Fight with their father
“What’s the matter with you,” my husband texted me long after we had walked out of an argument.
“I was fighting with you because the children were watching,” I texted back. Then I picked up the phone and just called him. “Babu, I have to confront you when they watch us having an argument,” I said.
“I thought we are supposed to tone it down in their presence?” he said referring to a previous discussion we have had about the inevitable differences of opinion between us.
“How do you want your daughters to behave when they are confronted with an entitled brat of a boy making a stupid argument?” I asked him.
“I want them to demolish him,” he said, which is milder than the words he usually uses when he imagines his daughters and young men in the future.
“Well, then they have to see their mother do that, so that they know that it is normal behaviour. If I keep backing off from flare-ups for the sake of temporary peace or because I am scared of raised voices and accusations, then that’s what your daughters will also do as adult women,” I said. “Subconscious role-modelling, you see.”
I’m really serious about this. And therefore I take this really seriously. I fight with my husband to show my children how to speak up for yourself in intimate relationships. How to say what you feel calmly when the other is raising his voice and getting very agitated about whatever is at stake. Sometimes it is as trivial as how the bedcovers must be folded around the bed. Sometimes it is more significant.
I would let go of a lot more things between us if I wasn’t acutely aware that our children are watching us.
“Did you call me an entitled brat of a boy?” my husband came back to me much later.
“No way,” I giggled. “I would never ever do that, jaaneman.”
“You are such a badmaash,” he said.

“Thank you, are you proud of me?” I said.

Flirt with my sweetheart
“Mamma, you forgot one more thing you do that makes him very embarrassed,” my daughter reminds me as I discuss this piece with her father and her. “You jump into his lap and kiss him behind his ear.” As expected, her father’s face is turning red.
“But beta, I would do a lot more of that if you guys weren’t watching,” I say.

“You are so funny, Mamma,” she says, running off to get ready for school.

[This list of confessions was first published in Mint Lounge here]

5 stages of public speaking

When I am first invited to speak/workshop/speech-ify anywhere by anyone, I usually say yes before the other person has even finished his or her sentence.

(I have learnt now to take my time, to delay answering the e-mail, to ask a few questions on the phone…but I know I have agreed way before I give away the fact that I have agreed.)

It is a childhood fantasy, as well as an adult fantasy to be on stage with a microphone, talking and smiling. (I should smile less, I tell myself, as I try to learn to be more like others who seem more successful at this sort of thing. Who are more serious-faced and seem to be taken more seriously!)


So here are my 5 stages of public speaking: 

1) Agree immediately. Think of what I will wear.

2) Do nothing much to prepare. Scribble some notes in my phone, which I will later forget to look at.

3) Become unable to sleep/eat/talk/socialise just before the event. Feel nauseous, ill, stricken, headache, lose my way to the airport/venue and get late.  This is what the descent to hell must feel like…

4) Go on stage and smile a lot. Speak and present, pause and listen. 


5) I’m a born-again human being! I can eat a little. I am alive. I am good! Hello world, I made it to the other side. 


I recommend bigamy

Marriage is destiny so make sure you are married to yourself when you are of marriageable age. 

Marriage is destiny. I hate this sentence. I rebel against it. I jump up and down in agitation and want to stomp on it and say, no, no, no… My destiny will be defined by me. Why should it be defined by who one is married to? Or by one’s in-laws?
But experience tells me that goddam it, marriage is indeed destiny. 
So here is the solution. Be married to yourself. Yes, I recommend bigamy. 

An Unexpected Rant

Contrary to expectations, I dislike reading parenting columns and books. I don’t like them.

I find most parenting memoirs, handbooks, guidebooks, advice columns banal and uninteresting. I hate the moral superiority and the barely hidden but unacknowledged anger. I hate how much is unexpressed and how much is glossed over. Most of it sounds to me exactly like the unfriendly gynaecologist, the nosy neighbourhood aunty, the stupid aunts who coo around you with the single-minded intent of breaking your confidence and fanning your worst fears.

I like to find out things for myself. Status quo makes me angry. I hate it when people say, ‘its all right it will all get sorted in the end…’ as a way to calm you down without allowing you to challenge or change any unjust power equation. 

I only like to read about vulnerability. I like to read about impotent anger. I like stories of loss and reconciliation. I like stories that promise to start when they seem to end.

Boring relatives are boring

I have an astoundingly large number of stupid people in my life. Its the reason I appear so calm.

I can stay calm or I can auto-combust. Most of the time I choose calm. Sometimes I write.

“What time did you get back home today,” she asks me over the phone from another city. She knows that I have been away today. There are house-guests in my home (from the village) and I was not home to receive the children from school either. My husband handled the home front today.


“I reached Noida by 7:30pm in the Metro,” I say. “Then Af came and picked me up from there.”

“It must be so convenient for you to have the car,” she says.

“Yes, that’s true,” I say. I have no clue what she means.

“Do you have to go tomorrow again?”

“No, tomorrow I have to write my column so I will be behind my computer at home.”

“Hmmm. That’s the same as not being home,” she says. “If you have to write that means you are not really at home.”

In case I had become delusional that she might be interested in my life and work, she clarifies that all she is doing is counting the no. of hours I am “not available” in my primary role as bechari, susheel, pareshan nari whose life must be dedicated to suffering boring guests, husband and children. So that I can be a bonafide card-carrying member of the bechari, susheel, pareshan naris of India and hold meaningful conversations (exchange sorry notes) with others who are my type of bechari bitches.

Hoo haa. This is why I don’t use the phone to call family. I don’t take calls, I don’t return calls, I don’t whatsapp-facebook-tweet with the relatives.

Cos what to do baby, I got the agency! I’m in love with myself. I’m even in love with her and if she had been my mother, I would have given her an impromptu scolding for the loaded way in which she was framing all her questions. Followed by a big badass hug!


But she ain’t my mother, so I expressed my bhadaas right here, right now.

An Imposter’s Dream

I had two ideas in my mind for the Mint Lounge column this week: One was the story of inconsequential, unknown drivers in the interiors of India who people like me (my FB friends, peers and readers) don’t like to think of for longer than 1 minute. We also like to casually suggest that you never know whether they are lying and trying to victimize us poor (rich), soft-hearted (cynical) souls. Sniff. Steer back all our attention and resources to ourselves.

The other was a deeply personal story titled: “The difference between Afzal and me” …which is a document of how differently we react when he faces racial profiling, i.e. when he is rejected/insulted/excluded/denied reservations because of his name. It makes him look better than me… but again I worried about a general reader reaction that would go… “of course Muslims must put up with this everyday discrimination because people like us are the real victims… we have to put up with terror…then our news channels’ breathless reaction to terror and whatnot. And all Muslims are terrorists, so please excuse.”

As usual, just when the time comes to actually type the column, I become utterly unconvinced that my thoughts-words-ideas matter to anyone. And I feel cynical about the response and expectations of readers.

Jisko kahte hain: I was in the throes of IMPOSTER SYNDROME : Nobody wants to read the nonsense you write, Natasha.

I knew my column was due, then my distraction brain brought to the notice of my writing brain that Sanjukta had not asked for the column this week like she usually does. I sent her an email.

A couple of hours later I remembered that she was on leave. No one else had asked, either. I didn’t remember who I was supposed to email… Rudraneil, the Editor in her absence, is not visible on social media and I have no real interaction with Lounge staffers… so I couldn’t remember him.

To type or to sleep? So I began to sleep through the night in fitful instalments… in between which I would check my phone to see whether there was any email. Sanjukta wrote back saying you would co-ordinate… but no mail from Rudraneil.

Finally it was early hours…and I dreamt this dream. An Imposter’s Dream.

Rudraneil really didn’t care for my column… his thoughts are, “now that Sanjukta is not here, I will get rid of this useless piece!”

He said to me, “You know the relevance of what you have been writing is now over. You need to reinvent yourself. You should get over yourself.”

In the dream, he took me on a tour of the Lounge office…which was a decrepit, run-down place in the basement of some old building… maybe in Daryaganj, to give me an idea of how little the Lounge office cared for whether I filed my column or not. No one looked up from their desks. I didn’t belong here.

He showed me some kind of prize the column had won a couple of years ago. I said, “Really, no one told me.”

He said, “See, we don’t care a damn!”

This is what it was: All my deep, inner child-person fears of not belonging, not being valued, not being of any consequence came out and USED him to enact this impromptu theatre in my head.

It’s really quite funny when I wake up and slap myself a couple of times for playing this macabre game with myself.

 

 

Poems of love and loss

I love my hair.

He loves my face.

You look better with your glasses on, he says.  
What is this way of loving my face, I say. 

He takes back my hair behind my ears with both his hands and says,
I love your mind.
His eyes are green.

***************

Inside my mouth is a battleground. 

My teeth are fallen soldiers.
Injured. Amputees.
Guilt is embedded in my molars.
My teeth have PTSD. 
They grind against each other in my sleep.

My dentist is my best friend.

Mother, woman, lover, daughter, myself: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts