Daughter Diaries

“The father of a daughter is nothing but a high class hostage”

A peek into the future

“How about taking your daughter to KidZania and having a good time?”, the good folks at Blogadda asked.  Now, several friends had spoken about the place as a vibrant vivacious fun place for kids. God bless their good souls. If anyone gives me an opportunity to try and bring a smile to the little miss, well they grab a piece of my heart. ‘Yes’, I said and they arranged it all. Seeking to experience the place first hand and see what the world was coming to.

Some search later, the facts seemed to hold promise. To say the least. A Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona ( & a former managing director of a Private Equity business with GE) wove this idea from nothing and its mushrooming into a sought after, profitable global franchise held allure. Currently, the only Indian franchise is the one at Mumbai’s R City Mall at Ghatkopar. The perpetual dusk setting within, the sculpted roads & stores, the services are all supposed to be similar in every franchise around the world to exacting detail. Including the fuselage of a plane that juts out of the building!

The place is a city in itself. With immigration counters and stamping etc to enter. The immigration folks being cheerful and helpful was a dead give away that this after all is a make believe world that we were entering. Everything else is real. In fact, a tad too eerily real. Real clean sculpted pavements, real products and services that go out on a limb to recreate life as it exists outside, with a charter and a bill a of rights drawn up by children. Suave marketing, methinks, but its a story well told.

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From health services, fire service ( the sirens of the ambulance and a fire engine that do the rounds at a periodic interval can capture attention with a snap of a finger), their own supermarket, a cop station, a radio station, replicas of factories that make stuff from soft drink to cereals etc etc, the place packs a punch. Plus of course, to complete the milieu, KidZania has its own ‘currency’ and a bank (with adult tellers) to boot. A ‘fully functional economy’ of sorts!

Speaking of the economy, the place reeks of real life brands, which must vary from country to country and speaks of hardcore commerce. For example, when the kids play courier delivery folks, they work for DHL. Radio City when they work as a Radio Jockey. Hyundai for the cars. Camlin. Coca Cola, Nerolac. Yes Bank. etc etc. They are all there. Soaking up the kids and their attention. Consumerist reality is everyday reality for all ofus in the real world and that is an unmistakable part of the business model of KidZania

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The idea is simple. Kids from the age of 4 to 14 choose to do various jobs ( from being firemen, dabbawallas, doctors on call etc are paid in Kidzos the local currency, and then dispense it on artistic pursuits like drawing greeting cards, pottery lessons, or simply spending it on food and fun.  Or they can save up the money, deposit in the bank within and use it again in the next visit. Its quite a load of fun for the children. For they get to play multiple roles and for parents get to have a voyeuristic peep into the future. The little miss enjoyed playing a fireman, and going about the fire engine with its loud bells and screaming sirens. She played doctor. And then a super market assistant. She would come back with a wad of currency from each of these places and dutifully hand it over to the missus.

Me and the missus walked about soaking up the place.

We watched kids run around as courier delivery folks. They queued up to clean tall buildings. To paint walls. Of course it was part of play. Never since Tom Sawyer was there this enthusiasm in painting, I must say! There are adult instructors for each activity, who hold court handing over the necessary costume and setting up the boundary conditions and instructions for the kids to play their part. An education, it surely provides kids with with.  One way of adding perspective is to soak into different jobs. To empathise with people is to ‘step into someone else s shoe’, as the cliched expression goes. Kids get to be adults and play different roles. Each activity lasts approximately 20 minutes and no kid I could see had a shortage of excitement there.

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Play is an integral part of learning. Especially so in children. The little miss had such a whale of a time doing all that she got to do. She told us after successfully ‘putting out a fire’, that fire can be ‘dangerous’, with a roll of her eyes. The setting for some tremendous learning to happen is endearing and complete.

On second thoughts, it is near complete.

It is near complete for it is a replication of adult real life as it stands today, it comes a tad too close in making a linear extension of the present day life into the future and overlaying a materialistic mindset on impressionable minds.  That’s at least the feeling I was left with all through. Particularly so, when a tall kid who was playing the role of a courier boy brushed past us, pushing his trolley in infinite hurry. He turned for a minute to give us another look and then went his way with his darting lunges as his Kidzo notes awaited him. In the fully functional economy of KidZania, kids could learn more about adult life than perhaps adults themselves would care to acknowledge. Running around to ‘make money’ and then ‘spend’ it on ‘artistically creating greeting cards’, ‘Pottery lessons’ etc is part of our story. Now, that’s why it struck me as a linear extension of the present into the future.

It is a scary future, where money will continue to have currency over our thoughts and ‘finding meaning’ in life is a distant and dead thought. Perhaps it is a practical and the most likely future as well. The hours at KidZania prepares kids for this kind of a future. Helping them experience reality in safe circumstances, teaching them options and choices for a material world. On how it perhaps would be and what all they would need to do to get ahead. Parents who have this as the most secure future for their children, will simply adore the place.

For those of you parents who imagine a different future, where a life of purpose and meaning without a wad of currency notes dictating what our kids should end up doing, KidZania is quite an experience. For the parents that is. Atleast, it was for me. For it gives a well calibrated peak into the future and nudged me to seek and exercise the right choices now, for an alternate narrative to take root in the little miss’s mind. Possibilities abound. The changing nature of creative work, the fundamental changes that technology has brought to us, the importance of conversation, relating to one another and building relationships, the joy and curiosity in discovery. A heap of such things struck me as possible. Building these into the little miss’s choice set and creating a base of enduring interest there, is work cut out for me.  In the times we live in, its not child’s play.

At KidZania, you could retire to the luxurious parents lounge there(sponsored by Urban Ladder) , (where the kids aren’t allowed) or plough into some cheese Pizza and masticate these thoughts. For you have the time. The staff at the place are friendly to a fault and have an endearing demenour that helps kids gravitate to them like iron fillings to a magnet, leaving you with nothing much to do. Unless of course, you would want to capture every inch of your kid’s experience, every smile, wince, whine, laugh on every possible device – mobile phones, digital cameras, tablets and the like. If you belong to the latter category, you can run behind the fire engine and chase the ambulance like Paparazzi, clicking pictures and recording videos of kids, getting to be adults. To an uncharitable eye it can appear to be an elaborate fancy dress pageant with some high tech props in tow, but to some parents it is a priceless experience.

The entry fee is steep but perhaps it is worth the experience. It is a good place to check out. It sure will get your kid excited (especially so, if he/she has a friend along) and by natural consequence, get you smiling. If you are someone like me, it perhaps will get you to think hard about how incomplete the loud voices for leaving a good planet behind for our children are.  A pretty planet is pointless, if we don’t work the right perspectives into kids who will inherit it.

Goldilocks & learning

It was late in the evening when calls landed on my mobile. This was from home. One call. And in a matter of minutes, five missed calls. Either something was wrong or the little miss was upto mischief again. It turned out to be the latter. ‘Papa I have something for you. Come home fast’. She says.

“Of course, Of course I am coming” all set to get back into the meeting that I have stepped out of, half in panic. “I have brought Goldilocks home” she says as we hang up. I re-enter the room with a half smile on my lips. The other half suppressed beyond measure.

The little miss has been going to summer school. Play time for her. A variety of ‘art’ pieces have been emerging every evening that have warmed my heart no end.  Her art teacher has told the missus that she has a ‘knack for art’.

Take a look at this. Where, mamma looks cool and and pappa looks a tad younger. But hey, who am I to complain. For the artist in her staying alive and well all through her life, counts amongst the most soulful of my prayers.

Kay

 

Those were from the previous weeks. Since then, she has brought me “mamma bear” and “baby bear” bear.  I was hoping she would be making ‘Pappa bear’ but Goldilocks seemed to have pipped Pappa bear to the post! I sink into the comfortable chair, thinking of Goldilocks. The story of Goldilocks is quite a simple yet pretty deep one. It even gave rise to the profound ‘Goldilocks Principle

By the way, I first typed ‘Goldielocks’ and was lead on a different path.  A scrawny scroll of the thumb on the gorilla glass toughened mobile phone lead me to the urban http://healthsavy.com/product/amoxicillin/ dictionary that offered five different meanings for Golideilocks“.  The urban dictionary often reminds me of my rural lineage.

I reach home in a bit. And then the little miss runs up. “Papa here is your Goldilocks” she says. Remarkable what an old ice cream stick and a few pieces of colour when strung together by the daughter can do to a father’s heart. I smile. The innocence of her world is only matched the simplicity of her needs. The earnestness in the expression buffeted by the incoherence in the words.

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She lays the three pieces side by side. Mamma bear, I notice, has a necklace and beautiful blue flower. Goldilocks looks cool. But Baby bear with her restless love, looks set for mischief. Just like the one in real life. She asks,  ‘Papa, do you like Mamma bear or Goldilocks’?

I cast a sideways glance at the missus. Who is busy with her errand. Her eyes focused on the errand but her ears tuned into our conversation and catching every sigh and pause amidst the words. I toggle with the idea of pulling the missus’s legs. For just a wee bit.

I laugh out loud. And tell the little miss that I go with whatever her choice is.

She thinks for a bit and says, ‘Mamma bear’!

“Good choice” I say.

A while later, we sit around the dinner table.  The missus says with a mischievous wink, ‘You should have tried’. She pauses. I look up and straight into her eyes. With mischief doing a wild dance she says, “You should have tried saying you prefer Goldilocks over Mama bear”.

I swallow the piece of chappati and drink some water, thanking my stars.  Sometimes, providence provides pathways that prudence takes the credit for. In the meanwhile, word is out that Pappa bear has to do more than what he does now to get featured atop an ice cream stick.

Growth pangs

We sit in the balcony. Me, the missus and the little miss. I stare aimlessly into the sky and swishing the humid air around. She sits with a mild frown. A frown that announces her irritated wondering on why her mother is insistent on her finishing an odd part of a silly thing called ‘idly’. It is part of our routine. The acrobatics and drama that are required to feed her.

The missus’s unwavering resolve to feed her an extra piece of food than the previous time, whenever that was, stays on course. A morsel of rice more. Two pieces of ‘bhindi fry’. A silly portion of a small idly. Whatever. It just had to be more than the record before. Progress is painstakingly slow as you can imagine. Nevertheless, there is a score that is kept meticulously in her mind. A challenge that the missus has worked on with zeal. Like a cricket statistician who will announce in the middle of a dry game, ‘this is the first time two runs have been scored off the third ball, bowled by Mr.X, when the Sun is out and two pieces of cloud dot the sky’. Or something like that.

Today, the little miss is more than the handful that she is usually. With a couple of playful pirrouettes that permeate joy in their silly incoherence she tells the missus, ( in an exacting tone and intonation that I get spoken to several times), ‘Have some patience please’. She then pirrouettes one more time and smiles. That naughty smile that emerges from the corner of her lips give away the fact that it is a calculated strike. Our silence signals to her that her mission is accomplished.

The stunned silence is only interrupted by a muffled chuckle that I would have typed ‘ROTFL’ were I online! The silence returns. Sometimes the future arrives without telling. We always noticed the daughter imitate one of us. A small sigh here. Or a comment there. But this is impeccable.

It announces a few things. That she has a sense of humour. That she is awesome cool in soaking up something and redeploying it someplace else with a telling ease. A few more thoughts flow. It takes a minute more for me to accommodate the thought that she is growing. That she is changing. Change happens in small packages. And then these small packages coalesce like an irreverent assortment of patches of cloud that announce a coming together by thunder and rain! It puts me in a tetchy frame of mind. Growth pangs, if you will.

Like the other day.

We were busy shaping a very pliant assortment of play dough with all our might. Me and the little miss. As the play dough took shapes that an adult would describe as a useless lump of waste material, her imagination flew into another sphere. I tried clambering on to her flight, tossing pressing worries aside and co-navigating vast alleys of her imagination. After about two hours of intense work with the play dough, we had a few more lumps to show. And that was that. But to her, it was the world. Of particular interest to her was a sad red lump of what was intended to be a car. In a matter of minutes her tiny fingers messed around with it for some more time. Before she announced “Appa, look at the boat”.

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The deformed tyres of the erstwhile car, she announced,  were herself and me.  With seamless ease she belted a story.  “Once upon a time there was a boat”. Immaculate imitation of how I read her, her bedtime stories. I was, in more ways than one, listening to my own voice with the sing song intonation and all that. My ears perked waiting for the next few lines. By then, her mission stood accomplished. ‘That is the end of the story’.

That was two-three weeks ago.

Today, with the threat of the idly safely dispatched, we sit down and say goodbye to the moon. That too is part of our routine. She waves and says, ‘Goodbye moon’ as is our wont. Over the last three years and so many months.

Today, for the first time, she says, ‘Appa I dont like the moon. He is not waving back.’ Its a subtle shift. Or rather a significant subtle shift. That a response is sought from the likes of the moon and a disappointment pervades in the absence of a response.

I stare into the moon and its unblinking radiance, becoming ever so present to how fleeting time is.  Change is inevitable. It signals progress. Growth is good. The slipping of time, like sand through the fingers, causes pangs.

New runners for new tracks

‘Lets tickle the sky’ papa she says. I look up from the book that nestles in my hand. I smile. I wonder where she picked that up from. I put the book away and ask, ‘How do you do that?’ Am genuinely curious.

She doesn’t wait for me. She throws her three year old hands into the air and jiggles her tiny fingers looking up into the sky. I break into a smile and do the same. She smiles. We both laugh. She laughs because she is happy. I laugh with a singular knowledge that everything that needs to be accomplished in the world is done. For if you could tickle the sky, of all things, well, nothing else remains.

‘She jumps on a whim these days’, I tell the missus over a sepulchral coffee. “Tomorrow is her sports day. I hope you remember”, she says. Silence ensues. Her silence is her way of letting me know that I am not as involved as I ought to be.

“Of course”, I say. “Its on my calendar”. After a reasonably pronounced sip of chaste filter coffee, she adds, ‘well she has grown taller’. I want to say ‘I noticed’, but then bite my lip. Some lessons stay. I bite my lip harder. A mute testimony to my growing up.

The little miss doesn’t care about the silly thoughts that run aground our minds, as she jumps of the sofa with an alacrity of a Kangaroo. “Kang-a-loo” she yells. She still cant get the ‘r’. Landing a stingy meter short of the spot where the the settee begins. The missus gasps every time the little ‘Kanga-al-looo’ takes off.

The sports day arrives with nonchalant ease. I finish up as much of the work that I can. As early as I can and land up at the venue. With a nervous twitch of the finger I switch off the phone and look around to see where the little miss is and what all she is upto. From afar, I spot her. Playing with her friends. I smile. I climb on to what seems to be a ledge of sorts and strain my neck to get a better view.

Track

The teachers and staff at her school put up a stellar show. To handle one toddler is a sapping experience for me. To handle a hundred or so, must sure be an ask. But they do a super job. But as sapping it is, the fulfillment at the end of the day is an indescribably happy feeling. A sudden feeling of envy creeps out and weaves itself around the teachers. As they run, jump and lead the toddlers. Smiles hold steady sway over the December morning.

The little miss first is part of an aerobic dance. A dance that is imperfect in synchrony but is enough to set the hearts of all parents gathered there afire. The imperfection is a joy to behold. As wobbly hands and toddler legs balance slender torsos aiming to catch the beat of a catchy song. The little miss is right at the centre. We look at each other. Me and the missus. And smile. No words are spoken.

I rush to another part of the gallery. Whipping out the ipad to record her first performance before an audience. A joyous rush gets the heart to beat faster. I shoot a video. The aerobic dance is over as quickly as it began. So it seems. When you know that you wish for the event to linger for longer, you realise its tugged your heart. Today the gluttonous seeking of happiness remains unsatiated. For, soon its time to go home.

A few hours later. I call up my mom. I speak rather calmly. I try to. So I think. I tell her about the exploits of her grand daughter at her first sports day. A public performance. Plus, two races ‘won’. She speaks with joy. And has a volley of questions about the event. After hearing them all, she says, ‘its like yesterday that I came to YOUR first sports day. How time flies”. Silence engulfs the airwaves. She breaks the silence in a bit. “Do you have pictures?”

“I am uploading a video ma. You can stream it soon” I say. As a tiny trickle sits on the ledge of the eye, threatening to stream down my cheek. Its a wholesome melancholic mixture. Of missing. Of longing. Of celebration. Of hope. Of the future with the past in tow. Or maybe its about the past with the future etching its presence. She often tells us ‘Life is a relay’ with a straight face and sane voice. ‘Me and dad have run our part. The baton is in your hands now’.

I strike the upload button with vigour. Am sure as the video streams down from the cloud, it will make her day. Stuff from an unseen cloud will tickle the sky. Her sky.

There are new runners emerging in the family. New runners for new tracks.

Open palms

The little miss is under the weather. ‘Nothing serious’, the good doctor said as he wrote his medicines.   The weather itself has been overcast and hesitant. I don’t take to such stuff well. The hesitant overcast skies or the suffering miss.  Give me the piercing Sun or the pouring rain. Maybe even the angry winds. The indecisive in-betweens that are neither here nor there, aren’t nice. A strange low envelopes me and even my usual panacea, the good old coffee and conversation, doesn’t do much today.

I wonder how it is with you, but I have a habit. When the bad times strike as they often do, after doing all that I can do about them, I take a quick flight to into the past that brought a smile, via objects. Like a memento carelessly bought on the sidelines of a conference.  Or rereading a book and relishing the  careless scribble on the margins, far too much more than what the author and the publisher would have liked. That’s what I do usually. But today I reach for my phone and scan through some pictures.  Pictures evoke not just a memory but a range of emotions that are entrancing. An indescribable assortment of photographs inevitably triggers a spectrum of emotions.

The goat

In a few moments the screen of my phone fills up with pictures of the little miss. Pictures from various times. Like the time that she was a cuddly little thing. Or when she clambered on to the first car seat.  The first tentative touch of a goat. Then comes the picture of her open palms.  Ah, the open palms! That was some story.

The picture lingers on the screen. As the screen stays filled with her open palms, it inevitably stubs out the frown and a smile that seemed singularly impossible, sneaks onto the face. Almost like a Pavlovian auto response. My memory races to snatch those moments from nowhere and gives it a rebirth of sorts.

It was a while ago. I recall standing at the window, staring into the overcast skies, phone affixed to the ear. Struggling to listen keenly. My playtime with the little miss interrupted by a phone call from work, that I couldn’t ignore. The travails of work struck when the little miss and me were attempting to shade the big cat that we drew on the whiteboard.

The call sucked my attention and my eyes stayed affixed to the clouds and the phone firmly glued to my ear, as the conversation lingered. In a short while I hung up and continued staring into the clouds. A deep searching stare. Thinking about the just ended conversation. Searching for answers to questions that can’t be asked here, for there aren’t any convincing answers.

It was a shriek from the missus that shook me out of the sepulchral trance.

Now, imagine opening the familiar bread basket in a famished state, hoping to find finely buttered bread and instead finding a big thick black scorpion that was poised to sting you. Would you not let go of a scream? I would. That is the kind of scream that the missus unleashed.  It is a different matter though that vagaries of a wandering cockroach or a lazy crawl of a lizard for that matter, get the missus to have violent goosebumps that would cause you to think she was practising Kathakali. But this scream, even by her usual standards was something. Something was clearly amiss.

I rushed to find them frozen. She and the little miss. The missus standing. With hands covering her ears, eyes firmly shut, as she typically does when the extremes confront her. The little miss, frozen in surprise, looking at the missus. I looked at both of them, a lost traveller desperately seeking clues to the old road.

‘Look at her hand’ she says.

 Hands

I was on the phone for precisely two minutes and thirty three seconds. When I closed the call, the phone had announced that. Add another thirty seconds for that silly trance. But that was all it took for the little miss to train the whiteboard marker on to her palms. Both palms. With ambidextrous efficacy that would give Sourav Ganguly goosebumps.

In a fleeting set of seconds, there was a striking resolve to teach her some lessons. Enough was enough. Residual silliness from the call, plus the missus standing there with her striking classical pose all got me particularly wound up further. Heavy breaths announced anger’s grand arrival in me.

I had to raise my voice and speak about it all. ‘In a stern voice’, I reminded myself. After all, she has to know about the ill effects of these board markers. It was really going to hurt her as I would have to empty half a bottle of hand wash in scrubbing everything off.  Plus it was going to be intense effort.

As I was about to make my debut in launching a ‘stern voice’ at her, the little miss looked up at me, opened her palms, put on display the lavishness of the black whiteboard marker’s effectiveness,  topped it all with a smile dripping genuine happiness asked, ‘Pappa, Nice?’

If there was a better example of a magical transformation, it doesn’t exist.  The little devil dismissed my silly frown with two magical words. But no, its wrong to call it magic. A magician does tricks. This was no trick. This was no illusion.

My anger melted like a flake of snow, dismissed in careless abandon by a flame from the bonfire. My sermon on the ill effects of the board markers will have to wait for another time. I scooped up the little miss from the floor. She smiled, put her hands on proud display and asked yet again, ‘Pappa, Nice?’

‘Very nice’. I said. There was nothing else to say. There really was nothing else to say.

I looked up at the missus. Her hands were still on her ears. Her eyes stayed shut. For a couple of moments, silence got an accented presence in our house. This topic was sure to return.  That’s a story I’ll tell you some other time with some stiff coffee and if you promise to pass around the smiles for company.

‘Lets go’. I remember telling the little miss in a hoarse whisper.. Amidst laugher and giggles we ran to the bathroom where the hand wash awaited us with a bristling drip.

Ah! Memories. They lift the mood.

Crowing about the breeze

The expansive inviting air that the sea and sand bring is frequently marred by interruptions of commerce of the ‘wants and desires’ fame. Commerce that comes in the form of the ice cream seller who peddles the rosy syrupy ladles of crushed ice and the photographer chap who has the charming nerve to tell me that my camera is no good and that his camera is best suited for Juhu! We walk. Actually, we run. Me and the missus. Chasing the daughter. It must have been very funny to look at from a distance.

Imagine this. An ice cream seller, and a couple of professional photographers on a beach are chasing a couple, trying to sell them wares and skills. The couple themselves look completely haggled and freshly hassled, as they run to keep pace with their daughter. Leading them is their daughter. Running in myriad random directions that could give new meaning to what random is. With tender legs landing on shifting beach sand, a cackle for no reason and a cry at the drop of a hat. She is chasing crows today.

Ahead of the daughter are a bunch of crows. A murder of crows, if you will. The crows are in a playful mood today. They have wings that could take them to the end of the beach. But they make inept use of them today, as they respond to the daughters chase by hoping a few feet and then, a few more feet.

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It must have been quite a sight. The ice cream seller chasing two overgrown couple, who are chasing a daughter at her playful best, who is chasing crows!

Today I sit by the table lamp and recall all of this happening as I read the story of the crow to the daughter. The crows were at their most playful bit.

The ice-cream seller and the photographer were the first bogeys in that silly Sunday beach train to disengage. Fairer weather beckoned the ice-cream seller in the form of a couple behind an umbrella, who certainly were talking about the policies of the International Monetary Fund & the antecedents of global warming. In some time, the photographers and their pleas for a picture in return for an exorbitant sum of money, vanished perhaps realising the futility of the chase.

It fills me with warmth and oodles of delight to recall that day.

The daughter’s relentless energy kept the crows on their toes. Or maybe it was the other way round. After what seemed like three hundred and thirty nine years, the crows had enough of this nonsense and just took off on a whim. The daughter clapped and cheered. She after all had driven the crows off the beach. Mommy-daddy slopped on to the sand. Like a marathoner who used the last ounce of his energy to cross the finish line and collapse.

And that was that. A morning at the beach. That fills us to the brim with happiness and brings a smile on my face every time we think of that time or just happen to look at snaps from there.

There are other mornings that have seen us take trips to the mall and such other places that thrive with throbbing consumers. Buying labels to super size smaller persona. Indulgences that gladden the senses,  careening past truck sized egos and slick people. These stay remarkably distant in the memory while the soul searches for many such lost morning and the wallet sheds silent tears.

In contrast, the mornings that stay are the ones when we randomly went shooting the breeze and lunging at crows, with commerce making futile attempts to reach our pockets. Or the time when we spent curled up with a book or drawing pencil sketches on the magic slate. I wonder if its just me, or that is the way with the world.

Heres to a happy week people.  Do shoot the breeze and stay friendly to crows. They give you new wings even while they are on their toes.

Family Picture

Children are magic. Their laughter surreptitiously dispels vacuity. Bland walls become vivid. And in their being themselves, they do so much more to the average adult than an average adult can ever realise. Except when there are poignant magical moments of reflection. One such is when this is getting penned.

There are many things that get the daughter excited these days. Topping the list, is helping her draw and imagine stuff on something that was called “Magic Slate” in my wonder years. Much coveted those days. Perhaps more coveted, now. 

Two diametrically opposite sketches bring her untold joy. One is that of the ‘cat’, made by drawing a set of circles. And another, a pencil diagram that represents our family.  The realisation that ‘diametrically opposite’ is a neat pun, came much after it jumped off the keyboard. So, unintended. 

A set of fat circles is all it takes for a cat to jumps to life.  One for the head. A much larger one for the body. A couple more for the eyes. A couple of triangles make the ear and then I pause for a poignant moment for her to shout out “SMILE”, to begin sketching the mouth, of course with the smile. Its a great fun till the time she asks for the repeat of the picture for the 267th time, which is when it gets a tad boring.



The pencil thin family picture is an all time favourite that I can go on far beyond the 267th time.  So can she. The ‘pencil thin’ holds substantial allure for all of us. Me, the missus and the daughter. 

For me and the missus, ‘pencil thin’ it is a perpetually moving target. Moving farther and further away, not only from spheres of possibility but almost also from allure! I have been telling people “Not being pencil thin is OK. “Pencil think” is worrisome”, I say often. With an emphasis on the first half of the sentence! 

There is no part in that pencil image that resembles us. Those of you that pause and point to my fast balding head, well, you guys are smart, knowledgeable and very sharp. And bloody cruel! 

But what gives me hope and lightens the soul in proportions that can mildly be described as ‘epic’ is this: the daughter doesn’t care.  Every time the family makes an appearance on the magic slate, there is incessant clapping and the occasional roll-on-the-floor laughter. I roll on the floor laughing too. At times, I wonder why she laughs like that.  But these days, I nip these thoughts in the mind even as they appear. 

This is a golden age. She is two years and a few months. Every dear friend, acquaintance, passerby and the dhobi have told me in no uncertain terms, repeatedly, that this time defines ‘time of life’!  Of course, I have taken this seriously. Or at least, tried to. 

Occasionally, my thoughts dart to wonder where our leaner selves went. Consumed by an inexplicably unbeatable combination of inviting diets, salubrious slumber and accouterments that many of you know only too well. Life’s experiences get us to bloat! While the bloating in the body is obvious, what happens in the mind is a bit of magical treachery! 

It hurts going down that road. 

Am turning right back there in this post, to turn the spotlight on an already bright area: reckless vivid imagination in a kids mind. That rich uncorrupted pure terrain, which imagines well and implicitly, trusts everything that is offered, without judgement. 

And these days when the daughter laughs at the picture, I laugh too. Sometimes at the end of it all, I feel lighter.  At times I wonder how wonder it would be if all the laughter helps dissolve some fast growing fat.  Only to realise quickly, that it does dissolve some silly accumulations in the mind.   

Brimming Over

It’s been a while. For a variety of things. 
 
The Mumbai skyline is grey. Odd for a March morning. But it is. Or atleast, so it seems. The breakfast has been missed a few times sunk in aimless walks and sullen stares into the sky. So have dinners. The snacks haven’t been missed. Infact, they have more than compensated. 
 
I think of the last time I spoke to her.  It is a long while ago.  I pick up the phone and dial. The phone rings. Rings. And rings again.  I hang up. A message pops on the phone, ‘We just spoke 28 minutes ago!  All fine here. Let me know if urgent. Will call later’. 
 
I sigh. Get on to do other things.  For a long time, I shuffle in bed with protracted motions of a drunken caterpillar. Sleep hits me in fits. 
 
Early in the morning, I run.  The feet pound the pavement waking up irritated dogs and the odd tea seller.  My thoughts are with her. Would she have woken up by now? I wonder. Maybe she is shifting in bed. Would she even think of me, I wonder. 
 
My run isn’t going too well. It is taking me forever to complete a small distance. I don’t mind. I hurry home. Pick up the phone and send out two text messages. ‘Hope everything is ok’. 
 
The silence that comes back as a reply reminds me that this time of day is called ‘wee hours of the morning’. I stretch. And as I lift my head my eyes catch her photograph on the side table. Those eyes. Those keen eyes reeking mischief and a boundless love speak to me. The eyes that lift my mood and warm my heart. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. 
 
In a short while I assemble all the assorted paraphernalia a modern work day holds and head out lugging the laptop bag.  It is still early for the world to hit the road. The RJs blabber in the background. I realise I am immune to any pain like their blabber when my thoughts are about the pretty little thing in my life. I reach office quickly. I park. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. 
 
As I stow the sunglasses in the glove compartment, my fingers find something that I haven’t seen in a while: Her hairclip.  A broken hairclip from the past. The hairclip that used to sit on her head and hold her hair pretty. I sigh. The hairclip nestles in my palm for a brief while. The RJ is saying something inconsequential in the background. As usual.  
 
I sit there in the car park.  The hairclip nestling in my palm. It catches the security guards attention.  To see me park, stay inside the car and stare emptily into the sky with a hairclip in hand. ‘All ok sir?’ he asks. I smile. And nod. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. Silence rings louder than the loudest ringtone in town. 
 
I amble to my desk. The janitors are still at work. I open the laptop and voila, the blank dark screen has her finger prints. Eight in all. For some reason, some weeks ago, she saw me working intently on some inane mail, came over and planted eight fingers on the screen. Keeping her thumbs to herself. 
 
I sigh. I look into the phone. No response yet. 
 
I dial. 
 
The missus picks up the phone. “WHAT?” She asks. I mean, it isn’t this bad, usually. But today it seems like Princess Diana shouting at the stalking Paparazzi! 
 
“How is she?” is all I can muster. 
“She is fine. She is fine. She is fine. She is fast asleep now. She was awake the whole night and she’s just slept an hour back. Don’t keep calling. Ok?”
I am silent. 
 
She calms down. I realise am talking to a sleep deprived lady.  And a wife too.  
 
“Are you at office already? Its just 7.30” she says. 
 
I am silent. 
 
“Get on with work” she says. ”And don’t behave like a smitten teenager ok? Your daughter is just fine. And she isn’t thinking about you”. 
 
“Smitten teenager?” I ask. But the missus is long gone. That was an insult. I think. But I couldn’t care less.
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The next couple of weeks, my days go by slowly. Thinking of her. The missus and the daughter are away.  With my parents.   I spend my time preserving her fingerprints on the laptop monitor and nestling the broken hair clip for company.  
Work helps. For there are a ton to things to finish. I have to earn the bread. 
 
I speak to them on the phone now and then. I am often told that she is fine. That she goes around showing my picture and shouting ‘papa papa’. The heart twitches more whenever I hear that.
 
After what seems like the time Sachin Tendulkar has been playing cricket, finally it is time for them to head back home.  
 
I hurry to the airport. On that day, if there was an “Eagerest beaver” award, amongst all the eager beavers awaiting people landing in the airports of the world, I would have won it. Hands down. 
 
In some time, I spot her. She sees me. Doesn’t say a word. I extend my hand. She still clings on to the missus. I extend my hands again. 
 
She keeps looking at me. Tears well up in her eyes.  Not a sound escapes her lips. Her sixteen month old cheeks witness a torrential downpour of tears. No crying. Not a sound escapes. No wailing. Just tears. I don’t know how to handle this. 
 
In some time, she clings to me. 
 
I look at the missus. Who smiles. I want to tell her, that the ‘smitten teenager’ comment was inappropriate. ‘Lost lover’ would work with me. I think. 
 
But today, nothing matters. The missus hands me her handkerchief.  It catches the first tear that overflows my eye that has been filled to the brim. 
This post was first published on www.parentous.com

Twiddling Thumbs

She has a basket full of toys. Dolls. Lego blocks. Trinkets.  Press-Me-I-Make-Noise stuff. Windup toys. Etc. Some of them are broken. Some of them have been used many times over. Some trampled and deformed permanently.  Yet others, preferred. But all of them share the single basket. 
 
Like today, we often guide her to the basket to interest her to play. She takes to them for a brief while. Plays with a few. Tosses away a few. Largely leaves the majority alone. And then, perches at the vantage point of her most favourite toy.  
I mean, she climbs onto my shoulder. 
 
‘COMMM’ she says. 
 
‘Come’.  It means. It is said so very nicely. 
 
Her ‘Come’ (pronounced as COMMM) roughly translates to “start walking”. “Crawling”. Whatever.  It means, as they say in English movies, ‘MOVE’! It doesn’t matter what I am doing. Working on the laptop. Cleaning shoes.  Reading a book. Having food. 
 
If she says, ‘Come’, I bloody well drop everything else and move. I am only more than happy to do that. That however is beside the point. 
 
Sometimes we step out for a walk & carry session. She looks into the sky and beckons the Sun, and the moon and waves at the stars. At other times we roll on the grass or she slides down with a zing or just about manages to balance on the swing.    
 
When you drive around town or walk the Powai promenade, if at all you spot a bulging balding man, fill his cheeks with air or walk on all fours and carry a young cute toddler on his shoulders across the streets, stop and say hello. It could well be me.  
 
At other times, when work saps my sinews silly or if it is an odd hour of the day, we stay home. Doing similarly exciting and exacting stuff!  The unsaid expectation is for me to come up with games that will occupy an ever so energetic mind.  
 
Her most favourite game however is devoid of any crazy showmanship. It has the following procedures.
•Stick the left thumb up. 
•Take a pen and with four markings, make a face. 
•Do the same to the outstretched thumb of hers.
•She looks at my thumb and calls her name out. I look at her thumb and call my name out. So in a quick jiffy, her thumb transforms to ‘Papa’ and my thumb morphs to ‘Baby’!  
 
The thumbs dance. They kiss. They chase. They tumble. They hold each other well. That is the game. In-between insane cackles and hysterical laughter that you could only think laughing gas had the power to produce. 
 
I call it Twiddle Thumbs. 
 
Yes. That’s that. That is the game.  I am astounded beyond belief at a new mind operates and is easily excited by such a simple thing.  But that’s the way it is and it does rather well too. 
 
The other day, we stay up late. Sitting and chatting. Me & the missus. The daughter is fast asleep. We look into the moon and the stars that she was beckoning some time back.  It’s rare that we get to chat up at all these days. 
 
“What do you think we will leave behind for her?” asks the missus. This is like a scud missile that came from nowhere. 
 
The coffee that I am sipping sputters out of my lips as I laugh. ‘You mean, something like a legacy?’, I ask. I haven’t thought about it. I have been engrossed in the joy of the present, that the future seems beyond outer space.  Perpetually arraigned to the wilderness that is beyond imagination, requiring a laborious labyrinth of years to get there.  
 
The reality of the years just swishing by quickly often strike me hard. Not thinking about the future is my way of dealing with it. 
 
There is a slight tension in the air. After the missus has popped the legacy question. I think humour will defuse it. ‘I have nothing to declare I say. Except my writing’. I say.  Remembering the famous Oscar Wilde remark to a customs official:  ‘There is nothing for me to declare except my genius’ 
 
The missus jumps on it. “Writing?” She asks.   Muted in the intonation of that singe word questions is this: “You-write-a-clutch-of- incoherent-blogs-not-Nobel-Prize-winning-epistles”.  
 
Silence moves from a punctuation mark to become the mainstay of the conversation.  “I don’t know”. I say. 
 
Frankly I don’t. I nurture no desires of chasing pots of gold, packets of money and the ominous luxuries that the world offers. My desire revolves around the daughter learning to choose well when the choices present themselves every moment in life. If that happens, I would be a happy man. But ‘legacy’ I would leave her with, I haven’t the faintest clue. 
 
I sip the last remains of the filter coffee.  
 
“I don’t know what I’ll leave behind for her”, I begin. “But I can tell you, if at all I get to old age I hope to clutch with dear life a ton of memories. Of spending time with her. Of being present. And of course playing Twiddle Thumbs endlessly”. 
 
The missus laughs. She thinks it’s a good answer.  I am all chuffed.  It’s not often that my answers pass muster as ‘reasonable’ with her. But beyond that, the answer seems to have answered some other unasked questions in my own mind as well. 
 
In sometime we hit bed. 
 
I realise that today, me and the daughter have played Twiddle Thumbs for an incredibly long period of time. And she sleeps like a log. I watch her sleep. It is then that the missus spots it: She is holding her playing thumb with her other palm. Almost as if caressing a baby.  
 
The eyes that I drew on her thumb stick out and stare at me.  And from the safety of her palm, those eyes seem to implore me to leave behind nothing but a bounty of memories. 
My thumb twitches. I am barely conscious as my thumb kisser her thumb 
 
There is peace in the world. 
 
This is a replug from my post for Parentous.com

 

Stress Busters

“You mean the yellow ones with the smiley?” I ask. Half open-mouthed. “Do they work?” Mildly surprised that what sounded like a global endemic was sought to be ended with a TV news anchor’s sound bite. Or so it seems. The simple solution befuddles me. Imagine asking Sachin Tendulkar what the secret of his success was, and he saying ‘Brinjal. Two in the morning and one at night’. Or something like that.
 
“Yes. I carry them to meetings”, he says. I stay silent. For a long time. Long enough till it’s about time to get going.
 
‘Oh’. I say. That’s all I can muster. You see, he is a successful bloke. The cars. The houses. The degrees. The titles. The gadgets. All hang well on him and his belt clip. The fact that this idea didn’t strike me even as a remote solution, disturbs me no end. “Sounds like an idea to try”. I tell him.
 
That evening, I buy one of those yellow smiley stress balls.
 
I carry it in a bag and leave it on the dining table rushing in for a shower and change. I am looking forward to the evening with my daughter. She soon will be all over me, I think. Thoughts of our conversation around the Napoleanesqe at the workplaces disappear within minutes of stepping home.
 
For her toys are strewn all over home.
 
“Pappaaa”. She says. And runs in.
 
Our games begin.
 
The elephant game where she becomes the mahout and I the elephant. That is a tough game requiring me to balance her, my weight and call out like an elephant with one hand doubling both as a leg of the elephant and its trunk. We can play the game till the end of time or till my knees hurt. Whichever is earlier.
 
The ball game, where I become the ball picker. The building blocks game, where the building blocks are to broken up with an ease that would have done a US drone proud, while I keep building them. And a few other variants of other games. She is cackling away.
 
And then, her eyes rest on the stress ball. She lets go of a charming smile. The next I know, she is at ease with the yellow stress ball is in her hands.
 
She finds it infinitely fascinating that a smile can be perpetual. Or that it can return to the position after all the twitching that can be done. That smile coming back on the ball’s face livens her up no end.
 
I am immersed in her joy. The stress ball in the hands of the little wonder is doing a world to my stress levels! I smile and close my eyes for a bit. To take everything with a measure of curiosity & joy and to remember that no joy is small and no discovery is tiny etches a silly smile on my face.
 
The phone rings.
 
Someone calls. It’s from work. Something to be done. Someone needs to be spoken to. I speak. Sort things out. And hang up soon. Pleasantly.
 
I see the little wonder is more fixated on something. She has her back towards me. I presume it’s the stress ball. She has moved a couple of yards away from me.
 
The quiet fortitude of her single-minded focus unsettles me. She surely is upto something. I think. I shout out. She turns. And sports a genial smile. A smile that could launch a zillion ships. I melt. I clap my hands to excite her.
 
Half relieved. And half guilty that I had imagined she was upto mischief. Here she was as pretty as pretty can get, working up the stress ball. I have to be more positive, I tell myself.
 
In a fleeting moment of boundless joy she laughs out loud and claps her little hands that are still clutching the stress ball.  And as she is closing her mouth, I see a tiny shred of yellow saying hello to her alimentary canal. My eyes dart a little and find the stress ball in her hand, sports a crater. Bitten off and chewed silly.
 
I leap across the room. If only there was a video recording of this dive across the living room. Alas. If only that were possible, Jonty Rhodes will be an ordinary man and the video would have gone viral. For even as I land with a thud on the tiled floor, my outstretched finger reaches inside her mouth.
 
With the mastery of a special services commando unit that pulls out a hostage from the clutches of bad guys, the fingers pull out yellow rubber that was part of a nice stress ball till a while ago! Just as it is being dispatched with such seamless ease into the inner recesses of a tiny body.
 
 
She smiles. I heave a huge sigh of relief. I smile too.
 
In a bit, I call up my friend. ‘Do you need another stress ball but with a crater on top’, I ask. We laugh. I narrate the story. “Pass it to me, he says. It reminds me of someone with a crater up there”. He says. We laugh again.
 
“I don’t need no stress ball”. I tell him. “Come home sometime. Anything to do with stress gets chewed away”!
 
This is a replug from my post for www.parentous.com