New Kiddy Nightmares: Monsters Across the Table

“In my son’s school group, there are only veg Maru and Gujju moms and everyone’s sharing so I’m compelled to order veg!”, I overhear a woman complaining at the gym. She seems so unhappy with her shift from Delhi to Bombay.

In Delhi, she enjoyed going out for buffets and finding 60-70% of the food to be non-vegetarian while in Bombay, it’s the reverse! Our city is infested with Gujaratis and Marwaris (me, being one of those little shakahari cockroaches), thus, South Bombay very seriously caters to us.

I have a Muslim friend who opened up a bakery in the city, and at first, when I asked him if his speciality tea cakes were available in eggless versions (for my Jain friends), he scoffed, “Dammit- the last thing I’m doing is making tea cakes eggless now!” The next time I visited his bakery, I had to fish out a regular tea cake amidst mounds of eggless ones!

There’s no escaping it: when you live in Bombay, you’re forced into vegetarianism often due to minority issues. You can’t escape making G&M* friends, how much ever you may have detested them while growing up (and abhorrence is only possible if you didn’t grow up here. If you’re born and bred SoBo, you don’t hate them because in all probability, only at the age of 16 did your parents reveal to you that you’re actually Sindhi, when you had to fill out Hassaram Rijhumal College’s forms. Till then you, like every other SoBo-ite, thought you were G or M by default, and your parents proceeded to burst your bubble because they knew that with 55% in SSC, you couldn’t get in anywhere without using the community card. In fact, Hassaram and Kishinchand Chellaram had both probably grown so fed up of this Gujju- Maru monopoly in SoBo that they set up colleges reserved for their own, just so Sindhis could reclaim their Sindhiness and write proudly on their marriage bio-datas: Graduate and Non-Vegetarian, certified ‘Ani’ (Dadlani, Malani, so on and so forth). Daddo Suttho! *

This confusion in Bombay’s identity has gone on since partition, when language wars were pulling the city’s people in two directions. From the time when the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were being formed, both communities fought to have Bombay be a part of their state, because even though a larger part of the population spoke Marathi, there were a huge number of wealthy traders and politicians in Bombay that felt it belonged in Gujarat. Even today, knowing Marathi will help you get out of a speeding ticket, but speaking Gujarati may help you make quicker money in Bombay’s Gujarati-dominated market.

I recently received an email (which, I must clarify, was sent to all parents and not just Maru me) from BabyA’s school urging parents to teach their kids not to react with disgust when non-vegetarian kids are eating meat or fish. It made me fear that were they talking about BabyA too? I have always taught her to respect other’s choices, but we do have a silly game where she keeps teasing her Fufa* that he’s going to eat all the fish and crab in the sea (with an unintentional message that that makes him a scary beast of some sort). Reading the email, I became aware of my insensitivity! Had I just taught my daughter that her nightmare had transformed from monsters under her bed to meat-eating monsters hanging out across the dinner table? These kinds of values are what make bullies out of our children!

In a country where Gau Rakshaks are killing people for allegedly having eaten beef and the government has taken a stand that no Indian shall ever eat the holy cow again on Hindustani grounds (as if we were a Hindu nation and not a secular democracy), we must be very careful about what we teach our kids. It’s important that they learn to respect other people and their choices, rather than making anyone unlike us into scary ‘others’ that we must save ourselves from. I don’t want my child to become a bigot, toting purifying water in a bowl, throwing it onto all- willing or unwilling!

Narayana, Narayana!

*G & M- Gujju and Maru

Daddo Suttho- Very Good, in Sindhi

Fufa- Uncle (father’s sister’s husband)

My Child: My Biggest Cheerleader!

I sit with my mom and sob as I pour my heart out about a troubled last week, and as I start to cry, my usually oblivious preschooler looks up worriedly and asks, “Why are you crying Mamma?”

“Nothing darling! They’re tears of joy – you remember I told you about that concept. I was crying with happiness because I was remembering how you always tell me I’m the best mamma in the world!” She looks down at her blocks, unconvinced, and mutters, “No! You look really sad for that!” I’m shocked by her sensitivity and insight.

I read somewhere that girls are very tuned in to facial clues while boys are more observant about what’s going on in the environment. I know for a fact that my little monkey may live in her imaginary world all the time, seemingly clueless to the present, weaving crazy stories about her pretend Pakistani husband Chillu Purkhan who took her to see the Eiffel Tower, or making up tall tales about cooking up “Pakistanian” specialities for her visiting in-laws like “Pangkor” and “Buskair”. It’s easy for me to forget how emotionally cued in she really is when I see her talk about her Dr. Seuss-style mad, mad world, but one tear, and she’s right by my side.

I remember when she was only a year and a half, verbally quite advanced for her age, kissing me and repeating, “Mamma.. no cry. No sad. Ranya wipe your tears!” And recently, the one time that I fell and hit the equivalent of a funny bone in my knee, and was rendered incoherent for a minute in the bathroom, she brought the whole house down, telling them with great urgency that I was hurt (when I had recovered just as she stepped out of the door).

Sometimes in life, you feel down and out; you feel like you’re no good at anything, like you don’t have a deserving bone in your body, but no matter what you feel, when you look into your child’s eyes, you see the unbridled love and adoration they feel for you. One only encounters that kind of pure love in the eyes of their parents or grand-parents; the one that doesn’t keep questioning whether I’m worth it to begin with; the love that just keeps loving, despite the number of shoutings given, punishments meted out or angry words shared.

Maybe the reason God gifts us with children is so that when our parents are no longer around, we can still have cheerleaders in the world, standing on the sidelines, rooting for us. When we feel like the scum of the earth, we can look into our children’s eyes and feel that comforting love that comes without condition, and helps us resurrect our souls again!