As I stress about her evening snack, BabyA asks for a Nutella sandwich, promising me that she will eat all of it. When it comes, she’s more interested in making jokes about its resemblance to human excreta. I give up. She’s had a bite so no one else can eat it, and since I have pledged against being a human dustbin, I refuse.
As I empty the plate into the garbage, I feel the anger rising. I don’t really know how to but I have to teach her the value of things, especially in a time where people are so quick to chuck everything that doesn’t excite them- from sandwiches to marriage. I start by telling her about starving children in Africa but she looks at me quizzically, so I switch to telling her about our neighboring farmer-kids who are dying of hunger. At three, I’m not sure she is fully capable of empathy.
She asks for jelly beans and when I refuse to give her more than the previously negotiated number, she throws a tantrum and flings the ones she has procured into the dustbin. Enraged, I give her a time out, telling her she’s never going to get jelly beans again and needs to understand that “they are a luxury and Didi’s* kids would be so happy if they could have candy”. She cries and apologizes but seems to think it’s a competition when she says, “But they don’t have jelly beans and I do!”
I don’t know how to respond to that, or to all the other wasteful habits she has, like leaving her Play-doh out till it dries up, squirting water around from a running tap or putting a dirty paintbrush into her pristine white paint pot. And when I tell her to clean up her mess, she turns around and tells me “Clean up is too boring!” I feel so helpless, not knowing how to make her learn value.
After a few days, the answer comes to me. While cleaning her cupboard, surrounded by piles of clothes, I get an epiphany much like Buddha did under his Pipal tree. I realize that she only sees me talk the talk but children do what you do, rather than doing what you say. I am a wasteful mommy who needs much. She has enough clothes to dress an army (of dainty little pink soldiers) and I still can’t stop. She sees me spending on myself and her, with no thought given to what is needed- the only focus being what my fancy of the moment happens to be.
Even if I don’t usually waste food, I waste money, time, water, paper, electricity and so much more. She sees that she has 12 pairs of shoes, and whenever she spoils her art supplies, they are replaced with new ones. I entice her into getting clean by offering her water-filled tub baths, and she sees me discarding clothes that I’m ‘bored’ of, at the speed of light. How can she learn anything else from me: a representative of the first generation in India that learned to waste, maybe because we experienced easier times than any of our foremothers?
My most beloved Dadi* recently passed away. I grew up with her, spending all my afternoons painting on wrapping paper or helping her stitch money envelopes from leftover cloth. If she wasn’t doing that, this enthusiastic seamstress was making cushions from the extra fabric of her sofas. She was never wasteful. Everything had to be used, and when it came apart, it had to be fixed. I remember my dad telling me that they carried canvas bags to school (the ugly, brown ones that I wouldn’t have been caught dead toting) and when it tore, my Dadi would stitch it up and make them carry it.
If times were tough and she did that, I would have understood, but she was born a princess (her father being given the title of Raja by the British) and was married into affluence. She hadn’t seen any economic difficulty but she was always frugal. This made no sense to me. She bought seven daily-wear sarees of the season, and six months later, she bought seven more, transforming the old ones into a new avatar. That’s what had to be admired about their generation (along with so much more)- they were committed to recycling before it was cool.
She was the gentlest soul I have ever met: never even wasted her energy being angry at anyone. Wastefulness was the enemy, to the extent that she never wasted her time feeling ‘bored’ and told me that ‘boredom’ was a word made up by my generation. When she had free time, she would sow, knit, go for bhajan classes, look after her plants, practice her interior decorating assignments, read. And she never whiled away her time reading junk. It was always meaningful things that would enrich her soul, like the teachings of Swami Vivekananda or books on Psychology.
Being so highly influenced by her, I wonder how I turned into this shopping monster? But I guess the pull of the present consumeristic society has been a lot stronger than my childhood values. Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, times were still tough in India, and I don’t remember ever being a child of excesses but as Bharat became “India shining”, we became richer (economically speaking), our wants multiplied and we started getting bored much more easily with what we had. The glamour of consumerism draws one in, and so my transformation from a content child to a gluttonous giant is similar to that of many in my generation. And as consumerism continues to increase, I can only imagine what BabyA’s generation is going to be like.
So as I sit amidst these piles of clothes, pondering over life, I finally become aware of a rubber object squeaking under me. As I pull it out, I see it’s Sophie la Giraffe- the squeezee that I bought for BabyA since it was listed as one of the Top 30 must-haves for newborns in some American magazine. I bought her the other 29 things too. Looking at the giraffe’s satisfied smile, I wonder how I survived my babyhood without any Sophies, Burt’s Bees Buttermilk Soap or Jumperoos… and managed to be happy, too! Aah! The Conundrums of Consumerism!
* Didi- in this context, BabyA’s maid.
Dadi- paternal grandmother.