“I don’t know — maybe the world has two different kinds of people, and for one kind the world is this completely logical, rice pudding place, and for the other it’s all a hit-or-miss macaroni gratin.”
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
I sit next to my son, while he scoops up heaps of sand in his tiny palms, feeling frustrated as the grains slip between his little fingers no matter how hard he tries to hold on to this futile process. The sand falls back to the ground and, like lost time, becomes part of what’s already there. His tiny brain processes this idea of wanting to achieve something in a certain way, but being unable to do so, sends out signals in the form of frowny faces, angry fists and high-frequency shrieks. I look at him in amusement, making a mental note to cut his fingernails as soon as we get home.
For that moment in time, he takes me away from the frustration that’s going into torrid flames deep inside me. My mind in torn between wanting to absorb this present moment and not allowing the recent past to devour my near future. Even as I want to be really angry (because of something completely unrelated), my mommy brain wants to marvel at the intensity and expression of his anger. And I can’t help but wonder how contrastingly strange is the nature of our emotions — his frustration — short-lived and silly — comes from a place of innocence and unwordliness, unlike mine that swarms with a complex amalgamation of all things worldly and disgustingly grown-up. Suddenly, I want to barter my brain for his — this easygoing transition between hysterical bouts of laughter and tiny white teeth gritting with irreproachable anger. I want to stop heeding to this raging sense of insult bubbling inside my layers — even though the insult isn’t really mine to bear. But, being the slightly over-the-top, patriotic fool that I am, I take some things very personally. But even as these thoughts consume me in varying degrees of distaste, a silent calm hovers over our little bubble — where my son plays in happy abandon and I watch him, hypnotized by his simple expectations of joy. Not wanting to pop the bubble yet, I let my anxiety take a backseat for a few minutes. I let my words crouch soundlessly in the corner of time — taking in all the glory from this moment that will be nothing more than memories in a few minutes.
The National Anthem Saga
Call me a dreamer, but I always imagined a wonderful world — the one that Louis Armstrong sings about. “I hear babies crying, I watch them grow – they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know – and I think to myself what a wonderful world”. And I believe this world does exist, despite what we see, what we hear and what we feel. I believe in the good things in life. And yet, that true believer in me sometimes feels a helpless sense of loss — loss of wisdom and virtue while I see parents around me trying so hard to mould their younglings. I am by no means the perfect parent and don’t know much about how to get a child to listen to you without begging, bribing or threatening — I do it all and it works just fine when distraction doesn’t (I bake my own cupcakes so I can bribe all I want). I may not be the bookish mom, or even the mom that doesn’t swear, but I do know how to do one thing right — I know how to make a good human being (which includes being a proud citizen) from 1 foot and 6 pounds of boundless joy (and mayhem). I know I will always try to teach my child (read monster) to be a kind human before aiming to be anything else — or I shall obligingly die trying.
But before curiosity kills the cat, let me tell you what brought on the regurgitation of these complex, heated emotions. Last evening, as we counted to twenty, swinging on our usual blue swing in the park, a loud group of young boys came to play in the park close to us. This enthusiastic bunch was followed close behind by a group of moms (their moms I would think), chattering and giggling with animated faces and hand gestures that beat even mine. The moms parked their bottoms instinctively on a bench nearby and continued their high-frequency banter while the boys began playing on the slides and some even joined us on the nearby swings. But suddenly, I noticed something very strange. Like a cluster of bees buzzing in unison, they were all singing the national anthem. Actually, they were screaming it — and saying all the words wrong, almost mocking it. I winced, aghast at the scene — nobody seemed to know that they ought to stand in attention while singing the national anthem. It was the very first thing we were taught back in school. Instantly, I was teleported to my childhood days and to the only reason why we hated those uniform short skirts. As we stood in attention at the morning prayers and assembly, anyone who giggled or tried to make petty conversation was promptly whacked with the stick on the calves. Especially, during the national anthem. And to this day, when the national anthem is played in movie theatres, I stand in attention and let the melody of our anthem bring me those goosebumps. But, snapping back to the present, I sense that something here is irrationally askew. The mothers don’t seem to notice, and those that do, don’t seem to care. And for a while, I feel a little confused and almost a little sad. Is it my place to intervene? But then, is it okay to allow the youth of tomorrow to believe that the national anthem is just another song? That it isn’t attached to national integrity, solemnity, sacrifice, and respect.
I tell myself that these children are no more than 7-10 years old. They don’t understand what these concepts mean, what the words of the anthem signify, or why it is sung at several solemn occasions. But, I would think that their mothers do. I would think that education, knowledge, and sensitization begin at home — that a mother is the first teacher — the most impressionable one. That, for a child, her words are always words written in stone — the final verdict, the last call, the only truth. And yet, I see this bunch of moms, turning a blind eye to this frivolous recitation of a poem written in the deepest faith by a true legend. I count to ten, I shut my eyes, I purse my lips hard — but the words inside my mouth are forming like huge, unwavering waves about to hit a rocky shore. Finally, with all the composure I can muster — I tell the children in a kind and firm voice that the national anthem should not be made fun of and that one must stand in attention while singing it no matter when, where or how. My words tumble out louder than I intended — the authority in them addressing the mothers rather than the little ones. The children look at me like I am some unscrupulous, hopeless excuse for a human being. They laugh at me mockingly and continue screaming the national anthem, this time doing jumping jacks and running in circles. All this while, the mothers have been watching in silence. And like a crass internal battle that has just been won, they now smirk at me and then smugly at one another. I watch it all in horror, in dismay, in a sort of senseless pain — and finally, in resignation. I decide that this is not my war to fight; I accept that I can change only what is inside me and not what isn’t.
“There’s another world that parallels our own, and to a certain degree you’re able to step into that other world and come back safely. As long as you are careful. But go past a certain point and you’ll lose the path out. It’s a labyrinth. But the principle for the labyrinth is inside you. And that correlates to the labyrinth outside.”
I am reminded of this reciprocal metaphor from a book that is, in most likelihood, a part of my soul (Kafka on the Shore). And in that moment, I just let it all go. I gently scoop up my son in my arms, and start humming ‘Seasons in the Sun‘ while I walk back home. My mind is working overtime, consumed by this deathly cocktail of emotions. But eventually, I find my centre, the familiar part of my labyrinth. I’m not sure there is a lesson here, or even a story worth telling. But I do know this — being a firm believer in one thing, allowing it to be your guiding principle or letting it define your identity is as much a strength as it is a flaw. Because in the world where we will all finally live someday — that neutral place between life and death — the limbo — there is no right or wrong, no light or dark, no hurt or pain — just a calm sense of having lived a full live and transitioning into another lost world. So while I’m here, I’ll learn to let go, to smile it away, kiss it away, hug it out. And I’ll live to fight another day.
That being said, I never feel like I want to be anything else or anyone else but me — even when I don’t fit into the herd. The odd, eccentric Aquarian in me still feels soulful and content with her tribe of nonsense people — never the popular one with the huge circle of friends, or the one that shares her space with the world — I’m my very own private island, with my very own lighthouse and sunsets. And books. And unending kettles of tea. And so it was never a ‘faint in surprise‘ situation when I was anything but the popular mom. Disliked for being blunt, bitched about for being almost too unsocial, and always the mom who was the least relatable, most unstirred by public opinion, and always content to live in a happy place in her mind — this post may have caused some mom friends (moms who are friends who talk about their kids, mostly) to disappear from my life. I can’t say I’ll miss them — well, maybe if someday I need humans for company. But, in the meantime, nobody should feel obliged to hold their breaths.
“We are all kind of weird, and twisted and drowning.”
Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood