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Monday, August 22, 2016

Coaching for parents?

Only a few days ago I posted this news item in the other blog; now there’s this one.

There are parents who go riding bikes in rainstorms with little children in tow, not even wearing helmets, and there are those (increasingly numerous-) parents who feed their kids like pigs until they swell up like balloons and, when they finally start showing signs of morbidity, take them to the doctors only to get miffed when they are told that all that the kid needs is far less food of a far more healthy kind, along with a lot of vigorous and regular exercise. I am also thinking of all those parents – ‘loving’ ones, too – who frequently indulge in what to me seems gross physical abuse (only the other day a girl was telling me her mother throws anything at all at her, even knives and choppers, when she loses her temper, and I have seen children scalded on their arms and legs with hot irons) often for no better reason than that, being control freaks, they can’t bear to see that their kids sometimes won’t listen to some direct order, no matter how trivial the issue is (sometimes it’s like the girl wanted to wear the red frock instead of the white one). And also of all those tens of thousands of kids who die annually on our roads – one of my students did just two days before my own accident – because their ‘loving’ parents bought them motorbikes because they could not resist the importuning, or thought it important in order to keep up with the Joneses. Then there are those who are so obsessed with school examination scores as the sole determinant of a child ‘doing well’ that they hardly notice that the kids are either growing up into rote-learning machines totally deprived of intelligence, creativity, general knowledge and human sympathy, or falling prey to debility and diseases of weird kinds (hypertension, diabetes, gastric ulcers, breathing problems, migraine), or both. Add to that the recent phenomenon of more and more parents grooming their children like circus animals so they can all appear on ‘reality TV’ and perchance win some prize money. You think all these weirdos are sad exceptions? I beg to differ. Remember, I have been dealing with parents of youngsters all my life, and keeping notes. The saddest thing of all is that, if my experience is any guide, most of those unhappy kids, if they survive, grow up to be clones of the same parents…

There is a very broad presumption in this country that you need to learn a lot of things – music and painting and language and surgery and cooking and things like that – but there’s nothing to learn about parenting, or rather, couples automatically become qualified to be parents as soon as they go through the biological process of birthing (strangely enough, it doesn’t occur to anybody that you don’t even have to be human in order to do that: being four-legged suffices!). This is, of course, arrant nonsense, especially in a country where most people become parents only under the pressure of ‘social expectation’ or ‘accidentally’ – I apologize for stating this most unpleasant truth to all those  ex-student readers who are still young enough to be shocked. There was a little saving grace when most children grew up in joint families, where at least there were grandparents who not only had the time and inclination but also somewhat more experience regarding the essential do’s and don’ts than most young, harried and impatient parents, and therefore could provide some sane guidance and counsel. These days, apart from consulting their own peers (who are as a rule just as clueless or misguided as they are), they have nothing except memories of what their own parents did, and the results are there for all to see. Oh yes, a few are beginning to look for advice on the Net or in glossy magazines, but I have seen some of that stuff  myself, and alas, most of them encourage either hyperparenting or too little, apart from pushing the agenda of large companies selling every kind of expensive gimmick from ‘special’ soaps and shampoos to tablet phones and coaching classes aimed at toddlers below two.

I have been told that there are countries where you can attend classes if you are planning parenthood. There are three things I would like to say in that context: firstly, that first-time-to-be-parents should feel the need for such an education (remember, our society encourages them to feel they are know-alls, and most are really not interested in raising children well anyway, being far more involved in other things, including shopping and partying and beautifying themselves and chatting on Facebook); secondly that doctors, psychiatrists, good teachers and wise old parents should run such classes jointly; thirdly, that it would be a wonderful idea to gradually move towards a social setup where such classes are made mandatory, and failing the exams disqualifies you from having a baby.

Too draconian? I dare say it will sound like that to many, especially to those who are already good at it, and don’t want outside agencies to play nosey parker. Unfortunately, if a very large fraction (who knows but a majority) of the population cannot be trusted to do the job well, perhaps it has become necessary? If driving needs to be licensed following a test (and in some countries those tests are not easy to pass), shouldn’t parenting – beyond argument a far more important responsibility – be subject to similar checks? When it suits us, we proudly claim that we live in an ‘advanced and enlightened age’. Perhaps we need to do things to prove that to ourselves? Maybe instinct and tradition are just not good enough?

Monday, August 15, 2016

When shadows lengthen

I have been preoccupied with health issues over the last month. Not mine, my father’s. He has shrunk greatly from the hulk of a man he used to be, and behaviorally, as my sister put it, the lion has become a rabbit. My mother, having suffered him lifelong, is happy about it, but I am not. I miss the lion, frightened as I was of him more than any other man alive for decades, and often resentful: who could have imagined I was also secretly so proud? For having dealt with so many thousand fathers over so long a time, I know how few deserve the slightest attention, leave alone regard and respect and awe.

So anyway, he had a cataract removed and artificial lens implanted in one eye recently, but little did we know that it was the beginning of his troubles (he had had a severe breakdown three years ago, and though he had recovered somewhat, he had become uncharacteristically slow and quiet and hesitant). A dizzy spell induced by a sudden drop in blood pressure caused him to slip and fall while ambling about his room, breaking a femur near the hip. A few days passed in pain until the doctors were sure that he needed to be hospitalized for surgery. Same hospital and same surgeon that treated me last year. Having well-placed connections always helps in this country, as does having money, so the procedure – replacement of the hip joint ball with a prosthetic – went smoothly enough. He is convalescing well by all indications, but I am keeping my fingers crossed until he is certified fit to be discharged and can walk normally again. Heaven knows what is next in store for him… the father of a friend of mine, now 86, is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a massive brain haemorrhage, and it is near-certain that if he should survive, it would be only to drag on in a purely vegetative state for a few weeks or months more.

Is this what the techno-commercial society has done for us, in the end: prolonging life without being able to prevent the gradual decline and decay into helplessness, paying through the nose if one or one’s loved ones can afford it, and ending with a whimper, leaving only sad memories of glory days behind? Is this what is waiting for me, too, and for my daughter to witness and suffer? And is there really no way out of this suffering of the mind except to anesthetize it for as long as possible with shopping and partying and gaming on the cellphone? Is that all that six thousand years of civilization has given us? 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Lazing in Calcutta

I read out Othello to Pupu and Shilpi two days ago. They enjoy that sort of thing. I can now smile to myself at the thought that I have handled Shakespearean plays over a whole year and also at a single sitting.

Othello I last read a very long time ago: must have been thirty five years at least, if not more. It didn’t strike me as a great play then, and this time it sounded, frankly, melodramatic enough to be called silly. Seriously, much that I admire Shakespeare for (he has fed me for a long time  now), and however blasphemous this might sound, many of his plays are so far below par that I sometimes wonder what gave him the kind of reputation he enjoys, four centuries after his death. Maybe the succession of events that could have seemed plausible if drawn out carefully over a novel that spans several years (some people do change considerably over years) seems absurd because enacted over a play that is supposed to last only a few days! I mean, look at this man – widely regarded as not only a great military leader and pillar of society (though much reviled in some quarters for the colour of his skin), who supposedly won a young, innocent, sweet (ugh… I found it saccharine sweet) girl over with his noble-minded love, who thought the world of her – he could be seduced into mindless, murderous jealousy within a couple of days into throttling her dead! and then, convinced within minutes that he has done a great wrong out of stupidity and haste, kill himself? I don’t know about others, but I refuse to call it a great and tragic love story: at best I shall call it a most disturbing study in psychopathology, a remarkable instance of how some people, otherwise successful, can stumble for a while through life with dangerously immature emotions and unstable minds. On top of that the plot is obsessed with sex as virtually the only real meaning of love: it’s so adolescent it takes one’s breath away. Filled as the play is with standalone memorable lines, I was repeatedly reminded of Coleridge’s famous putdown that ‘Shake was a dramatist of note/ who lived by writing things to quote’. The lines I found most piquantly ironical come at the very end, when the Moor describes himself as ‘one that loved not wisely but too well’ (that’s true, if by too well you mean an obsessive possessiveness which can instantly turn to hate)… one not easily jealous (hahaha!)’. It’s like Hitler lamenting in his last minutes that all his labour and sacrifice for his country had gone in vain.

Talking of immature minds, I have been reading about this boy who died at a friend’s birthday party in Kolkata recently. The local media, obsessed with sensation, is predictably agog over it, given the drought in real news. I link here something that the mayor wrote on his Facebook page in this connection, and a rejoinder from a certain ‘adolescent psychiatrist’ which I found both pretentious and foolish. Can you figure out why? I’d have written at length about it, but given the lack of interest among my readers in writing comments, I was suddenly seized with ennui. But here’s one more reason for my refusal to use Facebook. What I think about adolescents and parenting today, I shall restrict to my classroom and my blog.