October 31, 2012
The old pond;
A frog jumps in -
The sound of the water.
- Matsuo Bashô
From the couch I saw my daughter pulling out the kitchen chair in the far corner; the chair is taller and twice heavier than her. She used the chair to climb onto the table; and, slowly opened the chocolate box, which I had thought was out of her reach. She had approached the table quietly - knowing I’ll be into my book. But once you have a child, you cannot really concentrate on anything. You always have a background thread going on in your head, on her whereabouts. I dashed to the table - caught her red handed. This made her jump; but, when she realized it was the lenient parent, she got relaxed.
“Only one,” she said. I pointed to the fistful of chocolates. She dropped all in the box, retained one. I checked the box; there were a few left on the bottom. Over the days, she had finished most of it. Chocolate monster!
I carried her down. "No eating too much chocolate,” I said. Two-and-half now. Why this? Why that? All the time. Thank God, there’s Google. I know now more animals, more birds, more colors, and more flowers.
One time, she pointed to a tiger in the picture book, and said ‘fox’. Then she pointed to a lion and said ‘Yellow’. I was alarmed. Did she mess up everything? Do we have to start all over again? Then she smiled mischievously; told the correct names pointing to the right pictures, laughing all the time - she was just messing with me. She was in a good mood.
On such occasions, she calls me ‘Lobo’ or ‘Ravi uncle’. In India, our neighbors taught her that her dad’s name is panji - pig; so sometimes she calls me, panji Lobo.
There are a few genuine screw-ups too. One time she saw a shark on TV and exclaimed: “airplane!” and once she called a Kangaroo, ‘Pengaroo’. That’s because of the Penguins.
In fact, I myself cannot differentiate many things: sheep, lamb, and goat; shrimp and prawn; crocodile and alligator; tortoise and turtle. (For long, I thought the bigger ones in the sea are turtles and the smaller land cousins are tortoises; but it is not true.)
She knows four colors: yellow, purple, red, and orange. She can name more, but cannot really match them. She also doesn’t have a sense of time. When she says ‘Tomorrow’, she means sometime later. ‘Yesterday’ could be yesterday or anytime in the past. But when she says ‘Now’, she means NOW. “I want it now,” is such a big pain. Sometimes I reason with her; why we cannot watch cartoons; it’s night and sleep time. She listens patiently. Nods to everything I say and responds, “I want it now.”
Occasionally, I manage to distract her: “What’s this stupid dragon doing in the closet?” I say, and we both go on a dragon hunt.
Sometime ago there was another Ria in the community. So one was ‘Big Ria’ and my daughter was ‘Baby Ria’. The other family has moved out. But the name stayed.
“What’s your name?”
She thinks ‘Baby’ is her name.
She talks in rhymes.
“How much do you love Mamma?”
My wife has cast a spell on her. If you ask my daughter: do you like Dada or gutter-water? She would opt for the latter.
She makes small sentences, and fragments. I like to irritate her. When she asks questions to Mamma, I jump in and give wrong answers. “I’m not talking to you,” she says. I think she picked that line on the TV. I myself haven’t used any such line with my parents, never - they would have thrown me out. In fact, only now, in my articles I pull their legs, otherwise all along I was a nice kid, except probably in my teens.
And sometimes, my complaints are taken to Mamma. “Dada not listening to me.”
The only time I might ignore her - that too for few seconds - is when I read something interesting. It takes a small lag to comeback to the real world. But by then she would have run to Mamma with my complaint. (You cannot become a good writer, if you don’t listen. Probably the greatest writer to follow this advice was Maugham. He had a bad stutter. Maybe, because of that he would listen all the time. Even eavesdrop on strangers. Then copy the exact dialogues in his books. He’s one of the most read authors! His books are wonderful.)
In my school days, I was not allowed to read novels. I used to hide in the bathroom, for hours - reading books. Even now, If I find something interesting, I lock myself in the bathroom and read.
“Lobo, where are you?” She bangs on the door.
“Give me 5 minutes.”
“Watcha doin? Come out?”
Children are so impatient. Sometimes when I’m working on the laptop, she turns off the lights.
“Shooo Dolly is sleeping,” she says. Dolly goes wherever she goes. Sleeps with her. Dolly has the status of a real person. I learned this the hard way - when I used Dolly as a pillow. Something hit me hard on the face. And, Dolly was yanked off. “No sleeping on Dolly,” I heard the warning. Some toys can be effectively used as weapons.
I used to write in the evenings. She won’t allow it anymore. Why write about her, when she is right there to play. Now, I wake up one hour early and write. If you want to become a writer you should write daily. No other tricks. (Sometimes while I am writing, from the bedroom I hear the sleepy question: “Where’s Dada?”)
Once I woke in the middle of the night and found her awake. I tried to say something.
“Shoo Dolly is sleeping,” she said.
“When will YOU sleep?”
“Tell me story,” she said.
I am very poor at children’s stories. I know only one story. I repeat that one all the time. Children’s stories are much different than the ones for grownups. Children like repetition.
5 little monkeys jumping on the bed one fell off…
4 little monkeys jumping on the bed…
A grownup would know instantly where this is going, and toss the book immediately. But the kids like it. They love the sound of repetition. You can raise the monkey-count to 75 in the above poem, and a child would still love it.
In the only children’s story I have cooked up, she’s a character. She makes a guest-appearance in the story. She likes to hear about herself. In fact the character in the story (her alter ego) is a better version of herself: Drinks milk; Brushes teeth twice; Eats mum-mum. All without any fuss. She knows this. Knows the character in the story is better; but she’s like - what do I care?
So painful to make her eat anything; things she doesn’t like are ‘picy’ - she cannot say spicy.
“Are you nice-baby or kakka-baby?”
“Kakka baby,” she pushes away the plate. This trick had worked in the past. You can ask her if she is nice or kakka, and she would do the nice thing for you. Not anymore.
Soon I’ll be out of tricks. Sometimes I say, “How come you look beautiful today? Did you drink too much milk?”
She likes that. I don’t know how long this one would work. One fine day, she might say: I would rather be intelligent than pretty.
Whenever she dresses up, she comes to me for approval. She stands at distance, cross legged, and head hung on one side. ”Wow,” I say, “You look so pretty.” The need for attention comes so early.
And, sometimes, I hear a shriek: “I want Dada!” This means she has done some mistake and, Mamma has punished her. That’s the only time she needs me. When I hear this jungle - cry I need to leave whatever I am doing, and run for the rescue. I have told her that it’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone makes them. Pencils have erasers etc. “Just say by-mistake,” I have said - Mamma would understand.
Before she came in my life, I could leave a book on the stairs, or at the kitchen sink, and there would be no question of not finding it at the same spot hours later, when I would come looking for it. But, now, If I leave a book on a low place, it’ll will be gone, I might find shredded paper, but mostly the book would have been vanished.
One day, I was reading a book; she snatched it and vanished in one of the rooms. Then she came back, and flourished the fingers. “Magic,” she said. I searched for it desperately, but the book was gone. She’s not telling me either. The next day she forgot the whole thing. I was at an interesting point when she took away the book. It’s a short story collection. I don’t know the name of the book. The story will haunt me to my grave.
On my book shelf, between classics and writing books, a small section is reserved for her. Her books are small and bright. They have many big pictures and a few sentences. A picture explains many things! (Very few writers narrate picturesquely: Tolstoy, Proust.)
People have different fears. Some don’t like spiders, some snakes. I cannot change diapers. I know what you are thinking. But, it’s just not my thing.
Now she is potty trained. So things are not that bad. One day she was in the bathroom with Mamma; I heard the command: “I want Dada!”
Gosh I said, not now! I gave her hundred reasons, why Dada might not be the right person for the job. She listened carefully, nodded in agreement, then said: “I want Dada!”
So now that I have done the stuff, I feel there are 2 types of men in the world: those who have washed the bums of their kids and those who haven’t. I belong to the former one - the holier among the two. I am now, a Kevalin. Nothing else matters.
Parenting is an experiment: what works for one child doesn’t for another. So you keep experimenting till the kids become parents! I have raised my voice only twice, so far. Sounds like an annual event. I do have the patience of a vulture. But sometimes she just gets on my nerves. Last time when I raised my voice, a little, there was much wailing and screaming, followed by kicking the nearest toy, and throwing the milk bottle, and then banging the door to lock herself in the bedroom. Luckily the door doesn’t self-lock. I am not surprised at her. I was like that too, but not at two - I was unmanageable in my teen years. My parents considered many a times to drive me to a distant desert and leave me off.
“Can you get me some See-O-Kay-E?” I ask my wife from the dining table. She brings me Coke in a china cup.
“You want milk?” I ask my daughter. Offer the cup.
“Are you sure?”
I am going straight to hell. They will put me in hot water or fry me on the giant pans. There’s no forgiving for my sins.
Once, she made a big fuss about going out at midnight. I reasoned with her; why we cannot go tata; it’s night and no sun and dark outside. All in vain.
“Are you nice-baby or kakka-baby?”
“Kakka baby,” she replied.
“What’s this dragon doing in the closet?”
That didn’t fly either. So we decided for a small ride. The moment we were out of the parking lot - she started snoring. Since we were out anyway, we went ahead with the ride, roamed for half hour. I had to carry her back to home. Once inside, she opened her eyes, looked around - all sleep gone. “I want to go tata,” she said, “NOW!”
So here we are. One more memoir. Whenever I write a short-story, some or the other responds: “The stories are fine, but when you’ll write a memoir?”
At the bottom of this article there is a list of my past articles. The first one was published somewhere in 2007. So I have been doing this gig for some time now. Most writers would move on. Not me. My readers won’t allow. I am going to be a life-time memoir writer. A writer whose memoirs are more fictitious than true events.
Anyway, there’s a big difference between what I am writing now and what I wrote then. The current articles are less funny - of course. I wish I had not read so many books on writing. I was a better writer before reading them. I was writing whatever came to my mind - incoherent thoughts. Then someone said from a podium at a gathering: “Hey you. Not you. You! The one with less hair. Yes. The fat-guy. You should learn the craft.”
I got hooked. I probably have the world record for reading the most number of books on writing. But I still don’t get it.
Anyway, having a child at home helps me look at the world in a different way. All ‘art’ is looking things in a different angle. ‘Sun is sleeping,’ she says at night, looking out the window. I myself cannot imagine such things - even after writing for so many years. She amazes me.
All right then. No more beating around the bush. Let’s see if we can end this smoothly. I need your help. Here’s what we are gonna do: Finish this off with only short sentences. And, we’ll use present tense. For a change. Let’s italicize the text to note the change in tense. No other gimmicks. No big words. Wait a second. Let me stretch a bit. Are you ready? Okay. Here we go.
We are at a carnival. She is sitting on my shoulders - legs around my neck. She holds my head for balance. We roam around. Look at the colorful things: rides and food stalls. Then suddenly I feel something cold on the back of my neck. I turn my head. Look up at her.
“Did you make su-su?”
“Yes,” she says.
“By mistake,” she says.
Ravi Lobo - Archives:
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- The Last Road Accident
- The Monk, The Ferrari, and Driving Lessons
- Summer with Daughter
- Parenthood and Some other Things…
- A Favour
- Dreams and Nightmares...
- Everyday is a Miracle...
- Short Story : The New Tenants...
- The Long Wait
- Good News...
- A Fast Train to Virar...
- After the storm
- Mangalore days
- My Wedding and Related Incidents
- Grandpa and Grandson...
- My world
- Forgive me Father
- City by the sea
- A simple life
- Last in the boat race
- An affair to remember
- All about Life Cycle - its Faces and Phases