Monthly Archives: October 2007

Little ’Uns, Tykes, Brats, Chits, Whelps and So On

Apparently it is now selfish and self-centred not to want to have children (see comments section here – it was amusing to watch Jai’s casual comment on a dog’s ugliness escalate into people comparing other people to Nazis for not thinking that wanting a child automatically makes one a saint). It would be alright if this was one individual being her/his usual, egregiously stupid self, but that is, rather sadly, not the case.

Most people I know can’t quite understand why someone might not want to have a child. Before I tried explaining it to a surprisingly large number of people, I didn’t think this was very hard to comprehend:

  1. I don’t want to have children.
  2. I have no wish to be mired in a mindboggling number of dirty diapers (I tried to count once, but it was inhuman, the continuous flow of warm, smelly wetness).
  3. I can’t really tolerate the personified-human-ego phase of children for more than … say … five seconds.
  4. I don’t like teenagers.
  5. And I don’t. Effing. Want to. Have children.

I don’t think wanting to have an actual life is particularly selfish. After all, these same people don’t berate me for not doing social work, or for being a consumer. But children – apparently the only way one can be a true person is by having children.

But why does anyone want to have children anyway? For their personal increased happiness. For the feeling of achievement (in the absence of any other) of having brought another human being into the world and for having raised it to a certain socially determined age without having it break down … too much, at least. For transferring their own stunted emotional growth, combined with that of another such person, into a new creature made for that express purpose so that one day they might stand back and say, “There, now how does that make you feel?”

How is any of that selfless? It’s not as if the yet-to-be-conceived child is actually clamouring to be born. It doesn’t give a fuck.

So essentially, I think that the burden of explanation should be with those who want children, rather than those like me who do not. And I think it should be a damn good explanation at that.

But no. Apparently, it is some sort of gift to humankind when someone brings a child into a world that is overpopulated and undernourished. As if the earth itself, while dividing its already deficient rations into even smaller parts, is going to praise you for having had the monumental courage to have … erm … shagged without a Johnny.

It would be different if I was a woman. Then, all of the above would still be true, but at least I would have had the firmness of resolve to go through it even with the knowledge that I would have to break my back for nine months and then push a 6-to-8-pounder out of an opening which is, well, smaller. That, while still selfish, is at least an achievement. But something I do? No.

Around the time my sister had her baby (which, if you’re curious, is where I get my experience of dirty diapers from), I thought this stuff through to the extent that it would be relevant to my own personal life. My niece is a gorgeous little kid, and it is one of the biggest concepts in my life that she is going to be a person someday – an entire person. What my sister is doing sounds monumental to me, and I admire the hell out of her for that. But taking full responsibility for another human being is a daunting task, and the returns for that seem not entirely worth the risk.

It’s going to be demanding, it’s going to take up your life, and, with a very few exceptions, your child is not going to be as successful as you want it to be, and it is, most probably, going to love at least one of you less than you think it should. That, frankly, smacks of masochism to me.

But once you have done it, you can’t escape the consequences – having a child means that you have responsibility over its life. You have brought it into the world, and it is your duty to make sure that it fares as well as it possibly can. Anything less is at best negligence and at worst a crime. I love my niece, but that is a choice. This choice wouldn’t be available to me when I have my own child. I love my niece all the more because I have a choice not to. My child having a father who doesn’t want to love it is not an idea I’d like to entertain.

So, since I see nothing beneficial to anyone in particular in my having a child, I have chosen not to. To interpret this as my being scared of responsibility would be, while not quite wrong, rather simplistic. I just think this is not something to be taken as lightly as I see it being taken. It is not a pretty sight. One would think that people would learn from their own experiences of being a child, but most seem to block it out, which is perhaps an ancient defense mechanism of our genes to make us perpetuate them.

But most people dismiss my opinion with one ghastly sentence: “That’s what you think now.” I know that, but for some reason they think they know more about what I will think in the future than I do. Their rather sublime explanation is that I am too immature for this, because I don’t want to have children. One would imagine the fact that I have thought about it rather than accepting it as my sacred duty because people tell me it is would count for something.* Apparently not.

[ * Better put by a commentor on Aishwarya’s LJ, what they are really saying is “mindless conformity is what adulthood is all about!” ]

All this argument does is remind me of the religious nitwits who, in their inimitable and simplistic patronising manner, assure me that I am not actually an atheist, I just think I’m one.

Family Matters?

When I was a kid, I was entirely unsure that anybody apart from me actually had their very own separate life. When I turned my back, how was I to know that they did not lose their existence? (I thought this up before I knew Descartes existed, and since, according to him, I can’t know he existed … well, you do the math.)

Anyway, discreet investigation cured my of this particular idea, but I am still not entirely sure of one group – my family. My perception of them is so entwined with my time spent with them that I can’t actually think of them as entities separate from my idea of them. That goes mainly for my extended family, but that’s only because my nearest biologicals are close enough to keep a watch on any time I want.

Somehow this idea does not extend to my friend circle, which is intertwined enough for me to know that they probably don’t fashion elaborate fictional histories regarding their interactions for my sole benefit. One can, of course, be paranoid about that as well, but that strikes me a tad unhealthy.

Even the disembodied voices I speak to – the text floating towards me over the internet – have a comparatively real sense of being, while my family manages to be more convincing theoretically than in actual fact.

It is deucedly odd, because I am reasonably sure they do actually exist apart from when I see them. It just doesn’t seem entirely believable, for some reason.

Gum Soldiers

At my grandmother’s house, where I seem to have spent half my childhood, there was a large bottle of gum, which, one of my uncles told me, had been sitting there since he was a little older than me.

It belonged to my grandfather. No one ever mentioned it. Once, when my younger uncle wanted gum, I carried it to him, but he told me to replace it and bring him the other bottle, which was new and which would be replenished once in a while. My grandmother never used proper gum – she preferred using sticky rice.

I always stayed at my grandmother’s during my vacations, and would return home when they were over. I only noticed the bottle of gum sometimes – it was tardy of my family, but not suspicious. (Considering this was an age when I doubted my parentry and held the firm belief that I was adopted, it must actually have been non-suspicious to an extreme.)

My grandfather died a few years ago. I was not yet out of my teens, and felt I was the most important person in the world. Due to this, my interest in his death was limited to how it affected me and how I might use it in a story. I made a few false starts after his funeral, but these came to nothing.

My grandfather had very little. He did have delusions of grandeur, and he had told me once that he wondered how his children might squabble amongst themselves for his wealth. I passed this information on to my father, who laughed and said that my grandfather didn’t actually have any money. After he died, his clothes were donated, his books were divided among the more religious of his children (like most old people, my grandfather, once he had realised he was to die, had Found God). The bottle of gum was ignored. I stole it.

I kept it aside for a few days, to heighten the excitement. Then, I made sure my door was locked, and I opened it. I stuck my finger inside, and I touched liquid. I brought it out again, it was sticky, but it was red. I reasoned that old gum is not fast-sticking or nearly as adhesive as new gum, so I licked it. It tasted of blood.

I upended the bottle on my computer table (making sure to keep an old newspaper underneath it), and about a hundred tiny soldiers fell out, dressed in clothing dating from the Raj, with beards reaching their shins and each covered in blood from head to toe.

“Who are you?” I asked them.

Two men, presumably leaders of two factions, stepped forwards and told me that they made war. With each other, of course, said one and the other grinned. Of course, they had assumed my whole family knew. And perhaps it did, or perhaps my grandfather was a selfish bastard who never told anyone.

“My grandfather is dead,” I told them.

They asked me, rather coldly, as if I had offended them, what my point was. So? was what one of them said. And would I be kind enough to let them back into their bottle if I was done with them. And, said the other one, would I please be more careful, now that I knew they existed, when I got them out of the bottle again.

The next time I visited my grandmother, I asked her about it. She told me that most of the family had known about this – she obviously would, but my father and his siblings as well. I told her how, even when they had heard that my grandfather had died, they had shown no interest in stopping their warring. My grandmother asked me: if God came down today and asked all of us to stop living because he wished it, would I accept it?

I accepted the explanation, and felt that it was very wise of my grandmother to know such things. It was between then and now, after getting a bit of reading done, that I realised my family didn’t actually understand any more than I did. I’ve kept the bottle far back in my cupboard, behind my mess of clothes. I’m hoping they’ll kill each other before someone opens the bottle again. Or just suffocate.

Why They Don’t Serve Knives in Bars

Okay, three blokes walk into a pub. I say blokes, but I mean gods. The joke works better that way.

So, three gods walk into a tavern: the God of Denial, the God of Knife-Throwing and the God of Outcasts (they used to have one, now they’re godless).

The first one says to the bartender, “I’m not as drunk as you think I am.”

The bartender says, “Are you sure?”

The god says, “Of course I am. Now sit me a drink, I don’t want a headache in the morning.”

The second god says to the bartender, “I’d like a plate of knives, please.”

The bartender says to himself, “Looks like a nice sort of bloke. Like one of the three I had in last night.” So he gives the god a plate of knives.

The third god says to the bartender, “I’d like a drink, please.”

And the bartender says, “Here you go.”

The God of Knife-Throwing plies the God of Outcasts with a number of drinks, most of them two, and convinces him to stand in front of an up-ended table with an empty glass on his head. (A full glass wouldn’t work as well – it’d just make things wet.) Then he prepares his knives.

The God of Denial says, “I can’t watch this,” and turns his head away.

The God of Knife-Throwing picks up a knife, when the bartender goes, “Oi! You can’t kill him. I’d have no customers if he was dead.”

The God of Knife-Throwing says, “My god, you’re right. I couldn’t do that to my favourite bartender.”

So he kicks the God of Outcasts out on his arse.

And that’s why, if you’ve ever observed, professional knife-throwers say a little prayer to their god before their act, and, as a tribute to his magnanimous act, miss.

They also ruined the circus, the bastards.

Of Himmesh and Ganesh

This year’s Ganesh festival was, for me, a backdrop to more prominent events. It was like the history in most historical fiction – not affecting the story much and, as you and the author both know, more of a gimmick than an essential story element. My niece was in hospital – that was a part of why I didn’t pay attention to it – but mostly, it didn’t loom large in my consciousness because it has, I think, become too prolific to be considered.

***

In the absence of a television habit, the Ganesh festival has, most years, helped me keep up with what music the youth of the nation is currently listening to. By ‘youth’ I don’t mean young people, but the kind of people who, if they were in the US or the UK, would be, as Dylan Moran put it, hunkering S-shapes in hoodies and large goggles and who, here in India, mainly spend their time going to gyms and striking homoerotic poses for each other.

It was during a Ganesh festival that I finally found out about Himmesh, the sensation of the year. Listening closely to his sound, I tried to trace his influences and found that, apart from Opera and classical strings, he has, cunningly and subtly, and quite possibly permanently, bound Indian film music with American and British club. His music essentially attempts to rid the mind of the listener of that niggling trifle – the lyrics. He combines the experimental aspect of the club sound with the current listener sensibilities prevalent in India into a form where the lyrics technically exist, but manage not to mean a thing. Also, his minimalist tendencies manage to bring all his songs together under one tune and one singer.

But, over the ten days of this year’s festival, Himmesh relinquished his hold on the populace, and most of what I heard in the last few days are remixes of old Marathi nursery rhymes. Which was odd, but nice.

***

The final night of the festival has always seemed somewhat odd to me, and this final night, returning home, I realised what it was. In the dark, I saw policemen, and buses plying, and traffic jams the kind of which one expects at 10.30 in the morning. The night was, in fact, a grotesque facsimile of the day – there is a solemn faux-anarchy in the way everything looks like it has been slapped together awkwardly, but still manages to proceed from one moment to the next without undue hassle. The roads are full with vehicles, except these are stationary, and on purpose at that. There are more pedestrians than vehicles, and the vehicles themselves are parked all over the road – the point being that those walking have the right of way. Most of the by-roads are empty except for stray clumps of people in private processions, shouting even though they are the only ones listening. In contrast to that, the major roads are packed, and people are having a ball, eating, drinking, dancing and pushing each other around to form crowds. There is an air of desperation and purpose here, as if something momentous is happening and all the accepted laws of behaviour have been suspended, but I wonder if tomorrow they won’t be slightly embarrassed at tonight having happened – like someone living as if they will die the next day but reaching the next day and finding out that they haven’t.

I think my discomfort with this is (apart from my distinct lack of religion) based in my thinking that it is no fun to go out and make merry all night when you’re allowed to. The rest of the year, coming back at three in the morning means not looking suspicious and staying far away from police patrol cars. And, of course, being alone in the enterprise. It just seems boring when everyone is doing it.

Coming back home was a refreshing return to normality. I arrived at my building to find the parking lot deserted, the gate closed and the watchman missing, pending recovery. After honking for a bit, I got down from my bike to open the gate and, like I have done twice before, I had entered and closed the gate before I realised that my bike was outside the gate, still running. It restored my faith in humanity, I tell you.

Current Music: The Stranglers – ‘Golden Brown’