Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of milestones and thanksgiving

I've been wanting to do this post for two days now, but I've held on to my joy like a miser, savouring it, content in holding it out till it's but about to fade in the jungle of everyday images, and then I promised myself, I'd write it out, live it all over again.

Something changed that joy today, made me shiver at my inability to fully enjoy a moment in hand instead of storing it away, not acknowledging that this too shall pass, that I've this now and for now alone. I'll come back to this cause, but first, the joy.

Nino saw his first movie (and his first movie in a theater) over the weekend, a choice that I fought hard over - with myself ofcourse - even as the other me reiterated the decision to keep him away from mass marketing as much as I could. But the decision was easy - I'd settled for a go-between. We took Nino to see a 3D film on the awe inspiring creatures that call the oceans their home. And while I was totally split on whether he was old enough to watch 3D - the 24/7 shrink that is the world wide web said it was okay, my dad was livid and said NO as loudly as possible over the phone line, my m-i-l recounted her nauseous state while a relative (come on, opinions are free!) spoke about how her daughter, almost 4 when she saw the movie, had gotten very disturbed with the experience and had sleepwalked - what finally did it for me was a nice and quick chat with the guys who run the damn theater.

The Science City is one of the many institutions that Ahmedabad is proud to be home to, and I added my self to its fan-list after experiencing a kind of service and ambiance that we don't expect from public institutions in India. When I called the IMAX theater at the City on Sunday morning, I never really expected that the phone would get answered. It was answered by a polite, Hindi-speaking gent, who patiently listened to the various theories I'd heard about children and 3D, venturing an opinion once I'd done ranting. Well, its perfectly fine for your kid's age, he said, you might want him to sit with you though, sometimes they get scared with the sound effects.

Okay, I thought. This I can handle. So Nino, very excited, dressed in a shirt and jeans and wearing his 'big boys' shoes that he usually hates, along with his parents, drove down to see this beautiful place filled with huge geometric shapes, a windmill, a massive globe-shaped planetarium and the movie, ofcourse. 'I'm going to a movie', he kept chanting all through the ride, following it up with 'Can three-year-olds see this movie?' (we usually tell him he can't accompany us on our once-a-month multiplex trip because he's not eighteen yet).

The movie required us to wear special glasses to be able to experience the 3D images, and Nino's swallowed quite a bit of his cheeks as well. He loved the whole experience - the huge screen (and IMAX screen is nearly 10 times larger than a regular multiplex screen), the 30 minutes movie, the fishes and the sharks. And like the friendly guy on the telephone said, he was slightly uncomfortable only when the sound effects came on as a pair of nasty predator fishes came on screen. Nino was an angel - spoke softly when he wanted to ask a question, held his own ticket, waited patiently in the long queue for the exit. It was the kind of behaviour that wants you to promptly start breeding again, but for the wise dame of wisdom who sits in my head.

We walked around the fantastic campus for a bit, running down massive ramps and playing hop-scotch on squares and circles. It's a place that makes you feel free and child-like again, and curious too, which is why I think its planning has been such a success. We also caught a musical fountain show - said to the biggest in India - and while Nino eventually tired of the 20 minute show, I sobbed unabashedly during the finale as water jets soared high to AR Rahman's Maa tujhe salaam. No country like this to raise our children, and I mean that even more today.

It was such a beautiful evening - we had so much fun, and I was able to enjoy Nino experiencing a 'new', a 'first' - something I've become obsessed with because I missed many firsts of his when I started working. He talked non-stop on the way back, describing the movie and exclaiming how the fishes 'came right here' (showing the space near his face) when he wore the 3D glasses. This was the first time Nino's Dad was seeing a 3D film too, and for a few minutes, it was like having two boys, all excited and yakkity, sharing their me-too's, bonding the way only experiences allow. And I was so nervous before we left that I forgot to take the camera - but in a way, it was good, because I could not have gone hands-free with all the hand clutching the three of us did in joy. It was a major milestone - and it went picture perfect.

Then on Tuesday we crossed another big milestone. Nino chose not to wear his diapers to school, after some prompting from this teacher. And he was fine - even used the loo by himself - and totally confident when he walked out after school. It's a big deal - this diaper weaning affair - and I can go on about it, but instead will say that pride filled my chest and I smiled my way through a deadlines-filled day. He got ice-cream after lunch, and I got a round of claps at work from a team that had overhead my joy over the phone as I shared the news with an equally proud extended family.

And then today I found this heart-wrenching story of a little girl in Congo, her journey to find her missing mother, even as she carries her infant niece along. It's a common tale all around us - this opportunity cost. In our protective Indian family system it often crops up as the sibling syndrome: elder siblings bearing the brunt of novice parents, before the systems are perfected for the younger one. 'The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action'. And increasingly, children are becoming the world's opportunity cost in our attempt for political or religious freedom, racial expression or just pure capitalism.

Eleven-year-old Protegee cries while she carries her sobbing niece Reponse, 3, on her back as they searched for relatives in a sea of people in eastern Congo. Photo credit: Jerome Delay, AP

"Hundreds of children have been separated from their families since fighting flared in eastern Congo in August and more than 1,600 children in the province were seeking their parents last week alone, according to UNICEF. The children's young ages and inability to give detailed information — plus the lack of official records in the Congolese countryside — make it even more difficult to track down their families," AP said.

Those who will read that story in full will have to face the same questions the photographer, who is a father of two daughters, faces - accepting the fact that Protegee was willfully abandoned by her mother driven by despair and poverty. It's a thought that seems so alien to us - giving up our children - we who are fed on the heroic tales of mothers who lay their lives down for their children. Did Protegee's mother really have no option? Is there a state of 'no options' when it comes to children? What are we trying to make/achieve/strive for/survive for, if we have no children to share it with?

But today there are no tears, just a growing resolve to say thanks. I'm glad I live in a country, in circumstances that protect my son, albeit currently, from Protegee's fate. I'm glad his tears are only about a nick on the knee, about force-fed breakfast, about an itchy sweater, about a book not being re-read, of granparents who visit only on weekends.


OrangeJammies said...

The way you write and experience life makes me wish you were my friend.

Anonymous said...

awwww! that was so wonderfully written, expressed so well. I can say you will revel in joy many years later when you think about this day :)
and yes mera bharat mahaan! cheers!

Nino's Mum said...

OJ - That's the nicest thing I've been told, in the longest time. Thank You.

Preeti - I know! (I'm doing the hula dance as I type this) cheers back.