Sunday, May 18, 2008

An Odd Impression

People tend to harbour the strangest ideas about you. I, for instance, have been long known as someone who is good with kids. If you know me, then you will appreciate the ridiculousness of such a description. Unlike my brother, I don’t detest kids, but I’m not particularly fond of them either. Kids, a term used to describe anything between 18 months and 12 years of age, don’t strike me as particularly special. They aren’t furry, they don’t mew or yip, and they are way too large to be cuddled effectively. Give me a kitten over a kid any day.
But, strangely so, kids tend to like me. I have babysat a fair number of obnoxious kids, and they all have behaved perfectly well with me. My neighbourhood aunt’s son, Gutu, spent large hours of his day with me, when my mom and his parents would be chatting in the next room. To be honest, I didn’t always enjoy these evenings, in fact, most of the time I’d be wishing that I were back home. But the kid liked me, and my parents and his were under the mistaken impression that the feeling was consistently mutual. Plus, I was too much of a woosie to protest. I still am.
Then there’s my nephew, Pablo, named after the poet, who wouldn’t sleep unless his Disha Mashi (me) slept beside him. He is a class-A example of obnoxiousness, and drives his scientist parents nuts by dancing to item numbers on television. Plus he punched my brother in the face and puked on his shoulder. My brother, understandably, harbours affection of the very distant kind for the child.
But the kid likes me. And that puzzles me no end. Because I am seriously not all that fond of little children, and I often feel rather fake when playing with them. And since the child is inevitably not much smaller than me, I see no joy in cuddling the thing. This thought came back to me the other day when my neighbour came over with her daughter and granddaughter. The granddaughter was a mite of seven years or so, just got to Class I. I remember how excited I was when I was getting to Class I. I mean, here’s a proper class with a number, not some kiddy class with letters. Plus, I was going to start with science as a subject. I remember standing on my head with joy, a feat I that I haven’t been able to replicate since.
So, this kid was dumped on me as the adults went into the next room to do the stuff that they do in their spare time. Now this kid, even by my exacting standards, was a mighty cute kid. A chubby thing with a little Chinese cut mop on its head, dressed in a white and pink polka-dotted dress. I LOVE polka dots. And the best part was, there was none of the frills-and-ribbons rubbish that parents tend to deck up little girls in. A neat frock, cute hair, and admittedly, one of the brightest smiles I had seen in a really long time.
So what do we do to spend the evening? Thankfully, the kid was a very chatty one, and she knew what she wanted. She saw the PC on, and asked me what I was doing. I said, I was playing games. What games, the kid asks. Uhm, what do you tell a kid when you’re actually on Facebook, but have told her that it’s a game because she wouldn’t understand the concept of a social networking site? It’s not a game really, I’m on the Net. Wrong foot, wrong foot!! My brain yells at me. The kid looks puzzled and asks me, do you have any games? FIFA ’00, and a game called Crayon. FIFA is out of the question, and Crayon is just a tad bit too complicated for a seven year old, or so I think. So na re, no games you would like. But, I do have a Tom and Jerry CD! I love Tom and Jerry, kid squeals. Oh goodie, I think, so do I. So I go to my room to get the CD, only to discover that it isn’t there. Damn, it was Sree’s, and she took it back. So I go to the kid and say that I don’t have the CD with me. I gave it to a friend. “Gave it?” my brain tells me. “It was SREE’s, she TOOK it back!!” Too complicated for the seven-year old mind, I tell it.
NOW what? She wants to see my movie DVDs for herself. Okie, here you go. I take out a handful, with Friday the 13th coming out bang on top. She flips through a couple and decides that she doesn’t like any. Then I remember a DVD of Madagascar and The Incredibles. Madagascar wins, because it has animals, and plus, its hilariously funny. But will a seven-year old kid get a joke about a bunch of secret agent Penguins? Never mind, its got animals, and things falling on top of each other. Something for everybody.
The movie starts, and the name of the movie appears….in Russian. Shit! Why did we get a movie in Russian? No no no, I can’t tell the kid that its in Russian and that she wont get it!! I’ve already failed to explain to her the concept of a social networking site, as well as lied to her about why I don’t have a Tom and Jerry CD with me! I can’t fail another time!! I won’t be able to take it!
As you can see, I take the business of kids, and kids themselves, very seriously. Thankfully, the movie WAS in English. How odd.
But is the kid getting the concept of a disgruntled Zebra and a self-obsessed Lion who thinks he’s a celebrity? Is she? I can’t even explain it to her, because I think that she might like to figure out things for herself. Adults don’t like having movies explained to them without having asked, so why should kids? So we watch. Occasionally she ask me questions like why did the Penguins beat up that guy, and I tell her that it’s because the guy would otherwise lock them up. Commonplace, realistic explanations like that.
But soon it’s quite obvious that the movie isn’t very interesting to her. I mean, Madagascar IS pretty sophisticated humour. She starts telling me about her school, and I listen, asking questions and smiling or laughing. Then she spots something. A big translucent red plastic mallet I have, the ones that bounce off your head and squeak a lot. My dad got it, and we occasionally beat each other with it. She picks it up, and it squeaks. She’s delighted. She hits me tentatively with it. I’m not hurt, but I pretend to be really scared. She starts squeezing the mallet, and it squeals like nuts.
Now she realizes that the chair she’s on is a swiveling chair. She asks to be pushed around. I crazily push the chair around the whole room, loving the way she’s laughing. She asks to stop, and we do. She then notices the tiles. Now the tiles in our house are rather psychedelic. They are mosaic tiles, but have rather kaleidoscope patterns of gray, black and white. As a kid, I used to spend ages looking at them. From one angle, it would be the ceiling of a room, but shift your mind’s eye, and it’s a cube. Jump from gray to gray, or black to black. The kid obviously got the same idea, because she proposed a game where we would each choose a colour out of all three, and walk only on tiles of that colour. If we stepped on any other, then we would have to start walking on those. I chose black, she chose gray.
After leaping around for sometime, she picked up the mallet and started beating me up. This time, I made a short dash for it, and she chased me. So here we where, doing circles between two rooms connected by the verandah. She was squealing her lungs out, and in a while, so was I.
Now she’s tired, and wants to sit down. She asks to see my shoes. Well, they are in the other room, I tell her, how about we see them before you leave. Okay, she says, but in a while she asks again. So I take her to my room where my high heels are kept. I take out this very lovely pair of silver heels my sister got me. She wants to try them on. Oh dear, these are very high heels, and her feet are tiny. So I make her sit down while I put on the shoes for her, and then she stands up, holding my hands. I will hold your hands and you can walk around, I tell her. So she does that for a while, and then she sits down. We spend the rest of the evening talking. Before she leaves, I take off my shoes from her feet. She goes off with her Mum and Grandma, waving goodbye, and asking me to come to Bangalore, where she lives.
I am a bit tired, and a bit puzzled. When I was playing with her, tickling her, or making the few funny faces I know, I was feeling rather stupid at times. Like, she’ll notice how these faces aren’t really very funny, and for how long can you tickle a kid anyway? And what next? How do we have fun now? Again, I am much too serious about the oddest of things.
But while we are talking about the oddest of things, how’s this for a contender- the kid liked me. I could see it in the kid, she liked me. With all my apathy towards kids, there is something amazing about being liked by a kid. It makes you feel like a nice person. Like Pablo, or like Gutu before him, this kid saw something in me, which I don’t see myself. Or maybe they don’t really see all that much, and don’t notice the fakeness that you feel. My philosophy with kids is that you let them be, let them do what they want to do, and keep a wary eye on the boundary. You don’t speak for them, you don’t explain to others what they are feeling. You let them decide, let them speak for themselves. It’s probably because I see kids this way that I feel no need to cuddle them or fuss over them. They are kids, not kittens, and are perfectly capable of looking after themselves within reasonable limits. And its because I see kids this way that I can get very anxious around them, because to me they are more perceptive than adults are, and more transparent, so if their perception of you is openly expressed on their faces. And I’ve never been very good at handling criticism. Hence the anxiety. Hence the feeling that with each mistake I make, I lose another very crucial chance.
But I haven’t lost too much yet. Kids DO like me, although I may not always like them much myself. I often prefer being left alone, and often have kids thrust upon me, given my reputation in the family. And I often am left playing with a kid when I would have given anything to be reading a book at that moment. The fact that I was a pretty obnoxious kid myself doesn’t help much. But I think about how kids like me, and I wonder how. Maybe its because I let them be. Maybe its because I do what they want me to do. Maybe its because my sad pig-face is genuinely funny. I don’t know. But kids like me, against their better judgment, I believe, and there is nothing I can do about it. It’s another odd thing about myself that I have to live with. While I’m not entirely complaining, I wish I knew why.
An unpleasant thought just struck me. This is exactly like one of those humble-and-self-deprecatory yet subtly-self-aggrandazing articles. The kind of speech that would be so typical of, say, Spiderman. With this disclaimer of self-awareness, I hope to assuage my conscience.