{Eavesdropper} The cruelty of kind words

“My mother says she had my sister only for me. Not for her. Only for me,” the teenaged older sister confides to her friend on the phone.

The little sister is in the pool.

“Do you know what that means?… come on ya, what does it mean?”

A pause…  a sigh. “It means she loves me more. She didn’t want her, she had her for me, because I wanted a baby sister,” the teen continued, playing with her earphone wires, sounding pleased. Louder than she realised, as her ears were plugged.

I sat there pretending to read, my ears tuned into that young girl’s conversation, my heart a little heavy.

What if the little one heard that, how would she feel? What drove the mother to make such a declaration? Was it a way of getting off swimming pool duty, sweet talking the older one into playing guardian? Or was it to make the older one feel loved.

The cruelty of kind words.

PS: I am a habitual eavesdropper, the stories of strangers fascinate me. So begins a new thread of posts.

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I don’t wish you joy and happiness…

I wish you joy happiness success. No. On second thoughts, I just wish you pleasure and sense of achievement.

Joy and happiness are unstable emotions. Success is subjective. They lull you into a false sense of well-being. They make you gasp in the face of expectations of long-lasting joy and MORE happiness. Those emotions are more often than not dependent on other people. The spouse, the child, that friend who is fatter than you, a strong bottle of Russian, an organic joint…

Till this morning, my advice to my daughters was to do what makes them happy.

Then I had a conversation with a colleague (who, ironically, introduced me to her friend as the person who makes her happy at work). We discussed whether maintaining someone’s appearance of being always happy was more important than giving them a sense of purpose and a chance at achieving something.

Well, that’s when my own hypocrisy hit me.

I don’t want my children’s main pursuit in life to be happiness. It isn’t mine, and I’ve been the saddest in the moments that it has been. Happiness will come and go, and wreck you along the way.

I want them to pursue pleasure and achievement.

Bandit Queen of Hearts Turns 4

Image… and it’s a whole new chapter of parenting that she teaches me.

But she is also teaching all of us at home a lesson we often forget. That EVERYTHING in the world, and I mean, EVERYTHING, can be made better with a hug.

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One minute she goes around threatening to ‘toosh’ us and give us a ‘diction’ (shoot and injection for the linguistically-unimaginative folks out there), and they next minute would smother you with her hugs and kisses.

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She is not an easy child and challenges everything we say and do… a major shift from what I was used to. In an inexplicable manner this has made me a far more patient parent than I’ve been before.

I am at a loss to explain this relationship I have with her… there is a strange aggressive need to protect her, to hold her close, and to just hold that essence of her wild, uninhibited personality. And hope desperately that she would never stop doing her Michael Jackson moves and Alicia Keys renditions… never feel that she doesn’t have it in her to want to be as huge as the people she pretends to be.

Happy birthday my little Phoolan Devi.

The Year of Estrangements & The Fear Of Love

2012 was the year of estrangement. Several meaningful relationships died in many different ways.

Some were smothered to death;

some passed-on peacefully in repose;

some bled to a slow death;

some were violent;

some were long dead but came to my notice belatedly;

a few because the transplant was rejected.

Some fatalities were expected, some too sudden…

The relationships were not all cherished, yet I mourned and shed bitter tears for the passing of each. People I worked with, some I grew up around, a couple I shared many laughs with, a few who were family.

But as I sit on the eve of a new year, thinking of these who are no longer in my daily consciousness, I have only a remote sense of nostalgia.

I didn’t fight to keep those relationships alive; I chose to let them go, without grace at times. It was a detached, clinical decision to move away from those who drained me.

Through all that heartbreak and angst, with a never before seen will, I fought to keep one relationship alive. If ever I find the person who conceived marriage, I would dig them out of their grave and spit on their face.

Could there be a concept that’s more strenuous and difficult, yet so lusted after than that of binding two people in marriage? Do you know of anything marketed more effectively than marriage? Yet, I fought and will continue to do so… to keep this relationship going. There are a hundred reasons why, reasons so loud in my head, it mutes the voices in my heart.

(Hey, you gay folks out there! Don’t fight so hard for the right to marry… it’s too gimmicky by half, and you’d be better off not being contracted to each other.)

In all this chaos, much of it self-made (I’ve always sucked at pleasing people and maintaining relationships), I am protected by friends who slipped into my life in my teens, who with iron claws hold onto the things they love in me, blind to the rest of who I often am.

And also in this chaos, are two little people whose touch is so precious; whose love is so vocal and unconditional; and in their image of who I am, I build many dreams. I go to bed with the burden of their love… yes a burden, because I don’t always feel deserving of it.

I die a thousand deaths, when I think of all the ways in which I could do them wrong and of all the ways I could let them down. I have feared nothing more fiercely than their love.

Happy 2013.

The refugee hitchhiker who haunts me

She stood by the Katara exit kiosk with two boys by her side.

I slowed down to a stop, expecting her to cross the road. But she walked up to the car and in Arabic interspersed with a few English words asked me to drop her in Dafna.

How dangerous could it be? A well-dressed hitchhiker of about 40, with 2 young boys in tow. Yes, it was close to midnight, but this is Doha, after all.

When I offered to help find a taxi, she insisted politely (almost a plea) that I drop her home. It was not too far away from Katara… The boys were hanging behind, obviously uncomfortable.

So there they were in the car, one second discussing the amazing Cinema Paradiso we had all seen at the last screening of Doha Tribeca that night, and the next second we were discussing the war in Syria.

The mother with her two sons and two daughters fled to Doha from Damascus. The daughters stayed with their aunt (her sister), while she lived in a single rented room with her sons. No job in sight, and unable to afford to send the kids to school. Four months in Qatar, having lost all that was familiar and comfortable.

She had left behind a 20-year-old career as a French teacher, her husband, friends, her home. Now in Qatar, she is not quite sure whether she was at the threshold of greater tumult or little hope.

In that moment she was as lost as a person could possibly be. She doesn’t quite remember the route back home to her room. Mohammed, the younger one who could not have been over 10 seems to have an inkling. He guides me through the lefts and rights of Dafna. He is chatty.

Ahmed, the older boy — around 12-13 — is stoic. I can’t make out if he is unhappy about his mother talking to a stranger about her worries and fears; or if he was just unhappy. It’s him that I worry about most.

To take a healthy, bright teen out of school and to a strange country… How do you keep him happy and positive? What kind of courage and desperation did it take for that mother to make this move?

We finally find our way to their home. We are by now on first name basis. K writes her name, number, email id and Facebook user name on a piece of paper. She takes down my details. She believes I could be one of the people who’d help her find a job here.

Her sons are listening. Maybe they are buying some of that belief too.

I feel crushed by the truth of the matter — I can’t do much but I can’t tell her that.

Three days after the encounter, I am still haunted by the eagerness in her smile, the determination in her voice, the sadness in her eyes and by Ahmed’s unsmiling face.

This is what war does. It splits families. It crushes dreams. It makes warriors of mothers and children.

 

PS: If you know of a job she can apply for please contact me.