I really don’t if it is just us (me and my brother) or this applies to all children, but growing up, even before we were sure of what we wanted to be, there was one thing we were very sure of – what we didn’t want to be. My brother at age 7 kept a notebook of all the lunch-box foods he would make sure his kids do not get. I had some radical ideas about how to make kids study and ‘learn’. Between him and me we had a very comprehensive list of things that could make a difference in the world.
Now don’t get me wrong. My father towards the tail end of his army career started commanding these National Cadet Corps regiments (nothing but platforms for grooming future army men/women). Every time he would get posted out, girls and boys of our age would bid him teary eyed, heartfelt adieus. For us, these episodes were so hard to comprehend that my brother couldn’t help himself once and quipped, “they are CRYING for him!!” We turned 18, we passed college, we got jobs, got married, had kids but the man has not changed. He will cringe at that one stray hair, that spec on our shirt, something on the floor we overlooked and did not pick, that last crinkle on the bed, the sole of the shoe we didn’t polish, that 1 micro millimetre of grown fingernail (yes as a girl too). I will give it to my old man though that he never hit us, although I suspect it was only because of fear of killing us.
My mother on the other hand, did use her hand (and other household equipment) very freely early on and can’t remember when she stopped doing it. It was probably when she saw we were famous in the cantonments for having a fierce mom. Again, if you saw her tiny and fragile frame you would think she could not harm a fly; but those bones hurt! But when she stopped hitting she bombarded us with her reminders, lists, to dos, quirks that never end. Quirks mostly. For example, we could go without food and water in her house but not the birds and squirrels and her endless variety of plants (she even talks to them). Her dad used to call her ‘Baby’ and that’s exactly what we call her now.
Now it has been a while since we’ve been at home. These days, by the end of our long vacations both parties have had enough of each other and we head homewards to keep the love intact.
The other day I skyped by brother and asked what’s new with him. He showed me his little balcony garden full of flowers and crotons. He showed his ‘Krishnakamal’ blooming at midnight with a childlike excitement that I have only seen once before! Meanwhile he tells me how sad he is about leaving his plants behind since he is moving to another city soon. I could not sleep that night! Life pulls these wicked ones on you.
Anyway now that my comrade has buckled in and I can’t bring him back living a million miles away, I get on with my life. My friend's two year old is coming home for a playdate and I am so looking forward to it. Her parents drop her and soon the house is about to come apart. I notice my son’s nails, bring the nail clipper and get rid of the new moons. My eyes now fall on these bear claws! The two year old recognizes the look in my eyes and tears are turned on immediately (her folks have told me how she HATES getting her nails cut). I distract myself and watch TV with the kids, but somehow my eyes keep twitching. I pick up the nail clipper and put it back in the drawer.
On that fateful evening, I grabbed my friend's two year old, wrapped my arms around her snug and tight and declawed her amidst a lot of drama. She howled for the first two and then caved in because she realized there was no escaping. Her dear old auntie had turned into someone else!