A powerful Valedictory Address on decolonizing ourselves.
On Families- Hobbies- Pastimes
I am the the youngest of three BRATS (Born Raised and Transferred) kids from the Defence background who reminds my kids that I spent the first nine years of my life in eight locations across the country — from Jodhpur to Pathankot to Wellington in the Nilgiris in South India. I started my career in the tea and coffee estates where I spent two-and-a-half years walking in the most pretty locations in India — Munnar, Kalakkad-Mundantharai hills in Tirunelveli and finally in Kodagu. This was followed by an eight-year stint in journalism and now for the past 17 years, I work in an MNC, based out of NCR. I am a father of three children, one daughter and two sons.
I like to quote a line from a book by Abraham Eraly (and one which reflects my own life so far), which described Humayun thus — he stumbled out of life as he stumbled through it! To balance out life between work, more so to help my children see the variety and beauty of life, I indulge in endurance sports and activities like marathons, trekking and generally like to travel like a lout, where all one does is to hang about taking in the sights, smells and experiences.
“We like to take perspective holidays”, was a line that caught the interest of a trainer who was conducting a two-day workshop that my employer had arranged for us. At the break, he ambled up to where I was and got chatting. He seemed to like something about that line and was openly curious and interested in the concept. “We like to go to off-the-track places and just plonk ourselves with the local community if they are so inclined,” went my sagely lines. “Tell me about one such plonking,” he urged.
That was when we (Dola and I, just married) had gone to Diu. These were in the pre- budget airline days where one had to take an overnight train to Ahmedabad, stay-put in the retiring room, if one planned, in advance — for the day before taking another overnight train to Veraval on a metre-gauge train. The Diu tourism official man in Delhi, almost fell-off his chair when we booked a room in Diu for what, six nights. “Nahee Sir. Ek din may subh dekh logay, and then you can head to XX, YY and ZZ.”
What dung, I thought. Who on earth wanted to run around on a holiday! And Diu took us in. There were Nivea (that was her name, by the way), Auntie D’Costa, and a whole heap of people who paused for 5–7 minutes before laboring into the second sentence of a three-sentence exchange. The first evening at Diu, we were drawn to a church, where someone with impeccable diction was issuing a sermon. Turned out to be an Archbishop from Mumbai, who had everyone in a spell. We stopped-by the church almost every evening and the day we missed attending, people asked why we didn’t attend mass. Talk about family!
Even the Collector was on cruise mode: he perhaps detected the undertone of envy in our conversations and he revealed that he wanted to start a beach-side resort in Diu and would we Dilli-wasees’ want to manage it for him? Almost always, wisdom comes on hindsight, and how the missed opportunity mocks now. If only…
When the kids came along, I wanted to do something that would possibly impress upon them that life was more than the routines one is in. Martial art, treks, swimming, and yes, endurance running all came up. Just to open their minds to the various venues that life had to offer. Correction — life had to offer many venues. The question was, what does one do with them? What venues and doors do we open for ourselves and through us, for our children. If children see their parents doing the usual stuff, office, market and home with a routine get-together with friends and family where all one does is indulge in pointless gossip and food and drink and the vacation with more food and drink, do we limit their horizons?
I thought so. Hence, I was happy that while readying for a trek the children would wander around absorbing what Papa and his friends were talking about, pouring over maps, bus routes and yes, Lonely Planet and other fascinating books with color photos of unbelievable vistas and people. One felt that the children would be most impressed with the filling of the rucksacks, wherein, went all one needed for 10–14 days or so.
And the medals one got home from a marathon or a half-marathon. Mostly these ended up in the toy bin, often painted in a variety of colors. I didn’t expect them to start running with me, but was secretly happy that they took notice: my best sense is this memory would snuggle into a good place and re-surface in some positive form years later.
Most of us now know that children learn best from observation, and not necessarily from books and teachers, with due respect to them, as many, are wonderful people and I too have nice memories of some teachers. My sense is that if parents do a whole range of things — could be mundane stuff like cooking together, inventing games and activities for the children and silently or subtly nudge their children along, with an overdose of fun, job well started. After all, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down! Which reminds me of a ‘mundane’ activity like watching films children love. Gourika was fascinated by Mary Poppins and I would dutifully watch it each day with her and little Ishaan. Over a period of time, the film opened my eyes. No, the fascination with which Gourika and Ishaan watched the film, opened my eyes and I realized that for tuppence, we adults reduce life to such a bore. Chuck it! We live once, when reports last came in. Have fun, and half the job is done!
That opened a new learning circle for us. We watched all types of animated films together and my childhood ‘skill’ of mimicking as an art came to the fore. I specialized in the Oxford accent, the Italian accent, the south-Indian accent and even the southern American drawl and it felt great to notice Ishaan was impressing his friends with an accent. Small stuff, but that what makes life interesting.
Almost two-decades later, when one could afford a first-overseas for Gourika and Ishaan, I was content to let the children take the final call on what we would do, which day, while in the UK. Unschooled and Mothered, Fathered, Auntied and Uncled by their Mother, they knew their interests, limitations and were wily enough to know when their travel companion (this writer and Papa) would mess-up matters. They listed out what each wanted to see, took in information on travel time from me and more-or-less, decided what the 12-day outing would look like. Uncluttered in the mind, their company again, was a learning for me. They were content with what we could do, what we could see, didn’t waste time crying over spilt milk if the rains curtailed an outing, and they revelled in meeting their Grand-Uncles and Grand-Aunts, often amazing the relatives with their world views.
Let me repeat something that most of us would have come across on occasion: child is the Father of Man (I guess that was written ages ago so let’s say, child is a parent to adults). But for that, the adult needs to learn from the inherent goodness and fearless ways in which children do things. They don’t necessarily bother about consequences and essentially do what their instincts tell them to. I cringe when I see adults bark at children in malls and at the movies and wonder what is wrong with them? Judgmental, I know, but that too happens. I wish they’d let their children do what they wanted to and joined in the frolic and fun. Life would be that much better, one thinks!
Rajat Banerji, 49, is the father of Gourika and Ishaan Banerji. Gourika and Ishaan live and learn without school. Gourika is 15 and Ishaan is 11 and they live in Pune with their mother, Dola Dasgupta. Rajat and Dola co-parent their children, Gourika and Ishaan, in not-so-regular ways, while walking their individual unique paths. Rajat lives in Delhi with his wife Anu and their son, Sanath (three years old).