Yesterday, I was in a very vile mood. I kept snapping at people for no grounded reason. I snapped at J’s watchman when he asked me if I had used the pool (it irked me because I had meant to but had forgotten to bring my swimsuit); I snapped at a rickshaw-guy because he was dozing in the passenger’s seat (this really was unnecessary because I was walking home and had no intention of taking an auto.) I snapped at my boyfriend for being what most humans are at 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night – sleepy. I snapped and I snapped.
Then I made myself some tea and thought about why I behaved so cantankerously – that is, not counting the distinct element of fun in being dour.
I traced back the stream of rancid thinking to a small episode with C, J’s daughter.
C is three years old and is usually happy to be around me. That could be because of my natural gift of being around children, or it could be because I take genuine interest in her toys. I do not know how half of them operate and have spent many rewarding moments in C’s tutelage learning. In fact, I have exhibited such joy in C’s playroom that I think she got suspicious the last time I suggested we go and play house-house.
She frisked me before I left the toy area.
“Don’t switch off the light yet,” she announced while patting down my jeans. And I swear I don’t know how that red, plastic spoon got inside my back pocket. I was lucky enough to be given the benefit of doubt though. Would have been a sticky situation otherwise.
Back to episode with C.
Z and I had stayed back with J on Saturday night and woken up fairly late on Sunday morning. A week’s fatigue had caught up with the three of us and we lolled about indefinitely. Then the beds got too cold, so J spread a rug in her balcony where we huddled in the clear, winter sunlight watching the hills and a noisy train snaking through the trees. There was such languor in the air that Z and J nodded off to sleep. I, who was fantastically energized after dreaming of Tiramisu cappuccino, settled down with Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’.
I had reached a part that was very disturbing. Mehta had written about an incident that had occurred during the Mumbai riots. A handicapped girl was raped by a gang of rioters while her family was set ablaze.
I think my face had registered some look of horror and disgust because C came up to me and asked, “What happened?”
I shook my head. I mean, a handicapped girl – gang raped – before a burning family. And here was a child asking me what happened.
“Show me the book”, she said, reaching for the book.
“No!”, I said sharply, and put it away.
I have never ever been curt with a child before. I usually give in if the kid doesn’t listen, but I had this irrational reaction of not wanting C to see that page.
She can barely read full sentences now but at that moment, I thought that she’d be able to read that piece and understand. She’d see that incident illustrated with the monstrous picture I had in my mind’s eye – of a helpless girl screaming, filthy men standing around to take their turn, and her family being burned to death. She’d think what I thought – what her mother must have felt at seeing her daughter thrown on the floor while she herself felt the flames sear her flesh.
Irrationally, I thought that C would feel all this if I gave her the book. So I pulled it away from her hands.
She sulked a bit and went back to watching some ugly penguin on Pogo.
Perhaps this is what drove me yesterday to behave so meanly; that my adult mind could be so foolishly impressionable that I denied a book to a child and drove her to T.V.
I think I’ll gift ‘Maximum City’ to C when she grows up – and hope that she understands where I came from; that is, if she remembers. And in all likelihood she won’t. In that case, I hope she simply turns that page.