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   Prashanto Banerji - Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
Prashanto Banerji
Features Editor - The Sunday Indian
[17 June 2007]

Ready, mate?

Discussing delicate matters like bedroom bonhomie isn’t one of my strengths. You know, reining in vanity while holding up modesty etc. But these days it’s nearly impossible for me to get through a conversation – any conversation – without everyone, and I mean everyone, asking me “Why haven’t you had a kid by now?” From neighbourhood fruit sellers and eunuchs, ‘well-meaning’ family and friends to hitherto delightful students, they’ve all engaged me in seemingly innocuous conversations, and as soon as they sense an unsuspecting mind and a weakened guard, thrust the question in my face. Without a heartbeat of a chance to parry, I’m left feeling the way the great Julius might’ve been feeling when he said ‘Et tu, Brute…!’ Worse, even as I’m struggling with the idea of a dignified response, I can almost read the unsaid remainder of the said question in inquisitive eyes that wonder, ‘or is something wrong?’. Well, I hope to God nothing is, but can’t a happy twosome take its time growing up? Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is, are we, both I and my lovely partner, responsible enough to be able to parent a child – a child who will ,for better or for worse, share, shape and influence the world in some respect?

It is perhaps a better time to be born than ever before. Cities, unless they’re swimming on oil, don’t get ransacked too often. People, irrespective of colour or gender, can enter parks, hotels and the parliament, at least in theory and George Bush Jr. isn’t going to be in office for long either. But good tidings aside, perhaps the world really could become a better place if we demanded more of the two groups that determine our future more than any other – our leaders and their parents; well, not just theirs but every parent and parent-to-be. Electing a government and having a baby are two most vital public decisions, and while one can rectify one’s mistakes every four or five years in case of the former, mistakes in the second case could haunt both parents and society for a lifetime or more.

Feral children, brought up by animals, display disconcertingly wild, animal-like characteristics and behaviour. They prove that higher mammals, more so primates and human beings, are creatures of instruction far more than instinct, and for our innate humanness to surface, we need a humane environment. And yet, murderers, rapists, paedophiles and even the criminally insane are free to rear children. Many such children will follow in their parent’s footsteps for they know no better. Look around you and you’ll see examples of individuals with the patience of a monkey with mange and the intelligence of a pea waddling past, precocious little lives in tow, and one can only live in hope that the kids would grow to be an improvement on their parents. An instance that I can’t wipe from my memory is of a couple and a child I happened to observe at the veritable mecca for Delhi bongs – the Shiv Mandir. A closet idolater, I was waiting at the parking lot for my parents when I heard a child calling for her mother. She was sitting in a car, with her father, waiting for the mother to return. The child, not older than three or four years, apparently preferred her mother to her father for she kept calling out for her. After asking her to pipe down a couple of times, the father, without warning slapped the little girl across her face. Shocked, the poor kid started bawling loudly, only for her to be shouted at again and threatened with a rejoinder. I was almost about to intervene when thankfully, the mother returned. Obviously, formal education, financial resources and the lack of a criminal record aren’t enough to prepare one for parenthood. While counselling students, I’m struck by how some have become nervous, insecure wrecks because their parents would demand the world of them, while their only form of encouragement has been to tell them how their sister, neighbour and everything else alive on Earth and Mars was better than them.

Most dog breeders refuse to sell a puppy to a family that would not have time for it and yet no one asks parents if they would have time for their child. Rootless children, brought up in the company of maids and drivers often end up looking for family amongst strangers and happiness in substance abuse. From obesity and alcoholism to mangled pavement dwellers, the price of alienating children from their moorings could be high. Talking of pavement dwellers, their children make some metro crossings look like open-air crèches. Of those that survive the streets, some will grow to be labourers if lucky, others, drug pushers or worse. Maybe nature and Socrates have a point when they speak of only the alpha’s right to procreate. Even without taking things as far, shouldn’t we remember that a human being is far more potent than any hand gun or car, and if a license is imperative to guard against their misuse, shouldn’t there be any to ensure a child’s, and the world’s future? As for yours truly and matters of the family… soon enough, friends, soon enough… just in case someone takes the above too seriously.

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