Friday, November 29, 2013

Thwarted Dreams

A long time fan of Doris Lessing, I loved reading this Paris Review interview with her. This excerpt was particularly personal for me :

My mother was a woman who was very frustrated. She had a great deal of ability, and all this energy went into me and my brother. She was always wanting us to be something. For a long time she wanted me to be a musician, because she had been a rather good musician. I didn’t have much talent for it. But everybody had to have music lessons then. She was always pushing us. And, of course, in one way it was very good, because children need to be pushed. But she would then take possession of whatever it was. So you had to protect yourself. But I think probably every child has to find out the way to possess their own productions.
I was raised by a frustrated mother in many ways I am one too. Motherhood is deeply fulfilling - the joy of creating life is a powerful force. However, it does fade in time to be replaced by the need for seeing thwarted dreams come to fruition. A proxy for giving birth perhaps. Sadly for the child, they become the conduit for this rather negative energy - to that end the pushing and prodding often in directions contrary to their passions and natural abilities. 

The awareness of this flaw in me has helped me stop to consider if I am pursuing my own agenda or I truly have my child's best interests at heart. I still push J - much harder than she would like sometimes, but I force myself to let go so she can breathe. I am still learning to fully disconnect my dreams from hers - often they are a dense tangle that cannot be easily teased apart. Maybe in that space she will find a way to protect herself and learn how to possess her own productions.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Glass House

Met my friend S for lunch today after several months. She is one of my trusted advisors on what works (or not) when parenting tweens. J finds her hip, cool and pretty - the winning combination. It helps that S has a number of interesting hobbies and a beautiful singing voice. I was telling her about how J has often asked me if it was okay to share something fairly personal with her best friend - I have said yes but that conversation never ended up happening. J decided against it fearing she may be considered weird for having a problem that needed sharing - no one else does that. She does not want to be the minority of one. 

S's perspective on the issue helped clarify things for me. According to her, this is the Facebook generation - they are used to living in the public eye, their lives airbrushed to perfection. Everyone is exuberant all the time, winning at everything and incredibly happy. That is the artificial standard that people are using to calibrate themselves. In that context, it is hard to be authentic, have a problem, have anything less than perfect life - ofcourse J will balk at the idea of sharing even if she wants to. The friends she fears to talk about what's bothering her have the exact same fears. They are all living in glasshouses on their personal islands - incessant chatter in cyberspace but no real communication.

S is ten years younger than me, but we know a lot about each others' lives - specially of the parts that are deeply flawed. She lives in the glasshouse  like her peers. The inflated standards she mentions apply to her as well. It seems like she can let go of that with me. We can talk about things that really matter to us - hopes, dreams and fears. Meeting for a couple of hours is an authentic experience - she can always go back to the glass house and project perfection as the rules of engagement require her to do.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Catching Up

An unexpected chunk of free time I came into recently, will end this month. The weather has been pleasant allowing for long walks in the morning - a rare indulgence for me. To fight off what was turning into an afternoon nap habit, I thought to catch up on movies from home instead. First on my list was Midnight's Children and then some Bengali movies - Antaheen, Mach Mishti & More and Goynar Baksho. I am several years behind at this time and picked three that received positive reviews.

Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children was a perfect treat. In the movie, the book had come to life bringing back memories of the time I had read it over twenty five years ago. Back then it had been a hard book to read but interesting enough for me to persevere. An intricate web of stories with complex references to Indian politics, society and history - it was certainly no bed time reading. The movie is able to keep the essence and spirit of the novel (not surprising being that Rushdie wrote the screenplay) but make it very easy to enjoy.

On the Bangla front, I found it hard to like the portrayals of modern day Kolkata and Bengalis which all but the last movie are. The music is consistently painful lyrically and tonally. Blank verse set to discordant tunes does not bear any resemblance to music from my home state that I can associate with - and I grew up with a lot of Bengali music. The characters speaking a strange mix of English, Bangla and Hindi, generally struggle to find their way in the world. Their sense of self is either defined externally or non-existent.

In Goynar Baksho, the ghost of Rashmoni the matriarch of a zamindar family who was widowed at twelve is a robust character. The supporting cast are real people too - they have flaws, foibles and passions. No one is confused about who they are and what they are meant to do with their life. Based on the movies, it would appear that in a span of about seventy five years we as a people went from three to two dimensional, gave up our Bengali identity for a confused state that is struggling to be pan Indian and global.

Back in my own home, there is J - largely incurious about India or Bengal. The stories of my childhood mean nothing to her - the humor in them is frequently lost in translation. She is surrounded by kids whose parents have made a concerted effort to introduce India and their regional culture to them. J would rather blend in the larger population than be one of them. By when she is an adult all that would be Bengali about her maybe a few of her favorite recipes - I hope some of the music will stay with her. India will remain in her name and physical appearance. She would be just as far away from Bangla as Kolkata locals though for entirely different reasons.