At the school play
I found myself at one this year - at my niece K's school
You know it's true that as the year winds down you will find yourself at some school play or the other, listening to younglings sing Silent Night not very tunefully. I found myself at one this year - at my niece K's school. Everyone who met me remarked, impressed, "you are a very involved aunt. K talks about you all the time." I give myself a silent high five for managing the maasi optics well.
K had two roles in the Nativity play - Lamb and Angel. My sister had made the costume so enthusiastically that she had put cotton wool on the tummy part also which made K look extremely cuddlesome, if zoologically inaccurate. As if to counteract this, K proceeded to look extremely solemn, whether baa-ing in the manger or singing the glory of baby Jesus.
In all school plays, whether in movies or real life, children will deliberately underact, rub their eyes and look sheepishly (yes I made the pun, bite me) at their parents in the audience. I tried to make excitable expressions to prompt K to overact, but she ignored me, solemnly. Being a productivity-driven creature, I turned to my brother-in-law at some point and asked, "Will this school always celebrate participation or will excellence make an appearance some day?" He gave me a discouraging look, as if I had suggested torturing kittens for sport. He's right. There will be time enough for productivity and excellence later. The excellence of a school play is in its rag-tag quality, where we are all brought together by and for only one thing - the love of children, to celebrate their presence in the world.
I met some friends in their school parent avatars, and discussed their kids and ran into children of still other friends. One, who also calls me Maasi, hugged me and asked "you know we're moving countries na?" Though we rarely meet, sadness flooded me and I asked if she'd write to me sometimes? As I gave her my card, she said, "it's ok, I can take your email from the bottom of your column" making me teary that she registered this. Children don't really need unctuous condescension. They claim you for themselves and allow you to be variously present in their lives. With some, you change nappies, some you babysit while mom is at her film's edit, others you give tight hugs. It all counts for both of you.
The last two decades have seen a rise in the concept of 'mommydom'. Recognising motherhood as an identity and an activity is very important - especially in a culture which imbues it with naturalness and gives it divine status while ignoring the labour, the needs, the professional aspirations of mothers. However, so much of the mommyhood discussion ends up inadvertently reinforcing this specialisation, this atomised identity. For instance, a young woman suggested to me the other day that my organisation might want to partner on a project about mothers, "because there must be some mothers in your team."
There aren't. But it would be a lonely world - for children and parents - if the only ones who need to think about children were their parents and if the only children we thought about were our own. You can never have too many people to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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