I recall being mesmerised yet disturbedby an iconic scene in the annals of Hindi cinema. The film: Deewar. The scene: “Merabaapchorhai” being tattooed like a brand on a young boy. Such is the power of the medium that the scene still pops up in my mind ever so often.
Far more so in motherhood than in childhood, when I am acutely conscious that my behaviour and decisions are not about just ‘I’ and ‘me’.
Eminent Tamil text Thirukkural includes among its aphorisms a description of the duty of children as making people exclaim what prayers the parents had done to beget them. This needs the complementary duty of parents to bring children up so that they “sit in the front row of any assembly of the wise.” These are parenting ideals for nurturing both skills and ethics. So, it is up to us parents to provide the intangibles and second nature for children to imbibe and emulate over time.
Recently, I was asked my opinion on civic sense. The discussion went on to cover habits, courtesies, and respect for laws and rights, but at the end of it all what came up was the fountainhead of life skills and ethics is the home. What slipped to the forefront of my mind was that same iconic scene and the interconnected thoughts of right, wrong, emulation, and the mere act of ‘branding’ a child may have to grow up with.
What goes within?
Whenever it has come to a choice, after various considerations the clinching consideration for me has been “Will I be able to look at myself in the mirror and not lower my eyes?” You can mute the world through hubris, enticement and threat, but there is that little voice within yourself that will not keep quiet, in praise or criticism. And if you ignore that voice, you have branded your child with that disastrous tattoo albeit metaphorically.
Being able to live with yourself and in your own company without having your demons haunt you is paramount.
However, one cannot deny that we are social creatures. If parents need to be proud of their children, children too need to be proud of their parents – or at least not cringe in shame (parents may be embarrassing, especially to adolescents, but certainly not disgraceful!)
It was Max Ehrmann who said, “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons,” in his poem Desiderata for an ideal conduct in a world that is full of both sham and beauty. It is that elusive balance between what you want and are and a connection with the world that makes all the difference.
A parent respected by those around for all the right reasons will have a happy impact on the child’s life and character whereas a parent known to be without integrity may as well as tattoo the inscription on the child’s arm himself or herself. The yesteryear movie may have had ‘baap’ as the ‘chor’ but in today’s world it could be as easily be ‘maa’. Of course, the world being what it is, there may be the injustice of a set-up, and that is tragic and despicable, but setting that extreme aside for the moment, there is much an average parent can do or not do to make or mar a child’s personality and life.
Inked for life!
My heart exults for the newly-born babe born to parents who can live with themselves and have found the equilibrium between personal integrity and social dignity. This is the true silver spoon in the baby’s mouth. My heart grieves for the newly-born baby who, for no fault of his or her own, is born with a crippling disability – a lifelong curse cast by parents who have turned their backs on this equilibrium. Whether it is the private inability to look themselves in the mirror or a public awareness of and pronouncement on their crooked dealings, this child will have the “Mera baap chor hai” (or the ‘maa’) branded along the arm from birth.
The ‘tattoo’ will be the proverbial millstone round his or her neck. It will be an impediment to social and emotional learning, something even educationists aim to weave into curriculums to teach the management of emotions, responsible decision-making and setting of aims, and empathy – to keep that little voice within intact. To a non-expert like me, words like ‘sociopath’ step in where such learning is absent. The good news is that it seems possible that such traits can be acquired through life’s experiences. However, it will be the less common superhuman effort that will push that unfortunate child above the handicap of birth. One can only hope this superhuman effort prevails or the human race loses souls for succeeding generations. Imagine a doubly distressing scene: a young innocent child enters this world with not only “Mera baap chor hai” but also “Mera daada chor hai” emblazoned like the lines of destiny across the forehead.