I have a strange little creature living in my house. It’s about four feet six inches, weighs about thirty-two kilos, and seems to occupy a lot of space. It also talks in a language I cannot understand. The other day, I was lazing in front of the TV, when in it strode, announcing, ‘AGJ’s the name, cricket’s my game! Sa cool, ain’t it, Mawm?’
I do dimly remember giving birth to a male child some ten or so years ago. He was perfect – aren’t all babies to their mothers? He got his first tooth at six months – a feat I boast of even now. He was eating by himself at one. But at two, people around me were shaking their heads at him, and saying, ‘Two? Why isn’t he talking then?’ I put up a brave front, but honestly, I was worried.
After weeks of silence, once in a while, the son would come up with these perfectly pronounced words – even those special male words my husband taught him. We took him to Mussoorie, where my father was working on a dam site. He was spoilt rotten by the all-male hostel team there, who were obviously missing their own little creations back home.
The son would beam happily in their arms, pat their faces fondly with one chubby little hand, and mouth ‘F-f-f-f-f!’ ‘Kitna pyara hai!’ the guys would go glassy-eyed, while my husband went red, blue and green, and my mother and I desperately stuffed hankies in our mouths to stop laughing. But proper talk, oh no!
Just as we were preparing to take him to a speech therapist, the outflow started (frankly, it hasn’t stopped since – maybe those two and a half years were my compensation period), and it was in a perfect, well-balanced mixture of Hindi, English and Malayalam. Fine with me, but the son’s father, whose Malayalam is restricted to Amma and Appa, has held it against me ever since.
And that was not the first of our communication problems. Life was fine till school happened. After that, it was all ‘Mom, hey Mawm!’ Mom? Mom? After I had spent three years teaching him to say Mamma?
Then came cable TV. Hours were spent watching the Ninja Turtles. He’s learning to develop his own choice of programming, I thought proudly. Soon, everything, including his latest class teacher, was ‘Just awesome, man!’ I must stress here that I am not naturally a feminist, but some primitive instinct in me rebels against being labelled ‘man’, when I am obviously ‘woman’ to outward view. But I hadn’t heard anything yet. From Ninja Turtles, we moved on to WWF Wrestling. Snatches from the son’s conversation with his peer group came to my ear one day. ‘Suck it, man!’ I heard one day. I called him inside in my best doomsday voice and read him a stern lecture. Two days later, I told him to put away his shoes and he said, ‘Go suck an egg, Mom.’
Some months later, we took him to Geneva. We were there for ten days and, each day, he insisted on returning home to the hotel by 5 pm, so that he could play football in the neighbouring playground. Not one of those children knew a word of English, and the son, not a natural linguist at all, knew not a word of French. But play they did and, at the end of the trip, even exchanged addresses! Amazing communication that.
Then we took him to England – my little 100 per cent American, bred-only-on-TNT son let loose among the oh-so-propah British. I was not looking forward to that at all. But I had reckoned without his primal imitative genes. Within twenty-four hours, I was transformed from ‘Mom,chalein kya?’ to ‘Mother, shall we go then?’ in the best British accent I heard in London during my two weeks there. When I was not hit by a fit of giggles, I was relieved – at least he was speaking English as she was meant to be spoke. Obviously, it was too good to last. Back home, he was hit once again by the American cousins of his best friend. Everything became ‘Oh man, yeah, sa cool.’
Then recently, they telecast Hyderabad Blues. The next day I was eating my breakfast, not gargantuan by any standards, when the son sidled up to me and let forth: ‘Hey Mawm! That thing looks like it’s got a zillion caaalories. What’s it ganna do to your 80 per centbaady fat?’ Not cool at all, man!
First published in The Financial Express on 4 July 1999.