Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Feathers and Festerings

Ayaan's latest fun thing to do in the park is to collect all the flowers that have fallen on the ground. Sometimes he also includes the odd feather or nut that comes his way.

As his lordship's slave, I am usually allotted the task of carefully holding them while he continues his treasure hunt. Carefully being the operative word because a crushed petal can lead to a major meltdown. Sometimes, he will command me to put a flower behind each ear, survey the effect critically and then announce 'Pretty hain' This one will grow up to be a ladykiller, I tell you.

And when the mood strikes him, he spends ages arranging his loot till he feels he has achieved the aesthetic effect he is striving for. This is his work of art from a lazy Saturday morning at the park:

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While on the park and flowers subject, I got into a bit of a scrap with the park guard a couple of weeks ago. He objected to Ayaan picking up the flowers that had fallen on the ground and playing with them. When asked why, he said it was against the rules. I marched him over to the big board with the long list of rules and pointed out that the rules only prohibited plucking of flowers - there was nothing in there about picking up flowers that fallen off on their own. He then came up with some random theory about how other kids would see Ayaan picking flowers off the ground and then go about plucking flowers. At which point, I told him that Ayaan knew better than to pluck flowers and I didn't really see how what others kids did was any of my beeswax. He glowered at me for a bit and then shrugged and walked off. So we continue our flower collection drive whenever we are there much to his obvious irritation.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. He is pretty much the self-appointed dictator of the park. He has got himself a really shrill whistle that he blasts every time he witnesses any so-called transgression. And there is an endless set of rules, both official and unofficial, that he takes upon himself to enforce. Like the pissing off (though unfortunately official) rule about not stepping on the grass - WTF - it's not some goddamn botanical garden! But also silly ones about not a single grain of sand from the sandpit being allowed onto the nearby path - that's certain to get the whistle blowing! In addition to the whistle, he can also be pretty rude and abrasive about enforcing these rules. Overall, one gets the sense that he is enjoying making life difficult for people who have it better in life than he does...

I guess it might be simpler to find another park but Ayaan loves it there. And a couple of his friends from his class at school come there too. It's also hidden away off the main roads and as a result it's not over-crowded like bigger parks like Jogger's Park where there are long, snaking lines just to get on to the slides and swings.

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The guard's behaviour is not a one-off either. Like Sue says, there is a smouldering resentment amongst those less fortunate amongst us. I see it all the time. The building watchman at a friend's place who watched me spent 5 minutes reversing the car into an empty space and getting Ayaan out of his car seat before telling me that it was reserved and that I couldn't park there. The guy selling tissue boxes at the traffic signal who walked off after aiming a hard kick on my bumper when I refused to buy his wares. The auto rickshaw driver who heaped the choicest abuses on me because I was rich enough to have taken a flight but refused to pay triple the regular fare to get home from the airport. The rude salesperson at a department store who just shrugged unhelpfully when I asked him where to find something. Parul's recent experience with the painters at her house...

On one hand, this barely concealed animosity is frightening. It almost feels like there is rage there that is just waiting to find an outlet. And I don’t really want to think about what the manifestations of that could be. I have seen it happen in small ways – like the tissue box guy I mentioned earlier or the young teenage boys who walk around dragging sharp objects across car doors, leaving unsightly scratches… passive aggressive ways to release their frustrations. But what if they became less passive and more aggressive...

On the other hand, it makes me feel guilty about the privileged life I lead. And also resentful about being made to feel defensive about my status as a confirmed member of the upper middle class. Sure, I was born with a silver spoon, comparatively speaking and have had advantages and opportunities that most Indians would not even dream about. But converting those opportunities into success is not something to be taken for granted and is a result of effort and investment, both mine and my family's. And my lifestyle is supported by hard-earned money. So I don't see why I should be expected to slink around and hide my privilege. If I can afford branded clothes and the latest gadgets, why should I be judged or hated for buying them. Sure, some of them cost enough to a feed a family of four for a month. But there is money that I give to various charities that will do just that. But I don't want to give away all my money. I'd like to enjoy the rest of the fruits of my labour rather than live a life of austerity. It will never be entirely guilt-free because I know the value of that money to someone less fortunate than me. But I'd rather not be made to feel that I am a bad person for doing so…

This post started somewhere and has meandered to some place altogether different. And I think I have started rambling. Time to call it quits, I think.

33 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:51 am

    Rohini-

    I've seen this a lot on my annual trips home. I've witnessed rudeness of weird levels.. I asked a sales girl for a lotion at the L'Oreal cosmetic counter in a Shoppers Stop or something and she goes "Bahut mehenga hai" without moving an f'ing muscle. She probably was looking for a reaction coz she giggled to her equally obnoxious co-worker, but I just walked away saying theek hai to the Clarins counter. I'm a wuss like that.

    Then we had a nanny who lived with us. She would say stuff to me just to try to guage how much I made or spent or god knows what. I have a bracelet that I love and wear a lot. My daughter loves playing with it everytime she sees it on my hand.. this woman wanted to know why I wore the same one everyday.. did I not have more than one?! I'm like are you serious.. but her logic was prob you can have 2 cars, 2 laptops, 2 TVs, 2 cell phones, but 1 bloody bracelet.. I don't know. Needless to say she no longer works for us.

    - S

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  2. Can i see an artist in the making..he has arranged his booty so well :))tell me about the meltdowns..just when we were thanking our stars about saying goodbye to the terrible twos..sigh..
    Agree with you on the general attitude people carry..it's almost like what happens in their life is our fault..i am just so tired of facing it all the time that i started plain ignoring it, but it just gets to you after a point of time..

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  3. It is either the clothes that u wear, the gadgets and cars that you have or of course recently, I personally experienced discrimination due to my education. I only have a f**king MS and whoever stopped someone from studying? This is just scary and irrational.

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  4. ro, he's definitely artistic! he's done such a good job of putting them together to look pretty.
    please don't get me started on this. it's why i didn't comment at sue's either.

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  5. Ayaan looks just too cute in those Crocs! I remember when I was a little older than him I loved picking up those same flowers - there's so many of them, they're everywhere and pretty and white and absolutely irresistible, na? Funny how I don't even notice them any more these days.

    As for the resentment building... well, gotta live with it. People sense that riches aren't beyond their reach as people get richer and richer, and they'll do anything to grab the happiness that they think comes from riches. Kinda weird.. like the cook putting in extra amounts of oil and spices because she thinks that's the key to making food taste good. Maybe I sound calm in this comment, but I sure hate what's going on!

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  6. cute.. that guard sounds nasty

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  7. Ro , give him a small uruli ( that wide mouthed terracotta thingy ) with water to arrange his flower in. And show us the pics !! he's a stickler for perfection and arty too .

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  8. Very pretty.

    Yes, the world is becoming increasingly resentful and intolerant. Its scary

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  9. Grafx8:27 pm

    Sigh. i dont know what to say except... i know that giving is easy when you have enough leftover for yourself... but its the giving when you dont have enough , that really brings satisfaction...

    i honestly find it hard to give.

    But there was a time when we had our fridge stocked with food.. but had just a few dollars left in the bank.. someone needed some money to move in a rush to save a job.. so we gave.. and even though it meant us not going out to eat or watch a movie for 2 weeks until Ed got paid again.. we felt kinda happy about it...

    On my own.. i would have found that hard to do...but with someone else encouraging me to do it.. like Ed....it felt great.

    dont know why im blurting all this out.. but i suddenly felt the need to!!!

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  10. Totally with you. I'd mentioned in someone else's blog the other day... I was yelled at by a random lady on the road for eating icecream when walking. Yes, it was a hot day - but all you need to do is go get an icecream for yourself. Why shout at ME? I was too shocked to react!
    Good for you for giving it back to the guard. He sounds like something is stuck up his @$$

    Do kids like symmetry? I can't believe how neatly Aayan has arranged the flowers!

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  11. I love the picture of Ayaan you have taken from the top. Its awesome!

    Agree with Minka's suggestion...give him an uruli. He's sure to come up with some eye catching creations.

    Was thinking and feeling sad on the guard issue and that of all the others too. Its quite sad. And its hard to blame them abtg not being more objective about thier own situation in life.

    Abt the guard...is there any way to approach that situation with a little bit of love? I was thinking...that if maybe you and Ayaan softened him up a bit...he might stop being less harsh towards everyone in general.

    Maybe, Ayaan could make him a little card or something...or use those very flower he picked, dry them and stick them on a card and give it to the park guard who is so regimented about doing his duty, so to speak(?). And maybe you could tell him what a good job he is doing upholding the rules...

    I know it sounds crazy, but just a suggestion...since you guys like going there often, and most everyone responds to genuine niceness and kindness and a little more personal touch.

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  12. lovely work by ayaan

    i went thru your post and sues and parul's too- ouch it angers more than it hurts- but how much can one insulate oneself anyway

    and wow tharini is truly munnabhai types- inspiring - rohini u shld give her tips a try

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  13. Loved the photos of both Ayaan and the art! Lovely.
    This strange behaviour of less privileged beings has been around for ages- we'd have the administrative clerks in our otherwise wonderful college being as unhelpful as possible. Frutration and jealousy rear their ugly heads all the time. And with more visible disparities today, the incidents reach frightening dimensions.

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  14. I think the animosity is not new.. I grew up seeing it. You definately should not be guilty for living a priviledged life. You like gadgets, you can afford them, you should buy them. By buying those gadgets you ARE helping a worker to eat his/her dinner and send his/her kids to school. What is the question here is the value of a rupee. Just because you have more doesn't make it any less valuable (which is what the tissue seller and ricksahwallah think)

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  15. Ro, it IS scary, isn't it? I try to reach out, and mostly, in a new neighbourhood, I feel better once I know the shopkeepers and rickshaw-wallas, but when I'm out on the main roads on my own... And then, there are the random, kind strangers from all walks of life too. Helped me out in so many ways.

    Maybe Tara's right. If you do try something with the security guard let me know how it goes.

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  16. I like the arrangement... very pretty. No need to feel guilty about your life. Ask whoever's nasty to you if they pay income tax. Now if the income tax is not being used appropriately then these people need to vote for somebody who will spend it appropriately.

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  17. Ayaan is really creative. His sense of placement is quite unique and attractive. Way to go kiddo!

    Bombay sucks that way. If you want to come to Mahim side, there is a lovely park bang opp Bombay Scottish that you may want to try out. Alternatively, this Diwali, try bribing the watchman with sweets and a Rs.100 note. And hey, don't fret over the "inequality of income" piece. There can never be a perfect balance... and you live but once, so feel free to lead a lifestyle that is above law and pleasing to you. As for the kid kicking the bumper, we got a scratch at the first signal on our way from the showroom with our brand new Verna because I refused to buy 'Mumbai Mirror'. Mushkil hai jeena yahan, but its still mumbai meri jaan :)

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  18. Btw, did you get your full time maid through an agency? Can you give me the number if so. I am desperately looking out for a 12 hour or 24 hour maid to help me out.

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  19. super cute :)

    those treasure hunts! the other day as i was sorting one more of the boxes (which seem to never end, phew) i came across a sprig of dried leaves from n3's jeans which she wore when she was 4! (still have some of her nicer clothes that she grew out of).

    just today we were eating at this hip restaurant and i looked out of the window to see a woman running in the traffic trying to sell something to the cars that had stopped. told myself it wasn't my fault but somehow the mousse didn't taste that great after that.

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  20. Ro - lovely art work by Ayaan!
    Wow! He has arranged it so nicely!

    And that bit about the guard at the park was too funny - could sense how annnnoyed you were with him and how much of a park nazi he is! :) Hope he annoys you one more time so it will make for one more funny post about it! :) I mean before you give the card that Ayaan makes and he comes a pal! :) Frankly I am so cynical about some things - I saw this and felt like - he would probably just look at you and say "Hahn?". But Tara has a lot more faith in humanity - so I really do hope the guard does react well and changes if you do attempt to change his bullying ways!

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  21. Anonymous8:09 pm

    To those who can't/won't understand the resentment of the not-so-well-off in the India of today, pick up a copy of "The White Tiger" By Aravind Adiga.

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  22. Anonymous3:00 am

    Rohini, while I think that you needn't feel guilty about where you are in life, I think I can understand a little bit of the resentment of the poor toward the rich (and for the poor, all of us upper middle class are hugely rich). In fact I was telling some friends of mine that its remarkable that there is such little resentment among the poor in India given the glaring inequalities that often exist side by side, especially in cities, and the fact that they often directly work for us and can see that wealth up front. In many other countries, including the US and Brazil, its not even safe to venture out into very poor neighbourhoods, something that is still OK in India.

    What can we do about it? Very little I think. Obviously, we have to expect that people do their jobs well whatever their situation and we shouldn't expect less from them because they are poor, neither should we be getting fleeced because we are rich. On the other hand, in the absence of clear income re-distribution and increasing inequalities, this isa problem that is only going to get much much worse.

    And yes, I second the recommendation on 'the White tiger".

    n!

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  23. Anonymous3:00 am

    Rohini, while I think that you needn't feel guilty about where you are in life, I think I can understand a little bit of the resentment of the poor toward the rich (and for the poor, all of us upper middle class are hugely rich). In fact I was telling some friends of mine that its remarkable that there is such little resentment among the poor in India given the glaring inequalities that often exist side by side, especially in cities, and the fact that they often directly work for us and can see that wealth up front. In many other countries, including the US and Brazil, its not even safe to venture out into very poor neighbourhoods, something that is still OK in India.

    What can we do about it? Very little I think. Obviously, we have to expect that people do their jobs well whatever their situation and we shouldn't expect less from them because they are poor, neither should we be getting fleeced because we are rich. On the other hand, in the absence of clear income re-distribution and increasing inequalities, this isa problem that is only going to get much much worse.

    And yes, I second the recommendation on 'the White tiger".

    n!

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  24. Ro,he's a right Picasso in the making.
    Seriously though this attitude is everywhere, the aggressive beggars at the signals, the sales staff in shops who refuse to be helpful like they resent you being able to buy the stuff, the waiters at restaurants. Ive had shop staff tell me that X thing is too expensive for you. I blogged about it a while back I think. It is scary. And it is something I have gotten used to.. the autodrivers drop me into the building and refuse to give back change saying itna bada building mein rehte ho aur ek rupiya ke liye rote ho...where does it stop.

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  25. loved ayaan's creation! he is really creative.

    yes the wole resentment bit is indeed scary. and its unfair that we should feel guilty about our place in life all the time.

    if all of us decide to slum it and travel by buses and trains where will the auto guy earn from?! how can they not realise that?

    plus the fact that we dont do hard labour does not mean we dont work hard. but how does one make them understand?

    i actually like Tharini's idea. a lot of times, more than the money, people resent the lack of respect which they feel is direct fallout of lack of money.

    M is very sensitive about such things. if anyone helps him out he makes usre he shakes hand and says thank you. we even make Cubby just say heylo to the liftman and his smile lights up the liftmans face too.

    didnt cost any money, but it gmade him l'il more dignified...

    cheers!

    abha

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  26. Ayaan's arrangement is lovely.
    About the resentment, yes it is so scary. That kind of thing wasn't so much there before, because folks genuinely believed one's present life was one's karma. But all that seems to be changing, some to the good and some to the bad unfortunately.

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  27. I say :
    Those mentioned in your post require A No or An ignorance with a Smile may be.

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  28. [S/ Shobana] Yeah, this kind of reverse snobbery is a whole other blog post!

    [Anu] Tell me about it. Terrible twos is one of the world’s worst misnomers. We started on them before the brat turned one and are still going strong at well over three years

    [Mona/ Phoenixritu/ Art/ Dipali] Pretty na? *preening as if she had done it herself* ;-)

    [Suki] The Crocs are only cute till they become the only footwear that is permitted on the brat’s feet by his majesty

    [Itchy] He is!

    [Minka] I just googled uruli. Great idea!

    [MM] Thanks :-)

    [Grafx] It’s pretty great that you guys did that. I think I would be able to do that for people I cared about, not so sure if it were distant strangers

    [SS] Even I was surprised at the symmetry. The child has clearly inherited some of my control-freak genes ;-)

    [Tharini] I can so see you being able to do something like that. I am not sure I can. This guy is really mean. Ayaan has often spontaneously given him some of the flowers he has collected and he didn’t even say thanks and just threw them in the dustbin...

    [Dottie] Exactly. Incidentally that is also what I tell the husband when he complains against an excess bout of retail therapy ;-)

    [Sue] Yup, there are stories on both sides, aren’t they? The random kindness of strangers on the road being a case in point

    [Ranjit] Don’t even get me started on the tax I pay and the abysmally poor use that is made of it

    [Cuckoo] Mahim is too far for us. Plus, Ayaan is now at an age when he wants his familiar gang of friends to play with and gets bored pretty soon if it’s just us. As for the maid, I don’t trust agencies. They do not provide references and I refuse to let unknown people into my house. Ask your friends to ask their maids if they have relatives willing to work. Or keep an eye out for friends and colleagues who are getting transferred out of the city – their tried and trusted maids might be available. That’s how I got my nanny

    [Choxbox] These unplanned trips down memory lane are something else, aren’t they? :-)

    [Noon] Join the club. Of cynics that is...

    [Anon/ n!] Oh I understand that reason for resentment. It is the rude/ aggressive/ bordering on violent manifestations of this resentment that frighten and worry me. Thanks for the book reco. Will check it out.

    [Kiran/ Hillgrandmom] Yeah. I don’t know whether to feel sad or pissed off or frightened…

    [Mama- Mia] Completely agree. Ayaan is not allowed to call any adult by name. So the watchman is Uncle and the cleaner lady in Aunty. Basic respect is the minimum that we can teach our children

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  29. Rohini - you have been awarded! pls to accept it!! :)

    cheers!

    abha

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  30. ro- any inputs on children's theatre- the mumbai scene that u can add on to my post?

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  31. I had this really awful experience recently when a young boy at a crossing who wanted to clean my car got so miffed at being turned away that he started hitting the car with his fists. He was angry, and violently so! It almost scared me. I didn't know how to react!

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  32. love the picture of the feather and flowers. i think ayaan's got himself a lovely hobby.

    you're so right about the growing resentment of the less privileged towards us middle/upper middle class types. i constantly live with a mixed feeling of it's-my-right-to-spend-my-money and guilt.

    i guess this is some sort of revolution by the masses against corruption and the growing income divide. only, its being directed towards the wrong group of people.

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