The other day, I got into one of those exchanges that newly minted parents often get into with other newly minted parents. Exchanges where, under the guise of offering helpful counsel, you bludgeon your interlocutor with the superiority of your own offspring and parenting strategies.
Initially I wasn’t good at these jousts. I’d crawl back home with my self-esteem in tatters, convinced that my son would grow up to be a drug addict who would marry an underprivileged girl from an anti-national family and spend the rest of his nasty and brutish life wallowing beneath the World Bank poverty line. But lately I’ve improved.
Last week, my encounter with K, my neighbour and competing parent, was a no contest. I bumped into him in the building corridor, where he was trailing behind his one-year-old, who was trailing behind a BMW X2 (toy version).
He said to me, “You know, the only thing that worries me is my son’s patriotism.”
“What do you mean?”
“He can stand on his own, as you can see. But every time I expose him to the national anthem, he plonks down on his bottom and refuses to stand up.”
“Don’t delay,” I said. “Take him to a good doctor.”
“We did,” he said. “We took him to Dr. Chandramouli. He is the top paedophile in the city.”
“Paediatrician,” I corrected him.
“Dr. Chandramouli has prescribed him a Patanjali probiotic that accelerates the growth of patriotic feelings.”
“Is it working?”
“It’s only been two days,” K said. “But I’m worried. No play school will admit toddlers who act like anti-nationals.”
I felt sorry for him. I genuinely did. Perhaps he was expecting some sort of reassurance from me. Something like, ‘Don’t panic, he’s still young, there’s enough time for him to mend his ways, etc’.
Instead, I said, “Yes, it will be a terrible tragedy if he fails to get admission in kindergarten. I am lucky, though. Lord Muruga has blessed me with a son who was born patriotic.”
“You mean that London-based economist?”
“That’s Meghnad, not Muruga,” I said. “Never mind.”
“What do you mean your son was born patriotic?”
“You should have seen the expression on the doctor’s face when she pulled the baby out of my wife’s belly.”
“Why, did the baby have two heads?”
“No, his very first cries, when he started breathing, were ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai!’”
“Wow, I am so envious!”
“Well, it helped that my wife made him listen to the national anthem every day for four hours right through her pregnancy.”
“Actually, given another 50 days, my son would have timed his birth to coincide with Independence Day. But Lord Muruga decided that he must start serving the nation ASAP.”
“You must be one proud dad,” K said.
“You bet,” I said. “But the credit is not all mine. Patriotism runs in our family genes. My father is a nationalist. My grandfather fought for India’s freedom.”
“You grandfather was a freedom fighter!”
“He outraged every single day of his life over British rule, and viciously trolled anyone who spoke in support of the British.”
“So sweet! I’m sure he went to jail for this.”
“Not a traditional jail,” I said. “I have heard my father say that his father was like a prison warden. That technically makes his own home a jail, if you see what I mean.”
K’s attention began to wander towards his toddler, who was kicking his BMW around even though it was painted in the tricolour.
“My baby would never do that,” I said, deeply offended.
“I am sorry,” he said. “He hasn’t started speaking or I would have made him apologise.”
I wasn’t impressed.
“Every Indian parent has a responsibility to bring up his child as a patriot,” I said. “I don’t mean to lecture you, but we all know that patriotism begins at home.”
And then, the generous soul that I am, I shared with him some of my best practices of patriotic parenting.
“Thank you so much,” he gushed, crumpling himself into a ball of gratitude. “If it weren’t for you, my son would grow up to be an anti-national”.
“No need to thank me,” I said. “I’m just doing my patriotic duty.”
Í don’t mind sharing my patriotic parenting techniques with readers blessed with sub-optimally patriotic babies. Write to me with your baby’s name, gender, and date of birth, and you shall have it emailed to you for a modest processing fee.
PS: In the larger national interest, I accept only cashless payments.