I am late – again. I stand in the hallway and call out to Arvind.
“Get a move on, will you? I really can’t be late today. You wouldn’t want me to lose my job, would you?”
Arvind pokes his head around the door.
” You could lose your job?”
Sigh. “Technically, yes. If I’m always late.”
He starts to put on his boots and appears thoughtful.
“Is that the worst thing that could happen – in the whole world?” he asks in all seriousness.
I help him don his jacket and give him a big hug.
“No. The worst thing that could happen is something happening to you or Armaan or Pappa. And our family not being complete.”
I nod mutely because I don’t even trust myself to say the words.
“How would it be the worst thing?” Looks like we’re going to be late.
” Well, I would be very sad for the longest time and feel very hollow missing you and all the ways you make me happy.”
“Yes, like a hole in me. In the shape of you.”
He is thoughtful again.
“Wow. If you had holes in you in the size of me and Armaan, then there wouldn’t be much of you left. Only ankles. And elbows and fingers. All your vital organs (good grief! Where does he hear this stuff? ER?) would be gone. And then you would be dead too.“
My rational, literal and unsentimental son. You’re so good for your maudlin mother.
Conversation in the backseat of our car on the way home from Kindergarten
J (A’s girl friend): Can I come and visit you tommorow, Arvind?
Arvind: Mum, can she?
Mum: Sorry J, but its cleaning day tommorow, so its a bad day. Maybe Friday?
A: (just in case J was suffering was abrupt deafness) Yes, its cleaning day tommorow, so its a bad day. Two girls come and clean our house.
J: Wow. Are they your slaves?
A: No, they’re not slaves. They’re just girls. And they’re white.
??????Is this conversation actually happening????? Have we not fed these kids enough Obama? Socialism? Equality of opportunity?
Did I, his somnabulant mother, miss his summer internship with a right wing extremist group?
Its hard to respond to these statements without knowing the correct context and source of the information. American history in the classroom? Damn Shal, you’re going to have to start to reading the weekly newsletters from the class teacher. Nickelodeon? Nah. Not with Dora skipping about in bilingual bliss.
The most obvious explanation is that the only place he does see servants and househelp is in India. And they are not white. And no matter how well you treat them, they are not equals. You don’t have to be ten to figure that out. It is no more than a statement of fact in his straightforward mind. (Sigh) Its funny how our future – these kids – make sense of the world around them. Funny how guilty I feel about that particular legacy.
I envy them at the same time. I envy them the diversity they are growing up with. Most of Arvind’s friends are bi-racial like him. They see race, skin colour and racial difference through different eyes. Their differences are such a given for them, neither a source of pride nor shame. Its just how they are. Growing up in a very racially charged Britain in the ’80’s as one of the three Asian girls in our school, I could have probably done with some of that balance and levity.
Arvind in conversation with a neighbour and friend, L.
A: One of these weekends we are going to visit my Dad’s aunt.
L: Dude, why would you want to visit you Dad’s aunt?
A: She had a little cancer. But now its more and growing and all the bad stuff is as big as a football in her. She’s going to die.”
L: Dude.. (speechless)
A: Yeah. When people die you bury them under the earth, like they did with Oldemor. But you can burn (cremate!!) them too.
L: Thats gross. Like chicken?
A: Yeah, a little, but it’s not like you can feel once you’re dead. So it’s cool.
My dear sweet son. I wish you would be content with the fairytale version. The one with souls, angels, clouds and singing. It would make my life so much simpler. I wish you were less curious, less exacting in your curiousity, more willing to accept fiction rather than cold, hard facts. But fact is what you demand. What the wheels in your mind demand as they continue to piece the jigsaw. I can’t find it in me to deny you your right to know because once upon a time I was you.
The unsqueamish child who was never afraid to face the morbid stuff ; who never accepted whitewashing what she knew to be dark.