Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trailing clouds of gory

Ever had somebody’s umbilical cord fall into your lap? This is the sort of thing they don’t tell you about when they’re extolling the joys of becoming a parent or grandparent. Economists have a technical term for this, and that is ‘hidden costs’. Have you ever had a kid tell you that you’re an ugly old woman/man and that you will shortly go blind? That’s what you can expect if you’re planning to have more than one kid. The technical term for that is ‘sibling rivalry’.

There’s a new baby in the family, and she looks like a fuzzy, plump little fruit you could bite into and have delicious pink juice run down your chin, assuming you’d recovered your appetite after the umbilical cord episode. Babies are tiny, beautiful miracles of nature, especially if they belong to other people and you just get to play with them moodily while you’re visiting for a couple of days. As the poet said, “trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home:/Heaven lies about us in our infancy!” His immortal poem goes on to skip over some other things that lie about us in our infancy, like the nuclear explosion of a bowel movement that can follow a baby’s two-week bout of constipation. For the uninitiated, do not assume that you could not possibly find fallout all the way up the back of the baby’s neck, and also possibly your own.

But there’s no doubt that having multiple children is a joy. They’ll be there to comfort you in your old age, to change your adult diapers and wipe up your drool and steer you in the right direction when you’re trying to walk into a wall, or a stranger’s house. You just have to get past the stage where you’ve brought them up, paid for their college education, and successfully kicked them out of your house.

There are, by the way, no guarantees these days that this will be a successful enterprise. As The New York Times recently wrote, at what I consider to be unnecessary length, kids just don’t seem to want to grow up and get their own place any more. I wouldn’t know anything about that, of course, but I do have this middle-aged friend who writes a weekly column that often features the mother whose house she still lives in.

Anyway, your children will ease you into old age and, when you’ve finally passed on to that great PTA meeting in the sky, they will have each other. They just have to get past the stage where the baby’s two-year-old brother tenderly murmurs “I like it the Baby Aadya” and then tries to poke out her eyes and yank her limbs from their sockets; which is also the stage when her six-year-old sister accuses you of negligence and says that you will become paralysed and your brains will fall out unless you play with her instead.

I’m going to visit my multifarious nieces and nephew at the end of the month. I love them to death, but it’s a good thing that these tender little blossoms grow in someone else’s garden. Some people are good at the endless hard work, selflessness and patience that come with gardening. I’m not saying I’m not one of them. It’s just that I’d rather gnaw off my own arm and slither over a bed of nails through sniper fire.

Plus, I figure that if I catch them young, I can brainwash them into believing that it’s only natural, after changing your parents’ diapers, to change your aunt’s.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Things fall apart

When it comes to Pakistan, it wouldn’t be correct to claim that I’m entirely a dove. This is not because I’m so on top of affairs in that country that I can rattle off good reasons for this wariness—I barely know what’s going on in my own head, let alone theirs—but because I have, through a combination of scanning the headlines and osmosis, developed the general impression that one should trust, but verify. Which is another way of saying that on no account should one believe a word spoken by those double-crossing so-and-sos.

These days, though, my stony little heart goes out to the place. Pakistan is having what you might call a bad hair day, if you were to think of ‘hair’ as ‘everything’ and ‘day’ as many long years, and especially if you were given to epic understatement. You know all those people in the Bible who wander the world being blighted beyond belief? That’s what Pakistan reminds me of these days. Dawn columnist Kamran Shafi put it best in a piece with the self-explanatory title ‘Disaster after ignominy after disaster’. That sort of sums it up nicely. Let me stress that I’m talking here about my stony little heart going out to Pakistan the people, not Pakistan the state.

As if it weren’t enough that the country is generally reviled around the world for nurturing and exporting terrorism, and for diverting war-on-terror money into nefarious alternative projects, and for double-crossing their own allies, and for Kargil, and for stonewalling India on the 26/11 attacks, and for political screwiness that makes us look good, they have now been dealt this monstrous flood, in which vast numbers of people who have nothing to do with the shenanigans of their lousy leaders have suffered death, destruction, and general all-out calamity. That, while one of their preeminent lousy leaders sips champagne in Europe.

And in a situation like that, when your world is falling apart, and your faith in the world is worn a little thin, might you not look to the Pakistani cricket team’s matches in England for a little pick-me-up, since cricket is the other religion you care about? Actually, when you’re burying your children and trying not to drown, you probably couldn’t care less about cricket. But assuming you and your family are on dry ground, saved by luck or circumstance, cricket might be one of the saving graces about being Pakistani.

Did someone say Pakistani cricket? Oh. Er.

It’s not the walloping that the team got in England that we’re talking about, of course, but the marrow-curdling shame of being caught spot-fixing (as opposed to just the fact of spot-fixing, which in this part of the world is perfectly acceptable if you don’t get caught).

If ever there was a country that didn’t need more bad press, this is it, this is it, this is it. If I were a Pakistani, I’d be thinking about last straws. In fact, I’m thinking about last straws even though I’m not a Pakistani. It’s not a case of schadenfreude. I really do think they deserve better than what they’re dealing with. When a country is on its knees, you figure it can’t get any worse, and then it does. It ends up prone on the floor, and you figure that now it can’t get any worse. And then it does. It’s tragic.

Maybe Pakistan’s stars are just temporarily out of whack. Maybe one can have a bad hair day that lasts a decade, and come out sunny side up. Whatever it is, I wish them the best of luck. They need it.