Many parents will corroborate this argument, I am certain. A child between two and three is not exactly at that impressionable age where he can be trained to do the right thing. You cannot admonish him because he is too innocent to tell right and wrong apart. You cannot turn a blind eye to him either because he is no longer that infant who will just sit and stare at you wide-eyed, and chew on your collar listlessly. This child does things.
I was at that age once, circa 1986.
Our family was lunching at a restaurant, and a lady at the adjacent booth had caught my attention for some reason. I stood up on the couch and took a good look or two until my father pulled me down. He told me that it was an impolite thing to do. I’m told I asked a lot of questions in response, the answers to which could be best summarized as “because looking at her will make her uncomfortable. How would you like it if someone made you uncomfortable?”
The point was taken. A few years later, I was standing by the window after having read a chapter on the Battle of Plassey. I had just come to surmise that the world was a cruel place, when I saw a monkey lapping up water from a fountain on the front lawns of our house. I shooed him away.
Sheer boredom creates hollow motives, I guessed.
“Do you feel a sense of achievement?” asked my mother who happened to pass by my room. I did not. Sheer boredom creates hollow motives, I guessed. She asked me how I would like it if my glass of water was snatched from my hands, and then went about her business without expecting an answer.
Years later, when I confessed this, she laughed her heart out. At that time, though, her question had left me feeling miserable. The cruelty of the world could not be an excuse for my own insensitivity towards a monkey.
The same summer a few months later, I had noticed a cockroach waddling in my commode as I took a leak. After pulling the flush I realized what I had done. Horrified, I ran over to the plumber stationed at our gate and asked him to help me retrieve the roach from the sewage pipe. Within minutes my request was made known to everyone. I was the only one who did not see what was funny. The only question that stayed with me was “How would you like it?”
We were both sixteen, it was a perfectly normal setting at four in the morning, in a garden infested with mosquitoes.
This question hasn’t left me. At times, it has helped me prevent bad blood. At others, it has become a cause of embarrassment –the time I first asked a girl out. We were both sixteen, it was a perfectly normal setting at four in the morning, in a garden infested with mosquitoes. But the question I popped was layered with so many undertones of caution – I would like to open my heart out before you, as long as it does not upset your peace of mind – that it ended up sounding more like a hypothesis than a proposal.
Do I continue to gauge the impact of my words and actions on others? Sometimes, yes. This, despite having noticed that the world does not ask itself the same before subjecting me to its ways. That makes me feel short-changed, or foolish, even.
It gives me a sense of achievement – as though one baby step of kindness has thwarted the vitriol we are otherwise subjected to.
I am no saint. I skip the question when rage, desperation, and convenience get the better of me. Or sometimes, I ask myself the question retrospectively. But when I weigh the outcome of one decision against the other, I have always returned home happier when I have toed the line of caution and been nicer to people than what I would have wanted to. It gives me a sense of achievement – as though one baby step of kindness has thwarted the vitriol we are otherwise subjected to.
Today, when I look at my son turn three weeks old, I remember I once had the same curious eyes that ask the same difficult questions. How do you tell right and wrong apart. The only way I can help him answer them is, “How would you like it…?”