Most people who know me today may find it difficult to believe that I was once quite the mischief-maker. Now I’ll admit that most of my mischief revolved around avoiding Hindi exams, but what I do remember are the speeches that followed. You see, in most Indian families, you’ll get to hear one of two speeches if you get into trouble.
The first is a good old fashioned yelling – the “What nonsense is this!” kind. It isn’t much by the way of speeches and the logic rarely adds up, but it gets the message across and it’s particularly intimidating when it’s delivered with colorful South Indian aplomb. The problem is that there’s only so much prose or pitch you can belt out before it fails. My son of eight months used to stop in his tracks with a simple “no” and a nod of the head a few months ago. Today he looks up at me and giggles. See where this is headed?
The second is the soap opera rhetorical – the “What have we done to deserve this? How will we ever show our face in public? Who will marry your sister now?” kind. It’s the punishment de jure in every Indian parent’s handbook and it’s best served in Hindi with clasps of thunder and violins playing in the background. It sounds hilarious if you read the transcripts, but it’s hard to argue with something that’s been tested on a billion-odd people.
However there is a third. It’s the kind you won’t find in most parenting arsenals. It’s the kind where you’re left wracked with guilt; wondering whether you’ve done something so profoundly wrong that your parents can’t find the words. Did you deserve a good old fashioned yelling? What channel is the soap opera on? Nope. It’s the unspoken speech. Your folks don’t say a word and instead throw in an extra helping of ice cream. Ingenious.