I am usually never at home when my daughter returns from school. The very rare occasion that I am, calls for much excitement.
The important fact of my being there is always kept from Oishi. Seeing me at home results in incredulous squeals and a round of twist-and-shout in the living room. I probably enjoy this more than she does.
Things were different on the last occasion she returned to find me at home. She half-stumbled through the main door, her face tear-streaked. She flopped down on the bed.
“What’s up,” I asked.
The students had been asked to take packets of rangoli to school for art class. And one of the class bullies had opened and thrown the contents of his packet of rangoli at her. Her eyes burnt, Oishi said, in spite of her having washed them twice.
“Why didn’t you throw something back?” I asked.
“I am always quiet in class,” she said, appalled that I should have suggested something that could have cost her her reputation in school. “I never misbehave. And see?”
She stabbed at her eyes. I thought she was crying more from the insult than the injury.
“You should never have let him get away with it,” I said. “It will get worse.”
She looked at me, and said nothing. She went off to rinse her eyes again.
Over the years, I have realised my only weapon when dealing with bullies (or those with aspirations of being bullies) is a sort of irony. And it doesn’t always work. I am too passive-aggressive; I’d rather she was aggressive-aggressive. And blunt. And unequivocally brutal.
My wife didn’t agree. “You want her to go around hitting people?” she asked me. It’s not that. It’s just that while I quietly try and hold down my day job and tolerate all sorts of nonsense as I go about my life, there is, I think, one area in which I ought to make no compromise: parenting. Is that silly?
So that evening, I played for her The Ramones’s blistering, thumping, addictive song, Beat up the Brat.
I told her it was an object lesson on how to deal with bullies:
“Beat up the brat, beat up the brat / Beat up the brat with a baseball bat / Oh, yeah… What can you do with a brat like that?”
Oishi loved the song. She listens to a lot of this sort of music, and she immediately picked up the riff, pirouetting around the flat, shaking her fists.
As Nick Hornby wrote in 31 Songs, she wants to play over and over again a new song that she has fallen in love with till she has somehow sussed it out, and unlocked the secret of its allure.
We played The Ramones for more than a dozen times that evening.
“So?” I asked her finally, as she stood, sweaty and panting, flushed with thrill and adrenaline.
“So will you beat up the brat the next time?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. And then: “No.”
“Will you complain to your teacher?”
“No, no one likes a whiner,” she said.
“Right, what will you do, then?”
Oishi is seven now, and getting very good at answering a question with a question.
She looked at me for a few moments, and said: “Baba, will you play the song again please?”