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Rashomon

Having a child makes us lose our independence. It’s me who’s growing older, right? Soumya Bhattacharya elaborates.

india Updated: Jul 12, 2009 00:04 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

Are you, like me, an admirer of the Japanese master, Akira Kurosawa? If you aren’t (and I can’t speak for your tastes, your likes and dislikes, I don’t really know who you are, just that you are reading this column at this moment, and might have returned to it after having enjoyed it previously — for which, if it happens to be so, thanks very much indeed), let me tell you a bit about Kurosawa’s 1950 classic, Rashomon.

In the film, the rape of a woman is recounted by eyewitnesses, each of them narrating what he thinks is the authentic version of the incident. Each of the accounts widely varies from the other, so much so that it appears as though the eyewitnesses are not talking about the same incident at all.

It is one of the most masterful manipulations of points of view in the history of cinema. And the film is probably as relevant and urgent today as it was 59 years ago because it tells us something crucial about ourselves; it shows that two people can rarely look at the same thing the same way.

(Look, you could say all this long-winded stuff is irrelevant to a fatherhood column; I might think that this is terribly germane. Please read on. Or do not.)

Parenting reminds me of Rashomon. So:

Issue 1
Point of View A: Having a child gives a sense of momentum to our lives. It gives meaning like nothing else can to the narrative arc of growing older.
Point of View B: Having a child makes us lose our independence. It’s me who’s growing older, right? So shouldn’t I be the central figure of that narrative arc?

Issue 2
Point of View A: Parenthood makes us mature. It makes us aware of the inanity and stupidity of the world around us. It makes us more patient, more understanding, less patronising, less selfish.
Point of View B: Parenthood makes us infantile. How can we engage with a child and its mindless chatter, without bemoaning how it is cutting us off from the mature world? Name me one thing more cringe-inducing than watching an inordinately proud parent indulging his brat/brute of a child.

Issue 3
Point of View A: There is nothing quite like the joy of watching a child grow up: the pleasure of seeing her get an apostrophe right, of observing how her babble turns to conversation, how her traipsing walk is transformed into poise and bearing.
Point of View B: Parenthood is an unremitting state of anxiety as the child grows up, one set of worry replaced by another. We have so many things to bother us. Why ask for more?
Well, there you go. There is a Russian proverb I find delightful. “He lies like an eyewitness.” That could be the coda for Rashomon. It could just as well be a coda for parenting.