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When the 9-year-old orders me around

india Updated: Oct 24, 2010 02:17 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya
Soumya Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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You shouldn’t be wearing those socks,” she said, pausing her skipping around the room to throw my way a look of troubled concern. “They bunch up around your ankles.”

“Don’t forget your comb. Not that you really need one at the moment,” she snorted. “But still, don’t forget it.”

“You can’t be taking that to Delhi,” she said, looking every bit as incredulous as she sounded.

“Why not?” I asked. “What’s wrong with it? It’s very comfortable.”

“Pah,” she said, and sliced the air with her palm. “Anyway, let me iron this for you.”

“Iron it? A pair of socks? I’ve never heard of [the word that rhymes with tucking] socks being ironed.”

“Here, I’ve done it,” she said, and placed the still-warm pair, neatly folded, in the suitcase.

I was packing — which is to say I was throwing stuff into a bag a little larger than an old-fashioned briefcase. I was being told off by my daughter about how hopeless I was at it. I was being told what was good for me. By a nine-year-old.

When do our daughters begin to become like our mothers? Just when?

I don’t know. Do you?

Bengali boys — like Jew boys, as Philip Roth is always happy to tell us — grow up being dominated by their mothers. When they become men (that is, if they ever do, if they ever slough off the infantilism and the sense of helplessness that swaddle them in their growing-up years), they are comfortable, or so the theory goes, with women in whom they see their mothers.

Many Bengali boys marry whom they marry, or so the theory goes, because they catch in the wife a glimpse of who their mothers were when they were younger, and a glimpse of how the wife, when older, would resemble the mothers as they are now. (The road down which I am going is strewn with landmines, but you’d expect a heavy smoker to be suicidal, wouldn’t you?)

But little girls being as emphatic about knowing what is good for grown men, behaving like the despots that their mothers and grandmothers are as adults, having scant respect for age or seniority or experience, bossing around progenitors, I mean, why does this happen all the time? As a boy, I can’t recall presuming to know what was good for either of my parents. This, surely, must be a girl thing.

Is it a girl thing? Will you tell me?

I had always been proud of the fact that I am never patronising with my daughter, that I treat her like an adult. It comes as a bit of a jolt to realise that she is patronising me, that she thinks that in many matters, I am a child.

The thing is that I find it rather engaging and amusing. I wonder why.

I never paid much mind to all the stuff my mother would insist was good for me. (The loss is mine. Had I done so, things might perhaps have turned out differently.) But I pay a lot of attention to the suggestions/orders of a nine-year-old. Should I be surprised?