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When you don’t know all the answers

As we grow up, we all begin to look at our parents in a way different from what we did as small children. We start to realise that contrary to what we’d thought when we were three or four or five-years-old, our parents don’t really know all that there is to know, writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2010 21:45 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya

Baba, what is a biome? It was past ten o’ clock on a Saturday evening, and our eight-year-old daughter wriggled towards me on the sofa and, seeing that I hadn’t paid enough attention, asked again: ‘What is a biome, Baba?’

Interrupted in the middle of Norman Mailer’s riveting account of the Ali-Foreman 1974 heavyweight title fight,

I exhaled wearily, reached for my drink, and turned to her.

‘I don’t know. Why don’t you look it up on the Internet?’

‘But don’t you know what it is?’There was something in her expression, an unsettling mixture of surprise and hurt -- surprise that I didn’t know?

Surprise that I didn’t care enough that I didn’t know? Hurt that I was being brusque?

Hurt that I had said something blindingly obvious, and, therefore, insulted her intelligence?), that made me shut my book and look at her carefully.

‘No, I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Let me look it up for you.’

Oishi looked disappointed. It seemed as though I had failed her. Coming on the back of her mother not knowing what a biome was, it appeared to be a double blow.

I didn’t quite understand her reaction. It later occurred to me that we had indeed failed her.

As we grow up, we all begin to look at our parents in a way different from what we did as small children.

We start to realise that contrary to what we’d thought when we were three or four or five-years-old, our parents don’t really know all that there is to know.

Before very long, we realise that in certain matters, they know rather less than we do.

Parents no longer seem as infallible, invulnerable and omnipotent as they once did.

This alters the power dynamic between parent and child.

As parents, we revel in the sense of power we have over our small children; we acknowledge to ourselves how much they depend on us for everything; and we know that in some odd way, in some part of our consciousness, we regret relinquishing this hold we have over them once the power dynamic has changed.

In our home, I suspect, the change has begun to occur.

The number of occasions when we are asked things of which we don’t know as much as is expected of us is getting more and more frequent.

At eight, our daughter is starting to see that quite unlike what she had imagined four years ago, her parents not only don’t know best, but often, they know nothing at all.

She has to turn, therefore, to other sources of knowledge.

She will get used to it.

It is part of the process of growing up (for her), and growing old (for us).

But it’s early days still, and every time that this happens now (every time, that is, her childhood dies a bit), I think she feels a shudder of disappointment.