lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The crosses we bear

"Les caught Akhan's eye. They exchanged a very brief glance which was nevertheless modulated with a considerable amount of information, beginning with the sheer galactic-sized embarrassment of having parents and working up from there." Jingo. Terry Pratchett

We are always embarrassed by our parents; when we are full of youthful arrogance and know all that there is to know, our parents seem so clueless, hopelessly ignorant and quaintly out of touch.

Families embarrass us in other ways too. We all go through the stage when we'd rather die than be seen with our parents in public. We are comfortable with our mater and pater doing what they do in a 'at home' milieu, but to be associated with them in public, well, that is a different thing altogether.

This was brought home to me in definite terms as my son grew up. At some point he stopped needing parenting and slipped off the apron strings.

Accompanying me on my shopping expeditions of the mundane sort, or even shopping trips of the mall variety became beneath his dignity. Even in bookshops, he'd slope off on his own, pretending he was alone, until he saw a book he just had to buy.

There was a time when his friends used to sprawl on my bed and play cards or Scrabble for hours on end, when I was a part of the games. My son and his best friend used to team up to try and beat me in Scrabble. We'd make up for own rules for rummy.

Then, they used to crowd me in the kitchen as I made snacks and thought nothing of demolishing French fries by the kilo, and asking for more.

Nowadays his friends, when they visit, disappear into his room, from behind the closed door of which then would emanate sounds of computer games of the violent 'kill everything in sight' variety. When I knock on the door with plates of snacks, the door opens a crack, the plates are grabbed and the door unceremoniously shut again. The same people. Different age.

The same child who delighted in the Owl and the Pussycat became mortified that his mother could recite "'Twas brillig and the slithy toves" perfectly, but couldn't discuss the merits of Caro-Kann Defence versus the French Defence, or deconstruct the shifting attacks of the Reshevsky - Najdorf 1957 game.

Like I said, families embarrass us. Having them is bad enough, but having to acknowledge them is worse. It is painful when they are somewhat famous. It makes our lives a misery in schools or social circles, always being 'So and So' s child. It gets positively excruciating if you share interests or opt for a career in the same field. Mind you, it doesn't get better when you choose an entirely different field, either.

I dropped out of my post-graduate course because the head of my Department insinuated that my father wrote the seminar I gave on Vijayavilasam, saying, 'you couldn't have done that research by yourself, it is too polished a presentation.' Like my father had the time or inclination to do my projects for me.

I did have the advantage of his library, which was rich in pickings for literary research, I'll admit. Where others had to slog it out in the University library, I did my research at home, but I did all my research and notations on my own. And wrote that paper on my own.

But that offhand implication, that I didn't do my homework because, you know, my Dad was the cat's whiskers and bee's knees when it came to these things- that hurt. My father didn't even know I was researching 'Vijayavilasam,' and wouldn't have stooped to write my presentation for me if he did. He was a busy man.

Being my parents' daughter made me write under a pseudonym, to neutralise it. But when I won a prize in a competition and my novel was serialised, they published my real name, and I had to face insinuations that I was awarded the prize because of my identity, not my skill.

I was relieved when distance and estrangement with contemporary literary trends put paid to my writing, frankly. The anonymity of being a housewife and a mother was comfortable.

This is all ancient history, but there is a reason why I am recounting it.

Now I blog. This is as far as it gets from creative writing and poetry, so there won't be any comparisons, I thought.

I was explaining blogging to my mother. It is an online journal that is updated regularly, I said. And if one has a few readers who take the time to comment, some lively discussions can develop, I said.

"Ah," she nodded her understanding, "you have become a columnist." "Not really," I said. "I write about various things, any topic that strikes me, and I talk about crosswords and English usage."

"That's what a columnist does, talk about things. So you've taken after me, after all, " she said complacently.

She has been a columnist for more years than I have been alive.



Blogger I said...

i beg to disagree with your
"We are always embarrassed by our parents..."
i think embaressment is individual perception to a very large extent. it might have its cultural connotations too.
some people(also some cultures) are embaressed for reasons which might seem ridiculous to you

regarding changing times and generation gaps..i personally feel the world today is in a transition period ...particualrly in india where globalization has just set in and we see the information explosion and also many more opportunities and chocies ...
with increased upward social moblity lot of things will chnage lot of things will be lost and possibly some things will be rediscovered :)

you write very well !


6:06 pm  
Blogger I said...

i notice you sir name has been spelt
quite differently
i wonder if the anglicized mukkhopadhaya
is going through another metamorphosis

6:09 pm  
Blogger db said...

Lovely think-peice here, Lalita ! ..

You've put into words that quintessential frame of mind that the Prophet experienced until just a few years ago.

About the Vijayavilasam episode ... The Prophet had a similar experience in 2nd grade, when he shocked everyone in the class, by announcing, that the math problem she had assigned as a homework was flawed ... The teacher's inflated ego prevented her from accepting defeat at the hands of a 2nd-grader, and she asked him which of his parents told him so. The Prophet, replied in the first person, and to his bewilderment was promptly thrown out of the class !! .. Lol ..

Lookin forward to many more wonderful posts from the "columnist"

PS: Perhaps you should suggest to your mother to start blogging too !

7:48 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ashu- I beg to disagree with your
"We are always embarrassed by our parents..."

Ashu, Let's agree to disagree. I was referring to teenage angst and so on.

You are right, things are rather fluid now. And thanks, I appreciate the compliment.

As for Mukherjea, it's not so much anglicisation, but persianisation that had my husband's grandfather spell his name as he did. JEA to rhyme with SEA. Anyway, it is how my clan spells the name, so there we are.

Ram- You never cease to delight. Having been a victim of schools having a tough time believing we could do what we could do at our age and all that, you have my commiserations.

Schools didn't have a clue back then when. Does not conform, they said, primly.

Our mum'd set alight the blogosphere if she took to blogging, I tell you. Leave her be. :-)

11:42 pm  
Blogger db said...

@ Lalita:

Thanks for the commisseration.

Having been a victim of schools having a tough time believing we could do what we could do at our age ....

Actually, its less about what we could do, and more about what the teachers couldn't do at their age .. Lol ..

5:57 am  
Blogger Rimi said...

Quite. I have very cool parents, and it is universally acknowledged, yet I used to be...irked is the word, not mortified, if I was compelled to be in their company in anyplace other than family get-togethers.

Like most things, it passes. Which is not to imply we become close after a period of unnatural distance and hold hands and run about the Maidan in the sunlight. No. It merely means that we get used to it, and however close we might (or might not) be emotionally to our parents, our lives become comletely independent, socially, of them. Sure, they pay the larger bills, but not much else :-)

I've been meaning to write about this for ages. And now I think I'm late for uni (I just had to come and read this!)

9:08 am  
Anonymous priya venkateshan said...

it'd be great if some serious columnists like your mum take to blogging. we'd have some really serious and reliable viewpoints here then.
and i've just had a huge argument with mum on what her role in my life is..... mainly coz im being continually asked to be independent, while at the same time, mum insists on treating me like a baby.

11:29 am  
Anonymous badari narayanan said...

With mental maturity stealing over us over the years, we learn to be ashamed of ourselves for ever being ashamed of our parents. Well, for some of us, it is often too late to realize this. It certainly takes time for us to realize that our 'superiority' is mere vanity grown out of immaturity.

11:33 am  
Anonymous Ash said...

Have you noticed, the same teenager who pretends not to know his parents will turn fierce if an outsider disparages them? Children think it is their sole privilege to sneer at their parents.

12:08 pm  
Blogger Priya said...

Amazing! Just after my heart. I was forced to go to the school my Mum had been a teacher in for over a decade before I even joined it. It would be an understatement to say it was a pain. I should have a dropped out after std IV, when a classmate insinuated that it was because my Mum was the class teacher, that I came second in class! (It's a different story that Ma ensured I didn't top, just to avoid such insinuations:P)As if Mum sat for those bloody exams!! Losers! Remember to ask lots more on this. No time to post, sorry.

2:41 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- :D Too right.

Rimi- You are right.The emotional closeness we have with our parents is not always demonstrated. It just is. I do understand that children have their private lives, in school and their relationships. Their interests differ, their passions are different. The wise parent lets go. The child then always comes back to the saftey of family.

Priya- Ah, that is the contrariness of mothers. Ask them to grow up and treat them like they are still two years old.

Badari- Good to have you back. You make a valid point, and very well. :-)

Ash- Exactly!

Priya- You have first-hand experience, too? We should swop tales. My aunt was a teacher in my school. Luckily for me, she was a kindergarten teacher, and I grew up. :D

3:47 pm  
Blogger Raj said...

Lalita, lovely post.

As Mark Twain put it, " When I was a boy of 14 ,my father was so ignorant I could hardly bear to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at what he had learned in 7 years"

Your son will soon discover some hidden merit in you, don't worry.


10:05 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Raj- Arrgh! You have sussed me out, you evil person, you. That was a quote I was doing my best to refrain from and you spring it on me. Good grief.

But then you are a parent, rather than the other party, heh.

10:31 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

yeah, yeah, yeah. Can we have something amusing now?

Families are something we are all saddled with, its a question of grinning and bearing with it. Rest of the life is more important, basically.

10:38 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh- Tsk, tsk.

11:17 am  
Anonymous K T Rajagopalan said...


I chanced upon your blog a week back and have just fallen in love with it. The way you write! Sad that you did not take to writing as a fulltime hobby.

Apart from your passion for words - crosswords and scrabble being obsessions - which I share with you, I am fascinated by numbers (Sudoku) and puzzles.

I spent my best years in Kolkata and the way you recreate the trips to Oxford Book Store and the beery Saturdays takes me back to those glorious days.

I too belonged to the majority of those who read your blog do not leave a comment though actually I wanted to write in earlier. Reading one of the blogs where you lamentingly called upon readers from Kerala to Guwahati to write in, here I am, responding from the southern tip of Kerala!

Please keep writing, though I must coonfess that connecting the answer to the clue in some of the crosswords is tough [even after you provide the answer! {like Amundsen's forwarding address (4) and MUSH credited to Bunthorne}] Sorry about the liberal use of parentheses.


12:15 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

KTR- Hi, thanks for taking the time to comment.

Amundsen being a polar explorer, the connection is made with sleds and huskies. And the forward signal for huskies is "Mush." It is a bit tricky, but in a complete crossword grid, one usually has other intersecting letters to help arrive at the answers.

I can't do Sudoku. Numbers paralyse me, I'm afraid.

2:05 pm  
Blogger Ravages said...


2:19 pm  
Blogger WA said...

OMG great post Lalita. As a mother who has been subjected to, 'don't kiss me goodbye at the school gates' to 'drop me off around the corner from the school' to now, walking a few feet ahead of me pretending we are not related, I can so relate to your post :)

2:41 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ravages- Thank you.

WA- Ah, that aversion to public displays of affection. I knew I forgot something. :-)

4:46 pm  
Blogger tilotamma said...

who is your mother? does she write in English?

9:42 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Tilotamma- No, she writes in Telugu.

11:44 am  
Blogger tilotamma said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:11 pm  
Blogger Speech is Golden said...

What is "Vijayavilasam"?

and don't send me the research report u submitted. jus the layman's version, pls... :)

11:41 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- It is a seventeenth century Telugu classic, famous for the poet's penchant for wordplay.

12:34 pm  

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