Wednesday, 20 February 2013

About a Girl

There’s an advert on the telly for a pressure cooker which makes me want to leap off the balcony because I find it so utterly depressing.
 The husband brings all his mates home from work – unexpectedly – and tells wifey to get in the kitchen and rustle up something quick sticks. The look in his eye suggests she might get a whack around the head with a frying pan if it doesn’t pass muster. 
While all the suits make themselves at home, checking their Blackberries and probably stinking the house out with a heady mix of Playboy and Axe man spray, wifey chucks some lentils into the pressure cooker and hey presto, dinner is served.
The tension is palpable but hubby gives her the thumbs up and we can all breathe easily. She smiles nervously as one of the guys sidles over and rather creepily puts his hands on her shoulders and murmurs: “Whose wife is she anyway?”
The ad implies that if you knock up some tasty grub in a pressure cooker, guys might even notice you in your own home. Nice.
The ad comes on while I am watching ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (except me) with my 13-year-old daughter, Polly.
“This advert is so annoying,” she says.  
“Yeah, I know, it really annoys me too. Advertising like this defines women in relation to men, whereas men are usually defined in relation to their work, their creativity or their play.”  I say, rather eruditely.
“No, it’s not that,” she says, “it’s just that in reality she wouldn’t cook the dinner herself, she’d get the maid to do it.”
Perhaps we’ve been living in India for too long.
“That’s not the point, Polly. He was treating his wife like a servant, not an equal and that is not acceptable.”
“When you ask Lucy to cook the dinner, are you treating her like a servant?”
“Lucy gets paid to do a job…”
“Shut up now mum, it’s coming back on”
And so we’re back to Raymond’s plaid shirt-wearing world of circa ‘96 America.
Raymond’s mother moves in with her son and his wife Debra after an argument with her husband, Frank. Her babying of Raymond drives Debra out of the house.
“You see, when sons are put on a pedestal by their mothers, they expect to be pampered by all women.”
“You put Hugh on a pedal stool.”  I want to laugh but I let it go because I’m trying to have a serious mother-daughter conversation here.  Polly will be starting at the same UK boarding school as Hugh in September and our telly-watching days together are numbered.
I watch my smart little girl eating with her fingers in front of the telly. She expertly mops the dhal with the folded chapatti and scoops it into her mouth.  The meal has been cooked by Lucy - in the pressure cooker.
We turn over to Comedy Central and shout in unison: “I’M NOT A SELL OUT! WHAT’S A SELLOUT?”  They must play that catch phrase a thousand times a day, it’s beyond annoying but we’ve learnt to live with it after all this time.
Finally, we settle down to watch the only decent thing on telly, ‘Two and a Half Men’ but the one with Charlie Sheen and not Ashton Kutcher (which is rubbish). We’ve been watching this show on and off for the past four years, though not necessarily in chronological sequence. One minute Jake is 17, the next he’s a chubby eight-year-old kid. It’s always funny though - if a little misogynistic.
“So let me get this straight,” says Polly.  “If your mum pampers you as a boy, you grow up expecting all women to pamper you?”
“Er yes, generally.”
“But if your mum doesn’t pamper you as a boy, like Charlie Sheen’s mum, you should grow up to treat women as equals, right?”
I am horribly out of my depth because I know what’s coming.”
“So why does Charlie treat all women as sex objects?”
“Yes, that is ironic,” I say, making a quick exit to the kitchen for a pre-weekend gin and tonic.
There was a time when whatever I told the kids was gospel but now even the youngest is questioning me and challenging my all-knowingness.  It’s a good thing I know but all the same I feel as if the last vestige of something is slipping away.

When we first came to Mumbai, Polly was nine and very gung-ho about this new family adventure. She travelled to school in a rickshaw and integrated seamlessly with the other children, adopting a Mumbai accent and wobbling her head with the best of them. Soon it will be time for her to leave and I wonder how much of India she will take with her.
Samir, our driver of three and a half years, asked me how old I was when I lived in South Africa. I told him I was exactly the same age as Polly is now. He wanted to know if I remembered much of it and I told him I did, very clearly, why did he ask?
I want Polly to remember me when she grows up.” He said.
The two of them sing along to Hindi pop songs in the car and share a mutual love of ‘Gossip Girl’. If ever there was a meeting of cultures…
“Mum, can you bring me a coconut out of the fridge please!”
I take my gin and tonic and her coconut and straw, back into the lounge.
“Anyway, I was thinking” she says “what do you mean when you say ‘ironic’?”
"Well, it comes from the word ‘irony’ which means, erm, you know, let me think…erm.... ”
Polly: “I know, it’s ironic that somebody like you, who is supposed to be so good at English, can’t give me a definition of ironic!”
“Come over here, and give me a cuddle” I say, buoyed by the gin, “I’m going to miss you!”