Parenting too changed with time
N J Ravi Chander
Parenting comes with its joys and travails. Recently I witnessed a modern-day mother struggling to rein in her two young children. Besides throwing tantrums at each other, the infants had messed up the room with toys and other paraphernalia. The mother found it a tall order in tidying up the place and reining in the tiny tots. While the kids’ pranks annoyed the parent, it amused me. I remembered my late mother, Padmakumari, who performed the role of mother, wife and daughter-in-law with panache.
Back in the old days, the middle-class seldom hired a maid to tend to their children. There were no creches or playschools either where parents could admit their tiny tots for safekeeping. Joint families were in vogue, and parents entrusted the occasional or full-time babysitting duties to a spinster aunt or the grandparents.
Family lore has it that a maternal grandaunt always travelled with her elder sister’s family when the army regiment in which the latter’s husband served moved from one place to another. The affluent, however, hired full-time nannies, compensating them with food and a place to stay. Many of them came from small towns and villages, and seldom returned to their homes, integrating with the family.
For the women of yore, babysitting was both an art and a science, and they revelled in it. For my siblings and me, our mother, Padmakumari, was our only babysitter. Father, M N Jayaraman’s eight to two job at a defence establishment and running errands for the family kept him engaged.
My mother adopted a strange but effective strategy to keep us rooted when doing her chores. She secured one of our legs to the cot with a string, scatter puffed rice and fried grams on a newspaper, and ran her errands. The snack became our favourite home-alone treat. A baby cradle made with a saree and a lullaby sung in the mother tongue would lull infants to sleep. Mothers would also adopt this ploy during train journeys with the breeze that wafted in from the windows, driving the infants to slumber.
An older child, considered to be beyond reproach, was also given the task of looking after his younger siblings. We would not dare to step out of the house without the permission of the family elders. As the eldest child, my job was to keep my younger siblings in a huddle or ensure they did not stray away.
I would secure the entrance and exit with a bolt or latch and keep them on a tight leash. We would entertain ourselves with some fun activities to stay together and keep our spirits high. On a clear night, we delighted in counting the stars or listening to stories reeled off by the elders as we sat on mats spread out under a guava tree.
We were in dread of the slim bamboo cane that dad trained on his errant offsprings. As we grew up, we picked up the courage to toss the sticks into the conservancy lane when dad was not around. A new cane would take its place, but only after a furious dad let off steam and warned that he would make the miscreant pay. Our teachers also did not hesitate to spare the rod and keep us disciplined. With corporal punishment outlawed in most countries, it is now easier to run a workplace than raise a teenager!
(The author is a retired banker who has taken to writing as a past time. Besides being a regular contributor to Kashmir Vision, his write-ups get published in various regional and national publications)