Just last week I was catching up with my favorite cousin Raveena Tandon. In a very compressed discussion we talked about how kids needed toughening. This is a long standing debate in our family. To almost everyone's dismay I don't whack my kids. Much tut-tutting ensues. Occasionally a verbal slingshot will be launched "Aspi has completely spoiled his kids! A whack once in a while will help your kid face the cruel world"
Somewhere in the discussion, Raveena reminded me of a couple of incidents that I had near forgotten about.
When Raveena was seven, she used to be a bit of a princess. She had a furious temper to match. Every day when she returned from school, she expected her Mum to be standing below their fourth floor apartment in Bandra to receive her. Raveena's mum, let's call her TigerMaasi, was (and is) a huge woman - both in personality and size. She had two voices - a mellifluous conversation voice and a window pane shattering bellow.
Well as it turned out one day TigerMaasi decided she would watch Raveena arrive from the window of her apartment instead of going down to get her. When Raveena found out a proper reception had not been arranged for her, she stopped in her tracks after dismounting from the school bus. Then she flung her lunch box on the ground, sending countless Cheeslets flying all over the place, and threw herself on the ground. To boot she started kicking and screaming, sending clouds of dust billowing in the air.
At this point TigerMaasi lived up to her name. She stomped down the stairs, her temper rising with each step. She yanked Raveena up by an elbow and issued two fearsome whacks to her butt. Raveena remembers being lifted up in the air and swinging like a pendulum from her elbow with each blow. Her butt aching and her eyes stinging with tears, Raveena quietly trudged up home and never threw a tantrum like that again.
A few years later, something else happened that shaped Raveena's relationship with selective childhood violence. Below the apartment, there was a bit of a lawn where all the society's kids would play every evening. Right in the middle of the lawn was a fountain. And as was the case back then, on particularly hot days, the kids would convert the fountain into an impromptu swimming pool and enjoy a dip or ten.
However, there was one obstacle in this merriment. The adjacent apartment building housed the society's bully - a motu kid bearing the name Chikoo. He was constantly hitting other children, spoiling any games they would play. He would be severe on girls, pulling their chotis and throwing dust on them. The fountain was Chikoo's favorite bullying ground.
One summer, when I was visiting Raveena, we both decided to dip in the fountain. A bunch of kids joined us. So did, much to our chagrin, Chikoo. And immediately the bully went to work - running into kids, telling others to leave and ruining any game we started. At one point I accidentally ran into Chikoo. Our man grabbed me and pushed me hard. I fell into the pool and hit my head on the side of the rim of the fountain. Some minor blood surged out. Being the baila (rough translation: sissy) of the family, I started crying.
At this point everyone froze. Chikoo guffawed loudly. And right there in the silence, we heard a huge bellow. We all looked up to see TigerMaasi filling up the frame of her window on the fourth floor. "Raveena!" she yelled "What are you standing there for?! See that broom on the side?" Raveena spotted the object being pointed out and nodded to her Mum. "That brat just hit your brother! Hit that boy on the head!" shouted TigerMaasi.
Years of tempering at TigerMaasi's hands had put Raveena on edge. In a flash she had picked up the broom and was banging Chikoo on the head with it.
We all stared, our mouths agape. Surely Raveena was dead meat now! But Raveena didn't stop and miraculously enough, Chikoo scrambled out of the pool and ran off to his apartment (with Raveena in tow availing every opportunity for a whack till the last possible moment I might add).
No one dared risk TigerMaasi's wrath and hence no complaint was lodged from the House of Chikoo. The bully never bullied anyone thereafter. In fact, he willingly enforced a restraining order on himself around Raveena. The fountain became a place of unfettered joy for the kids.
Often I'll argue that I had my fair share of whacks during my childhood. But I grew up to become a total darpok (translation: wimp). So you'd think slaps aren't a good way of toughening a child. And every single time Raveena will pull an incident like this out of her bag and say "Could we have done it any other way?"
I could say "There is always another way" but as I relearn the hustle and bustle of India as an adult and begin to understand the pace and complexity of life incrementally through trips back home, I honestly don't have a practical rebuttal.