I sat staring at the plate of fruits laid out before me. Pieces of apples, guava and banana cut hurriedly and in a haphazard manner stared back at me. I looked at my breakfast and a quick image of maggi noodles, masala dosa and vada flashed before my eyes. I cast a forlorn look at the kitchen where my wife was busy stuffing more fruits into my lunch box. I had a sudden urge to stand and announce that I wanted proper Rice and Sambar for my lunch and not fruits. But ten years of marriage teaches one to resist such urges and make peace with the matters beyond one’s control.
I sighed deeply, poked my fork a little too meanly into a piece of banana and was about to devour it, when my eight year old son walked into the dining room. He was still in his pyjamas as his school was closed for summer holidays. He glanced at my full sleeved formal shirt and neck-tie, smiled and yawned mischievously and slumped into a chair and called out, “Ammaaa, breakfast”
My wife walked out of the kitchen bearing a plate of noodles and a glass of chocolate Horlicks and set it down before our son and said, “Adi, you have to finish the milk, ok? I have added extra Horlicks, just the way you like it.”
Adi grunted in response and started spinning a string of noodle with his fork lazily. Sensing that my wife was in a good mood, I ventured a suggestion, “How about some noodles for me, darling?”
My wife, Radhika, spun around on her heels and gave me a look that made me sink a little deeper into the chair. She said, “You do remember what the doctor said during the last check up, don’t you? No fried or oily or junk food. See, I have cut up all the fruits in a neat pile for you. Now, don’t make a fuss and eat your fruits.”
I quickly put the banana piece, which had been stuck on my fork until now, into my mouth and smiled sheepishly. Adi, the little tyke, laughed at my predicament and started eating his plate full of noodles.
Radhika announced that she was going to get some laundry done and left the room. Adi, who until then had been playing the role of a lazy-kid-in-the-morning to perfection, suddenly looked up from his plate and asked,
“Appa, how are babies born?”
I choked on the piece of banana and had to gulp it down. I took a quick look at Adi and found that he was staring intently at my face. I was reminded of the time when I posed such a question to my father. I had been ten years old, when I had become curious about the circle of births and deaths. My father had told me then that I would learn those things when the time was right. I thought of giving the same answer to Adi, but I knew that Adi would push the issue and would not be satisfied by such a reply.
Adi arched his eyebrows and cast a questioning glance at me and I could tell that he was not at all convinced. So I tried to prove my point with a bit of philosophy, “See Adi, all living beings come from God. We are all children of God.”
“So if we are all children of God, then I should call God as Appa and you would be my brother right?”
Nobody could deny the fact that my son had logic on his side. I was miffed at the thought that my eight year old kid could call my bluff.
Adi was not done by any means, “Appa, really? You think you can blame God for everything? Tell me Appa, how was I born?”
I got up quickly from the table, looked at my watch and announced, “Adi, I have an important meeting to attend. So I have to be in office soon. We will talk in the evening.”
With that, I quickly dove out of my home and into my car and sped away.
While in office, I was trying to come up with a plan to counter THE QUESTION. During breakfast, Adi had caught me by surprise. I had to be prepared in future. By evening, I had not come up with a satisfactory strategyand so I decided to make a stop at the local toy store and get a new Batman action figurine.
I reached home and as I had feared, Adi was waiting for me. Sensing an impending doom, I immediately presented him with the new toy.
My carefully thought-out plan worked like a charm. Adi was so engrossed playing with the new toy that any unwanted questions that he might have had in his mind seemed forgotten. I had a rather unpleasant dinner with another plate of fruits but I was in a self-congratulatory mood to care much about dinner.
Late at night, Adi fell asleep on the sofa, while still clutching his new Batman figurine. I picked Adi up, took him to his room and set him gently onto his bed. I was pulling the sandals off Adi’s feet when he sat up, wide awake and looked at me. My heart sank. I had hoped of discussing with Radhika on how to answer Adi’s doubts. But there I was, once again caught unprepared.
I braced myself for a repeat of the questions about how babies were born. But Adi did something unexpected. He reached out to the night stand that stood near his bed, opened the top drawer and produced a sheet of paper. I could not make out what was written on it in the dim light thrown by the zero-watt night lamp. So I asked Adi, “What is this? Why are you giving me a piece of paper?”
“Appa, read it. You might know this already. But still I thought it would be a good idea to inform you, in case you didn’t know. Goodnight, Appa.”
Adi lay back in his bed and pulled the covers over him.
I mumbled goodnight and quickly got out of the room. I started reading the letter and when I finished, I did not know what to do. I slowly made my way to our bedroom, where Radhika was reading a magazine, and sat on the edge of the bed. Radhika sensed that something was amiss and asked me if anything was wrong. I did not answer her, but extended the piece of paper to her.
She took it from my hand.
“What is this?” she began, “This is Adi’s handwriting. What has he written? Some school work…Argh.”
There was a sudden gasp from Radhika. I looked at her and she read the whole sheet and looked back at me. I gestured for her to close her mouth, which was wide open. She began, “How? I mean… What? I…”
She continued stammering while I replied, “Adi asked me in the morning about how babies are born. I did not answer him properly. So he thought that I did not know and he has explained the whole process for me in that sheet.”
Radhika finally seemed to collect her wits and asked, “Where did he learn all this? Do they have sex education classes in school at this age?”
“I really hope so. Otherwise, I don’t want to imagine from where he has learned all this.” I replied.
We both sat staring at each other for a while and we finally decided that we would talk to Adi the next day.
While I lay down on the bed later, I heard Radhika mutter under her breath, “Times have changed… a lot”
I agreed with her, “Modern times, indeed.”