Book Extract - The art of empathy
by Raksha Bharadia
Why don’t you call up your friends and go for a swim in the society pool, instead of just sitting and cribbing that you have no one to play with,” I screamed at my nine-year-old, Sanaya. She answered back with matching irritation, “I call them up every day. No one is free. They have either tuitions, classes, or they just want to sit and watch the tube.”
“Did you try calling them up now?” I asked, a little gently this time. She said, “No, and I don’t want to!” She burst into tears after that. I held her close, rocked her till she was consoled. Yes, as a mother, my heart went out for my little girl. I wanted to pick up the phone, dial her friends’ moms and blast them for not understanding the value of free play for children. But did I myself understand why my little Sanaya refused to make the call that day? I was on her side, but I could not understand her refusal to make a casual call, to inquire whether her friends were free to play with.
A day or two after the incident we went for the garba. This was one of the more posh garbas of the city. Most groups had formed their separate circles pursuing different styles of the garba and raas.
Ours was a small group of four – my younger daughter Sanaya, my elder girl Aishwarya, her English friend Catherine, and me. We couldn’t have formed a circle of our own. We looked around for a group, identified one which was doing the most basic and easiest steps, so that Catherine and Sanaya too could fit in. Within moments of our joining, the group began disintegrating. Perhaps five minutes had passed when I realised that just the four of us were left! Feeling inadequate, we stopped and moved on to another corner to find another more ‘social’ group.
This time I looked around for a circle that had children too. I found one and we joined them. Within a few minutes, the members of this second group formed a yet smaller circle within the bigger one. In a little while, most of their dancers had formed a separate circle, and the four of us found ourselves alone once again.
Our faces fell. Gathering courage, we joined a third group. They did not reject us outright, but the musicians stopped playing almost immediately, and the dancers excused themselves and moved off!
We had hardly had an opportunity to really enjoy the garba. I could not take the girls home without havingdone so.
After about 20 minutes, the music started again. It was teen taal, a beat that we loved. As we stood up, it suddenly hit me why Sanaya had been reluctant to call her friends. I was gripped by a fear. I noticed beautiful groups dancing all around, and yet was apprehensive of joining any of them. What if they too rejected us?
I could understand Sanaya’s refusal. She feared hearing a ‘no’ as I feared joining a group. And that is why she had refused to call.
In our bid to make our kids smarter, more courageous, outgoing, we perhaps move a little too fast, push them hard and pass judgments. We turn into well-meaning parents, but perhaps lose on being empathetic ones.
Well, to go back to that evening, as we roamed around the garba grounds I realised there were loners and small groups just as lost as we were. I approached a couple of them and we formed our own group and started dancing. We, of course, accommodated all who trotted in, and soon we had grown to a motley bunch of almost 20.
On my way back I hugged Sanaya and told her, “I was scared to approach a new group, Sun, thinking what if they too refuse to let us in. I now understand why you did not want to make the call that day.” She said, “Mom, maybe I should start playing with the society boys. They play every evening, I may find another group!”
Raksha Bharadia is the author of Me – A handbook for life and Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. Her latest book Roots and Wings – A handbook for parents deals with parenting issues!
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