Food for Thought
As anyone who's been here for longer than a day and a half can testify, Bangladeshis are world champions at giving advice. It doesn't matter what the problem is, we know what to do about it. And don't worry, at great personal expense in terms of time and effort, we will generously share with you what we think about the challenges you are facing. Or maybe that's precisely what you should worry about! Anyway, while every one of us is a qualified generalist or at least a talented amateur, there are also those who specialise in providing solicited or unsolicited advice, experienced or ignorant counsel, and of course, sound or daft suggestions.
And if you think the adults are forthcoming, you should see the children! They take no prisoners, as my friend Tina rather painfully experienced with her young daughter, Joya. Recently, the four-year-old was making a huge drama about the fact that she had scraped her knee, when her mother attempted to ask her in a strict tone of voice about how it had happened - had she done something naughty? Yes, the little girl admitted, she had indeed done something naughty. Alas, it must be admitted that this is not altogether unusual for Joya. So her mother pointed out that when you do naughty things, sometimes you get hurt. This, of course, made Joya come right back with an impossible question, in which lay some unmistakably implied advice. Referring to the fact that her mother has a condition involving diffuse muscular pain, she retorted "But Ma, does that mean that you are VERY naughty, since you have pain EVERYWHERE?!" Clearly she felt that people living in glasshouses should watch what they say…
In most western countries, conventional wisdom on manners means that people are more likely to keep unwanted advice to themselves - unless they are willing to lose friends, are socially challenged or happened to be conversing with their nearest and dearest. There, children are often the last bastion in advice provision, especially before they get old enough to realise that they are venturing into dangerous waters. Increasingly though, media exposure in particular can lead to some strange interventions from kids. And in some instances, even the phenomenon of “pester power” (whereby advertisements are targeted at encouraging children to bug their parents into buying things for them) can be rendered redundant. In the end, word of mouth is undoubtedly the best recommendation!
Friends of mine recently described how they had returned from visiting their wealthy acquaintances to be subjected to some rather unexpected advice from their six year old. Apparently, he had been playing with the son of the other family, and was very impressed with some of the new toys this child, Rufus, had. Asked where he got them, Rufus told Matthew that the goodies were given to him by the “airplane people” when they were flying business class. So while sharing this information with his parents, Matthew made a strong pitch for their next flight to also be on this mysterious but attractive “Disney Class”! For those already worried about pester power be afraid, be very afraid. Clearly, the sky's the limit in terms of demands…!
Of course, sometimes the advice provided can be well meaning. Like my friend Siri's son, eight-year-old Joaquin, who piped up that he had the solution to all her worries about her weight. After she had been grumbling about the the clothes she no longer fit into, Joaquin happily informed Siri that he knew just the thing he had seen it on TV. “It's like this machine, Mum, and it can make you completely skinny. So, how many tons do you want to lose?”!! Siri was left (fortunately) speechless, and is reported to be still recovering from that one…
And then there are children who just know what's good for you, even when you seem…well, unwilling to recognise this self-evident fact. My friend Katy's five-year-old son Sam is angelic looking but has a bossy streak that his family are all too familiar with. Both his rather good-natured twin brother Chris, and his parents and baby sister Sarah, have been on the receiving end. Like the time they played “Star Wars” and Sam got to be Darth Vader, most powerful villain in the universe, while he made his mother Princess Leia, and the other family members were relegated to being Imperial Storm Troopers i.e. his anonymous lackeys (mostly featuring as cannon fodder in the films)!
But one of Sam's greatest moments may have come last Christmas, when his mother was overheard lamenting how much work Christmas involved, given that it was a family event, and required lots of food and presents to be organised for members of their wider families. As the five year old did not hesitate to authoritatively inform a stunned Katy, “Christmas isn't about having a good time, Mummy, it's about buying things” presumably for deserving kiddies in particular?? Or maybe Sam just thinks that having a good time isn't what adulthood is about, in which case, according to his weary mother, he might have a point…
And for anyone who thinks that today's children have it too easy, this gang of kids would be the first to assure you otherwise. Being a child is a complicated business, and the expectations of demanding adults are no help, as certain diminutive child rights activists are quick to point out! Indeed, when a friend of mine found her daughter in tears over some minor infraction, all attempts to coax her into being a good girl failed miserably. The three year old tearfully insisted her that she didn't want to be good, “Ami bhalo hotey <>chai na<>, Ma, onek koshto”!! Clearly, being good was just too much like hard work did I mention that she might be on to something?
And finally, returning to the original starting point for this column, the other thing that Bangalis of all sizes have no hesitation about, is in providing (even more expert) advice to established experts. The inimitable Joya was recently heard telling the person massaging her with mustard oil (who just happens to have successfully raised nine children, presumably massaging every one of them with mustard oil in the process) how to do it properly. When the lady concerned protested that her own technique was better and would make Joya grow up to be tall and well formed, Joya unequivocally informed this Khala that she didn't want to be tall. On the contrary, she wanted to be, in her words, “bati” (short) - like her mother, thank you! And she was clearly certain that her technique would be better suited for this purpose than poor Khala's…
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