It’s natural for a growing child to pick up words, start building its vocabulary and begin speaking whichever language it is exposed to, fluently, in no time. Sometimes, as it happened with Ira, you can be flooded with a barrage of newly learnt words, almost overnight. It was enough to alarm those in the household who swore, albeit rarely, or uttered the dreaded F-word, when the tongue slipped occasionally. We didn’t want a swearing little cockatoo unleashing its newly imbibed expletives on us or on unsuspecting visitors, or worse still, at school. School admissions are an ordeal and suspension or dismissal on grounds of linguistic misadventures, thereafter, though unheard of, is not impossible. One cannot be too careful when a child is in perpetual receiving mode, absorbing every syllable it hears and making every word its own.
As I sat peeling the skin off a plateful of bitter field beans, one day, Ira was my helper. She picked up a sprout, holding it between her tiny thumb and forefinger, its shoot dangling like a tail. She scrutinised it and said, “I really like its “profile”.” I looked closely at the sprouts, picked one up carefully (after Ira’s remark, the sprouts had acquired a human visage), and held it close to my eyes. “Hmmm… I said, in agreement, though I couldn’t for the life of me see more than a flat off-white surface. As I continued peeling the sprouts mechanically, she said, “I love its “expression”.” That was enough for me to grab my spectacles for clearer vision, hunt for a magnifying glass, and check if the sprouts were indeed displaying human traits. “Expression?” I asked. She nodded solemnly, as if I were an ignoramus. I sure felt like one. Here was a not-yet-five-year-old explorer who could detect and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of inanimate field bean sprouts. “It looks happy, doesn’t it?” I asked, sounding fake, struggling to paste a smile on the sprout’s face. Ira laughed. I shooed away the thought that the sprouts were perhaps sad, knowing their fate, the imminent journey down a few human gullets. Thankfully, during lunch, I was spared the guilt of eating a happy organism, whose profile had warranted a discussion and some serious inspection. The taste had obliterated the “expression” and Ira ate the sprouts usal with relish.
One afternoon, as she rode her red bicycle in our living room, Ira applied the brakes all of a sudden. Alighting, she dialled a number on my old Blackberry, her prized toy now, and called up Flute. “My bike’s broken. Flute’s on his way,” she informed me. “Who is Flute?” I asked, my mind conjuring up an image of the reedless wind instrument. “He’s my “pretend” friend. He’ll “fix” my bike.” “I see,” I replied, and waited. “He’s come,” Ira said, excitedly, jumping up and down, as I raised my hand to greet an invisible entity. “He’s a monkey,” she continued, as I gulped at the thought of a simian mechanic, who went by the name of a musical instrument, apparently “fixing” the bike. I was indeed transfixed.
As days passed, everything around was branded either “amazing” or “awesome” or “niiiiiice”, the last, a reminder of the affected drawls of the adults in the house. It was when Ira showed a visiting friend the washroom and told her how “awesome” it was that we called for an emergency meeting. How unimaginative we had become! How embarrassed we were by these much-abused, deficient words. How were we to describe a washroom? Lists were drawn. Ira, of course, was oblivious to the frenzied vocabulary-building exercise, though she did throw an amused glance at us now and then. I suspect she was “pretending” not to be interested, and in the near future, during a vulnerable moment, I’m going to be hit by a word grenade.
A few days later, as we were having dinner, Ira announced that it was her “choice” to not eat brinjal. At her age, I had no idea that I could have a choice.
On a rare occasion, Ira and I had an argument. I refused to let her watch Peppa Pig, the animated series featuring an anthropomorphic animal. It was bedtime. My refusal upset her so much, she declared, “I’m sending you to the jungle. The tigers, lions, hyenas and birds will eat you. It’s your “consequences”. I do not remember what scared me more; the prospect of being eaten alive by wild animals or Ira’s vocabulary spurt. I remembered a discussion we had had earlier in the household, about how teachers and psychologists were avoiding the usage of the word “punishment” (with its negative connotations) and had replaced it with the word “consequence”. I remember how Ira had repeated the word immediately, pronouncing each syllable distinctly. Not once, but at least four times, enjoying the sound of the word. Little did I suspect then that I would have to face it some day.
Thankfully, Ira and I settled matters amicably. I read her a Peppa Pig story. I’m still in the concrete jungle, alive and kicking. I mind my language. Ira has announced that she is a writer. I suspect that she has the propensity to become a football player, considering that she kicks up a storm now and then. Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be. At the moment though, Ira is engaged in some awesome (did I use that hackneyed word again?) no, fascinating wordplay.