For as long as I can remember, my daughter has been a fan of Shah Rukh Khan, but that bond snapped when the actor and cricket league owner lost his cool and turned abusive at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. “But he only did it to protect his daughter,” I pointed out to her. “Puh-leeze,” she retorted, “can you imagine how embarrassed his daughter must have felt in front of her friends,” cavilling on about the necessity of new-age dads who insist on behaving like cavemen.
This wasn’t an SRK issue, I knew, since a few years ago a similar fracas had occurred at my daughter’s birthday. We had been asked, politely but firmly, to invite ourselves out that evening. When we returned at what we thought was a late hour, it was to put a dampener on a party that had sprouted a bartender, an enviable quantity of spirits, and high wattage music. “Is this our child who can’t even manage her own breakfast?” I asked my wife, impressed at her organisational skills, even though the living room looked like it had been hit by a storm. “If you don’t lay down the law,” my wife took in the scene from hell, “these kids will be sleeping over, and you’ll be organising breakfast for the lot.”
She needn’t have worried on that score since the teenagers, having barfed their guts out, wanted nothing more than to flee from parental opprobrium. My wife fretted about their ability to drive and sent our son down to make sure they were in a fit state to get behind the steering wheels of their borrowed cars. When a couple of reversing cars nicked each other and resulted in a brawl, it was left to my son and I to haul them all out and stash them in a pile of bodies till better sense and a state of sobriety allowed them to wend their way home.
That may be one reason my daughter has never had another party at home. “You embarrassed me,” she complained, “in front of my friends.” That I was keeping them safe didn’t cut ice with her. “You didn’t have to behave” – she pondered over the correct term to use – “like a dad!” My son doesn’t have his friends over home much either – or at least, only when their allowances have run out and they’re open to suggestions of complimentary F&B – because his mother grills them with penetrating questions that range from “Are you marrying your girlfriend?” to “Why did you break up with your boyfriend?”
They might be able to duck the occasional third degree, but she also takes them, quite literally, to task. “I’ll make you a salad,” she’ll lure them into the kitchen, “come cut the onions for me,” getting them to chop the garlic, marinate the lamb, toast sandwiches, deseed the watermelon, and blend egg white and oil to make mayonnaise before putting it aside “because, child, it’s unhealthy for you”, though, presumably, not for her kitty gang coming right after for high tea. They are pressed to run errands to the market, collecting clothes from the dhobi on the way back so she can rest her domestic staff, the better to look after her own visitors.
“I wonder why our kids never spend time with us,” she asked last night when, like most days, the children opted to stay out of their parents’ range, with, presumably, their friends whose parents, my daughter reported to me, “aren’t like you — or Shah Rukh Khan!”