I once read an article about a man who practiced complete honesty. An adult who said it like it was. He was, the article also helpfully mentioned, divorced many times over and living in isolation.
I remember admiring him, wishing I could be like him and then going right back to a life spent cowering behind the occasional (frequent) white lie.
Now, all parents know that this gig of raising kids is a minefield of double standards. For example, we tell our children to be honest and then lie to their face.
“Your painting is amazing.”
“No, this doesn’t taste disgusting. It’s good...try it.”
“No one is going to look at your under arms. You can wear sleeveless.” I’m yet to forgive my mother for that last one, by the way.
And yet, when our children do tell the truth, we hush them. We tell them they are wrong, and ask them to revise an opinion they know to be true.
So, my sister and her family are visiting us and as the children only see their cousins once every year or so, we have allowed some days off from school. Last Friday was spent watching The Good Dinosaur and having lunch outside in the pleasant winter sunshine.
I forgot to write a note explaining their absence and when the boys came home on Monday I asked if their teachers had questioned their absence.
“And what did you say?”
“We bunked to go see a movie.”
“Wait, you said ‘bunked?’ Where did you learn that?”
“Appa says it.”
Great. So gender in Hindi is unteachable, but English vocabulary is clearly not a problem for my better half.
Of course, my mother (of the underarm situation) took total credit for her grandchildren’s ‘Harischander-like’ qualities, while I wondered what damage control would need to be initiated. If I stayed quiet, maybe the teacher would forget before the next PTM. Or I could say I volunteered him for a drug trial that makes him say strange things.
If I had the presence of mind I may have coached my child to say “My family is visiting so I missed school.” That’s the truth but not necessarily the whole truth. I mean, teachers are overworked as it is, why bog them down with details, right?
I ultimately took a leaf out of his own book and went for honesty. I explained the situation and promised he wouldn’t be ‘bunking’ school any more, unless sick. I realise I’m too mindful of other people’s feelings, societal obligations and protecting my own rear end to be totally honest all the time. But I’ll be damned if I’m the one who teaches my kids that. They’ll figure that out on their own, or perhaps like the honest man I once read about they’ll be better people than I am.
Till then, I will try not to take offence when they say “Paati is a better cook than you are.”
No wonder that man lived alone.
(The Chennai-based author writes poetry, fiction and more)