The boy's been much taken with Hindu mythology. Everyday he comes up with a new question. 'Why did Vishnu push Mahabali into the ground if Mahabali was a good king?' he asks. 'Was Jarasandha alive when he was born in two halves?' he wants to know. 'Who was Krishna's last wife?' he asks upon hearing of his 18,000 brides.
He has been devouring Amar Chitra Katha comics in his quest for complete knowledge of desi myth. Unlike his father who - from youth to this day - is singularly unimpressionable (some might say thick) - the boy is quick to notice and is keen in his sense of nuance. He observed, for example, that all the gods and heroes in the comics are fair, radiant, good-looking, while the asuras and villains are all dark, swarthy, moustachioed, pot-bellied and ugly.
A few weeks ago he said he wished he were a deva. He wanted to be a god of invisibility and speed, he said. He wanted to be white, he added.
I explained that skin colour was unimportant.
'Why are the villains are all dark in the comic, then?" he said.
Those fools at Amar Chitra Katha have much to answer for. Edition after edition has appeared over the years, and the pillocks have not had the sense to change their colour biases.
'Because the cartoonists at Amar Chitra Katha are idiots who think that 'fair' is good and 'dark' is bad,' I said. 'You shouldn't believe everything you see.'
'Okay,' said the boy.
Clearly, he was not entirely convinced.
Today I walked with him to school. On the way he asked about Ghatotkacha. I told him about Bhima and the rakshasi Hidimbi.
'Was she dark?' said the boy.
'Why?' said I.
'That is disgusting,' he said.
'Why?' said I.
'Because she might be drooling and all that. Yuck,' said the boy.
'Is she disgusting because she is dark?' I said.
'Yes,' said the boy.
'But we are dark - are you saying we are disgusting?' I said.
'No, acha,' said the boy. 'We are humans. Dark rakshasas are disgusting.'
If I weren't getting angrier and angrier, I might have appreciated his chutzpah here.
'So a fair rakshasa is not disgusting?' I said.
'No,' he said.
'Why do you think dark is ugly?' I said.
'It is complicated,' he said.
'No, it is not,' I said, positively livid by now.
'It may not be complicated for you, acha,' said the boy, 'But it is complicated for me.'
I am sorry to say that I lost it at this point. I did not handle this well. I raved and I spluttered. I ranted and I choked.
A ten minute walk to school is hardly the occasion to be engaging in a delicate discussion of racism and biases and the like, and my explosion can't have served to convey any useful teaching moment at all.
The boy cringed at first, and then shouted, 'It is complicated, okay?'
Then he looked at my face and calmed down at once.
'Just tell me what happened to Ghatotkacha,' he said softly.
'What do you think happened?' I snapped. 'He was dark, ugly, fought in the war, and died.'
He looked a tad worried that I was still shaking with fury. Is sarcasm wasted on a seven year old?
When we got to school, he said, 'Bye' and went in without a backward look.
[Happy new year, all.]