Warning note: if you think human children are adorable little angels, run along now, because this column is based on the understanding that they are Evil Incarnate.
The condom failed but at least there’s berth control
As a child I remember thinking adults were all part of some secret club, privy to information about life's mysteries that I would miraculously learn the day I joined their ranks (it had to be a specific day). Nothing of the sort happened, of course, but today I feel the same way about children, except there's no chance of joining their ranks if one doesn't believe in reincarnation. I'm convinced they are Satan's minions, their minds forever bent towards the task of making my life intolerable.
Not having a fondness for children (the human variety, that is – I do like kittens, and even baby crocodiles can be tolerable when they aren't teething), I can't be bothered to give them sweet smiles or say sentences like "So what's your name?" or "Coochie coo gumchie gumchie." And even if I were inclined to break the ice, I lack the comfortable smugness, the natural sense of superiority, that many adults feel when in a toddler's presence. (Maybe I never grew up.) So I avoid eye contact altogether, hoping the thing will toddle away and leave me alone.
But it never does. One thing I learnt on recent train journeys was that children can't stand it if you don't acknowledge their presence.
"What is that man doing?" one of these creatures asked its parent loudly. In fact, I was doing nothing more obtrusive than reclining by the window with a book in my hand, alternately reading and looking outside – but this was unacceptable to the child, for I was paying it no attention. It fixed me in a vise-like stare.
In Enid Blyton books one routinely comes across parents telling their children not to stare at strangers, it's rude. But India is a country of starers (we call it "being warm and neighbourly and interested in other people"), so no parent here would dream of issuing such a command. Instead the mother started glaring at me too.
When I continued to pay no notice, the child came up to me, placed a finger in its half-open mouth in that sinister way children have, and commenced kicking my shin. I ignored this for several minutes but then the wound began to fester and throb, so I moved my foot away delicately (still without making eye contact), whereupon the reproachful eyes of both parents burnt into the side of my head. Who is this man, they seemed to ask, and how dare he be so heartless as to resist our oiley-woiley's charms?
I thought I had won the mini-skirmish, but train journeys are tricky things, and over the next few hours the child exacted its diabolical revenge. It screamed incomprehensible satanic verses into my ear while its parents looked on fondly. (Briefly, I considered reprising an episode of Beavis and Butthead where the scatalogical Beavis gives a nonsense-burbling infant some of its own medicine.) It overturned a tray into my lap just as I had finished pouring out my tea. I returned from the toilet to find my magazine in shreds. And then it resorted to the oldest trick in the book - howling loudly to gain the sympathy of its parents and fellow passengers. For a few alarming moments, I feared I would be ejected from the train on the grounds of hurting people’s sentiments.
Eventually, on getting home, I discover that our Railway Minister has presented a shockingly timorous Budget - no special provision for sealed compartments with cages for all the little humans. I propose this measure be incorporated with immediate effect. Protesting parents can be put there too, and preferably chained to the wall and made to sleep upright. On balance this would be better for humanity than that Garib Rath everyone’s going on about.