Hindu philosophy teaches that a man’s life is divided into four stages: student, householder, retired person and finally ascetic. At least they had the decency not to suggest the average woman’s unendingly overlapping life could be so neatly defined. Women know they will never have the luxury of retiring from secular duties to spend time reflecting on the meaning of life and death. The best we can hope for is that our yell above the fray for Five Freaking Minutes Of Peace and Quiet Please is respected. But the minutes of quiet contemplation are a double-edged sword. Peace provides a moment to acknowledge that I am always being caught on the back foot. By the time I have figured out the stage of life I’m in, that phase is either past or future. This is my explanation for being such an adult child and childish adult and I’m sticking to it.
It may also explain why I have to be hauled into the next act of life’s drama kicking and screaming. You see they want me to become a Squash Mom. Hindsight reveals this was inevitable. Their grandpa has played some decent squash and despite being British has been co-opted into and/or coached national teams of Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica at various times in his life. Of course the minute his grandsons were given a squash racket they determined to beat him at his own game. And that is how the entire family came to spend last weekend at a tournament with First and Second Born playing in the Under Eleven category.
I learnt that the role of a Squash Mom is to provide bananas and sports drinks on command. She must also be able to tie shoelaces to the athlete’s precise comfort level and anticipate when said athlete’s sweat glands have necessitated a new t-shirt or towel. She must be encouraging and interested and between matches may not curl up in a far corner reading her novel as this signifies she is Not Totally Committed.
A Squash Dad on the other hand is completely committed by simply showing up. The local paper’s headline has labeled The Husband a “guru” after he gave a public lecture on the financial crisis. He’s got an idea or three and in a crisis, where everyone is panicking, a rational voice can be elevated beyond its rightful status. I have made it my life’s mission to ensure he never gets too arrogant or believes the hype. Hence, it has been his duty, and will remain his duty, guru or no guru, to take out the garbage. All year. Everyday. One bag at a time.
Back at the tournament the boys played with children much more experienced and skilled but they showed both spirit and sportsmanship. But before it was all over we were treated to a glimpse of things to come. First and Second Born were drawn against each other for their final match. In the 1950s two of the top squash players were brothers, Hashim and Azam Khan, and they often met each other in the finals of international championships. By all accounts they were fiercely competitive but wholeheartedly supportive of each other. I have told our boys about these brothers in the hope that they would emulate this model. But the twins’ hearing needs testing. From the aggression, energy and skill they only showed while fighting for each point, of each game, against each other, they must have thought I said emulate Genghis Khan, who, cheese-on-bread, ended up killing his brother over some stupid hunting prize.
So it was excellent timing that hot on the heels of this war we had Divali, the Hindu festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. Being an atheist gives a license to be thrilled by any religious celebrations you fancy. These celebrations are all cultural events and I am a culture whore. In London I would, with equal zeal, queue at Christmas to hear the Tallis Scholars perform Renaissance sacred music, watch dragon dancing over Chinese new year and celebrate both big and little Eid. But Bim’s population is largely Christian churchgoers. People are unconvinced and sure my behaviour is a cover for some deep, hidden religious zeal. Velma, the housekeeper, is especially unconvinced.
“What yuh mean yuh eh have religion? Yuh have to look bout de chillren dem. How deh go manage wid out religion?”
I paused, remembering the mantra E. says with exaggerated feeling and elaborate hand gestures whenever life proves challenging: in with anger, out with love, in with anger, out with love, in with anger…
“I tell the boys to say we are humanists and I teach them to respect all religions.” I reply in a calm, measured voice.
But she was quick off the mark.
“Humanists? Wah dat? It eh have no religion name so.”
With the argument settled she triumphantly walked off, shaking her head and muttering loud enough for all to hear.
“And she mudder is such a good lady dat have nice, nice religion.”
In with anger, out with love, in with anger, out with love, in with anger…