Too Cool For School

What happens to children when their parents are still in the grip of rebellion, asks Aastha Atray Banan

No lines of control
Akash Premson and mother Bandana
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

ADITYA ROY REMEMBERS a question he asked his parents when he was seven. They had returned home past midnight after attending one of the many soirées they were invited to. He had asked them indignantly, “Why can’t you stay home like other parents?” The 22 year-old musician and martial arts teacher says, “I wanted them to be like other parents. My parents had big parties in the house both before my Xth and XIIth boards! I am the complete opposite. I hate socialising.”
His father Sanjoy Roy, the hardworking man behind Teamwork Productions, engine of major cultural events such as the Jaipur lit-fest, while respectful of Aditya’s choices, is completely comfortable with being too cool for his son. “Aditya once told me that if I was going to grow my hair, he didn’t want me coming to his school. And I was like, “Yippee! Let’s grow the hair!’” laughs the 43-yearold. “In our case, it’s more about the parents rebelling against the children,” he says, as he drives off to yet another party.
It’s 9.45 pm in a cold January Delhi. Gauri Arora is definitely not at a party. She taps her impeccably manicured nails as she makes a list for the next day: take Gayatri for her Bharatnatyam class at 3, make sure Rajveer takes a nap at 2 pm so he’s fresh for his evening cricket at the park, homework at 6, dinner at 8, television at 9, lights out at 10. She describes memories of nights like these while growing up. “At 10 pm, instead of putting me to sleep, my mother would urge me to accompany her to the new disco. It made me crave the opposite. I need order, a sense of achievement, and above all else, I need convention. I was not her. I am me.”
Gauri Arora with her children
Photo: Tarun Kumar Sehrawat

Gauri has rejected her parents ultracoolness. “You always want what you don’t have. When my mother, dressed in tight corduroys and perched proudly on an Enfield, used to pick me up from school, I cringed as I wanted her to be fat and sari-clad. My schoolmates crowded around her as if she was Amitabh Bachchan! No wonder I am so straightlaced,” says Gauri.
In her 1998 book, Promiscuities, author Naomi Wolf tells droll stories of growing up in the 1960s and coming home to pale young men and women draped over her parents’ living room. Her hippie father had advertised seeking interviews with vampires. What boundaries were available for her to transgress, Wolf asked, only half-jokingly. In Promiscuities and her iconic Beauty Myth, Wolf offers glimpses of a girl growing up with straight expectations of herself and the world, saddled with freethinking parents. Her struggles with anorexia and abusive boyfriends came from a desire to be that most boring of creatures: a pretty, thin and nice girl.
Gauri’s expectations from her children are not very different: straight-As, clean rooms and good behaviour. “I want them to remain kids as long as they can, because I grew up faster than my years,” she says. After her parents separated, she and her sister, Radha Khopkar (25), continued living with her father, Satish, while their mother, Meena, flitted in and out. “We had no rules. We could be out late or have 10 boyfriends. It was all okay.”
Rohini Bahl rejected her maverick upbringing for order. Seen here in red T-shirt with her parents
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Her younger sister Radha pipes up, “I had my first joint with my mum, but was scared that if Gauri found out, I’d be done for.” Gauri agrees smilingly. “I started behaving like a 40 yearold when I was only 13 as Radha was my responsibility — seeing that she ate well, did well at school.” She shows no resentment at the unseasonal growing up she did to compensate for her parents’ eternal youth. But it meant a grim decision: “I made up my mind that my children would never face such a predicament. Little people need direction.”
In her ultra-nostalgic song, ‘I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker’, British singer Sandi Thom wishes that she had been around in ’77 or ’69 when ‘revolution was in the air’. Though Akash Premson respects his parents’ high ideals, he deplores their disinterest in money. “It’s hard not to romanticise the way they let me grow up. By the age of 12, I had seen more of India by car than my teachers had seen in their lifetimes. My parents did not expect me to be a doctor or an engineer,” says 28-year-old Premson. His first crush was at age six. He remembers his mom making friends with the girl’s family so that he could have play dates! In high school, he began to date Himani (who was accepted by his family without fuss), who is now his fiancée. “I would like to give my children the same kind of freedom but I will make sure they know how to manage money. My mother and I are still living in a rented house,” he says.
His mother, Bandana, defends herself and her husband. “My husband and I believed in fun. We travelled. We bought expensive art. It gave us more satisfaction than a fat bank balance. We lived the way we thought right.”
To those of us who fetishise the 1960s, convinced we are flower children born too late – and, of course, to those who are apostles of conventional parenting – these may sound like cautionary tales. But look closer. Even these stories are those of success in the ‘real’ world. A 12-year UCLA study indicated that the children of unconventional families do as well in school as children of traditional families. Some research suggests that it is the quality of a lifestyle, not the choice of a particular lifestyle, that is important to children.
Unconventional parenting may bring home truths earlier than is considered ‘normal’. A childhood devoid of rules can be a brush with the anarchic and unfair nature of the world, or a fairytale, or a dizzying mixture of both. Like any other kind of childhood. As Philip Larkin said comfortingly, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad./They may not mean to, but they do.’