I am dealing with my 12 year old son’s bullies right now. For many weeks, I have not seen him smile and he looked tired all the time. He was being bullied with physical, racist and homophobic (yes, even that age, bullies use all sorts of excuses) abuse in school. Initially I told him to ignore it and deal with it with humour. After he was set upon by the gang of boys last week, I was livid and complained to the school. I also found out that my son hadn’t told me about the attack because he was ashamed. Here is what I have learnt in the last ten days-
- Bullies, like other people, change when they want to. They won’t change because you want them to. Don’t stay with a bully thinking that they will change.
- Bullies cannot be appeased by good humour and manners. This brings out more of their ugliness. Do not associate with bullies- get away from them and leave them to deal with the emptiness of their lives.
- Bullies only listen to fear, so put fear into them by reporting it. Transmit it widely because the only thing the bullies care about is their image and their power. Bullies do not like reciprocal or equal relationships.
- Let children and all vulnerable people know that bullying is never okay and never to sit in silence. Bullies love it when people take it without complaining. Never be ashamed of reporting bullying.
- Build up the broken self esteem of the bullied person with love and support. Find other people who can support the bullied person. Build a fortress of love and teach that person to always respect themselves.
I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages. Now, they don’t matter so much. So I began to reflect on why that might be? I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before. Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences. Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father. Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc. But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?
Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones. Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently. In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices. However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous. Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family. Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything. Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way. Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways. Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.
I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers. He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway). He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc. He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine. Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts. I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.
This is a sketch I made of my son aged 4. The drawing was made using my left hand- I am right handed. Apart from the facial features, all the other lines were drawn continuously without lifting the pen.
Using your less dominant hand and drawing in a different style boosts your creativity. It also lets you look at the world differently. All the ‘mistakes’ in the drawing lend it a special touch and bring a portrait to life, as seen by another side of your brain.
Many books have been written about creativity and how it helps us. But how is creativity fostered from an early age? Children need boundaries and rules when they are little. But after a certain age, they need to know more about values than rules. What age would that be? Each child is different but there is way to tell when they are ready to learn about the difference between rules and values. That happens when you find them breaking rules too often- usually around the age of six. That’s because they are actually asking to understand values that are behind the rules. They internalise values more than a list of rules. This understanding also results in the child being more creative because they can empower themselves to make up their own rules related to the values or principles.
Recently my son was being bullied which resulted in his coat being torn. He was afraid of telling me or the teachers because he didn’t want to be ostracised from his group of friends. When I found out, instead of being angry or telling him that he should have reported it, we had a discussion about bullying and why it is bad for everyone, including the bully. He now understands how he will deal with it in the future. We agreed that this is to be done progressively and according to the situation. This may mean he ignores it if the bullying behaviour is small (or a just a ‘friendly tease’); if it is not, he tells the other child to stop, or he gets his friends together to help him with the situation and then finally if it does not stop, to get the teacher to intervene. I am not there in the school with him but as long as he remembers the principle that ‘bullying is bad for everyone’, then he can deal with it by making his own rules and boundaries of what is acceptable to him.
The more rules there are at home, the more the risk they will be broken and followed by disappointment, anger and even retribution. According to a study in a book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, children who scored in the top 5% in creativity tended to come from households with, on average, less than one rule. The families of kids who were less creative typically had six rules. The parents who talked to their children about principles leaving them to make up their own rules, found that the children were able to internalise that principle very well and find their own way around the world, instead of the parent ‘micro-managing’ them. ‘Instead of enforcing them, [creative] parents got their children to endorse the rules themselves because they helped to generate them’, according to Grant. I had parents who loved us but always tended to help us out while dealing with problems. It is only now that I am learning about the world and dealing with the difficulties it presents. So now I am determined not to do everything for my children, because I love them.
Last week I finished my first portrait commission. A good camera and a skilled photographer can take good photos of a person but when a portrait is commissioned, it needs to be much more than just a likeness. Something extra is needed. While trying to do this portrait, I found out that you need the eyes and mind of a child to look for details- the up or down turn of the mouth, the way the ears stick out, the hair line, the shape of the eye brows, shape of eyes, etc. This can be much more important than getting hair and eye colours exactly right. This was my first attempt and clearly did not look like the person I was drawing.
After many attempts, this is what I got-
Immediately you can tell the first one was not right at all! The finished portrait was made with natural colours such as turmeric, coffee, onion skins and indigo along with pencils to reflect the personality of the man who likes spicy food and travel. Hope the person likes it!
This seems a pretty picture- it is of one of my favourite flowers- Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma)- a medium-sized dry season-deciduous tree, which grows in the tropics. It is found in a forested part of Delhi, where I grew up and seeing these flowers reminded me of springtime. In my native West Bengal, the poems and songs of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, likened its bright orange flame-like flower to fire. In Santiniketan, where Tagore lived, this flower has become an indispensable part of the celebration of spring. I used to love these flowers.
However, the same forest became associated with murder in late summer of 1978 when siblings Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped and brutally murdered. On their way to the radio station to present a youth programme, the children were kidnapped for ransom. On learning their father was a naval officer, both were killed instead and the girl, Geeta, was allegedly raped before being murdered. Both were bright young people- Geeta was a 16 year old second year college student and Sanjay, was 14-year-old school student.
I was very young but I remember the impact of the murders. Suddenly parents were cautious about where their children were going, suspicious of strangers and our world changed from being happy and carefree to fear and mistrust. The city which had never experienced such a heinous murder was traumatised and all energy was directed to finding the killers. It was my first loss of childhood innocence- the flowers which I loved, grew in a forest where children had been murdered. I came to associate these flowers with blood. Years later as an adult, coming across these flowers accidentally, I wondered if I could change my fear to joy again. So this was painted.
The ‘bark’ of the trees is made from newspaper cuttings about the murders and the stylised flowers, with their curved and spiky forms, represent my fear. However by painting this, I have made my fear disappear and understand the sadness from those murders. It may be because I am older and it may be because exactly 20 years later on the day when the culprits were caught, I had a son, who helped me to see the world in a different way. So the painting is curiously sad but optimistic by its brightness and exaggeration. Like these flowers that bloom in the spring and wither away in the heat, whose leaves fall in the winter, leaving a skeletal bareness, our lives are informed by sadness and joy, by gain and loss. This painting connects me to my childhood and my adulthood and to that of my son. The sadness of the loss remains but the fear has gone. Art has become a therapy.
I saw this last week- a 49ft-long 3D artwork celebrating ‘Star wars’, set underneath a humble bridge in London. It was created by 3D artists Joe and Max to celebrate the UK launch of the Rise Against The Empire play set. A good drawing in itself but what made it great was the way it got people engaged with it. Kids and adults pretending to hang perilously from the edges of buildings, people walking around it trying to understand how the simple perspective of the drawing made it so cleverly three dimensional; and passersby reverentially walking at the edges. Or people simply pretending that they were in a Star Wars movie underneath a London Bridge, accompanied by the sounds of ships, laser fire and droids. What fun!
Art is about being fun, creative and engaging people.
My younger son is now at a stage when babyish words, songs, cuddles, etc are an embarrassment. He has his smartphone which he uses to organise get togethers with his friends and his own time. He doesn’t need me to wake him up or remind him to do his school work. I don’t have to pick him up from school or take him there. He was the last of my babies- who has grown up.
Needless to say, it is sad for me. Although there is much more time I have for myself, there were many days, when I felt unwanted and abandoned. It took me many weeks to dissociate my feelings for myself from that of what was happening to my son. He had to grow up, of course and I knew that. Gradually I have learnt to be grateful for this time that has suddenly been released to me and be grateful for that independent young man he has become. Life is a series of losses- as we age, we lose people, we lose things and ultimately face the biggest loss of all, life itself. However, that is what life is and if we can accept that and learn to be grateful for everything, then all our love and humanity will be revealed in what we do.
17 minutes are what is needed for your brain to completely focus on something or relax- our brain works in 17 minute cycles. This summer, my sons and I went on 17 minute breaks during our trip to Venice to either pause and reflect on what we had seen or experienced or to take a ‘sketching break’. This is one of my 17 minutes sketches from Murano-
Tourists busy taking selfies, stopped to watch us sketching. In this harried world where photographing oneself is more important than observing things, they were perhaps surprised to see two boys (one in his late teens), sketching. Bad moods and waiting times were happily passed by these moments. Below is another one from Torcello, done while waiting for a boat to take us back to the hotel. People were respectful and thoughtful. One of them even started ‘crowd control’, to make sure that I had a clear view- this without saying even one word! How powerful is that?!
My sketch book has been travelling with me and my children since then. I think we have learnt a powerful lesson- that creativity is power! You don’t have to sketch but you can write or even relax. In the corporate world, people are taking 17 minutes breaks after working for 52 minutes (not sure where that comes from!). Ted talks are also that length so that people focus.
My children teach me things in many different ways. Last week, I learnt about always having the bigger picture and goal before my eyes rather than busyness and details.
I asked my son what his GCSE results were before we went off on holiday. He said that he did not care too much about the GCSE results because the result he wanted was already there. He had got admission into the Sixth form college of his choice and so he wasn’t worried. I had to be content with his thinking and marvelled at how he always kept the goal before the details. During our holiday, we learnt that my son had achieved great results- almost all were A* and rest were all As.
This led me to think about how we can get carried away by details so much that goals just vanish, like the forest in the trees. I also looked at how my son studied- he didn’t seem to be doing very much but what he was doing was working holistically. So everyday he could study a bit of all his exam subjects, not one subject a day. As a result of this wisdom from my son, I decided the following steps to goal setting-
- Decide your goal
- Work out the steps need to achieve it- these steps need not be equal, all they need to be are different steps to achieve your goal
- While working on the steps, always check it with the goal to see if they still match or in case, your goal has changed.
- Very important– work each day on all the steps, i.e as if they were working holistically.
- Don’t worry if all the steps are not completed in the final process, as long as the goal is reached.
- And don’t worry anyway about the details as long as the goal is reached!
So if you are writing a book, work on all the book chapters each day. The chapters will change but the title of your book won’t so you can chop and change the chapters, working together, to achieve that aim.