It is that time of the year again, and I go into immediate and terrifying flashbacks to my youth. Holi. I think most women have a horror story from Holi celebrations and it always involves men and groping. These are stories that often don’t get told. Because, well, Holi hai. Here’s Kiran Manral in the Married Feminist
The other day the offspring, all of 13 now, and a manling if ever, sauntered out of the door with a bunch of plastic packets stuffed into both pockets making his shorts look like they had grown love handles which would need serious surgical intervention before they could fit through a turnstile. “I’m going down to play Holi,” he announced direly.
Stop is stop. No is no.
He is now taller than me by a smidgeon and has the beginnings of a faint moustache on his upper lip. If he decides to wrestle with me, I cannot free myself at all. There is the beginning of the burst of strength that will define this phase of his growing up. There is a burgeoning sense of self awareness that manifests in the hours spent in making his spiked updo bulletproof with generous application of hairstyling gel.
It is huge responsibility bringing up these manlings. There is so much that the world is throwing at them all the while, that one is constantly playing fact checker and myth buster. Nope son, the girls will not throw themselves at you in a rabid display of uncontrollable attraction if you douse yourself in deodorant. It might be a better idea to steer clear of marinating yourself in said deo and instead marinate yourself in your books. Nope, you do not woo a girl by chasing her and being generally obnoxious. Nope, girls aren’t necessarily salivating over six packs all the time. And more. But there’s time for that. In a year or so.
With festivals like Holi though, the mind begins hurling visuals of Holis Past at one. Has one brought up one’s boy differently, one worries. One has told him, definitely, over and over again, about the concept of agency over one’s body. Agency over his own and that of another person’s over their own. Male or female. Young or old. No one is to touch you without your consent. You are not to touch anyone without their consent. Rinse. Repeat. On a loop.
There is a underlying patina of skewed patriarchy and ugliness that he isn’t aware of just yet.
Then, there is also when someone stays stop, you stop, even if it felt like fun, even if they were okay with it to begin with. Right now I use it in the context of when we tickle each other or pillow fight before hunkering down at the end of the day. I hope he internalises it for later, when he is a little more grown, and in the dating game. Stop is stop. No is no.
Right now the festival is all fun and water games for him. There is a underlying patina of skewed patriarchy and ugliness that he isn’t aware of just yet. I can only watch on and tell him he is to play Holi only with his gang of boys and that too only with those who have brought their own balloon packets down to play because fair is fair. And under pain of no wi-fi for a week will he trouble anyone who doesn’t want to play. I think that is a threat dire enough for now.
As the parent of a boy, I am responsible for the boy I send out there. And not just because I have been a girl in a society where I’ve been reminded over and over again that my gender is an open invitation to lasciviousness. And whether it is Holi or every day, I need him to know that he bears a responsibility on his shoulders. That of knowing agency. Consent. And boundaries.