The Monkey Of Stubbornness

Stubbornness is a virtue, insists a friend. I disagree- especially when faced with a toddler who insists on putting on his too-small blue shoes by himself (as I grow increasingly late for work) or when my husband insists that he ‘knows’ his way down the mountain rather than asking for directions. A strong streak of the stubborn stuff runs through the family, despite most of us being, on the whole, quite rational people. Bapuji, for example, does not appear to have the angel and the devil sitting on his shoulders, advising his actions. Instead, he has the monkey of stubbornness.

MOS 1

Once Bapuji has made up his mind, egged on, no doubt, by said monkey, it is very difficult to unmake it. Take the example of his daughters’ education: he had decided that they should all continue higher education, in opposition to the then widely-held belief that women should learn little more after completing school than to cook and keep home. Apparently, he had several conversations  with men in the local community regarding his decision. I imagine they went something like this:

Local man: ‘So, I hear that you are sending Indira to India, for study. Why do you do this? First Usha, now Indira.’
Monkey of stubbornness whispers in Bapuji’s ear.
Bapuji: ‘I think it’s a good idea.’
Local chappie: ‘But what use will it be? Once she gets married all of that knowledge will be wasted, just like your money.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘We shall see.’
Local bloke: ‘Talking of marriage, I know a boy. Comes from a good family.’
Bapuji: ‘Which boy? What does he do? Is he educated?’
Local geezer: ‘His father has a small factory, so he will start there soon.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘Still, she wants to go. I will keep him in mind.’
Local guy: ‘It is so expensive, to educate them, and you have two more after this.’
Bapuji and the MOS: ‘Yes, it certainly is.’ Polite smile.
Local man changes the subject.

Bapuji did educate all of his girls. Usha attended the High Reach Teacher Training College, Indira completed a degree in Home Economics and became headmistress of a college, Ila did a BSc in Microbiology and Kailash started an accounting course. Not all used their additional qualifications but all undoubtably gained from the experience. They remain strong, independent, capable women.

So, are there benefits to sticking to your guns, to digging in your heels? Stubbornness can indicate self-belief. Bapuji knows his small-business onions, so when he decided to use up much-needed space in his tiny shop for bicycles instead of toys he was eventually proved right. It can signal determination and motivation, both necessary for success. Sometimes it is generosity or kindness masquerading as stubbornness: for example the insistence on paying for everyone’s meals or drinks when out, despite protests.

In my experience, it is when the advice of the MOS is taken despite knowledge of limitations that things start to go wrong. Clearly, when lost and evening is approaching, asking a local for directions is preferable to stumbling on regardless. Stubbornness can leave you stuck following a single, well-worn track while others race past you. Sometimes stubbornness and a staunch inability to give room to other ideas results in failure- both of relationships and of the task in hand. It is then necessary to accept the consequences of your decisions- worse, still, if those decisions have affected the lives of others. All of us who carry the obstinate primate have felt the bitterness of regret occasionally. I have come to the conclusion that, should you find a monkey of stubbornness perching on your left shoulder, it would be advisable to balance him with the stoat of reason on the right.

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Do feel free to imagine the MOS on that left shoulder. I have not yet been able to figure out how to draw one on there using
photo-editing software but give me a spare 10 minutes and I shall.

Lighthouse families

It was about the friendship. It was about the release of a day’s tensions. It was about the coconut water. At dusk every evening cars would start to pull into the area surrounding the lighthouse pier, south of the city centre. Rounding the corner onto the coastal road, seeing the waving palms and the last of the sun on the sea, it was impossible not to feel the spirits lift. 

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Our spot was on the main square of tarmac, where there was enough space for the cars to form a rectangle, in the middle of which the adults could talk and the children safely play. In front of us was the road, with street food sellers and the sea beyond; behind us loomed a steep hill with the grand old hotel perched precariously at the top, the lights in its signage glowing red through the darkness. The usual suspects would be there every evening: family friends talking through the day’s events. Anil, who cannot walk, who spent the daytime watching others going about their lives, especially looked forward to the lighthouse evenings. By joining the conversation he could, for a short while, experience life first-hand. Every evening after dinner Anil would become fidgety with excitement, and make his way down the stairs- slowly, balancing precariously as he manoeuvred his bottom onto the step below- to the front door. The brothers, Vasant and Anil, would be part of the lighthouse gathering on most evenings, and when Nikhil and I were old enough we would join them with our mother. We would play with the children of the other five or six families in our group, finally flopping onto the bonnets of the cars when we tired.

‘Lighthouse’ was then and remains now a popular site for friends to meet. The fresh tang of sea salt in the air is reviving, and the hum of voices comforting. I loved watching the ‘madafu'(coconut water) sellers swiftly carving through the skin of the coconut, hacking a lid into the top and presenting it proudly with straw in place. Glowing embers signalled barbecued sweetcorn, and the freshly fried ‘mogo’ (cassava) crisps were liberally sprinkled with chilli powder and lemon. I find that my mouth is watering now.

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In our fast-paced world, punctuated with hashtags and ‘likes’, we are isolated; social media has brought us closer together and further apart at the same time. Last summer our little family moved from London to a smaller city, and the reason that I (quite surprisingly) miss our buzzy capital so little is the community around our new home. It is still a city, but people talk to each other: we have just had a flyer through for the annual street party, and I can hear the voices of neighbours chatting on the pavement now. Every Monday morning sees a small crowd of local mums having their own version of our lighthouse gathering in the local cafe. It is a pause, a sidestep out of our busy lives for an hour or so, to catch up, hear the news, connect without screen as barrier. Human connections are clearly necessary for wellbeing- social media depends on this need- and our lighthouse evenings were perfect fodder with which to nourish our souls.