‘Beat it Ishaan! I can see the fish!’ a vindicated voice exclaims, from the back seat of the car.
Brother is also in the back of the car, leaning forward between the two front seats, minding his own business.
It’s the Pog. She’s been trying hard to focus into her viewfinder (the eye that is peering into the camera is scrunched up tightly; the other is open) and suddenly – eureka – she manages to see something (a fish we are told), and Ishaan is her immediate target.
‘So who cares!’ he snarls, hurt and indignant at this sudden attack.
‘Talk to her nicely, Ishaan…’
‘So who asks her to say ‘beat it?” he demands.
She’s quite unconcerned of course, and continues to squint into the Dora camera. Brother glares ahead. After a while though, they forget about this little altercation and things go back to normal.
Another time, we are watching Masterchef Australia, Ishaan on my lap, and Laila on the carpet, playing with the Woody and Jessie dolls that belong to Ishaan and her respectively. Billy, one of the contestants, is on his way out.
‘Ishaan’s name is Billy…’ she says; his nickname amongst some friends is Billy.
Ishaan says nothing. He has come to terms with this other name of his, some time back.
‘Billy Bumpkin!’ she laughs, ‘I will call you Billy Bumpkin, Ishaan.’
‘Like Billy the Kid,’ Dada’s lying on the sofa and turns around to look at Ishaan.
‘He was a famous cowboy Ishaan – like Woody. Ishaan’s like Woody.’
‘And what about me?’ Laila wails.
‘You be Jessie…or Mimi the Kid,’ I suggest (she’s called Mimi sometimes); secretly happy for poor Ba aka Billy.
‘Nooo….’ wails the Pog, ‘I dn’t want that name.’
She sulks for a while and then forgets all about it and runs off with Ishaan to brush her teeth – ‘by herself’.
It’s like this a lot. She tries to boss him and thanks to her loud screechy voice, she often gets her way. But only for the moment. He has his ways of getting back at her: he’ll refuse to play with her; he’ll ignore her (this really riles her up) or he’ll threaten to *not share* his latest plaything/candy/gadget that automatically becomes the one thing she wants most.
Not to mention the countless times he will try to get her into trouble: ‘Mama, Laila is writing on the wall’ – when all she is doing is walking around with a pencil, in search of a book.
Or he will yell: ‘Laila! Stop doing that!’ and reduce her to tears (‘Mama, Ishaan is talking like an adult’) making me super guilty as I hear myself in his loud voice.
But the fights, the tears, the whines and complaints, they rarely last long. Often, when I step in and begin to shout down the villain-of-the-piece, the victim turns the tables on me – ‘Don’t be so mean to Ishaan, Mama!’ – and I am left in the cold, as they walk away from me, united once more.
But I don’t mind. That’s what the fabric of this relationship is all about. The fights and squabbles, tears and laughter, naughtiness and mischief, are sewn together over the course of one short childhood; until a beautiful patchwork blanket emerges: all the better to wrap around oneself on cold, stormy nights, that ever so often threaten to engulf us in this big, bad world.