‘Nila, what is that you are wearing?’ A curious expression hovered on her mother Tara’s face. They were having lunch together in Tara’s staff room in the Vanarapuri School.
‘Oh, it’s nothing Mumma.’
‘Here, let me take a look.’
Nila pulled her right hand behind her back in a swift motion. ‘Mumma, I said it was nothing. Will you just leave me be?’
‘I just wanted to see what you are wearing, dear. If you don’t want Mumma to see, that’s alright.’
‘It’s just a ‘Punk Monkeys’ bracelet, Mumma. They are the in-thing now.’
The Punk Monkeys were an underground punk band slowly getting mainstream exposure in Vanarapuri. Their edgy lyrics and edgier fashion made the kids of the city want to emulate them and their way of life.
‘But, you don’t even like Punk Monkeys or punk music for that matter.’
‘Well, tastes evolve Mumma. Our gang is so into Punk Monkeys these days.’
‘Alright, sweetheart. But you should know that such fashion accessories are not allowed in school. So I’m going to have to ask you to take it off.’
‘Mumma, please don’t be a bore. This bracelet looks so cool. Don’t you want your daughter to be one of the cool kids in school?’
‘Nila, we want good students at the school. I would be happy if the cool kids were good students first. Now, you either take the bracelet off, or I will have to confiscate it from you and your posse.’
‘You are very unfair, Mumma. My friends are going to think I’m such a bore. Already they make fun of me for eating lunch with you like a little baby.’
Nila stopped eating and, with tears streaking down her cheeks, she ran out of the room.
Tara sighed. Her daughter was growing up fast.
A few days later, Tara was working on her lessons for the next day. Nila approached her with a lot of hesitation in her steps.
‘Mumma, I need some money.’
‘May I ask what the money is for?’
‘The Punk Monkeys concert is happening this weekend Mumma, and I want to go. They’ve added a new single called ‘Apes ain’t no monkeys,’ and they are going to play it live for the first time. It’s gonna be so epic.’
‘Wow! This band sure sounds amazing.’ Tara didn’t hide the sarcasm in her voice.
‘The tickets are selling fast, Mumma. Please give me some money.’
‘Nila, please sit. I’d like to talk for a few minutes with you.’
Her daughter complied, albeit very reluctantly.
‘What is it Mumma?’
‘Sweetie, tell me this. From when are you into the Punk Monkeys?’
‘About three weeks.’
‘And you do like their songs, right?’
‘Yes. Their music is great.’
‘What about their lyrics?’
‘Apes ain’t no monkeys? Really?’
‘Yes, Mumma. Apes are not monkeys. They are tailless primates.’
‘What is this, Nila? We are all monkeys and we belong to one giant family. Now, tell me, are you comfortable listening to music that promotes differentiation and hate?’
‘No, Mumma. But Punk Monkeys are so cool.’
‘Who introduced you to this band?’
‘My friends – Riki and Vana. They told me that Silky Sifaka and Mini Mangabey are totally into the Punk Monkeys as well.’
Tara shook her head at her daughter. She knew that young kids were very impressionable and she had to handle this delicate situation very carefully.
‘What does Silky and Mini have to do with all this?’
Nila let out a sigh. Her mother was being very dense, ‘Mumma, Silky and Mini are THE coolest monkeys in Vanarapuri. Silky’s mother knows Kiri Kipunji, the lead singer of Punk Monkeys. Riki and Vana said that if we could become friends with Silky and the other cool girls, then they might take us to visit the band after the concert.’
‘What else have they introduced to you?’
‘Mumma, I don’t like the tone of your questions…’
Tara raised a hand to interrupt her daughter, ‘Nila, let me ask my few questions. You don’t even have to answer me. Answer the questions within yourself. Shall we try it?’
‘Did you ever feel for one second that you like this band and wear their merchandise around just because your friends wear them too?’
‘Not really. I like to wear them because I look so cool.’
‘Do you have the urge to do things your friends do, even if something that you are not comfortable with, to be accepted as one of the so-called cool girls?’
Nila did not answer.
Tara fixed her daughter with a pointed stare and asked, ‘Have you done anything recently that goes against your belief system just because your friends did so or said so?’
The little monkey sadly shook her head in the affirmative.
‘Did that involve calling someone un-cool?’
‘Did that little Tamarin come squealing to you, Mumma?’
‘Nila, did you hear what just came out of your mouth? Are you implying that calling someone ‘un-cool’ is alright, but them complaining about it is not?’
‘No, Mumma. I’m sorry.’
‘Listen, my child. At your age, there will be a lot of peer pressure on you. It’s perfectly normal. Peer pressure can be both good and bad. Wanting to be cool is fine. But trying to do that at any cost is not. Wear a fashion accessory, but not at the cost of bending the rules. There is a lot of good happening around you, try to want to be a part of it. You are free to listen to any type of music but do so if it appeals to you. Also, music is the language of the soul. Don’t demean your soul by listening to filth just because it’s cool.’
‘I understand, Mumma. But what if my friends make fun of me? What if they don’t want to be friends with me anymore?’
‘My dear, Friendship and love are the only things in this world that is unconditional. If your friends do not wish to be with the real you, then they don’t deserve your friendship. Sometimes, it’s better to say NO.’
Tara smiled at her daughter. She knew that there will be few more of such talks with her daughter and hoped that Nila would be amenable to reason then.
‘Nila, I will allow you to attend the concert. But listen to what the band is singing with an open mind. If you are offended by one line in their songs, you should walk away whether your friends like it or not.’
Nila beamed at her mother, ‘Thank you, Mumma! I promise!’
Tara hugged her daughter, ‘Thank you for having an open mind, Nila. I’m proud of you.’