10 April 2023

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

There was once a child who was left-handed. She was a one-in-ten. A minority. When she had first shown a preference for writing with her left hand, her father, with all good intentions no doubt, got her to use the right.

Maybe he thought it was an aberration. Maybe he thought it was correctible. Maybe he simply figured that it’s best to plough through difficulty and learn to use the other hand simply because notebooks and indeed books are oriented that way: we are supposed to write and read from left to write.

She complied.

But there was a hitch. It was not just about writing. She wanted to draw. She wanted to paint. The hand-twisting had an outcome: not only was her handwriting atrocious, she did poorly in art class.   She ended up as a banker, didn’t enjoy it, got married and spent a couple of decades just being a wife and mother.  

Then she returned to art. She was brave and determined. That made the difference. Today she paints, sculpts and teaches art. She's an exception. She's exceptional.

Not all fathers are as high-handed. At least not when it comes to figuring out which hand is best to scribble on walls and floors and later to write on notebooks. This doesn’t mean that prescriptive parenthood is limited to which hand a child should use to write.

Parents, by and large, mean well. What they say and do are informed mostly by love and what they believe is best for their children. They are not perfect and sometimes are aware of their imperfections. They often stumble around in the dark but for obvious reasons give the impression that they are merchants of light, knowledgeable, confident and even infallible.

Children have dreams. Their aspirations roll from one dream to the next seamlessly or sometimes change gears and directions sharply and without warning. They are often convinced that they know what’s best. They may be right. They know what they want. At the particular moment. Moments pass and ‘wants’ change. Nothing wrong with that.

During a critical moment in my life, my father told me softly, ‘you don’t have to live up to any expectations other than your own.’ I wasn’t a child then, but that license had been valid even when I was at the age where I dreamed of being this, that or the other.

I remember a moment when I was around 12 and my brother was 13 when he elaborated on choices. He said, ‘you probably have some idea about what you want to do and who you want to be, but it’s good to keep in mind that these things change over time.’

Twelve years of age. I just wanted to join the Buddha Sasana. I remember telling myself, ‘that may be true in a general sense, but in my case, this is what I will be.’  

Children’s dreams fascinate. They also shock us. Sometimes they make us very anxious. The hardest thing for parents perhaps is to resist the compulsion to interject, to say ‘no’ or be harsh, dismissive and even cruel.  Especially when a child happens to be a one-in-ten, so to speak. Parents like to believe their child is a one-in-a-million. One’s child is extra special for every parent, naturally. Both those ratios, one-in-a-million and one-in-ten, can lead to much trauma, the one on account of over-expectation and the other because it’s seen as a defect. And who can really tell if the one-in-a-mission is really a one-in-ten or vice versa?

The one-in-ten child is unique. Special. Deserving of no less love than the one-in-a-million. Deserving of equal restraint when it comes to prescription or as source of a parent’s self-validation.

The one-in-ten citizen, similarly, has to be seen by one and all as ‘one of us,’ no less deserving of citizenship and certainly undeserving of condescension.

There’s an embryonic artist who is being asked to learn the piano, a philosophical child being railroaded into being an engineer, someone who sees beauty in mathematics being dragged to an art class, a girl with charts for brains who is being groomed to become a dutiful housewife, whatever that means.

Somewhere, somehow, someone is being identified as ‘odd’ because of ‘difference’ and being a one-in-ten.  Somewhere, somehow, humanity is getting hit below the belt.

But then, do we pause to ask ourselves, ‘am I a one-in-ten,’ and if we do recognise this incontrovertible truth, do we resolve to be less judgmental and less prescriptive?

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart