The kid who lives in my house just turned 18. He has grown his hair till it falls over his shoulders, he thinks it’s cool, I think it’s nutty. You can’t make it out in this photo, due to the lighting. Here he is, like a million other kids, cutting his cake that marks the advent of adulthood.
18 is considered the age of majority in Canada, the age when a person stops being a minor, when a kid is considered finally by law to be no longer a kid, but an adult.
I remember my 18th birthday. It was February 1973. Oh yeah, a long while ago. But some days kinda stick. My college dorm-mates had thrown a party in my room. That was at a time when the Indian state of Tamil Nadu didn’t have prohibition. Booze was everywhere in the dorms. They plied me with ‘feni’ a 50-proof concoction from cashew nuts.
With feni, it doesn’t slowly get you high. Its soft and cuddly and doesn’t do a thing to you until you’ve downed the quarter of a full bottle. And then you do something – maybe light a cigarette, or just get up from your chair to go take a leak.
That’s when it hits you like a battering ram and you’re floating….. Feni is cruel. Feni is a chemical weapon. If you ever visit India, be very careful of feni. Make sure you’re with trusted friends, in a safe environment. Ensure that those around you won’t tell the outside world what you said or did, because – trust me – feni will turn you into a jerk.
When my dorm-mates gave me feni, the result was catastrophic. All I recall is the postman at the door with a telegram from my father and Vernon (a classmate) reading it out unsteadily to all the spaced out guys sprawled around the floor, high on not only feni but Kodi grass, ” Hey, here’s what Bong’s Dad has sent……’Happy Birthday, Jobbu!’ Hey, who the fuck is ‘jobbu’?”
Here I am, 45 years hence and it’s my son having his 18th birthday. He doesn’t smoke and is a teetotaller. He believes in virtue and fairness and he strongly believes that ultimately merit wins. He is an agnostic (like his father), though he respects his mother’s devout Muslim leanings, like his father does.
When I look back, it’s not about what I’ve been able to teach him. I have taught him nothing, the sinner that I am. It is all about what he has taught me, ever since he was little. Let me give you an example…..
It was 2002, he was just shy of 2. We were inside a bus in Westmount, on the way home from his ‘garderie’. When an old woman got in, he got up so she could sit in his place. No one, I swear, no one had ever told him it is the right thing to do to give your seat to an old woman.
A colleague at work just had a baby son. She is amazed at how good natured her baby is, always sunny and happily gurgling, never crying, never waking them every ten minutes. She says she feels unworthy………..
I have always been unworthy.