(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 19th April 2008)
I have come to accept that I must have signed a deal with God when I was in some sort of limbo; a family sitting near me will always bring a crying baby along on every flight, train and bus that I board. But, as a borderline neurotic fan of movies, to the extent I will never allow anyone to quote lines from a movie I haven't seen, God could not have forced me to say, under duress of drugs, hypnosis or even torture, that crying babies will haunt every theatre I go to!
The word, I believe, is paedophobe. I might have invented it. As the person who shrugged when her friends screamed out that there was a rat running up her trousers, the person who said "awwww!!!!" when her mother squealed that a monkey was searching her pockets for munchies, and the person who picks up cockroaches and releases them into the wild while the rest of her family is shivering in fear and disgust, I came to realise quite early on that the only organisms I have a mortal fear of are children.
Fortunately, at some point in their lifespan, they morph into something you can come to terms with as part of your species. But unfortunately, as a woman, you're supposed to find them most adorable before they reach the butterfly stage – and it is not politically correct to use the words "larvae" or "caterpillar". You're quite hard put, though, to keep smiling when someone dumps a baby on to your lap on a crowded bus. You have two options – (a) force yourself not to recall Omen as the hostile gaze meets yours and …uh…shall we call them (out of concern for those people Freud would surmise have been toilet-trained too early) 'the after-effects of a tearful tantrum on its nose and mouth'….threaten to land on your clothes (b) get up and offer your seat to the mother of the child. I usually resort to the latter, having too weak a stomach for Option (a).
But when you're watching a movie, you're pretty much stuck. You could either try being polite and request the parents to quieten the child (which, of course, will get you a withering glare – and more importantly, make you miss part of the movie), or get argumentative and scream at the parents saying they should know better than to bring a kid to a night show, well past its bedtime (which will get you sworn at, labelled hysterical, vilified by every other parent in the theatre, despised by every other movie aficionado in the theatre – and more importantly than all of those put together, make you miss more of the movie.) One way out I am yet to try – and, most probably, will only wistfully think of – might be saying "awww! So cute! Can I hold him (or her) for a while?" and while pretending to pinch its chin and cheeks, quickly slip a sedative into its mouth.
The temptation was strongest when I, having scrimped and scrounged on a student's budget, went to watch the stage performance of The Lion King, at London's West End. I was to realise, while watching the audience filter out, that the only human beings under the age of ten in that enormous auditorium, had been seated in the row before me.
I bent over, as three of the children screamed and whooped, to whisper to their mother, in my most understanding voice, "hi, I know it's really hard to keep the kids quiet, but I've missed out quite a chunk of the dialogue, so could you please get them to talk softly?"
"Wha' you say, sees-ta?" came a rather forbidding voice.
"I said, can you get your children to be less excited?"
"Las' time I checked, you're too old for the play. It's Disney, remem-bah? You know whom Disney is for?"
I had to hand it to her – there was no comeback to logic of that variety. For a long time, I have dreamt of making a public service advertisement. In my head, the camera would focus on a steamy scene on screen, and then pan to an open-mouthed five-year-old, and then to the child's horrified parents. And then, a voice would boom out as bold red letters appeared on screen, "PREVENT TEENAGE PREGNANCY. DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN TO MOVIES."