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Brace yourself for what’s coming: For more than three dozen years of my life I believed that looking directly at lightning in the sky made the whites of your eyes turn red.

Umm…Now, if you have finished laughing, I will continue, thank you.

Is it any wonder that I have been terrified of thunderstorms all my life? As a child I have stood around shivering with eyes screwed shut and hands clapped on ears, locked myself up in rooms with windows and doors closed much to the annoyance of insensitive elders, become the laughing stock of cousins and friends for refusing to venture out and in the more recent past, been looked at a trifle oddly by my own kids and assured with suppressed smiles that it was okay. Only the dog (Goofy) understood my feelings perfectly, scared herself, she stuck close to me, unknowingly giving me more comfort than what she sought. (Luci is unfazed, and is ready to take them on, in case you were wondering.)

Years and years, nay, decades back, I must have been three (or probably four) at the time, I had in all my innocence asked my mother why the eyes of the man who had come to our doorstep on some errand were so red. It was but a natural curiosity since those I had met in my brief existence up till then all had pretty clear whites of eyes. My mother in all her wisdom told me, it was because the man had looked directly at lightning. This was where i did some (mindless) swallowing, hook line and sinker, without any corroborative evidence whatsoever to back up the story mother fed me.

There you have it: The Power of Parents.

Now let it not be thought that my mother is an illiterate woman who believes in nonsense such as these, though in recent times I have had serious doubts about the fact, what with the latest fad being belief in gobbledygook about our ancestors’ advanced abilities in the field of “science” like surgically attaching an elephant head (why an elephant, why not something more matching in size to a human body?) on to a human body, artificial insemination, building of pushpak planes, radiation-proofing with cow-dung, et al. My mother is a degree holder and as intelligent as they come. And yet, there you have it, she thought it fit to tell me, at the tender age of three (or probably four), that looking at lightning gave one red eyes.

All my life, I believed it, thankfully not repeating it to anyone, but it was there lying dormant inside the storehouse in my head. That fateful day which turned out an “interesting” day for everyone concerned/present, talk had veered to the time we had spent in sleepy Manjeshwaram in northern Kerala. With no inkling as to the revelation that lay ahead of me, I joined the reminiscing and talked of the man who had looked at lightning and had his eyes turn red on him.

“Remember?” I asked mother. She looked at me askance. Well, it was more as if I had lost my mind.

I said no such thing,” she stated, but left unsaid what her eyes screamed: “Good God! I couldn’t have given birth to one as dumb as this?!”

“Of course you did!” I cried out, justifiably offended. 

I have a good memory unlike her (as proof I present the story of the custard apple tree), and though I write stories, I never make them up in real life. But I was already getting that all familiar sinking feeling in my stomach. There was no winning this. Once mother has spoken there Is little chance of her changing her stance. I could insist till my last breath and and the best I could get would only be the martyred ‘I have been wronged’ look. And I am not one for wasting breaths. Anyways…

By then I was already chastising myself. How could I have been so stupid as to believe such a dumb thing? I mean HOW COULD I? After all how many times have I found out things were not like what my mother made out to be? How many times had I rebelled? How many times had I told her (proved) she was wrong? And yet, I had believed, and never questioned the lightning-turns-eyes-red which was fed to me at age three (or four). That is the Power of Parenting.

The day that I realized I had been super-duper conned was the day my eyes truly opened to the POP or Power of Parenting. It is my belief that only those who are close and in whom we repose utmost faith have the power to make us believe anything, especially at a tender age. Parents come first in this category and hence have to be extra careful of what they tell children, especially in early childhood when they have absolute power over the little ones who look up to them.

This had only been a matter of lightning and red eyes. No harm done to anyone, just a matter of my finding out how dumb I have been. Think of the damaging seeds planted in children by some parents, some knowingly, others unknowingly, with their Power of Parenting, growing up to take root and become unshakable truths in impressionable minds.

Unfortunately, not all of us as adults are willing to examine and rewrite what parents have imprinted in us while young, which makes it all the more important that parents pass on what is right through words and deeds. Color, race, caste, they all make an indelible mark on the psyche of children as conveyed by parents. Why else would five year olds not play with a child with a darker shade of skin? isn’t it heartbreaking? Power of Parenting. use it wisely.

©Shail Mohan 2015