The other day, the child and I were spending a rare moment of bonding and communal television viewing, when the ad break came on. Well, call me creature-who-lives-under-a-rock, but most of my spare time is spent with the extreme end of my nose (and the reading glasses perched on them) buried into a book, ergo my TV watching and knowledge of the current ads being aired on TV channels, is rather limited.
From the television, I heard a song, which could be called beyond retro given that the original had been in play since the time movies were made in black and white, and the mater was a simpering, coy, young thing making sheep's eyes at the pater. I looked up at the screen, with a bit of mild shock, to see that the ad was for, what else, but a deodorant. It involved, in traditional deodorant ad format, gorgeous women in the immediate vicinity of a spraying-deo-on-self man, falling like flies to the ground and almost getting into knife fights for his attention. The next ad that came up was that of a motorcycle, which had the backseat as the most-coveted spot for women, with those who weren't lucky enough to snag it being doomed to stare on enviously at the current incumbent, whom they hexed through narrowed eyes, into falling off and breaking her ankle, or worse.
"This doesn't happen in real life, no, mamma?" the boy asked, with all the burgeoning curiosity of the teen years almost upon him, and the sudden bouts of uncontrollable giddy headedness that strikes him whenever a pint size of the opposite sex enters quarters of close proximity like in the elevator.
"Nope," I said firmly. "Your father had no motorcycle, but managed to have a new girl hanging on his arm every other day in college, purely based on his good looks and charm." I was not lying. But don't let the spouse read this. It would be difficult to reel him down to earth from the inevitable helium head that would ensue.
That was the end of that discussion I thought, but I was mistaken. When we were dressed up that evening to step out for a social gathering, The Brat removed from dusty storage, an old can of Disney Cars deo he had received as part of a birthday-party-return-gift-goody-bag and sprayed enough on himself to single-handedly demolish the entire ozone layer, not to mention make all of us in the immediate vicinity keel over and pass out from asphyxiation.
"Whaaaaa..." I asked, when I managed to recover my breath, by the expedient process of dragging my choking self to the window and breathing in deeply the fresh (as fresh as Mumbai's pollution will allow) air. 'What brought that on? So much deodorant? Why?' It couldn't be a sudden interest in personal hygiene, could it, given that he occasionally still needed to be scoured down with Scotch-Brite before I deemed him fit to be released for public viewing.
"Is good to use deodorant," he explained to me patiently, in the manner young kids today use, when they need to explain the facts of life to their parents, who they probably think conceived them in an immaculate manner that did not involve exchange of bodily fluids. "It makes you smell nice."
Erm. Since when had the boy begun to bother about whether he smelt nice, I wondered, faintly concerned. The last I heard, he had to be physically dragged into the shower when he started giving off visible-to-the-naked-eye-glow-in-the-dark-rays from the bacteria feasting upon perspiration from hours of unstructured play in humid Mumbai summer conditions. What memo had I missed?
"Well, if you bathe a couple of times in a day during summer," I began gently, "You don't really need to pollute the atmosphere with all this CFC you've sprayed today."
I also launched into a revision, taking undue advantage of the situation, of how global warming occurs, including hot house gases, CFCs in deodorant brands and cow farts, the last item of the list which was guaranteed to perk up his interest in the topic.
"Bud I wantu smell good. And I got hair under my armpit now."
"This would need a magnifying glass for confirmation," I told him clearly.
We were back to square one, and I suspected the deodorant ads he had been subjected to viewing were at the bottom of this sudden desire to up his olfactory charms.
"Son," I told him, in as much seriousness as I could manage while holding my breath to not keel over and crash in the tiling. "You don't need to use deodorant right now. You are still a child. When you grow older, you could perhaps use it but that might only be necessary if your personal hygiene isn't up to scratch and you have a body odour issue."
He wrinkled his face and stared at me, communicating, in silent, manly, guy mode what I was missing in this entire new overdose-on-deo mission. My son was trying to get macho-from-a-can and he still has to sprout facial hair!
"And no," I said in the gentlest way I could, trying my damndest to not disillusion him further, given that he had just about stopped believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, "Spraying on an entire can of deodorant won't make the girls like you. In fact, if they're girls with good functional noses and a modicum of sense, they'll run away from you." His face fell.
"You can't buy attractiveness in a can, my son," I told him. "Smelling good helps, of course, but there are a lot of other things that make people like you."
What I wished I could tell him so he could comprehend, but perhaps is a speech I could save for when he is a little older, is, "You can't spray attractiveness on, or no one in the world would be unloved and unwanted, and every boy would be a chick magnet. Work on the things that matter, my boy. Become a nice person, care about people. Build your personality. That would stand you in better stead than a thousand cans of deo. And yes, bathe and shave regularly. All the deo in the world won't help you if you don't."