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November 4, 1997


Sylvia Khan

Gotta run, darlings! Catch you all later!

Dominic Xavier's illustration Bambi, my 13-year old has got religion. She has decided that she is now a Buddhist, and has even registered herself with a group of Zen Buddhists via the Internet.

I can't believe my naïveté in thinking that Bambi getting religion would make the world a better place for us.

The pre-religious-fervour Bambi was the caricature teenager. She spent vast quantities of money (mine) on what she called 'club clothes', and what the rest of us call kinky sex wear. It was all black leather (which I, the uninitiate, thought was passé), brief to the point of being obscene and hideously expensive. It was also stuff she simply could not live without.

She is not permitted to wear more than lipstick and nail polish in the line of make up, but had pushed the frontiers of how much mileage one can possibly get from lipstick and nail polish. I clearly recall days when she wore rings of black and blue gunk around her eyes, and looked like a racoon who'd been hit in the face with a can of paint. She went for parties with her friends, to pop-rock concerts with her friends and more often than not, ended up at home with her friends. They moved in a pack.

Well anyway, that was the bad-old-Bambi, who was transformed by Buddhism into the new-improved good girl Bambi. Or so we thought.

As Ayesha and Riaz pointed out, the best thing about Bambi was that she spent such enormous quantities of time away from the home, and us. What little we saw of her, we could deal with, with reasonable grace. Bambi-the-Buddhist stayed home for amazing lengths of time and no, it was not a time of quiet and peace.

To start with, Bambi's brand of Buddhism began early in the morning. At 5 am to put a figure on it. I really don't care if one or the other of my large brood suddenly choose to rise with the first local train. What I take violent exception to, is being woken up at an hour I consider to be the darkest night, to provide morning tea to the nouveau-godly.

Having drunk her morning cup of tea, Bambi starts her morning chanting. This does not mean she sits cross-legged in her room and murmurs soothing phrases to herself sotto voce. What it involves is a cassette of chanting, (bought via Internet, paid for in dollars), played at ear-blasting levels in the family room, while Bambi drones along with it, in competition.

None of us took this assault lying down. We leapt out of bed, Zafar, my husband, leading the attack, shrieking, "What the hell is that bloody noise?" Loud enough to be heard above the drone-din. Not in the least pleased, Bambi shrieked back, "Dad, leave my chant alone. How on earth am I supposed to achieve peace of mind with a houseful of screaming banshees?"

"Peace of mind?" my enraged husband roared back. "You can take your damn chant and buzz off to where someone will tolerate it. And that's not here!" he finished with much force, and not much grammar.

The roars and glares won, despite some tepid opposition from Bambi-the-Buddhist. She soon sulked off to her room, chanting and mumbling irreligiously.

Far from elevating her mental plane and simplifying her life which, though frenetic with activity and expense, had never really risen above the food-clothes-boys level, religion seemed to make Bambi much more of the same.

The first thing Bambi needed was a complete wardrobe.

"Hey! So what's new?" Riaz said. "You always want new clothes. Doesn't Buddhism tell you to throw away your clothes, or some such thing?"

"Riaz, you're so unspiritual," Bambi smiled a superior, spiritual and vastly irritating smile. "I am forced to get myself a few simple things because I must wear saffron."

"Why? Have you also become the Dalai Lama?" Riaz asked.

She'd had enough. "You wouldn't understand! These things are unknowable to the baser kind of person," she added and turned away.

She was busy. She had things to do, other Buddhists to meet and clothes to be fitted for.

I still played along, I thought it was just a harmless phase. And I really wanted to see how far Bambi could push this thing.

Then the "other like-minded young Buddhists" started coming over, ostensibly to commune at some spiritual level with my Buddhist-bombshell daughter. They all seemed to be young thugs, falling into Bambi's usual boyfriend-profile-tough-looking, dumb-sounding hunks, pleasing to the eye, but to little else. They were Bambi's brigade, she had converted them.

I'm a mother of the nineteen-hundreds, I can take a fair bit of crackpot behaviour and understand that Bambi, blessed with exceptional good looks, would have a fairly substantial fan following. What I draw the line at is this understandable fanclub following her into her own home (and ours), and thereafter staying parked. For days, and in one case, weeks, until I hinted to him that it was time he left.

"Mama, you can't just throw a person's bags out of the house! What has he ever done to you that you did that to him?" Bambi shrieked. Being wounded doesn't become her, she gets a sort of facial rictus that really should be avoided, and her voice becomes unbearably shrill.

I'd had enough of playing Lama Mama to the Buddhist brigade. What I wanted was all of them out and my home filled once more with people I was related to - well, perhaps one could draw the line at Bambi.

"Bambi darling," I started, "have you seen this thing in the papers about the Dalai Lama living in Dharamsala? It's not that far from here. Why don't you make a trip there? I'm sure your father will be happy to pay for your tickets, and a little extra for pocket money." Of course it was irresistible. Of course she went, and left an unusually warm and loving family behind.

Seven days later, she was back, in blue jeans and a white t-shirt. Bambi's clothes tell her story, just as other people's faces or tattoos tell theirs. Surely our Bambi wasn't cured, in so short a time? She was.

"Mama, it was awful!" she wept, clinging to me, "I had to share my room with this other girl, they wouldn't let my friends stay with me and I had to wash my own clothes and sweep my room! It was a nightmare! How can anyone be spiritual if they have to spend their lives doing that sort of menial rubbish?"

We, the unspiritual, exchanged looks. We were beginning to understand.

"But, Mama, I saw this guy there, absolutely gorgeous, Richard something or the other. My friends told me he was an actor from Hollywood, though he looked a hundred years old. So anyway, I've decided that with my looks and being quite young and all, that I want to be an actress. So I've just come to get myself a new wardrobe. Obviously, I can't go to California in these rags, and a few of my friends will be coming over later, so we can discuss my new profession. So," she paused for breath and to practise her new Hollywood smile, "gotta run! Bye darlings! I'll catch you all later!"

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Sylvia Khan