My weekly column has reappeared after an absence of many days – an absence that was forced upon me by the rancid situation in the Federal Capital and the total lack of motivation to write something light and nostalgic. It was yesterday that my gardener appeared walking up the drive trailed by a cute little girl. I sat in the verandah watching the child as she picked up dead twigs from the flower beds and began building what looked like a tiny hut. And as I did so, the stresses generated by political uncertainty and the moral bankruptcy of a corrupt regime, were replaced by warmth and a strange feeling that all would ultimately be well. I found myself transported to a different time, where a child very much like this one often sat on a stone bench under the cool dark shade of a ‘neem’ tree making huts from twigs. He would do this for hours until the voice of his mother forced him to come indoors and have his glass of milk.

It is miraculous and strange how merely observing children can present solutions to many of our problems. I remember the time when my late grandfather was faced with an emotional crisis, which for all purposes, appeared unsurmountable. The situation had engulfed the entire house in its somber embrace, when Nanna, the impish little son of our old cook climbed up the verandah steps carrying some bottle caps and a lump of clay. We sat quietly in our chairs watching his dogged yet futile attempts to fashion a crude cart like vehicle from the clay. Suddenly we saw our grandfather rise from his chair, squat beside the boy and with an ever increasing smile on his face join the little miracle worker in creating the intended work of art. It was not long before the entire family had joined the ‘assembly line’ amidst good natured banter and laughter. Needless to say, the gloom surrounding the house disappeared and a few days later the crisis passed to the satisfaction of all concerned.

It was perhaps this incident that turned my maternal grand pater into a master psychologist. Whenever he became aware that any member of the family was faced with issues, he would immediately set up impromptu (and sometimes bizarre) competitions of children versus adults. The most memorable of these events included tree climbing and snail collecting, both of which were won hands down by the young ones. Sometimes he would pile everyone (including children of our domestic help) into cars and head for our ancestral retreat on Walton Road. This was a time when Walton Road was a rural area with nothing but fields, small ponds that teemed with little black fish and berry bushes. Family members in conflict would be thrown together in a soothing environment, where children could splash to their hearts’ content under the cataract from the tube well, watched indulgently by adults. Differences would gradually disappear and everyone would return in happy bonhomie.

When I look back on those wonderful times, I know that while a part of the credit for conflict resolution within the family went to my grandfather, equal credit was due to the stake holders in the conflict. In my reckoning, the anger displayed by these individuals over issues was only skin deep, ready to be overridden by blood ties and family wisdom. I have deliberately chosen the theme of my column as my story draws a parallel with the political events we are witnessing for the last ten days. Unless all concerned have a genuine desire to come to a solution, they will not be able to find a way out of the mess that prevails today. I can only hope that concern for the state and not respective egos governs the course of ongoing negotiations because the future of the state depends on such an approach.

 The writer is a historian.