March 28, 2009, 8:30pm to 9:30pm. Try it. Turn off your lights at home for an hour. It should be particularly interesting and of importance for those of us with children. It's their future at stake, right? Ahmedabad has almost no powercuts, so the idea of a blackout, even if for an hour, should be fascinating for Nino. He knows he's got to save 'elecktricity', but well, does he know how different life would be for him without it?
Have a candle-light conversation with you kid. Sing aloud. Make shadows on the walls. Step out on the terrace and hear the sounds of the neighbourhood. Make dinosaur shapes from star constellations. Listen to heart beats. Whisper. Say a big thank-you to the lightbulb in the sky. Use a handmade fan. Blow on tiny curls that bounce back with such joy. And may be, if you're this side, you can watch a flock of egrets soar high above our high-rise, white lines of beauty and power, of white light amid a tar-grey sky.
I've sort of lived with a certain regret that I was unable to have a normal delivery, not because of medical reasons, but somehow because I was not strong enough to bear the pain, to let my body 'open' for Nino. Even though this may not technically be true, the mutterings of the elderly in my family has seeped into my sub-consciousness. I am suddenly this low-pain-threshold person, this softie, you know what I mean?
Amber Hartnell did not intend to have an orgasmic birth - it just happened. "Trying to have an orgasmic birth defeats the object," she says, "I just got into this ecstatic state where I had these peaks of orgasm. There were these rolling waves coming through me where I was laughing and crying. I didn't feel like I was having contractions. They were more like rushes. I did not actually experience pain, I experienced intense sensations."
"It was the most overwhelming pleasure I have ever felt in my life," Hartnell says.
First up, let me be honest that the idea is mildly offensive to me. Maybe I'm being a prude, but while sex can be and should be recreational, the process of pregnancy and creating a life and a soul transcends mere procreational needs. An orgasm seems so, trifle, considering what it is being associated with, somehow. One of my concerns during pregnancy was related to breastfeeding: how would it feel considering I'm very sensitive in that part of my anatomy? Breastfeeding was a delight: and I actually felt 'useful': if you can understand that. It was as if discovering the real purpose to having a particularly shaped body. It was in no way titillating, and the pleasure I derived from it was emotional, rather than physical, given how painful it can be sometimes.
That's why this whole theory about orgasmic birth is intriguing, for the lack of another word. It's not sado-masochistic as it seems - believers say this is not an instance of deriving pain through pleasure. Maybe what bothers me is that it sounds like there is an underlying expectation that birth should be pleasurable, that it is a choice between pain and pleasure. It questions my needs to screech, to feel fear, to rant about my gender and it's afflictions, to given in to my limitations as a human being: it lays yet another brick of guilt on top the many that entomb mothers.
But is it really such a loony thing? The Bhagwad Gita's Sundar Kand describes Devaki's labour in synonyms with nature, and her relief in Krishna's birth also, with similar simile that could be construed to mean that she felt absolute pleasure when he was born. There are many, including Osho, who believe there is a thin line between spiritual pleasure and sexual pleasure, and that an orgasm is close to meditation: its a split second where the mind is completely blank, devoid of any negative thoughts, immersed in pure pleasure that by its lack of negativity, becomes a positive source of energy. Several streams of medicine including Acupressure and Homeopathy believe that a child experiences physical, medical and spiritual side effects of his/her birthing: there are afflictions associated with how long the labour lasted, how the head was positioned, was it an easy plop or a major push-and-grunt affair. Does this then mean that having a pleasurable birth affects the child too?
What do you think: Before you classify this as a loony new trend that's taken Western imagination by storm, read the article and try and watch the video (it's a bit graphic for office/kid viewing). Have you experienced an orgasmic birth? Or a feeling similar to pleasure, that you're unable to tag as an orgasm? Does this disgust you, like it did me, when I first read it? Or is it one of those metaphysical cum spiritual things about motherhood and the gift of creating life that we're only meant understand when we are ready?
She's lying down on the bed in the room down the corridor, and I can smell her even as I walk towards her room.
It's a smell I've come to associate with old age: a putrid mix of medicines and urine, of foul breath and incense sticks. It invades my nostrils and I'm startled for a bit, resisting it's strength and the need-to-escape that it brings, all in the same moment.
The floor tiles are cool beneath my bare feet, and my black toe-nails seem ominous. Her room's less than 10ft away, but I'm already reliving words I've heard dozens of times before. If I could run away now, I would, but there are several pairs of eyes following me, and they anchor me down.
She coughs as she sees me enter, a frown creasing her proud and wide forehead, then a momentary lapse of a smile, as she sees the grandson-in-law behind me. She shifts a bit in the bed, adjusts the bedcover over her, clasps her hands on her abdomen: 'how are you', she asks him, pointedly ignoring the girl who has sat down next to her, in four measly inches of urine-stained bedsheets.
'How are you', I ask her, gingerly reaching out to her now-lined but beautifully fair hands. 'Just surviving', she says, 'you finally found time to ask how I was doing?' It's the patent first jibe as always, and I can feel the husband's uneasy eyes on my face, I know he's asking me to keep my armours up. This looks like its going to be a long afternoon, followed by an evening of tears as I will try and salve my wounds. I wait, a sigh of resignation escaping me, for more word-lashing.
None follows. In that word-less few minutes, I'm pained by how grayish her eyes appear: a decaying spirit that shows itself in the spots around her pupils - and how strong this smell of despair is around her. I caress her partly grey hair, without thinking my act through, and she turns to me, startled I think by this act of affection: there is no one who has the courage to come this close, or perhaps there is no one who feels this affection for her, a mothering feeling of wanting to protect. She has always been the indefatigable one: the towering loud-voiced woman who braved straying sons and 'exotic' daughters-in-law, who raised her fours son and two daughters on nothing more than pittance and raw nerve. She was the protector, the hunter, the procurer, the final word, the chieftain. She knows she no longer is, and she will never forgive time for that.
Her chin shakes with the tears her ego won't let her shed, there are a few stray grey hair there and I'm suddenly in need to hug her, with the abandon that is characteristic to my love: reason has no place in it, neither does memory no matter how painful. 'What's wrong', I ask her. 'Why won't you get up from the bed?'
There's the back that hurts, a right leg that won't listen, a swollen ankle. 'Remember last year', I prod her. 'It was the same thing, you just need to start walking, you need to get up and get about', I say. She pushes my hands away and turns on her side: 'No one tells me what to do', she says. 'You don't know what I'm going through'.
I joke a bit, telling her about Nino's crazy antics, some real, some made to seem more funny. I know she's listening, I can see her smile. 'Is he eating properly', she asks me. 'Yes, Ba', I say. 'He's eating just fine'.
My aunt comes in and we discuss what the doctors have had to say, and she tells me, in a voice that I know is meant to carry its message to more ears than mine, how difficult Ba's been, how she screams viciously everytime they try and take her to the loo. 'She throws all her weight on me and I can barely walk with her nails digging into my shoulders', my aunt says, 'I'm too scared to be with her alone'.
Fear. I can smell it in Ba's breath. In my perspiration. In my aunt's constantly flitting eyes. It's a feeling that's at home with my grandmother. Her tales of oppression are legendary: there is not a single person in my family who has not been afraid of her, who has not been subjected to her rage, at some point in their lives. Rebellions were squashed with a force so brute that a few damaged specimens in the family are still trying to piece their lives together.
There is talk of how her sons have no time for her, the daughters-in-law are good and serve her well, but hell, they're someone else's blood at the end of the day. The stench of bitterness is so strong, remorse has no place here, nor does nostalgia. Does she ever wonder if they will cry after she has departed? It's a thought that has no place in this time and circumstance, and yet, I can't help but marvel at her. There are reasons for this version of her: I know the hows and whys that my father patiently explained to me once, his words perhaps echoing those that a little boy and then a young man must have said, over and over again to himself, as he searched for a little love and a mother's soothing touch.
I can't help the words of advice that occur to me: I'm driven to frustration by a situation that I know a few answers to. 'Wriggle your toes', I tell her. 'Try and sit up and move the right leg a bit.' 'She only needs to keep herself occupied', I tell my aunt. She gives me the knowing 'empty mind is devil's workshop' look coupled with helplessness.
I know Ba hates to read: I think she went to school only for a bit, and the written word has always irked her. Perhaps it was among the few things she was unable to conquer with the brute force of her tongue or the bitterness of her heart. I see the marble devghar right next to her bed, lined with fresh dust, no fresh water or fruit in front of the Gods, as is her customary offering.
The answer to the need for religion is something only old age offers. At that time, as you grapple with a body that is giving up and a mind that is no longer in control of its place of residence, religion becomes less of a ritual and a name, and more of a spirit-building and will-strengthening exercise. The old turn to chanting and praying sometimes out of fear of the outcome of death, but there are also some who truly discover a meaning and sub-text to life through it.
'Why don't you chant His name', I tell her, 'count the rosary beads a hundred times over'. Just another routine to take her mind off her pain, both real and spiritual, I think to myself.
She turns around with a vengeance that scares me. 'I will never take His name,' she says, in a half-scream. 'I walked 400 miles barefoot for him. Fasted half my life. Bought Him new clothes and beautiful jewellery even when I din't have enough to spend on me,' she seethes. 'And look at me now. He doesn't even look at me, doesn't even ease my suffering. I walked 400 miles and I can't walk a step now.'
'All my life I prayed to Him, I sang His songs, made Him the food He likes. For what? For this pain? For this humiliation?'
Ba makes a brushing-away movement with her arms, looking at the devghar. 'Take Him away,' she tells me, as her tears finally begin to flow. 'I can never forgive Him. I don't want Him now.'
It's going to be Mother's Day in the UK soon, and we've been (I work with a British Asian mag) ploughing through mothers day messages by the truckload. Apart from the fact that I think mums need to make their kids spell better (I mean the grown up ones) and that flowers are so bloody expensive in the UK, I might have just given the whole festival a miss, till I received this in a forward.
Interestingly, it's from a dear friend, R, who is single, and who surprisingly gives the most sane advice on balancing kids and married life and sanity, ever. This is one of those irreverential lists, the one that cocks a snook at this life-changing decision. It's a good laugh in places, and comes especially recommended for new mothers. Us old ones, well, we're too jaded with removing curry stains from hair and clothes and sofa to eek a smile.
The things I personally related to, are points 4, 5 and 7. I'm a beached whale with whiplash-like stretch mark scars: and I haven't fit into anything remotely S in three years. This was a big part of my lows after motherhood: I remember walking into changing rooms in malls armed with only XS and S (my size before Nino came along) and then crying for hours in the changing room. M was for Mum, and well, that was what I was. Though I try to crack a joke at it now, my weight affected my disposition, my drive for physical intimacy, lead to huge fights with the husband whose every 'but I think you look great' snowballed into his being an insensitive jerk. I'm not completely okay with it, yet, but I'm getting there. (who am I kidding?!)
Then there's school politics. Tales of wit, wisdom, brilliance and otherwise, as I've tried to bond with the folks who send their kids to Nino's school. I've managed a few friends, and that's because we're not talking about our kids and their capabilities.
Finally, one serious recommendation I'd make you, is to have a friend who is single. Preferably a woman. Needless to say, she needs to be prepared for your Momzilla side, but heck, her importance in your life is one of those things that they don't tell you about motherhood.
Tell me what clicked with you on the list and what did not. Or do you have your own list? And if you're a single friend to a mommy, what's it like for you to be surrounded by poop-tales and teething-worries? Tell, tell, tell!
Ten things they never tell you about motherhood
- Sarah Vine
There's a conspiracy of silence about motherhood, argues our writer. From schoolgate gossips to bed-wetting, here is her guide for Mother's Day...
Motherhood is one of the great obsessions of our age. Everyone seems to have an opinion, even those who will never experience it (men), and those for whom it is a distant memory (grumpy old ladies). Whether you breast-feed or bottle-feed, give birth naturally or deliver by Cesarean, stay at home or return to work, the impression is that whatever you are doing, it's almost certainly wrong.
The most curious aspect of this is that much of the pressure comes not from some patriarchal conspiracy, but from women. Even the National Childbirth Trust recently stated that it wants to see the use of epidurals during labour reduced by 40 per cent to “boost traditional births” - aka “agonising pain”.
Most confusing of all is what a friend of mine calls “the conspiracy of silence”: the abyss that exists between what people will tell you about having children and what it really entails. The truth is, as my mother once remarked darkly, that if women thought properly about having children, no one would ever give birth again.
Here then are ten things about motherhood that no one will tell you. 1. Bottoms Motherhood, especially in the early years, is a scatological business. You will find yourself responsible for more dung than the keeper of the elephant enclosure at London Zoo. As a result, things that would once have made you gag are now mild inconveniences. At 3am, when your youngest, all snuggly next to you, covers your side of the bed in a wet, warm pool of wee, you don't leap out and strip the sheets. Oh no: you stagger to the bathroom, grab a few towels, cover the wet patch and go back to sleep. You get to the stage when having “a little bit of wee, Mummy” on your trousers is normal. You will get used to sharing a lavatory cubicle with at least one other person, sometimes two or three on an outing. With a son you will, at some time, have to hold his willy when he goes to the loo.
2. Partners You know those frazzled couples you used to see around at weekends? The ones who don't appear to have washed or ironed their clothes? They call each other “Mummy” and “Daddy”, even though they once had names of their own. Their vocabulary now consists of a series of stock phrases: “You can't have another Lego Star Wars Space Ship”; or “You can have an ice-cream, but only if you eat your broccoli.” Don't get too cross with these couples. Remember, they've been up since 6am and they probably haven't had sex for, ooh, about a thousand years. And crucially, one day that might be you.
3. Making a fool of yourself It doesn't matter how cool you are, once you have children you will snort like a piggy-wig, neigh like a horse, run through the park shouting “Here comes the wibble-monster”. Sometimes this can be liberating. Other times it's just very, very embarrassing.
4. The body Despite what the manuals tell you, pregnancy is not a return journey. Your back may go; your arches may fall; you will get brown spots on your skin. There may be whole areas of your body that you no longer recognise: Cesareans leave you with a weird stomach overhang; a natural birth means you will never again perform star jumps with confidence. Pilates, yoga, Power Plate. All these help. But unless you work at it like Madonna, you will never be box-fresh again.
5. The school gate For some, an opportunity to display to the world their offspring's brilliance. For others, a Dantesque vision of Hell. You'll know which within seconds of your child's first day at nursery.
6. Celebrity mothers The only secret to the marvel of the celebrity mother, with her flat stomach, her 6in heels and her sexy husband, is this: 24-hour childcare. Don't believe the hype.
7. Single friends It can be hard, not to say very dull, for your childless friends when you turn into a milk-obsessed insomniac whose idea of spontaneity is giving her baby puréed avocado instead of banana for tea. Your friends' obsession with the banal issues of life, such as whether to invest in this season's new jump-suit, can seem absurdly indulgent. Besides, you are secretly jealous. Yet if you can both curb your tongue, a childless friend is often the best a mother can have - someone to talk to about the important issues in life; someone who will remind you that you once had an identity of your own and that there is more to life than school admission procedures.
8. Sleep Unless you happen to be SAS trained, there is nothing that can prepare you for the effects of the prolonged sleep deprivation that comes with having children. They will wake you once, twice, three times in the night; if you have two, they will wake in relays, so as to inflict maximum damage. Should you attempt any sort of alcohol-based evening celebration, you can guarantee that the children will wake an hour and a half before they usually do, with twice the energy.
9 Birthing pools If you like the idea of sitting in your own bodily fluids, then fine. If not, well, not. I know a man who had to perform an unpleasant fishing operation using the kitchen sieve during the later stages of his wife's labour. He has never recovered.
10. The Fear The most agonising aspect of motherhood is the terrible fear that you may lose your child. With the fear comes guilt, worry and, occasionally, panic. There is little you can do about this, except push it to the back of your mind, avoid listening to certain news reports - and pray that it never happens to you.
I've put up a Top Clicks section on the right-side column of the blog, just below Nino's b'day ticker. So often through the day, I stumble across a story/an incident that just grabs my attention and my soul, and I can't get it out of my system, purely because I believe it needs to be heard more.
I work with a magazine, that like all of them out there, has its own agenda and a soul that is more market-driven than cause-oriented. I can't put these stories there, and so I put them here, hoping you will read it, hoping the word gets spread.
And even though we may not always be in a position to effect a change, I believe no story, no life must go unheard. These are my recommendations. I don't know how often I'll change it, I was looking at once a week, but some stories need to stay on longer.
Like this one about lesbian women in South Africa being subjected to 'corrective rape' by men who believe that freedom of choice is basically a lack of experience in the 'straight fine thing'. The video (linked in the third para of the Top Clicks) section is heartwreching - you've a young man saying that while he wouldn't commit 'such a rape', he's very happy someone else is doing it, because the women need to be taught a lesson. The story itself, as reported in the Guardian, is so heart-breaking, it left me feeling with what I've come to term as 'arm chair vulnerability'. Its so shocking it gives me jitters just thinking of it, forget putting myself in those women's battered and bloodied shoes. Please do read. And remember.
I'm a small town girl. Born and brought up in Gandhinagar, a dusty and shady small town, where only bureaucrats and government officers/officials live. Growing up, surrounded by friends from the same family background of hard-working parents, book-filled homes and serious political discussions over endless cups of tea, it was like an extended family, where everyone knew my folks, and they'd know if I'd been in trouble before even I knew about it. And like everybody else, I couldn't wait to escape it.
The capital of the state it may be, but Gandhinagar has always been what other city residents call it, 'an old age home'. We had no places to shop for the kind of clothes we wanted, no places to pick interesting hair accessories. For everything, even a fairly decent dressing sauce, we'd all troop into the car and drive up to Ahmedabad. When I go back today, I barely see any young people there. There are the school-going kids and then there are the parents whose nests are empty and whose children have long flown to more interesting pastures. There are things about it that I loved, and love still: like how it just smells so clean, so green. Driving down from Ahmedabad, a mere 40 km away, I roll down the windows as Gandhinagar appears and just take in deep lung-fulls of air, the smells of childhood that I've come to miss: the smell of dusk, a mix of dust and cow dung, called godhuli so beautifully in Hindi.
Of course I loved my schooling years there: and it is here that I found my first friends, faced my first bullies and had my first few crushes. Last night, a few of us classmates met again, nearly ten years after we'd parted.
After a long time, I dilly-dallied over what I'd wear, knowing the guys would surround me and rib me silly about going from Somalian to gargutan. I settled on jeans and a silk paisley top, low-slung enough to fit my more feminine state of mind now, and yet, comfortable enough to face people with mindframes I'd no idea of.
There were meant to be 11 of us, but only four of us turned up. Most of the class doesn't live in the state/country, and reunions have somehow never worked out because of those logistics.
Last night, as we three girls and one guy chatted, we relieved those small town memories, recounted to exact and embarrassing details by D, the only guy who'd come. Like how I once wore a mini-skirt to a friend's birthday party, and had probably never realised that my then-hair, were longer than the skirt. Or how the first time a guy 'proposed friendship' to me, I'd burst out in tears leaving him and the class wondering if I was a lunatic.
And like all friendships, it got cemented over some skeletons. Some of them our own, some of those who had not made it to the reunion. One of the girls has been through a physically abusive marriage and is now living in with an Australian guy who loves her to bits. Another classmate ran away from home and community and married a guy who she later discovered was already involved with another woman. Another had an abusive father who'd beat her in such a way that we'd never be able to see it, but the bruises and welts would all be there, hidden beneath her school uniform. Or like how the guy who was a write-off was running an uber-successful ad agency, the guys who were the flirts and mr-commitment-phobic's were the first ones to get married. There were the regular juicy bits of affairs and divorces, success stories and unfathomable failures. Open, frank discussions of sex and what works and what doesn't. Random kaleidoscopic insights into the one-dimensional memory I had of the faces I grew up with.
It was vaguely unsettling: more so because one of the reasons I wanted to run away from my city was because of it's 'simple' residents, their 'boring and uneventful' lives. All this while, there was an underbelly to these residents that I'd not noticed, in my immaturity, in my need to get away from it all. It was also ironic, that I'm one of the few that still lives in the vicinity, when I'd been most vocal about my need to get away and see the world, while everyone else lives in countries I'd not even heard of when I was a kid.
Without Nino, and Nino's Dad, it was also my first time, in a long time, meeting people only I knew, who were in no way involved in the social circle I inherited when I got married. It was refreshing re-living school stories, crushes, laughing at the absurdity of teenage and its short-sightedness, of mourning friends and friendships that had passed on. It was humbling knowing that while our girths had changed (some of us, some are still lucky!), our faces hadn't, our expressions hadn't. We still punched and kicked and laughed raucously, ate from each others plates, enjoying a camaraderie we probably din't even have a decade back.
It was a trip back in time, a flash-back, but not grey or ochre, instead brilliantly hued and humbling in all the wisdom and hindsight it brought.
I can honestly say, that life as I know it today, would be very difficult without the Internet. Apart from all the information it feeds my insatiable curiosity, it's rubbished its touted abilities of alienation and given me friends, and I'm pretty sure those handles are actual people, most of the time.
I've lived long distance relationships through it, shopped and escaped the cash guilt through it, discovered the wisdom of authors I would never have found in Ahmedabad's less than five bookshops. I've visited places, shared forbidden conversations with interesting males, shown complete strangers my baby's photographs and have them gush over him with me. Google's next to God (why God why has effectively been replaced by tell me why google, no?), blogger's replaced the bedside diary. For my every why, how, when, where and why not, it's there, with its million reasonings and offerings of choice. Once I believed that I could travel the world through a book, needless to say, the Internet belongs in that category too.
My profession has changed outright because of the Internet. I now have to 'unlearn' writing witty and catchy headlines (after all the grief it took to get to that frame of mind in the first place), and make my content 'search engine friendly'. I'm in a bit of a time wrap reading papers in the loo: I've read most of it the evening before. News is updated constantly: 24/7 has made way for the ability to see change happen every few seconds.
It's also served some global good. A platform for mutiny, the Internet has spread the word quicker than a dozen marches or protest strikes. For the planet, for people, for a bear in a Russian Zoo, sympathy, empathy and concern are truly glocal thanks to the WWW. It's made heroes out of ordinary folks we'd typically miss, and it's pulled our Gods down, shown us more than one pair of dirty feet.
Personally, for me, one of the greatest highs of the Internet is that it has been a technology that women have embraced fully: in all our torrential glory, stamping our identities, both good and bad, all over it.
I'm not the sort that gets addicted to things very easily - and I'm having a slightly uneasy feeling saying this, but I'm totally addicted, dependent and lost without the wired world. I like that I don't always like what it throws back at me, and I'm comforted knowing there are so many things I've yet to see, yet to learn, yet to experience.
For those of us stuck in a marital/relationship rut, here's a revolutionary product that promises to offer renewed 'security, commitment and shelter.' There's just one hitch though, it's an airborne missile.
Israeli arms dealer Rafael, currently trying to sink in a few teeth in India's every expanding defense pie, has made a Bollywood-style video (complete with backless cholis, gyrating dancers with just a tad too much flesh, and a hero and a heroine promising each other the earth).
Don't miss this, because if the babus in India do get to see it, we'll be using Rafael in family planning soon. (Warning: you will fall off your chair, so dinga dinga dinga dinga dinga dinga dinga dinga dee, don't tell me I din't warn you. Oh and it's safe for office/kid viewing.)
Did you have a good time? We tried to. Nino hated getting coloured, hated anyone colouring me and the only time he din't cry was when he sat down to play 'dhobi' in the wash area. Sigh. So much for spending a bomb on organic colours.
What is: Bad, bad, bad day at work. Deadlines that leave me very-near-dead. Mean, rude emails. A major gaffe on Friday that comes back to haunt me. Reminder to self: Must never let weekend euphoria get near me again.
What it looks like: I'm the sassy chick who struts fast in corridors, I'm the babe who has everything under control. They can say when I'm in a spot of trouble, but they'll never know how much. Now I'll go home and fix the kid's dinner, chat with the in-laws and nod dutifully. I'm infallible, un-get-able, never fatiguing.
What is needed: I want to curl up and sob, tell someone what miserable people exist in this world. Eat greasy chinese food and drink a whole-glass of Thums Up. Watch lots of tv. Not have to worry about school night. I don't want to read Poldy learns about Place for the 78th time. I want to be rescued, shining knight in armour/sari and all that, and cocooned till I'm healed again.
... in more ways than one. This tag talks about Nino who is my first born, (and if the damn husband has his way, there will be no more Nino clan to write about, grrr) and it's also my first tag, thanks to Tharini and one that I've absolutely loved doing. I will also do this with absolute honesty, and I'm not proud of all my answers.
1. WAS YOUR FIRST PREGNANCY PLANNED? No. Nino also was not planned, not expected and not wanted at that particular time.
2. WERE YOU MARRIED AT THE TIME? Newly :)
3. WHAT WERE YOUR REACTIONS? I cried my eyes, heart and lungs out. Huge, embarrassingly loud sobs that seemed deafening in the silence that Nino's Dad greeted me with.
4. WAS ABORTION AN OPTION FOR YOU? Yes and No. It's complicated. The line between the right no and the wrong yes.
5. HOW OLD WERE YOU? 25.
6. HOW DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE PREGNANT? My periods are timed. They even stick to the very second they're expected to arrive. Needless to say I knew within 24 hours that it was time for a test kit. Even though I never really expected to see two lines.
7. WHO DID YOU TELL FIRST? The husband obviously, who was waiting impatiently outside the bathroom door. He checked the kit instructions several times over to make sure he was seeing what he was seeing! Then the sister-in-law, that is, the husband's sister. This was right after the test. We were driving down to a much awaited sale, and I told her and she whooped and gave me the first of many sane advices I was to receive from her. 'Don't buy the belts and the heels,' she said. Then I saw the doc. Then I told my mum. I was really really worried telling her about it, and her hesitation in answering killed me. She thought I'd been too careless, too young. I thought she was right.
8. DUE DATE? January 8, 2006.
9. DID YOU HAVE MORNING SICKNESS? Nope. I had nothing. I was working with a newspaper at that time, heading a team of four people, and I did 14-hour days most of my pregnancy, happily.
10. WHAT DID YOU CRAVE? Okay, this is corny, and not inspired by movies. Very Berry Strawberry ice cream by Baskin Robbins. At about 11:20pm every night.
11. WHO/WHAT IRRITATED YOU THE MOST? Three suspects here. The only possible negative side-effect of the pregnancy was that I completely and totally lost my sleep. I must have slept six hours across nine months. That irritated me a lot. And the fact that I couldn't wear the kind of clothes that I was used to wearing. Somehow that bothered me to no end. I have always been a top-heavy girl, but I discovered the pain of an abundant bosom far outweighs the seeming attractions during this time. I was in pain, no bras would fit me, I'd have deep gashes on my shoulders from the straps weightlifting.
12. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CHILD'S SEX? Male.
13. DID YOU WISH YOU HAD THE OPPOSITE SEX OF WHAT YOU WERE GETTING? A bit. Though somehow I always knew I was going to have a boy. I think I just like girl's names better. I had already chosen Radha/Uma in my head :)
14. HOW MANY POUNDS DID YOU GAIN THROUGHOUT THE PREGNANCY? I was 45 kilos when I got pregnant, and was strictly instructed to put on some serious weight. I put on no weight in my first trimester, worrying the family to no end. Then the kilos started piling on, and have yet not left! I put on 20 kilos.
15. DID YOU HAVE A BABY SHOWER? Yes, two of them! One for friends with all the typical baby shower games including a sipping-from-the-nipple beer competition. And a traditional one organised by my grandmum. Lots of flowers in my hair, green bangles on my wrist, and a lap full of fruits :)
16. WAS IT A SURPRISE OR DID YOU KNOW? I knew about both - and I planned the first one to perfection!
17. DID YOU HAVE ANY COMPLICATIONS DURING YOUR PREGNANCY? No, it was as smooth a run as could have been. Though I did spot a bit in my first month and was given a bed rest for five days out of which I worked for four.
18. WHERE DID YOU GIVE BIRTH? In a hospital's cold, colour-less and disinfectant-smelling room. I will never forget how cold it felt.
19. HOW MANY HOURS WERE YOU IN LABOR? I think six to seven hours. My water broke at 6am, I was induced at about 9, the contractions started kicking in at about 11. They kept coming till about 6:30pm, but were not strong enough, medically speaking, although they almost killed me. In those hours, I'd dilated only ONE measly centimeter. The old matron on duty told my mother I was not letting my body open.
20. WHO DROVE YOU TO THE HOSPITAL/BIRTH CENTER? The family. Husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, father-in-law. My parents, who live in a neighbouring city, joined me an hour later.
21. WHO WATCHED YOU GIVE BIRTH? My sister-in-law. The doctor was adamant that nobody would be allowed in the operating room, and I was shrieking my head off, calling out to Nino's Dad. They finally came out to call him, couldn't locate him, and the sister-in-law held my hand instead.
22. WAS IT NATURAL OR C-SECTION? Unnatural c-section.
23. DID YOU TAKE MEDICINE TO EASE THE PAIN? I was squashed into a foetal shape and jabbed. So I guess, yes.
24. HOW MUCH DID YOUR CHILD WEIGH? The weird part is, two days before I went into labour, we'd gone for an ultrasound, where the doctor said the baby's weight was 2.7 kgs. The doctors were a little concerned about the weight when I went into labour. As he pulled Nino out of my belly, the first thing he said, no, slightly screamed was, 'It's a big baby, oh my god, it's a big baby.' Nino was 3.6 kgs. Very chubby. He had layers of fat on his thigh that I kept kissing! You can hardly say the scrawny thing that stands next to me as I type this had such a deliciously cuddly beginning.
25. WHEN WAS YOUR CHILD ACTUALLY BORN ? Two days after Christmas. One of the first sms-es I received for his birth came from a colleague I despise who wrote: 'Do din se mother mary hote hote bach gayi.'
26. WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN THE DOCTOR ANNOUNCED THE SEX OF THE BABY? They din't announce it, I actually had to ask them! I said oh, and gave in to the anesthesia and slept for the first time in months.
27. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION ON SEEING THE BABY? I din't know what to feel. I spent the whole night checking if 'it' was alive and breathing. And then I started to cry because I had never felt this torrent of love and protectiveness that has started to claim my soul.
28. DID YOU CRY? I just gave the answer away!
29. WHAT DID YOU NAME HIM? His alphabet was chosen according to the Hindu Rashi calender and its Sanskrit root means ascending.
30. HOW OLD IS YOUR FIRST BORN TODAY? Three years and almost three months.
Phew, what a bag full of secrets to let out. Very vindictively, I tag Swati, Momstir and Manjushree, if they'd like to take this up. I love these three women and their ideas, and I'm dying to know how they walked down this road that has bound us all, the first time!
Nino's Dad has had a shift of working plans, and ends up working through the late evening and night since the past two weeks. It's taken a while for both Nino and me to get used to not having him around for our post-dinner fun, and it will take me longer knowing the right side of the bed is achingly empty.
As I tuck Nino into bed everynight, in my room, we lie with the windows open and the fan in all its whirring glory, the scant sweat of still-not-arrived summer sweetened by the fan's breeze. Somehow, that half-hour or 40 minutes that we spend together - once the books are done and the lights are out - has turned into a complete connection time between me and him, and we talk about school, the stories I did at work (his favourite one so far has been the RSS idea to make a cola out of cow's urine), his playmates in the evening. Sometimes he asks me to sing, and I sing much slower, knowing he's trying to understand the lyrics. Perhaps that's why he loves the R. Kelly number's chorus so much. Even though he insists I can't fly. In between every line, we make our own rap number. I say I believe I can fly, and he says I can't.
I've come to feel very satisfied, very elated with these noctuarnal musings, perhaps because I feel like my son is really talking to me. I've felt very guilty about not being there when he wants to talk about something, and trying to get him to speak about his day only when I arrive every evening. Maybe it gets easier in the dark for him to say stuff - maybe he's not afraid of my expressions/reactions, or maybe he's holding on to our conversation because he's still a little afraid of the dark.
As we watch the shadows of the car windows from the neighbouring compound that get reflected on our ceiling, I try to assuage his fear about the dark a bit. We talk about nocturnal beings, the owl and the panther, some snakes and his favourite, the bat. Sometimes when he says, 'I can't see you mama,' I widen my eyes and smile a toothy grin so he can see bits of the white reflected off the light that comes in from the window. Sometimes I forget to do this, when I'm lost in my own thoughts, and he'll prod me again, 'Say cheese, mama, I want to see you.'
The other day he told me a kid in the batch elder to him had a 'really bad day'. Was that why she was crying when I came to pick you up, I asked him. He was quiet for a bit. 'Can I tell you a secret mama,' he said. 'In your ear.' Apparently the kid had been having an emotional meltdown and ended up doing her big job while her clothes were on at school. Nino laughed once he said this. I was quiet for a bit, and then I told him I thought it was perfectly okay for such 'accidents' to happen, and that it was not funny to me. He thought over it a bit too, and then asked me, 'if everyone is laughing in class, should I laugh?'. It seared my heart to know that he went through peer pressure at such a young age, and that while I was quick to jump the gun and suggest that he must not always follow the heard (and honestly only because I've never followed it either), maybe suggesting otherwise would make things a little easier on him. He's not taken to school very well still, and I do know for a fact that a couple of elder kids are bullying him, ever so slightly.
These days he's very frightened of being bitten by a tiger or a lion as he's sleeping. So I went into a labourious explanation of what separates a jungle and a city, all the traffic manoeuvring the animals would have to do, the security guards they'd have to get past, and the ten floors they'd have to climb, because well, they don't know how to use the lift. He thought about it for a while and then said, ever so quietly, 'If they (the tiger and the lion) don't know how to cross the road, they will get hurt. And then what happened?'
Sometimes I do this whole mock-prayer pose, especially when I've had a not-so-great-day, and thank God with a big list of what-could-have-beens. Just makes the whole ritual a little less sacred, and I think he secretly enjoys it, though I've never forced him to be a part of it. The other day as I finished saying my prayer, and thanking God and telling Him he had fantastic taste in flowers, Nino muttered, 'also thank you for the teti.'
Nino's a budding-foodie, one who takes a lot of interest in the meals that are being fixed for him. He can roll out a perfectly round chapati and insists on standing right next to the gas till it becomes 'hot, round and puffy'. He remembers exactly what his classmates got for lunch and he makes sure he knows in advance what I'm giving him the next day. Their teacher has taught them about junk food, so the kids are very aware that the chips and colas are trouble. One of his classmates got 'wafers' this week, and even though they're 'junk food', he liked them very much. 'Can I have a little bit of junk food,' he said. 'I like the wafers A got.' I said okay, and he said, in his secret, hush-hush-give-me-your-ear tone, 'Good mama, I won't tell S (name of teacher).'
In our 'secret' time together, these few minutes of motherhood assuage so much of my pain and fatigue, making for so many memories that I cherish, that I hold on to, and that keeping me going, until the next night's conversation time.
I've a few random things that happen to me often, that make little or no sense to me and the few people I tell: there seems to be a pattern, a message, but it also leaves me feeling foolish every time I try and put it in words.
Like the fact that whether I travel by train or by air, I'm always, invariably given a seat next to the emergency exit. Always. ALWAYS. The few times when I had a seat that was nowhere near an emergency exit, I've ended up swapping it, either with a couple that wants to be together or an old uncle who wants a lower berth. And that swap too has lead to the emergency exit seat or the seat right after it.
No, I don't ask for a seat with more legroom. I'm a midget, and I barely manage to get my feet to touch the floor of the plane. I told the husband this once, when he was not my husband, and we were flying back from Delhi. He looked at me as if the previous night's tequila shots were dancing over my head. And then said that thanks to me, he had more legroom and a stiff back - because emergency exit seats don't tilt back. That was the last time I mentioned it to him, and to anyone, till a friend sent me something that jogged this memory afresh.
A study by the University of Greenwich found that between two and five rows from the exit, passengers have a better chance of escaping in the case of a crash, even if there is a fire. Six or more rows from an exit, and 'the chances of perishing far outweigh those of surviving'.
If there's supposed to be a message in an unorchestrated event's repeated occurrence, I'd like to tell God that I'm not too keen to prove this study correct. Thank you destiny, for your signals, but I'm hoping to age into a tottering old lady who has no teeth and farts on demand and whose greatest adventure in life has been raising Nino.
So we were driving down to an exhibition gallery in the outskirts of the city, run by parents of Nino's friend at school. The path was dust-battered and bumpy, with lots of village nativity scenes thrown it for good measure. The perfect way to spend a Sunday evening.
Somewhere between a bump and the changing of the radio station, Nino goes, and I quote verbatim, 'Aww, mama, look, a baby buffalo. So sweet!'.
I'm about to agree when there's a screech of tyres and the normally reticent husband turns in his seat to give me a venomous stare.
'What?' I say.
'Look what you've made my son into,' he says. 'So sweet?'
'He could have said anything in the world. How tiny it is. How brown. How delicious it would be if we had it for food. But awww, how sweet?' Nino's Dad rants.
I'm tempted to reply, but am too shocked and humoured by the insinuation that I've turned my son into a 'not boy' kind of a boy. Good thing I din't tell him about what Nino said on Saturday, I thought.
On Saturday, a whole jhing bang of us travelled to my city, Gandhinagar, where a spring festival held amidst the valley banks of the barren Sabarmati showcased some of Gujarat's and India's tribal life and art.
There were a lot of tribal weapons on display, including the famed bow and arrow, slingbacks and some really fancy swords. Nino and Karanbhai were totally awed by all the fine display of swordsmanship and they both took turns at using a proper bow with iron-tipped arrows. Surprisingly, Nino hit bulls eye, and the old uncle who was manning the shop was mighty happy.
He'd persuaded Karanbhai to buy a nasty looking dagger (quite like the one Arnold Schwarzenegger carries in the eminently re-watchable Commando), a fake, not-sharp one with a maliciously curved blade, and Nino was adamant that he wanted one too.
I'm not one for buying them 'weapons' and I admonished both Karanbhai and the shopkeeper, but Nino was growing more vocal and I wanted to see the remaining half of the exhibition without a cranky child tugging at my already loose pants. So I gave in and bought it for Nino.
'Is it really sharp?' Nino asked me, the gleam of having being handed something forbidden shining through his beady eyes.
'Yes,' I said. 'It's sharp, and mighty and very dangerous.'
Karanbhai was already showing his 'moves' with the dagger and talking in his 'dhish, dhish, dhishum' language about the thieves he's going to beat up and the bad people, and all that ilk. The shopkeeper asked Nino what he would do with his dagger.
Nino swayed his dagger with a flourish of his hand, the kind that would have made his dad proud, and said, 'I'm going to chop some gajar.'
Did you know Mark Twain called cauliflower the cabbage with a college education? Or that the popular cauliflower and cheese combination was introduced by the French in the 17th century? Side or main, mashed or baked whole, curried or sauted, cauliflowers are filled with fibre and crunch.