Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Boy Who Turned Three

4:30am 27 December, 2008
She has just finished sketching the clue cards for the treasure hunt the Boy will do when he gets up. There's some finger paints hidden behind a photograph of him and a friend. A painting in his tent. A few books below the Christmas tree. Lego construction blocks below the table. A cardboard kitchen, handcrafted by dadda and two favourite uncles, in the kitchen. And out in the balcony, nestled in between the pigeons and the plants, a slightly crooked alphabet formed by wheat grass grown with love by Nani and Nana.

5:00am 27 December, 2005
She's feeling drugged today, drugged, but not sleepy. The baby too is uneasy, poking its knees and elbows out of her taut, and tired belly. There's no sleep to be had: her belly is so big she's afraid her skin will snap. And then there's the urge to pee, again and again, again and again, one more time. Dadda sleeps less than a foot away, his hands propped on a pillow, having spent half the night stroking her hair so she could sleep. It's awfully quiet - and the silence seems deafening that morning.

5:30am 27 December, 2008
She and He look at the sleeping Boy, marvelling at how he slumbers through jumbled limbs and three blankets. The Boy's smiling now, dreaming perhaps of diggers and dumpers, and the two of them hold hands, an unspoken need to reach out amid the torrential wave of love that has begun to rise. The love tinged with disbelief at having helped create a living, breathing, and opinionated little person. He is ours, truly? Truly.

6:00am 27 December, 2005
She's just managed to lose herself and sleep when she wakes up frantically, ashamed at her inability to control her bladder, she's wet the bed. She leaps out, as much as she can, tears streaming down, wondering how pregnancy has robbed her of the last dignity - the ability to hold her pee. But the pee just won't stop. It's cascading now, tinged with blood, gushing around her bare ankles, seeping under the bed. She doesn't know it yet, but her water's broken.

6:30pm 27 December, 2008
There's a cacophony of sounds around her, children talking, screaming, adults chatting, music blaring from loudspeakers, and yet, strangely, it's like being on a hovercraft: you're buoyed through it all. She marvels at the many friends the Boy has made, the ease with which he joins and adds to different groups of little people, different ages, different genders. He's been so grown up today, saying his thank-yous, carrying the gifts and leaving them on the table, inviting them to paint with him. He looks bigger today in his white shirt, sleeves rolled up to this elbows, smiling to the camera, saying cheese.

6:39pm 27 December, 2005
They're finally wheeling her into surgery, loading her body into the stretcher, dumping it before it has gotten time to get accustomed to the feel of the cold steel. It has refused to listen, that body of hers, to drips, to medicines, to prayers, to hope. It will not open up. Frightened, it has decided to hold in tight the little being it tried so hard to reject once. It cannot let go, not yet.
She's muttering a name now, calling out to the one man she wants to hold hands with. She refuses to let the doctor inject her, she wants her Da. A doctor rushes out, unable to see the Man sobbing quietly in the corner, his tears and fear drowning the announcement of his name. They cannot wait anymore, she must go through this alone.
There's a spurt of blood now, she can see a them slice her belly open, and she gasps. And then the man with the cold hands and white mask, looks at her and his eyes are smiling. It's a big baby, he says, really big baby. She wants to know who it is, it's gender becoming its first identity, but her lips are not moving. It's a boy, he says, and then finally, the sleep she's been missing for months, comes calling.

10:30pm 27 December, 2008
She's still in her party clothes, diamond earrings all jumbled up in a hastily tied ponytail, the Boy snuggled close to her on the bed. She's ready to put him to sleep, and then get on with the cleaning, perhaps take a drink, let the blur of the last three years sink in, so she can make a permanent memory of it, one that time and new milestones cannot dent. The Boy is not ready to sleep yet. Can we chat, he asks. And then the questions come tumbling out. Am I three now? he asks. When she nods yes, too moved to mouth a yes, he looks down at his body, and asks simply, Where? Where am I three, mama? Where am I two? He wants to hear the names of all his friends who came, wants to know how he spent the day. Tell me, mama, he says, how did we find all the gifts in the morning? They talk for an hour, words helping both of them assimilate the meaning of that date. Happy Birthday baby, she tells him, just as he's nodding off to bed. Happy Birthday mama, he says.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

May there be lots of sweet memories to savour...

May wishes, said and unsaid come true... and may the good man with the jolly laugh and endless generosity bring peace and goodwill to us all.

And if you're this side of the world, on the 27th, please join us for Nino's 3rd budday!

And the double of all that you want...

... Is one of my favourite wishes, one that I use liberally for b'days. So it's no surprise the good wish has come back to greet me, even though it's six months late!

Thank you, MG, for this: I'm honoured, truly. I love the name - Proximity Award - Here's to friendship!

About the award: This award is given to a blog that invests and believes in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind of bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers!


Edited to add:
And the Proximity award goes to:

1) Jo - Hers is an interesting life. A Brit married and living in Japan, raising a multi-cultural kid, Jo does the most interesting montessori activities with her adorable son. She also organises 'culture swaps' bringing together mothers from all over the world, defining proximity in her own way. I've yet to participate in a swap - not too sure of my craft abilities ;) - but I love her motivation to make the world, one big meeting place.

2) Laura - Because she so defines the award citation: she truly invests and believes in striking a chord with her readers. And because she has some of the best ideas for things to do with my boy.

3) Cassi - She's putting bits of the world together, one stitch at a time, one fantastic idea at a time, hot-gluing the joints with some of her unique inspiration and effortless creativity.

4) OJ - not in a quid pro quo sort of a way, but those who know (and here I mean all of us who read her delightful blog), do know that she totally fits the award. I'm so glad I found you on the world wide web!

5) Maid-in-Malayasia - Because humour truly makes the world go round and stay steady at the same time. Sometimes there's this thought cloud that comes up in my brain, as like with Bart Simpson, especially when I'm thinking about someone. It could be about a word, a colour, or a memory. Her's is c-section-stitches-splitting-funny, ochre yellow and her posts on her children.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The first time...

There's a whole popular philosophy dedicated to firsts: crush, kiss, love-making, gift, period, Rushdie novel (yes.), sneaky night-halt, anniversary, pregnancy, karaoke night, kid, house, surgery, and the likes. We carry them along, around and within, their memories stamped into the very heart of our souls, little junk treasures that jostle and jumble and make life so much more kaleidoscopic.

There's also the first time someone commented on your blog - someone you din't know and din't have to badger/emotionally blackmail into doing it, the first time someone added your blog and therefore your expressions to a I-turn-to-often-companionship tag called the 'blogroll'. And then there's your first blog award!

Thank you, OJ, for this. I wish I was accepting it in a low-cut slinky gown to go with an acceptance speech, but I'm writing this in a fugly cotton skirt and tee, stained with dough from making a gazillion salt-dough christmas trees for Nino's budday party invites. You're part of my list of firsts - so you know you're imprinted in my soul, forever.

And there's one green dough christmas tree fridge-magnet, painted painstakingly in parts by not-yet-three fingers, glitter-glued and glossed with love, waiting for you. Just imagine, if you were to meet Nino, the gujju kid would call you OJ Kaki! LOL :)


I'm required to pass this act of kindness to ten other bloggers, and I have a mighty list ready to put up, just need to get the damn colour/glue off my fingers! Coming up soon.

Edited to add:

The award for the coolest blog goes to:

1) Swati, for the boundless generosity that makes up her blog, dedicated to bringing the best of the world wide web, especially for children. And just when you're gorging with kid on the fun links (some of them are fasinating even for us guys), she surprises you with soulful writing that smells like home in warm winter afternoons.

2) Momstir, for making me fall in love with a new kind of music, even though I'm at that age when the comfort of the familiar is more welcome than the exotic. And because she is part of my firsts too.

3) Gauri, for her random acts of kindness. May her like grow multi-fold.

4) Preeti, because of her first post. Me too!

Congratulations all of you, you've enriched my life with your thoughts and words. Big hug.
Please say a 'yay' for all these lovely ladies: I know there are six bloggers still remaining - but I hope to add to this list soon!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Required reading

It doesn't help that we raise younger siblings, carry someone half our weight on our tiny hips, making sure more morsels are in their mouths rather than ours. It doesn't help that we help, we clean, we cook, we clean, we serve and we clean, and yet the work never seems to get done. It doesn't help that our history is a collective memory of fathers who couldn't be pleased, mothers who never showed affection, uncles with dangerous intents, hungers, blood, fear and abandonment. It doesn't help that we give birth to life and then choose to stamp it out as well.

"Women, according to the UN population agency UNFPA, make up 60% of the billion poorest people on the planet and two-thirds of the 960 million adults who cannot read, while 70% of the 130 million children who are not in school are girls."

In a searing ode to Africa's women, the author says, 'Even in the direst of circumstances, beset by poverty and ill-health, women hold families together, get children to school, work in the fields to grow food they can sell in the market for a subsistence income. Their lives are heroic but unsung.' It's a battle of life for women there: birth, childhood diseases, civil war, poverty and destitution.

Not so far away, here, in India, it's a similar story as well. We seem them everyday - Champaben, Gitaben, Jana tai, Ganga didi, Asha. Flowerly, lyrical names to lives that have been pure misery. Walking kilometers for water. Dropping out of school to support younger siblings. Hand-me-downs from the mistress of the house, taken back home, lovingly, to be shared with two other sisters. 'Get up'. 'Eat'. 'Don't run'. 'Say hello'. English staccatos that resound from a tongue that has learnt to mouth words she will never be able to choose to learn. Pubescent dreams shattered by a neighbour's probing curiosity. Working in a dozen houses, cleaning plates laden with food on a stomach that's rarely felt full. Marital bliss that is limited to the few new clothes and nice bangles: when a husband turns into just one more mouth to feed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gender Bender

One of the most beautiful aspects of my relationship with my husband when we were dating, was that there was no gender aspect. He cooked for me, I got rid of the pigeons/lizards in the room, I am not a baby-person, he gushes over kids he sees on the street, etc. He was the shy one and I was all for sexual chemistry and experimentation. There were no gender-defined roles that we 'had to' or 'started to' play.

I remember distinctly the first time I'd 'felt like a particular gender' - the day my budding breasts got mauled in the bus. Till then the fact that I'm female had played no role in my life, other than ticking a particular box while filling forms. When pregnancy happened, things started to change even more. Nino was an unplanned child - and I had hoped to depend a lot on my husband's parenting skills when we decide to go ahead and have Nino. But biologically, differences were seeping in. Not just the physical changes, but even later, when it suddenly became a 'given' that I would spend more time with Nino, doing his chores. Not that I minded it - but it gave me an uncomfortable feeling that my family, including my husband - who by the way is the least chauvinistic person (not just male) that I know - were closet chauvinists in a way. Today, there is a vast chasm between my parenting responsibilities and his. A lot of this is self-brought-upon thanks to my relentless guilt syndrome - but quite a bit is also socially defined.

I'd never planned to marry - and I'd never planned to have children. Both happened in a way that I'd little control over. And in spite of being armed with a list of what-I-won't-do, I've found being a mother, a very fulfilling experience. I'm not perfect, but Nino makes me a better person. He gives a sort of purpose to me and my choices - but I'm not entirely sure if that is a good thing. I am not very good at hypothesis, and it would be difficult for me to say what life would have been like without having a child. But I would not have regretted it, either ways.

Now there's this research that says that only babies can make women truly happy.
"Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy (as long as they win, of course, but then dropping out is by definition a defeat). Spending time with their children is what makes women happy," says Satoshi Kanazawa.

Using 'science' and 'genes' as weapons against 'feminists, liberals and the like', psychologist Kanazawa says we're happiest when we play the pre-defined roles that society - or to use his exact language, 'evolution' - has set out for us. Which means a work-from-home-daddy will never truly be happy. And which means that a successful career woman, who manages to juggle work and parenting well, but is a blooper in the kitchen, will be unhappy at the end of the day.

The author hopes to raise generations to be herd-thinkers, and warns individuals who think differently from society, to be ready to be 'not happy'.

There is much that is wrong with this article - and much that infuriates me, but I will admit that I've made plenty of 'gender' decisions based either on social dictates or guilt induced from only seeing a world that functions in a particular way. And by the end of it, I'm sure Kanazawa's a little fuddled himself:

"Teach boys and girls that they are different, not the same, and that it’s okay (nay, wonderful) to be different. One is not right and the other is not wrong. Stop telling girls that they are inferior versions of boys, as feminists have done for the last half century, or, as has more recently been the case, stop telling boys that they are inferior versions of girls."

"Live as you feel like, not as you think you should live like. Your feelings are seldom wrong, because you are designed to feel certain way by millions of years of evolution."

Does this mean that because I've not a single motherly/nurturing bone in my body, I qualify for the wrong gender? And that all my professional and personal achievements including being a mother, aside, the fact that I'm a miserable cook should, rightfully, make me miserable? And the fact that I do derive the greatest joy from being with Nino make his generalisations true?

I've plenty of friends who don't have kids - either due to medical reasons, or because they've chosen not to, or because maybe they're not ready to be parents yet. And barring those who have not been able to conceive because of medical reasons (and especially because they want kids badly), none of these women are unhappy. In fact, a few of them are the caring/nurturing kind - the kind you attach a visual image of a couple of kids with, but the lack of a offspring has not driven them to question their biological existence or definition.

But maybe, just maybe, this generalisation may be a good thing:
"Men are happier with money, while women find greater joy in friendships and relationships with their children, co-workers and bosses, a new global survey reveals," Reuters said.

"The online survey of 28,153 people in more than 51 countries by global marketing and information firm Nielsen found that as the world grapples with a recession and financial markets remain volatile, many people are reminding themselves that money can't buy happiness."

Reminds me of this really silly quotation I once read:' When women are bored, they go shopping. When men are bored, they invade countries.'

This study puts all my theories of nurture against nature to dust : but at the least, it make us women sound noble. And because we're so different from the guys when it comes to what makes us happy, I will now conclude that women are happier marrying women.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A weekend of wisdom

He lies in bed, curled up, seeking comfort from the primordial foetal position he knew not so far back. Racked with cramps, he groans intermittently, his favourite snake show on tv not enough to block the pain. Now and then, he props himself up, smiling as he sees the Black Mamba swallow her rodent prey, flopping down again as it slithers away.

I lie down next to him, sighing, lacing my fingers into his, breathing his sick-baby smell. He reaches out to caress my forehead, lingering in the bunch of wild hair.

'My tummy hurts,' he says.

I don't know what to say. I've finished saying 'I know', 'I'm sorry', 'It'll get better', so I just sigh and clutch his fingers tighter.

'It's okay Mama,' he says. 'It'll get better.'


We're on our weekly Saturday gallivanting trip, and I've brought him to a marvelous piece of architecture known as Amdavad Ni Gufa. A sub-terrain cave structure, it looks like a mammoth turtle peeping out, and its cavernous interiors are painted with animals, people and trees by MF Hussain.

It's the first time Nino's seen a cave, and he's a little frightened by the lack of light - and the 'funny things that happen to his voice'. We sit on the floor, chatting, and my normally boisterous child is quiet, looking around.

'Are you frightened?' I ask him.

'Are you sure there are no bears in this cave?' he asks me.

'Of course. This cave is for people.'

We move to the the pathway that circles the cave and I peel an orange for Nino to eat. He carefully gathers the peels and seeds and puts them back in the plastic bag I'd brought the fruit in.

'That was a good thing you did,' I tell him.

'I know,' he says, 'Littering is a bad idea, no?'

We're returning from an organic fair on Sunday afternoon, and I've a pretty cactus pot in one hand, warm sun on my back and Nino's hand in the other hand, holding me tight.

'You make me so happy, my heart will burst,' I tell him.

'I'll go home and fix it,' he says.


We've been doing phonetics on the laptop all evening, and Nino's Dad calls him out on the terrace for some rough tumble, boys style.

'No, papa,' he says.

'My battery is low.'

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A tale of two teachers

So there I was, struggling to keep awake at the dining table, promising the Gods above that I'd bow to them if they'd get me through breakfast, sane.

Nino was not his usual happy self this morning: he's been fighting a stomach bug all week and the cramps have started to get to his chirpy avtaar. A bowl full of strawberries quickly downed, I was trying to feed him the classic Gujarati snack, khakra, when I realised this was the cue for the 'd-act'.

Distraction works wonderfully with kids, especially those looking to chuck their khakra below the table. So I started to talk to him randomly about Shankaracharya - atleast my version of him. I told him how he had gone up north to live on a really cold mountain, and that he had long conversations with god and nature, that he wrote beautiful songs for the Gods and called them lots of names, in love and jest, just like mama and baby.

A little while later, just as we've finished most of the khakhra, Nino turns to me and says, 'Mama, I'm your Ninoacharaya.'


My folks are on a holiday to Kerala, and I miss them sorely, especially my Mum, who I get to see almost every other weekend.

I'm missing her so much today, I want to share a bit of her with you. If there's one word that could describe her, it'd be enthusiasm. She's always on the go, working, reading, pottering around, gardening: her many chores united by the fact that she relishes learning something new, every day.

The ability to be the one who teaches/shows someone something new - is a high as joyful as the glee we feel when we stumble upon something unexpected. As a mother, I get to experience that a lot, and often. And as a daughter, my mother still has something new to teach me, everyday.

A few weeks back, she introduced us to a rare flower known colloquially as the Kailashpati. And while it's religious connotations are big (the flower has a part that looks like the cobra hood over a shivlingum, and a small bud below the hood that resembles the lingum itself: it is offered to Lord Shiva, especially during the holy month of Shravan), it's the botanical ones that are mesmerising.

And while the shape itself makes the flower incredible, seeing the tree was even more awe-inspiring. While the foliage is high up on the tree, the flowers grow on thin, thorny arms (like sticks), and there are a thousand of them, on the trunk of the tree.

The buds hang low, sometimes grazing the ground.

A quick google threw up this: The flower is referred to as a cannonball plant, and is rare, almost everywhere in the world. It also bears a brown fruit - which I have not seen, given that we got to see only one flower. It is considered so auspicious locally, that is plucked the minute it blooms by a long list of the devout.

Incredibly soft to touch, almost like felt/velvet, it has a beautiful and strong smell - but it doesn't last long, a couple of hours maybe when plucked from stem, and after seeing it, I din't quite feel like plucking it: it was beauty meant to be shared by everybody.

My mother's hands, as she carefully opens a part of the flower - the so-called hood -to show me the cause of its legend, the lingum beneath it. Nino in the background, gazing up at the mighty tree.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Because unity in diversity, strength in numbers, and anything similarly hopeful will do

I'm wearing black today.

Just because I overheard a stranger's dinner-time conversation at a restaurant last night: 'Show your solidarity with Mumbai. Everyone wear black tomorrow.' It's the only way I can.

It's a bleak Monday morning in Ahmedabad - rainy, chilly, and grey - just the kind that wraps your soul and takes it one notch lower. What do we believe in anymore? Or who? Is this the kind of world we want to bring our children into - or are children who are raised into sane adults the need of the hour. Tales of terror on the tv, over the phone, over international calls, over drinks, at the basin as Nino asks me, 'Ma, what's a terrorist?' What is safe anymore?

I wait for routine to salvage this part pain-part numbness state, deadlines are most welcome today. I've already said so much in my brain, that it refuses to take the shape of sentences any more. Let someone else say it for me today:

'In sympathy with those whose pain so hurts my own heart but whose tears I cannot touch, whose wounds I cannot heal, and whose grief I cannot relieve.'
A 'Pakistani Mumbaikar' mourns the city he loved here:

'So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn't have to be just economic.'
Suketu Mehta talks about why India's megalopolis is plundered, again and again and again:

And because a city can sometimes be a memory so intimate, you are embarrassed that you stumbled upon it.
' And I’d smile smugly knowing that piece of gorgeousness was born and bred mine. ' Orange Jammies talks about her home here:

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Four years later, we are still trying to make ourselves a marriage that breaks the forecast, unaware of how easily it hob-nobs with cliches and generalisations.
I will refrain from my need to clothe you and your soul with my words: we do our own catharsis everyday. For you, instead, are someone else's words, mirroring much of mine. Happy Anniversary, Da.

For Him
By Merrit Malloy

He's asleep now,
Enclosed in the only freedom he knows,
An unconscious sanctuary
That unites one day with the next,
The fragile province of a mind that has so little shelter.

And I love him so,
I did not mean to come this far.

I've learned to love,
The sound of him calling my name,
Waking to the feeling
Of his body against mine.

He is so familiar to me,
His arms are like my home.
Still...I love him enough
To leave him alone.

Tonight, we tried to say it out loud.
But the words seemed to hit upon our faces
Like small stones.
Feelings, unedited,
Ran underground in us.
Our eyes became transparent
And we were afraid.
The terror or maybe not
Being together anymore
Carried it’s own justification.

I did not mean to contaminate his life
With my own confusion,
To allow his need for me
To encourage the collective myths
Little girls are fed for breakfast
I did not unite with him
So that he must divide himself.

He only meant to love me,
He did not mean to come this far.

I believed in Cinderella,
I even looked for magic dragons in my Nana’s yard.
I grew up believing.
He grew up trying not to.
And we’ve lived long enough to know that
As much as I had been deformed by fantasy
He had been mutilated by reality.

We can translate our silence now,
We know what it means.
Feelings that we kept sealed
And beyond each other’s reach
Are threatening,
But defined and honest.

We don’t know yet
What parts we’ll play in one another’s life,
But we’ve come a long way together
Trying to find out.

Together or alone,
The decisions are beginning to reverberate,
Like noise, ripening.
Our appetites were formed
Before we knew what we needed,
And our experience together is a prism
Through which we see everything differently now.

But are we truly different?
Did we escape the pollution
Of public opinion against the
Cultivation of "forever"?
Do we have enough respect and trust
In one another?
And in ourselves?
Do we have enough life to exchange,
Enough love to pay for what we want?

We do love each other so...
But we did not mean to go this far.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book time at bed time

Nino loves books. He loves flipping through them, loves having them read to him, loves to read aloud - though he can't really read, he's got pages memorised.

I started reading to Nino when he was six months old - and got tagged crazy by the in-laws. I'd read anything to him - story books mostly, then newspapers, bottle labels, anything - It was a break from coming up with conversation to have with him, and in a way all that reading aloud soothed me. Then he discovered touch and feel books - and conversation made way for questions of inquiry.

Nino usually likes to read a particular book for a long time - a month or more, everyday at bedtime, sometimes asking for that book to be read several times over. We usually comply, but sometimes when it's getting too late Nino gets down to the kind of negotiation tactics that would make his Gujarati genetic pool mighty proud.

There are no preferred subjects - though I have noticed a leaning towards a 'story' - we do books on mighty movers (he loves diggers, dumpers and their kind), colours, wildlife and even numbers and alphabets.

Story times are serious business: Nino props himself in a particular way, you have to give the book your full concentration as you read - and he expects you to pat your mouth and say sorry if you yawn. There is an undeniable twinkle in his eyes - just the kind that books are expected to bring.

Currently, we're reading Poldy flies high by Felicia Law. It's a delightful story about a scarecrow, how he's built and his winged friends who want him to fly with them so he can see the world. It draws out the distinction between the scarecrow's 'standing firm in the ground' existence versus all the 'wonderful countries far away, delicious fruits and fat, juicy insects' in the birds' lives - without making the reader feel sorry for Poldy the scarecrow.

Nino loved the book instantly, we ended up making a Poldy of our own from his old tee and shorts and he has red pipe-cleaner hair. Our Poldy now stands tall and firm planted in a pot in the garden.

I've always loved books too - and I began to read really fast quite young, because I was hungry for them, according to my mum. Sundays in winter were spent curled up on a massive carpet in the local government library, reading up dust-smothered covers. I could see green, lush, Asopalav trees from the window, and sometimes, I'd snooze off, right there, dreaming of the worlds I'd just read about. Libraries eventually became a sort of home to me, and I'd be lying if I dint admit now that eventually I really hope Nino discovers their magic as well.

Some pictures from book time at bed time a couple of nights back:

Yipee! Book time!

Two times, please. Say it's okay?

Papa forgot to read that Poldy flies high is written by Felicia Law and has illustrations by Steve Smallman and Shirley Tourret

And there, we've lost him to the story. Yes, that's my hairband!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Of milestones and thanksgiving

I've been wanting to do this post for two days now, but I've held on to my joy like a miser, savouring it, content in holding it out till it's but about to fade in the jungle of everyday images, and then I promised myself, I'd write it out, live it all over again.

Something changed that joy today, made me shiver at my inability to fully enjoy a moment in hand instead of storing it away, not acknowledging that this too shall pass, that I've this now and for now alone. I'll come back to this cause, but first, the joy.

Nino saw his first movie (and his first movie in a theater) over the weekend, a choice that I fought hard over - with myself ofcourse - even as the other me reiterated the decision to keep him away from mass marketing as much as I could. But the decision was easy - I'd settled for a go-between. We took Nino to see a 3D film on the awe inspiring creatures that call the oceans their home. And while I was totally split on whether he was old enough to watch 3D - the 24/7 shrink that is the world wide web said it was okay, my dad was livid and said NO as loudly as possible over the phone line, my m-i-l recounted her nauseous state while a relative (come on, opinions are free!) spoke about how her daughter, almost 4 when she saw the movie, had gotten very disturbed with the experience and had sleepwalked - what finally did it for me was a nice and quick chat with the guys who run the damn theater.

The Science City is one of the many institutions that Ahmedabad is proud to be home to, and I added my self to its fan-list after experiencing a kind of service and ambiance that we don't expect from public institutions in India. When I called the IMAX theater at the City on Sunday morning, I never really expected that the phone would get answered. It was answered by a polite, Hindi-speaking gent, who patiently listened to the various theories I'd heard about children and 3D, venturing an opinion once I'd done ranting. Well, its perfectly fine for your kid's age, he said, you might want him to sit with you though, sometimes they get scared with the sound effects.

Okay, I thought. This I can handle. So Nino, very excited, dressed in a shirt and jeans and wearing his 'big boys' shoes that he usually hates, along with his parents, drove down to see this beautiful place filled with huge geometric shapes, a windmill, a massive globe-shaped planetarium and the movie, ofcourse. 'I'm going to a movie', he kept chanting all through the ride, following it up with 'Can three-year-olds see this movie?' (we usually tell him he can't accompany us on our once-a-month multiplex trip because he's not eighteen yet).

The movie required us to wear special glasses to be able to experience the 3D images, and Nino's swallowed quite a bit of his cheeks as well. He loved the whole experience - the huge screen (and IMAX screen is nearly 10 times larger than a regular multiplex screen), the 30 minutes movie, the fishes and the sharks. And like the friendly guy on the telephone said, he was slightly uncomfortable only when the sound effects came on as a pair of nasty predator fishes came on screen. Nino was an angel - spoke softly when he wanted to ask a question, held his own ticket, waited patiently in the long queue for the exit. It was the kind of behaviour that wants you to promptly start breeding again, but for the wise dame of wisdom who sits in my head.

We walked around the fantastic campus for a bit, running down massive ramps and playing hop-scotch on squares and circles. It's a place that makes you feel free and child-like again, and curious too, which is why I think its planning has been such a success. We also caught a musical fountain show - said to the biggest in India - and while Nino eventually tired of the 20 minute show, I sobbed unabashedly during the finale as water jets soared high to AR Rahman's Maa tujhe salaam. No country like this to raise our children, and I mean that even more today.

It was such a beautiful evening - we had so much fun, and I was able to enjoy Nino experiencing a 'new', a 'first' - something I've become obsessed with because I missed many firsts of his when I started working. He talked non-stop on the way back, describing the movie and exclaiming how the fishes 'came right here' (showing the space near his face) when he wore the 3D glasses. This was the first time Nino's Dad was seeing a 3D film too, and for a few minutes, it was like having two boys, all excited and yakkity, sharing their me-too's, bonding the way only experiences allow. And I was so nervous before we left that I forgot to take the camera - but in a way, it was good, because I could not have gone hands-free with all the hand clutching the three of us did in joy. It was a major milestone - and it went picture perfect.

Then on Tuesday we crossed another big milestone. Nino chose not to wear his diapers to school, after some prompting from this teacher. And he was fine - even used the loo by himself - and totally confident when he walked out after school. It's a big deal - this diaper weaning affair - and I can go on about it, but instead will say that pride filled my chest and I smiled my way through a deadlines-filled day. He got ice-cream after lunch, and I got a round of claps at work from a team that had overhead my joy over the phone as I shared the news with an equally proud extended family.

And then today I found this heart-wrenching story of a little girl in Congo, her journey to find her missing mother, even as she carries her infant niece along. It's a common tale all around us - this opportunity cost. In our protective Indian family system it often crops up as the sibling syndrome: elder siblings bearing the brunt of novice parents, before the systems are perfected for the younger one. 'The cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action'. And increasingly, children are becoming the world's opportunity cost in our attempt for political or religious freedom, racial expression or just pure capitalism.

Eleven-year-old Protegee cries while she carries her sobbing niece Reponse, 3, on her back as they searched for relatives in a sea of people in eastern Congo. Photo credit: Jerome Delay, AP

"Hundreds of children have been separated from their families since fighting flared in eastern Congo in August and more than 1,600 children in the province were seeking their parents last week alone, according to UNICEF. The children's young ages and inability to give detailed information — plus the lack of official records in the Congolese countryside — make it even more difficult to track down their families," AP said.

Those who will read that story in full will have to face the same questions the photographer, who is a father of two daughters, faces - accepting the fact that Protegee was willfully abandoned by her mother driven by despair and poverty. It's a thought that seems so alien to us - giving up our children - we who are fed on the heroic tales of mothers who lay their lives down for their children. Did Protegee's mother really have no option? Is there a state of 'no options' when it comes to children? What are we trying to make/achieve/strive for/survive for, if we have no children to share it with?

But today there are no tears, just a growing resolve to say thanks. I'm glad I live in a country, in circumstances that protect my son, albeit currently, from Protegee's fate. I'm glad his tears are only about a nick on the knee, about force-fed breakfast, about an itchy sweater, about a book not being re-read, of granparents who visit only on weekends.

Monday, November 17, 2008

For OJ

I'm not much for motivational mumbo-jumbo, and while I loved the Chicken soup series when I was a teenager, I've come to abhor much of the spiritual bestsellers that prompt you to bring out the best in you. Mostly because, I'm increasingly jaded, and mostly because, I've always argued that growth - spiritually and emotionally - had to be sustainable. Of course, that means that I myself have never personally grown - I've gone back and forth on philosophies and principles and things I swear to hold sacred.

But just sometimes, you get a forward in your mailbox teeming with junk mail and lovely brochures from Anthropolgie that you can never afford, a mail that sends small pinpricks in your eyes, and goosebumps in your nape. And suddenly you stand in awe of how much the heart is yearning for the good to believe in. Sometimes it happens like that with people also, even those who you've never met - and really don't even know. This is one such fantastic story. And it is for one particularly die-hard Obama fan, OJ.


The Norwegian newspaper VG has reported a truly amazing story about a newly-wed trying to get to Norway to be with her husband, and the stranger who helped pay an unexpected luggage surcharge. The blog 'Leisha's Random Thoughts' has translated the story.

It was 1988, and Mary Andersen was at the Miami airport checking in for a long flight to Norway to be with her husband when the airline representative informed her that she wouldn't be able to check her luggage without paying a surcharge.

-You'll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway, the man behind the counter said.

Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.

-I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions, says Mary.

As tears streamed down her face, she heard a 'gentle and friendly voice' behind her saying,

'That's okay, I'll pay for her.'

Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.

-He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?

Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.

-He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants, says Mary.

She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

Who was the man?

Barack Obama.

Twenty years later, she is thrilled that the friendly stranger at the airport may be the next President and has voted for him already and donated 100 dollars to his campaign:
-He was my knight in shining armor, says Mary, smiling.

She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.

Mary even convinced her parents to vote for him: In the spring of 2006 Mary's parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

And Obama replied: In a letter to Mary's parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped 'United States Senate, Washington DC', Barack Obama writes: 'I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I'm happy I could help back then, and I'm delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States Senator'.

Mary says that when her friends and associates talk about the election, especially when race relations is the heated subject, she relates the story of the k ind man who helped out a stranger-in-need over twenty years ago, years before he had even thought about running for high office. Also, remember this was 1988, when 100 dollars was quite a bit of money, compared to today's value.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Civic rage

I'm seething with rage - the trembling-body, tears-threatening-to-spill-out kind of rage.

We moved to these flats that we currently live in a year back, uprooting ourselves from what was home and familiar to a new place where we're yet to make acquaintances, forget friends.

This morning, as I walked into the compound after my morning workout at 7, I saw a bunch of men mercilessly beating a young boy, who was surprisingly not wearing any pants. I enquired and nobody bothered to answer. So I walked ahead and saw a few women standing, silent spectators to the on-goings. What happened, I asked them. Two gutter covers (sort of like a manhole covering) - those non-descript dark grey metal rectangles that we drive/walk over without a second thought - had gone missing. It was the first time something has been stolen in our flats in 15 years, the lady said, stressing 15 years. This young kid was on duty as the security guard the previous night. And because of this, he was stripped, and beaten repeatedly.

I walked on to home and getting Nino ready for school, that young boy's face like a silent intrusion that crept in everytime I gave up my guard of routine. Eventually, routine gave way, and anger started to build up, at that particular bunch of men - most of whom are semi-retired, who sit on the benches in the compound gossiping, with whom Nino's Dad and I have individually had a few run-ins about those mundane issues that are the small print of living in a flat - lift etiquette, leaking water pipes, unaccounted for maintenance money, etc.

I walked back down purposefully from my 10th floor home - the security guards having stopped the lift till the flat's committee members apologized for the beating - and walked down to see one particularly rude man who'd been involved in the beating, bellowing. Next to him stood the police, hands on their hips, their expressions plainly stating that they'd seen this before, and couldn't wait to get it over and done with. The kid - now clothed - was crying, and was eventually manhandled into the waiting police jeep. 'Wait', I said. 'You do know that he was mercilessly beaten, right? That he was stripped and robbed of his dignity? That people here took the law into their own hands?' Everyone froze, and then, the cop nonchalantly stepped into the jeep and drove away. The same group of men who had participated in the beating stood around, watching me. 'Savages,' I said, breaking my resolve to use foul language. 'He was a kid'. A committee member came up to me and asked me to calm down. 'I'm a journalist,' I said. 'I'll have you hauled up for beating up that kid black and blue.' I asked them what police station the kid had been taken to - and I received silence as an answer. 'You're not the only ones who know how to beat up people,' I said, willing my words to shame them, willing them to try me.

It's the first time in my seven years as a journalist that I've used the press as a threat. And while it seemed like a great idea when we horsed around about wielding the power of the pen, it dint work in real life. There was no fear of me or my opinions - the bullies won in the end. I've no illusions about must have happened at the police station - the kid must have been beaten some more, the cops and the flat guys must have sat together and talked about how 'outsiders' are ruining Gujarat's 'safe state' image - most of the security guards in Ahmedabad are migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, sometimes Rajasthan - and the actual perpetrators of the violence must have driven back home, feeling all ballsy about their adventure-for-the-day.

Was it that I thought the beating was undeserved considering the petty nature of the alleged crime? Maybe. I remember watching a friend beat up another teenager - this time a lift boy - because he had fondled his four-year-old daughter and kissed her on the lips. At that time I felt none of these feelings. How different am I then from the bunch I condemn?

What is it that prompts us to resort to physical violence? Are we merely frustrated individuals, passing the rage on, like some psychological variant of Darwin's chain of evolution? What satisfaction does whacking someone, repeatedly, give - there must be something to it, so many people seem to enjoy indulging in it these days. And are we, who watch, sometimes speak, but give it up after venting a few emotions, any different? A perpetrator is one who indulges physically in the act of terror, as also the one who has the power to stop it, but doesn't. And also the one who may not have the power to stop it, but refuses to speak up, attempt to stop the crime. What deserves to be addressed with violence - and what does not?

Fists have become a language everywhere in my once-secular city - from traffic snarls to sectarian issues. Are we angrier as a city/state/country? Half a dozen people have been greviously injured or murdered in the city in the last year, in arguments over parking-lots.

I now no longer come from Gandhi's non-violent Gujarat, and instead hail from a state that, to use a friend's words, annihilated its own. I wrote on generalisations attached to a region sometime back - does this now mean that instead of Gujaratis being entrepreneurial but docile banias, our future generations will be referred to as a violent race whose rage boils over periodically? Historical monuments have disappeared overnight here - their cultural significance diminished in face of religious sentiment. We're the new Mahmud of Ghazni - a historical figure who children in the state have come to abhor after countless folktales about how he repeatedly plundered and butchered the state and its people. It's like the Crusades all over again - just that this time we're fighting for and against a bunch of self-perpetuated misconceptions instead of a single one.

I sit here, typing this, tears pooling on my chin, ashamed of myself. Of my inability to having taken up the cudgels for this kid. This is not what my parents, righteous government servants who seemed like a misfit in a world that worked on the power of money, raised me for. This is not what my son will look up to me for. This is not what you, my unseen friends, have to come to read me for.

Monday, November 10, 2008


When I started the blog, I promised myself I'd put up atleast a once-a-week post on some of the activities/projects I do with Nino - only because there's a great deal of joy I get out of these times with him, and I wish to pass the joy around - sort of like a random act of kindness because I picked these ideas from other mommy blogs who put so much time and effort into raising their kids the creative way.

So far it's not been a commitment that has worked: we've damaged our camera - and I've never gotten down to borrowing one and get clicking when Nino gets hands-on. But there's always a start, and here's one for this week. Hopefully, I'll be able to make this an every monday affair after a weekend of projects!

Getting kids to cook often sounds so much better for mums abroad then it does for us in India. Our spices can be lethal (yes, there is a murphy's law about how hands get into eyes) and kitchens are not really a safe place for little children. But that said, most kids love to cook - and apart from the little dough-roti/shell the peas affair, there are some seriously good child-friendly recipes for some cooking delight for mum and baby both.

What better a way to start off a saturday than with a good chocolate cake, especially if there's a cousin around to share the goodies with! I got this recipe from a blog that I turn to often, one that chronicles ardent montessori mom and teacher, Laura, in her everyday efforts at her school and home. Needless to say, I'm a believer in montessori methods, and a system that I've come to respect every since we put Nino in a montessori playschool.

Preparation time: 10 minutes - to as long as the little fingers want to take!
Cooking time: 3 minutes

You need:
A mug
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp flour (3 tbsp white flour + 1 tbsp wheat flour)
2 tbsp cocoa
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp oil
An egg

How to:
Combine all the dry ingredients first.

(Nino and Karanbhai busy mixing the oil and the egg)

Now add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture. Mix well. Be prepared for plenty of finger-licking too!

Grease two mugs with either cooking spray or just a few drops of oil Pour mixture into mugs (should reach about half of each mug) and cook in the microwave for about three minutes. The cake batter will rise nearly to the top of/over the top of the mug, so it make for great viewing too!

Pat out cake, sprinkle some powdered sugar and enjoy. Also tastes great with vanilla ice-cream!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lessons in anatomy

So I'm putting Nino to bed after a rather long drawn reading of Poldy the Scarecrow, and he lays there in my lap, hugging my belly tires and running his hand over my arms, and well, chest. Yes, I have always called my chest a chest. It is the only way we (the nino family) refer to my rather generous udders.

He gently pats them, chanting "Lumps, lumps, lumps", all to the beat of his hand.

My drowsy ears perk up. "What did you just say?"

"Lumps, lumps, lumps."

There's this very unnerving tune that's running in my head as he answers, and I see Fergie gyrating to My lumps, my lumps, my little lady lumps - and alarms bells start ringing immediately.

"Who says lumps?" I prod gently.

"S" (name of teacher)

In the quiet that ensues, I imagine a heated verbal discussion with the said teacher who has been teaching slang anatomy to my not-even-three-year-old.

"S says we breathe with our lumps."

It takes a few second to sink in and then I'm laughing hysterically, Nino looking as me as if he's finally understood the meaning of crazy.

The bloody Gujju kid meant lungs.

"Lungs," I tell him, when the laughter is reduced to a bubbling in my throat. "Lungs."

"Lungs, lungs, lungs," he says, patting softly.

"Why are mummy's lungs big and soft?" pat comes the question.

"I'm different from you and Papa that' s why."


I'm a great believer in Freud, especially when it comes to gender obsessions (hello, it's a great conversation starter: plus he laid bare all the 'unmentionable things' about the male pshcye). Needless to say, it was Nino, who proved the law.

When he was about two, we took him to a mall in Chennai while visiting family. While he was being 'minded' by atleast two family members, I took off for the dressing room, to try some much needed bras.

I emerged to find the family in major panic: Nino was missing. Two minutes later, I found him in between racks of padded bras, standing quietly while feeling the smooth surfaces.

Since then, we've had our share of kids-say-the-darnest-things-kind of moments with various parts of the anatomy, though Nino's resolute favourite remain, ahem, my lungs. Told you Freud was right.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mere do anmol ratan: ek north Indian, ek south Indian

Forgive me my melodramatic Bollywood-mother-esque blog title today. So much has happened in the real and blog world since I took an enforced sabbatical due to an unpaid broadband connection bill. And while I plough through a reality that throws up serial blasts, hate crimes, an important election, and the end of a graceful cricketer's career, I must lend my lungs to the bellowing against Raj Thackeray.

A forward that I received from some Mumbai friends this morning:

This is a wonderful mail circulating in favour of RAJ Thackerey. Have a look
We all should support Raj Thackeray and take his initiative ahead by doing more....

1. We should teach our kids that if he is second in class, don't study harder.. just beat up the student coming first and throw him out of the school

2. Parliament should have only Delhiites as it is located in Delhi
3. Prime-minister, President and all other leaders should only be from Delhi
4. No Hindi movie should be made in Bombay. Only Marathi.
5. At every state border, buses, trains, flights should be stopped and staff changed to local men
6. All Maharashtrians working abroad or in other states should be sent back as they are SNATCHING employment from Locals
7. Lord Shiva, Ganesha and Parvati should not be worshiped in our state as they belong to north (Himalayas)
8. Visits to Taj Mahal should be restricted to people from UP only
9. Relief for farmers in Maharashtra should not come from centre because that is the money collected as Tax from whole of India, so why should it be given to someone in Maharashtra?
10. Let's support kashmiri Militants because they are right in killing and injuring innocent people for benifit of there state and community... ...
11... Let's throw all MNCs out of Maharashtra, why should they earn from us? We will open our own Maharashtra Microsoft, MH Pepsi and MH Marutis of the world .
12. Let's stop using cellphones, emails, TV, foreign Movies and dramas. James Bond should speak Marathi
13. We should be ready to die hungry or buy food at 10 times higher price but should not accept imports from other states
14. We should not allow any industry to be setup in Maharashtra because all machinery comes from outside
15. We should STOP using local trains... Trains are not manufactured by Marathi manoos and Railway Minister is a Bihari
16. Ensure that all our children are born, grow, live and die without ever stepping out of Maharashtra, then they will become true Marathi's
This mail needs to be read by all Indians.
So please help in this cause.
JAI BHARAT! ...___

And while I may not agree with the intended sharpness of all those barbs, the sentiment is in the right place. As if living with the divisions of evolutionary races (me Aryan, you Caucasian?), economics, gender, religion and caste were a cakewalk, we add regionalism to it.
We were having some friends over a couple of nights back and talk veered towards the MNS and its despicable political tactics.
'I hope they stop soon,' one of the friends said. A lawyer, he's not always on the same side of sentiments as me, so I was pleasantly surprised because I had been ready for another fight.
'If they throw all the Biharis out, they'll end up in Gujarat, and then we'll go downhill.'

Interesting that Nehru had to say Unity in Diversity when he should have actually said we need to maintain our diversity in our unity. We are judged on the generalisations fed to us about our regional ethics. Marwaris are pucca kanjoos Jews. Gujaratis are cunning. Bengalis are elite snobs. Punjus are loud but fun. Tamilians are very orthodox. Kanadigas are humble. Keralites hate everyone but themselves. Biharis are uncouth buggers. Suratis curse like kingdom come.
We stone each other for belonging to a geographical area that has changed every couple of millenia, uttering every region/language's favourite curse: of-the-cunt-born. Interesting that the 'bad word' is the most popular when it's 'good version' is also equally popular: Maa ka laal.
Now's the time for Raj's mum to give him a good hiding.


And also, since I'm part Gujju, I like to end things on a sweet note. Try this one. Why Raj Thackeray should be thinking twice about labelling someone North Indian. God forbid what should happen if he lands up in Karnataka: who's the northie now, huh?!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Diwali!

May there be much to celebrate in all our lives...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is that how much a kid is worth?

I've been having these series of email exchanges with family lately, and one of them dealt with charity and Indian corporate houses/tycoons. We'd a pretty long 'thread' running at one time on this particular piece that talks about how some of India's finest education and art institutions are in existence because of Parsi beneficiaries. And like many, I believe charity especially that made for education, for children, is of the noblest kind.

I got an e-mail this morning from a leading consumer durables group, titled, bravely in my opinion, 'Invitation to light a Diya and bring a smile on a child's face'. I was all for it even before I read the mail, they've got the perfect catch line there, even if you're nowhere close to being a parent.

'Light a diya online and we will donate Re. 1/- to Child Rights & You (CRY), towards ensuring basic rights of Indian children.'

Wow, I dint know you could get a slice of bread in a rupee, forget basic rights. I mean it's a noble gesture and all, but seriously, a single rupee. But I've spoken long and hard about a single step, one small effort, a single individual's contribution and all that jhaap, so I decide to long on in any case and click till kingdom come, or at least till I've lit at least a thousand 'e-diyas'. Aah, but there's a catch. The company accepts only one click per IP address. Of course, it does invite me to invite the people on my address book, but I doubt even if every single one of them visited the site, we'd be nowhere close to raising a measly grand. There is also no way I can follow up with the company to check the actual contribution my furious clicking and forwarding may have made.

Of course I understand how tough the current market scenario is for this electronics giant. I mean their profit margins dropped a massive 90 per cent to stand at a measly $18.9m (Rs941m). I've been unable to dig out the exact figures, but I'm sure emerging economy India contributes a large amount to this figure. They'll probably buy a full page ad in a national newspaper highlighting their social conscience, building brand value at the cost of the unnamed child whose image springs to your mind when you read their carefully chosen words. Lousy Gasbag.

And yet, I'll ask you to log on and pledge your one rupee. Every small bit does matter.
Told you the other woman in my head is a neurotic, guilt-tripping mum, dint I? But then the first one couldn't resist the title of this post.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A short story

It’s 9:30am when she drifts out of sleep, panic rising even before the glance at the clock.
She knows she’s late as she realigns her awkwardly sprawled limbs that still hurt from last night.
The ill child is sleeping in the crook of one knee, she curses as she slips the bondage of motherhood, cursing the pain that flows in the inert limb, cursing the many hours of sleep that she has lost over these three years.

He lies asleep on the floor, on the bed made for the child, a gentle snore that today sounds like tin grating on tin.

There’s so much to do before she can get to work, and there he lies, sleeping with no worry in the world, oblivious to her night of mothering and aching joints.

Shouts, word jabs and slamming of doors later, she’s crying in the bathroom, the cigarette soothing her nerves, convincing her conscience that nicotine makes for a better person.
She works hard, brings in the money, raising the child, while he stumbles behind failures, alcohol as salve, playing Age of Mythology long after the woman and child have fallen asleep.
Why, she wails in the bathroom this morning, why does he make it so difficult for me?

It’s a long day at work as always, unrelenting deadlines, the symphony of a brain and fingers that spew five thousands words at random. Mechanical creativity. There’s no joy from doing what she loves: there’s only the means to pay the bills. The bills that refuse to stop piling up, till she’s left feeling marooned, stranded on a tiny surfboard facing the largest wave of her life. Fear is an unrelenting anchor.

That evening she comes home to a quiet house. The child is away at a relative’s home, He has not come home from work yet. There’s a few pleasure still left she thinks: a long shower, some time alone, a newspaper to be read in peace. It’s a bad time for the world, the paper says, and she recounts the killings, the maiming and the lost investments that she’s been reading about.
There’s a tiny anchor story that almost misses her attention: Factory owner commits suicide. There’s a faint alarm in her head, she scans the case quickly. Typical small scale establishment, rising raw material and labour costs, increased credit interest ratios, some payments that never come through. And then the noose tightens, thousands multiply into lakhs and then into crores, and no elephant-head God perched on the entrance deters away the line of creditors that bite into savings, into peace of mind. The factory owner has a wife and two school-going kids. They never knew things were this bad.

It’s an unsettling feeling, one that she has avoided thinking of. She has seen him avoid calls, come back home with a look that is more defeated than fatigued, speak lesser than the monosyllables he usually grunts in. These days he doesn’t even fight back, taking his dinners in the dead of the night, when neither man nor machine can claim his space. There are no arguments, there are only one woman’s opinions as he listens on, flicking channels on a tv that’s on mute.

She walks out to the terrace, feeling strangely frightened about her tenth-floor skyline. She’s seen him stand there nights in a row, staring at the mighty night sky, willing it to attack him as well, his cigarette going up in smoke without touching his lips.

She wonders how it must feel, the weight of the scion’s mantle, the weight of a family’s expectations, of dreams that are decaying. The son who they reared to turn around fortunes, who now fights every day refusing to give in to the fatality of the erring planet on his horoscope. What powers him, day in and day out, he who believes in no god, for whom faith is what he puts into his everyday actions, very unlike her definition of a spiritual lifejacket?

She wonders whether he dreads coming home to her nagging, the constant fights over alcohol, the news of hiked fees at the child’s school. She remembers the carefree boy she fell in love with, the one who could sleep for days, cocooned by his dreams.

That night he walks home later than usual, finding his way in the dark to the bed where the woman and child sleep together, protruding limbs interlinked with blankets and a teddy. He stares at them, sleeping peacefully, unaware of the storm raging in his heart and soul, protected from a fate that caught him unawares, dragged him into an alley and socked him hard, leaving him on the ground with the taste of defeat in his mouth, bitter and burnt like a mixture of blood, sweat and dirt.

He wants to awaken her and say so much, grab her hard and will her touch to scrub away the fear that clings to his lungs, making it difficult to breathe, to talk. He kisses the child, his sweet-smell bringing a faint smile, a smile of love that’s truly unconditional. But there is no space for him on that bed tonight. No space to fit in his 30 years of lessons learnt and unlearnt.

He heads out to the terrace, the night moon waiting for their everyday rendezvous. The sky is unblemished, clear of clouds, a gigantic mirror that makes his tiny errors seem larger than life. There, on the edge, he pauses, gasping for breath in the still night. He knows he can’t abandon them, but it’s so easy to just close his eyes and fly away, seek understanding in his last remaining refuge. Sleep like he’s not slept in months, healing his wounds in those hours of blank mind and sound.

She watches him from behind, a hand clutched on her neck, too afraid to scream. She calls him back, but no sound emanates from her throat, and yet she calls out to him, willing him to hear her, willing him to see their love as it once was, unscarred by time and circumstance and jaded words.

His closed eyes carry her image, a laughing care-free girl who swamped him with her love, her life dotted with daises and books. There’s another face juxtaposed on that slim girl, it’s her, but harried, chin propped up with hands, threatening her gloom with smoke spirals in the bathroom.
His eyes flutter awake, pushing his last refuge away. There’s much to do before he sleeps.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Taming of the shrew

An extract from Paulo Coelho's newsletter, Warrior of the Light on the virtue of Justice.

'When he was young, Cosroes (later on Cosroes I) had a master who managed to make him an outstanding student in all the subjects he learned.

One afternoon, for no apparent reason, the master punished him very severely.

Years later, Cosroes succeeded to the throne. One of the first measures he took was to send for his childhood master and demand an explanation for the injustice he had committed.

“Why did you punish me without my having deserved it?” he asked.

“When I saw your intelligence, I realized right away that you would inherit your father’s throne,” answered the master. “And so I decided to show you how injustice is capable of marking a man for the rest of his life. I hope that you will never chastise anyone without reason.”

- According to the tutor of the King of Persia'

Monday, October 13, 2008

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It's the proverbial question that's popped to you right through life - at age 3, in kindergarten, middle school, high school and then college. It comes barbed with the certainty that the asker knows you have no real clue, or rather, that you're delusional.

Why else do we have ads on national tv that show six-year-olds professing to want to be beauty queens, astronauts or engineers, followed by a discreet message to parents: what stopped your dreams was a little more than lack-of-talent - it was money/opportunity. Make sure that doesn't happen to your kids. It’s a familiar tale, all through time – remember the much-thumbed-through Great Expectations?

When is it that we forget that ‘what we want to be when we grow up’ is not necessarily definable in terms of a career?

I don't really remember what I wanted to be always. When I read Anne Frank's diary, I wanted to be a famous writer, but not necessarily a dead one. Although I promised my then diary, that I would never spill the beans on who I kissed. Then I wanted to be a open-heart surgeon or a neurosurgeon, or maybe both. I was reasonably good at math, but squeamish when it came to blood, but I'd read a major article in that monthly bible of the bourgeois - the Reader's Digest -about how rare it was to find a doctor like that (at least then it was!) and how I would be saving so many countless lives. I remember I quite felt like Joan of Arc as I told my dad about my chosen profession. In college, of course, I wanted to be a rebel, but telling it like it is, is hardly the hallmark of a good rebel. So I grunted in response to the question, sometimes quoting existentialists such as Sartre to say 'I want to be me'.

During my masters, I chose to major in documentary film-making, because well everyone else had chosen commercial cinema, and well, like, how commercial was that, huh? It was all about comrade days, khadi-hued and marijuana flavoured. I worked on six films, four saw the light of the day, if 4:00 am telecasts on Doordarshan can be called day-time prime time. I gave it my best, than I gave it all up for love and moved to the city where Nino's Dad lived, because well, I wanted to be 'whole and happy', and a broken heart is a lousy excuse of a career.

So what am I doing now that I'm grown up? Well, I write, which I kinda knew I always would in some form or the other, and I'm a mother. That last bit, I did not expect, nor did I hold it in the same esteem, as say, neurosurgeon. Of course, I now know better. I am also happy.

I trudged along with life, fighting the small battles, giving in gently to the big ones, shaping it as much as it shaped me. A few milestones achieved, a few that slipped by and a few that made way for a few others I did not anticipate.

Some guys, aren't however, willing to let life or destiny or pure laziness get in the way. Sean Aiken has chosen to try 52 careers in 52 weeks, all because his dad asked him to choose 'a career he felt passionate about'. So he's tried his hand at being 'bungee-jump operator to talk-show intern to snowshoe guide to florist to yoga instructor to dairy farmer (the stinky job). Marketer, caregiver, framer, talent broker, storekeeper, brewmaster, cancer fund-raiser, bartender, exterminator. He hasn’t been a butcher, but he’s been a baker and a pizza maker. Stock trader. Hollywood producer. Advertising exec. Fashion buyer. Firefighter, Air Force recruit, and cowboy.' He hasn't found his passion for life yet, but he's sure made some money for a few charities. Read more about him here.

I wonder if Sean represents what is referred to as the ‘now generation’, whether he represents me. I've quite a few passions - words, art, music, food - but none drive me, intensely, separately. All of these, jointly define me, mingling and merging with the other roles that have also come to be a passion of sorts. Are we more likely to answer the 'so, what do you want to be question' by saying one of these: Rich or Happy?. And does that splinch us into two categories - the end-means-more ones and the-journey-means-more others? And what about wanting them both – aren’t they interchangeable?


I’m glad no one asks me that question these days. But I did pop it to Nino the other day, despite promising myself I would never ever ask him the loaded wish that it is. I mean I want him to be successful, and happy, and a good human being, and a non-chauvinistic male, and a well-read person, and kind, and gentle and a good singer, someone who can cook with a smile, has great taste in music, films, knows his art from the trends… But of course, I’m a democratic parent, I would never tell him about my great expectations!

‘So baby, what do want to be when you grow up?’

He’s still stubbornly weeding out the imaginary plants in the moneyplant pot.

‘You know, like mumma is a journalist, S aunty is an artist, Foi (bua) is a designer, Maharaj is a cook….’ I added what I thought were his coolest professions to the list - driver, mechanic, fireman, engine-driver.

Met with unrelenting silence, I give up thinking I’m not getting through, that he’s not yet looking at role-playing as keenly as a choice-making procedure yet.

Maare Karanbhai jetla thavu che.’ Roughly translated into, ‘I want be as old as, or like, Karan bhai.’

Karan is Nino’s Dad’s nephew. He is also six years old, has a big bike and runs faster.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

You've changed

It's a refrain I hear very often: 'You've changed.'

Old friends drop in and I shoo them out quickly on school nights - on weekends they smoke alone in the balcony and talk softer on the dining table, our conversations interrupted now and again as I perk a ear to check on a sleeping child. 'You've changed.' I know, I don't drink with abandon anymore - I nurse my one drink all evening, end up with two if the debates are getting a little too hot. I'd love to listen to the women/men you've supposedly bedded, but I'm wondering how I'll cope with a late night, an early morning and a killer day at work.

Sometimes the refrain is garbed in the 'you look different' phrase. I know. A body I was once proud of for its perfect curves, is now hidden under layers of stubborn fat and stretch marks that make me seem like a shark-bite survivor. Sometimes they say 'the weight suits you', and I know they are not merely being nice. They now view me as I have always viewed them - a sum total of their opinions, not merely as the body that houses them. That's why I increasingly resemble a fugly cotton kurta with a large ketchup stain these days. I'm thinking of ways to make Nino's life more organic and ofcourse, about getting some fat on his bones.

The husband holds my hand in the night - and I plead an aching back and worn soles. What happened to the woman who seduced him into this relationship, who expressed her love so freely and physically? 'You've changed.' I know. I'm looking for nothing more than a helping hand in the house these days. A shoulder-rub is also welcome.

I read the headlines in the paper every morning in the loo, timed in minutes before I jump in the shower and head to work. I read Eric Carle to bed every night, having replaced my mighty tomes of love, wit, wisdom and philosophy with stories of the Bear, Beaver and Moose.
I dread visit social networking sites where peers and contemporaries talk with such variety about trips, opinions and relationship statuses. I don't travel. My opinions are limited by an over-exposure to parenting and an under-exposure to pretty much everything else that is cool/trendy/current. FB/Orkut don't have enough options for my relationship statuses: Married, Happily Married, Vaguely Unsettled in Marriage, or often-don't-know-what-I'm-doing-or-heading-to in Marriage - all with one guy. There's nothing that's current in my frame of mind - it's all weeks/months/years/lifetimes. Alanis feels like an angsty teenager - Ghalib and Faiz feel like brethren. Pain has become band-aids and icepacks when it once used to be about life, love, want, hope and despair. Happiness used to be impulsive shopping, romantic dates, Rushdie's books, mutton curry. Happiness now is timing my ride home with Nino's playtime in the garden, so I can sneak up on him and hear him squeal with delight till we both collapse laughing, unmindful of the dirt. I've changed.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Breakfast Mahabharat

I dressed Nino this morning in a lovely cream Bengali cotton jhubba and red dhoti for a garba programme at his school. He was very excited about the dhoti and I loved the jhubba for its soft, transparent look and beautiful green ikkat border.

As we walked down to the dinning room, I told him to be extra careful with the jhubba while eating his breakfast. We managed through boiled egg and ketchup just fine, till the doorbell rang and I got up to answer it. There was a bite left, and I told him to take care that the ketchup doesn't stain his jhubba.

The man at the door was haggling for some unpaid bills, and just at that moment Nino ran to me saying something about ketchup, jhubba - I didn't pay attention, but when I finally turned, I saw two perfect oval stains on the cream fabric. I snapped, yanked him hard to the washbasin and screamed at how often I've told him to use a napkin instead of his clothes.

Nino looked at me, dazed for a second, till tears pooled in his eyes, and he began to cry in earnest. I was unable to stop yelling - but when I did finally calm down, he told me how he had reached for the water and the plate stained the jhubba and that he came running to tell me, but when I did not listen, he wiped it with his fingers.

As I walked him to the lift, I said sorry. He turned to me and said, very simply, 'It's okay mama, but I was trying to clean the jhubba.' I wanted to sink to my knees and cry, and apologise for transferring my irritation over unpaid bills to him. But I waited till he was gone and then locked myself in the bathroom and cried, unable to forget how betrayed he looked when I hurt him - with my words, and my touch.

You've always been gracious with forgiveness Nino - quick to say sorry, quicker to say 'It's okay'. It can't be easy saying sorry to this shrieking woman who towers over you, bellowing about something that you did not set out to do in the first place. And yet, you do, with more grace than me. I have more of what constitutes wisdom under my belt than you do - years, education, fat - but it is you who embrace me with my faults and uncompromising temper and quick-on-the-move hand. Even if I leave you smarting, hurt, unhappy and vulnerable.

I know when I come to pick you up at school today, you will run out into my arms, talking excitedly about school, pulling me towards the car. I know you will ask me as my office approaches, as you do everyday, 'Mama, are you going to office?' And I know your smile will falter and then pick up again when I say yes. You have already forgiven my trespass this morning, you forgive my abandonment of you everyday. And I know I will add this story to my guilt collection, promising to myself as I toss and turn in the night, never to yell at you again for a stained piece of cloth.