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: