My world in my purse

Its a funny thing, for a stickler like me, to be still carrying around the same, at least 15 year old, fraying, black leather, money purse that I bugged my father into parting with when it was his.
I used to be a bit of a brand worshipper — and so was he — and it being from Hidedesign somehow accentuated its possession value.
But now with him gone, my being back in the city of my birth, Delhi, and being mum to a little girl, I find new uses for it.
On the ride back home after dropping off my little girl to her playschool, I get to poke around its various, secret chambers and find something or the other to surprise or delight me.
There is a really ancient black and white photo of my father looking really dapper in a suit and tie, his thick hair with a few greys elegantly combed back — ‘the Indian JFK’ as some of my mother’s adoring hostel mates used to say of him.
Each time I look at that photo, I’m intrigued by what kind of man he was back then, in the late 50s or early 60s when the photo was taken, whether he was any less shy with his obviously large female following, what got him to zero in on my mum, nearly two decades his junior, how they courted, what she thought of him then, how he spoke, how he sat at his writing table at his newspaper office, whether he really was the intimidating figure some of his colleagues portray him to have been.
In the first few years after his passing, I never felt confident of being able to see a photo of him and not end up crying in being reminded of his absence. But now, with all the busyness being a parent brings, and with all the many changes the last eight years have involved, Im able to look at his photo adoringly without heartbreak, as though he and I can still share a few hurried confidential exchanges during my ride home from the little one’s school, as though he is still here somewhere, involved and affected, protective and anxious for the brave new life my mum, my little girl and I are living.

The beautiful human form

I know it can sound trite — to sing praises to the way a woman looks when visibly pregnant.

And I also know it’s a lie to leave out all the other contrary and complicated stuff that accompanies this experience both for the woman carrying new life and for those around her who live with her or work with her or those out of her sight who worry for her and love her.

But if I were to focus just on that one element of form — and the incredible changes that the woman’s body undergoes to go from being discreetly to visibly pregnant I’d have to say there is nothing that comes close visually in terms of absolute beauty.

I was reminded of this, vividly when I watched the beautiful Vidya Balan enacting a heavily pregnant woman in the film “Kahaani”.

From the time she first comes to view, until nearly the end of the film, she brings alive the beauty and idiosyncracies of being a pregnant woman with a prominent tummy.

The snapshot here from the film should give you a fair idea of what I mean.

You can tell she is totally comfortable in her form, that she glows with an incandescence that is somehow both available for all out there to see and yet is deeply private and unknown to all but herself and that she is determined to waddle with her immense protrusion in a way that commands space and respect even in the most crowded of all cities — Calcutta.

Although the film has been critiqued on various counts, nearly everyone who writes about it is all praise for the work Balan has done in it.

I’m not a film critic and nor am I an actor — but to me it is no small achievement that Balan has been able to take on, so completely and so believably the identity, experience, movements and moods of a pregnant woman who I actually forgot throughout the course of the film that she was only playing a part.

I actually tensed up when I thought she was about to swoon and fall, I worried that she was worrying too much, I wondered where her bloody man had disappeared, and felt grateful the kind policeman was chivalrous enough to be a true friend to her without once making a stupid pass at an absolutely gorgeous (and pregnant) woman.

Cultures and nations differ in the way they respond to such a sight — some are more vivacious and open in greeting pregnant women with warmth, protectiveness and good cheer and some are less so.

But I do think its a pretty universal impulse to feel a bit awe-struck, whether one chooses to give expression to that or not, when one encounters the human form in this state. Life holding life. A mother encapsulating a new person yet to come.

The trouble with disobedience

We are about a month away from a formal end to the ‘terrible twos’ and it looks like the latter has reared its ugly head for one final, grand, curtain call. (Or so I hopefully think!)

Before heading out into the mosquito-infested neighbourhood park in the evening, I make it a point to swathe the toddler with an insect repellant.

Well, actually two versions of it — one a herbs-based spray and another a commonly known and used cream.

The toddler has been told many a time that the cream and for that matter ALL creams are not meant for tasting or eating.

Most times, the toddler shows reasonable acceptance of the rule.

Today, overjoyed at having a young girl at home as playmate, she decides to act up, about everything.

So she tastes the insect repellant despite being at first requested and then asked and then told not to do so.

My problem with chronic disobedience from a toddler is that the very rules they want most to break result in pretty dangerous consequences to their health and well being.

I have now and then considered a different tack — what if I let her taste and gulp the said repellant which would inevitably lead to acute vomiting if not also other symptoms — I am left facing with not only the unfortunate scenario of having let my child fall sick but also dealing with the not good or fun consequence — of dealing with her becoming a patient and that a whiny, demanding and yes also, deeply disobedient one.

What would you guys do?

Is there a cure for chronic disobedience?

Does it just end, at some time, magically?

Delirious, demented Delhi

The other day, I decided to have a mother’s day out.

Despite the dodgy weather, I decided to spice up my little adventure by trying my luck with hailing autorickshaws for a short ride into town.

Although I have fallen out of practice in doing it with the kind of deliberate mix of arrogance and indifference that ensures success, I managed to hail one nearly as soon as I got out of home.

And then began the famed conversation that abounds everyday in this capital city, with whoever tries their hand at this herculian task — the driver in question began by asking me where I wanted to go, how much I would pay for it, complained that what I was offering was not good enough, informed me about how much more expensive fuel had gotten, how the poor like him were being ground to dust with this government and how I was just the icing on the cake of utter desperation in refusing to pay the inflated amount he was suggesting.

By the time he finished his rant, much of it justified, I decided I would not bow to the convenience of just hopping in to his rickshaw but try my luck a second time.

The second guy seemed like a gentleman, didn’t ask any questions, said I could pay anything I liked and just as I was about to sit back cosily in the passenger seat I noticed a HUGE Indian flag propped to one side of the rickshaw’s windscreen, a couple of LIT incense sticks behind his steering wheel and immense rudraksha beads wrapped around both his wrists, AND waistbands in the colours of the Indian flag.

I was just registering all these rather unusual and mildy worrying details when he turned around, while driving and announced loudly that he was an ardent nationalist, Anna Hazare supporter, and was determined to drive around all day while shouting slogans in the name of the nation and the elderly, self-proclaimed redeemer of the nation, Anna, which he then promptly began to do. He pumped his arms sideways and out and began shouting: “ANNA HAZARE KI JAI HO!!!” “BHARAT MATA KI JAI HO!!!” and this in the middle of a busy street choc-a-bloc with traffic which attracted quite a few puzzled looks from those close enough to watch his pantomime.

I took it for a couple of seconds and said as politely and firmly as I could that it was probably not a great idea to have his hands off the steering wheel in the midst of traffic and that his noble social engagement was best left at the maidan where Anna had had a sit in.

At first he ignored me. The third time I repeated my request, he decelerated dramatically, stopped his cries midway and declared rather dejectedly that I was not being a good citizen in stopping him from allowing him his freedom of expression and that I was better off on the pavement with a lesser evolved autoricksaw driver who was only concerned with ferrying people than with larger social causes.

I nodded in agreement and hurriedly clambered off.

A period of about two hours went by ‘without incident’ until it was time for me to plan my transport back home.

I decided to try a recently introduced, airconditioned bus called the Red Line.

I stood along with a bunch of other would be passengers at a bus-stop and waited my turn.

I noticed there was an elderly Bengali couple close by who were anxiously trying to wave down an autorickshaw while waiting for a bus and a middle aged, differently abled man who seemed to be quite at ease waiting for the bus although he would have been far more comfortable sitting.

Soon enough, the Red Line turned the turn and stood in front of us.

I made way for the couple and the middle aged man and then got on myself.

No sooner had I sat down that I felt the latter gesturing at me and when I turned to look in his direction, he winked and asked me to come and sit beside him.

I was horrified of course and decided to look away. My horror was double fold of course — I had somehow, probably unfairly invested the guy with some kind of greater conscience since he was differently abled and I was of course repulsed by an unwanted and uncalled for gesture from an absolute stranger.

A couple of minutes into the ride, a crowd of noisy school children jostled their way into the bus, a sight I always like. Life to me always feels incomplete without the commotion and untrampled enthusiasm with which children greet the smallest of adventures — in this case, a ride home after school. Typically, given the way they rushed in one of them, a young boy, nearly fell on the elderly, Bengali gentleman.

He reacted loudly and angrily, pronouncing to all who could hear that SUCH (by which he meant, poor, government school attending) children should not be allowed into SUCH (airconditioned, more expensive and therefore in his view rightfully exclusive) buses.

When he noticed a bemused smile on my face he asked harshly and accusingly if I was a school teacher.

I said I wasn’t but that I was a mother — and he looked like he was about to say something to express his disapproval of my not knowing my rightful place next to him and his disdain but thought better of it.

In any case, the journey resumed.

Just a couple of minutes before the bus reached my stop, as I tried to peer outside the window across from my seat while studiously avoiding the attempts of said gentleman who was continuing to make a pass at me, I noticed a tall, regal looking man wearing a long, black kurta leaning fashionably carelessly against an old car at the line of car mechanic shops outside the gates to my neighbourhood. I couldnt believe my eyes! It was well-known Indian film director —Muzaffar Ali!

And I thought to myself, my god! What a contrary, nutty and effervescent place this city is! All I need to do is step out of my door and I will never know what range of absolutely crazy people I will have occasion to meet or how many wonderful, acclaimed artists or otherwise not to be easily seen ‘celebrities’ I will chance upon in the least expected settings, least of all, the strapping Mr Ali at a grimy car mechanics shop!!!

Motherhood — a spiritual immersion

I know a lot of you who read the title of this post will probably raise your eyebrows in disbelief and irritation and a lot of you will snigger and laugh. “What?!” You will say. “Is this woman completely bonkers?! Is she saying her experience of parenting has been/is so bloody sublime that it actually resembles something spiritual??”

Well, to be perfectly honest and upfront — of course not — I mean — of course it isn’t in the way it plays out — from moment to moment — day to day — month to month — year to year — but when I think back on it, there is one part of the absolutely spectacular and speech defying experience that is so close to being a spiritual thing.

And that is the way in which some of us are able to morph, thoughtlessly, effortlessly, into the sorts of beings our children need at the time.

When my little one came and for the months that followed until she was about one year old I was totally, completely present — to her and for her if you know what I mean.

I tried at all times very hard to fathom what each of her little utterances meant — especially those of discomfort, boredom, sorrow or despair. I was able, despite being quite a slow moving sort of person, to magically transport myself to where she was, the moment I knew she needed me or needed comfort or familiarity or closeness or solace.

I would sleep in completely bizarre and contorted positions next to her in the night in the hope that she was able to create the space she wanted, the way she wanted it. It didn’t do my back any good, nor did it contribute much to my feeling rested but it soothed me immensely to know that she knew there was one person in her world who was terribly concerned about what she wanted and the way she wanted it.

Once she turned one and began to master her first few attempts at walking, and began to give out signs to me and everyone else around that she needed some space to stretch out and fall and get up and be a separate person I began tweaking my ways so that I was a call away but not necessarily present in her field of vision. She didn’t always approve but I tried to respond to her own budding independence with respect and acknowledgement and at times with a gentle nudge away from me when she returned to touch base and reassure herself that I wasn’t entirely out of reach.

By the time she turned two, she was speaking in one languge fluently and understood at least another two, quite well. That gave her additional confidence to build and sustain several new, close and loving relationships with people inside and outside the family. Which in turn gave her a comparative sense of how differently people related to her — most of course carefully sidestepping the horribly exhausting work of rule setting  — and that is when she began to challenge me.

The onset of the “terrible twos” was premature — it came much before I knew much about it — and once it came, my god how it settled deep into the fabric of our lives!

Nearly everything, nearly all the time, was and still is, potential ground for a duel. And although a lot of people I have a great respect for told me often to leave things be and let things lie, I couldn’t.

I had seen how a dear friend had ‘lost’ the battle with her strong-willed and determined first born and I remembered reading at the time that such children almost need the parent to prove they are parents by staying their ground in relation to ‘what is alright to do and be’ — or risk losing their children’s respect, for life.

I can’t say I haven’t wept silently and secretly on many an occasion but I have to say I have won my spirited toddler’s respect. She does grudgingly accept, most of the time, that I am the parent and she the child. For now.

Once she is all grown up and ‘sorted out’, as I am sure she will be, I will more than happily throw away the unmoving and uncompromising role of rule setting and embrace rule-less-ness and even anarchy in our equation. But until then, I am going to continue giving her all the resistance and dogged consistency she needs to figure out the world and her blossoming place in it.

Nothing in my life before her coming had ever prepared me for any of this — and nor am I saying any of it is ever easy for very long. But I have to say I’m surprised by how much we are able to mirror our children in order to either reassure them or challenge them as the case may be.

Just the other day, when I went to drop her off at playschool, she actually turned at the gates, called out to me and waved me off with a wonderful smile! (And this after our having had a prolonged discussion about why she couldn’t wear the soiled dress she had had on for the last 28 hours.) And I thought thank god she is happy, confident and secure. And that none of our seemingly constant sparring has had any dent on our closeness.

Although her sense of safety about being by herself with a bunch of other children and a really remarkable set of sensitive, caring and yet ‘free-of-fawning-over-children’ staff is the result of hard work my mum did, I do feel terribly satisfied that this little girl has already been able to find her equanimity amongst peers without once pushing or shoving anyone even when she gets pushed herself. And that she ventures into the outside world, even if for a short duration, confidently and happily and without once whimpering or howling — knowing that we are here to ferry her to and fro and welcome her back into our fold once she has had her heart’s fill of play and a little safe time away from her nest and home.

The Utter Joy of Togetherness

Lighting Up the Dark

The Gathering Gloom

For a few days now, I’ve been reminded of a rather special and memorable evening with two dear girlfriends in my kitchen of yore in the Nordics when the man of the house was away on a work trip.

The plan had been to persuade one of my friends, an ardent homebird and ever loyal and dutiful wife and new mother to get away for about two hours for an all girls evening at my place with some communal cooking and eating.

I was heavily pregnant at the time and although moving around leave alone cooking or co-cooking Indian pancakes from scratch in that part of the world was an especially challenging task in that condition, I thought it would give us three something fun and new to do and I would of course get to gluttonously feast on the smells and tastes I was beginning to miss terribly.

Once we had all gotten ourselves a fair number of pancakes on our plates and into our stomachs, and a delicious combination of lethargy and satisfaction starting setting in, our conversation moved swiftly as it always did to our men.

Of the three,  I was the only one in an inter national/racial marriage and we all knew that it was all the more exciting to spend a little extra time on probing me and goading me to spill out at least a few nuggets of ‘wisdom’ from my supposed vantage point in apparently ‘cracking’ it with so many more differences.

I loved to shock them by quoting the Other Inhabitant of the House (OIH) and his surprisingly candid views on what he called the lot of men and the baggage of masculinity.

One of the things he used to love to say was that I along with all other women he cared for should be ever grateful to have been spared being born male. He’d shake his head and say, “Rajya, you dont want to know what goes on in our heads, nearly all the time. And I mean the best of us. The ones you girls think are kind, gracious, well read and so on.

“I just think we haven’t evolved very much, you know? And really, we should be forever grateful that you girls care to spend any time with us at all!”

Now, not that the OIH felt this way at all times or even remembered what he had said to me. But that he had said it at all! THAT to me was marvellous. And my girlfriends of course were in absolute awe that I lived with a guy who had the courage to say what he did and wondered for good reason whether the unusual candour and courage extended to include other parts of our life as a couple too.

I still remember how proud I was while telling them about his candour and while enjoying an absolutely pleasant and wonderful evening with two intelligent, insightful and generous friends I felt a stab of longing for the OIH who was away at the time.

You will not believe it if I tell you that so much has happened over the last three years that OIH and I dont live in the same house or country any more. And there is much to be said about the unfortunate and miserable ways in which a sparkly connection between two people can unravel.

But I am able to see very clearly three years on from that evening, in the gathering gloom that define Nordic winters, that the jab of pride, joy and thrill one can feel while being entwined with someone, (no matter how entwined or not entwined the other person feels with you), is absolutely marvellous and is undoubtedly one of those few, necessary experiences everybody must subject themselves to — to just know, first hand, what immersion in another’s life, thoughts, habits, feelings is about.

Although the demands of everyday life impinge quickly on this nearly spiritual experience, the moment and passage of immersion is worth ALL the heart break and sorrow and desolation that it inevitably wreaks, on oneself and others.

The only exception to that, is perhaps the onset and responsibility of parenthood. Which is a whole another kind of immersion.

But more on that in another post.

Two and a half women


R — mum, 39, slow-moving, thickly plotting, many moled (toddler interjects: “mamma, you mean, One Mole Digging a Hole!”) woman about to formally enter her Middle Ages

S — grandmum, 69, serene, annoyingly beatific and eternally patient, supermum of the first order

T — daughter/grand-daughter, nearly 3, wild, talkative, charged with energy, unbridled enthusiasm and a never say die spirit who is almost always humming or singing (her version of songs) — the original, pre-teen rockstar

Location: A spacious, three bedroomed, ground floor house in South Delhi that was famed in some circles for being aesthetically appealing with some quiet, Laurie Baker touches, now quickly coming undone under said toddler rockstar’s ferocious and high speed plunderings.

Act I

R addressing S: “Maybe we could ask M about that sweet young girl who helps out at Mrs N’s place…

T interjection: “Mamma! Mamma! WHAT are you SAYING?? You know I slid slides and swung swings all day and then Dhoorva came and…”

R counter-interjection: “T, I was not talking to you, I was trying to talk to my mum…could you please not interrupt me when I have not even finished what I was thinking of saying?”

T: Unimpressed. Surly. Starts to bang noisily on bed. R leaves the room in a dramatic huff.

T immensely pleased, quickly recovers her dynamite, impervious rockstar toddler self.

T to S: “Havent I told you so many times before? DONT interrupt, I mean DONT INTERRUPT me when I am trying to have a conversation with MY mum!!!”

S trying hard to hide and suppress giggles, turns away, puts on her reading glasses and says: “Oh, alright little one, of course, of course, I shall not, ever again, interrupt you.”