Simple vanities

About 10 minutes ahead of our young children’s arrival, we, a motley group of mums, in our mid to late 30s, gather together outside the school gates and have some of the most ingeniously compressed chats about how we are keeping up/coping with our still new selves as mothers.

Today, Radhika, mum of two, and adept civil and criminal lawyer, came wearing eyeglasses for the first time. When we enquired after the circumstances of this new acquisition she said in half jest that it was either too many hours spent wilfully in front of the idiot box late in the night or sleep deprivation. (The latter, in being a common affliction, didn’t even register a flicker of sympathy.)

But what did catch our attention was the former — and when we asked how she managed (as though it was an achievement) to even find an hour to watch the idiot box, on her own, late in the night, she said it was her detox therapy, her way of finding some much-needed ‘me-time’ after the children had been put to bed and after she had caught up with the day’s news with the husband who tended to get back from work, late.

She also confessed to gorging on hot chocolate fudge (yum, yum yum) originally bought and stored with the intention of sprucing up dessert for unforseen guests — during her nighttime sojourns!

Although I haven’t yet begun hoarding sweetmeats, I too remember having stayed up late one night watching a semi decent Hollywood flick with Bruce Willis — and enjoying it all the more because I got to do it on my own, in the house, with little T fast asleep and with this deep sense of contentment that I was doing something I loved without having to handover T to anyone or worrying about how she was doing, or feeling horribly guilty about doing something for myself.

And the only reason I haven’t repeated it much is because of how wrung out it had got me the day after — and pretty incapable of being a steady hand on board the parenting ship which made me cringe and fill up with unnecessary guilt.

But another favourite and convenient ‘indulgence’ we have discovered is a good haircut. And although most of us wistfully long for the luxurious after services that other women seem to indulge in after a hair cut such as a slow, time consuming, head massage, we are more than happy and grateful in knowing that we can have a haircut at all! For it is just the kind of one hour indulgence that fits perfectly into the three hours when our little ones are safe and happy at playschool and just the kind of ‘lift’ we seem to currently need to pay attention to our little girl selves that we have lost sight of in our ongoing busyness as mums to high energy toddlers — and a celebration of our respective vanities!

Precious, little one

It’s a funny thing, nearly every afternoon, when I try to get my little girl to settle down for a nap, the anticipation of a successful result and the funny exhaustion of trying to ‘seem’ nonchalant to her, does away eventually with my own ability to wind down for a little rest myself.

But on days like yesterday, when I am not distracted by unfinished chores or pressing editorial work, I get to marvel at the absolute beauty of watching a little person asleep.

At one point, I was especially drawn to her sleeping form because she was evidently watching a dream. Her arms twitched, her heavy eyelids darted about and her small perfect mouth mumbled something in a sweet, low, monotone. I lay down and put my head close to her, trying to make out what she was saying while watching her face closely, and I remember wondering while watching her like this, as though for the first time, who was this marvellous little creature??

A little later, the dream was over nearly as quickly as it had begun. She smiled as though in satisfaction, stretched, turned around, sprawled her arms and legs across the width of the bed, patted my hand and fell into sound, dreamless sleep.

Against the backdrop of the rush that mornings spent in getting ready for school have become, and the sparring that we as mother-daughter engage in about nearly everything, much too frequently nowadays, moments like these lift me up from the daily grind and remind me of how touching, humbling and elevating it is to have a chance at all at being a parent and being witness to a little life in all its moods and hues.

A rant against miserliness

For weeks now, I have been wondering why a real affection for a close family friend always falls short of becoming an enduring friendship.

And although I find it embarrassing to dwell on the instances or incidents of disconnect I have to admit its got to do with this person — let’s just say a character called XY — being — well — stingy.

And I don’t mean this in terms of what we could call purchasing power — I don’t expect anyone to be ‘getting’ us anything — but an inability to reciprocate a generosity with his/her time, home routines and visits and yes, a particular stinginess in terms of breaking bread with a group of people beyond XY’s immediate friends and family.

THAT really rankles me.

And it rankles me especially I guess because XY finds it very convenient to drop by at everybody’s else’s place, assuming a right to be entertained, listened to, fed and so on while making it very clear that XY leads a terribly busy, stressful and tightly scheduled life.

As an American friend of mine in Sweden used to say — “Well, HELLO???!!!”

I am new to being a stay at home professional and I am not terribly good at it.

But man does it get me mad to be made to think that my time is everyone else’s but XY’s time is XY’s!

My mum is of the view that it doesn’t really matter how other people behave and that if I were really generous and large hearted I should find it in me to overlook such instances in an otherwise enduring dynamic.

But I am not able to see it that way.

I remember a dear school friend saying recently on her turning 40 that she finds it easier to be quite direct about awkward things. I have to say I’m coming around to that view myself. I have always found it very hard to be direct in awkward situations but it looks like the approaching milestone of soon turning 40 is freeing me up from some old set ways and views including overlooking ‘one way’ relationships/friendships.

Perfect timing

I overheard a dear family friend saying that a middle aged, domestic worker from Bengal, who was looking for work as a full time house keeper in Delhi has found a home with one, elderly lady willing to pay her a handsome fee apart from boarding and lodging.

We too had met the woman in question but had told her that we couldn’t possibly employ her without knowing much about her background and without having a strong reference from someone we know.

But she did seem nice: gentle, clean and sincere. All attributes one is looking for when thinking of having someone to help around at home.

But either we didn’t feel compelled to bite the bullet or she sensed a lack of urgency on our part.

And both our decisions to not be with one another led her to the job she wanted at a fee she would have preferred to what we would have offered and with fewer people to be responsible for.

So often, with regard to so many different professional and personal situations, we are told by close friends that something didn’t work out for a good reason.

But at the time when we are given this counsel we are ready to holler and say — “you dont know a bloody thing about how it feels! I want this sorted NOW, on my terms, right away, at this very moment!!!”

And of course that is not what happens.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am now prepared to accept that for as long as one chugs along doing whatever it is one is responsible for doing, and does it in sincerity — things, people, relationships, work, money and everything else does fall into place.

Much slower than one would expect and often not exactly as one may have imagined but nicely enough.

And yet its not as though you can sit on a deck chair with a book on your lap and wait for stuff to sort out.

You do need to remain in the race and do your bit, and preferably without cynicism or irony.

And for that, the universe, as a dear friend says, rewards you, exactly when you need it most, little gifts of unforseen joy.

“What can one say of what one loves?”

When I think back on my days as a student, especially at university, the most vivid memmory is of time passing very slowly.

And one of my favourite pastimes was to pick up books outside the prescribed syllabus — especially fiction — and especially books by James Baldwin.

I haven’t read anything by anyone else that comes close to his scathing, searing style and yet his works are also of course replete with the most sensuous, passionate and tender reflections.

One of my all time favourite quotes from his works is:
“What can say of what one loves, except say it over and over again that one loves it?”

How hopelessly, helplessly simple is that. And how could anyone say it any better?!

I have found many an occasion to revisit that one line and each time it seems to throw on my situation or thought at the time a new, startlingly refreshing meaning.

No wonder that great literature endures across generations and speaks to and touches anyone willing to remain open to its powerful revelations.