The languor of summer afternoons


Being able to lounge around in your night clothes on a lazy weekend afternoon with no great plans and no burning ambition to achieve anything of any significance is the kind of life I remember having had in my youth. Often enough what that state of being was usually a precursor to was long bouts of reading — cooped up in a room, with some light in the vicinity switched on, or beside a window through which the unparalleled light of the sun was pouring in.

Unexpectedly, I got the rare privilege of having a considerably large window of time the other day to do exactly that. Not with the same sense of gay abandon I suppose — which is only fair given how much older one has become and given how one must know that time cannot be lived in the exact same way at some other time under other conditions but even so — achingly close and similar to that earlier memory.

And in doing so what I found was how the mind lets you float back so easily to memories from so long ago — the soaring songs a lover once played in a language you once knew as a child which came back to you in snatches, the confusing look of acute concentration on his face that frightened you in its innocence and intensity, the pleading in his eyes as he hoped you would stop giggling from nervousness and just listen quietly in the stillness of a hot Delhi afternoon, in a room too large, too ornate, too filled with carefully placed artifacts to do any justice to the Soprano’s song of loss and longing.

And it makes you think what if you had given in? How different would life have been? Would you have felt a closeness to his river, the Danube? Who knows, really?

And then, another old memory. Of having lost vision suddenly in one eye on my first trip abroad on my own as an adult, walking in thankfulness side by side in the shivering cool breeze by the Thames in February with an old friend, who always had time to meet me when I finished work, who always took me to a new cafe or restaurant with ‘student rates’ to ensure I tucked into some dinner, who always listened openly and fully to whatever it was that I was saying — whose steadfast friendship, affection and love helped me get through my first professional training course while fighting the horrifying possibility of going completely blind.

But also in retrospect now the embarrassingly ungrateful way in which I fell madly in love with his best friend a quiet, reserved Irishman — who took me in, made me for the duration of my stay in his city a part of his inner circle, who spoke to me at length of his family, his ailing mum, his distant, calculating siblings, his father’s painful passing — and then almost just as quickly dropped me off. Leaving me wondering even now what exactly ‘went wrong’ as though one could ever really understand why we feel what we do — whether meeting him at another time may have led to other outcomes — and if what had to happen, had to happen then why at all it did?

The book that precipitated all these old memories did so in part because it was also about young love. It made me remember the exquisitely painful experience of being wrapped up in another person’s life as though there was nothing else really worth living for. And yet, in hindsight, the wonderful thing seems to be that it is all worth it. All the pain, all the anguish, all the suffering. What exactly for I cant quite yet say but worth it, yes, without a doubt.

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Becoming a parent: Nothing goes to plan


If there’s one thing you can be certain of, ahead of becoming a parent, it is that nearly nothing will go to plan. The perfect, compassionate, smart, supportive, baby and mamma loving mid-wife will have a personal crisis the very night you go into labour. She will call and half feign an apology and say you’re going to be fine, that its going to be an awesome delivery, and you’re going to do swell without her by your side.

You would have certainly not slept as much and as well as you would have hoped as all the well-meaning nursing staff and mamma and papa friends had advised you to do before the marathon that labour usually is — and I’m not even going into the birthing itself. (Who ever told you the pain is natural needs to go take a walk.)

When labour starts, you will not be the picture of serenity, sitting criss cross apple sauce, breathing in and breathing out, calmly, rhythmically, shallowly, as your friendly neighbourhood pre-natal expert had so lovingly taught you to do the moment labour starts.

You will be by turn taken aback and too soon horrified at the intensity of the jabs, how they/it/whatever is in command, NOT, no not for a moment, you. You will have no shame in crawling the walls of your room, or whichever room you find yourself in when the jabs return, stifling a little cry, contorting your body in the most amazing ways to find some position of moderate comfort or escape from this incredible experience.

And no, you will almost not remember that all of this is about a little creature inside who is preparing to come out.

When you get on the phone to speak to the hospital you have selected for their emphasis on empathy, natural birth and mamma-baby centricity, you will not take too kindly to the trained, flat voice that you are met with which says the pain you are feeling is not yet good enough to come in with.

‘Jeez, lady, what do YOU know???!!!’ is what you will want to scream at the voice but instead, you will be caught mid-way in this primordial, involuntary convulsion that will make you feel infantile and make you do your breathing on the phone while the voice on the other end holds politely and encourages you to do your good work as though you were a young, anxious school-girl.

A couple of minutes or many minutes later when you are able to impress them with your raspy breath and they finally say what you’ve been dying to hear — ‘yes, you can come now’ — you will be suddenly aware that this is last time you are going to leave home as a woman with large tummy that has baby inside. And you will almost laugh and choke that your mind is able to think about this while being caught up in said primordial drama.

For all the tedious and loving preparations you and your partner may have made in reading up about, scouring for and investing in water birthing paraphernalia, you will not be flooded with images of how sublime the birthing is going to be. You will be consumed as you descend the stairs from your first floor flat (if that’s where you happen to live) or as you go down in a clunky lift while holding on tightly to your mum’s or partner’s hand/arm/wrist about how long anyone can possibly stay alive feeling the convulsions you are feeling and what if anything can make it stop.

When the cabbie comes, in the dead of the night (why is it always the dead of the night?) to fetch you and your attendants and the attending bags and said paraphernalia to the hospital, you will not be in the least interested in the small talk he will try his hand at. Although somewhere in your head you will wonder whether he understands the significance of his current undertaking, whether he has done it before and whether if the need should so arise, would he help with an emergency birth en route?

When you get through the gates of the tucked away entrance to the maternity ward, you will not be in a mood for wall-mounted phones with speakers attached. You will want someone to usher you in, show you your room, and leave you be.

If you’re lucky the room will not be chock a block with machines, artificial breathing equipment for an emergency, sterile trays, bright white light or anything at all that reminds you this is not home or a friend’s home or a hotel.

At which point I have to say, I managed in the middle of all this, to have a moment of epiphany. When all the ushering in rituals had died down, when a young, attractive, Greek mid wife had done her thing of poking me (why oh why is it necessary?) to make sure the baby was alright and at the same time inserted quickly a monitor on her head (while telling me the pain was worth it and gushing with pride on my behalf that the baby had a head full of hair, unheard of in the Nordic!), when I was happy to see my tired and spent attendants take a nap in their respective corners, I found myself marvelling at the quiet night outside, the geometic beauty of the street lights on the highway twinkling below, the reassuring and familiar sound of the rocking chair I was sitting on, rocking rhythmically to the dance of my body, and even if only for a few, brief moments, content and calm by myself with this creature inside me, on the cusp of being born, bewildered, moved and entirely accepting of whatever was going to come.

Fearlessness


Some of the greatest injustices are done unsurprisingly insiduously; to assert a sense of dominion and sense of entitlement over things and people one often considers one’s property.

And some of the worst of these acts of injustice are committed on those who are visually, physically, emotionally and psychologically the most vulnerable and dependent: young children.

In being mother of a young daughter, I have found it imperative to arm my girl with the unquestioned certainty that she is not under any obligation to do anything that she is not comfortable with in any way (barring of course having to eat, sleep, be safe and if possible courteous and kind to herself and those around her).

And although that has meant her being at times excruciatingly particular about what she is comfortable with, when, where and with whom, I think it is exactly the sort of deeply embdedded, fearless approach which will go a long way in breaking down thousands of years old notions of what is acceptable and what is not; what needs to be tolerated and what need not ; and what sets of roles, expectations and behaviours the two genders can enscribe onto each other in various equations, inside and outside the family.

I couldnt be prouder that she is only 3 and a half years old and already has such a nuanced sense of situations, relationships, people and places.

While of course still being a goofy, funny, lovely and loving little girl.

Celebrating the parent who is present


In having lost one parent much sooner than any of my close friends did, I have spent a great deal of time and heart in thinking about and celebrating my father’s spirit and presence and mourning his passing.

But I have never paid enough tribute to the parent who he left behind, who is alive, here and now, and whose daily and unending labour of love has given my young child and me the rock-solid home, refuge and tireless attention and care that enables and defines who we are and who we have become in our lives together, each in our own person, and together as a family.

Always the seemingly more reticent of the two, my mother was the quiet strength beside my expressive and gregarious father. Far apart in age, from different cultural, linguistic and social backgrounds, the two were always one of the best examples to me of a loving and respectful companionship.

During my teen years, when I was drawn a great deal to books and as a result of that drawn to and mesmerised by my father’s formidable intellect, I can never forget how he gently but firmly reprimanded me for seeming to put him on a pedestal writing in one of his letters to me at boarding school that the example my mother set with her effortless integrity, unflinching humility and unconditional humanity were by far the more coveted virtues, no matter how scintillating being widely read or a word he loathed, being intellectual seemed to be.

I have never forgotten that. Both for what it taught me about me and my blinkered view then and for the renewed admiration and love I felt for the way he loved my mother.

Although my mother has of course told me over the course of the years, that the usual, gendered differences existed between them too, she has always said my father was rare in considering her at all times with the deepest respect for being the kind of woman she was and for the kind of mindful, attentive and unbelievably generous mother she became.

I cannot ever be grateful enough to her for having always let me make my decisions, no matter how flawed, and often contrary to her expressed wishes or opinions, for never withholding her support, labour and love simply because I have found myself face down after following some of my mad plans, for having stuck her neck out for my young child and me when I have needed someone to rely on unconditionally and for being the kind of loving, patient and fun ‘present in the moment’ grandma who despite her getting older and frailer never whines or protests or grudges the entire lack of ‘me time’ and who runs this house and home for us in a way that makes the hardest and most invisible work and labour seem like a cake walk.

An unobtrusive, luminous thing


I have never thought of it like this – the special kind of ‘empty’ unstructured time you get to have when you are mainly home watching over a young child – gives you moments that you never expected – or ways of looking at the same, familiar sights, in an entirely new way.

Nearly 20 years ago, when my parents were able to invest in this house and make it their own, they took great pride in giving it personal touches to mark their particular aesthetic sensibility on its walls and interiors – my father would have thrown his head back and guffawed if he was around to read this – ‘sensibility?’ he would have said – ‘what exactly does that pretentious word mean anyway?!’

Both shared an interest in the crafts, both were drawn to simple, earthy design, and both had discovered a wonderful architect at a local Laurie Baker centre not too far from our new, and for the first time, owned home.

So even though resources were tight and a complete makeover was impossible, they found ingenuous ways with the architect, now part of the family as son and brother, to remove the sordidness of a banal, basic flat.

One of the improvements they decided to add was to cut a long room into two by building a trademark Laurie Baker feature – an exposed brick arch – which discreetly announced the separation of two spaces – a dining and living room area – and my father in his desire to add his own flourish to it requested Anna (the architect) to insert asymmetrical marble planks underneath the two half arches adjoining the main structure.

I used to be a tad embarrassed by their incongruity, the fact that they didn’t look like marble and that they were asymmetrical. But I knew better than to argue with my father about it.

Yesterday, as T and I lay in the hall, with our old water cooler blowing lovely cool air towards us and further on down the length of the house, I noticed light bouncing off the marble plank as though it were a piece of glass, and I thought to myself, what a wonderful quirky presence it brings to an otherwise deliberately draped and darkened space to stave off the hot sun; a quiet, unobtrusive, luminous thing.

And that reminded me of my father of course and I thought 9 years after his passing I’m at greater peace with my grief over his physical absence and quite certain in ways that sound ludicrous and mad that he is not and can never really be ever gone.

One little squirrel


My little girl and I LOVE squirrels.

They are tiny, quick-witted, fast-moving, with long swishy tails and perky little faces dotted with dark, shiny eyes and tiny o mouths.

Our neighbour whose courtyard is flooded with sunlight for nearly as long as the sun is in the sky has over many weeks and months got a loyal following of a large group of squirrels.

She feeds them peanuts and grains and sometimes even makes them special rotis often embarrassing her teenaged children’s sense of cool.

We went to join her one afternoon and were soon surrounded by these little darting creatures to little T’s delight.

But since they hadn’t yet made an acquaintance with her, they sped away the moment she tried feeding them peanuts after prising open their shells after long spells of concentration and effort.

She looked up at me and asked – ‘why aren’t they stopping for me?’

‘They dont know you yet, T, and maybe they are scared you may harm them,’ I replied.

‘But all I want to do is feed them, mamma! And I LOVE them! How can they not know??’

Well…what could I say?

Our neighbour intervened helpfully and suggested – ‘why dont you stand close to me, and try not moving too much, they may come to you then’.

And happen it did. First one little furry creature and then another and then a little crowd of them came towards T, emboldened by her staying impressively still and her clutching on to a fist full of peanuts.

Once they came closer, she too felt more confident and knelt down to prise open peanut shells and then proceeded to make little squishy bits of them ‘because their mouths are SO small’.

One little squirrel whom she nicknamed Tum Tum then proceeded to come and eat exactly those little bits that T had so lovingly made bite-size for him/her.

The joy of that communion!

Nothing comes close to the delight of seeing young children and the younglings of other creatures play together – without props, without gadgets, without prompting, without pre-set rules and even in a way without the expectation of wanting to repeat what had happened in exactly the same place or same way.

Thank god for kind and generous neighbours, the sun, squirrels, peanuts and little ones.