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.

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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.

What is wrong with us?


Sociologists are often ridiculed for being unnecessarily interested in questions about social cohesion.

‘What set of factors makes a collectivity, tick?’

I am not a certified sociologist.

But I did spend a considerable chunk of my valuable 20s engaged at least formally in its study.

THE DREAM OF BELONGING

And I find I am struggling to apply what I had heard, picked up, learnt during those years, especially the time I spent under the rough and brilliant tutelage of an exceptionally insightful, original and charismatic professor, to the horrific gang-rape that has sparked a genuine mass movement in Delhi and beyond.

One of the first things that comes to my mind, when considering the brutal episode is how unconcerned and unthoughtful most of us are about the larger collectivity we are part of.

As so many journalists rightly say, most of us, (by which I mean the privileged, English-speaking, income earning, middle class) live and flourish by making it an effortless habit to curtain off our lives and routines from the ‘general public’ because we can afford to and because it does, most times, keep us ‘safer’ than we’d be, if jostling with the aam aadmi.

I mean who would I be kidding if I say walking out and getting on to a regular bus to go even a few stops from home is a truly pleasurable experience?!

And yet, I do think there is a subtle shift in the power game on the streets from the time I was a college student and used to ‘rough it out’ on the infamous mudrikas that ply Delhi’s Ring Road.

GENERATIONAL SHIFT

I remember even the bravest amongst us would just choose to not pick a fight when it came to jeers or leers or ugly pokes and innuendos from the numerous louts travelling on the buses.

I remember travelling usually in packs.

I remember just knowing that it was probably in my best interest to not be on my own, or as I thought to myself, ‘unnecessarily daring’ when darkness fell.

Now, when I see college students waiting to board a bus or for that matter a metro train, I see a confidence and courage that I think my college mates and I lacked.

I see it in my 21-year-old niece who travels mostly on her own, on public transport, to a prestigious school for Mass Communications.

They, like the young girl who died after an incredibly spirited fight against her attackers/rapists, do not subscribe to the gentle admonitions of their doting mothers, or aunts for that matter!

THE NEW FEARLESS

Empowered by a radically more connected world, awareness of their rightful place as equals in this society, and their very youth, they stride out fearlessly and demand to be treated with respect; fight back, even if mainly verbally, to any and every kind of abuse or harassment and are ready to demand fearlessly their right to travel, study, work and live in freedom and dignity.

And yet, entire swathes of the city are still home to women far from empowered, too often poorly educated and often ‘illiterate’; bound to debts in the village they had to leave behind or flee; bound to their men, family, children; slaving away in our homes to just make it through; dutifully tolerating drunken, abusive, disloyal husbands, who view them as their slaves, and who, in their women’s seeming submission, continue to think that the world outside is just an extension of their homes.

Ram Singh, the main accused in the gang-rape is said to have confessed that they were out on a ‘joy-ride’, hoping to ‘catch’ some sex workers, failing which any woman sighted on the roads would ‘do’.

A ‘REVEALING’ ADVERTISEMENT
There is an advertisement for an online clothing and shopping company called Myntra which comes often enough on television.

A few weeks ago, when i saw it for the first time, I thought to myself the girl who features in it does seem rather cheeky and yet pleasantly or at least entertainingly so.

Now, when I think of it, I am quite sure what Ram Singh would think.

Which is not to say that everything needs to be made keeping his demented, misogynist perspective in mind but that you can be sure, that if he were to watch it, he wouldn’t get anything about the video being a kind of victory for freedom of expression, not to mention an individual’s right to sensuality.

The problem I think is that a nuanced discussion of individual right to freedom of expression doesn’t make much sense to an incompetent, troubled, anti-social lout. (Sorry, that’s become my pet word for this post.)

What does, is possibly therapy, community involvement, skill upgradation, family counseling and a whole host of other compassionate, inclusive and reforming actions.

But who can do this?

The State?

You?

Me?

For unless, there is greater engagement and awareness of our reality as a collectivity, such brutal instances are not going to stop. It’s a long, hard way ahead but I think the protests and the collective rage mark a promising beginning.

A sentimental state of mind


It sounds like such sentimental trash. But it’s true. Old friends, true friends, good friends morph themselves to do and be exactly what you need when you reach out to them.

You could have last spoken to them years ago, last seen them a decade ago, last exchanged real news of each other’s lives even further away in time gone by, and yet, when you reconnect, all the good things are right there to be had, unconditionally.

Isn’t that amazing.

They will tell you the nice lies when needed — that the clothes look great, that the grey hairs peeking out suit you, that life is a shit, (sometimes!) that your choice of restaurant is impeccable even if they drove half way across town to get there — all in all, reassure you when you are all but crumpled, and make you feel like the best thing on earth when you have all but given up.

What would I do without them?

One day I shall perhaps flesh this out and give them names!

But until then, please know, all of you out there, whom I have been so inattentive to, for so many years, that without your love and support and ungrudging presence as and when I have called around, keeps me ‘on the path’, keeps me sane, keeps me happy, keeps me keen.

What more could I possibly ask for?!

Fearful fever


I used to say I prefer a raging fever to the debilitating and hugely irritating common cold.

But I dont anymore.

Especially not when it concerns little T.

For with her, the fever comes, as it must do with most children, in the middle of the night. Always. And always always horribly high. And often, even the prescribed dosage of paediatric paracetemol doesnt ease the heat or discomfort or pain.

So I and my mum end up sitting next to her, dabbing her hot head with room temperature water while worrying whether the coolness of the water may cause a worsening of her sore throat and cold.

When she is awakened by the need to cough, she angrily pushes away our hands, protesting that she doesnt like the feeling of a wet rag on her head. But we ignore that, wait for her to sleep and then start again.

Often, while her head is hot and she is moaning with the discomfort of the fever, the cold and body pain that stupid viruses bring, her hands and feet are icy cold.

So we take turns to cover them with a bedsheet until little T pushes it away and we wait for her to settle down and repeat the same motions.

While doing this last night I was thinking how necessary a removal of your self is to raising a new young life.

And how this reveals itself so clearly during illness.

It isn’t necessarily the end of your self but it is certainly a postponement and removal.

And I can say almost quite certainly that none of us who enter parenthood had the faintest idea that this is what it is about. In a pretty fundamental way.

Not only is it not for the faint hearted. But also that this is probably one of the best kept secrets of all times.