Chapter 24: The Absurdity of Hope


When Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her, setting free heaps of troubles upon this world, by great good fortune the worst of the lot managed to remain locked up: foreboding. Knowledge of future events, mostly ones you’d really not like to know about.

There’s a good reason people can’t see the future— it makes you believe you can change it. (And then again, if you could see your future, perhaps you really could change it. Who knows?) Most of us don’t consider the future as given—no matter what our beliefs and value systems.  Most people are obstinate in thinking they can change the track of their lives and can lead better ones than those who went ahead of them. You and I are no different. But sometimes, just sometimes, you wish that hope wouldn’t be so darn tenacious; that you’d know when was the right moment to let go. You wish you wouldn’t keep holding on for far too long. But that, precisely, was what we were doing.

Beginning October 2012, when I shifted to Aligarh, month after month passed with the Omani company holding our little family on tenterhooks; no visa in sight. Several times I urged Sajjad to just get us back to Delhi so we could go on living like we had, and we’d move when the time came. But here’s the thing: they never postponed the date by more than a fortnight or a month, so we couldn’t  plan ahead. Each time I reminded Sajjad of getting a house, he’d remind me back that a rent agreement would legally require us to stay in Delhi for at least a year. And then what would we do when the time came to move?

To be fair, though, he wasn’t the only one to blame for this. Mea Culpa as well.

I, too, was eager to taste the pure, fresh air of a distant land, a country with better roads, better houses, better facilities, stronger currency and all the promise of a better life. Most of all, I was just holding my breath to set foot into the port town of Muscat, that I imagined would be my home for the next several years. The sea speaks to my soul like nothing else, and to spend every weekend by the sea was a glorious dream that was just about to come true… Plus, look up Muscat and you’d see it is a city with pleasures galore—turtle beaches, whale watching, magical underwater caves, ancient forts, hot water springs….who wouldn’t want to be there?

And then again, that little mentioned but all-important reason: distant lands mean heavenly distance from pokey, nosey relatives and those people forever wanting to know what you were up to. They also mean that over-grown momma’s boys can’t keep rushing to their mommas three cities away every weekend or fortnight. Oh well.

Whatever the reasons, the dream kept dangling itself before our noses, just a little beyond our reach—not far enough to make us forget it  and not near enough to make us grab it. Meanwhile, the carefully woven tapestry of our marriage kept unravelling, one thread at a time.

Sometimes I wonder if letting foreboding escape might not have been such a bad idea after all.

Chapter 23: Dr Jekylletta and Mrs Hyde

How would you know if you had multiple personality disorder? You wouldn’t. Like Norman Bates, Alfred Hitchcock’s famous “Psycho”, you’d just believe it was poor little you.

December 15, 2012

All parenting websites declare that your baby’s sleep problems—and hence your own—would be over by the time he’s four months old. But, as sure as the world goes round, harried and impatient mothers get blessed with the most exaspera…uh….challenging… children. I, of course, fit perfectly into that mould.

My son goes to sleep with me patting him gently… gently… gently…  persistently….for at least about 40 minutes. It does make me smile that he seeks me out every so often, seeking the feel of my skin to reassure himself. But just about an hour later, the bawling starts.

No, it’s not a wet diaper.

No, it’s not colic.

No, it’s not hunger.

He just wants to sleep in mamma’s lap.

I have a bawler in my bed.

Bright idea #1:

I begin putting him to sleep inside the bouncer, rocking him every now and then when the bawling begins. All is fine at first, except that now he expects mom to rock him all night.

Woe unto me if my hand falls limp in a state of drop-dead sleep.  And so my hand moves of its own accord.

Bright idea #2:

Enter the pacifier.

My good ol’ country-dwellin’, traditional-medicine lovin’, all-righteous in laws abhor pacifiers. Oh, and generally all child-rearing practices modern. Normally, I find their advice useful—it’s pretty comforting homey stuff that helps build the child’s (and the mother’s) immunity without over-dependence on antibiotics and doctors. But the barbs about the pacifier are never-ending:

It’s an addictive I’m exposing my son to.

It’s a lazy mother’s crutch .

And best of all: “our kids never needed these contraptions to fall asleep!”

My mom has been watching me struggle for the past 4 months. She has suggested the pacifier several times– she’d put me on it when I was 2 months old–but I’ve been resisting, primarily with my in laws’ advice in mind. For four months I have resisted. But the bawling echoes ceaselessly, and now I cave in.

When I was six, my then young adult uncle had a poster on his wall, where Dennis the Menace declared:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Then give up. It’s no use being a fool about it.”

MEANWHILE…. ( Somewhere around November 2012)

Me: What’s the news about your visa?

Sajjad: The company is facing some paperwork issues. They say next month for sure.

Next Month

Me: Any news?

Sajjad: The x,y,z, has not been cleared (some new problem cooked up by the employer). Just about a fortnight more.

A fortnight later

Sajjad: Some more legal hassles. Next month, I’m positive.

Me: Let’s rent a house in Delhi again, and just drop this idea.

Sajjad: We’re so close, it’s just a month. Just one more month, baby, please.

And so on…

…and so forth.

He visits every weekend, arriving Friday nights and leaving Monday mornings. A strange behavioural pattern emerges in a mostly consistent form: instead of feeling lighter and happier in anticipation of him arriving on Friday, by Thursday I find myself completely spiralling into violent derangement. Boiling over at the drop of a hat, erupting at the slightest provocation, and looking at the baby with hatred and loathing—the projected self-loathing of a woman unhappy with life.

And then the weekend is here, and Mrs Hyde disappears— leaving behind grinning, civilised, loving Dr Jekylletta.

January 14, 2013

3 a.m.

We’re in the little room to one side of the backyard, a cosy sanctum for domesticated lovers— a place where virtually no sounds would carry from the main house and…erm…vice versa.

This room was built upon my mom’s orders when her brother got married and brought his new bride into the house. My mother is quite the patron saint of romance; she would have done St Valentine proud. It was her desire for the couple to have the utmost privacy from us ever-intruding pests—a ten year old and a four year old.

I suppose my mother’s great sensitivity to lovers fuels my own romantic inclination, and I suppose her being widowed at 34 fuels my frenzied longing to make every romantic second count.

And so we’re snuggled into the folds of our super heavy quilts on a teeth-chattering winter night. The room has served its true purpose well; we’re sated and relaxed from all the heat we just generated.

Sajjad is fast asleep—his ‘insta-sleep switch’ has been the object of both my envy and my wrath. I usually didn’t fall asleep that easily anyway, but this time there’s a definite reason for my insomnia.

“Hey,” I nudge him. “Hey, I can’t sleep.”

“Mmmm…?” he mumbles “What’s the matter?”

“It’s been two hours.”


“It’s been over two hours since I fed the baby. He must be hungry.” The room is pitch dark and there’s no way to know the time.

“Has it? Been that long? It couldn’t be— the baby isn’t crying, or mummy would have called us up to come and get him.”

Our sometimes- arrangement with mummy works this way: she keeps Hasan until he gets hungry and starts crying, and then she rings us up to come and get him (we’re just across the courtyard in the back room.)

Now anyone who hasn’t been to India doesn’t have a clue that we don’t have central heating in our homes. Well, we don’t. We beat the biting cold by putting on several layers of thermal inners and sweaters and socks, and at night by switching on room heaters and tucking quilts tightly—under our feet and the sides of our legs and on top of our heads. And that, precisely, is how the baby is transferred from mummy’s room to ours—across the open courtyard— tucked in his bouncer with several layers of thick quilts below him, and several layers above.

“It’s been more than two hours. I’m telling you, my baby is hungry. I know it. I just can’t sleep…I…I tried…but… I keep getting this feeling that he is hungry.”

“Maa… maa… maa….” chants Sajjad, sighing, smiling and getting up.

Mother, mother, mother. A mother can’t sleep when her baby’s hungry.

Truth be told, I’m more annoyed than pleased at this sudden ‘Mother India’ characterisation of myself. I dislike being a martyr. Or a saint.

Nevertheless. The baby’s needs do come before my own.

Dr Jekylletta at your service.

Jan 22, 2013

Ahmer, my friend from college, idea machine and eternally red-bull-charged, calls me up one day:

“So what’s up?”

“Same ol’, Ahmer, same ol’. Hateful life of feeding soothing changing diapers. Ugh.”

“Come on Zehra, it’s been a long time now. You can’t still be in that phase… four months already!”

And then, in wisecrack, essential Ahmer mode, “in case you didn’t realise…this is what happens after marriage. People usually have babies… and then get on with their lives!”

There has been many a moment in college when I felt the urge to box the ears of this particular guy. We are not in college anymore and the urge has resurfaced.

“So I’m not people. I thought you knew that for a long time.”

“My dear girl, there was a time when we debated about politics, religion, gender equality, when we bounced ideas off each other… and now all one can get out of you is this never-ending rant about having had a baby! “

“That’s because all of that has been kicked out of my brains by this creature kicking me in the gut for nine months.”

“Oh, c’mon! Who keeps sulking after having a baby—for so long?”momzilla

“I wish I could throw this baby out of the house.”


And that is Mrs Hyde.