Chapter 20: Thou Shalt Taste the Iron


In western countries, I’m told it is compulsory for people to get their male children circumcised at birth (please correct me if I’m wrong). However, that’s not the case in India, where it’s an optional thing. For practicing Muslims though, be they in India or any part of the world, circumcision is an absolute must for the male child—the earlier the better, because according to our beliefs a boy born to Muslim parents will not be a Muslim until he is circumcised.

Scientifically, of course, male circumcision has many benefits—lowering the chances of getting STDs or urinary infections and many others…but this is not a medical blog so you’ll just have to find out about the rest elsewhere.

Now, there are close to zero boys in my family. I have just one sibling, and that’s a girl. My father’s brother has two girls, and my father’s two sisters have two girls each. Only his third and youngest sister has two boys and a girl but they’ve lived in the US all their lives. So I have no experience whatsoever of how boys are brought up. Especially not how they are circumcised.

My mother’s only brother does have a boy but he was circumcised in a hospital. My boy wasn’t. If I had my way, he’d have been operated upon at a hospital, too. But you can’t always have your way, can you?

I suppose most of you are gonna freak out coz I sure did. But this is how it all happened:

The local jarrah who is a semi-doctor plus circumcision specialist comes to your house and performs the whole process without any anesthesia. I think I’d have died if I knew beforehand what it really entails. I actually thought that it’d be like his vaccination—he’d cry of course but I’d soothe him and everything would be fine. On hindsight, this would sound funny if it weren’t so … scary…

Afterwards, my aunt narrated her son’s experience and said that even if you get it done at the hospital, the pain is all the same once the anesthesia wears out. And, as she verified, the younger the baby, the faster the healing. The pain was certainly gone after the first day, but if I ever decided to have another baby, and if it happens to be a son again, I’m certainly putting my foot down about the at-home procedure…and here’s why:

I’ll never forget my tiny son’s scream from the other room… and I’ll never forget bursting into tears at that sound…. I’ll never forget that day when I cried whenever he cried… and not because I was angry or frustrated… I just wanted his pain to end.

And I’ll never forget weeping in the bathroom while taking a bath … listening to his wails outside… and making an earnest prayer to the Lord… “Please, please, dear God… just take away his pain and give it to me instead. I’ll take it. I will.”

That’s when, I think, I understood what a mother’s love is all about.

Chapter 18: Heroine


Dear readers who are not aware of ‘Indian’ meanings: Unlike what most of you might think, here in our country heroine isn’t commonly used to refer to someone who did something heroic—an act of courage, for instance. Here the word usually denotes ‘looking stunning’.

It’s derived from our usage of ‘heroine’ as an alternate of ‘actress’—in common parlance we refer to our female movie stars as ‘heroines’. So, effectively, when someone calls you a ‘heroine’, what they are saying is that you look as gorgeous as their favourite celluloid goddess.

Flattering, I know.

September 7, 2012

6:30 pm

Like I said earlier, this is my first outing after the birth of my son, and it’s no big deal since it’s just a routine visit to a gynaecologist. But it is a big deal for me because I can wear something nice after 6 months of breathable loose fitting attire, and 7 days of feeding gowns.

Yes, yes, I know, I do hijab—I wear an abaya, which you can call a modern burqa. But I wear all kinds of nice dresses underneath it –and at home where obviously I’m not in hijab. Yes, I know, nobody gets to see them except my husband and me, but that’s a whole philosophy I’m not going to delve in right now. Suffice it to say that I dress up for myself. Chiefly for myself, because it makes me happy to look in the mirror, and like what I see.

There’s this new dress my mom brought for me, it’s a body hugging pink and white lycra-esque kurta with pink leggings that I couldn’t wear during pregnancy because it wouldn’t fit over my belly. This is what I’m going to wear now, underneath my favorite maroon abaya. I slip the kurta over my head.  Et voila! It’s a great feeling to be able to get back in the clothes you like. And the best part is: I don’t look like a stick-insect anymore. The curves are all in the right places…ahem!

And then Sajjad barges into the room because it’s always his job to ensure that we’re not late for our appointments. Whatever he’s about to say dies out on his lips.

And this bursts out instead:

“Meri Heroine!”

A sparkle in his eye and a real, broad, wondrous smile.

I always complain to my husband that he doesn’t compliment me often enough. (Well, he’s a man of few words, generally…so…) But this spontaneous fountain-burst beats all of it!

Life suddenly feels ‘reassuringly normal’. Again.

Chapter 17: Seeing is believing


We never see the air. Never see the stars or the moon when the sun shines bright.

Never see our own brain. Nor the heart that beats inside.

Seeing’s believing… or is believing seeing?

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

September 4, 2012

I have just fed my baby and he lies peacefully in my arms, quiet yet wide awake, gazing at me intently. I love these moments when he is so calm and almost looking into my eyes.

And then. Suddenly. He amazes me beyond words by stretching his tiny lips in a one-second smile ! I do a double take and peer closely into his face to check if he has fallen asleep, by any chance. Nope, he’s wide awake.

I slowly count the days. 1,2,3,4.

4-day-olds don’t smile! No way! But there’s no mistaking what I saw. That was a smile. I know it was.

My 4-day-old just smiled at me…! True, it was a one-second thing… but it was there!

I stare at him in a state of disbelief…but also one of elation.

And then I rush out to my mother in the other room.

“Mummy! Hasan just smiled at me. He did!”

My mother looks at me for a moment. And then smiles. But it’s a different sort of smile. The oh-no-you must-be mistaken kind.

“Honey, that’s not possible. He must be sleeping.”

“But he wasn’t. I double checked that.”

“Then you must be mistaken. The ‘social smile’ doesn’t appear until at least a month.”

“Oh.”

I must really be mistaken… I guess.

September 7, 2012

Sajjad and I are off to see the gynae for a routine visit. It’s my first outing from home after the delivery. (More on this later.) Since we’d be back within two hours, we’re not taking Hasan with us. Mummy will be keeping him company.

Two hours later

As we enter the house, we are greeted by an ecstatic voice.

It’s my mom.

“Baby! You were right! He smiled! He smiled at me today! It’s unbelievable! Well… it was really a split-second thing but he did smile.”

She can’t contain her excitement. The maid that she has brought with her all the way from Aligarh beams almost as much; she was actually the one whom Hasan had really smiled at.

“Didn’t I tell you?” I’m grinning from ear to ear.

“Yes… I didn’t believe you then… but now I’ve seen it for myself.”

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

(You probably won’t believe this, of course. Since I’m not trying to pose my son as a superbaby or something of that sort, and since those are the only two occasions when he smiled…before the real ‘social smile’ thing kicked in, this is just one of those little things in life that pass by like strangely-shaped clouds… memorable, but you don’t know what to make of them. So… do you believe?)

Chapter 16: There shall be showers of blessing


Amid all the pandemonium that descends on your life post new-baby, there are tiny, ever memorable islands of peace.

When I got home from the hospital, my mom-in-law gave me a traditional welcome. She’s sweet and high on the traditional stuff in life, which was a big boon for me during my post-pregnancy days—she knew all about the herbs and traditional dishes that are given to the new mom to help her body get back its strength and shape.

What I remember most are the herbal baths that she prepared for me in the first week post-childbirth… equally exciting and embarrassing at the same time. Exciting, because a concoction of herbs is being poured upon you with much fanfare… so much like the Maharanis of yore…! But embarrassing because you are the new mom who’s not supposed to strain herself in any way whatsoever (caring for the baby is strain enough, thank you!) and so you can’t rub your body or soap your body yourself. Oh Lord, is that embarrassing! Even if it was my own mom who did the soaping… and even if all she washed were the back and the legs… still….

But the feeling of warm herbal waters flowing down your limbs…  unforgettable!

Traditions have their flipside too, though.  Tradition says the woman has to be confined in the house for 40 days. Am I thankful this part of the tradition wasn’t enforced! Not that I’d have given in, anyway….

A really old and decadent and terrible tradition that was inflicted upon one of my friends was the one where husband and wife are not allowed to sleep in the same room for 40 days. It was, of course, meant to prevent insensitive, psycho husbands of yore from torturing their ‘injured’ wives… if you know what I mean.

I, however, might have murdered someone if they dared try to enforce that.

Just having the love of your life sleeping beside you is such a great comfort and source of peace… even if the only sleep you get is in two hour bursts… sometimes only two hours in one night… but at least you have someone whom you can wake up anytime and in whose arms you can sob unrestrained in the dead of the night …

Here I must say that my mother saved my life. My baby just would not sleep at night. At all. He wanted me to sit there with him in my lap the whole time. If I put him down… that was it. I used to cry and cry out of fatigue and helplessness. That’s when my poor darling mother began to keep him in her lap for three-four hours at a time, after which he would start bawling for milk. And for those three hours, I could—wonder of wonders—sleep. For many, many months after that, my mom was the chief source of all my sleep.

The world is a beautiful place when there are people who love you and make life better for you…

Chapter 12: Love v/s Care


His first pic

His first pic

All through my pregnancy, my mother –as well as many well-meaning relatives—had been counting on the fact that “as soon as the baby is born, you’ll forget all the pain and it’ll be like being in heaven.” Then there was the movie ‘Waitres’,, where the exact same thing happens: baby is born, mother holds her…and the world suddenly becomes different…

I am too exhausted with the effort of giving birth. I can hardly hold up my hand when Sonia tries to congratulate me. And then, this tiny little creature is brought before me, wrapped in a cloth whose colour is blurred in my memory. This, now, is the moment when the world is supposed to change, and pain ceases to exist.

I look at him.

Nothing.

I feel nothing. No urge to take him in my arms. No desire to hold. I hold up a weak, shaky hand and touch his cheek lightly… more for the benefit of everyone else in the room, perhaps, than from any deep motherly feeling.

I watch his face. He’s fair-skinned. Very fair. But… but… he’s nothing like the baby I imagined….

I have to say this with a lot of shame, but here’s the truth: to every mother, her baby is the most beautiful in the world. However, I look at my baby and think: Lord, he’s not good looking at all.

I’ve always known in the back of my mind that care does not equal love. People prove their love by telling you how much they care about your well-being. Yes, you cannot love without care. But you can care without love. Care, my dears, is different from love.

Having a baby filled me with a deep, overwhelming sense of responsibility. I was immediately attuned to every little need of his, I was greatly aware of every little duty I had towards him—I was the one who was going to protect, to nurture and to cherish him.

During those 9 months of carrying him in my belly I followed doctors instructions to the last detail—I did nothing that would ever, ever harm this little one, even if it meant having to give up some of the things I really liked. During the pregnancy workshops that I attended, I had firmly resolved to exclusively breastfeed my baby for the first six months (and I did). I fought with my own mother over what was best for the little one.

But this I can say through personal experience: care does not necessarily mean love.

Love is when you think of that person and it makes you smile. Love is when you see their face and your heart leaps. Love is when you swear not to talk to them again and you never keep that oath. These are all necessary, obligatory conditions for love. Yes, you care about them and their needs. But most importantly, when you look at them you can feel that there’s love.

So here’s the most horrible confession of my life: when my baby was born, I was filled with concern. I was filled with care. I was filled with protectiveness. But love……………………………….?

That came later.