Chapter 22: Love in the Time of Nappies and Yowls


Make love not war, sang John Lennon. If only…

The world abounds with scare-mongers. Doomsday prophesies a la Nostradamus and shrieking banshees shocking the lights out of you a la Pan the Greek Goat-God. Everyone’s ready, hands crossed across chest, to let you know how terrible a place this world is, and how things just get worse as you get deeper. Have I been turning into one of those banshees here? I hope not, because here are some great things that do happen, and most people don’t mention them at all:

During my pregnancy, I read up a lot about the growing foetus, about beneficial exercises, about how to manage depressing thoughts. But I also read a lot of this: “Enjoy the romantic moments with your partner, because this is the last of your exclusive moments together…” and “You won’t have much physical desire left after the baby” and “Romance definitely takes a back seat as kids come into the picture.” Being the die-hard romantic that I am, the words sucked the life out of me, creating an ever-more-grudging mother.

Perhaps I grew up on too many fairy tales, but the essence of my being is love.

My editor, a colleague and I were once discussing a theory that humans are all driven by the desire for immortality: if not their own selves, then their name must live on forever. We were talking about the things that are most important to people, and my editor, who was of the opinion that it’s either money or family, claimed he could guess what mine was: Family.

Nope, I said, you’re wrong. Close, but wrong.

He was quite surprised, because he’s often heard me speaking of my mother.

“Then it must be God,” he said triumphantly, because he knew for sure that it wasn’t money.

“Wrong again,” I grinned, though I could understand why he made that assumption: I’m a spiritual preacher of sorts.

“Yourself!” exclaimed Kumar (my colleague), like he just hit the nail on the head.

“Hmm… close… you could say that,” I mused, “but not exactly.”

“Then what is it?” Kumar insisted, exasperated. “You must tell us!”

I became all secretive, smiling mysteriously.

“No, really. Tell us.”

“Okay,” I said. “It’s love.”

Haan, so that’s family,” the editor interjected immediately.

“No… It’s not family per se. It’s the man I love.”

“So then it’s children,” he insisted

“No. Definitely not children. Just the man I love.” I repeated emphatically.

“Just you and your man?” Kumar echoed, genuinely perplexed. “Like Adam and Eve?”

That made me laugh. “Yes, somewhat like that. Just love. Everything else comes second.”

(Folks back home might consider me selfish and amoral for this: considering your parents and family second to anyone or anything is almost a crime in our culture. But, this is the truth—laid bare for all your judgement, come who may.)

Cotton candy, hearts and candles. Dark clouds, sea-storm and thunder. Conquering the world together.

To not have romance in my life is to be sucked clean of blood, zombie-fied into blank bitterness.

And that’s why, when those banshees proclaimed the end of romance, I felt I was close to death. But here’s the thing: like all good things in life, love must also be worked upon; you need to work hard for romance too.

Before coming to Aligarh, for the first month of Hasan’s life—in Delhi—this is what I used to do: our baby slept in two hour bursts at night,and generally, exhausted moms are advised to use this time for catching up on their own sleep. I found a better use for that time, though: Sajjad and I watched movies on weekend nights—like we used to before the baby came along. It made life seem a little more continuous. I couldn’t make love yet—too injured for that— so we used to talk love. And then those little things that taste like love…

Aligarh was a lot more difficult, because the move upset the tiny tot, disrupted his routine and turned life into a general nightmare… compounded by the fact that Sajjad and I were together for only about a day and a half every week. But thank goodness for mothers that play cupid ! My mom ensured that she babysat Hasan a lot—especially during the weekends, so we could go out together. Half the nights she would keep him in her room, rocking him in the bouncer, giving us that silver lining…the moonlight behind the clouds…

One of my favourite post-baby-love episodes goes thus:

Sajjad and I are sitting in a restaurant, talking, laughing and holding hands. The waiter suddenly comes close to us, and beckoning to a private table in a dimly-lit corner of the restaurant, asks in a low voice if we’d like to sit there? Considering that in small-town India, the only people who ever sit in dimly-lit corners of any place are college love-birds, we were both left grinning from ear to ear!

But over and above any of this, we realised what makes love work when there’s three of you: You take the baby inside the two curves of the heart. ❤

We made caring for him an act of bonding; we made kissing him and cuddling him an extension of our love. The burps and gurgles became a reason to look at each other with joy. We took him along on our outings, even visiting the Qutub Minar once, with Hasan tucked securely in a ‘baby basket’– photographed by all tourists in the complex!

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The Baby-Basket: 10-day-old Hasan

The Baby-Basket: 10-day-old Hasan

Tucked in !

Peace!

Our baby isn’t an intrusion on our exclusivity; he just turns our love a richer shade of red. Yes, we do have to work harder to keep the colour from fading, but, as Jim’s dad tells Michelle in American Wedding, “It’s called making love ‘cause you have to make love work.”

And so you make love work amid nappies and yowls.

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Chapter 10: Happiness is…


Happiness is ever-changing and ever-elusive. You cannot know it until you feel it. Happiness is a walk in the breeze… happiness is a drive in the rain… happiness is a midnight date… happiness is a moment shared.

May 14, 2012

We are in Aligarh. Sajjad is sitting before me on the bed. We’d been away from each other for about 15 days because I came here to meet my mom. He hasn’t felt his baby’s movements yet; when I was with him they were too light to be felt on the outside. He has his hand on my belly as his eyes search my face with anticipation.

BUMP!

That was a huge one!

I’m delighted to see the astonished, wondrous, childlike grin on my husband’s face. He laughs out loud. He is amazed… It’s a moment we’ll cherish forever.

June 15, 2012

This baby is gonna be a really naughty one. Lord knows how she/he manages to do it, but every so often I feel 4 simultaneous kicks (or whatever they are) at 4 different places in my tummy!  There’s hardly a moment when this little one lies still….!

My sister says she can actually see him/her “swimming around” in my tummy! I know what she means, the bulge often seems to “glide” from one end to another… the doctor says these movements are so visible on the outside since I’m so thin and there’s been no fat increase whatsoever on other parts of my body.

June 25, 2012

It’s post-dinner and me and my husband are talking our daily walk around the park. I love these walks with him. Love the wind in the trees, flapping our clothes and sweeping our hair…love the moon beaming gently down on us…love holding his hand and talking softly…  In a way, it’s been a good thing I’ve taken time off from work—with our busy schedules we’d never have got time for these leisurely everyday strolls. It’s moments like these that make life beautiful.

July 14, 2012

It’s raining hard in South Delhi. Monsoon has arrived in all its glory. Sajjad has come back from work sometime ago. He takes my hand.

“Wanna go for a drive in the rain?” he smiles at me.

Yes. Of course. Would I say no?

He’s backing up the car to bring it right to the door so I don’t have to get wet. Our neighbor comes out of his house. “Coming from somewhere?” he asks.

“No, going for a drive!” I giggle.

“In the rain!?”

“Yes…”

But obviously, lost in our fancies we had forgotten that we’re in Delhi, not the Garden of Eden and rains here mean just one thing: Traffic jams. But I have Michael Schumacher for a husband and I could trust him to find the best routes away from the traffic.

Never loved rain so much….

July 21,2012

12:00 a.m.

We’re having dinner at Comesum, the all-night restaurant near Nizamuddin Railway Station. Hadn’t even heard about this eat-out until today. Sajjad’s trying hard to make this right for me, to assure me that nothing’s gonna change between us.

Perhaps it won’t. Perhaps it will. But what won’t change is what happiness is….

Happiness is US. Whether it’s BOTH of US, or THREE of US. Happiness is “Us”.

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{Read from the beginning }

(For more good things about pregnancy, read http://thegoodandthegood.wordpress.com/)

Chapter 5: New Rituals and a li’l love


Feb 14, 2012

This is our second valentine’s day after marriage.  Normally I’m the super-enthusiastic, let’s-do-this-let’s-go-there types, but when you’re throwing up at least 6 times a day and feeling dizzy for the most part, all you want to do is lie back on the bed and groan. (The first Pregnancy Workshop I attended at my hospital revealed that I was the ONLY one out of about 40 women who was experiencing such severe nausea and fatigue. Hallelujah.)

So nowadays I have to be dragged from bed to go anywhere. But here’s the silver lining: although I can’t eat a bite of home-cooked food, every time we go out to a restaurant, my appetite returns and I have fun. Thank Heaven for small mercies!

This time, we’re celebrating our Valentine’s Day by having golgappas together. Not at some roadside stall, though—that’s forbidden for me right now— we’re at the food court of The Great India Place. (For my blogger friends—Golgappas are tiny edible balls filled with potato pieces and lip-smakin’ spiced up water.)  Mmmmmmm….. Golgappas…. Even the thought makes my mouth water.

“Hey… chunnu is eating golgappas for the first time!” Sajjad grins at me.

“yeah…” I grin back. “I think she likes ‘em.”

Chunnu is a gender-neutral term for ‘little one’ and that’s what we’ve always called our baby, even when I was not pregnant. And this is a new ritual we’ve created: everytime I eat something new, Sajjad exclaims delightedly over it, reminding me that chunnu is trying out all this new stuff! And everytime I watch an animation movie—and I watch lots and lots of those—he asks me whether the baby likes it!!

So, I’m quite sure my chunnu likes golgappas. How can she not! I’m crazy about them….

For my V-Day gift, Sajjad gets me a fluffy, feathery, heart-shaped pillow that says ‘I LOVE YOU’.    How sweet is that?

I know what you’re thinking: this isn’t a diamond ring. But the thing is, I’m not the diamond-ring types. I’d much rather have something fun, cute and imaginative, than something expensive and mundane. Or, if my husband really wants to spend that much money on me, I’d much rather he took me on a vacation to some exotic locale where I’d see the magic of a living world.

Who needs another stone?

And this pillow remained my best friend particularly for the entire duration of my pregnancy –supporting my bump when it began to grow, helping me sleep on my side. (As it is, I couldn’t sleep on my back from the very beginning coz of acute back pains even before the bulge appeared.)

And, of course, Sajjad would remark –“Hey, chunnu has already started using a pillow!”

(Read from the beginning)

Chapter 4 : The Reluctant Mother


I’ve been going on and on about how I’m not in love with this baby. How I’ve hated the world since I became pregnant. Perhaps I’ve given out the impression that I never wanted to be a mother at all. Well, that’s not the case. I like kids. Kids like me too. I wanted a couple of my own, definitely. Sajjad and I would have a lot of fun thinking up baby names, talking about the games we’d play with her/him, keeping nicknames and imagining our life with a new one.

But here’s the catch—I just didn’t want one right now, so soon.

Don’t know about other places, other countries and other cultures, but here in India most people think that getting married=having children. Everyone expects you to become pregnant the moment you get married, if not the next day then the very next month, at least. Woe unto you if you want otherwise.

Relatives, acquaintances, in-laws—especially in-laws—will beat the crap out of your brains asking you about the “good news” and why it’s taking “so long”.

And if you tell them the truth—that it’s taking so long because that’s how you want it—then here’s the well-meaning advice: “If you keep delaying you’ll regret it later. There are so many childless couples who regretted their family planning afterwards.”

Ouch! That hurts. Hurts terribly.

So the more people keep bugging you about it the more you hate the idea of ruining your happily married life.

Yes, I said ruin.

A lot of people think that the only purpose of getting married is to produce children. Not me. Like I said before (Chapter 2), for me marriage is all about companionship and cherishing each other. Yes, you do have children, but –and let me write this in bold—IT IS A BY-PRODUCT OR A PROGRESSION OF MARRIAGE, NOT ITS PURPOSE. What I wanted from my marriage was for the two of us to have a lot of ‘alone time’ together, doing all the things we liked, having those perfect romantic dinners and romantic holidays before a third person came along to share every single moment with us. That’s something that would have happened eventually, but I wanted to have a lot of buffer time before that, so I could look back with satisfaction and think—“Yes, I did all that stuff I wanted to. Now I’m ready to welcome my baby.”

But that didn’t happen. And when the shell dropped, for some inexplicable reason, I got the feeling in my head that I HAD LOST AND THEY HAD WON. All those people out there who couldn’t believe that a love marriage was not going wrong somehow, that we were so blissfully married and my husband was not being the restricting, oppressing mullah they had imagined him to be; all those people who had been waiting for something to go wrong; all those people who had wanted me to feel trapped instead of liberated with my marriage, had won. THEY HAD WON AND I HAD LOST.

And that right there is why I hated the fact that I had an unplanned baby on the way.

I NEVER HATED MY BABY. I resented my pregnancy; I resented the whole world, but I NEVER RESENTED THE BABY.

I felt sad for her…or him.

Yes. I felt sad for this tiny, precious little being who ought to be in a happy mother’s womb, a mother who would be overjoyed to have her/him and would have a whale of a time thinking what fun it would be.  I wanted to give my baby that kind of mother.

I cared for the baby. But I couldn’t be happy.

(Read from the beginning)

Chapter 3: Fasten your seatbelts, please. It’s gonna be a long and rickety ride


Here are the top safety instructions given to me at the beginning of my ride:

1. No eating in restaurants (because I am prone to stomach infections)

2. No road travel (because roads in India aren’t exactly something to be proud of )

3. No lifting heavy loads (that’s a no-brainer)

Jan 1, 2012

The Jaipur Literary Fest is a much awaited event in the world of bibliophiles. For the first time in my life, I’m going to attend it. I would get to meet so many of the authors whose voice I had heard in their narratives, whose worlds I had lived in through their pages…and I have lived in those worlds much more than I have lived in my own, perhaps….

The event is just a couple of weeks away now and I’m overjoyed at being asked to cover it. My time to go places has just begun. I’m making reservations to get to Jaipur by train. Until, of course, I’m hit by a sickening wave of nausea, and then another sickening wave of the truth.

I have this wonderful, much desired, much awaited thing in my hand, and I have to let go. I cannot attend the literary fest. Because a) there are no train reservations available and I cannot travel by road and b) even if I did get there I would most certainly have to eat “outside” food.

There goes the literary fest and any other assignment that involves travelling. My time to go places …. has stopped abruptly.

Jan 6, 2012

5:30 p.m.

I’m writing an editorial — that’s my usual job. I love my job. I’ve said that, haven’t I ? So I’m doing what I do, I have my eyes fixed on the screen and my fingers typing with demonic speed and my mind churning out one edit-worthy thought after another. Until.

All of a sudden, mid-edit, my mind goes for a spin. My eyelids swoop shut. I cannot get the sleep out of my eyes. I cannot think. I complete the rest of the edit with the thumb and forefinger of each hand forcing open each eye.   Every thought takes twice as long to form itself and every sentence takes twice as long to be typed. As soon as I’m through with the edit, I hand over the completed page to my boss. And ask permission to go home immediately. I think I would drop down to sleep just standing up.

On the way home, twice I almost fall out of the open-sided autorickshaw, because I have dozed off.

Jan 9, 2012

11:30 a.m.

It’s already my time to reach office and I’m in bed. Can’t go to work. Too weak to get up from the bed. Sajjad is already off to work, having given me my usual glass of hand-squeezed orange juice and an egg. (That’s pretty much all that I can bear to eat) He’s being such a dear about this….

I have to inform my boss… hate having to send in a ‘leave message’ every other day. I send the message. Immediately go off to sleep again.

Jan 20, 2012

Threw up twice in office. Had to literally run to the washroom from my seat. Seem to faint with weakness on my way back home.

Jan 22, 2012

There were two women in my office who gave birth to pretty, healthy babies before I even knew I was pregnant. They kept working almost till the eighth month, took maternity leave and came back to office after a few months. There are women all over the world who do just this, and so I had been reassuring myself that I could, too. Until, of course.

Until my body grew so weak that I couldn’t get up from bed even if someone was ringing the doorbell. Until my brain got so fatigued that I was sleeping most of the day as well as most of the night. Until something went so wrong in my brain that any strain on my eyes for more than half an hour at a stretch — reading, working on the laptop, watching TV– started giving me splitting headaches… headaches where I writhed on the bed, clutching my head and screaming in agony… headaches where I wished for a hammer to break my head and end all this once and for all.

Whoever said that pregnancy was a beautiful, wonderful, ethereal experience should definitely get his/her head examined. Or maybe, they were just plain lucky.