My numerous ‘wives’


maids

 

I had never, ever imagined in my life that one day I’d be writing a piece on domestic helps. The ubiquitous and yet elusive maid. The subject of endless angst, animated discussions and innumerable internet memes and videos.

It is very common for Indian homes to have domestic helps—mostly part-time workers, but sometimes also full-time ones, in the form of live-in maids, whose services are generally utilised by working mothers like myself.

Lately, I’ve realised that the relationship between a woman and her help is uncannily like the relationship between the man of the house and his woman, as in the days of yore. In fact, the manner in which most women, including me, speak of our domestic helps is almost exactly the way that patriarchy-infested males speak of women such as me.

Let me explain.

You feel they are upstarts, they are getting too big for their boots, and demanding too many privileges. That they have forgotten their place. That no matter how good you are to them, it is never enough.

Yes it is true that there are domestic workers who swindle and cheat and take advantage of their employers, just as there are women who, when they assume a position of power, become more Evil Queen than good witch Glinda of the South.

And yet, these maids belong to that category of people who’ve been exploited, underpaid, trampled over for centuries. They have not had even a semblance of rights. They’ve been at the mercy of the maai-baap. And now, when they have some bargaining rights, when they have the audacity to demand and talk back to power, the maai baap resents the usurping of centuries-old privilege.

So I have to pay my maid a lot more, accept most of her demands, and complain to my friends how these maids are a necessary evil. You wish you didn’t have to tolerate them, but what can you do, you poor thing, you need them to run your life smoothly. Much like the husband that declares how his wife is a necessary evil, how he wished he hadn’t married her but then she is the one who keeps his household running smoothly.

So yes, while this may feel like an ‘inconvenience’ for us—tolerating demands, paying higher prices—it is definitely a good thing for humanity in general, especially as far as human dignity is concerned. Nobody is a maai baap anymore. It’s a straightforward employer-employee equation.

Now if only I could get some loyalty. Sigh.

Oops, there I go again!

Conditioning takes such a long time to be overcome.

——————

Postscript : This blog post was originally written several months ago. In the time that passed I realised that I have actually had several loyal domestic helps, but had to lose them when they relocated to the villages they had come from, for personal reasons. So I’ve had plenty of loyalty as well. And I’ve absolutely no reason to complain.

There are good people in this world and there are mean ones. There are good maids, and there are mean maids. Lord bless the good ones, for they literally keep our lives from collapsing!

Importantly, they also show us the mirror, giving us a glimpse of what we’d do when we’re in a position of power. As the best parameter for evaluating people is to see what they do with power once they have it.

Old school love


A fortnight ago, I was pottering around the house rifling through my book collection, scrolling through Amazon Prime, looking for something to read, something to watch. Something that came with a whiff of old-school, slow-breathing love.

I’m a romance addict. Anyone who knows me knows that. I could make do with very little food but I couldn’t make do with very little romance. I’d been cranky and angsty all week, for no apparent reason, and I was looking for the one thing that would calm me down.

And then, late at night in the darkness of the bedroom I read on my phone Natasha Badhwar’s Mint Lounge column for that week. Suddenly, there it was: a slice of romantic nirvana.

Small intimacies.

The tiny, mostly unnoticeable details in a marriage that carry a subtle, soft undercurrent of romance. Like the tucking back of torn-off buttons. Natasha used this example from old Hindi movies to illustrate her point: “From Hindi movies, I had internalized other aspirations of domestic togetherness. Like the scene in which it is discovered that the man has a button missing in his shirt just when he is ready to leave for work. The woman steps in to deftly sew on a button while he is still wearing his shirt. She moves her face close to his chest to cut off the thread with her teeth, because real women don’t use scissors.

Unmoved by my romantic yearnings, my husband’s shirt buttons have remained steadfast and immotile over the years.

As soon as I read this line I blushed a furious red.

Despite not possessing the qualities of the sanskari sewing-darning woman in the least, I have to confess that it is with quite a degree of fondness that I stitch together my husband’s kurtas that begin to come apart at the seams. And no, not when he’s wearing them. Merely the act of having this mundane piece of white cloth—his kurta— in my hand and putting the quick four-five stitches to mend it, or tuck the odd button that has fallen off, evokes a deep, familiar sort of affection, a feeling akin to sitting face to face at the dining table and talking long past the food is gone.

This whole love-through-sewing thing was probably internalised by me through the very cinema that Natasha speaks about. Drat those movies!

She then goes on to narrate an anecdote from her aunt and uncle’s life, of them doing their daily puja (prayer) together. “When she is pouring oil into the lamp, she needs his presence to prepare the wick. He holds the prayer book open as she reads out the verses. From a distance, one can see them instructing each other to do what is so routine for them, you wonder why they are speaking at all. They close their eyes together and go silent, probably praying for the same thing. Their temple room is full of images of deities but they seem like they are in communion with each other.”

The image seemed to fill my room as well. Fill my heart, lighting it up like a diya for the puja.

For the past few days or so, ever so slightly, I’d been feeling a wave of restlessness, a wave of irritation at myself.

My husband and I come from diametrically opposite backgrounds. East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet, said Rudyard Kipling. But he only needed to see us together to know how the twain doth meet. All these years, my guy and I have been constantly juggling his intensely traditional background and my decidedly modern one, keeping it together by sheer will power and force of love—and umpteen recalibrations.

Sometimes it overwhelms us.

Sometimes I end up asking myself why I got into this at all. How could I have dumped myself in this mess? For that entire week, I’d been reeling under one of these spells of unexplained restlessness.

And then along comes this. This little paragraph about a couple that lights a diya together and prays side by side.

Takes me back a decade in a swish.

Prayer.

When Sajjad and I were still waiting to get married, one of the most romantic things I imagined with him—much longed for and anticipated—was prayer. Together. With this man who brought immense peace and spirituality to my life.

We would imagine the time when we’d be together in one room—our room—offering our namaz with our prayer mats spread out before us.

Joined in prayer. Joined in soul.

“In communion with each other.”

Suddenly, just like that, I remembered precisely why both of us had dumped ourselves into this ‘mess’.

It’s what we had wanted.

We married each other because we had wanted exactly what our other half brings to the table.

I had wanted him, a deeply spiritual man, a calm man. A man who possessed the capacity to listen. A man I could trust. And I, I was what he wanted. A thinking woman, a woman with a mind and a voice. To quote him verbatim, “A woman whose brain is the most attractive part of her body.”

Had he wanted a more traditional woman to match his traditional background, he could have had his pick from the dozens around him. Had I wanted a more modern man to match my modern background, I could have chosen from the dozens that tried to woo me. The reason we were here, together, wading through these frequently-turbulent waters, cutting through the foliage and battling it out together, was because we had both wanted it.

There are times in every couple’s togetherness, when we begin to wonder how did we ever come to be here? The present, the future and the world around gets too much for us. We resent the sacrifices we made, the life we had to give up in order to live this one. Was it even worth it?

In times like these, it makes sense to close our eyes and remember what it was that we’d wanted in the first place. Why was it that we made those sacrifices at all?

That might, perhaps, bring back the answers we already know, but often forget. The answers that sometimes hide within the smallest of things–the things that make up the essence of old school love.

 

 

 

 

The cabbie and me: love in a ride


You never know what can happen in a two-hour-long cab ride, do you?

Love in a ride

Yesterday, on my way to Gurgaon, I overheard the cab driver talking on the phone. I was nervous at first about him talking while driving, because for one I’m paranoid about safety and for another, if a traffic policeman caught us and gave him a ticket, I’d be late for my meeting.

I requested him to put the phone on hands-free mode, both for his sake and mine. And that’s how something he said on the call snagged my attention.

“Arre na, na bhabhi. Isey to main divorce doonga bas. Divorce. Beta ho gaya mera, ab kya fikar hai?”

(Don’t worry, sis-in-law, I’ll divorce this woman for sure. Now that I have a son, what’s there to worry about?)

I was shocked and saddened to hear these words, and thought of saying something to him. But then I reminded myself that I have to stop making everyone’s business my own, and learn to keep my mouth shut at times.

However, fate decided it wanted me to intervene. So within 10 minutes, the guy made another call. I realised from the tone of his voice that he had called his wife. He spoke very gruffly, in a voice one uses to reprimand someone severely and assert one’s superiority over them.

“Kahan hai tu? Phone kyun band kar rakha hai? Kab se mila raha hun phone!” Where the heck are you?Why is your phone swtiched off? I’ve been trying to call you since ages!

I couldn’t hear what the wife said. But apparently her reply calmed him somewhat.

“Hmm.” he said, still gruff but not rebuking her. “Beta kaisa hai?” How’s our son?

I think she must have said he’s crying, because the man replied, “To chup kara na usko pehle!” So soothe him first, idiot!

Slowly, as the husband and wife talked, I saw a change come over the man. His voice softened, his tone mellowed, he began to smile and talk in an intimate manner that is typical of young lovers. “I’ll come to take you back tomorrow… you can go shopping tonight, there’s this place which has nice clothes..” It seemed like he was trying to woo her, like young husbands will often do when their wife is mock-fighting with them.

I was surprised. This does not sound like a couple on the brink of divorce! Not at all. Why then…?

The man disconnected the call. I couldn’t stop myself.

“Bhaiyya…” I addressed him as ‘brother’ (which is generally how we address  strangers in India.) “Aap bura to nahi manege, ek baat puchun?” You won’t mind if I ask you something?

“Kya hua madam?” What happened?

“Why do you want to divorce your wife? I’m sorry I couldn’t help but overhear…”

“Arrey madam! Bohot pareshan karti hai. Dimagh kharab kar rakha hai!” She is such a nuisance, a huge trouble. She’s become a headache for me!

“Why? What does she do?”

“She keeps asking to go to her parents’ house and then doesn’t want to come back from there. I let her go when she wants but when it’s time for me to get her back she does all kinds of drama!”

“Bhaiyya,” I said in a sympathetic tone. “Everyone misses their parents, that’s why we want to visit them frequently. But yeah, she shouldn’t create a fuss about coming back. After all she married you…”

“Arrey madam, what shall I tell you, I have a love marriage! Love marriage! I love her so much! I left my family for her! I came here to Delhi to earn money and left my family in the village! And now she doesn’t want to come back from her parents home!” He had launched headlong into his tale now. I suspect he’d been wanting to talk about it for some time. “I haven’t met my parents since two years now!”

“Oh,” I said, sympathetically. “That’s sad! You should go and meet your parents once in a while, even if you’re working here. Maybe not very frequently, but don’t desert them altogether. You can speak with your wife and try to make her understand, try to find a middle ground…”

“Madam what should I tell you! I left everything for her. I give her all the money I earn. I bring her expensive gifts. Still she is not happy!”

“Why? Did you ask her why she is not happy?” I was genuinely concerned.

“I don’t know Madam! She keeps asking stupid things. Now she doesn’t want me to be a cab driver, says there are too many accidents happening on the road. Well, I am not so educated. I am barely a high school pass-out. I won’t be able to earn as much from a job as I can earn from this cab. And she says these things despite being more educated than me! She is a graduate! She has a bachelor’s degree in science!”

“So you please drive carefully, and you reason with her that even in a job you’d still have to get out on the road, and accidents can happen anywhere. But please be careful in your driving as well. She will see reason, I’m sure. But please don’t break up your family. That’s a very sad thing to happen.” I smiled inwardly at how easily he praised his wife and openly accepted that she had a higher degree in education than him. He did love her in his heart. He only had to be reminded of it.

So on and so forth we went, him detailing his problems with his wife, and me trying to help him see that these were not issues that couldn’t be resolved. At one point he spoke about the ‘bhabhi’ (sis in law, though not necessarily. In India, even neighbours are addressed fondly as brother and sister in law) whom he had just spoken to, and revealed that his wife didn’t get on well with her. She had major fights with the woman. And I had understood, from the beginning, that the bhabhi had issues with this man’s wife.

“Do you all live together?” I asked him.

“No, we live next door to her. But bhabhi comes over to help my wife with the baby, and also because I am at work all day and then Radha is alone.” Radha being his wife.

“Hmm. Well, if they don’t get on well together, maybe you should limit bhabhi’s visits to your home. Ask your wife to minimise contact with that woman.” And then I added, “Bhaiyya, lots of people in this world will try to poison your mind–or your wife’s. They will provoke you into doing something that you will regret later. If you break your home now, who gets affected? Your wife, your son, and you. Bhabhi will go on living her life as she was earlier. Her life won’t be spoilt, yours will be. So beware of people who urge you to break your home. These are but trivial issues.” I said somberly.

The man grew thoughtful now. “Yes… there will be nobody to give me food even.” He mused. But his mind rebelled. “But she is such a nagger. I can’t live with her,” he insisted. And then added, “But I will surely take my boy away from her. Larka to main nahi dunga usko.” He spoke menacingly.

“Arrey bhaiyya kaisi baatein kar rahe ho! Ye to bohot bara paap hooga, chhote se bachhe ko maa se alag karna!” This will be such a grave sin, I said, a crime to separate a small boy from his mother. “You are a grown man, and yet, tell me can anyone love you more than your mother? Do you think anyone would be able to take care of your boy and love him like his mother?”

The man smiled guiltily and said, “You’re right madam. Baat to aap sahi kar rahe ho…”

“How old is your son?”

“One. He is one year old.”

“What! Just a year old! He must still be drinking his mother’s milk!” I was distraught at the very idea.

“Yes ma’m, he does drink his mother’s milk…” he said slowly, thoughtfully, as if he had never considered this fact.

“Then? How big a sin will it be to separate a suckling boy from his mother?” I pleaded with him.

“Par main kya karu madam, mujhe bhi to koi chahiye hoga jiske sahare zindagi guzaroon!” He was adamant. What can I do madam, I would also need someone (the son) in my life for happiness!

“Arrey baba, you keep both of them, na! Why do you want to break up your home? All three of you need each other!” I insisted. “Bhaiyya when you’ll be old and weak, nobody will look after you more than your wife! I have seen this with my grandfather. His two kids took good care of him when he was ill, but no one served him day and night tirelessly like his wife. She stood by him till the very end. Patni se zyada pati ki seva kaun kar sakta hai?” I added pleadingly.

“That’s true madam…” he was thoughtful now.

“Aur aapki to love marriage hai bhaiya!” I turned a bit filmy here, “Sachha pyaar agar mil jaaye life mein to usey chhorna nahi chahiye!” You had a love marriage, and when a person finds true love in life, one mustn’t let it go.

“Madam, college time se!” He impressed upon me, smiling. “I began seeing her when she was in college!” He was reminiscing about the good things now, which was a good sign.

“You know mine is also a love marriage?” I told him. ” 7 years Masha Allah. It’s been 7 years now. It’s not like we never fought. We had major ups and downs. Major fights. But we didn’t break up our home. We did our best to resolve our problems because we both knew that we loved each other.”

“Madam, love to karti hai woh mujhe…” Now he was softening. My wife loves me, he said. “When I told her I will divorce you she burst into tears and cried and cried and cried.” He said softly, with a little smile of love.

“See? She doesn’t want to leave you. You talk to her, reason with her. Ask her does she want to break up her home? She wouldn’t want that, would she? The way you tell me, she doesn’t seem like a bad person. Just immature. Childish. That can be sorted.”

“Arrey, madam. She IS immature. She is 18 years old.”

“What!!” I was honestly astonished. Only 18 and a mom!

“And how old are you?” I questioned.

“I am 21, madam.”

“Oh, Good heavens! You are so young! I am 10 years older than you!” I blurted out. ” Oh my goodness, now I can see why this is all happening! You both are so young and already have such responsibilities upon you!”

And then I literally begged him, “Bhaiyya main aapse vinti kar rahi hun, please, please don’t break up your home! You both are so, so young! You need to give your marriage a chance! For God’s sake please, just think of me as your elder sister! I am 10 years older than you and I have more experience in this department, and I’m literally pleading with you. Give your marriage a chance!”

I continued, “I heard you talking to your wife. You were talking sweetly with her! It doesn’t seem at all that the situation between you two is so terrible that it can’t be salvaged. You two are still in a good place, you can sort it out.”

He smiled when I mentioned him talking sweetly to her. “Arrey madam, I buy her expensive gifts! She asked me for a phone, I just asked her to name the brand! I give her whatever she wants!”

“That’s sweet,” I said, happy because he was smiling now.

“Well, you know what,” he said sheepishly, “I just threaten her with divorce. I…. I love her. I don’t really want to leave her.” He spoke with emotion, and what he said next lifted my spirits. “Madam, apni JAAN hai woh!” She is my life!

I grinned at him. We had reached our destination, both physically and metaphorically. I took out cash from my purse and paid him.

“Okay bhaiyya, thank you for the ride–and remember, whenever you begin to think of divorce, just remember that there is a sister of yours whom you met in this cab, and you remember her words–if you have found love, don’t let it go.”

He smiled at me, and I smiled at him. And got out of the cab.

I’ve no clue whether this divorce will actually be averted or not. But I can say at least this much: he began to remember the good things about his marriage and his wife. Began to remember how much he loves her and how much she loves him.

Sometimes, that’s all we need–to talk, to try and fix what’s broken and not just throw it out. Sometimes all we need is to remember the love.

 

 

 

Chapter 27: The ghost of George Bernard Shaw


July 28, 2013

there-are-two-tragedies-in-life

 

I’d read this quote in the unlikeliest of places, when I was about 12 years old: An Archie comic. For some reason, the line haunted me all those years, like a symphony that makes you cry for no reason at all. Perhaps, in a cosmic irony of sorts, it was a portent of things to come.

It’s been almost a year now that we’ve been leading separated lives. Weeks slipping into fortnights, days creeping into months.

A popular post on Facebook has a line that goes like this: if you want to know the value of nine months, ask an expecting mother. I’d been every bit through those tedious nine months, but I can give you my word for it, these ten were worse.

Ten months of uncertainty, of standing still or vacillating like a pendulum, of not knowing whither your life was headed. Of the myriad horrible states to be in, I have now come to believe that the worst is having to wait. Wait, at the mercy of another. Wait, without an action plan. No matter how terrible your condition, as long as you’re battling it—strategizing and waging war—you know you can make things better…somehow. But this…this waiting without doing, waiting without knowing, without a decision to speak of… It’s not something I’d ever done, not something I was ever used to. I had always planned my life far in advance.

Until, of course.

At some point in your life, there will always come an ‘until’. That will be the day you’d know that perhaps, destiny exists. In more ways than one.

As it does now. After ten long months of agony, suddenly everything falls into place. Sajjad just got his visa.

The relief washing over me is palpable. As I wave goodbye to the love of my life at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, I have none of the nervous sinking in my stomach that accompanies lovers bidding farewell. My heart is at ease with the deepest conviction that in a couple of months I’d be there with him. And a sissy I never was.

My father in law would later remark that I’d been “Daler” about this—fearless. Intrepid. Not batting an eyelid. No teary goodbyes and no vacant silences. I was my usual, cheerful self.

My sister in law’s husband, too, works in a separate country and she wanted to know how I could be so cool about it. I didn’t want her to feel bad—she’d been separated from her guy just two months post marriage—and pregnant too. I choose my words carefully, deciding not to dwell on my hopes for the future.

“I’m going to pretend I’m still single,” I tell her. Writing, shopping, parties, weddings and hanging out with friends—there’s still a lot to do! And then she asks me the question. That question.

“What about Hasan?”

“Ah, Hasan!” I’m still very cock-a-whoop, such is the levitating power of fresh hope. “Well I’m going to pretend he’s my brother! I can look after a baby brother, can’t I, and still be single!”

Yes, I actually said that—you needn’t look so aghast.

When people are happy, joyful, hopeful, they can dream up the craziest scenarios.

And I’m happy. Really happy. It’s not just the promise of being together at last. It’s also the promise of uncovering new secrets together, discovering new joys. That has always been our ‘thing’. It’s what we’re best at.

Every couple has this little ‘thing’ with each other, the little thing that is their glue. This is ours. We’re not Romeo and Juliet, Laila and Majnu—or even Raj and Simran, though lord knows Sajjad did tons of work for the “ladkiwale” on his own shaadi ! (Anyone who’s seen DDLJ a hundred times knows what I’m talking about. For my non-Indian readers, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is arguably the greatest Bollywood love story of all time.) We’re hardly any of those eternal, evergreen couples because Sajjad is mostly the guy who’d start cracking jokes during a romantic moment. In fact, you can sort of trust him to spoil the most romantic moments with his corny sense of humour (or his vacant, distracted silences, which are the worst). Nope, the maximum supply of romance here is from my side.

But what he brings to this relationship is far greater than your stereotypical candies, hearts and roses. He brings a childlike quality to ‘us’. Like two children playing, sharing, jostling, bickering, whining and getting along all the same. We’re not the best lovers, perhaps, but we’re best friends.

I know every girl wishes for Prince Charming. I did, too. But it’s sort of lucky, in a weird way, if you end up with Peter Pan. He’s never going to grow old.

And so, skippity-hop, hoppity-skip, this is what is our relationship. ‘Doing’ stuff together. Exploring. Imagining. Creating. Experiencing. We are a team.

Like Lisbon and Jane.

Teresa Lisbon and Patrick Jane.

Sajjad is the one who got me hooked onto the Mentalist. But then he’s had me hooked onto a zillion things—I don’t know how, but he knows exactly where my ‘hook’ lies. During the early days we used to trade with each other: I picked books for him to read and he picked movies for me to watch—Hollywood movies. I was totally the Hindi movie gal, and the handful of Hollywood movies I’d seen were the Jurassic Park and The Lion King types. You get the gist—kiddie movies. Sajjad was…well, he wasn’t much of a reader—still isn’t. But the hand-picked selections clicked for both of us.

The Mentalist falls into the very category.

From the start, Patrick Jane reminded me of Sajjad.

They’re actually not the least bit similar. Sajjad isn’t glib like Jane, nor is he the smooth talking ex-imposter. He’s not defiant or rebellious either. But right from Season One, Jane reminded me of my man. Why? Well, for one, ‘neath all that cheery exterior lies the core of his character—his undying, obsessive commitment to his dead wife, his refusal to take off that wedding ring or to move past his little daughter, long passed on from this world.

And then his compassion for the week, his solidarity to his team and—most of all—the way he treats Teresa Lisbon. He drives her mad, defies her, breaks every rule and yet… there’s something about the two of them that makes them great together. He really, truly cares for her. (And don’t forget the exasperating sense of humour.)

Lisbon’s the woman with the tough exterior, the need to always be in control, always be on top of things. She’s the one who wouldn’t admit to her insecurities, and he… for some reason, he’s always the source of her calm.

Now, of course, everyone knows how the series ended. But long, long before anyone even guessed how Season Seven would go, I would always tell Sajjad—I’m Lisbon and you’re Jane.

It’s the way he exasperates her. The way he infuriates her. The way she expects him to be ‘typically Jane’—never doing what she would ask. But it’s also in the way that he makes her laugh—and surprises her precisely because it’s not what she expects. It’s in the way she knows he’s incorrigible—and indulges him nonetheless. What cosmic coincidence is it that for the first ten years of our relationship, my guy’s number was saved in my cell phone as “Incorrigible Sajjad”?

We’re a team—He and I. When we’re together, we do things better.

And that’s why I already have visions of my new home in an enchanting new country—irresistible, unknown lands for us to discover. A couple more months to go and we’d be celebrating Hasan’s first birthday together.

I hadn’t accounted for George Bernard Shaw, though, who chose this most inopportune moment to demonstrate his words from so,so long ago. There are, indeed, two tragedies in life. The first is to not get what you for so long desire. The other, of course, is to get it. Sigh.

 

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.

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 11 (i): CHILDBIRTH (I) “So WHO termed this a NORMAL delivery??!!”


NORMAL.

An adjective defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “Usual or ordinary; not strange.”

Normally, I refrain from using cuss-words.

WTF!!! Who the hell came up with this bright idea of calling a vaginal birth a “Normal delivery”? Will the stonehearted brute/birdbrained idiot please stand up?

I could have understood ‘Natural’ delivery. This horrendous, ghastly, third degree torture is indeed the path chosen by Mother Nature to bring babies into this world. Even ‘Natural’ has a gentle feel to it, like something tender—which does not come remotely close to the terrible, terrible process that childbirth is.

But Normal? NORMAL, for Christ’s sake???

Makes it sound so ordinary, so commonplace.  Nothing worth fretting about. Just like the definition says: usual.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Literally.

Sep 1, 2012

3:00 am

I’m woken up in the wee hours of the morning by a terrible backache. Oh no, It’s that pregnancy yoga, I think. Maybe I stretched a little too far this time.

I don’t know how to define labour pain. Some people say it’s like a bolt that moves from top to bottom in your abdomen. Wasn’t that way for me. All that I kept feeling was a terrible, terrible pain in my lower back and thighs. It would throb and throb and return like spasms from time to time.

Wasn’t so bad as to make me scream. But it was bad enough to make me hyperventilate. And a weird kind of shivering took control of my legs every time the spasms came. I thought I’d start running round and round in circles like a dog that has gone mad.

However, my mum had defined labour pains as “Someone sticking a knife in your stomach repeatedly.” (Again, WTF?!) Well, I didn’t feel quite that way yet so I thought that it wasn’t time for me to scream. Mum-in-law’s practical experience came in handy or I would’ve had to give birth at home.

Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify: I’ve always wanted a natural birth. No painkillers, no epidural and certainly not a C-section—which has become the norm in India now. (Sonia, my gynae said women are actually asking for C-section.) I did everything advised by my doctor (and my mom-in-law)—exercises, walks, balanced nutrition, extra prayers and anything else anybody cared to advise, just so I could have a natural birth.

I wasn’t scared of the labour pains, I had chosen this option. However, choosing it doesn’t mean you’re prepared for it.

8:00 am

We’re inside the labour room at Sitaram Bhartia. The pains are getting terrible. Walking around helps.  But then you have to be strapped down so that the kid’s heartbeat can be monitored and that increases the pains manifold. It’s like a violent earthquake that begins in my belly and goes right down to the thighs, splitting my body in half….. ughhhhhh!!! My thighs shiver violently each time. Doctor says its ‘coz I’m so thin—I gained only 5 kgs during my entire 9 months.

(Still not screaming, though. Feel proud).

1:30 pm

It’s been more than 10 hours since the pains started. I’m strapped down and in the middle of my most horrendous nightmare from which I can’t even wake up. I cannot make sense of anything anymore. Sonia sternly orders me to let go of her collar. I look at her blankly coz I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about.

“Let go of my clothes,” she points out. I realize dazedly that I have her clothing in my fist and I’m violently pulling her. At which point I let her go and promptly catch hold of the nurse—in exactly the same manner.

“Hold this railing,” Sonia orders me again. It’s good that she’s being stern. Nothing short of that would get my attention right now.

I will not go into the particulars of childbirth, since I am not, nor ever wanted to be, a medical practitioner or biology teacher. There are only two things that I will never forget about my birthing experience.

One:    The man I love was by my side during this most ghastly, petrifying, absolutely worst time of my life, holding my hand. This won’t be such a novelty to my blogger friends, but considering that I come from a small town in India where people are astounded to know that in Delhi, one family member—any family member—forget husband (at which mention their eyes might pop out of their heads) is allowed inside the labour room during delivery. So you can imagine how unforgettable and unique this was for me (and all my small-town relatives).

Two :  The SNAP! that I heard as I jolted back my head in one piercing, agonized wail as the doctor performed an episiotomy –basically cut me open—so that my baby was born.

Normal…? !!!

You gotta be kidding me.

(To be continued…)

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”.

——————————————————————————-

{Read from the beginning }

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

Chapter 9: And now for the Awards…


Life is made of people. Some people matter always and every second. Some people matter during a certain period of time. Some people matter all your life, but during a certain period they seem to matter even more.

FARHAN

Your name appears at the top of the list because you were a special sort of angel-cum-devil sent to me during the most turbulent period of my life. I discovered I was expecting precisely four days after you descended upon us.  And one month after my son was born, I relocated to a different town itself. You see? You were especially sent by God during my pregnancy.

My husband’s cousin is the guy who I’ll always remember for making me breakfast when I was too sick to even crawl out from bed. He’s this too-loud, always-arguing, always-cracking-jokes type wise guy who watches movies all night. Early in the morning, when he’s just gone off to sleep, I call him. Call him on the phone, because I can’t even raise my voice enough to shout. I request him to please get me an egg and a glass of milk.

“La rhe hain bhabhi,” he says, groggily. Of course, you’d expect him to go right back to sleep. But I didn’t have to call him twice. Not a single day.

There are so many reasons I could write down here, but this is the one that’ll always stand out. And that’s why, Farhan, you’re being featured in a pregnancy blog .

MUM-IN-LAW

That word always seems to have a forbidding ring about it. Not just for women, but men too. Well, I suppose not all mother-in-laws are satan’s assistants.

My mum-in-law gets a mention here ‘cause she got me up and running from down and moaning.[i]She dragged me out for the walks I needed, cheered me up with her personal pregnancy anecdotes, prayed for me and made me pray more, and generally did her best to pull me out of the manic-depressive state I was fast sinking into.

MUMMY

I was never a Momma’s girl. During my childhood, we were friends, we played a lot together, and she has saved all the poetry I wrote during my beginning years. Whenever I travel I miss her because she loves to travel and we have oodles of fun together. When I am away from her she loses weight worrying because she never believes that I can take care of myself. But, I repeat, I am not Momma’s girl. I did not miss her at all (yes) when I came to Delhi for my internship, started missing her only after about 2 months when I got a full time job there, and I didn’t shed a single tear at my rukhsati or bidaai (wedding) , unlike most girls I know who cannot bear to part with their mothers. I was always more eager to be out on my own, get some independence, see the world and all the rest.

So it was a totally new emotion for me when, during my pregnancy, I started crying about being away from my mother. I missed her like never before. I wanted to hug her, wanted to do the “Bare necessities” Mowgli-Baloo back-scratch that we always did, wanted to have those intellectual, philosophical talks that used to be a trademark of our relationship (it was she who introduced me to the Classics and to the general love of reading). Oh, the relief when I finally got to be with her…

SAJJAD

I saved his name for last because I’ve probably already bored you with all my gushing about him. But he’s kind of the most important person in my life…. The best and happiest time I spent in my life—since my father’s death—was after I married Sajjad. This is the man who tolerated my evilest, foulest Mr Hyde version and loved me all through it. The man who truly was my partner and not the “superior authority” that most small-town husbands believe themselves to be. I’ve met so many people—men and women—who think that a husband who cares for his wife, and particularly one who cares for his baby (which includes burping, bathing and changing nappies, not just playing with the kid) is either a sissy or is doing a great favour.

But You are a REAL MAN  for doing all this and never once trying to make it out as a favour.

 

So who are the people you’d like to nominate for your awards? Let me know!

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)