Cats, Dogs and other creatures

As a kid I was dead afraid of dogs. Not sure of the reason, we never had any. I still remember an incident where Baba asked me to drop the rent cheque at the owners who stayed couple of houses away. Since walking was a pain for a 10 year old, I ran to their house, delivered the cheque and was running back again, when a dog with four legs decided I looked interesting enough to chase. So, bark, yelp, he followed me to the chase. Not knowing what to do, I ran even faster. The four legged monster enjoyed the fact that I was playing with him and continued the pursuit.

How much more? I screamed for Baba. When terrified, only dad’s can be saviours. He came running and I tripped on a stone and fell. The dog decided the game was over and promptly left. Baba picked me up, crying, scraped and bloodied knees and all, all the while shouting at the unknown owner of the stray dog, swearing as the passers by looked on without interest.

My hatred of the canine species continued.

A few years later, we had gone to Pali for a family wedding. They had big big dogs. At my insistence, they were kept tied up most of the day. One day, I was busy inside बीहड़ वन, carefully following the doings of Phantom and Diana. Once the comic was over, I sighed and looked around to see one canine on my left and one on my right, tongues hanging out, panting away to glory. For one second, I thought I had died and gone to hell, but next moment realised if they had not attacked me all this while, they were pretty unlikely to do so in the next few days I was there. And the fear vanished in thin air. Then onwards I have been able to love all species of canines.

Now cats are different creatures. I have always loved them, even the black ones that cross the street in front of me. My love with cats started when I was very young. Some stray cats come to our home, Maa started feeding them milk and they adopted us. We had a full family, named Singsong, Chunmun, Pingpong and other such catty names. Maa had made a small bed for them in the gallery. Over time they became bold enough to discard their bed and  start climbing up on mine and lying down on my pillow.

There is only one thing about cats that I never liked. They die. Singsong was such a lovely creature, used to spend the evenings on my lap as I studied and would have spent her lifetime with me. But the neighbourhood dogs weren’t quite happy with that. One day she was chased by a horde of dogs and bitten all over. She somehow made it back to our home, all bloodied and mangled, at her deathbed. I came from school and there was this strange stench around her, which I did not quite understand at that time, later realised it was the smell of death. She crawled to my lap and after some time passed away, quietly. My first encounter with death. It was the saddest day of that chapter of my life.

30 years later, I have a family of cats all over again. There is the mom cat, who has adopted us, whose sole purpose in life is to produce progeny every season. She comes to us and हक़ से takes her food 4 times a day. Then she brings her kittens to us and leaves them in my care. The babies, ooh, the pretty white and golden ones, treat me like their surrogate mother and have to play with me with before eating their food. Scratch me all over and overall make my son jealous. Maa, you have more time for them than for me. I now own a family of a very hungry mom cat and four playful kittens in their basket right outside my front door. Anybody care to adopt?

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picture purrfect

जब कुत्ते बिल्ली की बात चली है तो can rats be far behind. My first encounter with the furry creature happened maybe around 25 years back as I was working most focussed on my mechanical drawing in college, angles and elevation and was totally lost in that. Finally after finishing majority of the drawing, looked up and stretched to see a rat on the ground right in front of me. I screamed and I am sure it screamed in its own language too and both of us tried to run away from each other, but got tangled up instead, the fellow under my foot. Ugh, ish, poor fellow died on the spot and I puked all over.

And then recently, a few years back, we discovered that somehow a rat has found its way into my home. Now my philosophy is very clear, rats and I cannot coexist in the same premises. So, it had to be found and exiled and banned from forever entering my nest. Take it from me, catching a rat is only as simple as, can’t find a simile.  Rat prisons did not work, even when lured with chapatis with ghee, potatoes. It was clever enough to come, eat and get away. The only good thing was, it was confined to one room. Then we decided, there was only one way out, we had to poison the fellow. Rat poison was sumptuously spread across the room. Still nothing. What to do? After a few days, the room started to smell and it was the same stench of Singsong times. So, the rat had gone and died somewhere and we had to locate it and dispose off its body as to leave no trace of the heinous crime. Under the bed, almirahs, nowhere was it to be found. After a day, finally discovered the remains of the creature in the loft. My brave maid cleaned up the loft and transferred the remains to a far enough location so as to leave no incriminating evidence behind. The room had to be cleaned and fumigated multiple times before it started feeling normal again. I continue to hate rats.

A bundle of joy

Though technically I had no control over the circumstances, slightly more than 45 years ago, a bundle of trouble and joy came to this world, aka, me. Well, of course, I don’t remember my birth and the circumstances that led to it. Hey, don’t worry, this blog is meant for family audience and I will not talk about the birds and the bees.

This is a story that I learnt from my mother, with her descriptions and art of story-telling. Not having inherited that, I will retell in my own words. My dad, being the nerd he was, was doing research at IIT K, in late 60’s. My mom used to teach at the campus school. We had been staying at the campus for the past 2 years and my mom was expecting, a byproduct of Dad’s research. Mom wanted a daughter, she already had a son, but those days the information was available post birth only. The doctor at the campus hospital regularly looked at her, things were looking steady and good.

And then she got the pox. And badly. In those days, it used to take a long time to heal, could not take too strong medicines, lot of it had to be treated naturally, herbs and leaves. She got blisters all over her body, face, inside the mouth. It was pretty bad and she was in hospital for almost more than a month, just a couple of months before I was due. The doctor was very worried about how it may have impacted the baby. She told my mom not to expect too much, the baby could have been affected in multiple ways, mutilated, some organs not functioning well, at the least pock marks all over.

On the expected date,early evening, she was taken to the hospital, the doctor examiner her and said, you have more than 12 hrs to go, I have a party to attend. So the doctor went out to party saying she will be back in a few hours. Mom fell asleep. Dad went back to feed my bro and put him to sleep, promising to come back soon.

This was a small hospital inside the IITK campus, very few doctors, not like the busy multi specialty ones that are in vogue today. Pretty thinly staffed, few doctors available during day, hardly anyone during night. But mostly everyone stayed close by and easily reachable.

She woke up after an hour and could feel that baby was ready to peep out, and there was nobody around! She broke out in cold sweat. She was getting her pain waves quickly enough and knew from past experience she did not have enough time. She shouted for someone, but there was silence. She was desperate and did not quite know what to do. Even PSTN was not born then.

After a few minutes, the cleaning lady came in to sweep the room. Mom just clutched her hand tightly, My savior! I want the doctor NOW. The cleaning lady was- like what, the doctor will come when she is back, you have to wait. Be patient. She had seen so many patients with jitters before in her career.

My mom would not listen, this one crucial point in life, she held on desperately to the only human in her vicinity and kept repeating like a parrot, get the doctor, baby is coming. So the cleaning lady thought maybe she should take a look, she did and knew mom was right, baby was almost pushing herself out (talk about पूत के पावँ,  this was पूतनी का सर). And then she got busy, by some means called the doctor (even her party would have been close enough), got another staff doctor to come in. The hospital machinery started rolling.

An hour later, I shot into the big bad world with a cry and a yawn. As mom described “a small, white, perfect bundle of joy with no blemishes and imperfections”. The doctor held me up for inspection and said my eyes twinkled and thus my name. Blemishes came later.

As Maa wrote for me much later, once I turned into a brat

I have a pretty little girl

Who is as bright as a pearl

When she is good, she is very very good

But when she is bad, she is horrid!

family

 

Book (ed)

My childhood home used to be full of books. Majority of my memories are of that musty store and reading the books we had. And it used to take me to the world of wonderland along with Alice. I was in love with books, I would not only read them, live with them, daydream about the characters and their lives, but also, maintain the books, cover them up neatly with brown sheets, label them. I also created an internal library indexing system to maintain the 100s of books we had. Comics, novels, magazines, classics, and my dad’s Physics and my mom’s English literature ones.

My earliest memory of a hero was a guy with superhuman powers wearing a chaddi over a purple suit, none other than Phantom. Every fortnight, the newspaper delivery man would drop an Indrajal comic at our doorstep.  All four of us would fight over who would read it first and invariably my brother won. I would get it only after he was through with it, which was 15 minutes later. And my rest of the day would go immersed in the बीहड़ बन, amidst शेरा, and the animals and गुर्रन and of course, Diana. I would walk along with the ghost who walks in an overcoat and hat in the city. I would daydream that I was kidnapped and Phantom rescued me, carried me through the jungle and under the waterfall to his cave and eventually, ( the whole crux of the dream) I replace Diana. My version of the dream, of course. As I pored for hours over every picture in the comic, I would be a part of the magical world and could close my eyes and feel phantom with his strong muscles holding my tightly to his chest as he rode his horse, Shera by his side as he traversed mountains and put me down gently on his bed. A girl has a right to her fantasies, doesn’t she. Don’t judge!

As I grew slightly older, I used to read detective novels about “आशु, निशा and बंटी “. Not sure how many of you read it, but the focus of my daydream became Ashu, and I was Nisha and we  chased the bad guys together holding hands. Later it was राजन इक़बाल series. By the time I was in class VI, Fatty had replaced all of them, and the “five find-outers and dog” had become six. Though I always wished for fatty, not to be fatty and as I read the series, and hoped to see some book where he would turn smart and slim. I even started writing my own book, after giving up on Enid Blyton, which lasted for a few chapters before I know I would never complete it. But when it came to fantasies, it always kept going back to phantom, and grew naughtier.

Our school library used to lend us one book a week, which was too less for someone who ate a book for lunch and dinner. After a lot of cajoling the librarian agreed to give me 2 books a week. In return I had to clean the library shelves and put the books back in the right places. Which was awesome because I could spend more time with books. School days were still ok, you had homework and I also needed time to play with the colony ruffian boys every day. But what to do in the two month long summer holidays. I then had to persuade my parents to take me visiting other local bong families with kids my age who were also into books, for the sole purpose of lending and borrowing books. I would also religiously note down what was lent to whom and would ensure they were returned in the next visit with severe admonishment for whoever dared tear the brown cover put so lovingly.

Growing up with the Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and later Poirot and Miss Marple, one of my ardent desires was to become a detective. My day dreams graduated to my solving all crimes in London and becoming Jhilmil Holmes. We were a household where books were treasured and every time anyone asked me what gift I wanted, there was only one response. Every time we visited some relative who had books, I would find my way to their book room and spend my days there, going through all the Tintin and Asterix comics I could lay my hands upon. Who wanted to small talk when you could read! I remember my mom tearing me away from a book to get up and leave as we had to catch a train and I would keep turning the pages up to the door till someone snatched the book away from me.

My mom also had strict categorization of books that I could read and those I could not. Chase was a strict no-no. Class VIII holidays and I started persuading her, I have already seen the covers, how bad can it be, I am a grown up, I can read it. I guess I my persuasion skills were reasonable as she relented and a new world of thrillers opened up for me. Then there was no stopping me, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Irving Wallace and so many others became my new world.

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In tatters now, once a part of my library

We used to read Hindi as much as English. Hordes of magazines from चम्पक, पराग, लोटपोट to सरिता, धर्मयुग and कादम्बिनी. I was also reluctantly introduced to something called सत्यकथा which was probably a predecessor to today’s सावधान India. It was also in boycott list, but I was unstoppable. But trust me, my young and naive mind got a shock after reading it, I could not imagine the grotesque reality of crimes so graphically described. When you read a murder mystery described by Christie, and you have been as involved in the detective work along with Poirot, you feel quite proud after you have solved it together, here I just felt sick and afraid and stopped reading this genre.

That was the time when time was unlimited and books were limited and I would probably have read every book at least 20 times, and could not stop till I finished the book, doesn’t matter what hour it was. These days I open a book and after 10 pages, I get distracted and have to put it down as I lose track. Is it me or is it the books? Even till last year, every visit to Jodhpur, and I would re-read anything starting from the St. Claire’s to the Guns of Navarone.

Let me fly

Just reminiscing, thinking. Yes I do this seemingly impossible task as well, specially when I am free and alone. You would probably not believe it if you have read my writing, you must think, this female just vomits words, doesn’t waste a precious moment doing the incredible task of using her grey cells. I have been told to ensure sufficient exercise of my brain since my knees started aching. So, I was thinking that once upon a time, like every other young person, I wanted to literally fly. अरमानों के तो पँख होते है। who doesn’t? The good part of my life was, my parents let me. They did not ask me to fold my wings and put them in the almirah and lock it. Yes, there were struggles but minor ones as compared to what some others go through.

I believe our Indian minds are conditioned to think that the sole aim of life is get married, reproduce immediately after and then get your children married and then your grandchildren. ( like one of those TV soaps whose sole purpose is to show parties and functions one after the other) Follow the rules set by the elders in the family, study, get good marks, become a graduate and post graduate, to better the marriage prospects, but NOT to work. Learn to sing and dance to the latest Bollywood songs, only to show the art in family sangeets. Learn to cook, sew, embroider, so that the creations can be showed off to prospective grooms. Learn to speak but not have your own voice, then what, then get married and make rotis for your newly acquired family. This is not really a feminine-centric blog, it applies to both genders. Are boys treated differently? They are brainwashed into submission by – Be good, get good marks, get into the engineering college, then get a good job with a salary your parents can show off. Never drink, party or go out with girls unless u are engaged to her and have been granted permission. Don’t have any life outside family. Get engaged and then married to a girl with impeccable credentials chosen by your parents and start producing your progeny. And if you dare to be different , you will be crushed mercilessly by the emotional अत्याचार by your own family.

Recently a colleague told me that she was very worried about getting her son married as he was already 28. She said I have asked him if he has someone in mind but he doesn’t, and he wants her to choose. Tell me one good reason why a person who has been an adult for 10 years straight wants his parents to take the life’s most important decision for him or her. My maid, her daughter being of “marriageable age” is still open to letting her work, but is facing family pressure “he is a good boy, you will not find a good match for later, why does she need to work”. I have been trying to brainwash her. Let her work. Let her stand on her feet and gain some self confidence, she is just 17, wait for a few years, it will help your family, let her be ready to face the battles of life. She gets convinced to some extent and then she goes home and comes back in the morning again full of apprehensions.

Trust me, I am not saying arranged marriage is bad, or that our parents don’t want the best for us. I am talking about a different problem. I think we don’t let our children grow up and become independent in thought, take their life decisions, we don’t want them to grow up. We don’t prepare them for the challenges of the world. And if by some miracle, they are able to voice their thoughts and their wishes, we don’t listen, we don’t want to listen, because our mind conditioning says that children are the ones who should listen. We don’t discuss things, we announce decisions. Children do not have a say, and cannot question. If they do, ” अब तू इतना बड़ा हो गया कि मुझसे सवाल करेगा?” And here I am talking not of children, but adults masquerading as children. Supposedly grown ups 20 years, 30 years, 40 years old who are being treated thus.

Starting from what they will wear, to who they should befriend, and what they should study and when, we are used to taking decisions for our children. Is it because we were treated thus and we want to carry the tradition along? Because we could not take those decisions for ourselves, we take it out on our unsuspecting children and this will continue ad infinitum. Some generation has to change and give in. Some generation needs to let their children take their own decisions, make their own mistakes, grow up and not just literally and support them as they stumble, pick themselves up and start anew. Hopefully it will be our generation.

What if the kid wants to pursue art and painting instead of engineering. I had a team member who dared to go against his entire extended family to pursue a career in fine arts and animation and wanted a job to prove to his parents his decision was right. What if the kid doesn’t want to get married? Big deal. Why does it become “जवान लड़की छाती पर पत्थर की तरह होती है।”. Maybe he or she will find love at 40. So long as he is independent, happy and able to take care of himself or herself, why should it matter? What if the person wants to get married to a person of his own choice, maybe of the same gender, maybe a widow(er), divorcee, a much younger/ older person/ a different caste, or wants to lead a life of chastity. In the Indian context, these are taboo. We clap when we hear of such news items, but have a major problem when something like this happens in our family.

What is needed to to help our children grow independent in thought, be consulted in important decisions, help their thought process mature, and enable them take their life decisions. Important aspect is to let them do it, instead of doing it for them. Support them, guide them, help them understand the difference between right and wrong. They will make mistakes, and will learn from it. These fb quotes that we see every day, don’t just forward them blindly, apply them to your life.

Some of us are not born to be engineers and doctors, some of us will fail in class, some will try drugs. Not everything is right but then are we the epitome of what is right? Do we give support when it is needed most? A lot of engineers I know, force their children into the same discipline just because that is all they know. Give your children the confidence to speak in front of you and put their opinion, not just nod to whatever you say. Respect their opinion and have a healthy discussion before a decision is taken with mutual consent.

Wives whose husbands are categorized as mama’s boys, trust me, their kids turn out to be the same. वदला ! You don’t need anyone to yes,mama, as you say, mama, you. Again, I am not saying, taking your parents opinion is bad, but love can be smothering. ( बोलना पड़ता है, various generations are going to read this and I have to try to be politically correct while I say what I think is right), and then taking your children’s opinion can’t be wrong either. Love should not be restraining and restrictive. Your kid will respect you more if you show respect to him. Let them be, let them grow, let them fly, don’t clip their wings before they take off. 

My baby

My beautiful colicky baby, aka, the “अंग्रेज़ बच्चा” was born after a long wait as you may have read in my earlier blog ( https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/the-pre-natal-era/ )

From the day he was born he was tuned to US timings, sleep in the day, play in the night. I remember my days in a haze, get up after a sleepless night, go to office, sleep whenever possible, especially if there was a presentation ( sorry boss). I figured quite early that lectures and meetings are a great place to take a nap. Came home tired to a more tired mom or mil who had been looking after my baby and now needed a break, so played with kiddo, while the man of the house watched TV. His diet was small, he would eat very little, sleep for an hour, then was refreshed enough to want to play. At 11 pm in the night, all I wanted was a bed and a pillow, and my baby used to be wide awake. In wee hours after midnight, I would be irritated enough to wake up the husband sleeping like a baby to help the baby sleep. I had this fundamental issue of not being able to sleep while my son was awake ( which occurred till he was almost 18), and after catching a few winks, it was time to take my tired bones to the next grueling day.

One night he started crying and just would not stop. With no prior experience we had no idea what was wrong, tried walking him around on the shoulder, taking turns, but he refused to cease his howling. Hungry, stomach ache, rashes, no. Finally we were out on the road in front of the house along with the startled dogs who till then had एकछत्र राज of the lonely streets. The dogs and the baby wailed in unison, till the opera reached its crescendo and we knocked on the friendly neighborhood doctors home at 2 am in the night. He diagnosed the problem as an aching ear, a few drops of the magic potion and he was fit as a fiddle, went off to sleep and we left the sleepy dogs lie.

We actually had two babies growing up together, my son and my sil’s daughter who was a few months junior. With both kids in the same pram, looking almost twin-like since my son, though was older, was thinner. All ladies coochie-cood the babies and would invariably ask whether they were twins. We had fun answering, no, 4 months apart, and leaving them with their open mouths and feverishly working brains on how that was scientifically possible.

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The pseudo twins

90’s was pre diaper era when American products were not so easily available and of course the moms and mils were firmly against the use of any such contraption. Delhi being pretty cold in winters, and without diapers and no central heating, all we did through the night was change pants. By the time it was morning, there wasn’t a place to walk at home where a wet pant wasn’t unsuccessfully trying to dry.

Coming home from office, he would be on the bed mostly wearing nothing more than a shirt on, feverishly cycling away with his hands and feet and giggling away only to gurgle when food was stuffed in his mouth, breathe, swallow and giggle again. I can close my eyes and see the sight again, that made my days so wonderful, despite wet pants and tired bones and sleep deprivation.

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The coming home hug

As he learnt walking, the world developed a different set of problems. He walked with his head held high and invariably tripped over every obstacle in his path and his chin, knees and palms were constantly grazed and red. Till I decided to get him a helmet and knee pads.

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I can do it too

My baby did not like meeting strangers. Once I took him to office and as expected everyone wanted to carry him and he responded by shouting at the top of his voice for the rest of the day. At home he marked his boundaries. If we had visitors, he would remain in the bedroom and not venture out while he stared unblinking at the aliens who dared set foot in his space. No amount of cajoling would pull him out of his लक्ष्मण रेखा. Strong attempts just resulted in further howling so.. Take him to any crowded place, and he would cling to me or his Dad and cry.

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Time to howl

He learnt his tantrums from his parents. When he wanted a toy or book in the shop, ( this was once or twice), and I said no, he lay down on the road and raised hell in order to get me to buy it. But me being me, I would pull him back home, gave him a strong lecture on how a child should behave and generally pulled him up for the childish behaviour that a child should not be doing. He would stare at me with big doleful teary eyes during such sessions or व्यथित eyes as my dad would say. Needless to say, he did not repeat it too often, who wants a hiding from a strict parent. He soon learnt that the way to get anything is via his dad, who would melt easily.

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The divine tantrum

His first day at the creche, he was flabbergasted to be left alone and cried for the whole 3 hrs, he at the creche and my mom at home. When she went back to pick him up, he was standing precisely where she had left him, with a teary wet face, holding his bag and bottle firmly. Both laughed and cried after the reunion and held on to each other tightly. Next day, when he was being left, the look on his face said- what you are betraying me again? and turned his back to my mom and slowly started adjusting. It took my mom more time to adjust than him. The first new slang he learnt from his toddler friends was “कुत्ते का पित्ता” as he proudly kept repeating at home.

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dance or look?

The love, the hugs, the playing with almost everything, be it vegetable peels, waste papers, clothes in the cupboard or while washing, kitchen utensils, the jumping to the lap, pulling my ears, learning to walk and then run, falling down, crying, picking himself up and walking again. The hiding in the clothes cupboard or in the washing machine tub and the “boo” on being discovered, the forever unkempt house with nothing at its designated place. The first words, “dadadada” and then the अनर्गल प्रलाप at the top of his voice. His own created vocabulary, spoon was “tinta” and curd was “din-din”, camel- ऊँट  being टून्, and Aarti, my sil, was “तेते”. The sicknesses, the cough and the vomiting, the looking at me with “when will I feel better” expression, but being brave during the injections. I can go on and on, but I have crossed my self imposed word limit, so more later..

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Boo

Sanyam- the one who tolerates

He was born almost 18 years ago. A bundle of joy for the young parents. At a small nursing home in Kolkata. A nursing home that was ill equipped to handle complications.

Sleeping baby
Sleeping baby

The parents were married just 7 months previously. They had never heard about birth control. Like a lot of families in the conservative community she was married as soon as she completed graduation, where her parents only worried about a good ख़ानदान  for the daughter, she was married into a भरा- पूरा business family. She was 22, naive and had a big joint family around her. Sounds like bliss. She had a mom in law, a ज़ेठानी and other family members to look after her through the phase of pregnancy. It did not matter that she did not get enough rest, she had high blood pressure, she had no voice to ask for any special treatment just because she was carrying, and she did not even have a room to call her own. All the family babies were born in the neighborhood nursing home. What was good enough for others was good for her too.

Coming back to the present. Sanyam is almost an adult today. He is a fun-loving boy who is always super excited. Life has given him so much. He loves to talk and how he talks! He has to be literally shut up as he starts getting on your nerves. He has a great sense of humor, a quick repartee for anything you say. He needs company, anyone will do, my mom, who barely speaks also works for him, he is still not sure why she doesn’t communicate though and keeps trying. Her assistant will also do, currently he is learning Marathi from her. Already fluent in Hindi and Bangla, Has a Facebook account and regularly posts pictures and likes what his friends post. Loves celebrating all festivals, wearing new clothes, travelling. Of course he hates studies, like everyone else his age. Idyllic life.

But he is different from other boys his age. He does not go to a school, he does not play and run or read books or watch TV. At a very early age, his parents knew something was wrong. He did not move on his own, he did not turn, he did not crawl. When he was a year and a half, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The lack of oxygen at the nursing home turned out to be a curse for him. Delivery in 7 months, complications and lack of oxygen, need to rush to a bigger hospital with a life support system, which took almost an hour in Kolkata traffic. It was enough to damage a lot of his nerves and change his life and that of others around him forever.

Growing up with the pain
Growing up with the pain

Life is all about physiotherapists for this young man. From a toddler to a teenager, he has been rushed from one doctor to another, from one temple to another, with hope and prayers, from Mumbai to Hyderabad to Delhi. His mother is a fighter. She has found the money and the guts, to take him, carry him wherever needed, up and down 4 floors in Mumbai, whenever she thought there was some hope. From the quack in Delhi who pulled his legs till he screamed, to the biggest surgeon in India, she took him everywhere, in the hope that he would walk one day. That he would be able to do his basic tasks on his own.

Enjoying the simple gifts
Enjoying the simple gifts
life from a wheelchair
enjoying life from the wheelchair

His optic nerves are damaged beyond repair, he can barely see with a -11 power. His eyeballs are not stable but twinkle behind the heavy glasses. If he stands up, the floor swims before him. His legs are too weak to carry his weight. His back is curved. But his mind is alive. After multiple surgeries, he is able to walk aided with a walker. He can eat on his own. He has a mobile which he uses to listen to the radio. And you should hear him laugh. He always laughs the loudest in the house, unashamedly drooling away, always super excited about the smallest pleasures of life. His ears and nose work overtime to cover up for the weakness of his other organs. He hears you before he sees you and recognizes you by your voice. Every time the doorbell or the phone rings, he pipes up- will someone answer that? He loves to listen to music and sings loudly in his harsh broken voice along with the singers. His favorite TV show is Tarak Mehta which he mostly listens to.

with casts and bed sores
with casts and bed sores

He is also a foodie. Loves to eat Maggi and pizza and all kinds of spicy and tasty food, and his mom indulges him. His favorite pastime is tearing up paper into small bits and pieces which is a good exercise for him as well. His facebook world is a gift from his mother who wants for him for every mother wants for her child. In real life, Cerebral palsy is not as glamorous as Kalki would make you believe. Not when you need to clean him, bathe him and tend to all his basic necessities in life, deal with bed sores and pull his pants down when needed. Not when you don’t know how long you can continue that, he is growing taller and heavier, and you are growing older and frailer. Not when you wanted a life too, and your life turned out to be all about him. With just financial support from family, this gutsy female and her beautiful son duo struggle every day of their lives, with physical and emotional crutches.

learning to walk
learning to walk

The social stigma never goes away. She is still asked- why did you spend so much money on him, he still can’t walk. क्या फ़ायदा हुआ? And she looks away. They never understand or even try to.  She gets sympathetic looks but the world needs her to be the normal wife and बहू to cook and look after her spouse and family as is expected of any well-bred married female in India. She continues to do that and she fights for him and somewhere in the journey, she has lost her youth and naivety.

This is his life
making the best of life

But Sanyam is her strength. His vocal energy and enthusiasm for life is so infectious, he puts ‘Anand’ to shame. Every time she calls out his name, she knows she has to be tolerant, the way he is. Patience is a virtue she has learnt dealing with the struggles. I often wonder what goes on in his mind, behind the happy-go-lucky facade, in that active brain of his. He prays every day, thanking God for the blessings showered on him and is every bit as normal as you and me. Sometimes more so, we worry about a small cut and a headache, I have never heard him complain about his disability or the fact that he is dependent. His mom never made him feel that, just made him feel loved. Sanyam is special.

Celebrating life
Celebrating life

The two-frock childhood

My childhood was awesome, and then some. We were a piece of the big mass of the great Indian middle class. But the two frocks was more my Dad’s idea of what girls should be wearing in the 70’s. We were not poor, we always had plenty to eat, a roomful of books ( a household where books were a preferred choice than any other gift), holidays ( no, not to Singapore and Malaysia, but more like Bhopal, Osiaji and more local flavored places). Bengalis buy their new clothes during the once-in-the-year phenomenon called Puja. My mom, as usual, never had a say in the important matters of the family like what should I wear during the 5 days.

So, our standard process started with me sitting pillion on the cycle, and my dad, driving laboriously to our favorite seamstress, somewhere between B road and A road. He would stop outside her home and shout, Seemaji! at the top of his voice. She would come out looking terrified. Now, I must tell you something about her. She was very prim and proper, hair tightly wound in a bun, possibly widow or unmarried, never smiled, wearing faded cotton salwaar kamiz. You get the drift. Once she came outside, dad would ask her, pointing to me, how much material for her frock, she would look up and down at me and mutter some meters and then we would cycle down to NTC shop.

All brands, as per dad, were चोर and bigger brands महाचोर. So it was always NTC. He asked me to choose the cloth for my frocks, and I would pick from whatever little options I had. Then back to the seamstress. She would take measurements and then ask me for what kind of design I wanted. Now I was pretty unimaginative where fashion was concerned. Not having any access to magazines, no TV at that time, only idea I had was by reading books, Victorian books. So my choices were typically over sized, high neck, full sleeves, a lace here and a lace there, at least 4 inches below the knees, belts and frills in weird places. She also added some ideas from her minimal small town marwari experience and what evolved was something pretty OK, but then there was no other choice. And those few dresses had to last me for the full year till it was time for the next Puja again.

Now, since I had limited wardrobe, my attire at home was mostly a गंजी and bloomers, or frocks from past years which had moved above the knees and therefore, not suitable for public viewing.

I was into Athletics in school and was expected to wear something called shorts, which my dad would never never buy for me. When my sports sir told me, wear shorts and come to the ground, I went in my bloomers and he promptly sent me back home, he was more shy than I was. So, to find a jugaad solution, my brother’s old faded Mahesh school trousers came to the rescue, which fitted me perfectly and just needed to be made short enough to qualify as shorts.

As I grew older and started getting a monthly allowance, I started exploring other avenues like Bombay dyeing. And a tailor called Verma tailors who was the one person everyone went to in our town.

I had no exposure to readymades, jeans or trousers, national or international fashion, something which you may find hard to believe. Thanks to my bro, when he started working in Bombay, that is what it was called then, he started bringing me back stuff from fashion street. So in high school and college, I had a wardrobe with little more variations. I still remember my first and only vanilla jeans, that lasted all through my college years. I had a dreadful time with the zip that insisted on opening every time I would sit till I learnt by accident how to lock it. That was a problem that could not be shared with anyone, save my dad, who just told me I was too fat to fit into it.

In school, I also learnt to sew as part of the optionals and enjoyed it so much that I started experimenting on myself. Yes, I sewed my own clothes for a few years, frocks, tops and the likes. I was absolutely not great at it, just about passably ok. But I did get a little more variety, my own designs, now with buttons, and elastics, and embroidery, which was the fundamental idea.

My best friend gave me some exposure as she had relatives in Australia and my God, when I saw some of her stuff, carelessly thrown in the almirah. The material, the fall of the frocks, with my eyes wide open I would try some of her stuff, close my eyes, and feel like a fairy.