Maa- Few memories

My first memories of Maa are of a woman in a Taant saree, wrapped in Bong style, fussing around the home. Always associated delicious aromas with her. Cooking up a warm meal for us in the cold Jodhpur evenings, Dadabhai and I would finish the chapatis before the next one came down from the stove. She was not a great cook in the strict sense of the word, but she fed us enough and proper, home cooked, rice in the day, chapati in the night, even when I try I still can’t get the same taste. I guess she poured a dose full of love in her creations.

Maa 1
The beauty of the youth

Maa, beautiful and declared incompetent, mostly because she bore the brunt of Baba’s wrath, was a philosopher and quiet personality. Her passions in life were literature, drama, music and God. A person who went about her tasks quietly, unlike most other Indian females of that generation, but who was mentally strong enough to fight with her husband for her rights and later with Cancer. A person of few words, she could act, write, recite, direct and sing beautifully in multiple languages. Quite an opposite personality to the extrovert Baba, she would be mostly found immersed in a book or smiling indulgently at his loud bong jokes. As I grew into my primary school days, I adored her multiple facets. She was a fantastic storyteller. Her recitation of Tagore had me mesmerised and at times I would cry uncontrollably as the story ended, feeling the pain of the characters along with the undulations of her voice. I wish I had recorded that treasure house. The next generation in our family was equally blessed with her stories of “Ek Haath lamba Aadmi” (The man as tall as the arm) and so many others.

Maa 3
In her college days

A few years later I started taking advantage of her gullible nature. She could never say no to me, I would play for ever, lie to her face, did whatever I wanted and she indulged me. But at times influenced by the interfering neighbours, she had this incredible vision of a docile daughter. One day, she stated, today you are not going to play with the boys, sit at home like a girl. I fell from the seventh heaven, what happened to my docile Maa, what’s wrong with you?  I begged, cried, please, I must go; my friends are waiting. But she was determined. Finally, when all means of persuasion failed, I was dramatic enough to fall on her feet (actually) and begged her to let me go, today is the last day of my happiness, I am ready to stay a prisoner for the rest of my childhood. She just laughed her hyena laugh (at least that is what It felt that time) and proclaimed, No. To hell with all niceties, I got up, opened the front door and walked out to play. She still never said anything. I sometimes think she was incapable of scolding us kids. When Dadabhai and I used to fight, she would come and make a feeble attempt at scolding us and we would start laughing and forgot the reason why we were fighting in the first place.

Maa 2
Playing an old woman in her thirties

The Banerjee family had the tradition of falling ill one after another, first I would start with the cough, followed by Dadabhai running away with his nose. Interestingly, when we got the flu, as they say, we would be firmly put in bed, covered with three blankets up to the neck, temperature measured every 3 hours with the thermometer stuck into the mouth between coughs and sneezes; while Maa would be coughing away, cover herself with a thick shawl and stagger to the kitchen to cook up something bland for us. And then my dear Baba, would fall sick, all he would do is hold Maa’s hand and cry that this time he was definitely dying and he wanted his entire family around him for his last few precious moments. I guess he got the man-flu that made him sicker than the rest of us mere mortals. But finally when Maa succumbed, we all would have recovered and just left her to tend for herself. What a selfish family we were!

Maa 8
The Banerjee’s in the 70’s

I used to share everything with her. The bond that we had can’t be explained. We spoke about sex, love, philosophy, books, life, anything under the sun, no taboos. In the 70’s and 80’s, where majority of India was so prude, I had such a great thing going where I could ask my questions to my friend, philosopher and guide. I learnt compassion from her, the caring nature that she implicitly had, I got in my genes. Now people say I also look like her, that is probably the best compliment I can get. There are times when we did not need words to communicate. We just understood and the eyes would twinkle, and lips slightly curl.

Of course she had her weaknesses. She was hopelessly inadept in household work, couldn’t see dust under her nose. Had no idea of how to manage money, having been patriarchally shielded by my grandfather earlier and later by Baba. A working woman throughout her life, first as an English teacher in school and later in a college. M.A twice over, she never knew how much she earned, never bought jewellery in her entire life and rarely bought expensive sarees. As I grew older, she started relying on me to manage gifts for relations, buying a bra for her, getting household items, because she would not go to the market to buy for herself. She was superstitious to the S, sit down, if you have sneezed, black cat crossing types. Any gift had to be vetted for a week. If anything, even slightly negative happened, the gift would be wrapped up and go into the extreme gut of the almirah, never to be seen again.

Maa 4
An epitome of simplicity- even on her daughter’s wedding day

She was so into culture and literature, I gave her a rude shock when I declared I wanted to marry my now husband. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bongs and the rest of the world. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark; your kids will not be fair”. Long story short, she relented after a long time and was quite happy with the prodigy produced.

Maa 5
One of my most treasured moments- smiling away

Oh, I love her so much. When she looked after me, and when I looked after her. When I lived with her and when she lived with me. When I was her child, and when she was my child. I don’t want to talk about her later years. She lost interest in God after multiple illnesses that ate her away. She would say, if God did this to me, enough though I prayed all my life, I am denouncing God. And she did. She stopped praying, looking at the idols. She stopped crying. But she felt, how she felt, her looks said it, her writing said it, she was strong enough never to break down. She lived on and fought on for almost a decade. Fought on till her last breath. Then she gave in. Last year. The morning after Dusshera. But never once did she say I am in pain, always “bhalo achi” (I am good).

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The waiting room

Reminds you of the railway station, the crowd and cacophony, the chai and the stink. Train whistles, the incomprehensible announcements and the strain to listen for your own train. But this is a different waiting room.

Here only those people wait, whose trains have derailed, or are about to. They are trying to repair the tracks, push and pull to get the train back on track and somehow make it run, so they can leave for home. A few never do. 

Here they dont say ” train no so and so has arrived on platform number so and so.” Here it is ” Bed no 102″ and Kamble and Banerjee, the names and the numbers, and the call to feed or meet the doctor or sign something you have not read.

I am in the waiting room of an ICU. All around me is chaos. Sea of people, waiting to catch a glimpse of their loved ones, waiting for that ray of hope, that word from the doctor that can change despair to a smile or bring a frown and a tear. Noisy, crying, sharing, yet so distant from it all. Hearing it all, but not absorbing.

Hospitals are a part of life. And death. I am at the same place I was slightly more than two years ago. Same hospital, same ICU, same waiting room. I lost Baba here. He was already lost, but here I lost his physical being. All around me are faces, in despair, but still hopeful as they cross the nights of nightmares. 

When you think it cant get any worse, it does. And we get used to that and then there is a new low. How much the human mind can accept and get on with life, feels like a trial and error test.

Why does she have to suffer so much? In the past so many years, I have seen her lose her speech and her smile, her walk and her zest for life. A vegetable, that breathes and swallows, with a beating heart. That is about it. Just pain and more pain, which she doesn’t feel, or maybe feels and does not  express. Cancers, and then free from cancers. But not from this hell called dependence. Not from this journey that is a constant struggle for survival.

Who will I take home from here, a whole being or a part? A person who always smiled at me, now closes her eyes and shrinks away as I talk to her, or touch her.

Do your job, dont worry about the consequences. I was reminded today. Do your best, dont expect anything. Maybe that is the learning. And emotions? That are ready to flow, that have to be pushed back because there is so much to be done.

I try to work. In an effort to remain sane. Not break. I have to be strong and stronger, specially when I am powerless. Someone else pulls the strings and we dance. I do- the biggest fallacy. Who are we? Who am I? My face is expressionless, as I listen to the doctor’s verdict. Impassive but with a storm inside. 

Life sucks. Death sucks more. But maybe it is the end of suffering, pain and despair. But can’t it be painless? Among so much pain and pleasure, something goes on- that they call life, as it sits in the waiting room, for death. Somebody give respite from it all,  she needs to rest. In peace. 

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

 

Extracts from my mom’s diary

On this Mother’s Day, sharing extracts from my mom’s diary. Her journey through cancer and how the mind won over disease. This is as is taken, no word changed, and most of it is in Hindi. I can’t describe the emotions that I went through while copying this. It is a story of hope that overcomes depression. I love you Mom.

25 May, 2008, Noida

कठिन रोग-ग्रस्त अवसादमय मन लेकर जब मैं हताशा के समुद्र में डूबती उबर रही थी, झिलमिल ने मेरे हाथो में कागज क़लम थमा दिया – “माँ, जो तुम्हारे मन में भाव आए, उसे कागज में उँडेल दो, भाषा की चिन्ता मत करो। मन की भावनाओं को दबा कर मत रखो ।

डायरी लिखने की आदत मेरी पहले भी थी। लेकिन पता नहीं क्यों मुझे लिखने की इच्छा ही नहीं हो रही थी।

समय जैसे ठहर सा गया था। समय एक सूनी सड़क की तरह मेरे सामने फैला हुआ था।आगे बढ़ने का मेरे पास कोई रास्ता नही था। रात, आधी रात, भोर, सुबह, फिर दोपहर, लम्बी शाम काटे नही कटते।

बीच बीच में उठकर बैठना, फिर लेट जाना यही क्या मेरी नियति थी? Condemned cell में जीवन यापन करने वाले कैदी की जिंदगी? निर्वासित यक्ष जो हमेशा अल्का पुरी की याद में डूबा रहता था, की तरह, मैं केवल पुराने दिनों को याद करती रहती थी। पुराने मतलब, बहुत पुराने, बचपन की यादें, जवानी की भूलें, पुराने गानों के बोल, पुरानी फिल्में याद आते रहते।

30 May, 2008

कल मेरा जन्मदिन था। मेरा जन्मदिन हमेशा ही बेरंग, बिना उत्साह के, बिना किसी समारोह के आता है, और चुपचाप बिना आवाज़ किये चला जाता है। आखिर जन्मदिन का मतलब तो यही है कि मैं मृत्युदिन के थोड़े और करीब आ गयी हूँ। कुछ कोषाणु अपने ही शरीर में आतंकवादियों कि तरह आतताई बन जाते हैं और स्वयं उसी को नष्ट करने में लग जाते हैं। युद्ध! महायुद्ध! महारोग से युद्ध! रुग्न अंग काट के निकाल दो, जहर से शरीर को भर दो ताकि वह विषाक्त अणु नष्ट हो जाये, फिर भयंकर किरणों से उस भाग को दग्ध कर दो। कभी समझ में नहीं आया कि रोग अधिक दारुण हैं कि उसका उपचार।

15 June, 2008

पूरा सप्ताह प्रिंटआउट पढ़ने में लगाया। कैंसर के स्टेज, कैंसर रोगी के जीवन की अवधि, इसके कारण व उपचार। क्षतविक्षत अंग, केशहीन सिर, दुर्बल शक्तिहीन शरीर। यह जगत हैं स्वाभाविक स्वस्थ स्त्रियों का, पर हमारा संसार दूसरा हैं जहाँ हम अस्पतालों में हारे हुए जुआरी सा चेहरा लेकर डॉक्टर का इंतज़ार करते रहते हैं।

20 July 2008

इस विपदा में भगवान को याद करना, प्रार्थना करना, कुछ अवसरवादी सा नहीं लगेगा क्या? बाहरी मंदिर में कभी पूजा पाठ, जप-तप नहीं किया। पुकारे भी तो किसको पुकारे,  श्रीकृष्ण, संतोषी माँ, काली माता, या शिवजी ? क्या यह सचमुच कर्मफल हैं? क्या मैं आत्महत्या कर लू? किसी भी तरह, पानी में डूबकर, फांसी लगाकर? मगर फांसी लगाने लायक पटुता भी मुझमे नहीं हैं। भगवान् के सामने असंख्य आवेदनपत्र हैं, क्या मेरी वाली अस्पष्ट पुकार वैकुण्ठ या कैलाश तक पहुंच पायेगी?

30 July 2008

मेरी बीमारी ने मेरा सारा ध्यान ले लिया हैं। मुझे इसके आगे किसी की परवाह नहीं हैं, चाहे किसी राष्ट्र पर बम गिरे या आतंकवादी बम फेंके। बाढ़, तूफ़ान, भूकम्प, यह सब मेरे दुःख के आगे नगण्य हो गए हैं। मुझे हमेशा, हर क्षण अपने अलगाव, अपनी पृथकता का बोध होता हैं। मैं सबसे अलग हूँ।

4 August 2008

अब मैं नकारने की स्टेज से आगे आ गयी हूँ, स्वीकारने पर। जैसा भी रोग हैं, अब तो उससे जूझना ही पढ़ेगा। जोधपुर से रोज़ दोस्तों के फ़ोन आ रहे हैं। सब सचकित हैं. सशंकित हैं, दुखी हैं। “ना काहू से दोस्ती, ना काहू से बैर” सिद्धांत पर जीवन यापन करने वाली, स्वच्छ, राग द्वेष से परे, जीवन व्यतीत करने वाली मैं उनके शुभ कामनाओ  के भार से दबी जा रही हूँ। क्या सब लोग मुझे इतना चाहते हैं, यह तो मैं जानती भी नहीं थी।

सोचती हूँ मैं अकेली ही दुखियारी नहीं हूँ। मुझसे भी बदतर लोग हैं। यदि मुझमे यह बीमारी सहन करने की शक्ति नहीं होती तो भगवान् मुझे यह रोग नहीं देता। यह मेरी परीक्षा का समय हैं। मुझे इसमें उत्तीर्ण होना ही होगा। यदि दो चार वर्ष और जीवन ही हैं तो उसे हंस हंसकर ही व्यतीत करुँगी। लोगो की करूणा या दयापूर्ण दृष्टि मुझे सहन नहीं होगी। मैं फिर सीधी खडी होकर माथा ऊँचा करके चलूँगी। किसी अज्ञात कवि की इस कविता ने मुझे सहारा दिया


I asked the Lord for a bunch of fresh flowers but instead he gave me ugly cactus with many thorns

I asked the Lord for some beautiful butterflies but instead he gave me many ugly and dreadful worms

I was threatened, I was disappointed, I mourned.

But after many days suddenly I saw the cactus bloom with many beautiful flowers flying in the spring wind.

God’s way is the best way.

थी कभी चाँद तक अपनी उड़ान
अब ये धूल ये सड़क अपना जहान

 

maa

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

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.