English Vinglish

“Aap poora time door khula rakhenga toh AC kharaab hoenga!” scolds a fellow fitness gym member to the lady bathroom attendant. The poor attendant looks like she’s stepped fresh off the boat, straight from the heartland of Hindi-sthan, and this Mumbaiya Hindi is a freakish aberration of language that she is unable to comprehend. She looks frightened but I wonder if she’s more afraid of the bossy lady or her atrocious Hindi. She nods confusedly, and retreats into the bathroom.

As I get on to the treadmill, I think about Bombay’s relationship with Hindi. Mumbaikars (or Bombay-ites, as we’d much rather call ourselves) are infamous for their Hindi. The elite cannot speak a decent sentence without peppering it with English words, and everyone else (the Mumbaikars?) seem to be caricatured by the rest of India as speaking tapori Hindi. Much like the taporis (Mumbai’s outlaws) who popularised it, this type of Hindi is too cool to concern itself with inconvenient language laws of ‘stree-ling and pull-ling’ and mixes Marathi and Hindi to create a scandalous language that makes Hindi purists cringe.

In today’s age, encountering pure languages has become increasingly tough. There may be some Hindi-speaking belts where the language is still found close to its original form, but tongue-twisters like “dhumrapan-dandika” or “lohapathagamini” have been abandoned for their easier English equivalents, cigarette and train, respectively. English seems to seeping into our everyday tongues, with more regularity.

In a global economy where people are constantly traveling, a confluence of influences is inevitable. With the advent of technology, we are facing a time when rules have disintegrated, and no one spells in the same manner anymore. Mobile phones and internet have brought about their own colourful, short-hand type of texting language. Today’s youth is primarily concerned with getting their point across. Armed with SnapChat, Instagram and their phone cameras, language is no longer necessary for communication. Who has the attention span to communicate through wordy sentences when you could sum it up in a picture?

India, in all its advertising glory of “Unity in Diversity”, shines out as a country with over 122 major languages and 1599 other languages, of which Hindi and English are considered the two official languages of the country. The constitution refrains from calling Hindi the national language because in this diverse sub-continent, to give Hindi that kind of prominence would be to ignore the large Southern part that lies completely disconnected from Hindi.

If language is a powerful carrier of culture and history, then this North-South language divide serves as an indicator of how separate these two halves feel with respect to their culture. A common misnomer in the North is to refer to all South Indians as being Madrasis: a single, undifferentiated mass of people that are nothing like “us”. And the South seems to dismiss most Notherners as being Hindis; not a very envious title to have when visiting. With the Southern states having their own separate languages, English serves as a unifying factor between these parts, but mostly with the elite, as the common man still doesn’t have fluency.

India’s relationship with English has been one fraught with years of contentious history. Being the language of the colonizer, it was first enforced upon us, much like all of their culture, as something to be celebrated and revered. Our colonial masters knew that to enslave a race, they had to crush the confidence of its people. They broke us down by making us associate shame with our own indigenous ways, leading us to believe that everything that was theirs was better. The Christian missionaries were funded by the British government to establish English-medium schools all over the country, and through these schools, they educated us about their religion, language, technology, history and literary works. We grew up believing that our religions were ritualistic, our languages were primitive, our hand-made goods were impractical, and our attire was un-modern.

A Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has spoken of his experience as a student growing up in a colony of the British. He studied in a Christian missionary school and was meted out corporal punishment for speaking in his local language. The message was very clear: you were taught to hate your own tongue and your culture. If identity is intertwined around language, when you take away someone’s language, you leave them confused about who they are.

I grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I was enrolled into a Convent school since they were regarded as being the best in India. Thiong’o’s words resonated strongly with me because years after the British had left, we were still nursing a Post-Raj Hangover. Although we weren’t hit in school for speaking our mother tongue, the shame was subtly passed on. The girls who spoke Hindi or a regional language, even privately, were ostracised as being “vernis” (vernaculars) by the cooler English speaking crowd. Although India had got freedom, our minds were still shackled by the Anglophilia that the British had instilled in us.

All through school, I remember being taught the cannons of Literature (all British) like Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Although I enjoyed the works, I could never relate to the (mental and physical) landscapes that they described. During Hindi class, we read Premchand’s stories, which didn’t gel with my urban, modern sensibility either. That’s why when Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was given to us as prescribed reading in college, it was a life-changing experience for me. As I devoured each page, I felt that someone was finally talking about my surroundings in a language that was mine!

Rushdie was one of the first writers to break the mould by writing novels in Hinglish: a language colloquially spoken by a large urban, English speaking population. Till then, we had read novels about India written by British authors in such a propah’ “sipping a spot of tea in the garden with my stiff upper lip” manner that you couldn’t really find true India in their writings. Rushdie changed all of this by writing in an English that depicted India with all its excesses and paradoxes. He made the story relevant with a “chutneyfied” English; one spiced with Hindi at regular intervals. Till then it had been the Raj writing about us, but Rushdie grabbed that power from the British and radically decided to write in our voice.

Some people may believe that we are losing our culture by speaking in such mixed tongues but in a post-modern world, where there are no stringent demarcations (black or white), everything falls somewhere in between. People are comfortable moving away from strict language rules and exploring words. Our urban dictionaries no longer only accept vocabulary put out by the literati as legitimate, but are forced to embrace the unstructured lingo of the youth. After all, in this FOMO generation, you wouldn’t want to be caught MIA because you were too uptight to accept some slang, yo?

Clubnapped Mommy: Too Tired to Party!

A friend asked my childhood besties on my 37th birthday, “What’s the wildest thing she has ever done?”, and I saw them stumble for an answer. They didn’t have one! I’ve always been above average when it comes to my “fun-to-be-around” score but I have never done anything that would qualify as wild in my life.

There was that one time in undergrad in Appleton, Wisconsin when I had my first drink, and we laughed all night- but I also refused to leave my friend, Michelle’s room, as she sensibly coached me through my first night ever of drinking (at 19!!! Eek!) So my actions were as wild as the sound of the town where I was doing them- sensible and civilized.

The other time was when I went back to visit friends in the same college, and drank so much I fell off the bar stool, but then we stepped out of the bar and the brutal winter air in one of the coolest places in the world smacked me back into my senses, and I was sober as gobar!*

The only time that things may have gotten a bit out of hand for me is when I forced my friends to have ‘bhaang’ with me at a Holi party, and the panwala gave us some nasty shit so I was left knocked out, throwing up, hallucinating, believing I had died, and my soul was moving through a tunnel of white noise for hours. It also left me partially delusional till 6 months after, questioning whether our dreaming state was really our true state of being rather than our waking selves.

Okay- so the bhaang incident was pretty wild but not voluntarily so because I had signed up for a ‘cute’ experience of hours of unstoppable laughter, and that’s it! The madness ensued due to a dishonest panwalla.

Which brings me back to the question that in a world of FOMO* and YOLO*, I feel like a sore thumb, especially after having had a child. My limit pre and post baby has been two glasses of wine, but one day, after drinking just that much, I almost fell off the bed with my infant in my arms. It’s a different thing that the intoxication had nothing to do with it (even I can’t get drunk on two glasses) but exhaustion was to blame: a baby who woke up every hour to feed! But after that day, I swore off alcohol. And that’s when I got MORE boring!

So 4 years into being a teetotaler, I find myself at my sociable best in the day, when I’m hanging out with other mommies as we giggle about the crazy milk mustaches our kids made at breakfast but as soon as I’m out in the drinking world with the night crawlers (taken kicking and screaming every Saturday night by the husband), I feel like a wallflower straight out of one of Jane Austen’s novels.

I realize how I’m unable to carry on an interesting conversation with these fascinating creatures as they get increasingly wilder as P.M. turns into A.M., while I mentally calculate how many hours I have left before the baby wakes up. As the clock gets closer to 1, I get more restless, unable to laugh at the deteriorating humor and when my husband starts suggesting that we go to a second location, I’m ready to scream like a kidnapped victim. After all Oprah always says, “Never let the kidnapper take you to the second location because if you do, there’s very little chance of ever getting back alive”. The same applies to me when club-hopping- I refuse to be clubnapped.

I feel awkward and boring (and oh-so-bored) in this heart of darkness but with a party-animal for a husband, I must venture into these spaces with wild beasts. My only hope is that every once in a while, I find a little sanctuary here, where mistakenly we land up at a place filled with retro music, peach schnapps shots doing the rounds (instead of flaming Jaegerbombs or whatever these young people drink now), enough of seats for everyone (without having to pay a lac for a table), music at comfortable decibels and 40 plusses like me, tapping their walkers as they groove to Vanilla Ice.

Nice, nice, baby!

*Gobar- Cow Dung
*FOMO- Fear of Missing Out
*YOLO- You Only Live Once

New Kiddy Nightmares: Monsters Across the Table

“In my son’s school group, there are only veg Maru and Gujju moms and everyone’s sharing so I’m compelled to order veg!”, I overhear a woman complaining at the gym. She seems so unhappy with her shift from Delhi to Bombay.

In Delhi, she enjoyed going out for buffets and finding 60-70% of the food to be non-vegetarian while in Bombay, it’s the reverse! Our city is infested with Gujaratis and Marwaris (me, being one of those little shakahari cockroaches), thus, South Bombay very seriously caters to us.

I have a Muslim friend who opened up a bakery in the city, and at first, when I asked him if his speciality tea cakes were available in eggless versions (for my Jain friends), he scoffed, “Dammit- the last thing I’m doing is making tea cakes eggless now!” The next time I visited his bakery, I had to fish out a regular tea cake amidst mounds of eggless ones!

There’s no escaping it: when you live in Bombay, you’re forced into vegetarianism often due to minority issues. You can’t escape making G&M* friends, how much ever you may have detested them while growing up (and abhorrence is only possible if you didn’t grow up here. If you’re born and bred SoBo, you don’t hate them because in all probability, only at the age of 16 did your parents reveal to you that you’re actually Sindhi, when you had to fill out Hassaram Rijhumal College’s forms. Till then you, like every other SoBo-ite, thought you were G or M by default, and your parents proceeded to burst your bubble because they knew that with 55% in SSC, you couldn’t get in anywhere without using the community card. In fact, Hassaram and Kishinchand Chellaram had both probably grown so fed up of this Gujju- Maru monopoly in SoBo that they set up colleges reserved for their own, just so Sindhis could reclaim their Sindhiness and write proudly on their marriage bio-datas: Graduate and Non-Vegetarian, certified ‘Ani’ (Dadlani, Malani, so on and so forth). Daddo Suttho! *

This confusion in Bombay’s identity has gone on since partition, when language wars were pulling the city’s people in two directions. From the time when the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were being formed, both communities fought to have Bombay be a part of their state, because even though a larger part of the population spoke Marathi, there were a huge number of wealthy traders and politicians in Bombay that felt it belonged in Gujarat. Even today, knowing Marathi will help you get out of a speeding ticket, but speaking Gujarati may help you make quicker money in Bombay’s Gujarati-dominated market.

I recently received an email (which, I must clarify, was sent to all parents and not just Maru me) from BabyA’s school urging parents to teach their kids not to react with disgust when non-vegetarian kids are eating meat or fish. It made me fear that were they talking about BabyA too? I have always taught her to respect other’s choices, but we do have a silly game where she keeps teasing her Fufa* that he’s going to eat all the fish and crab in the sea (with an unintentional message that that makes him a scary beast of some sort). Reading the email, I became aware of my insensitivity! Had I just taught my daughter that her nightmare had transformed from monsters under her bed to meat-eating monsters hanging out across the dinner table? These kinds of values are what make bullies out of our children!

In a country where Gau Rakshaks are killing people for allegedly having eaten beef and the government has taken a stand that no Indian shall ever eat the holy cow again on Hindustani grounds (as if we were a Hindu nation and not a secular democracy), we must be very careful about what we teach our kids. It’s important that they learn to respect other people and their choices, rather than making anyone unlike us into scary ‘others’ that we must save ourselves from. I don’t want my child to become a bigot, toting purifying water in a bowl, throwing it onto all- willing or unwilling!

Narayana, Narayana!

*G & M- Gujju and Maru

Daddo Suttho- Very Good, in Sindhi

Fufa- Uncle (father’s sister’s husband)

My Child: My Biggest Cheerleader!

I sit with my mom and sob as I pour my heart out about a troubled last week, and as I start to cry, my usually oblivious preschooler looks up worriedly and asks, “Why are you crying Mamma?”

“Nothing darling! They’re tears of joy – you remember I told you about that concept. I was crying with happiness because I was remembering how you always tell me I’m the best mamma in the world!” She looks down at her blocks, unconvinced, and mutters, “No! You look really sad for that!” I’m shocked by her sensitivity and insight.

I read somewhere that girls are very tuned in to facial clues while boys are more observant about what’s going on in the environment. I know for a fact that my little monkey may live in her imaginary world all the time, seemingly clueless to the present, weaving crazy stories about her pretend Pakistani husband Chillu Purkhan who took her to see the Eiffel Tower, or making up tall tales about cooking up “Pakistanian” specialities for her visiting in-laws like “Pangkor” and “Buskair”. It’s easy for me to forget how emotionally cued in she really is when I see her talk about her Dr. Seuss-style mad, mad world, but one tear, and she’s right by my side.

I remember when she was only a year and a half, verbally quite advanced for her age, kissing me and repeating, “Mamma.. no cry. No sad. Ranya wipe your tears!” And recently, the one time that I fell and hit the equivalent of a funny bone in my knee, and was rendered incoherent for a minute in the bathroom, she brought the whole house down, telling them with great urgency that I was hurt (when I had recovered just as she stepped out of the door).

Sometimes in life, you feel down and out; you feel like you’re no good at anything, like you don’t have a deserving bone in your body, but no matter what you feel, when you look into your child’s eyes, you see the unbridled love and adoration they feel for you. One only encounters that kind of pure love in the eyes of their parents or grand-parents; the one that doesn’t keep questioning whether I’m worth it to begin with; the love that just keeps loving, despite the number of shoutings given, punishments meted out or angry words shared.

Maybe the reason God gifts us with children is so that when our parents are no longer around, we can still have cheerleaders in the world, standing on the sidelines, rooting for us. When we feel like the scum of the earth, we can look into our children’s eyes and feel that comforting love that comes without condition, and helps us resurrect our souls again!

Sibling Love: From A Pokey Triangle to a Circle of Love

My younger brother sends me a link to sign up for organ donation and I’m amazed at the ease in doing so. It’s as easy as setting up a Flipkart account, and when I’m done, my conscience feels lighter (rather than when I’m done with Flipkart, and my conscience weighs heavily on my mind).

I’m solitarily gloating in my selflessness at becoming a certified organ donor, but as I proceed to laminate my freshly printed donor card, a stab of suspicion stops me in my tracks.

I fish out my phone and go to my family’s WhatsApp group to instantly share my concerns with my siblings. This donation thing is all fine and dandy except that I don’t completely trust Nandy. I make the sibs promise that they will have to come and verify that I am really dead before Nandy hands me over to the hospital to have my organs plucked out. They laugh and agree and we emoji-handshake on it to seal the deal.

This comfort of having someone know where you come from, no matter what you say or how idiotic you behave, comes from a solid history of elbow-jabbing, tattle-telling, prank pulling, butt-of-the-joke making meanness that ensues between siblings. There’s a deep sense of trust that emerges between brothers and sisters from years of completely distrustful behavior with each other.

In my case, we are 3 kids of which my eldest sister was the perfect one: the first grandkid, while I was the mean, angry, no-one-loves-me middle child, and then came the adorable, doe-eyed chirag* of the family (named after God Ram himself). In this equation, it was easy to guess who got the most amount of shoutings and slaps, deservedly so!

Growing up, the three of us shared a bed. It was a massive, exquisitely carved, old style bed, with enough place for 3 capricorns between the ages of 3-10 years but my poor brother would get incessantly kicked by me as he rotated in the middle, consistent as the minute hand of a clock, throughout the night. My poor sister was no less than Sister Florence Nightingale, always saving my brother by pulling him to her side so he could stay away from my evil claws.

Florence would spend hours telling Ram Sukhyari-Dukhyari stories (about Sukhyari who didn’t have much but was always happy and Dukhyari who complained no matter what wonderful circumstances she was gifted). She would whisper the story to him as I complained that I couldn’t sleep with the sound, while I actually tried to hear it myself, enjoying it but finding it all too familiar when it replayed in my dreams, with me playing the disgruntled Dukhyari and my sister starring as the perennially happy martyr, Sukhyari.

Just like the protagonists of the movie, “Amar, Akbar, Anthony”, we three are bound by blood but have always been as similar as chalk, cheese and chimichangas: my parents’ Florence, Medusa and Ram. Three kids born under the same star sign, challenging the science of astrology by our differing personalities, but after all these years, bound by an understanding that only all of that childhood turmoil can create.

Sibling love fueled from years of sibling hatred (and parents wondering was it really the right decision to “gift” their kids their sibs) is a force stronger than gravity, wherein whether we talk every day or not, we eventually always bounce back to each other. The childhood secrets, the insider jokes, the sarcasm about the eccentricities of our parents and our undying love, despite each other’s annoying ways, is what creates a circle of trust that no one can infiltrate. That’s when these three divergent corners of the triangle come together to form an infinite inner circle, one that even our parents feel left out of sometimes!

*chirag- lamp, light, Heir who shall light the path to the future and guide the family.

Needy Babies to Needy Mommies: Growing Up or Growing Old.

I wake up to BabyA’s sobs and find that she’s having a nightmare. I imagine that she must be dreaming of me being brutally murdered, judging by the intensity of her cries, but she wakes up and tells me her bad dream is a secret. After some coaxing, she admits, “Mamma, I was dreaming that you left me and went for dinner. I couldn’t come because it was an adults’ dinner, and I missed youuuuu”, she says as she trails off into another sobbing bout.

Talk about really slapping on the guilt: her worst nightmare was me going out for dinner? This intense separation anxiety started around one, and peaked at about one and a half, staying at an Everest-high till a few months before her fourth birthday.

I love my daughter immensely but at the worst moments, I have wanted to palm her off to any class that would give me one hour of breathing time. I felt suffocated by her constant need for me: sitting on the potty with her on my lap was always the lowest low that I had experienced as a mom!

Sending her to Nani’s house so I could enjoy some hours just doing whatever I wanted (which was usually sleeping), or sneaking out of my house like a thief (moving slickly, sticking my body to the walls as I moved and not breathing so she wouldn’t spot any motion), I have done it all! No material gift could have replaced anyone willing to take her off my hands and give me some me-time!

Once she started ‘big school’, I started seeing a change in her. She started becoming independent (“Mamma, I can open this on my own”, toys all cleaned up after playing, clips never lost- no matter how bouncy the castles had been). Slowly, she started drawing on her own: “Mamma, can you help me?” Sometimes I would, and sometimes I would ignore her and phase out, lost in a world of Insta selfies and FB viral videos that had nothing to do with snotty-nosed, attention-needy children.

After a couple of months more, I could go for a lengthy shower and come back to see her still playing with her magnetic tiles: building castles and weaving fantastic stories around them. I felt happy that she was developing such focus and didn’t need me all the time.

Now it’s over a year of going to big school, and turning 4 has completely changed her. Gone are all the tantrums of toddlerhood because she’s happy to listen if you dole out logic (or even if you give her complete nonsense but package it into a fabulous story). Along with that, is a lot of stuff that isn’t as easy to digest- namely, her growing need to not need me!

One day, she came home, opened her doll house and started playing. As Nandy and I walked in, she said, “Please go! I’m playing in my room.” On seeing her father’s face drop like she had just tap danced all over his heart, she volunteered, “After my work, I will play with you, ok?” The husband and I looked at each other, and I told him that this is it. We had a little phase (which at that time seemed insurmountable) where she needed us, but now for the rest of her life, we will be the needy ones: “Darling, give Papa just one kissy?” “Chikri-poo, just spend five minutes telling me what you did in school”.

I have dreamt, prayed, cried for this solitude, and now I wake up in the mornings to see she’s been up for hours and hasn’t knocked on my door, needing me. I feel completely dispensable. She leaves for classes, waving goodbye happily, or sits around for for hours, colouring her life-size cardboard rocket, and I can see my dreams coming true.  My little girl’s growing up, and as I foresee her rocket, ready to be propelled far, far away, I’m left wondering, why did I long so much for this loneliness in the first place?

SakuBai, FaceTime se Phone Karna

I just turned down a friend request by my driver and then as I log on to Twitter, I find that it says, “Sheela Sharma is following you”! My maid refrained from sending me an FB friend request but is now part of my Twitterati.

I think it’s amazing how keyed in this new generation is to technology, and now with Jio offices having lines that serpentine all the way around the block, I envision Mukesh Ambani virtually patting my maid on her back, saying, “Jaa Sheela! Jee le apni Zindagii!” After all, everyone (regardless of socioeconomic background) has the right to Jio, and let Jio!*

In the afternoon, as I pass my house’s “hang-out” area for the domestic help, I see all of them lying down, cut off from their daily stresses of differentiating between julienning and dicing vegetables just the right way to keep the matriarch of the house smiling. Ear phones connected to their Androids, each one has a separate Bhojpuri flick streaming, but all with Ravi Kishan gyrating his birthing hips sexily on screen.

I wonder if I may have slipped up and given them the wi-fi password at some point (which is strictly forbidden after hearing horror stories of people’s staff watching unmentionable stuff while being logged onto their wi-fi). They couldn’t possibly be watching movies on a measly data pack (even in pre-Jio days).

I know how my hand quivers on holidays, as I hand BabyA YouTube (my invisible straight jacket for a very naughty baby), and she watches hours of Horrid Henry (her personal guru)! I shiver because I know my hubby is going to be annoyed with the constant updation of pricey booster packs for data extension. So how could these guys be nonchalantly streaming movies every day?

I often find them very distracted during work times also, armed with technology; constantly having to finish their candy crush games before attending to a “preschooler spilt milk” emergency, but I can’t say that any of us are any different, so it’s hard to blame them. When I’m such a phone/social media addict, how can I fault my staff for feeling the overwhelming urge to volunteer feedback to a friend’s new hairdo on WhatsApp rather than attending to my daughter’s call of hunger.

As this next gen of domestic help has the intelligence to keep up with modern gadgetry, they are able to make my life easier due to their savviness but technology plays the role of a double edged sword. From being able to rest my lazy, mommy bum for a moment longer on the couch because my driver can go and choose the seat covers for our new car (and WhatsApp me pictures as he picks) to my maid alleviating my separation anxiety by sending me videos of my little ninja at a birthday party, dancing to “Chittiyan Kalaiyan Ve”, while meaningfully mouthing “Mainu Shopping Kara De!” into the lens (preschooler wants don’t stop).

The marvels of this SmartGen are as many as the banes of their Smart Phones. From being able to read English, and subsequently, being able to find the one med I forgot to carry (kept amidst so many other tablets in my drawer) when I left home, to understanding every word of the family gossip my mom and I share as we sit together in the car. I celebrate every time I can just WhatsApp my maid the picture (screenshot of Uber details) of the driver, but flinch when I see her status as constantly ‘online’ on WhatsApp as she rides back home with my child in the Uber.

So now, as I browse through my FB newsfeed, it implores me to send a friend request to my 25 year old dhobi by constantly badgering me, “Do you know (him)?” But just the way a CEO doesn’t want his employees to see 3 am snapshots of him doing tequila shots off of a Russian waitress’ navel, I don’t want to include my employees in my circle of friends either. I’m happy they are connected to the larger world through social media and the World Wide Web, but I prefer to be a stingy spider, and keep my world web exclusive!

*Live and Let Live

A Fishy Tale of Toddler Grief:Losing your First Pet

I grew up in a house where my dad was anti-pets. He loves animals a lot but doesn’t like the idea of them being separated from their families/environment for our pleasure.

When BabyA saw friends’ pets and asked for one, I realised that Nandy and I were on the same page about this- no pets! Although he had an African parrot as a child, he just felt like the loss of a pet is too heart-wrenching. One may argue that it helps kids understand loss, but Nandy preferred to keep BabyA away from this life lesson just yet.

Then we went for a child’s pool party, and as the return gift, we received a real fighter fish in a goldfish bowl with a tag that said, “Thanks for swimming by”. It was adorable (the idea and the fish), but I didn’t want it. BabyA had already spotted it and there’s no conceivable way to get a 3 year old out of a party without a return gift! We would have to take this one home.

After we got home, Nandy and I felt like it was a really big decision that someone else had made for us; gifting anyone a living thing other than a plant should be done with consent of the receiver (We’re vegetarians and so we tend to be paranoid about silly things that really don’t matter!) We dabbled with the idea to give her away to our cousins with a tank, but now that the fish had entered our home, BabyA would not let go.

My mother in law convinced us that we were being the kind of crazy parents that we don’t like, and so the fish was here to stay. Besides disliking having a new pet, BabyA also found a giggly-headed girly, fake boa scarf-wearing, ‘Sonam-Kapoor-in-Aisha’ type of name for her: Pinkerella! And as all kids that want pets do, BabyA never fed her more than a week. All the “keeping-Pink-alive” work was ours (so no learning for her in terms of lessons of responsibility by mothering a pet).

I googled away on how to change the water and feed her (NOT overfeed her as my Indian mother genes pushed me to do sometimes). Nandy would come home every evening and after checking on BabyA, would check on his new baby, P. In the mornings, he would often rush to the bowl, and click his fingers, shouting out like a hyper, new father, “She’s not moving!” till Pink took cue and did.

I know she’s a fighter fish- an easy pet and not one that comes and slobbers her love all over your face. The most amount of emotion that we have seen her emit is when she would excitedly circle her bowl as BabyA walked in from school. I know it’s not like loving a dog but we grew very fond of Pink. I had seen her throw up (yes, Fish throw up) but recover. We hadn’t been through a lot together, but eight months had bonded us.

Today Pink died. Yesterday the maid told me that she had skipped two meals. We sensed that she was getting sick but it’s a fish: There’s no place I can call for emergency services, or no vet who would entertain me with her possible mental problems. I sensed that this anorexia may have been caused by a loving, but nagging Nandy who would keep saying, “Pinkerella is getting fat and lazy!” I don’t know how fat she could get on two pieces of fish food twice a day, but that was Nandy being Nandy. I fear that that may have caused some fishy self-esteem issues, which may have caused her to reject food altogether eventually! (After all, nasty Nandy must get blamed for everything!)

I was sad when the maid told me Pink wasn’t moving. She had outlived her tiny fish life! I remembered how much we sniggered as teens, when our friend had lost his dog, and was grieving so hard that he didn’t step out for days. Today, as my brother mocked that he, as the ‘mama’*, was meeting the fish pandit at Trishna* restaurant to discuss the cremation formalities, I understood what it means to lose a pet (okay- so I actually laughed a lot, but lets just say that I finally understood what my friend had felt).

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the barrage of emotions when BabyA came home. I told her calmly and thought she would be ok because she had recently dealt with two deaths in the family, but this was something else. She sobbed and sobbed- not a tantrumy stomp nor an angry wail- it was a real grieving cry that just refused to end. She was crying like I did when I lost my grand-mom. This was real for her: The loss of her first pet.

I didn’t know how to console her, and as I ran out of sensible explanations for how this was not a bad thing (fish fairies looking after her?), I hugged her and wept. It was the first time I had really seen my child grieve and I couldn’t whip out a distraction, or put a bandaid and make the boo-boo better. It was the one time I wasn’t Super Mom, who could set everything straight. I was the helpless mum, who could just hold her hand through it.



*mama- maternal uncle

*Trishna- popular sea food restaurant in Mumbai

Dadima ki Kahaaniyan: The Lost Art of Story-Telling

Gudiya, ek shloka to bol do!” says BabyA’s Dadu. Pat comes the reply, “My favourite shloka is Billiwali girlfriend choddh chaadh ke“. Sigh! She’s been going for Sanskaar class since a year, and this is the result! Bollywood creates stars in everyone’s eyes, and a child who is intentionally not exposed to its music, is still more attracted by the catchiness of its numbers rather than the shlokas she has learnt.

Yeah- they now have classes for things that your grandparents and parents taught you, like Sanskaar. With people choosing to increasingly live in nuclear families, there are no grandparents (or even parents sometimes) to teach mythology and “our culture” to the kids. In the age of outsourcing, everything must be outsourced and luckily there are structured classes for this sort of thing.

BabyA once saw a Sheshnag statue when we took her to our family mandir in my husband’s ancestral hometown, Bikaner. After that, for a month, she was keen on knowing what the Sheshnag story was, but no one knew it in entirety: from her father to his grandmother. Of course, we then turned to our faithful Ghar ke Bade– the village elder with all the stories, Googleji but there were so many variations of the same story (none matching the one my husband had been told) that he rejected all the versions and decided that till the right one was found, she had to live without knowing (and made no attempts to research further).

A lot of elders may think it’s atrocious that the kids aren’t learning anything about “our dharma” but it’s not only the parents’ fault. I live in a large joint family on both sides (natal and marital): the sad part is that the great grand parents who told us the stories, can no longer volunteer with their diminishing memories. The direct grandparents aren’t as well informed to begin with so sometimes they don’t have confidence in their half-baked versions. And then there’s us parents- who can’t find the time from scheduling their classes, doing their homework, etc. to educate ourselves on the topic.

So the only solution I could find was to enroll her in a class for this too, and buy loads of mythological books to read out to her. I guess there aren’t any dadima ki kahaaniyan left (along with no Dadima ke nuskhe/ Grandma’s home remedies) since all the dadis and nanis no longer look like grandmas at all.

Grandparents and parents have become so modern and disconnected from the stories and the mode of transmitting culture through the art of oral story telling, that either the stories will be lost, or (more likely) we will create our own new stories- wading through our swampy imaginations and finding a way to fly, on the famous magic carpet, which has always promised to make us travel everywhere while never having to leave home.

Boys’ Moms v/s Girls’ Moms: Vanity War!

I walk into the birthday party with my usual look: hair tousled (not one of those cool, blown away looks sported by celebrities on the red carpet, but more like a bum who doesn’t bathe), nails cut short, corned feet (“maid’s feet”, as my husband lovingly calls them), eyebrows that have turned into north-facing arrows, untrimmed, unthreaded, letting people know that the only way for me from now on is up (since I’ve hit the lowest low). 

Once BabyA gets settled in, I sit around to chat with the mums. As we complain about increasing school prices and compliment the kids’ camaraderie, I feel hypnotized by the mum seated closest to me. Her gel nails with glitter accumulating just at the ends, like little snow globes turned upside down, move around as she talks and I feel my mind melting into a haze. Her nails are just so gorgeous, transporting me to a land with unicorns, rainbows and foamy cocktails! 

Finally a loud voice gets me back to reality and as I turn around, I see a floppy, sloppy mom like me speaking in jarring tones as she gesticulates with her unmanicured hands and fingers her messy hair. I look around and soon notice that there are two types of moms: moms with daughters and moms with sons, and I come up with (what I think is) a brilliant observation! Most often in life (and there are, of course exceptions to this rule), I find that the moms of boys are a tad (or sometimes a whole wad) better-kept than us moms of girls. The ones in the group with their hair in immaculate condition, blown dry by Jenny at the local parlour, and with gorgeous cuticles are almost always moms of boys. They shine out a wee bit more!

That sets me thinking- why would that be? The legend goes that boys tend to be more energetic thus, harder to handle, so wouldn’t that make their moms more disheveled, especially if they are blessed with the types of boys who like to try out WWE moves on them? So why would they be well put-together?

Then it comes to me! Perhaps, with mums of girls, we are so spoilt for choices when shopping for our little ones (twirly-whirly tutu or comfy skort, glittery jumpsuit or fluffy, tulle dress, hairband or clips, peep-toes or Mary Janes, and the list goes on) that all our vanity is projected onto them from the day they are born. The time spent coordinating your outfit, straightening your hair or planning your nails is now expended on choosing her outfit, accessories, shoes and then YouTubing DIY hairstyles and trying them out. By the end, there’s just enough time to quickly iron something for yourself, put some eye-liner, smear some lipgloss and OUT!

As for the mums of boys: they have lived their lives shopping in the boys’ apparel department, just close enough to the girls’ department where they can spy the sparkly bow-hairbands and knee-high fuchsia boots, teasing them while they pick out four types of cargo- pants (all the same style) and 4 types of shorts (ditto) in varying shades of greys/blues. 

It’s also pretty easy (and quick) to get the boys ready for a party: wash face (10 seconds), spike hair (1-2 minutes), wear clothes and shoes (2 minutes). That leaves the mums with enough time to ponder over their look. Their vanity is conserved for themselves. They still make appointments to indulge in decadent facials, nail/hair spas and pedicures.

I have to get my nails painted in hiding because every time I do it in front of BabyA, I’m shoved aside as she starts picking out garish colours to apply on her nails. As I put make up, she closely watches and then steals my foundation sponges and applies the residue on her face. Since I won’t let her wear lipstick, I must allow her long smooches so that she gets some transferred colour onto her lips. It’s just easier not to do any of these things around her!

“She’s going through the horrible threes”; one mom’s voice brings me back to reality and as I mentally rejoin the birthday party, I realize that I was unaware of my unsightly appearance all this time because after having BabyA, she is my pride and joy. Feminist mums aren’t supposed to be vain, but there’s a little vanity in all of us, and now it’s completely centered around this adorable angel, running around in pig-tails and a derby-worthy dramatic feathered hairband! 

Of course, this is only till I can control her choices because once she’s a teen, she’ll shrug me off like an old, favourite cardigan (snuggled up to only at home when she needs to feel cosy), and then I’ll have to start focusing on me!


A humorous blog written by a Mom-Bai from Mumbai