It’s in the genes: my little Marwari Sethani!

As a psychology student in college, we went deep into the “nature v/s nurture” (genes v/s socialization) debate and never came out with any conclusive winner. Now, as I have created my own little specimen who I can evaluate through my psychological microscope, I have to say that nature accounts for a lot.

I call BabyA (my 3 year old) my “little Marwari Sethani” because that’s exactly what she is! She seems to have taken her looks from my side but her nature wholly resembles my husband’s side. She can out-eat any spicy-blooded Bikaneri in a Bhujiya or Papad eating competition, and every time she comes out of Music Class, she can never leave without ordering a paan from the paanwala who sits outside, as I crumble in shame in front of the other mommies who are probably judging me: how crass is a pawn-chewing toddler? What can I say? She’s got Maru genes! I can just see her, a year or two later, standing on Marine Drive and telling the paanwala, “Ek Chotti Baby ka paan banana” (Make my usual).

We haven’t made her eat bhujiya, papad or paan but she has naturally gravitated to these things, even though we avoid having them lying at home due to health reasons. And her innate Maruness never ceases to surprise me. Even the way she needs things to be organized, or else you will find her bordering on a nervous breakdown, is completely reflective of my husband’s family. My mom is Punjabi and her house is very clean on the outside but her cupboards and drawers are a mess- as are mine! I grew up seeing my dadi (who’s mostly Marwari- we’re a majorly hybrid family) spending an hour every morning, cleaning her 6 cupboards! I always pondered over the futility of this chore because how dirty could the cupboards have gotten in a day? And then I got married into a house where distant relatives would come home and ask me, “Tumhara cupboard dekhao- tum kaise rakhti ho?”(Show me your cupboard. I want to see how neatly do you maintain it?) I would open my cupboards, and as my clothes and bags would shower down upon us (the shower of shame, as I call it), I knew that I had failed the “Marwari Sethani Acid Test” (Marwari daughter-in-law Acid Test).

Aranya has gone on her Dadi and Grand-Dadi (and most of the 9 other family members that l live with): She needs order outside for her to feel comfortable on the inside. The frames in her room must be positioned at right angles on the wall, her crayons must be kept top to bottom in a very long vertical line when she colours and her twin- elephant cushions must stand on her bed, trunks entwined, facing each other. When I enter the house, if I stand around a minute too long in my shoes, in MY room, she asks me repeatedly to remove my shoes and put them in the drawer, and finally pushes me out of them and puts them in herself! And at the age of 2, she has thrown her beloved dadi out of her room for having the gall to step inside with her home slippers!

I know she may see people being fastidious at home, but I am her primary care-giver as no one spends as much time as I do with her. I know she looks up to me, but I’m not Bikaneri by blood or heart. I love Lijjat’s Garlic papad, Haldiram aloo Bhujiya (which the Bikaneris do not even acknowledge as Bhujiya and disregard by categorizing as a measly food accessory: “sev”), commercially available “Mother’s” pickle and I don’t have a neat bone in my body: all the things that would make any Bikaneri flinch. Yet, she is nothing like me in her habits (besides her love for books and overactive imagination)! Just the way sticking out her tongue when she’s concentrating on something, like her dad, is genetically programmed into her, God seems to have set this maniacal neatness and discerning, fiery taste-buds into her DNA, to make my in laws and hubby happy, and to completely mess with my cluttered, (mostly) Punjabi brain!

Downtime: Sleep Hater Baby!

BabyA has never been much of a sleeper. From the moment we set eyes on her, she wanted to set eyes on everything else. Shut-eye was an ordeal for her, and making her shut them was a bigger ordeal for me.

The first year of her life, it took at least an hour to make her sleep (sometimes two). I would rock her, pat her, make white noise (since it mimics the sounds of the womb), make her sleep in various gravity- defying positions on my lap to comfort her colic, sing to her till my throat went hoarse and walk with her till my legs were ready to give way. Finally, she would fall asleep, and I wouldn’t move for 15 minutes (watching the clock tick-tock, praying she doesn’t stir), whether my bladder was ready to burst or my feet were plagued with pins and needles. Then I would gently put her in her cot, repeating God’s name over and over again, and if she didn’t wake up, I would settle by her side. Often, this was the time when I could focus on my own bodily and mental needs, so I would hungrily open a bag of chips, and pop one in my mouth. “Crunch!”, and there, she was awake again!

She has always been a sleep-hater! This child can sit through a car-ride for 3 hours from Pune to Bombay, in a car-seat and not catch a wink. What I wouldn’t do for a little magic potion to make her sleep? My mom would say, “After a maalish (massage), you children (her teen anmol ratan) would sleep so well that I could go watch an afternoon film show and come back to catch you just beginning to awaken”.

I never understood whether it was evolution that was affecting this generation of babies: our own prenatal (and postnatal) environments that were filled with stress due to our high strung mindsets and highly mobile life, or something else. I searched and searched… and later found out that our mothers really did have a magic potion. It was available off-the-counter as “Woodward’s Gripe Water”. Now, I know that we have the option of giving gripe water although it has lost some popularity in the last 30 years, but what we don’t have any longer is the alcoholic variety! I searched high and low for the old style gripe water WITH ALCOHOL but I can’t get it even if I pay a million bucks (I know because I was willing to!) All brands of gripe water now have a huge sign saying “without alcohol”. Why would they do this: a little alcohol never hurt anyone, especially a sleep-hater baby. For all those judging me, I feel like if we turned out right after a peg of gripe water every morning, then it can’t be so bad for our kids!

I have read several articles that tell you how many hours of sleep a child needs. BabyA fell short of that by 2-3 hours every time. This didn’t really work well with me, since the one thing I find hardest to deal with is Sleep Deprivation. I can handle the tantrums and the terrible twos but I need 8 hours of sleep, otherwise I’m like a Neanderthal (club in hand, and all) moving around with a mercurial temper.

Moms who are blessed with kids who love their sleep will never know what I’m talking about and moms who are right now mentally composing their scathing comments about Sleep Training Techniques want to whip me. Let’s just say, sleep training wasn’t for me. I know it would have saved me much misery (especially the months where she would wake up every hour throughout the night, expecting to be comforted by a 20 minute drill each time), but I couldn’t!

So I trundled along, singing lullabies and doing a solid workout while trying to make her sleep. From 2 hours, we have been able to come down to 30-45 minutes, the kindness of which I thank BabyA for every day. But I must say, till date, I never have any clue when she will knock off because there are no classic sleep symptoms: No typical reduction of movement, decrease in conversation, glassy-eyes, yawning… Nothing! In fact, till the second before she falls into deep slumber (if she knows such a condition), she will be either singing on the top of her voice or talking continuously, while twirling, whirling and swirling all over my bed.

But finally, after so many varied physically defying stunts to make her sleepy, she relents… she stops moving and talking. And there she is: asleep. As I place her down and tuck her in, all the frustration melts away. I look at her angelic face, so devoid of any malevolence, and my heart always skips a beat. I can’t believe I created this mysterious tiny miracle!

Mummy ke haath ka Khaana & a Dabba full of Memories

Food is something that consumes every mommy’s mind. From the moment you give birth to that little cherub, you want to make sure that everything consumed by her is nutritious, unadulterated and wholesome, helping this child grow stronger. That’s why, world over, nothing tastes as great as “Maa ke Haath ka Khaana”, whether the Ma is Italian, Hindustani or Sonia Gandhi (the perfect mix!)

In SoBo, the two most prominent mums are the Gujarati mum and the Marwari mum (due to the infestation of these communities in the area). One of the most beautiful things about our country is how people still reflect their ancestral culture, despite living in cosmopolitan cities.

Being Maru, I see that these two kind of moms are very opposite in their approach about food (and I’m stereotyping here, so if you are an exception, don’t write to me): Gujarati households tend to be more self sufficient and no matter how wealthy people are, usually the women are actively involved in the kitchen and/or cooking. Marwaris tend to feel a bit at sea if they don’t have an army of servants lobbying around them at any moment. The ratio must be 1:1 (minimum) for any self respecting Marwari to feel secure at home (and the minimum ratio is only existent in Holi Season when all the servants decide to go to their village together, also known as Black Holi-day in most Marwari Houses).

I have found that Gujju moms tend to be involved in coming up with elaborate menus that they bring to life often with their very own hands because they wouldn’t entrust the hygiene and nutrition of their infants’ food onto anyone else. Us, Maru moms, have great trust on our Maharajis (home chefs) and are superb at writing down our needs and delegating to them. After all, MJ knows best!

I see with the Gujju moms, that from the first bite that goes into their children’s mouths, they want it to be exotic, packed with nutrition and delicious- all at once, and so they painstakingly make really fancy dishes for their undiscerning infants to eat. Their objective is to foster a versatile and evolved palate from an early age. I had one Gujju mommy friend who told me her week’s menu for her 1 year old and it went something like this

Day 1- Broccoli and Cheese Paratha
Day 2- Pumpkin and Bell Pepper Soup with Foccacia
Day 3- Minty Paneer Lifafa
Day 4- Alphabet Pasta in Alfredo Sauce
Day 5- Stuffed Chilla made from Oats
Day 6- Cheddar & Swiss Cheese Sandwich
Day 7- Nachni Dosa with Tomato Chutney

My only thought with my Maru brain was, “Why would you waste that on a one year old who thinks biting on your elbow is way more tasty than into a Swiss cheese sandwich. Save that food for me instead!” Also, I compared (silently, of course) my weekly menu for BabyA which was

Day 1- Roti, Dal, Chawal (Rice), Sabzi (Veggies).
Day 2- Roti, Dal, Chawal, Sabzi.
Day 3- Roti, Dal, Chawal, Sabzi

You get the drift! RDBS as the Gujjus call it (Rotli, Dal, Bhaat, Shaak), almost like its a bad word (MC,BC) or some really dangerous substance that one must stay away from (RDX). But whatever the Gujju moms may think of me, that’s what my kid ate (and eats).

From very early on, she had to eat whatever was made for everyone else. It wasn’t even spiced down for her (although, our food isn’t too spicy to begin with). After all, I don’t want her growing up to be a Princess because Princesses have a hard time adjusting to different situations (did you hear about the crazy one who could feel a pea through 20 mattresses?) My husband was brought up the same way, and I’m definitely happy to be married to someone whose only demand is that he be provided simple, home-cooked food at home (no delivery/ take away business)- whatever it may be. And he doesn’t complain, even after eating aloo ki sabzi (potatoes) 5 days in a row. I know because I subjected him to that when we were living in Pittsburgh and Maharaji couldn’t get a passport.

But I do admire these Gujju moms a lot. A very good friend of mine (pure Gujju-blood and bred) has been whipping up all kinds of delicacies for her kids since they were born. We would salivate as she would tell us what cuisines she was preparing for their school tiffins. I could only imagine how much they must have been bullied; tiffins being wiped out before they reached back to class after morning assembly, but when we asked her about how lucky her kids must feel, she said, “They complain all the time. They hate their tiffin. They say, ‘Why can’t you be more like so-and-so’s mom? She gives him such yummy bhindi-aloo while I stare at my mushroom and bean burritos”

This reminds me of my school experience. My mom was the quintessential Maharaji-dependent kind, and our Maharaji’s repertoire extended as far as besan toast (a.k.a bread pakoda) in snacks and pav bhaji in food. He didn’t cook anything with cheese as he considered it Mansahari (non-vegetarian-wherever did he get that notion from?), so I had the most boring dabba in the world. Every day, I saw my Sindhi friend open her dabba, filled with Rainbow Sandwiches and Aspic Salad, while my Punju friend got yummy Noodles from Paradise Restaurant or Vegetable Patties from Radio Club. And my Ismaili friend often got canteen money (She was the luckiest! None of our moms would have ever trusted us with the huge sum of 10 rupees every day) and bought us all fried rolls and channa-bread.

But now, when we sit around and chat about school days, everyone remembers how much they loved my tiffin, especially the chutney sandwiches I used to get. My chutney sandwiches? I remember the chutney as being too strong and the bread as being too hard, but that’s not the way they remember it!

So I guess all in all, no matter which mom we are, we must all relegate ourselves to the ultimate truths of motherhood:
1) Our kids will complain, no matter how much we do,
2) They will always take us for granted, and
3) They will usually view the grass to be greener on the other side.

But the saving grace is, that when they sit around at reunions, and reminisce about their childhood, they will be reminded of how hard their mothers tried and how much they have been loved!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Don’t mess with the Mom-inator!

It’s common knowledge that as you grow older, you get calmer. Experience teaches you patience; maybe because you realize that people are going through their own hardships in life, so not to react too quickly.

I have always been the black sheep of the family. My elder sister has been a sea of calmness, while my younger brother was Gandhi-esque in his patience towards my bullying as we grew up. I’ve always been the firebrand of the family: choleric, impatient and the “don’t-take-crap-from-no-one” kind. I imagined that this attitude would wither and I would learn to maintain a tighter reign on my very slippery tongue, as I matured.

I can’t say people were wrong: for a long part of my life when I had no child, I did start getting more mellow and understanding people better. Either that, or I entered a comfort zone of school/college friends who were like-minded, so I didn’t have to deal with people that didn’t sit right with my sensibilities. Either way, I was seeming more and more patient.

But since the day I pushed a child out of my body (starting on that very day itself), I lost all semblance of patience. As the anesthesiologist placed his hand kindly on my hand and explained to me that the baby was ready to pop, so he could not give me the epidural injection, I swatted his hand away mercilessly and told him, “Get your hands off me doctor, and get me the bloody epidural!” And then I erupted into a blood curdling scream, not fast enough to miss seeing my husband’s face turn tomato red in embarrassment at the way I had just spoken to a doctor.

Since that day, I have no patience for any damn bullshit* that anyone wishes to dole out to me. I can’t stand the nuts: From the moms on the message groups dictating to everyone which brand of chocolate must be distributed for birthdays, so as not to offend their little princes’ tonsils (taste-buds?) to the overbearing mums you meet ever so often who are so full of themselves, throwing at you parenting techniques and warnings on how your child will turn brain dead the moment his fingers touch an iPad or showing off about how her daughter eats on her own, sleeps on her own, pees on her own, can play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29 on her own (while doing a headstand, at that), at the delicate age of 2.
Stop with the damn BS* already!

Newton’s 3rd law of motion says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This has gotten so deeply ingrained in my psyche that I can’t stop myself from being confrontational: I must tell the messaging mom very sarcastically that I shall only distribute dark chocolate truffles freshly flown in from La Maison Du Chocolat, Paris from now on (because 3 year olds are such connoisseurs of truffles to begin with) and I have to turn around and tell Sri Sri Maa Parvati that her sermons must stop because brain dead computer nerds are ruling the world right now! The only thing dead is Beethoven!

I talk to my friend (a fellow mum of a 3 year old) about this, as I am often scandalized by the things that come out of my mouth soon after someone has annoyed me, and she says that she’s the same. Her explanation is that the Terrible Twos, and the Horrendous Threes, take up so much of our patience, that after that we’re left with nothing to help us counter the huge amounts of BS we encounter in life.

But I hear the life of our children is made up of stages- so till now we have only encountered negativist, tantrum throwing toddlers. How aggressive am I going to get when BabyA becomes TeenA, and scares me with her disappearing hemlines, plunging necklines and dope-head, grungy boyfriends?

By then my patience will have worn out so much that I will don a “BS-Terminator” suit and roam around armed with a fake Austrian accented one liner and a tranquilizer gun, by which I can shoot all these crazy mommies so as to paralyze their mouth muscles temporarily.

Or else, I will land up shooting the one mommy who needs some “tranquil”izing the most to get her chakras in balance-> Me, just so I can calm down and become more zen (chemically-induced or otherwise) in life.

The only fear I have is that the tranquilizer will eventually wear off, and I’ll still be the “high BP due to no tolerance for BS” psycho mom, donning the suit and toting the gun, mouthing off, “I’ll be back!”
Steer clear poor mommies! No one messes with the mom-inator!