Friend-Zoning the Husband!

My hubby and I have been friends for as long as I can remember: 2 years of being best buds, 5 years of seeing each other and 13 years of marriage. When you’ve been friends before being romantically involved, there isn’t much that you shy away from saying to each other. Everything that comes to the mind, just slips off the tongue in your spouse’s presence: the good, the bad and the ugly.

I see couple friends of mine who are so sweet to each other. They always address each other as “aap” (the respectful second person pronoun) when speaking in Hindi, the wives don’t cut their hair short because their husbands won’t like it, listen to their hubby’s opinions when shopping for dresses, assemble tacos for them when at a DIY food counter at a party (many times out of choice of wanting to pamper their hubbies rather than out of some patriarchal expectation on the husband’s part). It’s all very adorable, and yet, so alien to me!

My hubby has often picked up my phone call, absorbed in his work, affectionately addressing me as “Ch*tiya!” before launching into a conversation and breaking off half- way, realizing that I’m not one of the boys! I’m his girl! And we have laughed, while he muttered an apology in between! That’s our relationship! We’ve been friends so long that curse words are more appropriate, loving nicknames than addressing each other as “aap”. Between us, there’s no semi-respectful “tum” either- just a no-nonsense “tu” like “Eh-tu!” (the most casual second person pronoun).

As friends, you ask people for their opinions but eventually do what you think best. I think I still have a hard time understanding how my hair or my dressing affects his life in any way, so I have cut my hair short a million times knowing that he loves my hair long (like every other Indian man’s obsession with “lambe, ghané baal”*) and I wear what I like. And he’s the same. How many ever times I tell him that I wish he dressed more soberly: nice, classic cuts and good fabrics; he still dresses in his Nandy-style, wearing bright colours and funky pants with such aplomb that he could give any Bollywood hero a run for his money. Maybe he needs to live out the opposite of his daily life on a holiday, giving up the serious corporate look for a fultoo filmy ishtyle!

That’s what happens when someone has been your friend first: you listen but you don’t have to follow. You can take Nandy and me out of the ‘friend zone’ but you can never take the friendship out of us!

I see one of my closest friend cutely making paani puri for her husband. She jabs the puri, filling it and placing it in his mouth. They’re like a couple out of a fairy tale! She doesn’t do it with any preconceived notions of her duty as a wife. She does it because she loves babying him and he babies her too. He’s chivalrous with her: picking up her bags without a groan when they travel, always walking behind her into elevators and crowded nightclubs.

And then there’s me: friend-zoned for life (voluntarily so). I’d much rather smash a pani puri onto Nandy’s face and start a food fight than put it in his mouth. And he’s the same. He never treats me like a lady: always walks into the elevator before me, and never looks to see if I’m ok walking in a short dress and heels through the dodgy lanes of Colaba at 1 am while he scoots in front of me, heading to where our car is parked. Why didn’t he get the car and pick me up at the door of the nightclub? Laughter can be my only response to that question because friends don’t do that.

When we travel, we’re very clear: his bag is his problem and my bag is my burden. He still tries to complain about the twelve pairs of shoes I’m carrying and the many outfits but eventually he knows- it’s mine to lug around! He isn’t going to be throwing his jacket on any puddles to prevent me from getting my feet (or in this case, hands) dirty.

So I sit here, wondering how is it possible that there are still a few things that we are unable to share? Despite the unabashed honesty that we have, there are some words, even in a friendship, that are forbidden.

For us, it’s the obvious! We can make jokes about everything as long as we don’t touch the other’s Achilles’ heel (or scalp, in Nandy’s case). Like for months, his hair-stylist has been suggesting a hair transplant but he doesn’t want to do it. Every time he discuses it, I want to scream and say, “Do it! Do it!” He says, “I should learn to age gracefully and not resort to these shenanigans”, but all I want to do is shake him up and say, “Why age gracefully when science allows you an attempt at reversing it?”, but I can’t say that. I have to show solidarity towards his vanishing hairline, which hurts him as much as me. I nod in agreement and say, “Yes. Must. Age. Gracefully.”

And he doesn’t say what he has been dying to, since the day BabyA was born. I lost all the weight (and more) simply from breastfeeding, and then ballooned into an even bigger blimp because of my sheer love of food. As he saw my transformation, he probably wanted to scream, “Fatty- stop eating that damn brownie, while telling me you don’t have the time to work out because life is so hard after a baby!” but he didn’t. He probably bit his tongue and kept mum. Just like most dads should around heavy, new mums.

Now you’re left wondering that how have I uttered the forbidden words on such a public forum, when I wasn’t supposed to let him have a whiff of what I was really feeling? In reality, my public blog tends to be the most private space to pen down anti-husband venting, since my husband never reads my blog! Maybe if he played the role of the supportive spouse, he would follow every post, but he doesn’t! He’s my friend first, and after all, “har ek friend kameena hota hai!”**

* long, thick, black hair
** Every friend is a rogue! (A popular song from a Bollywood movie called Chashme Baddoor)

Over-ripe ovaries & Pappu ka Andaa: My Infertility Saga

I was brought up to believe that I came from a lineage of extremely fertile women. Somewhere I thought that my only problem in life would be to make sure I didn’t pop out more munchkins than I could juggle at once.

5 years into my marriage, I started planning. I announced it to the world, suffering from a disease called being “overly honest”, whenever anyone would inquire (and in India, everyone inquires!) Obviously, the time bomb started ticking, more loudly in my head than in anyone else’s.

After two years of no luck, my gynaec gave up and asked me to get our tests done. Both our tests came out fine. I felt so depressed as I spoke to friends, hearing one line repeatedly: “We conceived on our first try! We were so surprised!” I wanted to stuff a sock in some of their mouths because I clearly remember their baby planning time frame being much longer. Maybe every woman needs to view herself as a Fertility Goddess due to some innate psychological need to feel good.

Then started the long ordeal of scientific intervention. I went through a total of 9 IUIs (non-assisted and assisted) but to no avail. Every time I saw women with babies, I felt like a failure. Despite all the fancy degrees I had accumulated, I could not even do the most natural thing any illiterate woman could do! I flinched during poojas, when people sang “Jai Ganesh” when the part “Baanjan ko putra deth”* would come. It didn’t disgust me for the same reasons as before (being a feminist, I can’t stand this Indian obsession with sons) but also because I felt like everyone singing was talking about me- pitying me! Let’s just say this was my melodramatic, Bollywood avatar!

I remember when a very close pregnant friend, who knew about my struggle, proceeded to take me for all of her baby shopping. It’s amazing how intimidating little baby clothes with furry bears smiling up at you can seem when you’re in that situation. I remember running into the changing room, on some ridiculous pretext, and crying.

Finally, I gave up on the less invasive IUIs and went in for an IVF procedure. The days at the infertility clinic were interesting, to say the least, sitting in the waiting room with so many aspiring girls. As the days in each fertility cycle would progress, we would compare notes. We would discuss how many eggs we had produced this month, and how good the quality was, according to the doctor. Over many such conversations, I started realizing that I was the “Pappu” of the class- always last! You remember Dairy Milk’s ad where Amitabh Bachchan is elated when a balding Pappu finally passes his 12th standard exams, and BigB sings in shock, “Pappu pass ho gaya”? I was that Pappu- the big fat andaa** who couldn’t produce good andaas! I had the least eggs, and even if I managed a satisfactory basket, the quality was not up to the mark. My eggs were stamped as factory rejects, and the doc labelled my ovaries “that of a 40 year old!” (when I was 30).

My in-laws and husband had always convinced me to stop all treatments, explaining to me, that we were fine as we were. My parents never pressurized me but felt like I should at least give science a chance.

After 2 unsuccessful IVFs, I was ready to give up! I had had enough. The injections were probably the worst part of the treatment because when you have to take one every day, even the doctor administering it no longer sympathizes with you. You feel like a cow on a dairy factory line up, being inhumanely poked with hormonal injections and then they’re onto the next cow waiting in line. I even started resembling a cow! The mood fluctuations were bugging! I was DONE: I had accepted that Pappu hadn’t passed but perhaps he had come to realize that he wasn’t academic after all. Maybe he could be a professional mechanic instead, or something like that?

I spent 6 months feeling depressed and wondering how Nandy and I could ever be complete without a child. Then I had my first little miracle. My sister told me that she had discussed it with my brother-in-law and they were willing to have a child (theirs) and give it to me. I didn’t even know what to say. I knew I didn’t want her to do that, but the fact that she was willing to, was the biggest gift that anyone could give me. That was a game changer.

After this incident, I started to feel some peace because I finally understood that I had been holding onto one thing for so long that I had neglected appreciating all the blessings God had showered upon me. I didn’t want to have a “sour grapes” mentality but I definitely needed to appreciate the positive in my life: that I could travel as often as I wished, that I didn’t have to share my husband with anyone (Nandy-obsessed me!), that there was less noise in my life, and that no one was wiping their snotty nose on my “dry clean only” dress every time I got ready. Let’s just say- I pulled myself out of the “have-nots” and started focussing on what I had: I started loving the silence… and my space!

There was also a spiritual realization that occurred. I had studied at a Convent school, and we often sang the hymn “I surrender all”. My father-in-law explained to me that when Vaishnavs say “Shri Krishna sharnam mamah”, it means the same thing: “Krishna, I take shelter within you. Do with me as you think best.” I surrendered all to God: trusting that he had better plans for me, I was stress-free!

6 months later, as I packed for my room-mate’s wedding in Santorini, I sensed I might be pregnant. I told my husband that maybe we should cancel the trip but he dismissed it, saying that was impossible because if all the treatment hadn’t worked, how could we suddenly be pregnant naturally? I got on the flight, and spent my entire trip in a daze of severe nausea and exhaustion! To the extent, that till now, just mentioning Greece or waving a gyro in my face, is the best way to see me double over in nausea. 5 days into the holiday, when I peed on the stick, I wasn’t surprised that it came up positive. It had finally happened and I was happy but I can’t say I was ecstatic. I had truly surrendered everything to God and whatever (S)He had chosen for me, I was up for the ride!

Although, I must admit, my spiritual serenity left me the moment I came back and rushed to get a sonography. As I saw that little kidney bean on the screen, and heard her heartbeat, my heart soared. I could no longer think “higher” thoughts. My mind was fluff and the only jingle that kept going through my mind was Amitabh’s voice singing to me, “Pappu pass ho gaya!”***

* Bless all infertile women with sons.
** Andaa literally means egg but is also used colloquially to mean zero.
***Pappu Pass Ho Gaya (Pappu has passed his exam!) ad link

My Daughter: My Unlikely Fairy Godmother

“Mamma, have you taken your money?”, this 3 year old asks me, making me wonder whether I’m the mother or she is. One thing I have come to understand is that she’s definitely my fairy godmother!

I’ve always been scatterbrained and when I was growing up, I often walked into the lift without wearing any shoes, or as a 20 year old, drove myself all the way to the club to play squash without carrying my racket. This is classic me! And whenever I made panic calls to my mom to tell her I had forgotten my racket, she would instantly go into a tizzy to figure out how it could be delivered to me as quickly as possible. I remember how my parents would laugh as I took the lift back upstairs and walked into the house looking for shoes. They found it so endearing! That’s how parents are… or at least mine are. They loved this eccentricity of mine because, to them, it was adorable!

I got married to a very responsible human being. Nandy grew up with a mom who is very organized and everything in her house is neatly compartmentalized and stored away- to be retrieved instantly, when needed. Her mind is also similar, where there is complete structure to her thoughts, and so nothing gets lost in limbo. She never forgets where she keeps things, she always does things in an orderly fashion and has probably never lost a safety pin in her life. My husband is just like her.

And then there’s me, whose room, cupboards and mind resemble Ground Zero after a nuclear explosion, filled with unnecessary rubble disappearing into abysmal depths. My mind is like a black hole (this problem having been exacerbated after being afflicted with the condition of Mommybrainness), where memories of missed phone calls on my cell and last location of my house keys just vanish into emptiness.

People who are extremely organized don’t think forgetfulness is quirky. They think of it as gross irresponsibility. This is the first lesson I learnt after marriage. I learnt that no one in my new home thought it was cute when I would call for a key-search squad (mostly made up of my kind home staff) to help me every couple of hours, or when I would go out often without carrying any money, and make desperate calls home. I remember being empty tanked, stranded at a petrol pump with no money, when I called my husband, and he only yelled at me, telling me to push the car if I had to: There was no way he was going to send me money. I don’t blame him since he had bailed me out in the past, and felt like there was no learning happening on my part.

Thus, the time when I went all the way to Bandra to cut my hair, only to realise that I was penny-less, I dialed M-O-M-M-Y! And it felt so good to have her pacify me that everything would be ok as she was organizing the money to reach me right away. My father was put on conference, a peon was dispatched in seconds; all the way through, my parents reassuring me that I shouldn’t worry my head about these things. I’m sure in the evening, they shared the anecdote with my grandmom and affectionately chuckled about how I would never change!

I missed that! I missed people forgiving me for my spacey-ness. My husband despised this characteristic of mine! He was right, because pampering had probably encouraged this behavior but taunting wasn’t improving it either. Either way, I missed someone who could sympathize with me and aid me in my key searches. Even the servants now helped only if they could slap me with some insults about my recurring amnesia.

That’s when God gave me BabyA. I may not have gone and hit my head repeatedly, till it bled, against the feet of the local mandir deity like Nirupa Roy, but yet “Bhagwan ne meri sun lee” (God answered my prayers).

BabyA brought about the right balance that I needed in my life. She took the best of both the families: from my husband’s side, she inherited a sense of responsibility and an organized way of working, whereas from mine, she learned softness. That’s why I call her my fairy godmother! From the time that she was little, and could barely talk, she would hand me my keys whenever she saw them lying around, knowing that I was due to lose them soon. After one incident, where I couldn’t buy her a lollipop because I didn’t have cash, she often reminds me before we go out, “Mamma, have you kept your money in the bag?”

She is so responsible that no matter how engrossed she maybe at a restaurant, watching Peppa Pig on her iPad, she will rattle off a checklist of things that we need to gather before we leave, never forgetting even the tiniest of hair clips, and collecting my belongings too, knowing fully well that she can’t trust her nutty mamma with these things. But the best part is that there is no judgement, and never any taunts. She’ll just sit me down, look me in the eye and chuckle fondly, saying, “You’re being a Silly Billy again, Mamma!” And then I get a kiss, smack dab in the middle of my forehead, and I feel like a child. But not an unmindful child… just a loved child: after all, mamma’s need pampering too sometimes!

School is Out: Save our Mommy Souls!

The holidays: it’s the dreaded time when moms start shivering just thinking about how they are going to occupy their short-attention spanned kids for one and a half to two months. It’s a time as awful as when the baby’s Bai goes for her annual holiday, and if, by any chance, both these events happen to fall simultaneously, then that spells the end of any mommy fun that was planned for the next month (or a few)!

During vacation time, moms spend fleeting free moments by reading blog posts that entice them with words like “10 activities to keep the kids busy during holidays”, or hurriedly signing up at summer camps, wishing that they were prolonged camp-outs, rather than 2 hour classes. You find women furiously typing on their mommy-support what’s app groups, trying to figure out if any other fellow mommy has some magical activity box which would keep them busy for hours (and keep them away from her make-up box, the idiot box (TV) or worse yet, some Pandora’s box that they manage to get their hands on). And this is when the “I-don’t-waste-my-time-in-idle-mommy-chitter-chatter” anti-social mommies are cursing themselves for not building a larger network so as to be able to parcel their kids off to another mom’s house every evening of the week in return for babysitting their monsters for one evening.

Most mothers are only happy about the holidays because it means that they can sleep in, a tad bit (especially if you have a toddler like mine who obediently steps out in the morning to do ‘seva’ of Bhagwanji with dadi or to watch her dad read the paper and slurp tea, while I snooze). Moms also see it as an opportunity to push their lazy husbands to spend some cheese and take the family on a holiday. Although, before and after the holiday (and possibly sometimes during), all they do is pray to the Rain Gods & School Gods, hoping that the former comes soon as it would signal the start of the latter. When I was growing up, 6th June was the date circled in all mommy calendars as the day we expected monsoons in Mumbai and the day when schools would usually reopen.

Now of course, I pity myself, and the other IB* moms the most: For the longest time, I couldn’t fathom why kids (in ICSE and SSC boards) had holidays in the summer but went to school through the monsoons. Why would the Government want the kids to trudge to school at such a mucky time, when traffic ran amok and kids woke up several mornings, got completely dressed, wondering whether they should wade through floods and get to school, only to find out that it was shut or stay at home, and brave getting a demerit for playing truant when “all the other kids made it”.

Now, I understand that we underestimate our Indian Government by disregarding all their decisions as illogical but in reality, they have been very kind to us poor moms! They probably decided upon summer holidays so that kids, during vacation time, could at least be left to their own devices; to run about in building (or area) gardens while their moms put their feet up.

Now with this IB system, the holidays start just as the rains do, which means you’re stuck at home all day with your little terrorist, and there’s no relief as the weather doesn’t allow them to step outside. This is the worst kind of torture that anyone can inflict on moms (worse than “are-we-there-yet” questions on a long road trip). Perhaps this is a conspiracy by the U.S. Government and a way of eventually using American torture techniques to break an entire breed of affluent Indian moms. All I can say is that we fell for it!

I often wondered why my mom would recite her Hanuman Chalisa so animatedly, diving in obeisance over and over again, like she was evoking mercy from someone, nearing the end of our summer holidays. Now I know that she was invoking the Rain Gods so that it would mean that my two siblings and I would soon be off her hands, and her mind, from 8 am to 3:30 pm.

As I venture into the first week of BabyA’s IB school-timed vacations, I find myself doing a Lagaan-style dance, but this time not pleading “kaale megha, kaale megha, paani toh barsao!” (Dark clouds, bring down the rain showers!) It’s my version of a summer dance, my very own Surya Malhar, which begs the Sun God to ascend upon us soon, and clear away the clouds over Bombay city, and over my personal life! I pray, every day, “May the Sun again reinstate my child into school so I may never have to hear ‘Mom, I’m so booooooored’ ever again” (or at least for a year).

Could that be a ray of sunlight that I see at the end of this slushy, mushy rainbow? Oh no! Can’t be! After all, the independence of this country and us, IB mums, is still a month and a half away:

Around the 15th of August, at the stroke of the 8th morning hour, when the world sleeps, IB moms will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes which comes but rarely in history… when the soul of a mother, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to entertaining our kids, just until August, when we shall finally send  them off to school, and attain our freedom!

Nehru couldn’t have said it better!


*IB- International Baccalaureate