All posts by admin

Creating Bad Boys and Good Girls!

I didn’t realise that I was doing something even remotely controversial when I got BabyA’s hair cut in the same style as mine: a Rihanna-esque fashionable bob. When she got the cut, I felt happy because I thought she looked neat, chic and it would be easy to manage at school.

You hear of all the horror stories about lice breakouts with girls in schools and so I thought a trendy, low maintenance haircut at 3 was a better choice than growing her hair long. Also I’ve never been a huge fan of the matching mommy-baby outfits so I figured this was another variant that suited me better: matching haircuts.

Some people have been very appreciative of her haircut, strangers even stopping me at play areas to ask where she got it. The part that infuriates me is what more commonly occurs: BabyA being repeatedly told she needs to grow her hair. From the maid to her friends’ mums to family, people keep telling her she’ll be “pretty” if she has long hair, so she mustn’t let her mother cut her hair short. Till they said it, she didn’t realize that her hair was such an integral part of who she was. Silly BabyA thought you just cut hair when it grows long, much like nails!

What really bothers me is the importance society puts on girls being pretty. At 3, she already knows that she wants to grow up to be a princess (pretty, taken care of by daddy, then by her prince). Hair is a very crucial part of this image. We try to make some funky hairstyles for her but she refuses; “I want a princess hairstyle Mamma”, and since I don’t want her to undo my 15 minutes of work, I desperately (feminist mums get desperate too) search for Disney princesses with short hair, and I can’t find anyone but Snow White (who doesn’t impress her much).

This idea of lambé, ghané baal isn’t only Western in nature, but deeply ingrained into our Indian psyche too, with all the Goddesses and Rajkumaris having long hair. Short hair makes you less attractive, butch and androgynous!

It really bothers me that she is told, explicitly as well as subtly, that she needs to adhere to a particular stereotype of femininity in order to be received positively in society. Thank God she (as yet) remains untouched from the fairness fervour, being a gorgeous Marwari girl with lovely tan skin. Don’t know how long that will last!

Why do we load our kids with so much gender-biased baggage? Boys are victims too. I have seen how much pressure is put on a little boy to prove his manliness! First is the “Boys don’t cry” nonsense that is filled into their innocent heads which eventually makes them bottled up grown men who find it hard to express, emote and love openly. We also tell them that they must continuously prove that their little boyish hearts only want to play sports; that dolls must strictly be used for inflicting violence (as sisters cry while brothers behead Barbies); that they MUST love guns as if boys are inherently violent and unkind, wanting to break things and hurt people.

“What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails…
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice”

The ‘Bad Boy’ Persona weighs as heavily on our sons as the ‘Good Girl’ syndrome inflicts our daughters. Why are bad boys so exciting to girls while good girls are what every boy should aspire to taking home to Mamma? Is anyone really able to fill these restrictive, one-dimensional roles to begin with? We aren’t TV serial goddesses like Parvati from Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki or Voluptous Vixen Komalika from Kasautii Zindagii Kay – aren’t we all just a little bit of everything?

What if our little boy loves painting, isn’t aggressive, doesn’t tear apart people’s houses when he visits, or likes to whip up all kinds of wonderful for his parents every Sunday morning? When he cries at the drop of a hat (much like all the kids his age), we tell him he can’t as that’s not manly. Why would these beautiful “feminine” traits like being able to emote easily, love openly and share (advice, their hearts?) generously be constantly devalued by society as nonsensical fluff? Why do we call people who don’t cry brave? Doesn’t it take a more secure human to be able to show emotion and be vulnerable?

Why must our girls be pretty rather than intelligent? How long does pretty last anyway? Why can’t we appreciate a little boy with the intelligence that comes from silent observation and from still-focus? Why do we plague them with words like ‘pansy’ and ‘faggot’?

What do we fear so much when we fear an intelligent girl or a creative boy? What’s the ‘worst case scenario’? That the child will grow up to be homosexual? Barring the fact that this notion makes no sense because we witness enough “manly” gay men and vain lesbians, pondering over this subject made me realize that even if my own daughter turned out to be gay, how would it matter? Would I love her less? No. I’d love her just the same, and accept her choices. It would be a paradigm shift in my mind, but there are many paradigm shifts that take place as you grow older, and that’s never a bad thing.

The worst case scenario would be that your child would live his life feeling suffocated; feeling that he can’t be his true self because society (and most importantly, you) think that he isn’t good enough. What good is a “manly” boy who is so bottled up that he manifests his emotions through other ways, perhaps even through verbal or physical violence?

On the other hand, why should intelligent girls feel like they have to hide behind the guise of bimbette-behaviour and survive on celery sticks to be liked by boys (and society)? Why can’t children just be themselves- long hair, short hair, creative, fat, sporty or naughty? Your child being honest and secure enough to live her life, making the choices that are true to her soul- how can that ever be the worst case scenario?

Senior Citizens: Good Etiquette, Bad Netiquette.

I check my Facebook newsfeed (that’s where I catch up on my current affairs since I don’t read the newspaper). As I scroll down, I can always spot the updates by my parent’s generation.

Whenever I see a photo that urges us to say “Amen” to a new born baby’s photoshopped picture where his intestines are falling out of his body, I know it has to be my sweet-natured, kind-hearted mommy who has agreed to saying “Amen” in the hope that her words will help relieve this child of his trauma. My mom is completely unaware of the evils of FB: the awful pranksters who make up bizarre pictures to gain likes/shares/amens so that their FB page gets promoted without them having to shell out any moolah to Zuckerberg.

Same thing with the “real pictures” of Sai Baba or the potato that looks just like Ganeshji which will instantly bless you, if you share it. A message to all our moms: these people are messing with your mind (and superstitions). Stop sharing!

Then there’s the selfie-wale uncleji (who literally sings “Chal Beta, selfie le le re” to his beta, not realising that that would be counter-intuitive). You wonder why he puts so many selfies especially since he’s not as vain as the average looking, narcissistic friends you have (who you envy for their confidence) who need to put up 11 pictures every day of their face (same exact location, clothes, smile, tilt of face) because they can’t get over how amazing they look! Selfie-Wale Uncleji is much simpler. He just figured out that his phone camera is a phenomenal object that has a two-way camera, and he’s started dabbling in photography.

Then there are the aunties who make huge faux-pas because they’re still figuring out Facebook, and post your name on their status update, instead of searching for it while trying to snoop around in your account- because their daughter told them you posted pictures of the plunging neckline you wore to a party recently. And now the whole world knows who the real Snoopy is, while aunty doesn’t know how to delete the update.

Although the Facebook stuff is entertaining, the bad netiquette that people are capable of is extremely bothersome. Like on WhatsApp, no matter what family group you get added to, you find that people of a certain age are still very propah’ about certain things: like saying Good Morning to everyone EVERY damn morning. They search out gorgeous pictures of tea cups that emit a melodious, “Good morning” rather than just plain old, tea-steam, or anthropomorphic cuckoos that sing, “Good morning”. Now although this makes for great etiquette (in 1965), it doesn’t make for very good netiquette. I know of Laptop and iPad classes held for senior citizens but what about WhatsApp manners’ classes for them?

I have huge families on all sides and a gazillion WhatsApp groups, so by the time the day is over, my phone is out of memory but I have so many “Good Morning” images saved that I could make a mammoth collage wallpaper for my room, which would greet me every morning, shocking me into having a good one!

Although, in the defense of our elders, I would say that our generation has lost its manners. When our parents greet us with a cheery Good Morning, all we do is grumpily mumble back (“What’s so great about mornings, after all?”)

If my amen-ing mom had to write about my generation (and me), she would mock our pseudo social-consciousness, wherein we don’t ever get up off of our high chairs (still babies when it comes to really bringing about any change) but FB share aplenty: “Sign Against-Rape Petitions on” or Missing Person photos. We’re good about publicizing our social awareness but don’t really follow it up with any action.

Once, on a school WhatsApp group, there was a barrage of messages against a nun’s rape, and one of the girls spent hours coaxing people to turn up for the Peace March, but on the final day, she didn’t turn up and nor did most of the people who were passionately backing it.

I guess we are the ‘Pro-Cause, Against-Activity Generation’ that changes our profile photos’ colours for net-neutrality without knowing what it means: once we’ve shared the Candle Light Vigil event details for XYZ victim, we can rest in peace since that means our responsibility towards the universe is now complete!

No Sick Days Allowed on Mommy Duty!

“Aaaaaah!” I shriek as the Thunder Tower free falls. I feel like I’m falling into abysmal depths of excruciating pain. It feels like I’ve been suspended in air only by the support of my neck, while simultaneously being pulled down by my torso. The ride stops, starts inching upwards and then the horrible fall again, six times over. By the end, I have a sore neck, a concerned toddler peering over at me from the next seat, and a curious audience below that is wondering whether my shrieking was out of excitement from the ride (because it sounded too primal for that).

This took place at the children’s amusement rides’ section of Phoenix Mills, Parel, and since Thunder Tower looked a little daring for my 3.5 year old to go on (although the board said anyone over 3 feet to adult age was allowed), I went on with her. I’ve always been a thrill-seeker, having recently sat in many free-falling, heart-stopping rides in amusement/water parks abroad. I didn’t get physically sick from them. I now have a neck injury (according to my doctor) from this awful experience. Only in India can such rides be allowed, with no care given to minimize impact on little (and big) necks.

I moan and groan, as I get off, and my daughter is very sympathetic, at first. She gives me lots of hugs and kisses, telling me she loves me and that her kisses will make the pain go away. They don’t. Then, after letting me be the center of our universe for precisely 5 minutes, she shifts focus onto herself. She manifests sympathy pains wherein she complains, “Mamma, my tummy is hurting because the thunder ride pulled my tummy up and down!” I know for a fact she’s fine. She just can’t handle that for once, I’m the one who needs care.

I find that this is one of the consequences of being a mother: I come home and turn my head towards my maid, in an odd, robotic fashion. She asks what’s wrong, and when I tell her, she feigns concern. Within 5 minutes, she comes to tell me that she’s been shivering. I want to tell her that it’s pretty cold and that’s a normal physiological reaction, but I give her some sympathy and then walk off, grumbling to myself about how she’s ALWAYS sick.

As I lay down in bed, finally able to rest my aching neck, I tell the husband about my ordeal and I feel like he may have heard me because the side of his mouth makes an attentive twitching sound, although all facial clues tell me his consciousness is deeply implanted in Facebook updates and what the Twitterati has to say. Mera chance kahan? (Where do I stand a chance?) As he leaves his phone aside and curls up in bed, he tells me, “Can you press my head. I’m so tired!” When I’m quiet for a while, he says, “Why aren’t you pressing my head?” and I reply, “Because I’m using all my energy right now to keep my hands from pressing your throat!” He laughs and falls asleep. He’s like Alicia Silverstone- clueless!

It’s amazing how, as a mother, you come last in line. Everyone is allowed to be sick but you! You are the one who must attend to everyone’s needs (even the maids!) – never the other way round. As I try to leave for a birthday party in the afternoon, I have a checklist

BabyA’s afternoon snack – Check
Maid’s chai time-Check

By this time, there’s no time to think about nourishing myself and so I leave hungry and come home with a massive acidity headache from hunger or alternatively, stuffing myself with unhealthy kiddy party food, the digestion of which mimics the symptoms of a heart attack in a 37 year old woman.

I’m gassy, cranky and slightly nauseous. As I walk in to the house, looking odd, no one bats an eyelid. And as I lie down to shut my eyes, Baby A is on me, wailing, “Mamma, you have to sit and hold my hand while Didi feeds me!” and then the maid enters, “Bhabhi, mere ko chakkar aa rahe hain!” (Madam, I feel faint!). I yell, “Nandy, I’m really sick, can you help?”

Enters my hero, knight-in-shining-armour sporting a rolled thepla in his hand (no less assuring than a sword at this point). I’m relieved! Finally I can rest while the baby is fed. He wolfs down the thepla and then he says, “I can’t feed her. I’m so tired! So what’s your sickness of the day?” and then I remember why I hate fairy tales. It’s because they make every girl believe that she’s going to grow up to find a prince who will save her (at least when she’s sick and could do with some saving) but instead you get the evil step-mother in the avatar of your husband, who mocks you for being sick or tired. So I get up, pop in a Crocin and save myself… from the misery of not giving in, and from a subsequently worse headache!

The Business of Busyness: The Bombay Epidemic

The words I most commonly find myself saying is “I’m sorry I haven’t called you back/ met you. I’ve been so busy!” Busy, busy, BUSY: everyone in Bombay is inundated with so much stuff that we’re just too busy.

I don’t work and I have domestic help, as well as a joint family in place to be around my child and yet, I feel like I’ve made a business of my busyness. I haven’t read a book in the last 3.5 years (although I’m a student and lover of literature) and I barely watch any TV any longer (although I would be a student of TV studies if someone would start that course). My daughter goes to school for 4 hours 5 times a week and yet, I have no time!

My husband asks, “What are you so busy doing?” The question offends me (also because he thinks that he’s the only one who has the right to be tired or busy) but I can’t answer it. I have no idea what I do! I don’t really have very much home responsibility, but yes, I am around my child most of the time and we play a lot. She also likes me to be singularly focused on her when I’m with her, but I remember being just as busy when I didn’t have a child and wasn’t working!

I talk to other friends and find that I don’t need to be quarantined. It’s an epidemic because the business of busyness is infectious in Bombay. I know friends that moved from Kolkata or Delhi who complain that Bombay people are ‘cold’, ‘self-consumed’ and ‘unhelpful’. The Kolkatan said that it’s impossible to get people to meet you for coffee because they’re always busy. Another complain she had was that in Kolkata, everyone loves inviting friends home. In Bombay, no one does that. People are happier meeting you outside.

I try to defend my city people saying that that’s because we live pigeon-holed existences and so we don’t have the space to entertain. I also put forth the fact that we waste so much time in traveling to places that we become very selfish of what time is left, but I know that she is right. My reasons are correct as well, but the real reason I rarely invite people home is because I can’t control how long they will stay. If I meet them outside, I can scoot when I wish but at home, I can’t shove them out (or even politely nudge them out).

I’m the same way with the phone: when my phone starts ringing, my first reaction is complete panic. I want to fling it across the room and run out screaming, putting as much distance between it and me so I don’t have to take the call. Simultaneously, I will happily WhatsApp people for hours on end, having conversations that could have been completed, by the use of a phone call, in a minute. The reason is the same: in a phone call, I find it rude to hang up so I can’t control how long the conversation lasts but on WhatsApp, I can reply at my own convenience.

It’s simpler to pretend to be busy on message because there are no environmental clues like where you really are or what you’re doing: it’s easy to seem like I’m being mauled by my impatient cub to put the phone down when I’m actually at the gym (loud music blaring in the background), while having this conversation through texting. It’s more convincing to say, “Hey I better attend to this urgent toddler meltdown” rather than saying “Hey, I better attend to this urgent undoing of my shoe-lace while doing cardio (because I’m actually so over this conversation!)” WhatsApp is just a safer option in terms of cutting a conversation without hurting anyone’s feelings while returning to your busy life. My WhatsApp status is quite direct, “Hate phone calls, love texting! Don’t call me!”

When I visit my sister in Pune, my Jiyaji comes home early to be with me; he takes us out and shows us a great time. On the other hand, when my sister visits Bombay, my husband can barely find the time to meet her for dinner. We may just be sitting home on that night, but he’s resistant to step out on a weeknight. My bhabhi, who moved from Delhi, told me that she finds Bombay people very cold. I can understand her point completely but I wonder what makes us this way.

I think just the way Indians are viewed as ill-mannered and aggressive, because we constantly need to push to get ahead in line, something to do with the environ that we live in  makes Bombayites also insecure.

Indians have to compete in life with millions for a handful resources, right from the time we are in our mothers’ wombs; stressing about whether we will get a room in the best maternity hospital to getting an admission into school, college, (list goes on). Life is a race and this gets embedded into our psyche. In Bombay, this ‘Indian’ situation is magnified; with such a disciplined, competitive working culture, long working hours and very less space to live in, breathe in, travel in (whether you’re trying to find a seat on the local or trying to wiggle into the left lane to get one car ahead at the traffic jam), we find that we are fighting to gain some amount of control in our lives and personal space.

Our home becomes our sanctuary and we find that that is the only place where we exercise some control. This is why we are fiercely possessive of it,  not allowing anyone to enter for fear that their visit may reduce our sense of control here.

After all the time we spend commuting, working and fighting for space, we become selfish about what time we have left. We get into a mentality of constantly conserving: from space (I know of a top Bombay architect who was called to Delhi to design a country club and was sent back, as he couldn’t get out of his ‘saving space’ mentality while designing over sprawling acres) to time.

Even in our free time, we need to schedule everything. My husband’s sunday schedule goes something like this:

5:45 am Wake up and go for a long run (only possible on Sundays). 8:00 am Reach home, read the newspaper, chat with the family for a bit. 10:00 am Departure, with toddler and wife in tow, for a swim and breakfast at the club. 1:00 pm Eat lunch. 2:30 pm Take a nap. 5:00 pm Wake up and go out for a couple of hours (without toddler because father-baby time is over). 8:30 pm Dinner. 9:30 pm Off to bed

We (Bombayites) are constantly running: running to work, running to get home, running to take a nap and relax! The ironies don’t escape me when Nandy, despite this Sunday routine, doesn’t wear a watch on this one day because he says it’s too heavy on his hand. I suspect, time weighs too heavily on his mind rather than the certified lightweight watch I have bought him.

Time is the noose that hangs from every Bombayites neck; working, mothering or not! We try, every Sunday, to break loose but we can’t. Even when there’s no noose, we can’t help  but stumble around; still enslaved in our minds to our routine. We have truly made a business of our busyness. So when you call me and I don’t call back, remember the standard reply: “I’m sorry! I’ve just been so busy!”, and before you get annoyed, remember that I’m not lying. I suffer from the disease of busyness (a mental condition where you always feel extremely busy, irrespective of whether you are actually doing anything).

Dinner Table Dynamics: Dining with Specimen!

I’ve started to realize that you can tell a lot about a person from the way they dine out. What I mean by this is that an interesting aspect of one’s personality emerges as they sit around, being posh at restaurants.

While we dined with some friends at a fancy place, I sat back and noticed the dinner table dynamics. When you go out, there are some typical personality types that manifest. One of my favourites is the guy who claims to be a regular at the place: once, we went out with a guy who kept referring to the waiter by his first name (forget the fact that it was embroidered onto his shirt) with such a tone of familiarity; like he had developed a close bond with him over the times that he had served him Bourdeaux and Bouillabaisse. He kept telling him, “Make me my regular!” when asked about what beverage he would like. The poor waiter looked genuinely puzzled, really unsure of who the man was, and more so of what his regular would be!

Then there are the serial-shouters. These often occur in couples, and they find a constant reason to be annoyed with the waiter. They believe him to be their servant-of-the-moment and are enraged when he humanly errs by dropping a spoon onto the table, as if the clattering of the cutlery had shaken up their soul. I imagine they may be a little nicer to their servants at home, since they have to retain them, thus, they come to restaurants to unleash all their frustrations on this poor soul.

Then there’s the crass, nouveau-riche guy who thinks his obnoxiousness is humorous, who screams for the waiter standing across the restaurant, calling out, “Eh Laal Shirt, idhar aa!” (Hey Red Shirt, come here!) and then looks at his friends, expecting them to collapse into laughter. FYI, I have never hung out with this guy but have seen people like this on neighboring tables.

All these characters need their ego to be fed by the waiter much more than their tummies. They carry their egos as their plus ones (which occupy more than just one seat) and embarrass everyone else, who are secure enough to feel good about themselves without pulling someone else down.

Then come the money dynamics. These play out very interestingly on a table. There are the people who will order very generous individual portions for themselves, while insisting that the rest of the group has ordered too much and should reduce their order. Or the ones who will drink the best single malt (when they otherwise only have a taste for Teachers) just because the bill will be divided between everyone.

I shouldn’t forget to mention the people who will sulk about having to pay for your glass of wine after ordering a John Dory for themselves (a fish with such a fancy, formal name is destined to be pricey) which costs Rs. 3000 at that particular restaurant, while you chew on your steamed asparagus. And (credit to a friend who shared this story with me) the ones who will make their kids chug down glasses of chocolate milkshake (“Magar mujhe aur nahin peena hai, mummy! Ulti ho jayegi!”  “But I don’t want to have more, Mom. I will throw up!”) just because people are splitting the bill.

Talking about the bill: when it comes, that’s the time everyone starts squirming. Some people have an urgent call by nature to answer at the precise moment when the waiter heads towards their table with the leather folder in hand.

Then there’s the enthusiastic friend who takes out his credit card and gives it to the waiter first (and all the newbies’ heave sighs of relief thinking he’s sponsoring dinner) only to then calculate the bill and tell you an amount including a generous tip that you later find out he never paid to the waiter.

There are those friends who will split everything down to the last morsel, wanting to even calculate how many pieces of paneer you ate in the Paneer Makhani as opposed to them, but you have got to love the guys who don’t even want to carry their own weight in life (forget yours): those people who haven’t carried money, so they promise they will pay you later (and you could fill a bag with their IOU notes starting from 1992).

There’s a lot of fun to be had when you go out with friends for dinner, and there’s a lot of madness to be experienced as well. That’s why Nandy and I hang out with like-minded people where the dinner table dynamics don’t get so uncomfortable, and no one’s counting how many Pinot Noirs we have downed as opposed to their Kingfishers (or vice versa). But every once in a while, you have to meet some crazy bunch for dinner, and then the fun begins. And the best thing to do at that point, is to sit back and just watch the comedy unfold.

Sibling Revelry: Celebrating my Sister’s 40th

Sisters are wonderful. On my sister’s 40th birthday, I’m pushed to remember all our memories and how she has always been my pillar of strength, the person I call after my mom (and sometimes before) as I sob or bitch about whatever is going on in my life.

My siblings are the reason I have a lot of guilt over not producing a brother/ sister for my child, because (as cliché as this might sound) they are my (mental) insurance for the future; the ones that will always be there for me, no matter who else comes or goes.

Brothers are equally amazing but sometimes, patriarchy forces boys to be “men” which would mean to refrain from any overt expression of feelings, but I know my brother is always there for me.

Sisters are wonderful because patriarchy messes with our mind a lot too, but it doesn’t inhibit our ability to express. My sister doesn’t inundate me with unbridled PDA when she meets me, but we spend hours on end, just talking. She truly is my best friend, because no matter whether I’m fighting with a BFF or the ‘Pati’, she’s always there to sympathize or set me straight.

She’s the party starter of the family; the one who gets my mom and me (both of whose first reaction is to say “No, this is not possible to do”) to take holidays at the peak of life’s madness, and she’s usually right- most often, it’s a good idea.

She’s my shopping partner: I relate completely with the opening scene of the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic” since we too grew up with a practical mom who always got us the sensible shoes that lasted forever rather than the pretty, furry ones that lasted as long as their trendiness: that’s the reason we turned into mad shopaholics.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t stand my sis. She was always a really nice elder sister, but I was a nasty little one (growing up with a massive “nobody-loves-me” middle child complex). I didn’t let her listen to my music casettes in the car, eat my pizza or use anything of mine. Thus, as a reaction, I wasn’t allowed to use her stuff either. The only unfair part about this fair deal was that God made her way smarter than me, so whenever I sneakily used her make-up remover after a night out, she would wake up in the morning and realize I had, based on the tiny drop of oil that hadn’t settled at the bottom and was still wandering on the watery top half (all the girls know what I’m talking about).

She knew when I had listened to her music in the car, even though I had rewound it to the song that it was on before I started listening because she knew which word she had left it at. Yes! For real! That’s why I detested her: she was our in-house CID. I didn’t cry a single tear when she got married in Pune because she knew everything about my life (none of it revealed by me) from my friends and boyfriends’ car numbers (and spotted us in a flash if we were within a 5 km radius of her at any point) to their phone numbers (unluckily, caller ID had just been introduced in landlines at that time) flashing on the phone at 12 am. Even today, I pity her children because they asked for a mom and they got Nancy Drew!

Luckily, I no longer have anything to hide from her. She knows everything and holds my hand through it all. When I was going through my fertility treatment, she would call me all the time to make sure I was doing ok. She even offered to have a child and give it to me! I don’t know if I could have offered her the same if the situations had been switched, but she did. In retrospect, I should have taken up the offer because my Jija and her gene pool seems to be a lot calmer than Nandy and mine. If I had had a calm first child, who wasn’t bouncing off of the walls all the time, I may have been more inclined to have a second.

She’s the one I turn to when I need to complain about my dad’s impulsiveness (she’s the same way though) or my mom’s over-practicality (I’m the same!) She’s the one who remembers our family’s special occasions and makes a big fuss over things! She’s the one who knows how to pamper me, leaving everything when I go to Pune and making me have a blast!

I know in some cases, siblings can become the necessary evil of your life: people you would never befriend ordinarily but you can’t unfriend because they’re your family. That’s not my story. I couldn’t imagine life without my siblings!

Despite all the sibling quibbling over the TV remote or (perceived) preferential treatment by our folks, or rajai-pulling yudhs as the three of us slept on a massive old style bed, my siblings are my past, my present … and most importantly, my future: my sureshot (can’t count on the kids these days) budhape ka sahara. So it’s reassuring to know that when I kick the bucket, there will definitely be two people by my side, tottering around, trying to hold that bucket from tipping over.


PDA- Public Display of Affection
Pati- husband
Jija- sister’s husband
Rajai- Jaipuri quilted blankets
Yudh- War
Budhape ka sahara- Crutch for one’s old age.

Run for Freedom:Escaping Grahasthashrama

I remember we had waited a long time before we were finally blessed with a child:9 years of marriage, and 14 year of being together in total. We had lived in the US, France, Chennai and Kolkata for long (and short) periods during this time, and had spent lots of time being a “couple”.

I’ve always been Nandy-obsessed and although Nandy resented how demanding I was of his time (every breathing moment outside of his work), after some time he grew accustomed to it and started secretly loving how much I was in love with him. We have never done Boys’ nights or Girls’ nights out, because there was no extra fun to be had without each other. In all the years of being married, I have never spent a Sunday away from Nandy (except the one time I was in Goa for a family wedding and there was a torrential downpour, so due to all flights being cancelled, I could not physically find a way back to my love).

Then came BabyA and our lives blew over (she’s been the most thrilling but crazy tornado). Gone were the hours of laying in bed, talking about everything and nothing; gone were the times of fighting over how we had to (always!) watch something on TV that interested both of us, so we wouldn’t land up spending any screen time away from each other. Now I was on baby-duty.

I have to admit, from the time that BabyA popped out, I have missed Nandy a lot. Most moments that I was with her when Nandy was home, I wished I could be spending with him instead. There- I’ve said it! I know everyone tells you that it’s the boys who can’t deal with the baby coming into their lives but as for the women, motherhood is an eternal spring of contentment that you gladly drink from; it’s not always true. This is my story.

As I sang lullabies to BabyA, I wished I was caressing Nandy’s forehead to make him sleep (my first baby!) With BabyA’s energy (and Nandy’s lack of), he was always snoring before A; not that I’d have had the strength to pat his back after 2 hours of singing and patting her to sleep: my voice was too hoarse for any conversation and Nandy had anyway been asleep since an hour and a half, at most times.

I missed having all that luxury of time to expend on my hubby, spending languorous evenings watching him swim while I sipped on fresh lime sodas at the club. That was no longer possible because I was a mom!

Ancient Hindu texts talk about the importance of ashramas or stages in our lives being Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciation). Yesterday, as I ate dinner alone watching Nandy watch Kungfu Hustle (for the hundredth time) seated on the couch in front of me, I felt the disconnect again, and it pained me.

I couldn’t have dinner with the family because it’s BabyA’s sleeping time when everyone sits to eat. At night, I wondered how my mom brought 3 kids up, and I came to the conclusion that the only one to to be blamed for my problems is Jon Bon Jovi. In 2000, as his voice screamed out from the speakers, it entered my veins and became a part of my psyche: “It’s my life… Now or never. I ain’t going to live forever!” I had lived my life living MY LIFE! I was part of a generation that didn’t know how to ‘adjust’ (now there’s a favourite Indian word) other people into my wants, and had lived as I pleased, only making place for Nandy to come in and fit (since we met when I was 17, that wasn’t so hard).

Now that I reflect on the 4 Ashramas, they seem to be in sync with one’s own evolving psychology in adjustment to one’s circumstances. The first stage of being a student is one where a person can focus on himself, get an education and widen his horizons (still growing out of childhood which is very self-driven). Then Grahasthashrama is all about making a family and dedicating yourself to its needs. Vanaprasthashrama is when people start stepping back from family responsibilities and taking a backseat, while Sanyasa means giving up attachment to things in life while readying yourself for death.

As I pondered, this made complete sense and yet, it was the opposite of what I was following. I was stuck in the Brahmacharyashrama since I wanted to be an eternal student and focus on my needs. I had only been able to add Nandy into my life, as part of the Grahastha, but was finding it hard to succumb to all my family responsibilities. So many people in my generation don’t want a second one (like me), and there is a growing number of people who don’t want kids at all. When asked why, the answer usually is that it’s too much of a commitment, it’s cramping our social lives so Semi-Brahmacharyism suits us just fine.

These days, accepting our spouse is a big enough feat, with most marriages making new rules to make things work, like girls’/boys’ nights out providing couples with the temporary space of spinsterhood. So, if only I could get into the same mindset as my parents where I could allow myself to evolve from one ashrama to the other, it maybe easier to accept the natural changes of life. After all, once I turn 70, I won’t look so cute boogeying it up to the Black Eyed Peas in a short, fitting bandage dress. In concept, we love the idea of that (18 till I die!), yet I see everyone hating on the old uncles donning cravats at the club bars who keep catching the young ‘uns for a twirl as they hop n bop, insisting along with Justin Timberlake that they’re bringing sexy back!

The Maid Brigade: from Nauvari Sari to Mod-Maid

I remember growing up with my dear maid Vinita. She was a Maharashtrian lady who wore her nauvari* sari and her bad-ass attitude with great aplomb. Like most Maharashtrian matriarchs from that socio-economic status, she had seen a lot and had a hard exterior (along with a voice that could whip you, if she wished) but was a softy. She chewed way too much pan (had rotten teeth) and took care of us: the Brady bunch. Ok- so not really, because we were three but it seems like a whole bunch with my modern sensibility.

After her came another one: Prema Bai, who was a clone of her. She was such a bad-ass that she could fire my mom up sometimes, leaving her feeling like an errant child. These women looked like they were fresh off the boat, but in reality, they were worldly wise enough to tackle any Mumbai Tapori* and set him straight. The three of us were good kids (nothing tapori-ish about us) but we were set straight in a momentary change of tone. Nothing else needed.

Hats off to my mom and her maid-of-the-moment: they handled three all by themselves. Nowadays, the rule in a lot of homes is very clear: want another grand-kid? Supply me with a maid per kid and I’ll make things happen. I have only one child, but a big part of the reason is that I can barely handle one maid, I can’t imagine managing two! And since my Marwari help-dependent blood calls out for staff, I can’t manage with less than one servant per house member- so a new baby MUST have a new maid.

The search for a maid is always interesting (and blood curdlingly stressful). The moment I found out I was pregnant, I asked my mother in law to have a swayamvar of the Bikaneri Japa bais so we could fix on one (even before I registered at the very busy Breach Candy Hospital). I soon found out that that’s not the way things worked. It was more like each Japa maid wanted to have a swayamvar (verbal, at least) where she would check me (and the other potential pregger clients) out and decide.

I remember, during the bun-still-in-my-oven days, as I forcibly (doctors orders) walked in the park, I would see a group of Nepalese girls. I saw them everyday: fit, dressed in Bebe tops and skinny jeans, Melissa (knock off?) flip flops gracing their feet. I naturally assumed that these were college students who had decided to come for a walk, until one day, they stopped to pick up a gaggle of Indian kids from the playground in the center of the park. That’s when it hit me that they were those kids’ maids.

After I popped BabyA out, my mother-in-law insisted that we had to have a lady who wore a sari (even salwar kameezes aren’t considered appropriate in the eyes of a discerning Marwari family-head). This was extremely hard to find because all the Nepalese nannies are wearing western clothes these days, sometimes even jumpsuits (often leaving people at parties wondering if the mum is the maid and the maid the mum; thankfully, racial features clearing up the mix-up) and the Maharashtrian 20-year old brigade dons kurtis with tights to distinguish themselves from their “oh-so-traditional” grannies in their (grand, I think) nauvaris. I realised soon enough that I would need to enlist someone from the Bengali biradri, who are among the few left not ashamed to be seen in a sari.

After much looking, I found someone that fit the bill. As BabyA gained age, she also gained an enviable social life, where she, my maid and I became the new “trois mousquetaires”. As we visited birthday parties, I soon realized that people were willing to pay their babies’ maids anything (the sky was the limit) and the latest trend was to have a nurse and a maid per child. Obviously my Marwari household was lagging far behind in our servant: family member ratio.

I’m not sure I would have known how to create work for 2 people (even though BabyA can create enough mess for 5) but I wasn’t presented with any such joyful confusion: there was no way my husband or mom-in-law would have indulged me by gifting me a nurse and a maid: “Oh well! I’ll have to play with this baby myself!”

So as I ventured out one evening, with BabyA and Didi-Me (because she was a mini-me in Didi* form) in tow, we stopped at the horsey-garden to let BabyA take a few rounds on her favourite Dhanno. That’s when I encountered a new form of help that I had never seen: a Nepalese lady with the demeanor of a maid, dressed in an ill-fitting nurse’s uniform (pants way too short). Now I’m not trying to say that Nepalese women can’t be nurses (I’m sure there are thousands of them in Nepal) but you don’t usually encounter them here: more often seeing the Kerala Christian nurses or the Maharashtrian ones in Mumbai. But the biggest giveaway was that the poor lady looked so awkward in her outfit, minus the air of confidence that comes with years of nursing school to fill out her outfit.

My maid saw the nurse and went up to her, “Sarita, tu yahan kaise? Aur yeh sister ka kapda kyon pehni hai?” (“Sarita, how come you’re here? And why are you in a nurse’s uniform?”) The poor women squirmed, while darting a quick look from side to side to gauge where her ‘Madam’ was. “Arre, Bhabhi ne yeh uniform zabardasti pehenaya hai!” (“Madam has forcefully made me wear this uniform?”)

Sigh! South Bombay can get pretty competitive, especially, when you’re trying to keep up with the Malhotras (now that’s a rich surname from every KJo movie). From 1 maid= 3 children, we have come to the times of at least 1 maid + 1 nurse = 1 child. To each his own: I guess whatever keeps you sane enough to continue your gene pool. The only mommy I can’t get over is Ms. Madam-Bhabhi, whose disguising her maid to look like a nurse, so she in turn, looks fancy enough. What can I say? These situations are completely tailor-‘maid’ in India!
*nauvari saree- a saree worn by Maharashtrian women made of nine yards of cloth.
Tapori- a Mumbai outlaw
Didi- means sister, but also used by children for their nannies.

An Offended Nation: From Bachpan to Beefdom

As I look at that gorgeous baroque structure and I walk through those arches, it all comes back to me. I haven’t walked through these long corridors since twenty years, but everything seems familiar. My school jungle gym remains exactly where it was- garishly wonderful in its bright primary colours. The slide remains intact and I touch the scar on my chin, remembering when I had descended wrongly and managed to hurt my chin.

This was before the time when everything was child-proof. We didn’t have seat belts (forget car seats) and playgrounds had metal equipment that lasted eons. When you hit the ground, you hit the ground: gravel et al; no fluffy, cloud-like foam floors to protect you. It was refreshing to see that my school was the same. The kids were learning that they had to rely on their intuition and experience to know how far they could stretch their gravity-defying antics on play equipment before they got injured.

I remember the day my chin had split open: I was given some ice and First Aid and mom was called. She took me to the doctor. No lengthy investigation called for in my school, and no fury unleashed onto “negligent teachers” and “indifferent principals”. Even if my mom had been a crazy mom (and there were some), the school wouldn’t have entertained her nonsense. Sister Doreen would have just turned her nose up, a glint of disgust reflected in her glassy eyes, and told my mom that neither she nor her teachers had the time to entertain such an interrogation.

Maybe being overly approachable is a problem with our schools today. Children play. Sometimes they fall. They get hurt, even get scars. But the scars heal. Pain builds character. Why deprive them of that experience?

I walk into our classes. Our old desks are still marked with signatures scratched onto the wooden surface, hoping to make our school days and our childhood immortal, etched into the space we worked on. Those school days were wonderful! Not a care in the world: our biggest worry being whether mamma would send bhindi* again today in our lunch dabba* or whether Mrs. A would make us enunciate “v” (bite your lip) and “w” (round your lips) for hours- and if it wasn’t rendered perfectly, we would get an ear-shattering shouting which was equivalent to a slap on the face.

My school wasn’t washed with Lysol from top to bottom, we survived the summers in fanned classrooms (and non-fanned playgrounds in the afternoon). Mrs.A was our singing teacher who turned up in a kameez* sometimes having forgotten the salwar*, and we all hated her. I told my mom often about how much I disliked her, but she didn’t intervene and ask for me to removed from her class because Mrs.A was mean. As long as no one was physically beating us, our parents let us learn how to deal with reality: everyone wasn’t the same and everyone wasn’t going to think that the sun rose every morning from our behinds. Some teachers probably secretly wished they could plaster a black and blue mark every morning on my behind but didn’t because then my mom would have been knocking down the principal’s door.

It may have hurt my mom to see me sad- that a friend or teacher didn’t like me, but she let me learn that lesson: the lesson that I wasn’t God’s gift to mankind (which anyone growing up in a loving joint family may have been led to believe). And when that happened, she didn’t feel like she needed to remove me from that unpleasant situation, by airlifting me out of my momentary sorrow into her comforting arms.

Recently, I heard of a case where a mom asked her kid’s school to excuse her daughter permanently from attending a PE class where the child felt the teacher was partial and thought she was being picked on. It wasn’t a grave situation; just one of those all of us experience while growing up, but the school did it. I understand this happening if the child is being mentally or physically abused/ tortured, in which case the teacher needs to leave, but excusing a student from a class because they don’t feel liked by their teacher feels a bit extreme.

There are more than enough moms who get involved in their kid’s petty fights: I remember even when I was a kid, a friend’s mom would stop talking to my mom every time we had a fight. My brother had an ‘Aunty’ who would actually call him up and try to solve any scrap that he had with her son. Ok- so the crazies have always been around but the difference is that with new schools cropping up, they are willing to perform backflips to please the parents. Their Open Door policy may comfort us at first, but it’s also rattling! To know that every paranoid mother (with our ‘Hum Do Humara Ek‘* brigade) can go and demand whatever she thinks best for her-and YOUR kid!

Recently, my friend told me about a Jain mother in their school who demanded that on days when vada-pav is given to the kids, it should be switched to kela vada for all the kids. She had already been allowed to send her own tiffin on days when a Jain* option was not going to be provided by the school. Her rationale was that her child will be tempted while seeing other kids eat. It’s a valid point since kids want to do what their peers are doing, but this is the problem with India today! Just because I’m Marwari, vegetarian and a majority in Mumbai, should I want that everyone else should live like me?

We are so easily offended: by meat-eaters, by metal playgrounds, by immature toddlers who hit, by jokes, by opinions, by anyone that represents ‘the other’. We want to bring our children up in a safe environment- protected from any dangers, ‘the other’ representing the greatest danger!

So let’s all wait around while our schools and our government accommodate the majority’s opinion (hyper moms are the majority nowadays), and then we can live in our manicured gardens (balconies for Mumbai), with our saffron-washed walls, consuming milky chai and cucumber-chutney sandwiches (because a chicken junglee sandwich is just that- so junglee*) in the promise that “Achche Din Aanewale hain“.*
*Bhindi- Okra
Dabba- Lunch box
Salwar Kameez- an Indian outfit, where the kameez is the top and the salwar is a loose pyjama below.
Jain- People who follow Jainism, and do not consume any vegetables that grow underground.
“Hum Do Humara Ek”-“We Two Have One (Kid)”
Junglee- Primitive, Animal-like.
“Achche Din Aanewale Hain”- “Good days will be here soon!”

Baby Season: Priviliged Winter Babies

As soon as October rolls in, it seems like BabyA’s calendar gets packed up with so many birthday parties that she becomes a Goa hippie, party hopping from one shindig to another. And by any chance, if BabyA’s working Bhua attempts to see her on a Saturday (otherwise known as Bhua-Bhatiji day in my house) between October and March, the only way she can get a time slot is if she begs me to beg the host to let her accompany BabyA to a party. 

I’ve always wondered what it is with people having babies during this period. Even when I was registering at Breach Candy Hospital to deliver, everyone kept talking about the fact that I was lucky mine was an off-season (April) baby, so I would be able to secure one of those coveted sea-facing, SINGLE occupancy rooms. 

So how did these moms manage to create a baby season? And why did they choose October to March? Yes: the weather is great for birthday parties as well as, it’s a good time to be “very” pregnant but people like me find it hard to understand how so many women are able to set their body alarms so efficiently that they start family planning in February, and *RINGRING* out pops the baby in October. For fertility-challenged women like me, this is a mystery. 

Or maybe it’s all about New Year’s and people trying to sync everything with the start of a new year: “I’ll give up all fattening food on 1st January”  or “I’ll give up alcohol for a year on 1st January” or “I’ll give up condom usage on 1st January”. Maybe family planning is tied to that idea of “one last time”. Our YOLO* generation likes to make shopping lists, bucket lists and “one last time before I have a baby” lists… because today, with our short attention spans and our hectic lives, having a baby is equivalent to a social death. That’s why people plan ‘babymoons’: a holiday timed in your second (and best) trimester because the assumption is that after the baby comes, travel will be less frequent and much less fun!

Since we only live once, we might as well live it up during our last pre-pregnant Diwali, followed by Christmas and New Year’s parties, at this point, always merged with one amazing holiday where we shall drink till we puke in the river at Darling Harbour, Sydney. Then, as the aircraft doors open and the Bombay humidity hits us, so does reality. We realize that now we have no more excuses, and the responsibility towards the family of producing more dysfunctional products to complete the unit has dawned upon us. Out go the birth control pills, and soon enough, there’s a bun in the oven, ready to come out in the lovely winter months of Bombay. And I guess if you factor the ones who take a little time to conceive too, even they are ready with a filled up oven by May/June.

This planning has fabulous results: because you must suffer through one boring Holiday Time (December) and then reap the benefits of lovely parties held outdoors! 

Everyone knows what an outdoor party means to pigeon-holed Bombay children who are used to calling a patch of astro-turf in their buildings a garden. I remember taking BabyA to a party in one of those complex buildings in Parel, and as we entered the huge garden, she screamed an excited, deafening  scream. It was my realization that she had never seen so much empty space before. And then she ran, like an unbridled horse! That’s the day I understood why people times their baby’s births: because at least on their birthday, they want their kids to be able to run like the wind, and taste a spoonful of freedom! In Bombay, even if that means only for a moment, in the great outdoors.

*YOLO- “You only live once”