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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”

New Age Diwali: Holy Days to Holidays

Diwali is at our threshold and I’m not sure that any of us even realize! It’s not like it was when we were kids: Loud, smoky, glittering and fabulous- spotted a month before, coming round the corner.

Diwali would seep into every sense of yours. The sounds of Diwali- hearing the explosive firecrackers, the laughter of people screaming and fighting while playing cards during unending card parties, the aartis* sung as soon as the final countdown towards D-day would begin, with the onset of Dhanteras.

You could smell it everywhere: marigolds being strewn into garlands and being sold on the roadside, the fragrance of mithais* and experimental snacks that moms would come up with to outdo each other when people would come visiting on New Year’s Day, the lung-throttling smells of anars* showering sparks all around glorious Marine Drive; and all that dust flying, as you sneezed incessantly, while you helped your mom with Diwali cleaning.

Diwali was tangible: not just a concept like a lot of holidays in other religions are. You could feel it in the smooth powders that streamed down from your fingers as you designed a different rangoli* for each day; you felt it in the heat that burnt your fingers as you tried to get the wick’s placement and the ghee’s proportion just right in order to have a long-lasting diya*; or in the manhandling of your chubby cheeks as each relative came and told you, “Mujhe pehenchante ho?” (“Do you recognize me?”) knowing fully well you hadn’t a clue; you touched Diwali in the crispness of your grandma’s new organza sarees that magically didn’t move no matter how much work she did, and in the gathering of food, money and your old possessions which you would hand away to those more needy.

The visuals of Diwali: oh so grand! There was colour everywhere, diyas lit outside houses and gates bedecked with flowers, families (from the poor to the wealthiest) out and about in their fanciest, newest buys- so sparkly you thought you were looking through a kaleidoscope into a jumble of colours that were Diwali!

And last but not the least: the tastes of the festival. The oily splendour of the first bite of the dal ka pakoras* that were your Pali Hillwali Bhuaji’s* Diwali specialty (which you had waited a year to sink your teeth into); the chalky sweetness of the cheap prasad* ka pedas* picked up by the pandit on the way to the Office Pooja; the taste of the ‘kadak* notes’ as you used your spit to aid you in counting all the money ‘gaddis‘* your dad had gotten home to make envelopes for his sisters and you for Bhai Dooj.*

Diwali was fabulous! Lakshmiji* came in, the elephants trumpeting her arrival so loudly that you couldn’t bear to think of anything else. From a month prior, your life was single-mindedly focused on the preparation of its onset.

These days you can’t feel Diwali till it’s actually here, on your doorstep, desperately knocking so that someone answers the door. The holy days seem to have become simply holidays, with parents looking for the best deals to fly abroad once their kids break from school: no flying for family (Diwali reunions with parents and/or in-laws). Dhanteras is spent dispersing of dhan* by buying designer wear at Dubai Mall, and kids are happy having known Diwali through the one token sports club Diwali party they are taken to before they jetset off to an exotic destination.

Schools and parents must be lauded for their efforts at reducing the usage of firecrackers and such pollutants but in our increasing practicality, have we forgotten our own culture? We seem to lay out elaborate Christmas Eve plans with cookies and milk left out for Santa, stuffing the bottoms of our plastic Christmas trees with gifts but have we forgotten to teach the kids about the gifts Lakshmiji brings when she too, silently, comes into our houses every Diwali? Have we forgotten that we need to keep our houses clean and light them up with diyas and flowers, so that as she passes on such a hectic day, blessing each person’s house, she does not miss seeing ours from the sky? After all, we must attempt to make them gradually understand the abstract value of blessings too.

Food porn used to be the dishes that you saw lined up at Diwali parties rather than Instagrammed pics of Thai Sticky Rice with Mango while people holiday. Nowadays there’s more concentration on securing Halloween costumes than buying our tots new clothes for Diwali. I’m not a gazillion years old and against playing along with Western traditions, but I feel like our own traditions must be instilled as well, with more vigour, because they are as resplendent and attractive, if only we expose our children to them.

Diwali isn’t tangible any more: I don’t feel the heat in my Chinese-made electronic diyas, and I can’t privately chuckle at my tone-deaf brother’s voice when I listen to the You-Tubed aartis. My house, after our pooja, is filled with the ringing of mobiles where we call in-town relatives and what’s app friends Happy Diwali messages, rather than indulge in cheerful banter with each other like we used to. In fact, we no longer attempt to visit my Pali Hillwali Bhuaji (“So much traffic in Bombay you know!”), but I hear her dal ka pakoras don’t taste the same anymore, either (“Aaj kal, koi fried nahin khaata. Yeh maine air-fryer main banaye hain.” Nowadays, no one eats fried food. I have made these in the air-fryer)

New Year days are empty, with most of our cousins having flown off (their Marwari families managing to have kept them local at least till Diwali night), and Bhai Dooj even more boring, because plans are postponed to weekends weeks after, to be celebrated at impersonal restaurants.

It’s just us (all the members of my household) trying to figure out how we should celebrate Diwali? The African saying goes, “You need a village to bring up a child”; just the same way, you need a village to celebrate Diwali (and teach your child customs and tradition). Otherwise, it’s just you holding your child’s hand in your sparkly little house, weaving a tale about the importance of Diwali, wondering if Lakshmi even bothers to leave Vishnu’s* side and come on her rounds, to see who bothered to stick around in your ghost town to be blessed by her non-material gifts.

*anars- firecrackers
aartis- prayer songs
Dhanteras-is the first day of the five-day Diwali Festival. It is usually considered auspicious to buy metal on this day.
mithais- Indian sweets
rangoli- a motif made on the floor, outside houses, with colored powders
diya- a small oil-lamp
dal ka pakoras- a fried snack made of lentils
Bhuaji- father’s sister (or grand father’s sister, in this case)
prasad- food that is a religious offering
pedas- Indian sweet
kadak- crisp
gaddi- wad of notes
Bhai Dooj- On this day, sisters pray for a long and happy life for their brothers, by performing the tika ceremony.
Lakshmi- Goddess of Wealth
Vishnu- is a central God in Hinduism and is Lakshmi’s husband.

dhan- wealth

Self(ie)-Obsessed: The Narcissistic Generation

Hiding behind a mop of hair is a twenty year old at the gym who looks like he aspires to be an actor. As he runs, I see his hair swinging from side to side in front of his eyes, pendulum-esque in the way it’s hypnotizing me!

I’m assuming it’s possible to run on a treadmill without having complete periphery vision but when he starts picking up weights, I’m cringing! I resist the urge to take off my tic tac pins and pin his hair back, much like I do when BabyA roams around in her possessed Tantric avatar. He manages to carry the weights bar, do his set and place it back! The only satisfactory explanation would be that he has developed a sixth sense, much like the blind, where he no longer relies on vision to guide him through life.

They call it the “Narcissism  Epidemic” (phrase coined by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell)  in the US, and it’s a generation of kids that are so obsessed with themselves that they are unable to see anything beyond. Calling them horses with blinkers would be a wrong analogy because that would mean that there is some one-dimensional exterior focus, but in this case, there is none. The mop of hair is fashionable, and also metaphorical for the way they lead their lives: unconcerned with a view of the outside because they are focused on their own thoughts, feelings and wants!

This narcissistic generation has been given whatever they want, and haven’t learned how to hear a no. And I feel like our kids are going to be the narcissistic generation of India because we tremble when they crumble. We are so afraid of their tantrums, especially publicly, that we just don’t want to dismay them. It’s a role- reversal from our grandparents’ time where our parents peed in their pants with a raised eyebrow of their mother/father. And now one quivering lip and we are ready to bend over and do somersaults for our tots.

Today’s psychological trend is to over-sensitize us to our kids’ feelings. There was an era (of famines, plagues, World Wars and sickness) when they felt like kids needed to be made aware of the severity of life, thus, they composed nursery rhymes that revealed the harsh realities of the world like Rock a Bye Baby or Ring a Ring o’ Roses. Now we feel like we need to protect our children from these stories and songs, which teach them about death and wars. We believe that they aren’t prepared to deal with these subjects at such a young age.

We are told to be gentle with our children, never speak to them harshly and explain things to them rather than exercise any absolute authority. This comes from a world where psychologically all our scars are blamed onto our childhood and parents. There is very little accountability for our own thoughts and reactions, and much more blame pushing: as if our entire life depends solely on what mistakes our parents made with us.

This puts a lot of stress on today’s parents. We don’t want to be blamed for making our children dysfunctional adults. I appreciate that childhood is very important in the way our minds/ lives are shaped but I wonder if children are really that fragile. I was born a middle child who spent her entire childhood being called “Kalaini” (crank-pot/ pain-in-the-ass) and believing that no one loved me. I had the most contentious relationship with my mother and I got a slap daily (well deserved). Then I turned 19 and left for the U.S. to study and that’s when I realized how much my mother (and everyone else) loved me.

Today, I am a secure adult who feels loved, and confident in my skin. My mom scolding/ slapping me when I deserved it hasn’t debilitated me beyond repair. In fact, I’m someone who has value for things, knows how to adjust into the Big Fat Marwari Joint Family and has compassion for people around me, always ready to help. I don’t, at all, advocate  hitting kids or being a dictator parent but I just want to point out that possibly kids’ minds aren’t as delicate as we think they are.

I make sure not to be overprotective about my child. I chose not to send BabyA to a play school where everything was sanitized a hundred times because I didn’t want her to grow up with an unexposed and fragile immunity. I choose everyday to let her fall so that she learns to dust herself off and get up again. I tell her that I can’t afford to buy her a kinder joy chocolate (costing RS. 40) except on special occasions, but she can splurge Rs. 10 on any sweet that she wants, once a week.

The narcissism epidemic seems to have come about because parents are afraid to teach their kids the most important fundamental rule of life: Newton’s 3rd law- for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Kids don’t seem to face consequences for their actions at home. And with the break up of extended families and people deciding to have only one child, these kids are ruling the roost.

It is a child’s natural urge to want. It is the parent’s responsibility to teach them that you have to earn things in life. It is our duty to make them ready for the life they shall face when they leave the nest. Buying them every lollipop they want because they lie down, dandvath style, and scream outside the store, is giving them the message that the world must stop when they feel upset. Letting them win every game of Hungry Hippos, while they cheat, guiding several balls into their hippo’s mouth, is sending them the message that their momentary happiness is more important than fairness. Every time we go and complain to their teacher that someone hit them (once!) in class, or told them she didn’t want to be their friend, we steal them of the tools that we should be equipping them with in life: disappointment and the knowledge that everything doesn’t go the way we want. Sometimes people don’t like us and that’s ok! Every time we pull them out of a class because the teacher was stricter than they were used to at their free-play, colour-outside-the-lines, be-you-because-you-are-unique play school, we send them the message that your feelings come first and adaptability is not a crucial life skill.

When we signed up for parenthood, whispering in their ears that we would always protect them, is this what we meant? Is reality something we should be protecting our kids from, or have we become afraid of our children: afraid to disappoint them?

Failure is such an essential teacher. It brings out character in children and yet, we deny them of this life tool when they live under our wings. We think of emotional negligence as something that inattentive parents are guilty of but overattentive parents are being accused of the same.  Parents who repeatedly protect their kids from failure, disappointment (by always saying yes to them) and uncomfortable change are neglecting their children emotionally by not equipping them with the skills to go out and handle the “big, bad world”.

These kids are growing up in a cocoon where they are the only life form that matters, and when they are forced to leave home for college or work, they are not soaring like butterflies but crumbling (suffering from loneliness, depression, etc.) because they can’t believe that they aren’t the center of the world (“What do you mean the world is round and doesn’t have a center?!”)

In a world where kids are spending more time perfecting their duckfaced pouts for selfies than paving a career path, social media has become their primary life space where they weave illusions about themselves. People are becoming mini (and major) celebrities based on how they market themselves rather than based on what they have achieved. Kids are fooled into believing that this momentary fame built on fluff about their uniqueness (equated to coolness) is something that will help them sail through life. What they don’t realize is that their peers (with their ADHDs and multiple shallow psychological diagnoses, adding to their uniqueness) have short attention spans that last as long as this new age, social butterfly’s lifetime: a fraction of a moment. After all Mylie Cyrus’ antics can only interest people as long as Paris Hilton’s friendship with Nicole Ritchie did. At the end, Malala Yousafzai’s courage, character and charity must serve as better cushioning (than Kim Kardashian’s behind) to the hardships of life.

Oh My Japa Bai: Old Wives’ Tales & Scientific Mumbo-Jumbo

I did it old-school style and got a Bikaneri Japa* maid from Calcutta (the most preferred combination of culture that one could get in Japa maids), and I was given glowing recommendations about her. The only thing I didn’t factor in was that my cousins who had employed her, had done so eons ago. When she arrived, I was a bit set back (to say the least) to find an extremely overweight lady with the manners of a village “gaonti”**(occupying most of my 8 people occupancy lift with her left hand resting against one end and her huge hips resting against the other, leaving no more place for me, or anyone else) and serious flatulence problems (which she repeatedly blamed on my newborn since newborns are capable of explosive farts).

I could imagine that at some point this lady may have been efficient but it was hard to see about the person I met since she could sleep on call (to the point where my mother was seriously frightened that she was narcoleptic, because she would often fall asleep with my newborn in her arms, dangling, while sitting on a chair). Luckily, my mom and I were always on the watch.

I do realise that these are problems that come with a demanding job, but the funny thing is, that for the safety of my baby, we let the Japa sleep more than 10 hours a day. The only people burning the candle at both ends were my mom and me.

I also realize that such things may occur due to age, and I may, soon, turn into an overweight, sleepy, mannerless fart-bomb in time (all of which I have been at some point in my life or the other; just haven’t matured to the lethal combination yet) too so I shouldn’t make fun of older people, but it was just too much to bear.

This was only the tip of the iceberg. Then there were the regular problems that come with the Japa maids- constant advice regardless of whether I showed interest. The pediatrician had strictly advised against doing ‘uptan’ but she would stealthily take besan with malai (gram flour with cream) and try rubbing the body hair (and colour) off my baby. She was appalled when I told her to leave my baby alone as I loved her skin the way it was. How could any self-respecting Marwari not be coveting a whiter skin-tone for her child? She looked at me with disgust, and went on.

She wanted to put oil in BabyA’s nose, ears and every orifice she could find. She complained to the family elders that I didn’t do my massage properly, when in reality, I had to sit up and do uncomfortable acrobatics every morning in order for her to massage me. If she stretched too much, she would puff and pant like she was about to have a heart attack, so out of pity for her size, I sat up and went through the torture. And then there was constant squealing about what I ate and what I didn’t eat. Aah! The list goes on…

I started regretting getting a Japa maid instead of a nurse. My mom had been against the idea of getting a nurse because she pointed out that they didn’t do any work around the baby or the mother, like washing clothes, making the mother’s food, etc. but I’m not sure that my Japa was managing much either!

I employed the lady for six months due to the lack of any other option, but in retrospect, I think a nurse would have been a better choice. I noticed during my sister-in-law’s delivery, that albeit way more expensive, nurses are relatively non-interfering, usually giving advice softly but retreating when you politely let them know you don’t need it. Of course, each person’s personality differs, but nurses are also more in sync with the baby care instructions given by your pediatrician .

You can’t really blame the Japa maids for being so suffocating because they are relics of a time gone-by. Nowadays, urban mothers blindly trust the doctor and disregard what the Japa says as old wives’ tales. Traditionally, these ladies have been valued greatly for their infinite knowledge and experience regarding new moms and their babies. They are used to being treated like knowledgeable foster mothers who come in to guide you through your first forty days, rather than as ordinary maids.

As BabyA has grown older, I have discovered that there is a lot of wisdom in the old ways. From a doctor-bhakt, I have now started realizing that there is as much truth in the old knowledge as there is in medical science. Both are imperfect, and suggestions from both avenues must be weighed or cautiously tested before accepting.

When I look at my little hairy bear, I regret not trying ‘uptan’ with her because I know that it had helped my siblings and me when we were babies. Also BabyA’s severe colic was not cured by all the Colic Aids and Neopeptines of the world, but finally, listening to the Japa and my mother-in-law, I started giving BabyA a paste made by rubbing natural herbs on a stone with milk (a.k.a. ghaasa/ghasara), and finally found that she got better.

Allopathy only has immediate fixes for us (packed in with lots of side effects), but long term cures are only possible through alternative methods. Thus, to completely disregard what our mothers, mothers-in-law or Japas say is also unfair. Sometimes their ways maybe obsolete (like don’t cut nails after sunset, which no longer makes sense as we now have electricity) or they may not know the real reason behind things (not making babies wear new clothes when they are born as new fabric has a lot of chemicals and can cause allergies), but that doesn’t mean that their knowledge should be dismissed as mere superstition.

In a postmodern world, we have seen the downfall of the ‘faultless logic and understanding of science’. There are no longer any absolutes, and thus, its more about what works for you. Since we reverently hang onto every word the doctor says, we could also give our formally-uneducated but experientially-gifted Japas a chance sometimes.  Our moms couldn’t have been so grossly misguided when they were treating them as baby whisperers when we were tiny tots. After all, we turned out ok, didn’t we?
*Japa Maid- New mom and baby care specialist maids

**gaonti- village simpleton

“Mamma, I Want”: The Wasteful Generation

As I stress about her evening snack, BabyA asks for a Nutella sandwich, promising me that she will eat all of it. When it comes, she’s more interested in making jokes about its resemblance to human excreta. I give up. She’s had a bite so no one else can eat it, and since I have pledged against being a human dustbin, I refuse.

As I empty the plate into the garbage, I feel the anger rising. I don’t really know how to but I have to teach her the value of things, especially in a time where people are so quick to chuck everything that doesn’t excite them- from sandwiches to marriage. I start by telling her about starving children in Africa but she looks at me quizzically, so I switch to telling her about our neighboring farmer-kids who are dying of hunger. At three, I’m not sure she is fully capable of empathy.

She asks for jelly beans and when I refuse to give her more than the previously negotiated number, she throws a tantrum and flings the ones she has procured into the dustbin. Enraged, I give her a time out, telling her she’s never going to get jelly beans again and needs to understand that “they are a luxury and Didi’s* kids would be so happy if they could have candy”. She cries and apologizes but seems to think it’s a competition when she says, “But they don’t have jelly beans and I do!”

I don’t know how to respond to that, or to all the other wasteful habits she has, like leaving her Play-doh out till it dries up, squirting water around from a running tap or putting a dirty paintbrush into her pristine white paint pot. And when I tell her to clean up her mess, she turns around and tells me “Clean up is too boring!” I feel so helpless, not knowing how to make her learn value.

After a few days, the answer comes to me. While cleaning her cupboard, surrounded by piles of clothes, I get an epiphany much like Buddha did under his Pipal tree. I realize that she only sees me talk the talk but children do what you do, rather than doing what you say. I am a wasteful mommy who needs much. She has enough clothes to dress an army (of dainty little pink soldiers) and I still can’t stop. She sees me spending on myself and her, with no thought given to what is needed- the only focus being what my fancy of the moment happens to be.

Even if I don’t usually waste food, I waste money, time, water, paper, electricity and so much more. She sees that she has 12 pairs of shoes, and whenever she spoils her art supplies, they are replaced with new ones. I entice her into getting clean by offering her water-filled tub baths, and she sees me discarding clothes that I’m ‘bored’ of, at the speed of light. How can she learn anything else from me: a representative of the first generation in India that learned to waste, maybe because we experienced easier times than any of our foremothers?

My most beloved Dadi* recently passed away. I grew up with her, spending all my afternoons painting on wrapping paper or helping her stitch money envelopes from leftover cloth. If she wasn’t doing that, this enthusiastic seamstress was making cushions from the extra fabric of her sofas. She was never wasteful. Everything had to be used, and when it came apart, it had to be fixed. I remember my dad telling me that they carried canvas bags to school (the ugly, brown ones that I wouldn’t have been caught dead toting) and when it tore, my Dadi would stitch it up and make them carry it.

If times were tough and she did that, I would have understood, but she was born a princess (her father being given the title of Raja by the British) and was married into affluence. She hadn’t seen any economic difficulty but she was always frugal. This made no sense to me. She bought seven daily-wear sarees of the season, and six months later, she bought seven more, transforming the old ones into a new avatar. That’s what had to be admired about their generation (along with so much more)- they were committed to recycling before it was cool.

She was the gentlest soul I have ever met: never even wasted her energy being angry at anyone. Wastefulness was the enemy, to the extent that she never wasted her time feeling ‘bored’ and told me that ‘boredom’ was a word made up by my generation. When she had free time, she would sow, knit, go for bhajan classes, look after her plants, practice her interior decorating assignments, read. And she never whiled away her time reading junk. It was always meaningful things that would enrich her soul, like the teachings of Swami Vivekananda or books on Psychology.

Being so highly influenced by her, I wonder how I turned into this shopping monster? But I guess the pull of the present consumeristic society has been a lot stronger than my childhood values. Growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, times were still tough in India, and I don’t remember ever being a child of excesses but as Bharat became “India shining”, we became richer (economically speaking), our wants multiplied and we started getting bored much more easily with what we had. The glamour of consumerism draws one in, and so my transformation from a content child to a gluttonous giant is similar to that of many in my generation. And as consumerism continues to increase, I can only imagine what BabyA’s generation is going to be like.

So as I sit amidst these piles of clothes, pondering over life, I finally become aware of a rubber object squeaking under me. As I pull it out, I see it’s Sophie la Giraffe- the squeezee that I bought for BabyA since it was listed as one of the Top 30 must-haves for newborns in some American magazine. I bought her the other 29 things too. Looking at the giraffe’s satisfied smile, I wonder how I survived my babyhood without any Sophies, Burt’s Bees Buttermilk Soap or Jumperoos… and managed to be happy, too! Aah! The Conundrums of Consumerism!


* Didi- in this context, BabyA’s maid.

Dadi- paternal grandmother.

Mommy Friendships: My Support Network

Having a child makes you feel like you’re in college all over again. You go to mother toddler classes or take them to school, and moms everywhere are out to make friends- in inverse proportion to the amount their children want to befriend each other. As we mommies plan play dates so “the kids can get to know each other”, the kids exchange wary looks while the mommies connect over bottle-weaning and baby woes.

Some people dismiss these interactions as “socializing” or trying to expand your mommy network but I see this as a very crucial part of a mom’s life. Women, innately, feel the need to talk and share. Mommyhood is a huge change in any woman’s life, and it’s a very confusing time as you grapple with a newborn who is suddenly
completely dependent on you, a husband who now has to deal with being second best, and your own roller coaster of emotions wherein it feels like your identity has been robbed by this seemingly innocent angel of God. It is a time when you need advice (are those explosive, trucker farts that this little human is capable of emanating, normal?), camaraderie (do you also pee a little, nowadays, when you laugh too hard or wait too long?) and a shoulder to cry on (does it mean I’m a bad mom if I lock myself in the bathroom and read Vogue, while my baby cries outside for the umpteenth time?). We need someone to talk to- someone who truly understands.

That’s why mommy friendships are important, and shouldn’t be disregarded as frivolous. They are what keep you sane at times when you’re sure you should be checked in at The Mental Hospital of Mommies. Through mommy socializing, I have made a group of friends who are my lifelines. I share my deepest, murkiest secrets with this group of people I recently got to know, and they empathize because they are going through the same.

My best friend and I got pregnant at the same time, and I find that our friendship has reached a new level of closeness because of our two little monsters: BabaV and BabyA. From laughing about our protruding bellied-summer ready bodies to crying about our inability to control our hyperactive toddlers (who do WWE moves on us all day), we share everything. Our bodies were so delicate before we had them and now, an otherwise killing karate chop to the vagus nerve behind the ear, doesn’t even result in a raised eye brow. We are fearless as we feel that we have lived through all the unintentional physical abuse our body is capable of taking. It’s only the teenage years that can frighten us now!

Our husbands don’t understand mommyhood, just the way we probably don’t get daddyhood. For the Stay-at-Home-Mums, we are constantly encountered with a look of disgust, and questioned every evening about what it is that we do the whole day. Our men think we sit around sipping on cocktails while our kids diligently play on their own, pick up after themselves and feed themselves. The truth would be closer to the fact that I wish I had a bottle of Sauza stashed in my cupboard so I could take shots while I lived the enslaved life of a mum.  The hubbies themselves feel exhausted at having spent ten minutes with these imps on a Sunday. Nandy needs two hours of sleep after every half an hour spent with BabyA. Men seem to understand their own need to socially network for business but dismiss our mommy networks as unnecessary.

It’s so hard to know if you’re doing the right thing: after all, no one offers Mommyhood 101 classes, otherwise I’d have been the first one to enroll. It’s my friends that teach me, soothe me and heal me. When I landed up smacking my daughter because I was sick and she was being very demanding, it was my mommy friends who told me it was ok… to be human. They also gave me alternatives to how I could have handled it better, but only after I had stopped crying. It’s refreshing to have them when all my hubby maybe doing is telling me how out-of-control I am.

It’s important to have friends who know, love and don’t judge– but serve as your confidantes, counsellors and anchors. After all, we all need an anchor since we feel completely at sea (drowning, most of the time!) while bringing up these multi-limbed, freakishly lovable creatures.

Post-Raj Hangover: No Hindi Please!

Pannas dabbe tyachya office la pathvayache aahet!” (50 boxes have to be sent to his office!) I hear someone speaking Marathi at the gym. My instinctive reaction is to be appalled but then my research in Postcolonial Literature has taught me that I should be proud of my country and its languages. Yet, as this man continues talking, I see many people turning to look at him, wondering what kind of a man would speak his regional language in an upscale gym space.

Colonialism teaches you to associate shame with your language. It’s a very deliberate way of enslaving a race; by teaching them to be shameful about everything that is indigenous to them. I have read a Kenyan author, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who said his friends and him suffered corporal punishment at his English-medium Christian school for speaking their mother tongue. I went to a Convent school where we may not have been hit, but everyone who ever uttered a word in Hindi (or worse, any other Indian language) was termed a “verni” (vernacular). They were the pariahs of the class; the people the cool girls never touched with a pole. Thus, it was more subtle in our school, but nonetheless, growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, we had still received the message of the Raj loud and clear. English was cool! Your mother tongue is what you spoke behind closed doors, when no one who could judge you was within ear-shot. Hindi was like an urban deep, dirty secret.

I was a classic example of this Convent education, where we proudly came from a line of girls who spoke atrocious Hindi. Once we overheard my friend saying to her uncle “Baddadaddee meow!” (which translated to “Badda Daddy mein yahaan hoon!/ Uncle, I’m here!”) and we teased her, all the while thinking it was so cute that she spoke Hindi like that.

It didn’t matter that we came across as complete idiots with no credibility while talking to our staff (and pretty much more than 50% of India) with our ridiculous command over Hindi. We were cool in front of who mattered and Hindi-speakers didn’t count. We even looked down on the Dilliwalas, laughing at their English (never realising how stupid we seemed to them and the rest of the country!)

When I had BabyA, my cook told me, “Bhabhi, isse English mein hi baat kijiyega!“(Madam, only speak to her in English!”) When I asked him why, he said that to succeed, one only needs to know English. Hindi is a useless language. He believed that his life could have been so much better had he known English. Better? I’m not sure, but richer (in terms of material wealth)? Yes-that was sadly true.

I knew that I didn’t want to bring BabyA up this way! I wanted her to speak Hindi well, unlike me, and I wanted to teach her to take pride in her language. Being a bit of a mongrel, I neither had any lingual command over Punjabi or Marwari- either of my mother tongues.

On a mission, I went out to buy her books that I could read to her in Hindi and was pleasantly surprised. There were fantastic publications like Katha and Tullika that had stories with gorgeous illustrations in Hindi and most other regional languages. It was like being in a candy shop; I didn’t know what to choose. I came home excitedly and started reading to her. I messaged my closest mommy friends pictures of these wonderful books like “Dinosaur-Ek-Sau-Sathais-Bachchon-Jitna-Lamba” and “Maa Ganga aur Razai ka Sandook“. None of them were interested. They asked me if the same titles were available in English. Most of them were very clear that they didn’t want to buy their kids Hindi books. The excuse was that the kids will learn Hindi at home, as it is. I disagreed because none of my school friends or I ever did- not fluently at least.

There are such few communities that talk to their kids in their language any more. Shame is so deeply ingrained that sometimes we don’t even recognize it. We justify it saying that when they go to school, they need to be competent in English but in reality, we all suffer from Anglophilia. Fear of rejection at schools is a legitimate fear but this belief in the superiority of the English language basically stems from a Post Raj hangover that we all suffer from.

So I march along (a lonely crusader)- telling my maid to try to talk to BabyA in Telugu, and asking my mother-in-law to only speak to her in Hindi. I read several Hindi books to her and try my best to talk to her in it as much as I can (hoping the scars from being exposed to my fragmented, stammering Hindi heal due to better influences in her life).

At first, she just doesn’t speak Hindi but after turning 3, she likes to dabble in the language. It makes me happy every time she starts a sentence in Hindi, but then I can’t help but cringe as she sounds like Sonia Gandhi (or much worse, like Remo singing Hindi songs in the 1990’s). She looks at her maid and says, “Didi, main school jaayega today so snack box ready keep-ega. Ok?”* I look at the maid and open my mouth to translate, but I stop, hearing her say, “Ok baby. I keeping ubla bhhocolli tiffin mein ready!” (I have kept steamed brocolli in your tiffin box). Baby A looks away from her cartoons for a minute to flash a satisfied smile at her, and I realise that although I’m failing in  my mission, I have to compliment the odd pidgin language these two have created to understand each other better.  It’s like watching a cacophonous symphony that everyone seems to be enjoying while it wreaks havoc in my brain! Bhagwan, Mujhe Bachana!**


*Didi, I’m going to school today so keep my snack box ready!”

**(God, Save me!)

Travel with Kids: Mom on Leash

I have always aspired to write a travel blog post with superb tips on how to travel well with a toddler but it wasn’t meant to be! I think now, after so many holidays, BabyA is better prepared to compose a baby blog on how to keep your parents on a tight leash through a holiday, since she is the one with the reigns in her hands, while we stumble through foreign landscapes with her. If only her friends could read, what a hit she’d be!

Traveling with kids is a completely different ball game from what it was when you didn’t have any. From the first flight that I took with her since she was four months old, I could sense the looks that I got as I walked in, being treated like a leper- each passenger looking at me with unmasked fear flickering in his eyes, praying under his breath that I wouldn’t sit next to him. You’d think I was holding an AK 47 in my hands rather than a little cherubic infant.

I can’t say BabyA is a bad traveler. No one can accuse her of being the cranky child on the flight whose shrieks paralyze fellow passengers into an auditory coma, where they can no longer sleep, eat or hear themselves think. She’s a happy traveler- also better know as “Happy Singh” by her cousins who have gotten used to traveling with her overly joyful personality. But is she easy on the parents? No way! She’s in fact too happy on a flight, and thus, her hyper nature is manifested in her incessantly jabbing the traveler in front of her with her kicks (paralyzingly him into a real coma), and jumping from seat to seat, shrieking in laughter. It’s like trying to control an over-excited pup on drugs! She’s all over the place!

I remember how courageous (and mostly naïve) I was on that November day when I bravely decided to travel with her, sans husband, to Pattaya and Bangkok when she was merely a year and a half old. It was my Mama’s* 70th birthday and in all honesty, I was going to have half the Punjabi Bania population of Mumbai (all being my family: parents, siblings, first cousins, nieces and nephews) on the flight with me so what could really go wrong? 50 family members could surely compensate for 1 missing husband and 1 missing maid. But I was wrong!

My “toofanmail”** woke up at 5 am to head to the airport, fairly easily and excitedly, but from that moment to the time we reached Pattaya, 15 hours later, she didn’t sleep more than a half hour. Even after making her chug sleep-including anti-histamines, all she did was run from one end of the airport to the other. I imagined she would be fenced in during the flight and that would force her to sleep, but in the air, for 4 hours, she stood on my thighs and jumped up and down continuously, peeking at the sleeping body behind, tugging at a cousin’s remaining strands of hair in front.

She also made up an innovative “Maathi-lah” game to entertain herself. Aranya had picked up (in advance) the Southeast Asian habit of adding “lah”as a suffix after words/sentences and had started calling her Masi “Maathi-lah”! At first very endearing, my sister didn’t know that this name would be her undoing. The game was that whenever she suspected her tired Masi, on the other side of the aisle, had finally caught some shut-eye, she would go and shake her up screaming “Maathila!” till she was shocked out of slumber, only to give her a sweet, million dollar smile, and run back to me. Once she was sure that my sister had managed to lull herself back to sleep, she would do it over and over, for the next hour.

The bus ride to Pattaya was similar- more jumping on my thighs till I had to explain to her that when I said, “Be friendly and play with the Thais”, I hadn’t meant MY thighs! Then she started running up and down the aisle of the bus (while all other children slept peacefully), giving mini heart attacks to my big, fat Punju family, because at every brake, she threatened to fall down the bus-stairs.

It got so frustrating and tiring that at one point, I was ready to smack her, and finally started sobbing out of exhaustion and anger. It was the perfect place to have a mental and physical breakdown, as my mom, masis, mamis and cousins surrounded me, commiserating: first trying to restrain this mental toddler (who seemed to have gotten her hands on illegal stimulants before we reached the shady parts of Pattaya) but later reassuring me that the first day would be the hardest but it would get easier. And it did.

As my niece pointed out, with BabyA’s chubby cheeks, chinky eyes and poker straight hair, she had anyway emulated the adorable Asian baby look, making us look like child traffickers trying to smuggle a Thai baby out of their country, as the Immigration officer assaulted me with suspicious looks when we were leaving. This helped her blend in and the cuteness factor helped me buy some bubble tea and rest my bubble butt for a moment while some or the other local engaged in pulling her cheeks and cooing melodious, foreign words to her!

I had decided that since she was over a year, I wasn’t going to indulge her by being a “khichdi mom”***, armed with my pressure cooker, rice-dal and killer cooking attitude. I was going to be the lazy mom that I am who wants her daughter to adapt to her surroundings, even if it meant making her eat egg fried rice mixed with strawberry yoghurt on some occasions. And BabyA went along, dahi (yoghurt) in her Pad Thai, et al. She was as easy as her BabyA-ness allowed her to be! Everything in life is relative, and after the flight from hell on that first day I ever traveled abroad with her, all other travel days have seemed easier.

In retrospect, since I can’t blame BabyA of being a bad traveler, let’s just say that Nandy and I, over many holidays, came to realise that after every trip with her, we need a holiday to rest from the stress of the earlier one. We understood that we aren’t ideal “parent-travelers” and are better off just taking off on our own, at least once a year. So I have to say I love planning baby getaways (getting away from the baby) to exotic locales and sipping on a Mai Tai, while BabyA bonds with Dadi, Nani and SakuBai. It’s fun being me for ten days in a year, and leaving Mom-Bai back in Mumbai- where she belongs!

From Mom-on-leash to Mommy Unleashed!



*Mama- maternal uncle

**Toofanmail- hurricane

***Khichdi- a dish made of lentils and rice, easy on digestion that usually serves as comfort food for babies.