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Post Baby Status: Mein Mother India

After I got married, I found a distinct difference in the way guys started looking at me. People who had been my buddies for eons suddenly started treating me as “bhabhiji”* as soon as I tied the knot. And the weirdest part is that my hubby had been friends with them as long as I had. We were a group and all of them knew Nandy to be lacking a jealous bone in his body, yet I become “Jagat Bhabhi”*- devoid of any attractiveness or sex appeal. I felt like friends who used to hug me and punch my arm suddenly wanted to fold their hands and greet me with a serious “Pranaam Bhabhiji” when they saw me. It made me feel like an androgynous molecular animal.

After I had the baby and packed on the pounds, I felt like my husband also started leaning towards this attitude. A respectful namaste was a more appropriate hello than a cheery kiss (I’d have settled for the cheek, forget the lips). Luckily I never caught him calling me Bhabhi (only BabyA called me that all through her twos, parroting her maid), but he often let a “Mamma, can you read a book to A?” slip out. Granted it was always in the presence of BabyA, but the idea of my hubby calling me Mamma sent me into a tizzy! Isn’t that what couples did, long after the fire went out of their marriages, referring to each other as Mamma and Papa. Even if it was perfectly normal, it gave me the creeps!

I guess you couldn’t blame him because most nights, after BabyA entered our lives, went something like this: I would be trying to make BabyA sleep, doing my best Louis Armstrong bass voice, deep into the chorus of “What a Wonderful World” and I would hear snoring. Relieved, I would open my eyes imagining that the little devil had finally succumbed to sleep, but in the dark, I would see her doing leg lifts, back flips and other gymnastic feats, while the hubby had floated off to “la la land”- a land where Mammas sang loris* to him and kissed him goodnight. So how could you find fault with him for letting “Mamma” slip out a few times?

“Your relationship becomes completely platonic at the end of your life”, my Dadi* would philosophize often (Yes- those were her exact words! I have one cool Dadi). Well, if this was my state of affairs then she wasn’t so wrong after all, because I was ready to end my life very soon! Except that I had two kids to raise: one 3 and one 36.

It’s not like I wanted people to be hitting on me, but I would have greatly appreciated normality, where my friends still felt comfortable being the same way around me as they used to be: mischievous, funny, goofy, confiding and sometimes confrontational. I had become so devoid of femininity that I was now being regarded in everyone’s eyes as Mother India- like it was almost unholy to treat me in any way but with sisterly/ motherly respect- even by the husband.

Nargis’s character as Radha: The quintessential Mother India (in the movie by the same name)  was a beautifully chalked out one for those times but it’s highly unrelatable in today’s age. This goddess-like, moral, sacrificial epitome of maternal-ness is something that moms of today may find too idealistic. We wear such one-dimensional labels (of Maata transforming into Jagat Maata/everyone’s mother) with a pained expression very similar to Radha’s while carrying the weight of the world and the “hal” on her shoulders in the iconic Mother India movie poster.

Speaking of Radha being a Maa, the Radhe Maa controversy is at its peak. Irrespective of whether it’s true or not, I have to say I can relate to what she must be feeling. Maybe the lady was fed up of being everyone’s mother and just wanted to discard her holiness, to remind people that she was still a woman- red mini skirt, matching knee high suede boots and all. Maybe Radhe Maa, during her pravachans (sermons), just wanted to grab the microphone with pizzazz and let people know that “Radha’s on the dance floor, Radha likes to party, Radha likes to move that sexy Radha body” but no one would listen.

And after this phase of bhabhiji/mummyji, I was accosted with some friends who wanted me to become “Behenji”. When Nandy and I were in the U.S. for his MBA, one of our very close Indian friends told me, “Rakhi’s coming! Why don’t you become my sister?” Mooh-boli* behen is a much loved concept in India. I have never understood why Indian men feel the need to instantly classify a friendship with a girl as being their “love-interest” or as their “behen”. Everything doesn’t have to be black or white. Why can’t we be comfy somewhere in between: as real friends!

I have enough of brothers. I told this friend of mine that I was completely ok being friends with a guy. I didn’t have to become his sister to be able to digest our relationship. Nor did my husband.

Bollywood movies also feed us with enough crap like “Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahin hote”. Why? Are our minds so screwed up that Indian men can only be comfortable around a woman as long as she falls into the categories of Behenji, Bhabhiji, Mummyji or Meri Oh-jee*! And even Monish Bahl expressed these regressive thoughts to Salman and Bhagyashri in the late 80’s in MPK. Surely we’ve come a long way since then.

“Or have we?”, I wonder as my maid tells BabyA to call her (4 month older) friend “Shaurya Bhaiya”. His mom and I both recoil, telling her that he’s just Shaurya to her. Their generation will hopefully be able to experience true friendship without the trappings of gender rules and expectations.

So as my daughter comes home and proudly tells me that BabaV* is her best friend forever (despite his affinity for balls and hers for dolls), BabaV’s mum (MY best friend forever) FaceTimes with us from Gurgaon because Baba would like to talk to Baby. And they talk in their stream of consciousness, nonsensical, toddler ways: having parallel conversations where no one is listening, and I hope that they can always maintain this pure friendship- where Baba and Baby never turn into Bhaiya and Behenji!



* Bhabhi- sister-in-law, Behen- sister, Maa- mother, Ji- respectful suffix, Jagat- of the world, Pranam- Respectful hello asking for blessings, Loris- lullabies, Dadi- paternal grandmother, GuruMaa- Teacher-mother, Mooh-boli behen- A girl who has become a sister because she tied ‘Rakhi’ (an Indian sibling custom) to a guy, Meri Oh-Jee- Wife, Baba- Indians call small boys Baba; different from little girls who are addressed as Baby.

Mummy ke haath ka Khaana & a Dabba full of Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day!

Wake Up Sid: Daddy’s stealing all the limelight

I’m going through BabyA’s baby pics on my phone and it’s filled with shots of Nandy and her.
Photo 1: Nandy looking disoriented as he walks with her, head resting on his shoulder, in the middle of the night.
Photo 2: Nandy grimacing as he peeks into her diaper to find the explosion that almost rocked the house.
Photo 3: Nandy fast asleep as Aranya manages to rest her feet over his face.
Photo 4: Nandy, tired after getting back from a long trip, sleeping with Aranya snoozing on his tummy.
I suddenly realize that I’m Anupam Kher from Wake Up Sid! My daughter is going to look at all the pictures from her childhood and never see me. She will think that it was her father who woke up every time she cried in the middle of the night, to feed her and then walk her (she in his arms) for hours till she fell asleep. She will believe that it was he who always changed her dirty diapers, wiping the rainbow coloured potties she was capable of exhibiting in her tiniest years. She will think that he was the one who would silently put up with her constant unintentional violence (kicking, slapping, etc.) as she slept and only wanted to cuddle with him at night. Ok- so the last one’s true but not the rest! The rest were ME – ALL ME!
Eventually her memories will morph into a false photoshopped MMS where her father will be the one who would spend an hour (sometimes two, no jokes!) singing “What a Wonderful World” and “Yeh Honsla” (from Dor) in alternation, to her while unsuccessfully rocking her to sleep. But no! That was ME too! Sang till my voice was hoarse.
My husband wasn’t a baby person and that’s why when I saw how he warmed up to his own child, I wanted to capture every sensitive moment on camera. So each little moment of father-daughter bonding was caught and archived for her to view as a grown up.
Of course, since I am the mother, and supposed to be responsible for everything to do with this baby, nobody was there to click me when I had my finger up her nose trying to take out a booger that wouldn’t let her breathe. Moms do that! Who cares?
And that leaves me feeling like Anupam Kher in Wake Up Sid: my daughter will grow up seeing these pictures and thinking that it was her father who was always there: for the first word, to nurse all her boo-boos, for the first heartbreak. But she won’t ever think about who was behind the camera, taking all these pictures?
The only thing I find solace in is the hope that perhaps at the end, when she’s peaking at her mommy-hatred (because that’s naturally bound to happen at puberty with any daughter), he will tell her… Just like Supriya Pathak told Ranbir Kapoor: “Who do you think was holding the camera all this time? Who do you think wanted to take pictures of you all the time? Who do you think loves you so much?” (Or something like that).
And then I will be redeemed in front of my tattoo- toting Goth daughter (because that’s my image of what teenhood looks like). A slow, K-Jo approved, heart-wrenching tune will start in the background and she will run to hug me, hair flying. From therein, she will give up her rebellious ways (and gear), only to wear lemon yellow chiffon salwars, worship me and marry the boy of my choice!

The Holy Trinity of Schooling

I’m sweating, my heart is palpitating really quickly… I have a million butterflies in my stomach. Oh wait! They aren’t butterflies! They are like obnoxious toads causing a ruckus in my tummy. I think I’m going to be sick!

She got in, she got in NOT? The prayer that one repeats while fingering the rosary beads every morning. Your jaap when you sit in front of your mandir. Nursery admission time is the time when the haves are separated from the contemptible have-nots. When the cream is spooned off and the rest of the milk is thrown, of which rivulets try to spread around, willing to settle in any crevice that will take this undesired milk.

If I had known earlier what separates the creamy mommies from the not-so creamy ones in Mommydom, I may have married differently. I had no control over the fact that my parents decided not to send my sister and me to the very prestigious Cathedral school, despite her having gotten in but I did have control over my marriage. If only I had known that the criteria upon which we choose a life partner (love for me, wealth for some, looks for others) has been all wrong. What we really should be giving sole importance to is Schooling. The first question one should ask before dating a guy: Which school did you study at? (And then demand to see a leaving certificate to make sure there is no story fabrication and conning involved).

My marriage to my husband was one right out of the movies with all the pre-marriage craziness: psycho-mad-possessive love and family turbulence, and break ups and make ups over 5 years of seeing each other, but I often joke with Nandy that I made a mistake: I shouldn’t have married him for his elite sports club membership but instead should have married someone from the holy trinity: Cathedral School, BIS and Campion, if you have a son, and Cathedral, BIS and JB Petit, if you have a daughter. Of course, Cathedral figures right at the top of this holy trinity, and in the school admission evaluation process, if you studied at these schools, they roll out the red carpet for you. If you didn’t, your existence has no meaning. You’re simply rubbish that no one wants to touch with a pole- unless you or your husband are NRIs, foreign expats or investment bankers and then the schools see dollar signs! Ka-Ching!

Filling out school admission forms are so stressful for me because the part in the form that I thought would be the strongest for my hubby and me, turns out to be the one I quiver to fill in.
Nandy: B.Com, M.Com (Best college in Bombay for Commerce), Chartered Accountancy- Intermediate, MBA at University of Pittsburgh.
Me: BA (Best College in Bombay for Arts), MA, M.Phil both in English Literature.
No one gives a damn! Did we study at the holy trinity of schools? No! Kicked to the curb.
I have gotten so used to getting reject letters from NURSERY SCHOOLS (yeah- it starts there!) that I don’t even know what an acceptance letter looks like (I hear it’s a call though. Letters are for losers!) The quivering hand now opens the letterbox every morning, so happy to see loads of wasteful junk mail but no rejection… for now. But it comes eventually: “We are sorry that we will not be able to accommodate your child right now as we have limited seats.” I have read those words so many times, I could write the letter in my sleep.

The one thing we have to our advantage is that my parents sent me to the best nursery of that time, and that’s the only reason why Baby A goes to a good play school/ nursery. If I hadn’t been from a great Montessori school, I’m sure we’d be looking at a big RED reject stamp on our foreheads again!

Sometimes, in interviews, they ask the parents, “Do you have any questions for us?” and when they do, every parent is baffled because when you grow up in SoBo, you grow up knowing that you don’t have questions for schools because you don’t choose schools; they choose you! Unless you’re from Cathedral School, and then you can swagger around and tell them that you don’t give a flying f*%k what they have to say because your kid will get into Cathedral anyway, i.e. The Holy Cathedral of cool kids and cool moms.