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