And I turn 36

… otherwise known as the Oh fuck, now I really won’t be having any more babies year.

But on a more serious note, this year I feel every one of my 36 years. In the last year I’ve had family suffer and I’ve been there for them and realised that they needed me. In fact I was in hospital all of my birthday last year and didn’t even take any calls. Chhota Nana’s leg, Ma breaking her foot in the midst of a busy year… construction, business, everything came to a head and I looked in the mirror and saw age spots, tired eyes, tired skin and I realised that I could no longer think I was 24. This is it. I now know that some of the best years healthwise have passed me by.

This is also the first year I learnt what it means to struggle with weight. I’ve always been slim so to finally look in the mirror and see your thighs dimpling is a shocker. I walked, I restructured my diet and while I am not thin by any standards, I am back to normal and feeling good and healthy. But yes, I finally know what it means to feel desperation and know jeans that won’t button.

My driving is still crappy but I can get from A to B in a crisis and that is all I really wanted. I had planned to learn to swim well this year and surprise you guys (hah!) but I chickened out. Actually I think I just had too much on my plate so it was an easy one to evade. Perhaps next year.

This year also, for the first time, I am making more money than I have in many years, all while sitting home. This is something I feel an insane amount of pride in because I’ve worked from home for years, accepted a pittance and held my tongue when treated badly as a professional. But then something snapped this year and I’ve said no to pieces that go against my belief system, turned down poor paymasters even if they are big names and written stinkers to people who haven’t paid up, pulled out contacts, taken to Facebook to name and shame… and generally reached a stage where I might not be doing a lot of creative work but I am earning well, established and no longer have to take shit from anyone.

On the family front, the kids have a far better idea of what Mama does professionally and in fact push me to go back to full time work so that they can ‘watch TV without anyone objecting’. Of course on days that I am out on a shoot they regret every word and cling to me like limpets when I return, the Bean calling me every hour or two to talk to me. Fortunately I am my own master and can take a little break and soak in the pleasure of hearing her voice. Unfortunately though, I am now too hooked on working at my own pace and in my pajamas to do that. Also, new office!

It’s been more than a year in this house and we have no intentions of moving out and are finally settling in. We’re friends with some neighbours, the kids have made friends and settled into their various classes. For now, we’re home.

I’ve also spent the year balancing a lot of relationships, watching them slide downhill, pick and recover. I think it would be fair to say that in spite of not having given birth this year, it’s been crazy!

My resolutions for this year are to take myself less seriously, to have more of a sense of humour, to ignore those who thrive on being annoying and provocative, to stop thinking about others all the time and for a while focus only on myself and my little family.

So wish me luck!

Forty and fantastic

The OA turned 40 on the 1st of June. Try as I might, I can’t get used to the idea of being married to a man who is 40. Middle aged :D Of course I’m right behind him and will get there in a couple of years.

I finally see what older people mean when they say they feel no different. I feel 22. And to me he still feels like the 26 year old I dated. Except for the odd dressing down I receive, reminding me that the honeymoon is over.

I spent a lot of time mulling over how we could celebrate this big one… Frankly I don’t know why I bought into the hype that this is a big one. I suppose its just nice to pick an occasion, any occasion and fuss over a person.

The OA comes from a rather dry, unemotional, practical family and it’s taken him years to get used to my flights of fancy, my nonstop chatter, my thirst for excitement and the desire to celebrate everything and all the time.

So when I asked him if he wanted a big party or wanted to travel on his birthday, he shrugged. Disinterested. It didn’t really matter to him – we travel and party often enough for his birthday not to require the same. In fact, he gave it some thought and said – No party please. We end up playing host and making drinks and serving people and don’t really get to enjoy their company.

I offered him a bike (mid life crisis alert!), a new TV, a new music system… and finally I gave up. Until I came up with this one – I decided to ask his friends and family to mail in birthday wishes and memories and pictures, and I made a book out of it. Words are my currency and I strongly believe they make the best gifts.

This coincided with my exit from Facebook ( I deactivated because I needed some time to get used to the fact that I was actually friends with right wing voters and supporters. How?!) and I had no way to get in touch with 90% of the people from his life and past – specially since this was to be a surprise.

Suffice to say, I spent days and weeks calling, mailing, following up. My husband is a very easy going, charming man who rarely states opinions to the contrary, rarely speaks on contentious issues, is always helpful, kind and warm. And yet, few people considered it important enough to respond to me and send in their birthday wishes by the deadline I’d set.

Ma says people have their own way of showing affection. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse one from showing affection in the ways someone asks for it, once in a while. Like attending a wedding even if you hate crowds, because the groom is a close friend. Like going to a kiddy birthday party even if you hate kids, because it’s your little nephew’s first birthday. And so on.

People might be busy, they may not like to write notes, but these notes were requested to celebrate the 40th birthday of a very charming, kind, warm man – not his rather controversial wife!

Many didn’t bother to even acknowledge the mail, or reply and say that they couldn’t be bothered! Some replied way after my deadline. There were certain people without whom I felt the book would be incomplete and so I harassed them in the most polite way possible, reminders, mails, messages. I’m sure they felt that I was piling on - but all they had to do was say No. And I’d have backed off. Instead I got endless excuses about how they were traveling, or busy, or blah blah.

And I have to admit, if they said No, I’d have thought less of them because they are people who claim to be close to him – friends as well as family. What good are family and friends if they can’t dislodge themselves from their comfort zone to do something for you?

Which is not to say it was all bad. The letters that came in, brought tears to my eyes. Warm, joyful, affectionate, reminiscing and telling me a little more about my old man. Hideous old pictures of him looking like something the cat dragged in.

I got in touch with a friend who was estranged over a rather serious and bitter issue – it’s been many years but he responded promptly and warmly and made my day. Reminded me that old friends truly are the best.

I had planned to print the book online but thanks to all the delays I knew it wouldn’t get done and delivered in time. I asked a friend to help me out and we laid it out across two days and took it to a printer locally.

That was the last day before we were to travel and we had house guests, the book, packing, last minute plans…. I came home with a new row of pimples on my chin. And a shiny beautiful book tucked under my arm.

The Bean and Brat had written to their Dada too and the Bean helpfully told her father – “I know where Mama went, we all know where Mama went – but we can’t tell you.” Cousin J picked her up, put a hand over her mouth and walked out of the room. The rest of us rolled on the floor and laughed helplessly.

The OA’s birthday was on Sunday and we dropped the kids off at my parents’ place on Saturday. That meant spending his birthday on the road. We’d left one car there on our last trip and when we got in to their place we gasped – As his birthday gift, my parents had painted it, changed the tyres, changed the music system, put in blue tooth, shampooed the seats… The works -it was almost brand new. I’m thinking we should accidentally leave our Scorpio aka Uddham Singh there next time.

We’d planned to have a karaoke party because the OA loves singing. When the local DJ rolled in speakers that reminded me of the Michael Jackson Black or White video, the cat was out of the bag and the OA began to exercise his vocal chords. My parents had rather apologetically asked me who I wanted to invite for his party given that they only had old fogeys in town at that point of town. I have to admit I love all the old fogeys who are great fun, don’t mind shaking a leg, are never disapproving of what the young people are wearing, drinking or doing – so I said lets have them all.

Fortunately some of our friends did end up in town and that changed the atmosphere. After a lot of Blue Bayouing and Jailhouse Rock we ended up raucously screeching out Metallica and finally by the end of the evening, it was my turn. And I only belted out Bollywood cabaret numbers from my childhood. Jawaani Jaaneman, Laila o Laila, Pyaar Do etc. It was crazy because everyone went wild dancing and screaming and the Bean was jumping in a corner going quietly insane with excitement and the Brat rolled his eyes, told me I was an embarrassment and walked away. And all this without me touching a drop of liquor. We wrapped up at 1.30 am and left for Delhi the next morning.

The car decided to give some trouble on the way – I guess they’d messed something up while denting and painting it. By mid noon we were on the hot, dusty highway, wondering what the hell to do. We managed to get it down a dirt track and find a shack where a mechanic opened it up, took one look, told us two cylinders were not working, and fixed them. The OA got a bazillion phone calls and since the kids weren’t with us, we just drove along without stopping, chatting with people we hadn’t spoken to in ages and knocking back sandwiches and brownies.

We got into Gurgaon late at night, had a quiet dinner with the OA’s brother and SIL and called it a night. Starting last night though, we’re back to celebrating. Since we’re child free and footloose, I’ve planned not a birth’day’ surprise, but a birth’week’ surprise for him. Every night after work I’m taking him to do something new/something he hasn’t done in a while. From massages to plays, to live music… the week ahead is packed and the old man is all set to party. As a policy we’re even avoiding material gifts for our kids these days and only giving them new experiences so this works out beautifully.

As someone said to us, with the kids all grown and out of the way, our 40s are over the hill, but then that is where you pick up speed, don’t you?!

 

Edited to add: Yes, of course he loved the book. He spent days poring over it, reading each letter, reminiscing, gasping in shock when he read one from a friend he lost touch with years ago… It now sits by his bed side and he picks it up and flicks through it every little while.

 

 

 

Celebrate good times, come on!

The Brat’s birthday celebrations are always a nightmare. It’s May, it’s bloody hot and I no longer judge people who plan their kids’ birth for a particular time of year, admission season, auspicious dates or anything else. Right now I wish I’d planned at least one child in winter and had a lovely winter afternoon picnic among the Delhi ruins.

Last year at the Brat’s splash pool party with the AC blowing up, the kitchen door getting mysteriously locked so that we were forced to run around from the outside of the house with hot puris, the water tank springing a leak and emptying out, and fatal puddles everywhere as the kids dripped all over the house, we thought it would be a disaster, but everyone had a blast.

A couple of years ago we were on the 13th floor and the house was a furnace inspite of all the ACs being on. For his 4th birthday (I think) I’d planned a splash pool on our Delhi terrace and there was a storm so that we were all forced to take shelter and I had a bunch of kids and no other games planned. Somehow we’ve always had a lot of laughs and fun, but oh how disaster has struck each time.

This year I was exhausted way before the planning began. My day job drains me and I am mostly in a vegetable state by the end of the day. We moved house in July last year. In August my family crashed up. I’ve spent most of the year rushing back every spare weekend, which left all chores to be fitted in on weekdays. My mum broke her foot at the beginning of April, my SIL brought the babies down from the US and then my nephew, Baby Button, fell off the huge old antique bed and broke his shoulder. And life goes on, because, well, this *is* life.

The Bean’s birthday party was low key because she just kept falling ill and I lost half the birthday guests to my frequent changes in dates. So by the time the Brat’s birthday came around, I was feeling rather low. I had nothing planned, I felt wrung out like a dish cloth in the heat and he wanted a rottweiler theme. Yes, it’s easy to smile indulgently when its not your job to organise a party around that theme.

I refused of course. The second most aggressive dog breed on earth is not an appropriate choice of theme for a nine year old who is rather gentle. We also decided that this year on it would only be his friends from school. Having had our kids early, most of our friends have are newborns and toddlers. They are loved hugely by my kids and us, but its almost impossible to find games that are appropriate for both a 9 year old and a 2 year old. So after much thought, we decided to take all his class friends for Amazing Spiderman.

Until I decided that I was not going to claim exhaustion and taxing job and throw him a McBirthday – at least not while he was still in single digits! So as usual I came up with a theme that had the OA groan but get to it. We decided to turn our family room into a movie hall and show the kids a movie at home. Particularly since I wasn’t too hot on taking a bunch of 9 year olds to watch Spiderman. We hadn’t seen it and I wasn’t sure if there was any objectionable content – not something I wanted on my conscience, not something I wanted on my watch.

And so we borrowed a projector from a friend, and spent a goodly amount of time trying to set it up. Not an easy task because all our walls are painted or have carpets or art or photographs or books shelves. When we found a blank wall it was across a staircase and dangerous. It went on. With great difficulty we decided on a wall that we denuded, removed the light fixtures, took the TV off it and taped sheets of paper to close up all holes. We then put in thicker curtains but realised it was still pretty bright. We finally resorted to hanging 2-3 layers of bedsheets to cut out all light. Finding a high enough spot to suspend the projector was another problem. We needed to ensure that no child knocked it over or tripped over the wires, that they didn’t get in the way of the projection when they stood up as they were bound to. Furniture was moved, a tall bookshelf relocated to hold it. And finally that was done.

Then we organised seating at different heights, to create a balcony and so on. We printed out tickets that the Bean wrapped and stuck around the guests’ wrists – ADMIT ONE, and we had filmy signs up indicating a party. We also got popcorn and juice for the show. And finally when the guests arrived, the room was pitch dark with the Brat directing them to their seats with a torch, blushing madly when he saw the excitement writ large on their faces.

I’d asked all the parents to ensure that the kids arrive on time so that no child was disappointed at missing the beginning of the movie. It worked miraculously, in Stretchable Time NCR and most kids arrived a few minutes before 5pm with the rest getting in within 5.10 pm. The OA ran some trailers on youtube like you would have in a cinema theatre and the kids roared in excitement.

By the time the movie started (we ran a vote and the contenders were Rise of the Guardians, Hotel Transylvannia, Despicable Me 2, Book of Dragons and a few more) – Despicable Me 2, the kids were in alt at the thought of their own private screening.

Two of the mums stayed back to chat over chai with me and I had a lovely time too! The kids enjoyed the movie, begged us to have the same next year and we were run quite ragged by the end of it because the OA insisted on playing the movie at are-you-insane decibel levels and the kids had to roar to be heard over it. As did the rest of us.

But Cousin J is in town for her internship and the moment the movie ended she and I whipped around the room, swept up the popcorn and juice and made place for them to sit down to a simple dinner of chhola, puris, veg and non veg kebabs and tamarind chutney and massive bowls of fresh fruit. The cake was fresh mango with a rottweiler on it. I had to give him at least that.

The party was not even over and the kids were crowding around us demanding we do it again, next year. We kept return gifts simple – bars of good chocolate. I am hoping we’ll be out of this damn return gift stage soon.

By the time we finally wrapped up, the Brat was done unwrapping his gifts and had curled into a corner with one of the million books he’d got. The house was fairly unharmed, the food was mostly over except for about 5 kilos of chhola that we’re still eating.

And we’re finally free until next year….. Did I say finally free? The old man turns 40 this year and I need to put on my thinking cap again.

————————

The next day was Mother’s Day and I’m not one for majorly celebrating myself but the OA said I needed a break and so we headed off to Monkey Bar in Vasant Kunj for their rather famous breakfast – my Bangalore gang of friends have praised it to high heavens and I was really looking forward to it. As luck would have it they had a  Mother’s Day special on and it was good fun!

I don’t know what the Bangalore venue is like but this one is in the erstwhile Ministry of Sound building so its a crazy glass pyramid surrounded by greenery. Most unexpected in the middle of a regular DDA type shopping arcade and yet, what is Delhi if not full of the unexpected? The decor is very kooky and the kids walked around identifying musicians and cartoon characters and laughing at the quotes while the OA and I had an amazing breakfast of Louisiana style biscuits and patty sliders, a brie and mushroom omelette and waffles with caramelised bananas. The cold coffee was brilliant but the piece de resistance was the Brat’s breakfast momos. Brat and momos are synonymous at our place and no matter what sort of fine dining we offer him, momos trump everything. So the  sausage and bacon momos at breakfast came like a double birthday surprise whammy! They had a little spa corner and I got my aching feet rubbed while the Bean kicked some 14 year old’s butt at Foosball.

They had some awesome jazz versions of current pop hits playing and I am now trying hard to hunt down copies. The Brat shocked the OA and me by listening to the first line or so and telling us which song it was. I’m shocked mostly because I didn’t think he had a head for music and because with all my classical background and love for music I wasn’t quite as fast as him. Somedays he ceases to frustrate me and makes me burst with pride.

All in all, a great weekend. Now I need some time off to recover from it!

 

 

 

The Brat turns nine

Dear Brat,

This is your last single digit year. Never before has your birthday made me so sentimental. I recall the night before your birth and the terror I felt at the thought of the imminent delivery. And everyone telling me, there’s no point worrying – there’s only one option and that is for the baby to come out! And now as I pointlessly work myself into a froth over you turning nine, all I can do is accept that there is only option and that is for you to grow up and spread your wings and fly away. You will only go further away each year. It’s time I accepted it. For now though, I have no fears. You still come running to share your life with me.

As I write this post you rush up to me with yet another bit of dog related trivia -they’re your latest obsession. I don’t pay attention to a word, smiling at you besottedly and tousling your curls. I am a bad mother to you. Bad, because I find it hard to look beyond my love for you. It’s like wallowing in a bowl of molasses. I am so absorbed with indulging in it, examining it, working my way through it, that I am unable to rouse myself enough to scold or correct you. It helps that you rarely need any correction.

I have lost count of the number of friends who chose to have a baby after they visited me and saw what an easy baby you are. Even today you are my biggest weapon against the child haters. They meet you and all their usual arguments fail. You’re unfailingly polite, quiet, calm, thoughtful and wise like a little Dalai Lama.

I’m glad I didn’t try to ‘toughen you up’, because I’d be going against your nature and turning you into something alien. Everyday you make the world a better place with your gentle smile, your dreamy eyes and your out of the box questions.

A few days ago you came to me with tears in your eyes, saying that you were feeling really bad about something you’d done.

I steeled myself for a broken vase or something, even while knowing that it wasn’t really the sort of high jinks you got up to.

“A long time ago, last year, the Bean came home from a playdate and late in the night said to Dada that she hadn’t done her homework. He scolded her and told her that she should have done it before going out to play.  And I thought – serves her right.”

Alright, I said, waiting for the punch line.

‘That’s it. I was happy that she got a scolding and now I’m feeling really bad that I was happy when she was sad.’

Who said the diapers are the tough part?

What do you do with a child who reprimands himself for every mean thought even before you do? Who holds himself up to such impossibly high standards?

What will the world do to a gentle soul like this?

I took my troubles not to the Heavenly Father, but to your very earthly father, the OA, that night.

He hugged me and in a rare moment of wisdom (!) said – Yes, but why not look at it this way. What will a gentle soul like him do for the world? Wouldn’t it be amazing if he spread this gentleness?

I still soak up the softness of your cheeks, I hug you in my arms and love how substantial you feel. Your feet are almost the same size as mine and I run my fingers through your rough but perfect curls. I can barely lift you anymore so you obligingly spread yourself over me like butter.

But mostly you just ignore me and my fussing over your hair or cheeks and keep your nose buried in your book. When you’re not reading, you’re writing a little book, creating a fantasy world, writing stories in verse and making up the most sublime (not!) of rhymes – ‘If we don’t listen to the swimming teacher when he says jump, he kicks us in the rump!’

You’ve learnt to hold your own against your sister and I think that is one of the most important lessons in life. Not to let those we love, rule us.

You’ve picked up from your father and my attitude and the Gods across all mythologies are equal to you. The one above them though, is science. We couldn’t be happier or prouder, even though we’ve introduced you randomly to most religion and let you learn in school and from grandparents. There are moments you sniff disdainfully at a ritual or a religious more and your father and I grin at each other delightedly.

You have a few good friends and a very clear sense of the time you want to spend with them. You come back from school, give me a kiss and then inform me that you will now find a quiet spot for some ‘me time’. I’ve learnt to put aside my excitement and chatter and wait for you to collect and regroup your energy before you come back to us, ready to join the family in our boisterousness.

Which is not to say that you’re entirely vague. You’re the only one who will look at your father running around the house frantically throwing his luggage together and say- Dada, do you have everything you need? Can I help? Your sister and I are meanwhile chatting up a storm with someone, unconcerned that the man might miss a train (nothing new there – we missed the train before our Easter holidays again). Of course while we planned the drive down for our vacation you were the only one who read us the riot act for being haphazard and careless. In our defence – we were stuck in two jams caused by accidents and you know it! :p

The long drives are no longer hated and you’ve learnt exactly what we wanted you to learn on them. To be still. You look out for hours and do mental maths, find shapes within the clouds and spot tiny birds that we seem to miss. Every time you do that, I remember our long peaceful afternoons spent lying out in our beautiful Delhi balcony, me with my huge pregnant belly, you with your baby cuddliness. I’d point out shapes in the clouds, at other times lie in silence and wonder if I should instead be teaching you alphabets and using flash cards or sending you for some class that promised to turn you into a genius. I’m glad I didn’t because you’ve ended up so restful, so self sufficient and so low maintenance. I’ve never heard you say those dreaded words  - I’m bored.

You love hearing your birth story and every time I give you a little more detail. This time I told you how your cord was wrapped around your neck, you were suffering from IUGR, and you had no soft spot on your head. You listen and absorb and never forget a word.

You’ve been the ideal grandson this last year with your maternal grandparents, being quiet as they rest, watchful of their injuries, never shuddering when you see maimed limbs or blood. Instead offering them love and nonjudgmental conversation. Your paternal parents spend a lot of time trying to speak to you in their language but you haven’t a head for languages and don’t care for such things, simply making it up to them with - ‘Mama, I’m going to sleep with them because they must be lonely.’ Always fair, my little King Solomon.

I have no advice for you, my little Buddha. I’m going to sit at your feet, look up adoringly and hopefully learn from you.

I love you,

Mama

photo

His latest obsession – the Rubik’s cube. Geek alert!

 

The Bean turns seven

My darling little menace,

I don’t know what I thought you’d grow into. But I had no idea it would be this. Filthy, fearless, funny. You have a fantastic sense of humour and a belly laugh to rival the best. You have the grace of a mountain goat (you get that from dada) and there’s no tree you haven’t climbed, no hedge you haven’t crawled through, no puddle you haven’t stepped in.

I admit there are days I look at clean little girls in neatly turned up shorts, glossy hair tied back in pigtails and then I look at you mournfully – in your brother’s hand me down tracks, sagging at the knees, your hair escaping it’s dozen clips, your tee shirt covered in paint, and I wonder if you’ll look back at your pictures when you grow up and wonder if I neglected you.

But then you’ll see the thousands of pictures I click – you standing on dada’s shoulders, his hands, hanging from his exercise bar and flipping over, balancing on a beam, swirling a hula hoop, chasing a puppy around a park, and you’ll know why you never looked as shiny as the rest.

You wield your tongue like a rapier. I find it tough to win an argument with you and shamefully often resort to the old – Because I’m your mother card. Your father, poor man, doesn’t know what he did to deserve two like us. On good days he smiles and says – Hah, I can’t wait to see the poor fool that falls for her and discovers her sharp tongue. He insists I didn’t show him the rough edge on mine until we were wed. You know I’m incapable of holding it for that long!

You haven’t met a rule you don’t want to break and I’ve had to pull you out of an empty home (you got in through the gap they’d left to fit an AC) and give you the dressing down of your life. You’ve argued and made me justify every bit of discipline I’ve tried to inculcate. But why? Many a time I’ve changed my mind because I realise that I’m merely trying to force you into a certain way because ‘we did it when we were young’. Barring some good manners, there’s little else I enforce now.

I don’t need to. You have your heart in the right place and are a fiery little creature, always ready to fight for the underdog.

But under the muck and grime and paint, you’re still tiny, like a baby bird. A delicate frame that I worry will snap, when I see you throw yourself off a tree. Long fingers that create wonderful works of art. Ugly little toes that I will never forgive your father for.

You’re unbelievably observant and I often send you to fetch and carry because your brother and father only stare blankly at me if I ask for cello tape, measuring tape, my black shoes or a roll of toilet paper.

You love dogs and I’m giving up all hope of ever having any grandchildren through you. You’re the one that will adopt dogs and refer to them as your kids. A thought that breaks my heart I have to admit!

I love the way you take pride in our home, painting little pots and appointing them in the most unstable corners. I love how you pat the Brat’s curls adoringly and say – ‘My anna is so handsome. Even strangers like to play with his curls.’ All this while your ‘anna’ growls at you in mock anger and very real embarrassment.

Your father’s parents have been won over by you. A fairly conservative couple who voted for a boy the moment they heard I was expecting your brother, they are in awe of your wit, your charm, your way with words, your sunny personality, your quick thinking. This is a huge victory of personality over tradition. It’s amusing too, because these very qualities in your mother, they find abrasive! But that’s a battle for another day. For now, I like how the female, skinny, dark, grubby little underdog took all her grandparents’ preconceived notions and flung them out the window, wrapping the old couple around her little finger. Your paternal grandpa called to wish you this morning, singing happy birthday on the phone and ending with an I love you – a phrase he’s never offered your father.

Your father and I have got used to you waving to the guard, the shopkeepers, the old gentlemen who brings his grandson down to play everyday. They all know us only as your parents. You’re our celebrity.

And just like that, I know someday you will grow up and win over everyone who ever crosses your path. You tire me, frustrate me, drive me nuts – and yet, I’m your biggest fan.

I love you,

Mama

Edited to add: You’ve been sick for the last 2 weeks now. Fever, cough, cold, gastro-enteritis, boils on your face, in your eye, nostril, and the final injury – urticaria. We had to cancel the party after weeks of running to the hospital every second day.

This morning I oiled your hair and  you sit there with your hair up in a clip, in your pajamas, your skinny limbs gracefully yet carelessly arranged. You’re engrossed in that very rare treat, the iPad, tapping your sock clad feet in time to the music and all of a sudden you’re not 7, you’re 17 and I feel my eyes shining with tears. This is it. It’s over. I had just this much time to be mother to babies. And I’m only 35 and it’s almost over. You’re growing so fast. I spend more and more time with you, clinging to what it is that I seek from motherhood, but it slips through my fingers and rushes on. I have no complaints. I have received more than I ever thought I would.

 

Welcome Baby Bub

And I’m an aunt yet once more. :) Happy days are here again. Tambi aka the Mad Sibling and the SIL had a second son on the 7th of November. Bub weighed the same as Baby Button and looks nothing like him yet, but you know how babies change. This is the first set of two boys we’ve had in our family. We’ve had 4 sisters (my grandma’s sisters) and other variations. And in our immediate family we’ve always been two siblings, a boy and a girl. Namely, my mum and Chhote nana, my brother and I, Cousin K and J, the Brat and the Bean. We hadn’t even considered the possibility of another boy but hey, he’s ours and he’s adorable and absolutely edible. 

I’m afraid this delayed post already looks like second sibling neglect but its nothing of the sort. With the family accident and all that we’ve been going through its been quite crazy around here. 

So just a quick update and now I’m off. Our family is now complete. 

PS: Here’s a Baby Button-ism for you. He tells his parents a story every night, starting, Wonta, ponta time. I can’t tell you how it makes me go all warm and gooey hearing him say it!

35

So my 35th came in (25.09) without the bang I’d hoped for. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t post about it as I usually do.

You read in the papers about this family that was going for a funeral or a wedding and  everyone was together and they crashed up and you say – damn… all of them injured? How tragic. *shudder*
Yes, well, that was our family. A tragedy to crown a tragedy.

We had a death in the family on the 31st of August and those who could, set out for the funeral immediately. A car carrying 8 family members crashed up – and 5 ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Little cousin J, my baby, the one I still hold in my arms and rock even though she is 20, was the one who pushed open a door, crawled out, and hailed truck drivers on the highway to help them turn the car around and get the rest of the family out. The Scorpio, if you see the pictures, looks like scrap metal. Truck drivers tore it open to inexpertly pull out some of the people who were crushed into it and caused a lot more damage to their limbs. They then rushed them to a small road side dispensary. Calls were made. Cousin J called me first and all I could hear was her sobbing, while others in the background screamed in terror and in pain. It was almost like being thrown on to the sets of a rather scary film. I kept asking, What’s wrong, baby? And she couldn’t explain, just kept crying, ‘accident, accident.’ I didn’t know where they were or what I could do to help. I quickly made the rest of the calls to my parents, to family friends, others who were close enough to help. I joined within the day, leaving the kids with the OA.

I’ve spent the last month in and out of various cities and it’s not been easy. We’ve all had a sick kid, sick parent, ailing elderly members – but having five family members in hospital is not easy. Nursing them in a strange city? A nightmare.They were all in different rooms, had different needs and now I am an expert at sponging, feeding and so on. With just three caregivers we were stretched beyond belief and sleepless, tired and worried.  All the patients had different needs, and were soon split up across 3 specialty hospitals. We went mad keeping track of them but it was worth it to get them the best treatment.

We had to stay in a hotel right by the hospital, often got back too late to get a meal, skipped meals by the dozen, survived days on roadside tea and buns because no homecooked food was to be had, slept on the floor outside the ICU, ran up astronomical hotel and phone bills, called everyone on earth to get doctor recommendations, had to buy essentials like clothes and underwear, and pillows (silly things, but things you don’t realise until you are in that position) and just kept going. Tambi flew down from the US immediately and my Uncle (Chhote Nana) took one look at him and said – Am I so seriously ill that you flew him down to say his final goodbye? No, he was not on his way out. But that’s what a lifetime of love and goodwill gets you. Your entire family around you in a moment of crisis.

Getting blood, has my God, been a nightmare (and all our friends abroad were shocked that hospitals don’t organise this). We’ve always been blood donors, which is why we took it for granted that there’d always be enough blood if you needed it. But there wasn’t at first. We mobilised blood donation on a war footing. Calling friends, who called other friends, who called other friends and found us blood in Lucknow. A miracle. A blessing. True friends. At one point I was flopped on the hospital floor, my knees aching from the stairs, when I looked up and realised that every single person in the blood bank right then, was there to give blood for my uncle – and not a single one of them was a familiar face. Forty or so strangers, all giving something as precious as blood.

I learnt something that day, that wasn’t a part of my culture – I learnt to fold my hands and say thank you. I saw my mother fall at the doctor’s feet when he came out of the OT and said that my Uncle was alive and breathing. Another thing that is not part of our culture, but comes so naturally when someone gives you back a piece of your life.

This is also that time when you realise, you are THAT generation, the one whose time has come to step up to the plate.  There is no one else to come here and handle it. The younger ones are too young, the older ones, too old. You are the one that needs to care for your children, and also tell your father that it isn’t his place to stand outside the OT and wait. To go back to the hotel and rest and that you will call him and your mother after the surgery. To tell them to put their feet in your lap and give them a foot rub after a day of standing in various queues. I also learned that you don’t have to give birth to someone to feel a fierce love, to want to protect them with every fibre.

We have a neat little divide in our family where everyone openly picks a favourite. My dad’s pet is Cousin J and after the accident, she pulled him into her hospital bed, broken arm and all and slept curled up against her beloved Uncle. Cousin K is my mother’s precious brat – and through the last month, she has been his strength as he is the only one unharmed in the family of four. My aunt, chhoti nani, thinks the sun rises and sets with my brother, Tambi and when he walked into her room, jetlagged and tired, she took one look at him and pain disappeared for a while. I am my uncle’s pet – with my sharp tongue and ready smile and impetuous nature, I’m everything he likes in a person. And so it was that I fell naturally into the role of caregiver for him while others organised blood, hotels, medicines, ambulances, organised our homes over the phone and fought the endless battle over insurance.

As I wiped my uncle’s mouth after a sip of  water, pressed his forehead until he fell asleep, I realised there was no way I could ever do for him what he did for me when I was a child. Everyone gets their turn to repay family debt – you just don’t get to do enough. Who is he to you, the nurses ask, because at 47 he doesn’t look much older than I probably did at that time, careworn, sleep deprived and unwashed. I looked old enough to be a wife, too old to be a daughter. I’m his niece, I’d say and they’d frown, unsure of why a niece should be so frazzled and devoted. They believed it on the days I went wearing jeans. On salwar kameez days they looked doubtful. People are uncomfortable if they’re unable to slot you. And with our varying age gaps, early marriages, early kids, its hard to put us together for a family photograph and be able to identify who the couples are and which kids belong to them. After being asked how I was related to my uncle, for the nth time, my tired retort was – He’s everything. Everything to me. Uncle, father, brother, son. As you can imagine, that answer didn’t go down too well. We’re a convoluted, complicated family and I’m unable to decipher today, what a niece’s love is meant to feel like. I just feel what I feel.

We’ve finally shifted the patients back to our hometown and I’ve had to have the kids miss school – it’s interesting how many people are so shocked that the kids are MISSING SCHOOL. I have to keep reminding people that the kids are in Class 1 and 3, not taking entrances to medical college. That a seriously injured family is a little more important than missed sessions in the sandpit. That this is an early lesson in what it means to be family. They are hanging around with me at my parents’ place while we care for all our patients. It’s been a good experience for them too, to learn consideration, to have a meal delayed, to get no attention, to fetch and carry, to know pain and sorrow up close and to be strengthened by it, to know a missing limb and not be repulsed by it. They’re doing fairly well, my little stalwarts, bringing cheer and happiness and occasionally getting away with too much TV.

Most of our other patients are healing well, but my Uncle got the worst of it and will need many more surgeries and many months before he walks again.

If I had to pick out the worst moment, it would be the one where we shifted him from one hospital to another in an ambulance that had no air conditioning. To begin with, it couldn’t leave the parking lot because of the number of vehicles parked in front of it. Cousin K sat holding his father on to the bed and I sat holding his hand and stroking the sweat off his head – unable to do much more than beg for them to start moving. At some point my parents, Cousin K, all hopped out and began to scream at people to move their bloody bikes and cycles out of the way and the frustration was palpable. As we drove down the streets of Lucknow, the siren blaring, people chatted on phones and with loved ones on the seat beside them, callously and stubbornly refusing to move out of the way. All the while my uncle was losing his life, and we were talking to him to keep him awake, conscious, alive. My parents drove along the side, my dad and mum sticking their heads out and screaming at people to move. At some point Cousin K and I dropped uncle’s hands and leaned out of the ambulance, pleading, begging, abusing people and asking them to move out of the damn way. The ambulance driver nodded casually and said – If this were a heart patient, he’d be dead by now.  Right. Good to know.

But perhaps the best lesson I learnt in all this is to be a better friend. I’ve always been the one who felt awkward to call in friends in illness and death. I’ve wanted to help but not known how. I’ve said – Let me know if I can help, and then wondered why no help was demanded. Well, I’ve learnt how to offer help now. By not offering, just doing.

A friend collected and gave me her air miles since I’m travelling back and forth. Now this is a blessing when time is of essence and trains not available and travel plenty. Another just came and stayed with the kids at our place on a day the OA had a meeting post their school hours and needed to leave them. She figured they’d be most comfortable in their own environment when their mother was away. A third picked them up straight from school and kept them at her place until the OA got back from another meeting on yet another day. A lot of others offered to keep the kids but needed the OA to drop and pick them – something that made no sense in a city as big as Delhi. Someone else offered to bring in dinner to my uncle every evening. This helps even now on days that there is no cook and we’re all madly rushing round. Another just comes and sits for 2 hours each evening so that all caregivers can go home and bathe, rest, just do whatever else constitutes their life and is on hold. A friend who is in the army got us a whole lot of jawans to donate blood. Another found out rates of helicopters to fly back our patients. We didn’t use it, but it was amazing to see how their brains were working overtime to help us. Yet another called a friend to call his brother who is a senior police official in the area and see if strings could be pulled in anyway. We didn’t need it, but the thought counted. Yet another bought a new bed pan (ha!) because they said the hospital ones have been used by so many people. I could go on. Someone else brought disposable glasses and plates for the attendants/caregivers/us to eat in. Another sent us aromatherapy for sleep, because most trauma patients have trouble sleeping – did you know that? Yet others offered to show the medical reports and x-rays to well known physicians they knew. Another got us a discount on the ambulance that takes one of the injured people for dressing everyday. Some have offered us a wheelchair, another has given us two hospital beds that can be cranked up and down. Others called up friends in the hospital administration – from the head of security to a low down accountant to the CEO of hospital, we had friends call each one of them and ask them to look out for us. And they did. We were the ones who got offered a little stool in ICU. So many of them offered to call up friends who worked with the insurance agency and speed up our paperwork. It goes on.
Many messaged saying, let us know if we can help. Well, here’s something I’ve learnt in the last month – I don’t know what you can do for me, so YOU let me know how you can help. And in future, that is what I will offer. Concrete help. Be it a box of pastries that the attendants can take a break with or a flask of homemade cold coffee. A care package with wet wipes and some tetrapacks of cool juice are a blessing. Every bit helps. Every bit gets them across that difficult patch. What doesn’t help is the endless text messages and long phone calls – we just don’t have the time or energy to respond, and yet we’re forced to out of civility.

I had wanted another tattoo to commemorate 35 years on this earth. I didn’t get a chance since I haven’t really been back to Delhi yet. And I’m wondering if I need it – this experience has left a mark on me that no tattoo could match.

And so on this year’s birthday post  (if you can call it that), I’m sharing a few Facebook statuses I’d put up through the last month.

—————————

Lessons learnt in a hospital.
1. Superheroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they wear surgical masks and disposable gowns.
2. Call the nurse Chechi, smile at the ward boy and flirt with the plastic surgeon even if your heart is breaking and your mind with your loved one. Makes them take special care of your patient, give you extra minutes in the ICU and brightens their day. They too are sick of people crying and snapping.
3. Leaning out of an ambulance and screaming at people is more effective than a siren. Abusing them might be undignified but it is effective.
4. There is no adequate thanks for a blood donor. Folding your hands and thanking them is all you can do when you’re tired and worried but grateful.
5. College students are the happiest and most generous donors.
6. A blood bank spilling over with donors for your family says something.
7. Nothing brings a family close like an accident and a shared hospital thaali.

————————

A crumpled car, crow bars and truck drivers pulling him out, bleeding for 12 hours, a dirty little highway hospital. He went through it all and after 5 hours of surgery has come out alive and well… my stubborn mule of an uncle didn’t give up. Thank you all for your prayers, wishes and help.

———————–

May those who don’t heed the siren of an ambulance, never know what it is to sit in one, hanging on to a loved one’s hand, watching in despair as traffic stubbornly refuses to give way.

————————-

There’s a 6 year old on the next bed in the ICU. She was out on the bike with her parents when they had an accident. She hit her head – and then a bus ran over her arm. It is now in 3 separate pieces and will take a year or so to reconstruct over many surgeries. Her parents say they will have to sell their house and land to pay for it.
She screams in pain each time they give her a shot and her little body is swollen with the IVs she’s had in for days.
Even being witness to it is a nightmare. Right now if anyone who tries to give me gyaan or tell me this is God’s way of testing us or pichchle janam ka karma or paap or tries to explain or rationalise her agony in any way, I will bite their head off. This world makes no sense.
—————————-

Okay, so we’re managing, somewhat, to take care of our various patients. Just help us to get by, without asking us how we’re ‘coping up’. We’re not coping up, we’re coping. Not cope up, simply cope.

We’re going through enough trauma without having to deal with shitty grammar. Thank you.

I am now going back to the ICU and regular programming shall resume when my shift ends.
—————————

Interesting how many people thank the OA for ‘sending/letting me come home to care for my family’. I wonder how many cows he gave my family in exchange for me.
Also, how come no one thanks a wife for letting her husband go home and help his family in times of need? Morons.

——————————–

Hospital learnings:

1.When you have a loved one undergoing surgery, an hour measures 120 minutes instead of 60.
2. Even if you’ve been married 10 years and are worried sick about said surgery, you can still have plenty to talk about with your spouse, sitting outside the OT on the floor.
3. The midnight shift is when you really need to befriend hospital staff.
4. When the staff ask you how you’re related to the man on the ICU bed, saying that you’re his niece just doesn’t seem adequate.
5. Everybody hurts. Including those who were not in the accident.
——————————–

After a long day of attempting to work from home (something I’ve done for 8 years now :-/) while the kids go on with their various activities, back from school, lunch, nap, swimming, homework, playtime, the OA collapses in exhaustion and observes – Raising children builds character.

Absolutely. That is why I am so character-ful.

————————–

She was an elderly lady with chubby red cheeks and the cutest little jet black top-knot, wobbling in outrage on the top of her head. And she was driving my uncle nuts. He was in the bed next to hers and just as he drifted off to sleep hooked up to various tubes, his exhaustion overcoming his pain, she’d let out a loud cry of Hai Allah and wake up the entire ICU. All in various stages of sleep and pain, the other patients would yell for her to shut up.

She had only two men (about my age) to attend to her and they stood at a safe distance, looking helpless. She’d yank off her oxygen mask and push it up on her head like a party hat and say – ‘Look, this little trickle? It’s getting to my nose. This is where I will wear it.’
Every day I’d flirt, smile, beg, plead, charm my way through doctors and nurses and ward boys, into the ICU to feed my uncle (against the rules) who was being troublesome in his own way and refusing to eat.

We approached her out of sheer selfishness. To get her to BE QUIET for a while, so that my battered, bruised, weak uncle could get some sleep. I know Ma had a little more love than I did – she feels strongly for all old people after she lost both her parents.

We acted chatty and held her hands in a friendly way, to keep her distracted so that she didn’t pull off her oxygen mask, we rubbed her arms that were sore and red from days of IVs, I gave the nurses a break and fed her after I’d fed my uncle, I chatted with her while they changed her diapers. I’d tell her that she must have been prettier than Mumtaz Mahal in her youth. And she’d say, Get me off this bed and I’ll take you shopping for the best chikankari in Lucknow.

She began to look out for us and we grew attached to her.

I’d pass her sons in the corridor and waiting areas and glare at them until one day I couldn’t take it anymore – Can’t you be a little more helpful? Why do you just stand and stare when she’s yanking out tubes and pulling off oxygen masks?
They shrugged helplessly- She’s a ladiss. We don’t know what to do with her.
I never berated them again.
For a few days after I left the Lucknow hospital she kept asking for me.
She died on the 14th.My mother sobbed. I was too tired of death and pain to cry.

Her son calls my mum every few days, offering to come down from Rae Bareilly, arrange for blood, give us money if we need – says he will now help us get my uncle back on his feet since he has no one else. We need nothing, but it’s good to hear from him. He refers to my mother as Ammi too.
Everyday there is a little hospital story to tell.
Moral of this story? Hospitals are not the place to get attached to people.