Home

It’s a nice enough home. A 100 years old and declared a heritage home by those who are meant to be bestowing such honours. My parents have struggled to ensure that it stays cosy yet maintains it’s charm and doesn’t slide into decline.  The silver is polished and shines. The crystal sparkles. The old chandeliers light up without a flicker. Rows and rows of books on art and architecture line the walls. The upholstery is spotless. Little knick knacks from travels over the years dot the peg tables. Not just their own travels but also those of family members who are now just a fading memory. Fresh flowers dress up little consoles and the grand piano. Art on the walls, a well stocked bar. Everything says this is the home of an older couple with well, some taste.

A view of their living room

 

Until you see this little corner. A shrine to Shrek and McDonald’s Happy Meals. And then you realise it’s also the home of grandparents.

And this is how my kids mark their territory

The grand old dining room with the massive dining table is filled with the peals of childish laughter. Sepia toned ancestors look down benignly on yet another generation playing hide and seek behind the antique dresser.

My great-grandparents

 

 

A grandparent’s dilemma

My mother has been a businesswoman since I was eight. And her job consumes her, unlike the way I treat mine as a hobby. I’ve watched her sit up nights while she saw each business through its teething period. I’ve seen her build them, bore of them the moment the  challenge is over and then sell them off to start the thrill again. She has her blackberry on at all times, checking work email and her laptop slung on a backpack when she travels.

And in between this I’ve never seen her sit still. Making wine, cooking jam, embroidering huge tapestries. Her pickles are famous as are her hand-knitted sweaters. I haven’t inherited an iota of her talent or interests and that will always be a regret. Anyway, the point of this post is not to sing paeans to her but to tell you that her hands and brain are always busy.

Also, growing up, our home felt like MTv non-stop party (without the half-naked chicks of course). Upstairs my maama’s (aka Chhota Nana on this blog) room was booming with Modern Talking and Men At Work until the plaster fell off the walls. Downstairs my friends were spilling out of our room onto the verandah and the swings. Come exam time all our friends would be at our place and when we ran short of space they’d slide under the bed and lie there with their books, forcing my grandfather to curse under his breath as he cautiously stepped over prone bodies, making his way to the toilet. At any given point our home would be a shelter for some aunty making her way out of a bad marriage and often we’d have their husbands threatening from the gates. I think we grew up taking this in our stride because this was our life. Being the family home everyone came home to die and one room was the infirmary with someone or the other bed-ridden and needing round the clock care.

Also, for some reason, there were always displaced students staying on and taking advantage of our family’s hositality. The Palestinian who didn’t know if his family was still alive, the Bangladeshi who got into fights and often had to be given a yell by my mother and dragged away, country pistol in hand, the Sri Lankan who broke his foot at least twice a year and would often lie in bed drawing airplanes for the mad sibling and me, the Mallu who took 14 years to graduate and still didn’t. People floated in and out of our house, most often we didn’t know how long they’d stay, a week, a month, a year. And the kitchen always had the kettle on. Food was simple rotis and aloo subji – I guess I lost interest in food around that point. My grandfather couldn’t be expected to provide rich meats and wines for his never-ending stream of guests and I think that is around  the time that Tambi and I learned that food was only sustenance. Relationships and family and laughter and cheer and being a helping hand were what really brought joy. Today when the OA opens the door and walks in, he never knows who might be sitting in his living room. He used to crib at some point but now he’s grown used to it and understands where I’m coming from. All this to tell you, that I’ve always had a packed life and much more than me, my parents, who at various points during my growing years were both bedridden and fought their infirmity and got out of it stronger, while the house around them was still full of the sound of strangers frying up sausages and making chutney sandwiches. They are very used to being active and needed and social.

So when I was expecting the Brat in Madras it was understood that I’d go home for the delivery. Some teased me for the old fashioned ‘going home to deliver’ but I had no house help in Madras, was cooking, sweeping, swabbing, sweating buckets in the humidity, friendless and lonely. Certainly not the best situation to give birth in. And most importantly, my mother was working and couldn’t come and stay with me endlessly. So I went home, delivered the Brat, suffered through 45 days of missing the OA and rushed back to the heat, sweeping, swabbing a hundred times a day and loneliness.

By the time the Bean was born I ensured that I was in Delhi, had a part-timer to do the cleaning and a cook who did two meals a day and had found a fantastic hospital. No way was I going home. I was a pro. And so my mother stayed about 8-10 days and then left me and the two kids to my tender mercies  and went back to work. It was pretty clear – she had a job and if I wanted to be taken care of,  I needed to go there, she certainly couldn’t dump everything and sit at my place endlessly.

And so the moment the mad sibling had a baby and plans were made to leave work and go there, I called her up and gave her some emotional blackmail – Ah ha, so you couldn’t come to your poor daughter who was young and alone and scared. But you can go to your son even though his inlaws have already spent 2-3 months there, they have a support system and are much older and far better equipped, huh? Mother being used to me told me to shut up and I did.

And they went. For a month. And while she hasn’t said a word, I speak to her everyday and I can’t imagine how the woman of the non-stop working hands and hectic social life is managing. My dad left a few days ago and got back but until then the two of them were in the quiet suburbs with my brother, taking care of the baby and completely out of their element. When they come to Delhi (they come every couple of months) they know their way around, take my car and driver or get a cab or drive themselves and go shopping, meeting friends, exploring the city…

But once in the US they were different people. My dad can watch TV for a while but my mother isn’t a TV watcher. Like me she’d rather be online and after a while even that begins to pale.  The days are spent in the relative quiet of the house, doing a few household chores (something my parents haven’t done in years but that’s okay since there’s really not much work there) and they eagerly await the evening when they might step out for a break. Unused to driving on the wrong side of the road my dad already dented my brother’s car (*koff koff* , maybe now I can start learning on dad’s car ) and they pretty much refused to drive anywhere. Each day when they were off baby-duty they’d go for a long walk, sometimes walking an hour and a half at times… Chatting, admiring the beauty around them.

But this is so not my parents. They’re dynamic, young, energetic and this semi-retired lifestyle is not for them. They were dying to see their beloved grandson and that is the only thing that kept them there for over a week. Even a Delhi visit that lasts longer than 3 days is a little too much for them to be sitting still and they’re champing at the bit to go back to their own environment and businesses. The month took its toll on my dad for sure because he got back here and was ordering us all around to make up for lost time! I had to finally bundle him on to the train and send him home to get some peace! As for ma, she’s a ma. She won’t complain and yet the whole thing reminds me of those Jhumpa Lahiri stories of displaced Indians sitting on park benches that I hate. Thankfully my mother hasn’t worn sneakers with her salwar suit or a bindi with her jeans yet or else she’d complete the picture of the tormented desi Aunty who doesn’t know whether she is coming or going.

It’s only a 6 week trip and I shudder to think of what it would be like for them if it were 6 months. To say nothing of what it is like for the couple who need to include them in any plan or then leave them home while they go out to party, wallowing in guilt. As of now most of our friends are in the US and they’ve been picking my mum up for lunches, she’s met up with a couple of their mothers and they’ve had their own granny lunches. But none of this makes up for the fact that she is getting bored out of her skull. She’s not the kind of grandmother who can only change diapers and cook meals, so  once she’s done with those she is at a loose end. Baby goes for a walk in his stroller, plays with her for hours on end and no doubt any grandparent would love that but as she said, all the grandparents there are missing home.

Makes me wonder how much longer and how often they will be able to do this. Travelling abroad is expensive and you go there to help your kids out, not to party or see the country. Also, being expensive, it’s not something you can do once every two months like you would within the country – it needs to be a substantially long trip to be worth the money. But even those who are retired in India and have nothing better to do, feel so out of place and that seems to make up the bulk of the conversation when they do catch up. They want to help their children but it comes at a high cost. My dad loves the Gurgaon complex we live in and this time he caught me saying once or twice (I have no idea why I said it) that it would be nice once they retire and move here to be with us. And he got really mad at me (it didn’t help that he’d just spent one jobless month with one child and broken his journey here) saying that he would only retire to his grave and never before or to any other place.

I appreciate the way they feel. They are frightfully independent people (and that is their personality and would not change even if they were retired folks) and I wonder what they will do when old age actually slows them down. A friend wants to move back to India because the grandparents find it tough to travel to the US. My SIL’s mother who has had a lot of health problems was most unhappy at having to travel for 23 hours in a little cramped seat in a steel tube so that she could be there for the delivery and the first two months. And even though my parents are much younger and fitter, the truth is that the jet lag kept my dad out for the count for 4 days on his return to India.

There are times when the OA gets job offers that might require us to move abroad and this is the one thing that bothers me. What will we do so far away from our families? They love visiting us, they are dying to see their grandchildren, but the long journey, the strange country, the inability to roam around as they  could in India (jumping on to an auto or rickshaw) and the structured lifestyle is just not for them. I’ve always wondered how other old folks do it and seeing my parents do it for the first time it’s like a punch to the solar plexus. What are their choices? That they don’t see their grandchildren until they visit India? That they bite the bullet and go there anyway and brave the unfamiliarity? So tell me wise internetz who live abroad, how do you and your parents manage this? What do they do all day while you are at work, other than changing diapers and reading? How else do you suggest they build a bond with a child if not by being physically present over extended periods of time or often? What about active, unretired, not-so-old couples who are suddenly landed with a lap full of gurgly babies by their over-enthusiastic children procreating at the speed of lightning with no thought to the youth and social life of the grandparents? Or what do you do if they’re old and ailing and need help? Do you take them there? Do you move back? What?

No seriously, how many of you moved back to India because of this? How many of you are finding this a problem? And what do your parents have to say about this?

And we’re moving house again…

… so bear with me as we try our luck once again at themadmomma.in. Yes, we’re persistent if nothing else. Read this post and then head there to the other post waiting for you. 

FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2006

Wait till you have grandchildren…

….is my mother’s favourite threat. And this, is her beloved grandson feeding her popcorn. They have also been known to eat a single biscuit from opposite ends till they meet in between – this has him dissolve into giggles and he lies on the bed shaking like a little bowl of unset jelly, gurgling helplessly – positively the best sound I have ever heard in my life. And all the while the grandmother shrieks with laughter along with him while her eyes well up with tears of joy.

I don’t know what it is about grandchildren that melts stern, forbidding adults. I remember my mom and uncle shaking in their shoes when my grandfather lectured them. All the while I would sit on his stomach and play with his ears, while my brother ran dizzy circles around his armchair displaying creative genius and singing, ‘Dadu the bum, drinks only rum.’ This used to amuse my grandparents hugely and looking back I can’t imagine why we were not smacked and put in the corner.
My son was born in my family home and I tried hard to exercise some control over his care. I religiously worshipped atwww.babyfit.com and www.babycentre.com everyday and I was quite clear on how I wanted to bring up my baby. This called for a daily battle of wits and then one day, when my baby was about 15 days old I went shopping with my mother to one of the most crowded, dirty and busy areas of our small town. We decided to leave the brat with his grandfather (henceforth referred to as G’pa). How much trouble can a 15-day old be, we reasoned. G’pa’s chest visibly puffed up with pride at this great responsibility as he took over his grandson who had been fed and diapered and was fast asleep.
We got back after two hours and as we neared the room, mother’s instinct kicked in and I rushed to my parents’ room. There was G’pa with only a towel around his waist, holding on to the brat enveloped in a huge fluffy towel, the AC and fan switched off, G’pa and G’son dripping with perspiration and my son looking very unhappy and whimpering. All this on a sweltering May afternoon in the plains of North India.Apparently his grandson brought up a little milk after we left and G’pa had no idea how to hold such a small baby over the sink and clean him. So he filled the bathtub and got in with his grandson and bathed him. Now my son had shown a great love for water even at that age and would howl his lungs out every time he finished his bath, but G’pa was not to know that. No sooner did he get out than the brat decided to voice his disapproval – so he howled loud and long. The brand new G’pa has no clue what was wrong and finally came to the conclusion that G’son has caught a cold. So there he was, standing in the heat and rocking my poor brat to sleep.

This is just one example. Our home is fully carpeted and once G’son began to crawl, there would be accidents all over the place during our visits (I only cloth nappied in case you’re wondering how that happened). I would be horrified and mortified and all the other ‘fieds’. But G’pa would calmly tell me to take G’son and wash his little bottom while he picked up the ‘accident’ and disposed of it and cleaned up the carpeting.

The G’pa and G’son are inseparable when they are in the same city and G’son goes to G’pa’s office, sits on his desk and holds court. The staff love it when I am in town because the moment they see trouble brewing one of them begs me to walk in to the office with him. And G’pa is completely distracted and absolutely besotted and all is calm on the western front once again.

He eats on their bed and G’pa feeds him messy chocolate and is hugged and kissed by that mucky little face. They get up early in the morning to sit in the garden and listen to the koels singing, they watch the fish in the pond, they go for a drive in the open top jeep and they play in the mud with the three dogs.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of a filthy home! This is the home of two very houseproud people. The brass and silver shine and the vacuuming and plants require one dedicated person. Yet the grandson goes wild and both grandparents sit by smiling proudly and encouraging him.And this is not really an ode to the grandfather. The grandmother is as bad if not worse. She refuses to keep any social obligations if her grandson is in town. She has to be pushed out of the house and sent to office and she is back much too early. Her daily soaps are given a break and she is up and down and round and round the house with him. Her friends are welcome home only if they sit and adore her grandson and worship him.To his credit he doesn’t really get spoilt with all this attention but its more than I can handle. I mean I used to be the star attraction earlier. Now when I get down at the railway station, he is whisked out of my arms with out a glance being spared for me. The last time I watched them hurry off with grandson and luggage while I stood there feeling lost. Eventually, diva that I am, I threw a tantrum on the platform till they walked back and hugged and kissed me too. When they call, they barely get past civilities and want to know what new their grandson is up to. Which is not much considering they sometimes call thrice a day.
Where is this post going? I am not sure! I guess I am just surprised by what I see my son doing to my parents. Just like motherhood and fatherhood are special, being a grandparent is perhaps even more so. The old joke goes that God gives you grandchildren to make up for having given you children. Often I check my mother for spoiling my brat and she looks up at me with revenge writ large on her face and a “wait till you have grandchildren and your daughter gets in the way…”Sigh….ok.
And now off to themadmomma.in, all of you!

Dear G’pa

The next time you smile hugely and tell someone that Tambi is ensuring the family name lives on with Baby Button, I WILL TEAR YOU LIMB FROM LIMB and throw the pieces in the Ganges.

I carry as much blood of your blood as your son does (unless Ma knows something she is not telling us) and I look more like you, have your hothead and your easy smile. I am more you than your stupid son is. Right?

This grandson of yours adores you. This granddaughter of yours thinks the sun shines out of your posterior. Their day begins and ends with ‘G’pa says this..’ and ‘G’pa says that…’ They may be on the other end of the complexion scale but that is the only difference I see! They think  you, they breathe you, they talk about you, they carry your genes, they worship you. Anything you say, is the Good Word (which is why I told you to stop bullshitting them about the boa constrictor you escaped).

And you – you’ve pressed my feet when I was pregnant, you’ve fed me by hand, you’ve taken me for walks and begged me to lose the baby weight once it was over, you’ve waited outside the OT, your face grey with worry while I delivered each one of them. You held them within ten minutes of their birth and I saw your heart melt. You talk about them to random strangers who don’t give a shit about your grandkids, you let them sit on your office table and play with your phones, I’ve seen you clean the carpet when they poop on it and glare at me when I scold them for it.  I see you rock them to sleep at night, I watch you read to them, I’ve seen you risk your neck hanging upside down from a jungle gym to teach them, I notice you bathe and dry them tenderly, I see you plan your trips around a quick visit to Delhi.

We love Baby Button. We all do. BUT HE IS NOT THE ONLY ONE CARRYING ON YOUR FAMILY NAME. BOTH OF THEM CARRY IT and they do you proud. *koff koff* As do I.

So the next time you come up with something disgustingly patriachal and conservative (which is SO not you) I’m going to come home, rip up every bit of paper connecting you and me, delete your number off my phone and take the two of them to a hypnotist to remove every trace of memory they have of their awful old grandfather who has forgotten that they are his blood and his genes too.

Are we clear then?

Your very respectful, gentle, loving, mild daughter,

MM

Observations on a grey afternoon

Sorry about the nail biting tension. This is how the stubbornness story ends.

As it happens, I waited for about an hour and then went hunting for the Brat. He was sitting quietly in his room with a book. I figured that he is still young enough for me to talk him through this. So we did the usual – Are you feeling sad? What did Dada say? Do you think he was right? Should you have done what you did? Are you sorry? Do you want to tell him so?

He went and apologised to his father and we helped him dig his stuff out of the trash. Thankfully it had just been emptied and had a fresh liner so it was fine.  Alls well that ends well.

——————

I was out picking up groceries and as I walked back I noticed a couple of young mothers with their babies on the swings. Too young to be in school, the babies don’t get a chance once the school goers get back and being a grey morning it wasn’t unbearable out in the open. All the mothers, without fail, were on their phones. Either talking or messaging or checking email.

On a slide was a woman with a little boy in her lap, flying down, squealing with joy. It was a maid. I wondered if it was her own baby and then I realised the child was very well dressed and she was referring to him as ‘aap’ and telling him something about his mummy.

It’s funny. I may not have had too many good experiences with maids but here was a maid actually spending quality time with the child and engaging with him while other parents absentmindedly did their duty, not really focusing on the children. No judgment. I’m sure they spend enough and more time and deserve their time off. Just an observation.

———————-

I also passed an old grandfather walking his grandson back from school. The child spoke with an American accent and the gentleman spoke slowly, laboriously hunting for the right words. I walked alongside, swinging my bags, shamelessly eavesdropping. Life sometimes gives you the opportunity to see love and understanding only as a bystander and I don’t see the harm in grabbing those moments. I’ve noticed that a lot older people who have grandchildren visiting/ returning from abroad  insist on focussing on language and culture as though that is the only and most important thing that needs to be passed on. I don’t know the history, but it was so sweet to see that the old gentleman was only interested in communicating and building a relationship with the grandchild. Even if it meant him taking the first step forward and learning a new language in his old age. So beautiful. This is the kind of selfless love I’m hoping to be capable of someday.