So I did tell you that I was madly busy after quitting my last job. I am now holding down another (along with some freelance work) but what really kept me madly busy through the last few days of September was something completely different.
You see, my pregnant sister in law was coming down to India and spending a few days with me, a week with my parents and about 20 days with her parents. Naturally we were all in a state of excitement. She was landing in India three days before my birthday and going on to spend my mother’s birthday with her. My parents were planning to have a little party that was more in honour of her than my mother’s birthday. We were busy planning where to take her shopping and how to spoil her rotten. My parents were busy planning the party menu. My cousins wanted to take her out to a pub *rolls eyes*. The Brat and Bean wanted to kiss her belly button so that the kisses got to Baby Button.
Anyway, we put that aside and I came up with a plan. I suggested to my parents that we surprise my sister in law with a baby shower. While we do have baby showers in the Indian Christian community, as a family we have never had them. I have no idea why – it just hasn’t been around since my grandmother’s time and I think its because the daughters of the family were never home for their pregnancies. But I thought it would be a nice way to show her that she was important to us. So important that even though we don’t have a tradition of doing baby showers in the family, we wanted to do one for her and show her that she and the Baby Button are special and are bringing us much joy. The parents loved the idea and jumped in with both feet.
So the SIL wasn’t really expecting to be baby-showered and was busy (yes, it gets more complicated!) trying to book a birthday cake for my mother! My parents went into overdrive, planning the shower, checking with the brother if it might offend her sensibilities in anyway and generally trying to keep it all under wraps and not mention it to her in conversation. I suggested that we add a few Hindu rituals so that she doesn’t get bothered by the unfamiliarity of it all and my parents readily agreed to the idea. In all this I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I felt a twinge of sadness that my brother wasn’t coming down too.
So when he called me a couple of weeks before her arrival and maroed the ‘Allo ‘allo line – “Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once,” I knew immediately what was going on. I literally screamed into the phone – I know what you’re going to say – You’re coming to India too, aren’t you?
He laughed and told the SIL – I told you my sister would guess. Me? I’d like to think I wished him into coming. And here’s the thing – he wanted to surprise the parents so it was to be kept a secret from them too. My ears were burning, my tongue kept running away with me. Between keeping the shower a secret from my SIL and my brother’s visit a secret from the family, my tongue was tying itself into knots and I was getting indigestion due to the sheer torture of having to think before I speak. Finally, to ensure that certain things were carried out with ease, I broke down and told my parents that I’d like to join them in Allahabad for the surprise baby shower and be there to see the look of surprise on the SIL’s face.
And to complicate matters, the mad sibling asked if the OA, the babies and Cousins J&K who are studying in Delhi could also take the weekend off so that we could all go in a big gang and surprise the parents. He was to arrive in Delhi 3 days after the SIL left for my parents’ place and we were to leave within hours of his flight landing. Of course then there was the tension of trying to get to the railway station from the airport without getting stuck in traffic. Regular readers already know what drama accompanies train travel in the mad house. The SIL is known for her inability to keep secrets and those three days of being around my parents were to her, like being tied up and tickled. She would step out of the house and call me each time the torture got too much and I’d beg her and bribe her to keep shut for a few days more even while I was struggling to keep my own mouth shut about the baby shower.
Now my mother and I talk ten times a day. She calls to tell me if she made a big deal. I call her when the Brat is pissing me off and asking for a tight smack. She calls if my father is annoying her. I call if I need to bake and want the proportions to some recipe. With Cousin K & J thrown into the melee, the factors going out of our control were just increasing. My parents wanted me to get some decorations made for the party as well as little notes for the wish tree. Cousin J is pretty artistic and I was told to get her to make it. A few more things were required and each time she spoke to her mother she almost let it slip that she’d do it once she got there. In short, this plan was more full of slips than knots. As the mad sibling said – What? You’ve even told your own brats? Good luck with keeping this plan a secret. Err.. yeah *looks embarrassed* I wanted to prepare the kids so I told them that we were going to Allahabad. They promptly told my parents on the phone – Nani- G’pa? We’re coming to see you next week. To which my poor unsuspecting parents said – Yes, yes, darling. You are, but not next week, you’re coming during the Commonwealth Games.
The SIL landed in India and when she walked out of the terminal, I fell on her belly and kissed it – poor woman! I did apologise and to make up for it, the moment we got home, Cousin J and I pressed her feet for 45 minutes. We also took her shopping for the next two days and she shopped till she literally dropped and we finally put her on the train and sent her on to my parents. Next bit of excitement – Tambi’s arrival.
The mad sibling landed at 8 pm on my birthday and I told him it was the best birthday present I’d ever received. I wish I could describe the excitement in the coach that evening. As a family we’re easily pleased and easily excitable. Don’t take us on a surprise trip to Paris. A simple visit is enough to have us jumping for joy. So something of this magnitude had us wired beyond measure.
One of the biggest challenges was to ensure that Ma didn’t call while I was on the train and hear the kids in the background. As luck would have it she kept calling to check that I hadn’t missed the train and I went nuts running away from the kids to a quieter spot. The train came in, we got on and all was well. People counted – 5 adults, 2 babies, mountains of luggage. Wow – if we’d made it to the train on time, surely something else should have gone wrong! The SIL of course was calling me every twenty minutes because she was beside herself with excitement. I had to calm not just my nerves but hers too. The OA grinned peacefully – he knows my brother is the family favourite and us getting worked into a lather over him is a common sight. He took out a book and ignored us. He’d applied for a day of leave and had booked tickets, organised the logistics and got us on the train safely. His job was done.
There was only one niggling issue left. That of the grand finale. As far as my parents and Chhota Nana and Chhoti Nani knew, I was the only one coming. So we figured one of them would just come to the station in the morning and get us. But I wanted to somehow ensure that everyone showed up and witnessed the mad sibling get out of the train. The OA groaned at the way the plan was getting more ambitious by the minute and of course that just made me more determined. My brother wanted to know why I couldn’t leave well alone, and why I was doing stuff that would arouse suspicion, but I usually get my way. And so it was that I called up my parents and then Chhota Nana and Chhoti Nani and whined about how everyone comes to pick up their all important daughter in law and receive her at the station, but no one bothers to come and pick up the poor daughter of the family who has no loving inlaws and no one to fuss over her. Who has just quit her job and is low and depressed. Yes, I can dial up the drama when required.
They were all sitting together and chatting when I called so they figured that if my attention seeking behaviour needed to be indulged just after I had quit my job on a sour note, it was the family’s job to do it. And oh – the train just stopped for TWO minutes in Allahabad after which the next stop is Bihar, so we had to get the 7 of us and all our luggage off in record time. The SIL called again and said that she had a plan. We were all to come out of one door of the coach. And while my parents and the Chhota Nani and Chhoti Nani were distracted by the additional 5 surprise guests, my brother was to jump out of the back door and walk up behind them. The mad sibling was getting more embarrassed by the production we were making of it, while the OA as usual was frantically working out the timing and wondering if we’d end up getting a nasty shock instead of a surprise and have to chase the train to Mughalsarai to get the Mad Sibling off.
I’d told my parents the coach number and really, honestly, did expect the bunch of idiots to be at the door. As the train pulled into the platform, I stood at the door, my hands cold and my heart beat racing. Behind me our luggage was piled up, the OA holding on to the babies who threatened to fall out of the train hurtling in to the station and next to him, Cousins J& K. Tambi had been sent to the other door to surprise my parents but he came rushing back at the last minute, dragging his massive US type suitcase because as luck would have it, that door was locked!
The train pulled in and I saw my family scattered across the platform, one at every 40 feet. I cursed them. How were we to have our grand finale, huh? Why can’t people simply obey orders like sheep and cooperate? And then the train stopped and in front of our coach there was – NO ONE! They were all still running down the platform like headless chickens.
I hopped out and because there was no other way to do it, so did the OA, the kids and the cousins. My Uncle saw us first and was shouting with excitement as he saw his two kids there too along with his beloved grandchildren. At 45, he’s a very boisterous, noisy grandfather. Tambi by now, afraid that the train would push off to Bihar, hopped out with his luggage. The OA who is nothing if not a stickler for a plan, took one look at him and said – ‘Oye, don’t ruin your sister’s plan’ and the proceeded to unceremoniously shove him and his luggage back into the train. The Mad sibling looking most put out protested weakly – “hey, hey, the train’s about to leave. It’s not going to be much fun if I don’t get off.”
By then my parents and everyone had arrive and I realised, just to tease me they’d brought atleast 3 of the domestic help from home to create a big homecoming party for me. My SIL with her big baby bump was searching the crowd and raising her eyes questioningly at me – Where was her husband? I had no idea he’d been shoved back on to the train. The grandparents were all screaming and trying to grab a grandchild, literally tearing the poor kids limb from limb. The kids were bewildered but quite happy to be fussed over. General junta on the platform stared at us in undisguised curiosity. And then my mother tried to put her arms around all six of us and said – “I don’t believe it. Six more of my babies are here. Now I won’t miss anyone. ”
At which point, Tambi, who all of us had forgotten, figured it was about time he made his presence felt. Also that it was prudent to step out of the train that was making starting noises. “Really ma,” he said..”You’re not missing anyone? Your entire family is here?”
The entire family stiffened at the sound of his voice and then they screamed in one voice and fell on the poor skinny runt. I think they’d have swallowed him whole if they could. My mother burst into tears – and I did mention to Tambi that the sight of his ugly face is enough to reduce anyone to tears.
We then had to call home for more cars and all headed back home, still bursting with excitement over the other surprise yet to be unveiled – the baby shower that evening. It was a huge success. Tambi took the SIL for an afternoon nap and we spent the afternoon decorating the living room. She came down all glowy and gorgeous in a black chiffon saree over a spaghetti strap blouse. I’d persuaded her to borrow it from me because she’d not carried anything fancy for the party. I didn’t want her to suddenly realise she was the guest of honour and not dressed up enough. The shower was lovely and instead of a priest we had two of our oldest family members say a prayer and bless the SIL. My parents believe that the prayers of well wishers are far more effective than any Holy man. I am inclined to agree with them. We added in our merry mix of Hindu rituals and the SIL was touched. All in all – a good holiday. I travelled back and forth during the next month, leaving the kids there for the Commonwealth Games break while the OA and I spent a peaceful week at home. I also helped my parents prepare the house for their college reunion. Little knowing that I’d not be able to resist and would soon be back to attend it with them! But then you already know that story. Now you know that between all this excitement and the wedding and work and no househelp, I’m surprised I’ve posted at all!
And that my dear readers is how I began my unemployment. Did I say unemployment? Not really. I worked on freelance stories right through the night and within a few days found myself employed once again. But it was a fantastic break and I look forward to planning more surprises. Any ideas?