Of chicken and pork

When your children get chicken pox, the world quickly falls into two categories. Those who look terrified and take one step back and those who step forward to lend a hand and go, ‘Poor baby..”.

The Bean got chicken pox 3 days before we were to go to Allahabad for X’mas. Yes, that is why you’ve seen neither hide nor hair of me in a month. Dad’s big birthday bash. X’mas. Precious nephew visiting India. Moving house. Every single thing blighted by the damn pox.

My first thought was, Why me?! A second later I remembered I was the adult in the equation and it was the poor child who was suffering. Not literally though. The vaccination she’s had as well as the booster shot, ensured that she didn’t get a particularly bad case of it so there was no fever and none of the listlessness and cough and what not I associated with it from my own childhood bout.

We’d attended a birthday party the night before and I sent out mass SMS to all the mothers asking them to check their kids before rushing her to the doctor in our apartment complex. She confirmed that at least 7 other cases had already been reported over the last couple of weeks. Subclinical she called it. Not infectious, but it would be best to give the Brat the vaccine booster since he exhibited no signs of having it, she said. I went home and sent a mail out to the complex google group warning them. While a few people mailed back thanking me for the warning, others mailed telling me not to go the ‘American way’ I quote. That kids will have ailments and will pass them around and there’s no reason to quarantine or warn. Um. Okay.

Either way, I knew our holiday was over. My chance to spend time with my brother and nephew, lost. I cancelled my tickets, then called and told my mother and SIL that I was not coming because I didn’t want to expose Baby Button to the virus. And then I settled down to do art and craft with the kids so that they didn’t go downstairs and infect the entire community. My phone didn’t stop ringing that day. Uncle, Aunt, parents, SIL, everyone kept calling. I have no idea what we spoke of but apparently we couldn’t stop. I have the bills to prove it.

The grandparents were torn. One set of grandkids having to stay away for the sake of another. The SIL was upset that we’d not get to be together. I was hopping mad at the timing. In general we’d all have been fine with the Button getting it if he’d been older, but he was only 11 months old and they had to travel back soon. Of course plenty of others saw it in black and white – if your kids are sick, no point risking another. But for family it’s never so simple. We all wanted to be together. We have only ONE f**king festival in the year to look forward to, this would be Baby Button’s first X’mas and this was the only time we’d get to be together as a family. X’mas is not about Santa and gifts – it’s about sitting around the fire ribbing each other and making your mother pull her hair out in bunches by only settling down for dinner past midnight.

By night the brother had woken up in the US and heard the news. He rushed out of a client meeting and called me – The kids have what? You’re not coming? This is not happening.

I shooed him back to work and went to bed only to wake up the next morning to a call from the SIL. Chicken pox or no, I was to haul my butt to Allahabad, not because they wanted to see me, but because the poxy kids were the Button’s cousins and he had a right to spend time with them. Secretly I was dying to hold and kiss him and didn’t care who caught what in the bargain, but the adult mask I sometimes like to prance around in dictated that I behave responsibly.

No no, I said seriously.

Yes, yes, she said firmly – Kids get chicken pox. That’s what kids do. We’re enough people to handle the kids and its not fair that you should be holed up in a flat without friends and family through X’mas season. Yes, yes, I bitterly cried inside my head. The Uncle and Aunt called – You come and stay with the kids at our place. Yes, that was all very well but then what would be the point? We’d still be together for meals and exposing the baby to the germs.

The OA came home from work and said – Am I the only adult in the family? You’re not going. We’re not going. We’ll figure out what to do to have a fun X’mas without infecting either your family or the entire apartment complex.

The kids were blissfully unaware of the change in plans.

And while we argued and debated, time sped on in that nasty fashion that it tends to when you badly want something. It was almost X’mas Eve and the brother was landing in Delhi and heading on to Allahabad. I went to the airport at 3 am to pick him up and till 7 am we sat in my living room, sipping on hot coffee and chatting. I savoured the time I got uninterrupted by kids and husband, just us siblings catching up, completing each others’ sentences.

Tambi woke the kids up before he caught the flight home and they tumbled out of bed in excitement. Tambi Maama was here!!!! It was all I could do to convince them not to hang on to his coat tails and go off with him. It was also heartwarming that they remembered him and were falling over in excitement on seeing him. Perhaps babies have a little sensor that tells them which people make their parents happy. Tambi dragged me out of the room and I wilted under his fierce glare as he bit out – You ARE bringing them home, chicken pox or no.

The OA kept rolling his eyes but we ignored him. I was sick of my kids being locked up in a flat like criminals, specially when the Bean felt perfectly fit and was running around making me dizzy. I was sick of being locked into the house myself with them and not having even a ten minute break because the conscience demanded that I don’t even get out to buy groceries taking them with me. With no house help I had no one to leave them home with either. I was so grateful to go home where there’d be others to share the work load and the joy err.. pox with. And I was so glad that the Bean would have people willing to touch her and cuddle her and hold her and not treat her like she was untouchable. It was the season of joy but the joy had been sucked out of her little touchy-feely-cuddly baby life. To go back a bit – after we got the Brat his shot the Bean asked sadly, “Mama, can I hug him now? I’ve been missing him.”

And so it was that two days later we got into our little coupe, and rattled away down the train tracks, the wheels chanting home, home, home. Sometimes you need to be at the end of your tether to appreciate what you’re getting. And this X’mas I learnt that family are the people who will hug you, kiss you even when you’re infectious and want you home even if they have an 11 month old being put at risk. Because the spotty 4 year old is as precious to them. And that  God is rarely unkind enough to take away your 2 weeks of being aunt to the most beautiful, dimply, bundle of joy ever.

Home, home, home…. The train pulled in late thanks to fog, but on Christmas Eve we tumbled out onto the the grey, cold platform and straight into the warmth of excited family. Yep. Twas certainly the season to be jolly. Hope yours was too.

PS: This isn’t the end of course. Stay tuned to know why the title is called Chicken and Pork!

A gift for Baby Button

I know it’s been really quiet on this front and I thought I’d pop in to tell you all that Hurricane Nana reached safely before Hurricane Irene. The SIL has heaved a sigh of relief and handed her husband and son over to the older mama’s care and begun to focus on getting better soon.  Yes we’re still worrying, we’re still praying and we still want your prayers and good wishes too.

My passport has gone down some sort of black hole and I am unlikely to get it before two months. So much for bloody tatkal. I won’t get into details of the whys and wherefores, here.

With everything happening within the space of a couple of days I couldn’t buy anything for Baby Button or the rest of his family (who are now purely incidental). And then I remembered that I’d got something made for him and had been waiting for someone Westward bound to carry it for me.

Baby Button sleeps in a crib in his parents’ room and they haven’t set up the nursery for him yet because he is being nursed and it’s simpler at nights to just get up and feed him right there. I wanted to do something for his room, something to personalise it but I couldn’t think of anything that would look nice in the master bedroom without making it childish – posters, buntings, cartoon figures – all would just invade and take away from the fact that this room actually belongs to two adults. I asked them for pictures of the corner they have converted for his crib and changing table and racked my brains. It’s so much harder when you realise that you get such lovely things for babies abroad. All I had on my side was good intentions!

I had a quote in my head that I wanted hung over his crib but just printing out a colour poster didn’t really seem like fun. As luck would have it, I came across Engrave.in right then (this is the FB page) and so I got this made to hang above his cot. A wooden plaque engraved with his photograph and the quote.

I had the option of doing it in in acrylic or on aluminum too. The acrylic was too light and would not suit the wall and the metal didn’t have the warmth of wood. It took me forever to get the correct kind of sleeping picture because too many items in the frame make the engraving tough. I also had to wait for the parents to send me a picture of a sleeping baby that would fit the quote – because I can just feel it in my bones that my little nephew will do great things someday to make up for his two useless cousins :p Oh yeah, no pressure on him at all.

Anyway – once the picture was sent to Engrave they got back to me immediately with the preview, I tweaked it a teeny bit and it was promptly back within a few hours  – the ready product. I gave the go ahead and in a short time it was couriered to my doorstep. I have to admit I felt too strongly about it to let it go – so cute did it look. After all they have the original product, why should I send them the picture too!?

It has reached it’s destination and Tambi and the SIL like it so I’m pretty pleased with my choice of gift and quote. They should be here in October if all goes well and SIL recovers by then. Any ideas as to what I can get for them at that time? I’m sick of the usual Fabindia kurtas and dhotis they barely get the chance to wear, the wooden toys that I’ve sent by the carton. Any other such bright ideas, folks?

And oh, because I am a proud aunt who will pass up no opportunity to display my bachcha, here is a recent picture of him.

The spitting image of my brother, minus his curls. Hopefully they will come in soon!

Because I am a besotted aunt

… and I have a captive audience. And because he is not my own child I can afford to drop all false modesty and say yes, yes, yes – this absolutely adorable munchkin is my nephew… And is the greatest thing since sliced bread, the wheel and Anne Geddes pictures. So here’s the milestone update. He’s 5 months and babbles non-stop all day. He chews his fingers, chokes on them and goes back to it with a vengeance. And he called my brother, Dada. My baby brother, being called Dada by this piece of cake. Of course, the brother says Open Quote – In his defence, I think he was trying to throw up and words came out accidentally. End quote.

Can I slap the brother because he’s always going to be my annoyingly modest kid brother? And because the SIL told us that the mad sibling sat there saying “Say dada, dada…” And the little doll repeated each time, Da-da.

Rude family members say he takes after his talkative aunt. Am still up for a title for self (and the OA). The Mallu Cheriamma (I whacked that off a friend) and Khala currently top my list. Anyone got any other options?

I sent the SIL a big hug. It’s a pity all our kids say Dada before Mama. Yes, yes I  know it’s because it’s easier to pronounce but don’t try to reason with a young mother unless you want your nose punched in. We’re the primary caregivers and still not the first words out of their little ungrateful rosebud mouths! I leave you with pictures as usual.

*goes off sniffing and wiping nose…* My baby brother’s baby just learnt to say Dada…

In this one he is the spitting image of the Brat at this age. I even have a snap in a similar red tee

With two dimpled parents you can't go wrong

As his besotted grandmother never fails to tell me - he sleeps like an angel without a whimper, unlike my awful brats

And never cries unless he is hungry. My darling, good, blessed little baby

Which is why his father pretty much lets him sit on his head all the time

And his mother totally enjoyed her weekend at Lake Anna with him

And oh.. don’t worry about the scheduled breakdown. The kids are back and all is right with my world. As long as the reason I am throwing my career down the crapper is before my eyes, I am not worried about taking my eye off the career goal!


Of heartache

It’s happened again. The oldies packed up and left for the US of A early this morning to see their latest grandchild. If he weren’t the most adorable child on earth I might have resented it, but as it stands I am aching to see him myself and can’t deny them their happiness even for a fleeting second. But more than that I am astounded by the depth of despair I feel as I realise that my parents are on another continent. I moved out of home at 17 and have been independent so I’m not really one of those who needs them around for their help. But the knowledge that they were just a phone call away (in my own time zone!) was invaluable. Even at 32, I feel as sense of loss … as they say in Hindi, sar se haath uth gaya. I miss the protection that knowledge offered and it gives me a taste of what the loss of a parent will be like. Sorry to be so morbid and not to trivialise the loss of a parent, but yes, it makes me realise how much worse that will be.

Anyway, this is my darling little Baby Button, growing up so fast, so far away.

Please take a minute to soak in the cuteness that is the love of my life.

As is usual with my parents around, the chaos abounded. Suitcases weighed, packed, unpacked, redistributed, all while the kids hopped in and out of the suitcases. Sad that G’Pa-Nana were going to see Baby Button. Upset because I made the mistake of telling them when he was born, that he is their baby brother. Unable to understand why their grandparents are off to see a baby brother who rightfully should live in their home. The Brat wanted to talk to Tambi (maama) this morning and tell him what he thinks of people who make off with his siblings. With great difficulty I put off that phone call until it was morning for Tambi. The Brat is a man. Words don’t come easy to him and it’s taken me a long time to teach him to express himself. I’m angry, he whispers into the phone. I am angry with all of you. Why isn’t Button coming to India? I want him to live here. Tambi pacifies him … he’s a small boy, he can’t travel yet.. he’s coming to see his bhaiya soon… But words do nothing to heal my gentle son’s heart.

The Brat breaks my heart everyday. He’s not even laid eyes on the Button yet and he’s already so emotionally invested in him. Even when we drop by at Dipta’s, the other kids and the Bean will smile and kiss little Diti, but it is the Brat who will sit for hours and marvel over her little toes, gently stroke her soft hair and beg me to let him hold her for a while. So  you can imagine the little heart overflowing with love for this brother he has so eagerly awaited. The brother that God sent us in Maami’s tummy.

G’pa got rather upset at the last minute and wanted to take them along (koff koff, the growing senile no doubt as he edges closer to 60). I even got read the riot act  for not getting their passports made as yet. Excuse me? This is the conversation we need to have two hours before the flight takes off?

The problem with G’Pa is that he can’t bear to see his grandchildren upset and he can’t wait to hold his new grandson in his arms either. He doesn’t want to see pictures, he doesn’t want to hear voices on the phone. He just wants to rock his grandson to sleep in his arms and bury his face in the baby neck. I am glad I am not in his place today, missing one set as I head out to another one. On the other hand, as I pointed out to the teary old man, it’s a blessing that he has so much grandchild love to soak and revel in. And I made a mental note to get the kids’ passports done this year. Next year the oldies can make good on their threat and take the kids on a 17 hour flight. Better them than me. If I go, I’m going with the OA and getting a proper holiday, thank you.

I’ve spent a month racking my brains over the gifts for the Button. Everything you get in India is available there, and probably in a better quality. What do you send a child who has everything and better? I sent loads of hand knitted sweaters for him before he was born. And this time I sent a little silver bowl for him to have his first solid meal in. The problem with such stuff is that it is merely symbolic. He will never really know that his mad aunt spent hours looking for the perfect little silver bowl for her perfect little nephew to take his first taste of kheer. He will never know that I scoured the whole of NCR looking for the channapatna rattles and drag along toys. Perhaps they will be broken and tossed out soon as is expected with kids. But that’s fine. I want to know that my little baby held and gurgled at something I picked out for him. I want to see pictures of him in the little Fabindia shirts I picked up for him. I want to know that he smiled a toothless grin when he ate his first bite from the little bowl. And suddenly the Brat and I were holding each other and sobbing as I rocked him. I know I set out to console him but in a few minutes the both of us were inconsolable. Crying for a little baby neither of us have met, yet feel a strong pull to. This is probably what they mean by ties of blood. We fell asleep cuddling. Hopefully we’ll make our peace with this distance soon.

Love moves mountains

The Mad Sibling, aka Tambi can’t stand the sight of blood. No one else gives it much thought but I joined the dots and I seem to remember a childhood incident triggering it.

My uncle (Chhote Nana) was about 18 and Tambi was probably all of 4. So uncle was in a bike accident and he was carried into our house by some men who found him on the road. His foot was dripping blood all over the wooden floor and I have a very vivid memory of it. He was on the right side of my vision and on the far left, Tambi walked in, took one look at him and began puking all over the floor. It was a scary sight for a 4 year old particularly since it involved a loved one. Me? Apparently I’ve always been hard as nails.

So anyway, while it wasn’t severe enough to prevent him from watching chickens being slaughtered for dinner and running around headless, it was enough to ensure that he never again got involved in anything that required him to see human blood. Years later a cousin came to us for some weeks. He was in our town for college and had a foot injury. Part of the ragging rules required him to be in formals and his foot had festered within the closed shoes to an extent where he needed to take medical leave and leave it open. Everyday I would sit and clean his foot in a basin of warm water, press out the pus, and dress the wound for him. Tambi ran around and did his errands but refused to even be in the same room when I cleaned the wound.

Tambi was dating my SIL when I had the Bean. The OA was with me right through tests, examinations, injections, everything and of course finally even sat through my C-sec and watched the doctors carve me open, put in their hands and pull out a plum, Bean. The OA was held up by the SIL as a shining example of everything a man, husband and father should be (I am wondering how he deals with the pressure)  – although if anyone had bothered to ask me, in true wife style I’d have described to them in great detail, every one of his flaws. He is in fact held up as a shining example all the time, very often by this man’s wife when she wants the curtains changed or the fans cleaned.

Anyhow, Tambi shrugged and told the SIL that he’d do anything that didn’t involve being in hospital. And to be fair, he did – from romantic proposal, to stunning ring engraved with a verse, to surprise romantic getaways. I figured the SIL was running out of luck because you can’t have all the luck on earth you know. And if you can, then where the hell was my romantic proposal and diamond ring, I ask you?!

Now if I’d been the SIL I’d have given him a kick in the pants and told him he had another think coming and he’d jolly well be in the labour room having his fingers crushed to a pulp. But the SIL is a wiser, gentler girl who accepted his failing and moved on. Or perhaps she wisely realised it  wasn’t yet the time or place for that conversation.

Now this might be time for a full disclosure. The SIL too, has a terribly low pain tolerance level and the last time she was in town, she fell ill and needed an injection. The sibling went in with her but was looking so grey that she chased him out and called Ma and me in to be hold her hands.  At that time I remember teasing her and asking her how she’d go through labour pain. She wanted kids and there is no way around that. She paled at the thought and admitted to being absolutely terrified.

By the grace of God when they did plan kids, she had a smooth pregnancy and as the due date neared I was beginning to feel bad for her. To have a husband who is not comfortable in the labour room is not the ideal situation. Being a rather intrepid sort myself, I am usually very dismissive of people who have any sort of fear or phobia. And yet, as his sister and one who has for years seen him react badly to blood and hospital situations, I couldn’t help but want to pat him on the head and say, ‘There, there, baby, I understand.’ Thankfully her parents were going to be there for the delivery and I was very proud of her. I know I’d have not bothered with the OA’s fears or phobias and would have insisted on him coming in with me, dead, comatose or alive and kicking.

So anyway, Tambi was with her through a number of injections and tests but we were all still wondering about labour. When he called to say that she had gone into labour I spent the night praying for her to have the strength to deal with the pain, sending her messages and crying at the thought of how terrifying it must be for her. When it was over I mentally doffed my hat to her and wrote her a note and told her on the phone how proud I was of her. More so because I remembered the terrified girl who only some months ago had asked me to hold her hand through a mere injection.

I am sorry to say, I forgot all about my brother and his phobia of blood. Until this morning. Ma casually mentioned that he cut the baby’s cord. And then it all came back to me. Him rubbing a ball on her back through labour. Holding her hand while she laboured and finally witnessing his son being born. Perhaps I am just a fond sister, but I was so proud of him for putting his own fears aside and going right in there and being with his wife when she needed him.

That long night, both of them conquered their fears. And as they became parents, they also grew just that little bit stronger. Something that will hold them in good stead as parents. I see pictures of the two of them smiling into the camera, protectively holding their son between them and I see two very very strong people. Two young people who are finally worthy of being parents to my beautiful,  bright eyed, alert little nephew. Who, I might tell you, I have fallen deeply in love with. I think he is the most beautiful child on earth and I am considering auctioning off my two children just to buy a one way ticket to see him.

Allow me to present the child we’ve awaited so eagerly …. our little prince. *applause*

The surprise wrapped in a surprise

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?

Dear Baby Button

I know your Mama and Dada love you a lot and probably write you letters in their head every night. But I’m your mad aunt and I am dying to meet you. By the time I lay eyes on you, you will be almost a year old and that thought makes me ache. Held by others, loved by others, recognising others and giving others your precious gurgles and smiles while far away I dream of you. As you can see, distance bothers me hugely, more so because I hate skype and refuse to be one of those mothers or aunts who forces kids to stand in front of a webcam and talk to pixelated faces that move in slow mo.

But your Mama arrived last night. I went to the airport to collect her and as she slowly turned the corner, all I saw was her belly. And right there in the middle of the airport I rushed to hug her and then promptly abandoned her and bent down to hug her bump. And right then I fell in love with you. Fortunately I remembered her swollen feet and rushed her into the car and got her home to a steaming hot meal. I sent SMS to all concerned on the way home (it was way past midnight) saying “The Eagle has landed”. And your G’pa promptly replied saying, “Wrong bird. We’re expecting a stork.” Yeah, you’ll learn, that your father gets his sense of humour from his father.

Anyway, this morning your cousins woke up delighted to see your Mama on their bed, dying to wake them up ( yes, at times your mother is more excitable than a 5 year old). The Bean sat up, cracked one eye open, grinned sleepily and said, “Where’s my baby Button?” and the sleepy Brat took a few minutes more only finally sitting up when I reminded him that Maami was carrying his baby Button in her belly. He wants you to be Robin to his Batman.

They’ve hugged you and kissed you before going to school and I can’t help but smile as I realise that a real live little baby lies inside mama’s tummy, soaking up the excitement and love, awaited by an entire family sitting on the edge of their chairs.

It is tradition to wear worn clothes for the first few days and I had put aside two outfits for you. A little red and white reindeer outfit of the Brat’s and a Winnie the Pooh onesie that the Bean wore. They come to you with love and luck and prayers and blessings. May they bless you with (selective!) traits that your cousins have. May you get the Brat’s loving, gentle disposition. May you get the Bean’s comic timing. May you get your Mummy’s absolute willlingness to try everything once and get up to all sorts of mischief. May you get your Daddy’s brilliant mind. And of course you have love from all of us.

I think what consoled me to some extent was seeing the Brat and the Bean hug your Mama and love her. Distance does make things difficult, yes, but when there is so much love, you survive it. They haven’t seen her since January and yet they hung on her every word and were unwilling to leave her and go to school. And I hope that when you come visiting us from the US you will enjoy our company and love your cousins right back. That you will not go nuts dealing with this mad aunt who won’t be able to stop cooing over you and kissing you…

God bless you baby Button…and hurry up – your family awaits you. So eagerly.