Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What You Can Do For The Girlchild

We've been discussing, a lot of other bloggers and I, the plight of our sex -- women and girls -- in our society.

Various bloggers, mostly women, came up with various reactions. I'm putting down a list of things that they -- we -- can all do, to actually live out our principles in practice. Because I'm sorry ladies, but just saying that something is wrong does not make it right. Nor will it help to speak to the women who are discriminating against their own daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces etc. But there are certain things that we can all do, modified to suit our individual circumstances, and these will make a difference, I promise you that. I am only writing down ways which I have personally seen work.

1. Keep your clothes aside for the maid. In particular, keep clothes for her girls. And when you do, keep the ones which are neatly mended, which you know will last another year or two's wear, which you think still look like nice clothes that young girls would like to wear. Buying them new clothes (except for occasions like Durga Puja or Diwali) is a bad idea, particularly if they have abusive family members who are alcoholics or drug addicts. Chances are high that your new gifts will be taken away and sold. And gifting things which are obviously expensive or which will not suit the family's economic status is not a good idea either, because
a) it smacks of charity, which some of them do mind
b) it frequently gives your maid ideas about her importance in your life. You don't want her thinking she's indispensable, do you? I'm talking of part-timers here, who can wreak havoc in your life if they think they've got you dependent.

Note:
When I say clothes I don't mean necessarily clothes only. It helps to ease the 'burden' of clothing the girls in your maids' family. But other things can also make a difference. My own part-timer has a 4 yr-old daughter and is very proud of her. When Rahul got a million toys for his rice ceremony I gave her a teddy bear he had received for her daughter. I make no bones about my own partiality for little girls, so she was amused as well as appreciative of the gift.

2. Teach them. If you have full-timers or women coming in to spend the day with you, encourage them to bring their daughters after school or after they finish their workday. In this time, even if it's only an hour, give them books or sewing or teach them fancier cooking than a normal cook would know. Decide how much time you can give them. Most women are grateful for a safe place to bring their daughters and they usually don't have any problem if you offer to help the kid with her homework or teach her a skill. Pay her a small token sum for the kanthas she stitches, or the tears she mends. Let her take a little bit of the dish she has cooked to taste at home. Not enough to feed the family, just enough to taste, to show off her skill.

3. Treat them with the same respect you demand for yourself in your office. I know this one's a toughie because it's very difficult to instill our work ethics into the average domestic part-timer. But still, try to get some facts across. That she has to come to work on time if she expects to be released on time. That you will pay her that little bit more than she gets in her other jobs if she gives you loyalty, honesty and cheerful hard-work. (We are talking of Rs. 50, perhaps 100 more than the going rate? You pay more for the odd cab ride.) Get her to understand the perks of her job -- handmedowns, maybe the occasional food treat, free medicines. Remember her problems. My own maid does not eat at my place but on the very rare morning that I do make some special breakfast, say dosas, or if I'm baking, I do offer her some of that. And when she comes in soaking wet on a rainy morning, I try to get her to have some tea. It's good for her and obviously, I don't want her ill. Simple management skill really. And pretty good PR!

4. Learn to ask on other people's behalf. If you know a maid who is looking for a job or needs some help that somebody else you know can give, learn to ask. Keep in mind that your maid can and may just let you down. So ask with discrimination.

5. Respect the single girl living by herself. Her reputation matters, not because of her marriage potential or because she's like that. It matters because landlords won't rent their places out to her, because the sweepers and odd-job men will try to browbeat her or be suggestively lewd around her if she's got 'that kind' of a reputation. So if you have one living around you and she provides you with some delightfully scandalous piece of gossip, please, please do not pass it around. You do not know the harm you can do her and your facts are probably all wrong. Stand up for her, if possible.

I stayed by myself all through my five college years, in an awful setup. I stayed in a single-bedroom flat next to my paternal aunt's flat. She owned both and was therefore my landlady. Since I was only 18 when I entered into this arrangement, it never struck me that I should have demanded my own key to the apartment gates. That it was illegal not to provide me with one. Each time I came home after ten I was forced to call, to wait until I was provided with a key. If my aunt was away, I had to wait outside until she came home.

Months away from my Master's final exams I took on a theatrical job that made me adopt call-centre hours. I used to reach home at nearly two a.m. and the other residents in the apartments raised hell. They put pressure on my aunt (who didn't try too hard to resist) to make me leave. After years of complaining about my male visitors, how I was bringing ill-repute to the building, they finally managed to force me to leave. And I was out on the streets with a few weeks to go for my finals. I could have used a neighbour who spoke up for me. Instead the women of the building got together and decided I should go.

6. Learn to give your maids the respect they need without losing your focus as the employer. A polite request for your morning tea works better than grumbling because she is late. The way I see it is, if I give the respect then only can I demand it. I know of a couple of households with young girls as full-timers. In one household they are told upon entry that they will be treated as family, that they must call the householders mama and mami, that they must treat the house as their own. The maids start out grateful. Then, when they realise that being treated like one of the family means getting yelled at as well, by these people who are after all not family, they start to become grumpy and unhelpful. Needless to say, the maids change often in that house. The folks started out with excellent intentions -- but your employee is your employee, and your family is your family. Some formality, some respect, a measured distance works better in the long run than a lot of bonhomie and the consequent building up of false expectations.

That's it. My point is basically encapsulated in the last point -- they are your employees and you are the boss, so treat them the way you want your boss to treat you. I personally find this hard to follow when my maid is absent or late on days on end. But then I remember that I only do this if I'm under pressure elsewhere, and that I really appreciate some understanding at such a time. So I usually point out to my maid that she's come late three days in a row, upsetting my schedule, and ask her to please make more of an effort. Usually this works. If she thought I hadn't noticed she would probably try it for longer. The times it hasn't worked are those when she has had excellent reasons, usually an illness. So I really can't complain. We all expect casual leave as our right as an employee. So I try to allow my maid one unexplained day's absenteeism a month. Not that I've told her so, but for one day's absenteeism I don't raise hell either.

You'll find that treating a woman with respect and a young girl with consideration can make them find the world a better place in which to give birth to baby girls. The tricky thing is to walk the thin line between charity and a helping hand. Teaching them to be dependent on your handouts is obviously self-defeating. Your maid may continue to ill-treat her daughter-in-law, but perhaps she'll go easier on her own daughter.

These are not hard and fast rules, of course. These are things that I have seen other women do, and they have made a difference. Sometimes the girls don't realise how they have been helped but that does not take away from the good work these women have done.

We don't live in an ideal world and I don't believe in expecting somebody else to change my world for me. But if I try to treat somebody else with respect, at least that gives me the right to demand that they show me some respect in turn. And if more people respect each other, I do believe we can lay the foundations for a more comfortable society.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thank You, Baba!

My father insisted on getting The Bhablet baby rusks. The Bhablet tried the first lot, decided they weren't worth the trouble and refused to have any more.

I tried telling my father that, but he turns a deaf ear to most things I have to say about his grandson (what would a mere child like I know?) and got him some more when he went to Singapore this summer. This time they were teething rusks, in long bar-like biscuits, easy for a baby to hold.

This evening I finally gave The Bhablet one. And I live to regret it.

He started out by refusing to bite the rusk -- although he bites everything else in sight, including the parts of me that he can reach. So he licked one end till it was soft and crumbly and then wiped it on me. Lick, wipe, lick, wipe -- it became fairly boring. And then he scratched the soft part and wiped his hand on me. Because we all know that's what I was born for.

After half an hour of this he smacked me in the mouth with the half that was still nice and hard. And then he decided to wipe the floor with it.

So I took it away. The Bhablet has been wiped down, but now I need a bath!

Daft child.

And while we're posting photographs, here is The Bhablet sitting on his toys. He probably finds it very comfortable. That would be just the sort of thing he would do.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Rabindranath Tagore

Through the silent night
I heard the knockings at my heart
Of the morning's vagrant hopes
Sadly coming back.

I'm not a huge fan of his but these lines I came across at the Rabindra Sadan Metro station made a lot of sense to me.

In my generation we call this the 3 a.m. blues.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Just a Book

Everybody's ranting about the latest Harry Potter. Why they want to read it, why they don't. Why they think the hype is unnecessary, why the books are the greatest thing since sliced bread. No, I'm giving any links here because I've been reading too many opinions to go around tracking them all down once more.

And when I read MM's two cents on the issue, I commented "It's just a book."

But you know what happened in my house today? I was dog-tired and falling asleep when Rahul woke up from his nap, so I asked V to dump him in the bed next to me. I woke up an hour later to find Rahul chewing up the book I had been reading. He had torn off the cover and the first two pages (the story though is intact) and was chewing through them.

I lost my cool and smacked him a couple of times. Yelled for V and then yelled at him for not leaving a few toys around so that The Bhablet wouldn't have made a beeline for my book. And then I lay in bed crying and feeling very sorry for myself.

You see, this book was a childhood favourite. Bought when we were entering slightly more prosperous days and could afford to buy books. Hunted in bookshops in various cities and bought with love. It's still not very easy to find Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl in a bookstore. And I love my copy, it has just so many memories attached. I have already had my heart broken by the books damaged by the termite attack this year. So I really saw red when I saw what Rahul had done. It took me a couple of hours to calm down and forgive him.

I know, it was just a book, in the larger scheme of things. But to me personally, very few books are just books. My library is a very personal thing to me, and the books in it are mostly very valuable from an emotional point of view. And when the book in question happens to be from my childhood, it really hurts to watch it being destroyed like that. Particularly now that I have practically given up buying books (except the odd Harry Potter, of course) because I don't spend money like that on myself any more, it hurts to lose what has become so particularly precious.

But the fact remains that my son is more important than a book which hopefully I will be able to replace. (If not he will buy it for me with his pocket money when he has some. Even if he has to hunt it down like I did.) Anyway, before I get carried away once more let me earnestly assure you that The Bhablet and I have hugged and made up, and I do know he is more precious than a book.

It's just that my comment got me thinking.

Is it a boy? Is it a girl? No, it's a Baby!

I recently commented on MM's post on female infanticide that Rahul being a boy and fair at that probably helped my mother-in-law get over her problems with me. Her response was:

the same realisation hit me. that the inlaws would love their fair grandson. but if someone as bright and smart as you doesnt comment on it.. who will? i dont want my child to be loved because he is fair and a male? and if i dont start making a difference by pointing it out to my inlaws.. who will? what is the point of spouting on the blog? i do bring it up with her once in a while. just so that she thinks about it and the OA's younger brother's wife isnt subjected to what i was.

So I will explain why I didn't say anything then and am sure I never will speak up on the subject. I was and am thinking with my head on this one, not my heart. I personally have faced this discrimination from my maternal grandparents and was very unhappy about it as a kid. They just were not interested in me, no matter what I did. But I grew up to eventually become pally enough with my grandmother -- and I realised that perhaps if we had had more opportunities to bond, this whole unhappiness may have been avoided. There were many more issues muddying the waters, of course, so one doesn't know. But at this age my grandmother and I are friends.

Now, when Rahul was born my mother-in-law and I were barely on speaking terms. Months of misunderstanding and her hurt ego had ensured that. But I was anxious to keep this from affecting whatever relationship she formed with her grandchild. My own parents fought all the time with my paternal grandfather, but I don't recall it ruining the awesome love and respect he and I had for each other. So I reminded myself that my mother-in-law is really very fond of children and of course, her favourite son's child would necessarily be particularly special to her. If it helped that the child was handsome, fair and a boy, well good for them both. Since it speeded up the process. Even then it took her and me a long time to reach out to one another (sometimes the awkwardness creeps in yet), but since we were both focused on Rahul, it made matters simpler. But I will also do her the justice to state that she would have loved a girl just as much, given perhaps a tad more time. Maybe a week or two more!

I dealt with this just as I dealt with the reverse bias on my own side of the family, where everybody, especially my father, was praying for a girl. They were all disappointed -- for a second perhaps, but still disappointed -- when Fudge turned out to be a little boy. And then, they forgot about the gender and started thinking about the baby. My father took a little longer. He was immensely puffed up at becoming a grandfather at long last but it took him a while to acknowledge that little boys too have their points. When The Bhablet was about two months old, and we were staying with my parents in Madras last winter, my father came up to me one day and said with engaging candour, "Little boys are not too bad, huh? I know I wanted a granddaughter but she just would not have been quite the kid this little boy of yours is!"

So you see MM, if I had allowed my instinctive angry response to their gender bias to come out, I would just have created a scene where none was necessary. Keeping my mouth shut allowed them to say what they wanted and get it out of the way of loving the grandchild they got.

I will have a girl one day. I'm pretty sure my father will be unfairly biased towards her and I will have to explain to Rahul that he mustn't mind it (because after all, as the first one, he has his own inalienable special place in his grandparents' hearts). And I know that now I've had a boy both families are ready and waiting for a little girl to pet and spoil. It may not have been what I wanted (and I too wanted a girl, dammit) but since it pleases all the people around me, I'm not going to complain about it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ah The Good Ol' Days

My first time at Terri's turf, and I land on this post!

Anyway, it reminded me of a lunch at the Calcutta Club nearly twenty years ago. Cousin M (who will be 22 in a few days) needed to use the ladies' room and my mother took her. The room had been recently done up and was quite an attraction, what with the automatic hand dryer and the shiny new mirrors.

She and my mother were gone a while and only returned when we were just being served. To draw our attention to the exciting time she had been having, Cousin M on her return exclaimed out loud to the entire room, "We went and peed!" (She actually said "Amra hishi korey elam!")

My mother turned red and sank down into the nearest chair.

Why I Don't Like Capsicum


You can make frogs out of it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

And so, it ends. With this one ends a series of anticipations.

I think I'll read the lot all over again.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Tagged -- To Judge

I did this little dance in my head when Mad Momma tagged me this one. One of my all time favourite activities is judging people. And I judge them when

... they keep me waiting or make me late. I used to be fairly punctual, but now, thanks to V, I'm always late. Even when he is on time I'm late. I'm sure it is catching and I caught it from him.

... they judge me. V and I often argue over family members criticising me. He doesn't think they do. I know they do, because it eventually comes back to me. Well, they don't know that I think pretty poorly of them for not being able to criticise me or my ways to my face.

... they dress cheaply. By that I mean gaudily, vulgarly, in poor taste. My own clothes usually are not very expensive. Even for my trousseau my mother and I roamed all over the place looking for bargains. As a result I had a huge trousseau that didn't cost half as much as people thought it did. I don't like people dressing badly though, and I don't think price is an excuse. When I'm not making an effort that is because I'm tired or depressed. But I don't think anybody else is allowed to make that excuse!

... they drive badly or stupidly. They are endangering me and my family when they do that.

... they encourage their kids to dance to gimmicky Hindi songs. Do they understand the double meanings implied in those lines?

... they allow their kids to run riot in public. I know toddlers are hard to handle and teenagers will be sulky (well, I was) but honestly, if they ruin somebody else's outing, they ought to be taken home and spanked. For instance, if your 3 yr-old is playing peek-a-boo with the folks at the next table, they are probably enjoying it as much as she is. But if she keeps on pulling at the handbag of the lady at the next table she is just making a nuisance of herself and needs to be stopped, not 'lovingly admonished'.

... they think that just about everybody is trying to flirt with them. It is hardly ever true. (Come on, everybody?) If you are that attractive, good for you. But please don't come to me 'complaining' about it.

... they keep their hair long but don't take care of it. If they can't be bothered to comb it, wash it, tie it up, they ought to just chop it short.

... when they keep telling me what an insufficient mother I am and how deprived The Bhablet is. They don't know how fiercely I judge them for ruining their own children's lives.

... they don't teach their sons domestic skills and they don't let them grow up. Given the society we live in, sons need their freedom at a fairly early age. I know these words will be thrown back at me in a few years but I will still maintain that I wrote the right thing, at least.

... they don't acknowledge my gifts. I don't usually give out so many and when I do, I try to take some trouble over it. A phone call would be nice. A simple "Thank you, what a thoughtful gift!" works for me, even if you don't like what I got you.

... they have to go around in groups. You know what I mean. I'm talking of the people who need their friends around when they want to go out on a date, who refuse to take any decision alone for fear of later implication, who refuse to look beyond their small, personal circle. I know I'm being unfair here, but there you have it.

But in my defense, when I judge people I don't usually do much about it. I like to slot people, like Miss Marple does. I think she is entirely accurate in her categorisations of human nature, because people by and large are the same everywhere. So once I slot a person it gives me a sense of satisfaction, but that is really as far as it goes. And I am always open to revising and changing my opinion. To me, first impressions are not so vital.

This is a dangerous tag, all right. So I pick Grafx, JAP, M and Megha to do it.

Tagged -- On Indian Writing

Moppet's Mom tagged me on this one. Funnily enough, I'm probably overqualified for this (if that's possible). Since I reviewed Indian writing paperbacks for The Statesman for four solid years before The Bhablet and have just gone back to it, I have read lots and lots of these books. Different genres within them too, but mainly I have gone through the paperbacks, the chick lit, some thrillers and the occasional funny one. In my last sem of my Masters I picked Indian Writing in English as one of my chosen courses, so I did some background, theory and serious reading as well.

Ok, so for this tag I'm naming a dozen books I found memorable, not necessarily the best ones, and I'm sure I'll think of plenty more once I've put this post up. Because I've probably read hundreds, and have forgotten more than I can remember. I've given you all that history because it's true -- just so that Certain People do not accuse me of showing off. Because, this once, I could have, and I haven't.

1. Making the Minister Smile by Anurag Mathur

One of my earliest reviews, I loved the humour in it.

2. The Truth (almost) about Bharat by Kaveri Nambisan

Read it as a teenager and have been dying to go on a road trip ever since. You listening, V?

3. Grandfather's Private Zoo by Ruskin Bond

I mention this in particular because while I like most stuff written by Bond, I think this book is the most charming, the most whimsical, and I love my own copy, bought from a footpath in Abids, Hyd, for Rs. 10 nearly 15 years ago. I particularly love Mario's illustrations.

4. The Gardener's Song by Kalpana Swaminathan

Read it a fortnight ago and was very impressed. Will not say more since the review is not out yet.

5. The Uncoupling, Paddy Indian, both by Cauvery Madhavan

I don't understand why this very talented author hasn't written more books. Or if she has, why they haven't come my way. She takes fairly complex subjects, treats them with a casual unconcern that in no way detracts from their seriousness, throws in some humour at the right spots and ends up with a superb read.

6. Arundhati Roy's essays.

I thought and still think The God of Small Things was an internalisation of Pat Conroy's Prince of Tides. So I will not say anything else about that book, because I don't think I can be impartial about it. But my father gave me several essays written by Arundhati Roy, and I made myself go through them. I still think her novel is a rip off but I also hold her in the highest esteem as a writer. Her prose is so powerful, she can take on any author out there; in addition, she is so persuasive I think student lawyers ought to study her arguments.

7. Olivia and Jai, The Veil of Illusion, both by Rebecca Ryman

I wish, oh how I wish, I had known who this lady was, before she upped and died on us. For these two novels of hers are among my all-time favourites, but there was no way for me to ever go and tell her that -- even though I'm told she lived and died in Calcutta -- because her identity has remained a closely guarded secret. MM, how about seeing what you can get out of your uncle? I promise not to stalk her home!

8. Stage Whisper by Vimal Bhagat

A very inspirational tale of an eventful life. Of interest to anybody who follows English theatre in the metros.

9. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Gave me a whole new perspective on writing. I didn't know a story could be told like that and yet make complete sense from so many perspectives.

10. Travels with The Fish by C. Y. Gopinath

For the recipes as well as the Beatlemania. :) This is a fun collection of travel tales embellished with some interesting recipes.

11. Superhero, a collection of stories of Indian superheroes.

Went to the launch on Saturday (there's a story there, remind me to post about it one day). Read the book through by the next afternoon, 'flu notwithstanding. Except for two stories I really like the collection. This is definitely going into my column.

12. Swami and His Friends by R. K. Narayanan

A favourite from my own childhood. I know I came along a couple of generations later and in a very different era, but somehow, Swami and his troubles touched a chord within me somewhere.

I am also a huge fan of Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh and Ruskin Bond. I have not yet managed to read everything that they have written but I have read quite a bit.

I'm sure you've noticed that I've only discussed Indian Writing in English. There's a simple reason for that -- I can't read in any other language. Ok, I did make it through a comic book version of a Feluda story recently, in Bengali, but it took me too long for me to want to repeat the experiment. Besides, V laughed too hard.

I tag Pat, Priyanka, Pink, Sreejita and Beq -- have fun, you guys! Most of you need to post more often.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Link, Some Gyan and News

Was wandering around mommy blogs and found this post interesting -- not because Anathaaa defends her decision to keep him at home but because I too have begun to question the Western notion of forcing babies to be independent.

I still agree with Rohini's decision to train Ayaan to sleep by himself. She runs on a tight schedule, and I imagine after a full day's work I wouldn't want to struggle with a bawling baby for an hour each night either.

But personally speaking, since I stay at home, and my time is not limited (well, in comparison) I find it soothing to lie in bed next to my son as he slowly grumbles himself to sleep. He knows I'm there, and I enjoy the dark. This does mean that when he wakes up we have to go to him once more. This is irritating, but acceptable in the long run. In particular, it hits me all the time now how fast The Bhablet is growing, how quickly his phases pass, and I'm learning to treasure them before they are completely over. Also, with time, the bedtime routine on a normal day has come down to 15 min approx. I think I can afford that.

I also agree with Kodi's mom's contention about kids eating by themselves. Everwhere I'm told The Bhablet ought to be using a cup and eating finger foods by himself. Sure, but that won't fill his tummy. He is and and always has been, rather skinny, so I refuse to compromise on the food. Till he is older, I'll seat him in his chair and feed him. What I'm trying to do is to give him a biscuit or rusk to play with chew on afterwards, still sitting in the high-chair, while V and I have our meal. It can be problematic, because sometimes he wants to come down and then we have to go wash our hands and release him, but I think overall it's time he enjoyed meals with his parents.



I have the 'flu, and have kindly passed it on to The Bhablet, so I'm not spending too much time online. Actually, this is the first time I've been online in two days. (Really!) So, well, blogging/mailing etc. are all suspended till further notice.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Matal Moja Proposes... A Sober Juto Disposes

Moppet's Mom wrote about how she got engaged, following the thread started by Grail. (Note that I refrained from saying trail.)

Anyway, I just had to chip in with my story, because my story, V's and mine, is a hoot. When I broke off the relationship prior to this one, I decided to enjoy singlehood. And I decided to enjoy this in part with V and his gang, as the archives show. When V began to sit up and note my undeniable attraction (I think he was looking at my butt mostly, he's such a dog!) I was flattered but prefered the headiness of being single. After having been in two emotionally draining relationships for five years in a row, I was enjoying the mingling.

And then we went on our first date one night. I'd just burnt my hair and cut it all off to hide the burn, so I was looking very different. And feeling very nice about my new look. And then V took me to dinner and a movie (something which hasn't happened since, except when I have planned it). Feeling considerably wooed, I then took him to this party, where we both got good and drunk. While I was just drunk, he was the drunkest I've ever seen him. Eventually we got ourselves onto a mattress in a quiet room and I tried to fall asleep. V had other plans however. Eventually, when I got it across to him that I'd really rather sleep, he insisted on drunkenly sliding one of his rings onto my finger (it was huge!) and asking me to marry him.

He doesn't remember any of this or what else happened that night. So when morning came along, I thought I might as well make an honest man out of him. But I thought a drunken proposal deserved some punishment, so I made him wait another month. Typically, when I told him I was willing to give us a go, his reaction was, "Does this mean I can kiss you now?"

Despite my grumbling I still think I did the smart thing. V's such fun to get drunk with.


P.S.
No, I didn't sleep with him that night. Not that it's any of your business.

P.P.S.
The title is explained by a joke created by V's idiot friends... they thought that Sue was a very wannabe name, so they made it Shoo, as a Bengali might pronounce it. From that to Juto (Bengali for "shoe") was a fairly short step. And that made V a moja (sock), and since he drank so much, a matal (drunk) moja.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Looking Gifthorses in The Mouth?

I have this thing for clothes. They fascinate me, all kinds of clothes, and I love figuring out how they are made, what goes best with what, stuff like that. I also like tailoring, but only do odd bits during plays, due to time constraints.

Obviously, if I'd had a daughter my mother, my mejopishi (aunt) and I would have gone crazy designing away for her. So when I was handed a Bhablet instead and told that I must make do with that, I gave in with somewhat poor grace. But as time passed I slowly discovered that even little baby boys can give some fun in their dressing. For instance, when I brought The Bhablet home, it was during the Durga Puja (on the navami), so I wore a new yellow sari my parents had gifted me. And The Bhablet was also dressed in a white dress with yellow chicks embroidered on it and wrapped in a perfectly matching yellow blanket. I loved the looks on people's faces when they saw what I'd done, esecially V, who is still disgusted. Even now, while I no longer bother with dressing him in clothes to match what I'm wearing, I still try to ensure, as far as possible, that we don't clash too much. Because I'll be carrying him, right? And I don't want his colours ruining mine. Duh. I know it's him everybody's looking at, so I want the background (that's me) at least fitting the part well.

Anyway, I digress. Last month I was sorting out some old clothes and packing them away for storage when I held up a pair of dungarees and told V, "I'm never giving these away. Do you know they are the only clothes I've ever bought him?"

That said a lot. For a baby born to a couple who were very badly off financially when he turned up, The Bhablet is one surprisingly affluent child. He has a comfortable cot (my brother's, used by all of us cousins in turn); a high-chair (gift from my parents for the rice ceremony); a pram (from my parents' friends); a walker (from V's brother); a really nice convertible sling (from my barapishi); a playmat (from a friend of mine); a Mothercare bathtub and cool potty (from my parents). And I've not gone into all the silverware and jewellery he received for his rice ceremony. He continues to get toys and clothes from adoring fans all over the place.

He has also been gifted clothes that are meant for baby girls. Or for babies much fatter than a Skinny Wee Bhablet. Or more sets of knitwear than he can possibly wear in one winter. And he has been gifted toys which he can spare, he has so many. So when we visit other babies I always manage to find something or the other that he can spare. V likes to tease me saying that I'm giving our son's stuff away, but my logic is simple -- I only give away that which he has enough of or clothes which won't suit him but will look nice on the child I'm giving them to. Makes more sense to me than stuffing The Bhablet into unsuitable clothes just because they were given to him. And I try to do this carefully, so as to not give away stuff given by close relatives and friends. From time to time he does wear clothes that I don't like so much, but I know how much love went into the gift, so it doesn't matter what I think. Also, somehow he always makes them look attractive on him, so...

I explain to the parents on the receiving end that these are gifts being passed on. Mostly they don't mind either, once I explain that I spent no money and that The Bhablet is not being deprived. His nappy buddy especially gets a lot of stuff because, while I do not mind him wearing pink, I don't want to overdo the ambiguity and dress him in frilly frocks with flowery embroidery! On the other hand, they look just perfect on her, so I fail to see why I should hang on to these gifts.

The other kind of gifts that are a slightly troubled issue are handmedowns. Now I grew up on my cousin's handmedowns. All through my childhood I also wore lovely frocks concocted by my mother and mejopishi and passed them down -- they were happily received. I do not see what the problem is. When The Bhablet was born, I received a call from an aunt who has two very young daughters. (They are the ones crouching at the bottom in the photo.) They are the closest in age to Rahul, among the relatives at hand anyway, so when she asked me what I'd like her to send us, I asked her to send old clothes and blankets. I remembered stitching and helping to make some of these blankets so I knew how cosy the flannel ones were, perfect for the approaching winter, and wanted those most of all. Besides, having been through two babies, they were bound to be really soft. To my surprise she was hesitant, asking me several times if I wouldn't like new ones. It turned out that her sister, who was married a couple of months after me and had a baby a couple of months after me too had asked her not to send any handmedowns because she wanted everything new for her baby.

Well, to each her own, but I was quite happy to get those supersoft kanthas and flannel blankets. The Bhablet had plenty of new ones but they weren't half as soft. Besides, he was delivered a month early (the doc wanted to go on holiday after the delivery) and used to break out in a rash at the touch of certain fabrics. So these extra blankets were really useful. So were the few clothes that had survived. To my especial joy, she had sent a pair of six-pockets that her first-born had worn when a year old. I remembering complaining to all and sundry that a one year-old had the latest fashion in cargoes and I didn't!

And I remember this silky quilt, very pretty in pale yellow and appliqued with lambs, that Cousin T's mother sent. It was from my aunt's own infancy! I was scared of using it, it was so pretty, and eventually used it mostly to shade a side of the cot from the cold, and to give him something to look at while lying in the cot. This aunt also sent her own silver jhinuk, when she heard we were looking for one. There's a joy in using these gifts, in maintaining the thread, that new clothes will not have -- unless they become handmedowns in turn.

So I really don't see what the problem with handmedowns is. If you don't like what you're given, put them away or give them away. Usually they are given and not asked to be returned. I believe little boys should wear dungarees (for reasons of comfort and convenience as well as fashion) so I asked my parents to buy several pairs in varying sizes for The Bhablet. The ones he has worn so far have given excellent wear but are still in practically mint condition. I plan to preserve them carefully, to give them one day to a deserving [mother of a] baby boy. And I intend to ask for them back, once the kid's done with them. I think it's a very nice [future] gesture from my side. I would be extremely hurt and rather contemptuous if the chosen baby['s mother] turned them down as 'old clothes'.

A New Blogger (To Me, I Mean!)

Just came across Yashodhara, who writes really funny posts. In case you have not been to her place yet, I suggest you check it out.

We Have a Problem Here

For the last two odd months I have been trying to get back to work. Now that in itself is not as difficult as it might be for those who had a fixed career before having a baby, I imagine. I have always been happy trying my hand at a little bit of everything. I mean, when I say I write, I really cannot define it any clearer than that because I write anything I'm asked to. A poem, an obituary, a script, an article, an interview, a letter, your homework, whatever. Some I prefer not to write for money (homework and poetry) but mostly everything else is fair game. In addition, I've always enjoyed having fingers in theatrical pies, so that gave me some welcome changes from time to time.

So when I started looking around, I began by telling everybody I could think of that I was back in the game. Did they need costumes stitched? A story written? Did they know anybody who wanted some proofreading done? And I came across several very interesting openings, including one as a part-time RJ on AIR. The RJing eventually fell through because what with the surgery and the family gatherings last month, not to mention the ever-demanding Bhablet, I just could not find the five clear days at a stretch needed for the training. Also, the lady I was to liason with expected me to hop across town every time we spoke -- even though I had explained that I had a small baby to dispose of and needed at least a couple of hours' warning before being called. After several stormy sessions with V (who was driven distracted by The Bhablet whenever I'd gone out) I gave up on the idea and asked around some more for writing I could do from home.

A couple of weeks ago I heard about Calcutta Walks, and was intrigued by the idea. Then I heard they were looking for guides, and promptly volunteered myself. Currently the walks are still being sketched out. So we went on some exploratory walks, and obviously, these were meandering and took a long time. The problem is, Rahul started crying soon after I left home, and continued to howl more or less until I rushed back. I just can't figure out what his problem is, all of a sudden. He's being left at home with V -- something he is used to -- and he has been left with his grandparents for far longer stretches when both V and I have been away.

My mother explained that since we've been travelling every so often ever since he was born, and usually V only joins us for bits of the trip, I've been the only only constant factor in his life and therefore he is bound to cling to me. But he managed just fine when I was away at the nursing-home for a night and a day for that wrist surgery.

I'm really at my wit's end. I consider it highly unprofessional to keep explaining that I need to rush home to prevent father and son from murdering each other, and also because The Bhablet needs to be made to stop crying. I don't want to feel guilty about looking for work because so far I have specifically looked at part-time jobs that need only take up a designated few hours each week. I understand that V will have to babysit for the 5,6 hours I may be away -- but since he works freelance, I do think he can work that into his schedule on normal days.

All this reminds of my worries last year, about how I would cope with work and a baby. And how crazy it had been, when I was trying to juggle home with a full-time job. Then, as now, I had only a part-timer coming in early every morning. She's both honest and reliable, but you need to be around to ensure that all the things get done, or she'll skip a couple of chores each morning. So I would wake up early, run around cooking dinners, packing lunches, doing the laundry, coping with the ironing man, the newspaper chappie -- you know, the usual run. And V would slouch down just in time to get ready and leave. If he were sulking (and he sulked a lot in those troubled times) he wouldn't even eat the breakfast I'd made.

Anyway, not wanting to dwell on (V's) past sins here. Am focusing on Bhablet's current ones!

Seriously... I just don't know what to do. How to make it easier on the little chappie as well as get it across to him that he is not being abandoned.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Photos from 8th July, 2007

I don't normally do photo posts, because I think they take too long to load and are a nuisance for those with less than really good internet connections. But I was going through our recent photos, and I found some I'd like to show you all.

That's the speed Ally hit at one point (V was driving, of course). I would never have guessed, the road was so good.






That's where we had lunch. I think this is Rahul's first trip to a village.







My birthday cake, of course. An aunt of mine ordered it and The Bhablet went to get it.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

It's odd to know somebody without ever getting to meet them. What I mean to say is, it's a strange feeling to know somebody in part, to grow up with them, to have them grow up on you, to know intimate little details about them and yet be unable to visualise their faces, or know how they stress their sentences, or the real details about them.

I know a little girl, growing up with the passage of time, and I know what she feels like, and what her smile is like. It breaks me up to be aware that I wouldn't recognise her on the road.

But I remind myself of the boy I grew up with and never met and whom I did find eventually -- although he too passed me repeatedly before I recognised him -- and I try to regain my natural optimism.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Thank You, Everybody

All of you who wished me on Sunday, thanks for remembering. For all the mails, the scraps, the cards and the Facebook gifts, because it's always nice to be remembered, especially on a Sunday when I quite understand you would rather be lazing elsewhere.

V, The Bhablet and I went for a drive out of town. We went down the Delhi highway and ended up in Burdwan. Lunch was at a dhaba on the way. We bought langchas at Shaktigarh, of course, and drove back home.

I drove and am rather pleased with myself about it. I drove, you guys, on the highway. The road was fantastic, and mostly empty, and part of the way I had a nice jeep in front of me that kept clearing the road for me and showing me ways to overtake the odd vehicle in front. Worked wonders for my self-confidence. I grew up next to the highway and understand perfectly well just how dangerous it can be, but I must say I feel far more scared in city traffic.

Well, I'm 25 now and consider myself a fully-fledged adult so I will now go to bed.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I'm Fit for General Consumption

What a relief. I checked out Sunny Days over here and got rated G.

Online Dating

It's the EIGHTH!

The clock struck midnight (a minute ago) and my phone rang. I picked up.

B: (singing) Happy birthday to you, happy birthday...

I: It's a day early, moron.

B: No, you moron, it's the eighth.

I: Look at the calendar, you illiterate twit.

B: You turn on the tv.

I: I'm looking at a calendar and it says my birthday is on the Sunday, that's the eighth, fuckface.

B: No, it's on Saturday, that's the eighth. Moron.

I: Look, people have been calling me up asking me what I'm doing on Sunday.

B: Oh... no! It's the eighth, it's the eighth... it's the --

I: (breaking in before he broke a blood vessel) No, you mutt, it's the seventh.

B: (lamely) It is? Oh man, I got it wrong again.

I: (soothingly) You can always call me again tomorrow, you know.

B: Yeah, of course I could and find out it's not midnight yet or it's next month, or eighth July doesn't exist this year or some other bureaucratic cockup.

Before I end, there is something I have to add. B and I dated for three years. Halfway through that time, I went to his house one day and saw, marked on his wall calendar in bold, "Sue's Birthday". It was, not surprisingly, marked on the eighth of August.

I think, given his record, his effort this year wasn't too bad. Thanks Beq, you supuri-bhora pan, you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

ADOPT

This is one excellent reason to adopt, I think. The lady has always been a heroine of sorts to me (I'll not go into the reasons, I'd embarass myself) but this time she's left me speechless.

Unreasonable, I Tell You!

The Bhablet just does not play fair. Ever since he was born and I started talking to him, I repeated in front of him, "Baba... Baba... who do you call? Baba?" I'd go on like this all the time. And sure enough, his first proper word was Baba.

And who does he call when he wakes up crying in the night?

"Emmmm... Ma... Emmm... Ma!"

I just know V taught him this. Else, it's the genes. Either way, they both gang up on me.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Mother India -- In Defence of All Doormats

The older I get, the more I feel that there was something to our tradition of bringing up women to be doormats. It certainly made them more reconciled to their lot. Before you jump out of your chairs and starting hollering at me to tell me how feminism has made your life better and more fulfilling, consider this:

Way back a couple of generations ago, women grew up being taught and quietly accepting, that men knew more about 'the world', that they were best off managing the household, that men just did certain things that women had to accept (like dirtying a sink and never consider swirling a little water around after they finished using it, or cleaning up after they cooked -- hey, them cooking was a big deal in the first place) and you get the idea. If you chat with your grandmothers and great aunts, you will know the kind of training they were given. And they ended up being happy and fulfilling wives and mothers. They learnt to keep house, to cook, clean, mend and hold together; when there were domestic quarrels, they knew it was up to them to restore peace and soothe all the wounded egos. Basically, they knew their place. (Yeah, it makes me grin to type that, but it's true, for all that.)

There were exceptions, of course. There was my mother's paternal grandmother who had to be regularly scolded for having her nose forever in a book, and neglecting her household of husband and four sons. There was my own maternal grandmother who chose not to make up a quarrel between her eldest son and her husband, and thus lost her eldest and most beloved child. And I know there were plenty of women who were not content in this rigid world of accepting, always accepting whatever fate threw at you. But they all had a very strong training to fall back upon. In times of stress, whether they liked it or not, they knew within themselves, in a kind of faith I do not have and was never taught, that such and such things were to be done by women, and such and such were to be accepted, and that it was always for them to give, keep giving. Children were meant to tease, to irritate, to wound and trouble -- and mothers were taught, oh way before they were mothers at all, to be patient, to above all show a patience that they may not have felt, but that they had to show regardless.

Now why do I think this system had its merits? Well, because perhaps, if I had been a product of those times, I might have been more content. As things go, any given time of the day (unless I'm asleep, of course) I usually find some other way things could have been, and obviously, that other way would have made me happier. For instance, back when I was in uni and partying and working hard and studying from time to time, I was basically quite lonely most of the time, and longed for a home and a family of my own. And now that I have both, I can't wait to get away from them every now and then! And then, probably the earliest thing I learnt in my married life was that two can be lonely together as effectively as one alone.

I might have been awed that V helps out in the house at all, and be grateful for what he does (because he certainly wasn't brought up to it). But being a product of my times I mostly wonder why on earth I have to ask him to help and defiantly declare that a child needs parenting rather than mothering and that fathers have as much call to clean potty and wake up nights as any mother. Actually, given that I have to get up early for the maid and stay awake while she is here if I want to get my stuff done, I think I should be absolved from night-watches altogether. Also, don't forget the early morning feed which effectively wakes me about an hour before the maid, even.

I might, given my grandmothers' training, have argued less, and been less demanding and therefore, an easier person to live with (if not so stimulating). And I may have been more patient and careful with a Bhablet than is my wont. I would have known how to cook for an army by now (well, I'll be 25 in a couple of days) and would have been able to sew and embroider like a pro. I will gloss over my cooking skills (although let us not forget that I did post recipes here once) and say that my sewing and embroidering are both rusty, to put it charitably.

Yes, they were doormats, and they were brought up to be that way. And I've been brought up to think that being a doormat is, how shall I put it? Wrong? But nonetheless, I have an uneasy feeling they were in general more contented than I am or ever will be.

Adventure, Anyone?

Cathy gets it so right!

Listen to Me

Honey you are a rock
Upon which I stand
And I come here to talk
I hope you understand

Because talking to you at home doesn't seem to be getting anywhere.

So I'm telling you here, right in front of all the people who read this, and also because it's easier typing it out than saying it out aloud and seeing the mistrust in your eyes -- you have to know that I depend on you. So walking out into the rain is not the solution. I can't stop you. I can eventually hold down my pride long enough to call you back, but does it always have to be about the two of us battling our egos?

You know, and you know well, what you mean to me. I have not given up life as I knew it and I do not spend my days babysitting a Bhablet just because I enjoy that. I did these things because I had no choice, yes, but I didn't have a choice because there was you, and the only way I would have had a choice would have been to leave you out of the picture. So, what I'm trying to say is, I chose you, didn't I? And I'm still here, aren't I?

Must I say more than that?

This, incidentally, is an apology. I'd have called you up sooner tonight, except that I was busy with The Bhablet.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Baba

All you folks, friends and family, just wanted to say that Baba's better and will hopefully be discharged tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.

Sugar still fluctuating, but more in control. BP ok. Cold seems gone, from his voice.

Am sending out one more mail tonight, after that you can mail him yourself. :)

Blogging for Protection

Just came across this. Since I'm all for using blogging as a tool (and not just finding friends) I was much impressed by http://fightcorruption.wikidot.com

If you are living in Delhi...

... this is what you missed. I strongly suggest you catch the next show, because I know these guys and, trust me on this, you want to be there when they perform. You really do.

Bringing Up Baba

I've had a lot of ideas for blog posts this last one week but don't seem to be able to focus and write one out. Baba's in the hospital, what with a nasty cold, low BP and high blood sugar. He seems to be doing better now, although we are not entirely happy with the doctor and the treatment, but I found the whole week very upsetting because suddenly, marriage and The Bhablet felt like very real fetters.

I'm not talking of the way I feel from time to time, when I think that the creaking sound around me is from my brains rusting away. You know, when I feel claustrophobic in our little flat, when The Bhablet is giving me a hard time and there seems to be no privacy or any space for me in here. Those times I definitely wonder why I ever got into the whole domestic thing, because singlehood may have been less fulfilling, but hey, it was more exciting. I think. Wasn't it?

This week though, I had to accept that my parents may fall ill -- but because they live 1500 km away from me, and I have a little baby to look after, not to mention a husband and a home, my first priority cannot apparently lie with my parents. Except for an emergency, I would not be expected to dash down, and they would rather I did not. I can understand their point of view. Every time I go away I come home to a visibly thinner V. (I promise you, skinny as he is, he can still manage to lose weight. But hey, this is where I have to own up that he has actually managed to bring himself up to 55 kgs. Round of applause there folks, because that is indeed an achievement for V.) And obviously, the whole domestic setup is usually shot to pieces and needs to be sorted out once more, including getting the maid back in shape. It's really irritating bringing a baby home to a place where the linen needs changing, where his clothes, bottles, diapers etc. are all covered with dust, where I can't put him down because there isn't a clean surface for me to do so. V is learning but there's plenty of space for improvement. If you want a more visual description of how much space I'd say perhaps the size of Europe? Not leaving out the Russian bits, of course.

It has been so difficult sitting here in Calcutta, dreading the phone calls, being unable to call because I've been so afraid of hearing the news. I'm usually a good person to have around in a crisis, but I'm no good at riding out the crisis from a distance, being unable to actively do something. And I was so angry with Baba for letting it all happen. You cannot control illnesses but this particular one he brought on himself. I watched it happen. He made me serve him sweets when he was here ten days ago. How does he think I feel now?

Bringing up parents is never easy, I accept that -- but I'm starting to think that with my father, I'll never be done.