Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fathers Also Need It

Mothers commonly agonise over going back to work. Those who can afford not to go back (mentally and financially) often don't. The Stay At Home Mom vs. the Working Mom is a long and diverse debate. Those who do work talk about the guilt as well as the depression arising out of wasting away those years invested in a good education and a solid career. Those who return after an extended sabbatical have to bury their egos and return to jobs which their once-peers now lord over.

Mostly though, those who stay away or have stayed away from their careers to spend time with their children justify it to themselves by saying that they will never get this time back. Careers come and go while their children (and they) are only young once. I fully agree with this philosophy myself; and I add: fathers need this time too.

Vicky left his job to go into full-time freelance work when Rahul was a month old. His boss, mindful of the requirements of a household with a newborn in it and also unwilling to lose him, tried to talk him out of it but I stood by his decision and I think I'll always be glad of that. The freelance work came in slow, required mad hours some times and often cut in on our evenings out. But it did allow him to watch his son grow. To be the one who bathed him and thus be the proud recipient of Rahul's first word. To be the person towards whom Rahul took his first steps. To have the privilege of teaching him to ride a cycle and pedal a car. To know his little body and its workings as only I do. To watch his busy little mind constantly at work, trying to make sense of the world it was born into. To play silly games with, to make faces at, to fight with.

These things matter. These are the reasons why I only worked part-time for so long. And however jealous I get on the days when all Vicky sees is his son, I have never been able to regret that I shared all this with him. I was told off by ever so many people, mainly relatives, when I insisted that Vicky change the diapers or when I washed my hands off father and son at gatherings and sat down and enjoyed a meal I hadn't had to cook. But it wasn't just laziness, nor was it a lack of motherliness. It was, if you need me to define it, rather a respect for fatherliness, for the place that Vicky has in our son's life.

It hasn't always been easy, actually, walking away. I'm the control freak who doesn't even let her parents or parents-in-law tell her what to do with her precious boy. But I let somebody as careless as Vicky take charge of him for hours at a stretch. It wasn't easy when he forgot to change diapers and Rahul developed a rash that lasted weeks. It wasn't easy when V couldn't be bothered to heat the food I'd cooked for him and fed him Cerelac instead. And it was the hardest to hear Rahul cry when I first started working and to call hours later only to hear Vicky tell me that he never stopped crying.

But I told myself that I'd made pretty big mistakes too. That neither of us knew anything about parenting to start with. That he'd learn. That I needed to not let myself become obsessively possessive.

It's paid off extremely well. This is a post I wanted to write before Rahul's second birthday, when everybody began congratulating us on our second anniversary of becoming parents. I wanted to write of how there is nothing much that I can do for Rahul now that Vicky can't and doesn't. I know I keep saying this but really, I watch other fathers and I think of my own father who was so busy at work when we were small and I especially think of Barry, posted on the LoC and missing his daughter's infancy and I am grateful that Vicky has been able to be around, all this time. Our parenting methods differ and Rahul knows that he has to switch tactics when the parent-in-charge change shifts. But by and large he is every bit as well cared for when I am not around as he is when I am. When I know that a mere man can do so much, how can I not want him to share this time with me?

Rahul is at a particularly engaging age. Yes, we've already discovered the frustrating aspects of the Terrible Twos but nothing prepared me for a child who is as much fun as an adult any day. He is talking in Bengali, a lot, now, although it's still words and not phrases -- he's spending time over puzzles -- he sings to himself all day -- he makes up his own games -- he takes his books and 'reads' to himself or repeats the names of the things that he can identify -- there is so much that he does and that Vicky misses by being away and that I miss by being away at the other times. And then I know it was the right decision to go slow on our careers and not hire a maid. Because all this is not for a maid to savour, it's ours, Vicky's and mine, and I think it's only fair that he gets his share too. So I work. Yes, I mainly work to keep myself from rusting, and largely so as to have an independent source of income. But also in part to ensure that Vicky can take some time off now and then without worrying about how to pay the next bill. As the woman in this marriage I'm afraid I take the part about being housed, clothed and fed for granted. I cannot give him such a luxury but yeah, I can and am trying to ensure that he doesn't feel the entire weight of our finances.

Because the fathers also have a right to watch their babies grow. Because, as Dipali said, these days one bharatiya nari is not enough in each dampatti and all bharatiya naris should be treated equally.

The Little Biologist

So V observes the boy at play and then comes to me to say,

"Your son is out to create a tigon. I have been watching him at it these last few days."

I, with thoughts of political correctness and vivid visual images floating through my head, say,

"Don't put any thoughts into his head, for heaven's sake. Let him do as he pleases, he doesn't know the significance, na."

Correctly interpreting my scarcely hidden maternal concern the husband says,

"Oh don't worry, the elephant is keeping an eye on them at all times."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mittili in the Making

What do you get when you give a little boy a car and a set of wooden tools for his birthday? A mechanic, of course!

See for yourselves:

My father has always tinkered around with all things mechanical and electrical, as has my father-in-law. Vicky does too, although to a lesser extent, but he does know his way around a pair of "plaas". I suppose blood will out, even in a Bhablet. Especially in a Bhablet.

Are You Being Served -- A Follow-Up

After writing about my confusion with classes I was fascinated by the responses I received. One, that so many other people feel this way and none of us know just what we need to do to diffuse the situation. Whether it's possible to diffuse the situation at all. Two, that it's not just an Indian thing.

Anyway, since then I've been seeing a similar theme elsewhere. Do take a look if you haven't already, and leave your opinions.



D -- Also read part I here.


I love Lucy

If you've written about this too and would like me to link, email me or drop me a comment here. Thanks.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Second Birthday

The first party was rather a small affair, what with Vicky's mother's operation and the death of a close relative on my side days before. I promised myself then that his next birthday, when he would be older and better able to enjoy himself on his own terms, would have a party thrown only for him and his friends. Where the children would come first.

So this year I planned a menu for children 2 yrs downwards. It comprised homemade cake, juice, dot appalams, jam biscuits and cheese straws from Cal Club and corn popped at home with little oil and salt. Everything small and suitable for toddlers to play around with. I brought out all the toys and didn't arrange the balloons on the walls -- they lay all over the floor free to be played with. A puzzle corner was created with a small table and three toddler chairs, where the quieter kids could do their own thing. And I wore clothes I could run around in -- Dipali's kurta (my birthday present from her) with a churidar and my hair tied in a French braid.

Our guests were pretty punctual, despite the light rain, and made themselves more or less at home. There was some slight anxiety on the part of the host himself, who decided to solve matters by carefully removing his most favoured toys from the hands of the invading hordes, but it was far less stressful than I'd hoped for. The guests were unbelievably well-behaved, nobody really hit each other or made each other cry (except for Tai Shan and Rahul, late in the evening when both were tired and cranky and even that was quickly sorted out) and the mothers seemed to hit it off really well. In the middle of all this was Dipali, handing out refreshments, adding her bit to the conversation, generally being there. She even piped the lettering on the cake when a tired me was chickening out and planning to write it on the cake board with a sketch pen instead!

Although not all our guests came, almost all of them did, including two fathers I hadn't expected, and I'm glad they came, at that. Because I did enjoy myself that evening, and I think Vicky and Rahul did too. To me that's the sign of a successful party -- one where the hosts had fun too.

Lessons learned:

1. Provide more food for adults. This is not much of a lesson because I did have adult food (patties and payesh and stuff) for the evening guests and I deliberately stuck to toddler food this year, but yes, having got this one party out of my system, all parties henceforth will be planned for both children and the adult guests.

2. Decor is really not important. :) Who's looking?

3. Toddlers can be nice guests so I'm never running them down again, the sweethearts.

4. Add ayahs when counting heads! Add every ayah who you know is employed by a guest. If they don't turn up, more food for the rest, but better than the other way around!

5. Dottie is not just a baking goddess but also an abso sweetheart when your fondant casts up its accounts in the middle of the night. Thanks, Dot, more than you know!

6. Nobody really cares what Vicky wears. Except, of course, his mother.

7. One should always make even more cake than planned.

8. Somebody really should be designated photographer. I had no idea where my phone was, so I took no photos myself and as a result, there are none. Gayatri took some though, and I'm waiting for those to be sent over. I promise to put them up once I get them.

9. Shopping for kiddy parties is great fun! I wish the next birthday weren't a whole year away. I've already got the theme planned and everything. This year was Balloons. I made the cake in the shape of two balloons (baked in a boat-shaped casserole) and had one cut for the kids and one for the grandparents who came later in the evening.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Babu

So you turn two. This time two years ago I was lying in a nursing home bed, wondering what the next hour would bring. You took another 45 minutes entering my life.

And, well, I'm glad you're here.


Sunday, September 21, 2008


I have this awfully cute photograph as my laptop desktop background right, featuring me and The Bhablet; and he gets very excited every time I boot up, pointing out the "bibby". For some time I have been trying to get him to point out the "Ma" as well -- something I can count the number of times he has done, till date. Today he surpassed himself by insisting that that was "Baba". So, because I'm really, really annoyed (V was smirking next to us, blast them both), here are some funny photographs of The Bhablet.

Maybe next time he'll think twice before messing with a blogging mother. Take that!

And that, you silly little eater of shoes!


And my personal favourite* --

Although this comes pretty close too...

And here is the photo that started it all --

*There's a video for this one, but I'm not annoyed any more now.

With apologies to the Mad Family for the delay...

So here's this photograph taken on 28th December, 2007. When the Mad family visited Calcutta. And we all met at Dipali's. The OA, the Brat and The Bhablet.


This time next week the boy will be a Boy. A two year old Boy. E missed all this. She saw him for a brief day and a half -- I'm so glad I took the trouble to go meet her -- and Beq saw him for only a little bit longer.

If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me if I liked growing up in several cities, I'd say, yes, I did. I liked how it shattered my otherwise insular self. I like how it keeps me from really becoming a frog in a well. I like how I feel half Telugu (and these days, a very teeny part Tam, mainly for the food!)

But the problem is, when your home is spread across the country, then your friends and you have to live apart. So Beq's in Landour -- blast you, Beqesh (don't forget to drop a postcard off at Bond's with my love and wishes he gets well soon) -- and E is in NY. I admire her determination, envy her freedom and miss her, but mostly I miss her. In our own ways we are are also growing up still, and we are growing in different directions. It would be nice to see her more often.

I don't really want to do this post right now. Maybe another time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Guest Blogger Here

As you can see, I'm falling over myself blogging these days, so I went and wrote something for Parul, which she kindly put up. You can read it here.

Just remember, this was before I turned respectable.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Cycle for The Bhablet

(I had begun to phase out the whole Bhablet business, meaning to cut it out altogether after the 2nd birthday, but hey, what can you call a Bhablet apart from The Bhablet?)

So Vicky and I thought a cycle would be a nice second birthday gift. Accordingly, when the sales began last month, I went around pricing bicycles and tricycles. I saw lots but they were either out of our budget, or too flashy for my liking (too many things on them, what with the handles and baskets and the fancy toys) or not sturdy enough or the pedals too flimsy. I'm very finicky about safety issues and besides, a cycle is a long-term buy, so I might as well love it. I mean, Rahul might as well love it.

So I walked around, singly and with the father and the son until I was this close to giving up the ghost. Was veering towards tricycles since they seemed safer and all the bicycles looked too big. Then I walked into Dakshinapan on a random sort of quest, and found a bicycle at good old Toyland. Sat Rahul down on the seat. He not only fitted but looked so very right. The price was higher than I'd hoped, but hey, Rs. 2085 was cheaper than the other, imported stuff I'd seen in the posh shops. Called up Baba to ask if it was OK to buy a 2 yr old a bicycle with training wheels instead of a tricycle. He asked me the name of the manufacturer and it emerged that they (his company and the cycle's) were part of the same group; so he asked me to take down cycle details and hang on for a couple of days.

In a few hours I had a mail from him with the address of their dealer outlet in Hazra Road. There was no telephone number so I went through Google Maps and Wikimapia and eventually managed to locate the BSA Go shop in Devi Market at 83, S. P. Mukherjee Road.

Between this and the time we actually went to the shop, more emails had been exchanged between Baba and his friends at the cycle company. So we were forwarded a bunch of names and phone numbers of Important People who could help us. (By this point V had long stopped being of any actual use; all he did was laugh.)

Armed with these names and numbers we eventually made our way to the outlet. That was a somewhat frustrating exercise, as I mentioned before, but both the salesmen seemed to be as reassured as I was by Baba telling them over the phone that he'd handle the Madras end. So we forked over a hundred rupees for the deposit, entreated them not to forget the cute Pooh-shaped bell as a reserve, and went drinking with Philip. That was on Wednesday night. They told us, rather doubtfully, that the shade we wanted (bright red) would be difficult to get, delivery could take up to a month.

And yesterday, that is Friday morning we got a call from the shop explaining that the cycle had arrived and was ready to be delivered. It was actually delivered today (Saturday noon) what with one thing and the other, and they forgot my, I mean, The Bhablet's extra Pooh bell but it's so beautiful. A lovely, yummy red bicycle, just the right size for a two yr old and it has a little basket in the front. And the whole thing cost Rs. 1575.

Rahul loves his new 'gayi' (vehicle) and V and I decided to let it be Baba-Ma's gift, since Baba went to so much trouble. It's no problem, because we do have other gifts to give him. In the meantime here he is, perched up high. Definitely not a baby any more.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My Cup Overfloweth

And not just because I lithp either.

This morning I went to TCS for some discussion about training etc. and came home absolutely bathed in sweat. Walked into the bedroom peeling clothes off as I went and felt miserably thirsty. So I turned to that Bhablet we keep around us, and mindful of earlier happenings, asked him to please bring me some water.

He made a non committal sound and I repeated my request, more pleadingly. Then he nodded, said hmm and trotted out on his Bhablet legs. I gestured to V, indicating that he watch what happen. V shrugged and said the child couldn't bring the water, because there wasn't any outside in the bottle.

My son, folks, my son, my immensely wonderful son came back with water for his mother -- he brought me his little silver cup, kept half full of water for him to drink, at the corner of the table. I promise you, it was the best-tasting water I've ever had.

So I'm thinking, perhaps I won't send him off on that one-way trip to outer space after all.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy Days

So I worked on Friday night. Had a real gent for my 'caller' in Copenhagen and I appreciated his manners, I can tell you! Considering the software suddenly went wonky on me and things refused to work... and he heard me tell Maria that I would "keep him distracted" while she fixed the s/w glitch -- because I hadn't muted Skype carefully! For all that, he very kindly told our team there that he had enjoyed the show.

Saturday morning I had an interview at a school. Am considering teaching as a career option and was in two minds upto the moment I actually met the principal. Now I think I'd like to work there. Both she and the other two teachers I met were so pleasant and friendly, I think spending five mornings a week there may not be so bad, even if I do have to wake up early in the mornings.

Feeling immensely cheered by the interview(ers) I walked down to Mohini Mohon Road and had an impromptu lunch with Mejomamidida. She made me an omlette to have with my lunch and to make it, used an egg, some chopped onion, salt and pepper. She then muttered a few charms and turned it into ambrosia. (I didn't actuallly see or hear her do the charming, but she must have.) I had such a pleasant hour with her, I quite, quite forgive her for asking for a simpler saree for Pujo. I don't think I will ever learn to be OK with my widowed didas wanting to look drab and eat miserably. They wouldn't do it on their own either if rotten relatives weren't always passing nasty comments.

Walked through Jogu Bazaar on my way home and then took a bus. I like bazaars. Bought some balloons. The Second Birthday looms large on my horizon these days.

V, R and I napped the rest of the afternoon. Surfaced later in the day to hop down to Dakshinapan where I bought Mejomamidida's replacement saree. Ran out of money else would have bought Lakshmi's as well. Am now in the business of ferrying sarees around town since Ma's not here. *Sigh* We ate a quick dinner of masala dosas there as well.

Rushed back home in a hurry since Philip and I had made plans to go dancing. Got dressed and then went easy on the makeup when I remembered that P can give even Vicky a run for his money as far as casual dressing goes. (Although I'll admit V is improving some, especially since I have been in charge of his sartorial life.) And then -- prepare yourselves -- I drove Ally down to pick Philip up at Hazra and we drove down to Park St. This when the roads were still pretty full. Ta-daa...!

We had a light supper of a veg sandwich and some veggie juice combo for him (and now you know how he stays that thin) and a choco cookie crumble milkshake for me. We chatted for a long time, sitting in that new cafe at The Park, talking about families and weird experiences and it was a really nice start to the evening. It's been a long time since I spent that kind of time with somebody I didn't know so well. And I thought, we should have done this long before.

Eventually we got off our seats and made our way to Someplace where we were greeted with Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams (why oh why) and we grimaced and walked into Roxy. Roxy was still quiet and we got two seats at the bar. The two bartenders at our end (Neeraj and N something) were pretty good at their job -- my Bloody Mary had a bite that made up for the sweet OD of the milkshake while Phil's g-n-ts were made with Bombay Sapphire and tasted bloody marvellous. I stayed with the one drink since I was the designated driver (yikes!) and we talked some more. Eventually Maria and Tompu landed up and we went to dance. That endeavour lasted about three minutes, start to end, but it was a great evening for all that. The DJ had moved on to 'Main talli ho gayi' which is not really my kind of music.

So at half past one we called it a night and went home. You'll no doubt be amused to hear that I was the only driver stopping at red lights at 2 in the a.m. while cabbies guffawed their way past me. Phooie, ses I.

The reason we turned in early was that we'd planned a trip to Kumartuli the next morning, Philip and I, with Vicky and Rahul. Maria and Tompu decided to join us, so there we were, at 7.30 the next morning, slightly red-eyed and somewhat hoarse from chatting over the loud music, driving down Chitpur. We stopped for the Chinese breakfast at Poddar Court en route -- stuffed buns and momos and fried rice cakes. Then straight down Rabindra Sarani, past Royal (we have to go there, Vicky), past Jorasanko, past Kumartuli -- hang on, we're past Kumartuli! So we stopped, checked by asking for directions, headed outwards to CR Avenue and parked Ally in the shade. Bought some water and set off.

It was a very nice morning, despite the sun and having to carry R because of the muddy lanes from the previous evening's rain. Rahul himself was fascinated because he saw "aati" everywhere. (Vishwakarma puja is coming up and he sits on an elephant; Ganeshas were also being made for Durga Puja next month.) Then there were plenty of crows and dogs to keep him entertained. We walked around the various workshops and spent some time sitting by the ghat. A visit to a certain famous house in the neighbourhood led to a discovery of the sort you'd think I'd be used to, by now: Vicky is (and therefore I am) related to them in the way of all boddis.

Came home, crashed. Was out for some hours. Ally was sent to the garage to be serviced. Then, after an almost fight with the husband, we all had phuchkas, him, me and the son. Mejopishi and Co. dropped in for a short visit and V left with them, on a round of chores (at 9 p.m. on a Sunday).

Monday saw me cook like crazy, hoping not to need to cook for some days afterwards. In the evening we had a dinner at Tamarind, hosted mainly by four Call Cutta-related people whose birthdays fell one after another that weekend. We reached pretty late, around 9 I think, and Rahul was very tired since he hadn't slept well in the afternoon. We were both set for a quick dinner and dash back home, V and I, but we'd bargained without the son. He walked in, saw some girls (Basundhara and Anasuya) dancing to loud music and that was that. He danced for the next hour, worked the room, got even Philip on his feet, flirted with Maria and generally took it upon himself to squeeze every last bit of fun out of the do.

It turned out be a great evening, far more fun than I'd expected, and the service at Tamarind was downright welcoming. The food, as always, was excellent. We packed a 'doggie bag' for V (well, it was several boxes really, and quite a lot of food) because R pretty much collapsed around 10.30 and Bhola (our chief driver) took the Lake Garden lot home.

Tuesday saw me up early (I hardly slept all night, being afraid I'd miss the alarm) and I went for my first trainee day at The Cambridge School. Have applied to teach Kindergarten there and have asked to be allowed to observe/help out the current teacher as much as I can. It was quite a morning but I'm hoping I get this job. Money will probably be peanuts but I really liked the other teachers and the kids were a bright bunch. (They were all monkeys too but I'm told that's an occupational hazard.) Best, I liked the school's teaching methods.

Came home, saw the house in chaos. V was in a filthy mood. R has started acting up over breakfast and it drives one bananas trying to get anything inside him. Anyway, I straightened out the flat, fed The Bhablet his lunch, popped him down for his nap, fed the husband his lunch and packed him off to work. Used up all my energy for the day, I realised later because I was no good for anything much the rest of the day.

Dipali dropped in late afternoon, for the book Book Crazy Babes is reading for next month and we ended up having a very nice tea at Dolly's. I needed to buy Lakshmi's saree at Dakshinapan anyway. Lovely cheese-corn sandwiches. But they used salami and not ham in V's ham sandwich (which we packed and brought back for him). Rahul ran riot but so what else is new? She dropped us two back home afterwards, and then I ran over to Evie's place with the book she wanted for this month. Not surprisingly, I own neither book myself!

Wednesday was pretty normal in terms of housework and so on but the great thing was, I've finally figured out how to keep R diaperless for his afternoon nap. I give him lunch on time or a little early if possible, and push back his naptime to ensure a clear hour between meal and nap. That was what I'd been inadvertently doing in Madras but didn't do in Cal. His grandparents (V's parents) were babysitting in the evening so I asked his grandmother to try out a diaperless evening. She seems to have had no problems. Such a relief. As of last week he has been telling us pretty much every time he needs to go, and the biggest thing is, he's willing to pee standing up in a corner of the bathroom -- something he used to be far too distracted to do earlier. Anyway, one more step away from diapers.

Our evening plans were to start out with a visit to BSA Go's outlet on S. P. Mukherjee for a bicycle for the birthday boy-to-be. Turned out to be quite a complicated exercise what with the clueless salesmen earnestly assuring me that it was impossible to book the cycle I wanted but they didn't have in stock. V guffawing over Baba's official connections didn't help matters one whit, although I'll admit one doesn't necessarily need to enlist the help of all sorts of higher powers in buying a kid's cycle. Then again, if Baba tells his friend that his grandson will be coming along to buy a cycle I fail to see why Baba's son-in-law needs to make any nasty cracks on the matter at all.

What followed all this was drinks at Tripty's (Jadubabu's Bazar or so it calls itself). Philip and Vicky had made the plans and insisted on me coming along. A respectable matron like me. Anyway, so I dressed in a loose shirt and rolled up jeans (forgot to roll them down :) ) and we walked into the bar which looked much brighter and welcoming than I remembered it. Also, since it relied on huge open windows and doors for ventilation rather than AC, it was surprisingly airy and comfortable. We had beers and some nice fried potatoes and then some not that great paneer pakodas. Sat around passing scurrilous tales. It was a great evening. Went to Blue Sky for dinner and luckily, we reached just before they closed. Food was OK, although V's pepper chicken steak was quite Manchurian in nature. Firni from Zeeshan for dessert. It was past 11 when we picked R up from Jodhpur Park and then we went for a little drive.

Came home, dropped into bed and woke up at 6 a.m. this morning.

It's been quite a ride these last few days. I really like reading these journal accounts in my archives so I try to add to them now and then. If this is not the stuff you like to read, I suggest you avoid posts labelled "days".

Now I'm waiting for today's thing, whatever it may be. Philip leaves tomorrow so we may have a mini party after work tonight. Until then, I'm going to bake a cake. A vanilla one this time.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Too Much Too Soon

He'll be two in twenty days and I'm watching my baby slip away from me. Every day there is something that he does that is so 'grown up' that I want to kick him out of the house and go bawl in the bathroom.

Yesterday morning he 'brushed' his teeth all on his own while V and I footled around with our own. OK, he brushed more tongue than teeth, but he did it on his own.

The other day I absentmindedly asked him to bring me some water and he went to the dining-table, climbed up on a chair, brought the 2l bottle of water down and carefully carried it to me.

He's still throwing tantrums but they are getting a shade more manageable. And sometimes they can be deflected by sending him off to send his "Aati" (plastic elephant) off to sleep. Once I thoughtlessly asked him to give "Aati" a bath as a change, and I found him marching off to the bathroom!

He still talks mainly in Babble but when he wears his little tailored shirts he looks like a little boy. Not my baby. He's growing up and reaching out to the world, learning new things every day. To him it's a wonderful world (barring the occasional parental frustration of his cherished aims). He wakes up with a wide grin, sure of his welcome. He walks into my arms when I'm angry with him, knowing he's still my own son. Baby, that's never changing, no matter how badly you and I fight.

Vicky is teaching him to apologise when I'm upset. He takes R to a quiet corner and explains to him that he must say sorry. Then the little boy comes over and tentatively smiles and reaches out.

I take him out with me, now and then, when I run my errands. He enjoys his trips to the Post Office. He's so good at making friends, somehow. He's the kind of child you find yourself playing with at public places. The other day he walked all the way from our place to the Post Office -- a long walk for 23 month old legs -- and then spent the ten minutes we were there chatting up whoever would talk to him. Which basically meant the whole room full of folks his grandparents age.

Spent all day yesterday sans diapers, until he went out yesterday. I will never again criticise parents for making their kids pee on the sides of the road. No, it's not a pretty sight but there's really nothing else for it. When V and I are on the ball he doesn't need diapers at home or for quick trips to the nearby shops.

He enjoys travelling and doesn't care how he does it. He loves going to new places and meeting new people. He wants his plateful of rice to fill him up but in between he's willing to taste all kinds of foods. He is showing a love of hot stuff, with chillies galore. Likes curd straight but not cooked, thank you. Loves chilli chicken. He is taking an interest in his clothes and has always taken an interest in mine, in how I do my hair. Now he shows me the vest/shirt I've laid out and hands it to me when he thinks that it's time he got ready.

When he's ready to leave, when he considers a visit has gone on long enough he hands me his sandals. Which he has outgrown. I have to bring out new clothes and shoes for him once more. The vest bought for him in July is now hanging above his navel.

He loves dancing and has some weird steps that Vicky insists on copying. The friendship between him and his father is something I watch and learn from. They fight and yell and hit each each other and they show each other an adoration I don't think they show me, dammit. When V and I fought V would retreat from us both, but of late he retreats only from me. R is now old enough to have an entirely separate relationship with his father. V tells me on the phone from work to put a particular stool out in the balcony so that his Bhabs can watch the world go by.

The sheer mischief in Rahul's look makes think. It's dancing in his eyes, coursing through his fidgety wee body, coming out in his grins. He sure doesn't get it from me.

And now he's here, climbing into my arms, refusing to be denied. Sticking one finger on his nose and looking at what I'm doing. I'm not sure whether I'm holding my baby or a little boy. Either way, he's all the sunshine in the world to me.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Are You Being Served?

Two separate incidents got Vicky and me talking a little late into the night, last night.

One, the disappearance of Bruno. The teddy bear mascot of Brown's, Bruno was a gift from Aniruddha to Rahul and I fell in love with him. Some time yeterday or perhaps even late the day before, he vanished and we fear that Rahul chucked him outside, something he's doing a lot these days. Many of his toys have vanished . I was quite sad last night, because I really liked the bear, but it's Rahul's to give away. These toys that he throws outside -- I think some time in the chaos of the last week he's managed to do it more often -- are not even toys that he misses. He has plenty. Nor does he throw them out of anger. He sends his favourites out, the spotted dalmatian, the broken bicycle, and I suspect he sends them to enjoy the freedom that he's being denied.

We've usually got back all the stuff but I think over the last week he's thrown far more than we knew, and I suppose passersby have walked off with them. Wouldn't you? These are expensive toys, some of them, and mostly in good condition.

The other thing happened last night. A security guard at South City pissed V off and I think V's anger was quite justifiable, given the lousy manners these guys think are acceptable. But I wasn't OK with him swearing in public (and psyching out the little old lady in front of him.) Not because I mind the swearing, but because the guard wouldn't be able to retaliate. V says he was misusing his powers, so V could also abuse his own powers. Yeah, I get that, but why?

I don't know how it is in other metros but here in Cal the resentment against the rich is getting a little scary. Some days it plain pisses me off. One night when I was on the road and making careful calculations as to what transport I would be able to afford, a rickshaw-walla tried to justify his over-charging saying Rs. 2 doesn't matter to me. Excuse me? I was in a foul mood already and that lit the fuse. I made him pull up and yelled at him. I'm always balancing, balancing expenses purely because the Rs. 2 does matter to me. Else I'd be in a cab, not a rickshaw in the rain.

Yes, V and I are better off together than I was as a poor student three years ago, but we also have more places to make the money go. In any case, why resent us? Because we have a car in this city of over-crowded public transport? A battered, seven yr-old model we cannot afford to keep smart? Because I wear shorts and skirts and clothes that look expensive? I make each item go a long way. Because our child looks well-fed and healthy and is well-dressed?

And that's where I stop the belligerence. Yes, our son is well-fed and healthy and well-dressed. He has shoes on his feet and enough clothes for it not to matter if one tears. Last Friday, at eleven in the night, when I was coming home from work, I saw a young boy, maybe ten, carrying a baby, maybe six months old, through the mild drizzle as he begged for money between the cars. We were waiting for the light to turn green when he came up and I just lost my temper. I yelled at him to take that child under shelter this very second unless he wanted me to take it away from him. I know the babies are hired and ill-treated, so the odds of it being his own sibling were low.

And all the while I was thinking of my own son at home. At that same age, being wrapped and changed and cuddled the live-long day. At times the difference gets too much to bear. I resent somebody telling me I have it good, so why should I care if I'm made to pay more just because I look like I can. And yet, I know the security guard will not go home to a flat as nice as ours. He will not drive himself swiftly home in a car. He did not just come out of an AC movie-hall. These things surely matter? If he gets his cheap kicks by being rude, I have to remember perhaps that his lot in life is less rewarding than mine?

I get this strong sense of resentment all around. Fifteen years ago places were more fixed. My parents knew their station in life and servants/wait persons or people who generally served, in whatever capacity knew their places and their duties. Now everybody is upwardly aspiring. Aspirations are good but surely not at the cost of losing you your contentment in the life you have? I should talk, because now and then I want to be more than I am -- richer, better-clothed, better-educated, more travelled. Takes me a little time to get my feet back on the ground.

All around me, I find the service is getting worse. A waiter at even the poshest hotels quite frequently doesn't know the basics of filling your plate or clearing it away. Salesgirls don't think it's necessary to be tactful when helping you choose some clothes. There doesn't seem to be much pride in doing one's job well, unless it pays astronomical sums of money or can be boasted about. And there's this resentment. Why hate me? I'm not only not taking anything away from you, I'm helping you earn your salary. As other people help me put food on my table by paying for the services I give them. I cannot understand why speaking in Bengali with a salesperson often gets me looks of disdain when it's quite clear that they cannot follow my request in English.

Why does a human being consider it unnecessary to open a door when he sees a hassled young man with a full trolley approaching? It may not be a part of his job description, but why would he think that it lowers him in any way to show basic decency?

This whole dilemma tears me in two ways: on the one hand I am glad to think Bruno has gone to somebody to whom he will be more than just another soft toy. On the other, this whole neighbourhood knows that Rahul throws his toys out of the window. Yet nobody rang the bell to warn us, nobody ever returns a toy.

And yet, should I not make allowances for those who don't even have it as good as I do? There's a part of me that doesn't want to make allowances for bad manners. And another part of me asks, where would they pick up the good manners? Do they have the same kind of exposure that I do? I was telling V last night, if he'd cussed the guard out knowing that the guy could have returned it in kind, I'd understand and not mind so much. But the guard wouldn't be able to retaliate. Then again, it was the guard who started the whole thing, letting us climb a full flight of stairs before blocking us at the top and saying that the way was closed. Who do you blame? V's not a snob at all, he really isn't. If you ask me, the guard was showing the reverse snobbishness that's coming to bother me so much -- penalising the better off simply because they are better off.

And yet, if you live in Calcutta, you know just how little the other side has. Can I really resent somebody who has the same dreams for his son as I do but has to live out his entire life knowing the two boys will never have the same chances just by an accident of birth? Ought I on the other hand penalise my own son just because he has the breaks?

It's a city of contradictions, this one, and I cannot help feeling it would be a happier city if more people counted their own blessings rather than those of their neighbours.