When we all turn into clouds.

Arjun contemplating

Every time when someone old is sick, I feel this is the final time I am seeing them. Every time my grandmother calls me I hold on to her words, I feel this is the last time I am talking to her. She is healthy as a horse, takes good care of herself, gives unwanted advice to everyone she meets, insists on them following her advice and in general keeps getting in trouble because of all the questions she asks people which she is not supposed to.

But still, every time I see a call from her number, my heart beat quickens till I hear her voice.

It is strange to have this feeling in your head at all times. It is a cycle of life and death. What is born must die, and yet, it feels as if we are all fighting it every minute. For ourselves and for our loved ones.

When Arjun, my 2.5 year old boy asked me where 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are, I pointed at the sky and told him that they have become clouds now. We can’t see them, but they can see us. Now in this monsoon season, when he sees a dark cloud or a soft white cloud against a grey blue sky, he points at it and asks me who that specific cloud is. I make up some stories and he entertains them. One day last weekend he came to me, held my face in both his hands and then very sincerely told me ‘Momma, please don’t become a cloud when you get old”. I squeezed him and said okay, but actually what I wanted to tell him is that ‘Becoming a cloud after you become old is the best thing to happen, honey.’ But may be he is too little to understand that thing happening to his mom.

And kids can be strange. This idea is stuck in his head and when he sees any really old person, he asks them, ‘When do you think you will become a cloud?’ I quickly change the topic before any more questions are asked, but you can imagine me getting a small panic attack when he starts questioning in that direction.

Last month, I asked my 80 year old grandmother who had gone to meet her dying 83 old brother, “What did you say to him?”. “Nothing”, she told me. “I just stroked his hand and his forehead”. “Thats it? No last words of wisdom from you or from him?” “No. We have just been there forever, what else to say?”

Getting old and then leaving this world is perhaps the best form of dying. Of having lived a life, of knowing that your children, their children are all grown up, that they can take care of themselves without you – that is solace. And I believe in re-birth. In same soul, many lives. So all those who have left us will come back in some other form, in some other person. It helps me navigate the everyday. My husband believes that we are all carbon atoms, there is no soul and there is no re-birth. And this belief makes him stay sane. Well, different things work for different people, but I refuse to believe that my grandmother’s unrelenting, unsolicited advice will leave me and not come back. I am sure she will pass on that baton to someone else, for her sake and for mine.

This week, we will celebrate her 80th birthday. All her sisters will be there too, in the old-age home where she now stays. Me and mom were trying to convince her that we should all go on a holiday to celebrate her 8oth. But she wants to stay put and wants us all to come there. So thats where we all will be, amongst 30 other grannies and grandpas, some of whom we know and some only she knows. Arjun loves it there, so much open space and trees and flowers, he runs around the whole time.

On the other side of the family, Akshay’s grandma also lives very close to us. Arjun is very attached to her. She is 81. In good health, but ageing. Arjun sees all of this. How fortunate he is to love and be loved by three generations, but he will also miss them the most when they are all no more.

But there is no better thing than to grow old and die. May we all have the same fate.

Cheers,

RC

Finding cues from books to keep calm and carry on

Bookstore in Berlin

On a miraculous note, I have finished reading all the four books that I started reading in the last two months. I call it a miracle because believe it or not, there are 6-7 books on my kindle which I started reading but couldn’t go on. For varied reasons. And then I would give up reading for a while, keep scourging listicles to find a book which will help me get back on track and feel disconcerted all the while because I did not have a book to go back to. Working full time and raising a child leaves very less time to read (or even to take a shower for that matter), but escaping my own life and joining someone else through the books makes it rather bearable to live through the mundane necessities of life. We are so small in this whole universe, that our joys and sorrows, difficulties and breakthroughs are all insignificant and should not be taken too seriously.

Four years back when I was in Paris, I went to Lyon to spend two days with a business associate and his family consisting of his wife and three kids. His youngest daughter Lily (who was 6) and I became very attached. She doesn’t speak a word of English and I cant speak French, but sometimes you don’t need words to feel close to each other. I hadn’t seen her since then. When we were going to Berlin for our annual international meeting, I was going to see her father. I took a little gift for Lily and wondered if she would remember me.

We were in for a rude shock when we saw Lily with her father in Berlin and he told us that his wife had committed suicide a week back. 10 year old Lily accompanied him as there was no one to take care of her at home. I knew her mother, such a warm gentle person. But she suffered from depression for several years and couldn’t take it anymore. I felt the inevitable had happened.  She fought the demons in her head for 20 years, but refused to accept medication. As it often happens in situations like these, I couldn’t bring myself to say anything comforting. We hugged each other and said that we are very sorry to hear that.

I couldn’t focus on anything for the rest of the evening or night. A book came to my rescue. While in Berlin, I wanted to read something about the city and I had Stasiland by Anna Funder. I escaped into that book, The Berlin wall and the attempts to flee, atrocities committed by the Secret police – the Stasi, incessant spying by the East German government on the citizens and so on. Suddenly the bleaker world that I was reading about made my real world seem more cheerful. And the words, how they comfort a soul when troubled. Look at this from the book “I like trains. I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” Or this : “We don’t catch hold of an idea, rather the idea catches hold of us and enslaves us and whips into the arena so that we, forced to be gladiators, fight for it.” These are the words that will save the world, one person at a time.

Next day, Lily and I then went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the Secret police of East Germany. We saw a lot of stuff that was described in the book Stasiland. Two people who didn’t speak a common language trapezed through the museums and streets of Berlin, trying to understand the people and the history of the city. Then we sat at a cafe and did what Berliners do. Lunch on salad and sandwiches and some hot chocolate before the whirlwind of 4 days of constant meetings sucked me in. I don’t know what Lily thinks of her mother’s suicide. She doesn’t know what fears I have about Arjun growing up in this world. We don’t have a common language to communicate. But there on that afternoon, we sat besides each other and knew that it will all be okay. In the long run, everything is always okay.

My best friend and I always used to believe in this theory of people coming into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. You may not know it at that time, but each person who comes into contact with you leaves a part of them with you. Changes your perspective about something in some way that you didn’t know existed before. So I always believe if anyone asks you if you want to meet for a cup of coffee, say yes. And make the time for it. Something will conspire in that conversation, in that chance meeting and it will give you the energy, the zeal to carry on.

Akshay and I completed 6 years of being married yesterday. We have our good days and the bad days. There are days when I think how awesome he is and the 31 year old me can fall in love with him all over again had we met right now for the first time. And then of course there are days when everything seems to be pointless. Sleeping it out without saying any unnecessarily harsh things to each other works. And as Ann Patchett’s friend asks her in her book  ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage’, –

“Does your husband make you a better person?” My answer to this question has been an unfailing yes. And that is all that matters.

IMG_7136Cheers!

Rutvika

Going to school : Mom is more petrified than the child

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Arjun is two years old now. Which means he will soon have to start play school, nursery etc etc and get in the rigamarole of people telling him how to do stuff. Not to say that we don’t, but he barely listens to us and convinces – coaxes, pampers or ignores us and goes his own way. He has also learnt fake crying and does it with eyes wide open to check our reaction. But all of this won’t be tolerated in school. One playgroup teacher in fact even told us that she doesn’t let kids in her class use the toilet except in the designated break time. Kids need to learn discipline. I am not sure how she imposes this on snotty 3 years olds, but we excluded that play school from our (very)short-list.

In the last two weeks, we have visited 5 playschools in our area. And rejected each one of them. For very peculiar reasons. The first one had a “counsellor” on board. They identify what problem your child has and direct them to specialist doctors on their panel. The administrator of that school proudly listed the kids whose problems were identified – ‘A has sensory problem’, ‘B has walking problem’, ‘C has talking problem’ and so on. I am sure they will find some problem with my boy – “not a party-goer, hates loud noise” might be topping the list. And while I understand that adults can sometimes need counselling, the idea to have a counsellor for toddlers rebuffs me. This nursery struck off.

In contrast to this one, we went to a traditional playgroup, the one which has been around in the same place for last 25 years. Replete with leaking taps and paint peeling off the walls. They believed in keeping it simple. And while it ensured that they had no hyper specialised doctors on board, I kept wondering if the carpet was damp with fresh water or umm, otherwise. Those guys need to refurbish to let in a lot more light and make it habitable. Another one neatly erased from the list.

The other two were tiny, looked like covered parking spots. Basically set up in place of shops on the ground floor of residential buildings. They were sparkly and bright with animal murals painted on the walls. A little play area with plastic slides and building blocks.  But I wasn’t comfortable with either of them. I can’t say why other than the fact that it felt I would be leaving my baby in a converted shop.

Perhaps, I am just not ready to let my baby go out into the world. I am wary of public scrutiny. If he is very active, has ten things up his sleeve, he will be labelled ‘hyper-active’, if he sits quietly in the room, he will be termed ‘anti-social’. Whatever he does will not be confirming to the usual standards of normalcy. And with that people will judge me. As a mother. Me and my husband as parents. And even his grand-parents because he spends a lot of time during the day with them when we go to work. Now I have read enough self help books and articles and TED talks to know that I shouldn’t let it matter to me. But how do I protect my boy from all of this?

But finally, this weekend we found a school which prima facie seems to be in line with our beliefs. More focus on books, less on gadgets; a teacher who didn’t squirm when Arjun refused to enter the school, one who wasn’t shouting instructions but talking softly, giving importance to sending at-least one fruit with the tiffin box, etc etc. In isolation these are little things, shouldn’t matter much, but the whole as a belief system matters a lot.

Like most babies, Arjun is a sensitive little dude. Cries when Jack fell down the hill, or Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. We have to make amendments in the song and assure him that Jack and Humpty Dumpty are both okay. He is the one with a lot of hugs, lot of Eskimo kisses and is constantly making us tea, cupcakes, dosa with his plastic kitchen set. He is currently obsessed with mannequins and wants to go and touch all of them outside the shops in the market. Tells us that the mannequins are not real but believes when I say that they sleep at night and we can’t go see them. He is weird that way. But I would go to any length to protect his imagination, his story telling and his firm conviction that his baby cream can cure anything in the world.

And I am sure eventually he will be a master in self-help and give gyaan to us, but for now, it is our responsibility to take care of this little Peppa Pig.

Love,

Rutvika

Trapped.

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Yesterday I had a rough day at work. I tried to do something I am not good at. And it backfired. I was upset and distressed.

When I came back home, my 14 month old son sensed it. He gave me some hugs and in general wanted to cling to me. I was already pre-occupied and tried to shrug him and look at my laptop. He was not happy. Finally I took him to bed at 8 pm, his usual bed time and tried to make him sleep. Changed his diaper, gave him the vitamins, put on his night dress and kept him on the bed. He wanted to babble and read his book . About dogs and balloons in the park. I wanted him to go to sleep. Finally I switched off the lights, he cried a little, but soon fell asleep with his blanket. He likes to carry it everywhere these days. It’s my grandma’s old saree now stitched together to make a blanket. Baby boy hates it if we try to take it from him. I used to use that blanket before him, and it still has my smell. May be that’s why he likes it.

Later that night, I was talking to a friend. He was having a troubled day. I have known him for the last 3 years but that was the day when he decided to tell me that he was abused between the ages of 5-8. By his dad’s orderly. He tried telling his parents; they shrugged it off. Ever since their display of indifference, he had severe self-esteem issues, which continued for 20 years until he identified and began working on the issue when well into his thirties. He confronted his parents many years after the incident. They continued to maintain their stance of being without responsibility for the incidents. Today, he is trying to be a good husband, a good father to his young daughter, but it is with great efforts that must be renewed every day.

My son woke up again, I heard him crying on the baby monitor. The husband usually makes him go back to sleep, but he was at work. I went up to my crying baby, picked him up and tried to make him go back to sleep. He crawled in my arms on the bed and wanted to sleep with his little head tucked safely in the crook of my neck and shoulder. He often does that, his back touching my chest. Snuggled like a cocoon. I put him in his bed once he falls asleep. But last night, he just wanted to stay there. Would start crying if I tried to get up. In a way, I was trapped . Couldn’t get back to my world and its problems. So I relaxed. I smelled his hair, stroked his fingers, kissed the back of his head a few times and started singing a song which we both love. He hummed his own tune. I kissed him some more and he slept peacefully for the night. I was calmer, composed and felt blessed.

I thought back to my parents, and how they stood together through adversities just to give us a stable home, a firm ground where we could dream and live. Several times after one of their fights – regular fights which couples have – they would threaten to leave each other. I wondered why they don’t do it, if they can say it so easily, why do they not do it? The reason they gave us and to each other was that they stayed together for the kids. To my rebellious teen brain, it felt ridiculous. But I cannot thank them enough now for being the parents that they were. I will never know what they really thought in those moments, but I am so glad they overcame it and raised us as a family. A family we can go back to for support and comfort even now when my brother is studying 9000 miles away or I am married and raising a family of my own. Their role in who we are today, is insurmountable.

We as parents have such a big responsibility in shaping the life our kids will have, it feels scary at times. But there is no other way. Once we decided to have a child, we have committed ourselves to it. I am trapped. But in a good way. Now its upto me to make the best of it, for myself and for my child.

Rutvika

That first time..

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Husband and I. Our first picture together. Young and care-free.

I have currently registered for a ten-week online writing workshop. It was the top most from my have-to-accomplish-this-year lists and boy, it is so intensive. Makes me think harder, dig deeper, look into the well of my experiences and draw energy from there. Gather inspiration and dwell on it. I will write more about the workshop later, but in this second week, one assignment was to write about the List of Firsts. Here is a section from what I wrote.

The first time I failed an exam was when I was 13. A singing exam. My mom used to send me to her friend to learn Hindustani classical music. The Sa Re Ga Ma Pa was just not my cup of tea. I loved to sing and listen to music, but those alaaps and ragas were way beyond my comprehension. I sorta hated the class, the only silver lining being a guy from the neighbouring building used to come down to see me walk to to the class everytime. I was 13, stalking was glamorised by the Hindi movies and I loved being the centre of attention. I was the only one among my friends at that time who had a secret admirer. But once I failed that exam, (God! how miserable was the day of the test, the examiner would shudder everytime I answered her question), I convinced my mom or perhaps my teacher convinced mom that I should stop coming to the class. Good riddance, but those secret stalker/admirer sessions also came to an end.

The first real date husband and I went on was the Kala Ghoda festival. Six months before we got married. We knew each other since the 9th grade, but both of us had evolved from being gangly teenagers to what we were then. Still awkward, but more educated and more aware of the world around us. The freshness of that time still lingers in my head. To be 24 and independant without any major responsibilities, it was awesome.

I remember that first kiss way back when I was 18. He was my first real boyfriend, apart from the dozen crushes I had by the time I was that age. The anticipation of the first kiss was building over for a while, but there was no place where that coziness was permitted. And then about a couple months after we started dating, we were at a friend’s house after college. And that was the day. I remember stepping back and wanting to record every little thing about that awkward time. We were in my friend’s bedroom, her heap of clothes and pile of books were staring at me from the table and I was constantly worried that what if mom finds out where I am. I would be dead.

My first breakup was obviously with him, a year after we started dating. I was heart broken, ofcourse, but I vividly remember knowing that this was it. It was good while it lasted, but now was the time to move on.

When I was working in a bank, I used to smoke for about a year. It was cool back then. Being independant, being able to smoke without parents knowing it, hanging out with my 6-years-younger brother and smoking with his friends. How silly, yet how cool! But the first time I smoked, it was so disgusting. A group of us from the CA class would stand near a railway station (all of us aged 19-20) and we would pretend to be chic. I could never inhale it deeply and exhale, it would just be staccato bursts of in and out, in and out. And most of the time it would burn away between my fingers. Later I genuinely began to like it, and one particular brand of clove cigarattes was beautiful, but that was a different time and age. I haven’t smoked a single one since getting pregnant and having the baby, and I dont want to get back to it. Ever. But again, it was a good time in life. And I will remember it for that.

I read somewhere recently, that the period from 15-25 is the period we remember the most. It is the period of most novelties, the most number of firsts. It has a strong impact on our memory and I think it is also because theose events are most discussed. I remember, till the time we got married, me and my best friend would discuss about the day in detail, EVERYDAY. And dissect every little thing anyone said and make sense out of it. Now a lot of events are so mundane, they go unnoticed. Two days back, the husband came back from a 4 day tour. I felt as if I hadnt seen him in a long time and couldnt wait to snuggle in and cozy up in his warmth. This event could have made headlines with the said best friend, but in the larger scheme of things it feels very usual. Even un-romantic when it comes in context of marriage, but how important it was for me, at that time.

The first time I held my baby in my arms is also a very precious moment. He was perfect. I had made him. I always wanted to be a mom, and here I was. This little 3 kg dumpling would be my aankhon-ka-tara. And right now, we have a long list of firsts by him, in his first year, almost everything he is doing is for the first time. First smile, first little tooth, those first steps wobbly like a drunk, first time he said mumma, his first little kiss on my cheek – all of it is treasured beyond words.

Of course everything is documented now – a dozen photos and videos each day, so the list of firsts is extensive, but our generation relied on memory. We might be the last ones to do that.

Cheers,

Rutvika