Friday, September 12, 2008

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

That's the plight of this poor sad crippled corrupt country. And who can blame anyone? In a nation where so much goes wrong, who is going to notice the few times when they don't? Or rather, who is going to notice that sometimes when something goes wrong, it may not be because of the flawed character of our confusing country?

The way we, the westernised, urbanised, public school educated, english speaking cosmopolitan lot, jump to blame the entire system and machinery here whenever we have an unpleasant experience, reminds me of these lines from Tagore's wonderful poem Puraaton Bhritto (the old faithful servant):
Bhooter Moton Chehaara Jaimon
Nirbodh Oti Ghor
Jaa Kichhu Harai Ginni Baulen
Keshta Baitai Chor!

Translated, it means: [The old servant Keshta] has a face like a ghost, and brains softer than pulp; and whenever anything gets misplaced around the house, the mistress automatically assumes that Keshta is the thief!

Tagore's poem of course goes on to paint a tragi-comic, pathos filled picture of this old faithful - a fixture in homes of yore. And similarly misunderstood and short changed, yet loved and cherished, in a curiously confused way by the employers.

Today our country's lot is a bit like Keshta's. Whatever goes wrong, we are quick to jump to the conclusion that it is because of the inherent "there is something rotten in the state of Denmark" situation here.

I had an interesting experience today. A friend of mine had to attend a special function at 8:45am. where his autistic daughter had to perform Gulzar's evocative bhajan "Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena". Needless to say, he was excited, and made sure he reached the venue well within the time that his ex wife had specified.

When I spoke to him around noon to find out how the performance went, he had reached his office. And was mighty pissed off. In response to my query he rued, "I didn't get to see her sing. I was late for work and the performance got held up because the minister who's the chief guest, was late."

"Late? By how many hours?" I asked flabbergasted, "Its noon now, and the performance was scheduled for 8:45 I thought?!?"

"Are you new to this country?" he asked gruffly. India bashing, by the way, is my friend's favourite passtime. His tirade against all that is woefully wrong here, never seems to end. And his hatred for this country is only matched by his passionate admiration of the west and the values they espouse. Values, that I must confess, I hold very dear too, and often uphold in the face of classic Indian sentimentality and lack of clarity. Though I can't say I share my friend's total rejection of this country. Simply can't relate to that.

On further enquiry I was even more disgusted by the morning's episode. Apparantly the function was to recognise and reward institutions engaged in special education; the minister was to give away the awards and the kids were to perform. Hence my friend's daughter was there representing her institute - Action for Autism.

"Hang on a minute," I said, incensed. "So that means ALL the kids there were special children, right? Either autistic or spastic or retarded....?"

"Yup" my friend fumed. "And they were made to wait for over 2 hours for the minister for social justice and empowerment, Meira Kumar."

Needless to say, the story made me furious. True to my trigger happy style, I instantly started working the phones. Being with the TOI group has its advantages. Within the hour I had passed on the story to the programming head of Radio Mirchi Delhi as well as 2 different editors from the TOI, as well as the brand head of Indian Express.

Which is when my friend got a bit miffed with me - after all, not everybody wants to spend a regular work day rubbing ministers the wrong way. An argument on integrity versus hypocrisy followed. He agreed to do the story. And that is when he decided to cross check the facts with his ex wife. Ex wife confirmed the facts but couldn't be sure.

At some point my friend realised that with such a vague and unclear picture, it wasn't right to give a story out to media. So when one of the journos finally called him, rather than giving some half clear account, he passed on the phone number of A.F.A so that the journo could get her story directly from the institute.

The journo called back in five minutes. Apparantly the minister was only 15 minutes late. The kids had all been called early for rehersals. The performance had happened as scheduled.

My friend had missed it because he had been told by his ex wife to be there at 8:45, and he had planned his day accordingly. And the reason he'd been given that time is because she had been asked to reach by then, and she had obviously not bothered herself with further details on what was rehearsal time and what time the performance was. After all, she had to be there early anyway. Perfectly reasonable, perfectly understandable.

Obviously I sent one round of apologies out to the various people I'd contacted. They all generously said it was ok - guess they are used to false leads.

A slight bit of confusion handled without too much fuss. But what I was really taken up by was that mid day conversation about "the sad state of India".

India. Guilty until proven Innocent.

No matter who actually gets what facts wrong, at the end of the day, it's a classic case of 'Keshta Baitai Chor'.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Lady and The Throne

One is my mother and the other my daughter. Can't tell which one is more pleased!!!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Neck to Neck

I was telling Ranjit the other night that while many of the things that have been said about motherhood have seemed like hyperboles and cliches to me, and, as I'd mentioned in my post titled Nappy Rash, a lot of it appear to be hand downs from male fantasies, there is one strange thing that does happen.

The committment to the child's well being, the sense that nothing, absolutely nothing in the world should make her uncomfortable, is an almost matter of fact setting I find in myself.

It's weird - it doesn't feel like a new emotion, or a wonderous new sentiment. There, in fact, is nothing sentimental about it. It's so part of me, it's almost as though the feeling always existed, and has simply been switched on.

And the sheer unacceptability of her discomfort is, as I said, almost cut and dried; matter of fact. Her pain is inconceivable, like walking naked down the road is inconceivable, like peeing in your drawing room in inconceivable, like not eating for a week is inconceivable - ya sure all these things can happen, but one doesn't think of them in the normal course of things.

They are simply not done.

My baby in pain? Yeah, happens probably. But it's just not done.

Getting Cheeky

Can't even begin to tell you how it feels, my friends!!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bottle The Bitch

No, I'm not talking about pickling and bottling any villanous bitch in my life.

I am talking about bottles. And what big bitches they are in a new mother's life. I have envisaged many scenarios in life, I am fully aware of the 'aggressive person' tag that I carry and therefore have often thought there could various types of rivals in my life... funnily enough, there never were any. Maybe its arrogance; maybe I never considered anybody good enough to be a rival in the school, college or the work space.... call it absent mindedness; maybe I never noticed when one popped up... whatever the case may be, the fact remains that I don't remember ever having a rival....

Until now.

When I was planning and shopping for my new baby, right up to the 7th month of my pregnancy, I bought many things. My mother in law, sisters in law and my mother too put together a lot of stuff they thought I'd need.

Therefore, one of the very first things I acquired were bottles, bottle nipples and bottle sterilisers. Simple enough, you'd think, right?


As soon as the baby's been born, and your stitches hurt, you look like a bloated balloon and all you want to do is sleep, one ham handed nurse appears out of nowhere and starts squeezing your breasts pretty much with the same delicate touch and sensitivity as one juices a lemon. With pretty much the same results. A reluctant sticky trickle.

Then she makes a disgusted face, picks up your precious wrinkled bundle and stomps off. You look on bewildered.

Thats when the head shaking and tongue clicking begins. Congratulations. A nemesis called Breast Feeding has just entered your life.

Little did I know when the bottles, nipples and sterilisers were acquired, that the very use of them will be considered akin to black magic. All real mothers, all good mothers ONLY BREASTFEED.

Get used to these two words. In large font, bold, all capitals. They will come back to haunt you, new mom, every day, every moment, every miserable inadequate trickle by trickle in those first few nightmarish weeks. Doctor's prescriptions to friends' advice, notes comparing colleagues to internet information, slightly older new moms to slightly interfering old maids - everyone and everything will extol the virtues of great milk engorged breasts and of mothers who have gushed out rivers of the white nectar for their babies to draw sustenance from.

Every single paediatrician's prescription I have so far - whether I went for my baby's vaccination or a common cold - had those formidable words printed at the bottom: BREAST FEED ONLY. NO BOTTLE FEED. The icing on the cake was what I noticed on my second visit to the doctor's clinic, on the soft board in the reception area - believe it or not, a roll call of honour, of all those babies who'd never been given the bottle! With a little 'take a bow, mothers' congratulatory line at the bottom. The sheet of paper had row upon neat row of babies' names, mothers' names and mothers' mobile numbers - apparantly these milk flowing demi goddesses had happily consented to having their phone numbers plastered all over a doctor's reception because they didn't mind their privacy being invaded if they could be of some help to us hapless lot.

Ok, so you're still not getting the drift? Whats the big deal you ask?

The big deal my dear is the simple truth that some women simply don't have enough milk. They need to either add on formula feed to breast feed, or at times, totally substitute with formula. HOWEVER, when you are a new mom, you NEVER seem to come across such women. All the moms you meet were milk river gangotris. They had so much milk their breasts hurt. They had so much milk they had to let it all out during their baths. They had so much fucking milk that their babies gagged on the mighty streams.


Except for one very dear very honest friend who called me from the U.S. and told me not to feel guilty about formula at all, none of my contemporaries said anything about inadequacy. They were all splendidly adequate. If anything, they didn't know what to do with all this milk of human kindness. They spurted, they soaked, they overflowed. Paucity? They had never even heard of such a problem apparantly. I was a freak.

Well, my baby is nearly four months old now and I know I am not a freak. Many women face exactly the same problem. Some don't realise or recognise it. Some are in denial. Some hide it. And yes, of course some also genuinely don't have it. But guess what? The genuine ones don't send you on guilt trips. They tell you to chill, relax and enjoy your baby, and let good old lactogen step in to save the day if need be.

God bless my mother, my mother in law, my gynaecologist and my husband who relentlessly encouraged me to give my baby girl the bottle whenever I felt inadequate, restless or tired. God bless them for being practical, sane and yes, very importantly, funny. Thank god for my nut of a husband who kept saying - "look at me, bottle fed and VP at a radio network. Look at you - bottle fed and another VP at the same network." Idiot.

Their support helped me cope with the fact that I had had a baby in my mid 30s, and after my history of huge gynae issues it was a miracle in itself that I'd conceived naturally and delivered a healthy child. Their lack of judgement of me or my milk supply allowed me to rediscover my real self sooner, because I could step out for a meal or a coffee and not worry about my baby's next feed. Their refusal to see the output of my breasts as a sign of my competence as a mother helped me get back to a dieting and exercising regimen sooner than I could have otherwise.

Now that I have gotten over the guilt and the angst and the sheer sense of failure, I hear of new mothers who can't go anywhere or do anything with themselves because their babies are stuck to their breasts like leeches. Hey, thats exactly what I went through. 5 hours non stop and the baby still cried and still wanted more. First of all, I didn't want to be cruel to the poor kid: she obviously wasn't getting enough. Secondly, hey, is it a crime, I DIDN'T LIKE BEING THAT WAY. Stuck, rooted, bored, fat, useless, brain dead, baby breasted and glassy eyed. I am sorry for not being sorry. I am sorry for opting out of that way of being. I don't think that that kind of exhausting, demotivating and completely energy sapping way of life was the only way to prove to the world that I was a caring mom and my baby was my biggest priority.

Heck. Why should their be any way to prove anything to the world? What my baby means to me is something for me to know and her to feel. A few bottles of formula will not determine how much I love my child.

Trust me, I am not making a big deal of a small issue. If you are planning to biologically produce a a baby, or if you partner is, believe me, this will become a bigger deal than you can even begin to imagine.

So whether you are male or female, in case you are planning a family, here's my little bit of advice: do certainly breast feed / encourage your partner to breast feed because it is genuinely beneficial, genuinely healthy for the baby. Nothing compares to breast milk in terms of nutrition, immunity and basic bone building. But, please please please don't kill yourself over it if you find that you can't do it, or can only do it partially. It is ok. Genuinely ok.

Because, like my mom said: if you go insane, its unlikely to help your baby.