Monday, March 19, 2007

The Birth stories of my sons

When Mad Momma had invited bloggers to post the stories about the birth of their babies, I had first decided against recording my memories of my c-sections. I did not want to relive the memories all over again, but as I got down to reading the other stories, I thought why not. I took out my diary and started writing down as I remembered them- the first was sixteen years ago, and the second was 11 years ago. Midway I almost abandoned the project but finally I got down to writing out both the experiences and here they are- they are pretty long and they are ancient. I’m not sure if anyone would be really interested in reading the entire post.

My first son was ‘made to be born’ on August 21 1990. On the previous day, I was vaguely uncomfortable right from the morning, and so amma ( my mom) asked me to skip the routine oil massage. My date was still abt 10 days further and so we were not too concerned. However, the discomfort increased- I don’t remember if it was pain- it was just something unusual and different and so we went to the hospital. It was run by an uncle who was a peadiatrician and his wife- the aunt was my gynaec. She examined me and told me it was not yet time and bade me go home and come back after 10 days. On the way back home, as we waited at a traffic signal I remember thinking that I’d’ve to go back the same day.

In the evening, the discomfort increased and began to fall within the definition of ‘pain’. We went back to the hospital at abt 6.30 p.m or so. Aunty again examined me and asked me to get admitted. As the nurse was opening the door to my room, my waters broke. I was given a pencillin injection and the wait began. We had relatives abounding in the city we lived then and soon most of the elderly lady relatives began coming in. The hospital being a family concern- it was like home for them. The pain was getting worse by the minute and my face was contorting with every contraction. Achhan ( my father) kept asking me if it was getting unbearable and I managed to give him a smile.

By abt 9.00 p.m, I was taken to the labour room and all relatives except, amma, DH and a couple of aunts stayed back. I was inside the labour room working out the pains. A nurse was sitting by me and she was dozing. With each contraction, I was chanting The Lord’s name louder , and the nurse asked me if it helped. I answered in the affirmative. I remember thinking that the whole world was sleeping while I was doubling up in pain. I was given enema and the wait continued.

Meanwhile Dr. aunt came upto me and said she was going home but would be back the moment I needed her. Other doctors kept checking up on me. I had no sense of the time but it was well after midnight. At one point I heard the attending doctor calling up Dr. aunt and telling her that there was no progress in dilatation.

At about 3.30 a.m, aunt came upto me and told me: “your son seems to be a stubborn fellow and refuses to come out. We need to take him out.”
Though my first reaction was a vague disappointment, because I had thought I was almost there. I was feeling immense pressure and the pain had been quite unbearable for some time now, I had thought that both me and my baby were ready. I told her to do as she deemed best, and please to inform my achhan only after everything was over. I was afraid he would get too anxious. DH who had been waiting outside came in and told me not to worry. I assured him I was not worried. At that point I just wanted to get it over with.

I was lying on the operation table wearing a mere excuse of a green surgery gown . The lights were over me and I remembered the movies. The anaesthetist was summoned. Though all the staff were known to us and everyone was very attentive and kind, still the anaesthetist did mention that it was rude of me to have cut short his leisure. I remember feeling terribly guilty and I think I even said sorry to him. They fixed an oxygen mask over my nose, and I felt suffocated and kept trying to pull it off. Then I conked off.

(Later, I came to know that the baby had gone into distress, the head had never got fixed, and the cord had been wound around his neck twice. )

My son was born at about 4.09 a.m on 21 august 1990. He was 3.2 kgs. Aunt told me that my tummy was full of the baby. I shrunk like a pricked baloon after the delivery. My in-laws had also come down.
When I was taken to the recovery room later, the pain as I moved shocked me totally. I was totally unprepared for the pain, I couldn’t move, turn, sit or cough. Whenever I saw the nurses coming in to help me go to the loo, I started crying. They told me that they were surprised that I who had been so brave through out the labour pain was crying now.

I was asked to start walking at the earliest to ensure quick healing. The lower part of my abdomen was sheer agony, and I walked hunched over, holding my tummy. It felt as if the insides would fall off. Amma and my brother were worried about my posture remaining hunched for the rest of my life.

As I said before, this hospital being a family concern, well meaning relatives kept pouring in. Everybody wanted to help with opinions, advice and suggestions. After coming back home, too the situation was the same. One day, a bunch of old ladies from the family came to see me and the baby. They got so excited and started helping me with feeding the baby . One was holding the head of the baby, another was holding me- and they were all giving suggestions by the dozen. I don’t know how I held back from screaming that day. After they left, I just started howling hysterically and my amma and vallyamma (MIL) tried to soothe me. Though they could understand my predicament, all the years of experience had taught them to take such things in stride.

After the stitches healed, I went to my amma’s home in the village. Though the elderly attention was very similar to what it was back in the city, still I felt more at ease. However, I missed my DH terribly.

When the baby was getting too cranky and not sleeping to well in the nights- my grand mother decided that breast milk was not enough and he was started on solid food. I felt pretty bad about it, but I too was conditioned into the thinking of Elders know Best. Besides, those days even the medical fraternity advised to feed the baby only once in two hours.

My family is very strict about the training of the new mother. I had to learn to bathe the baby, toilet train him whenever he woke up. And my attitude back then was, amma and ammamma had to do everything other than feed the baby. Amma and me had show downs at my irresponsible attitude, I would end up crying and made my amma also miserable. Post partum blues were unheard of then and my amma and ammamma were made of more responsible stuff and they had reached this stage by just obeying their elders without protest. They did not understand my tantrums. I too thought I was being unreasonable. Even today, I don’t think they’ll believe a word about ‘post partum depression.’ Ammamma ( my grandmother) expressed her sympathies and disappointment that I had to have a c- section. However she consoled me that atleast I had gone through much of the labour pain and that too without a whimper. I did not mention to her that I nullified that by crying heartily after the c-section. She also informed me that I must’ve brought the cesarean upon myself because I was doing some of the new fangled exercises during my pregnancy. After 16 years, she still sometimes reminds me of my mischief. My grandmother had had one miscarriage and 5 home deliveries. She did not scream or bring the house down and was a most efficient mother, grandmother had attended the deliveries of her three daughters. She knew everything!

My second baby came after a gap of 5 years- September 29th 1995. I was a bit emotionally vulnerable during my pregnancy because of several reasons. I was living in a joint family and circumstances were a bit stressful. Besides, my husband was working in another city and could come home only every other weekend. Moreover, I was not too good at handling emotionally stressful situations back then .

I was very concerned about my elder son and I despaired that he was soon going to become the big boy. I wanted to cling to his babyhood. He would be safe with my in laws- that I was not too worried about but there were certain other issues at home which made me slightly uncomfortable, but there was nothing I could do about it.

I asked my gynaec ( aunt) about my chances at having a normal delivery and she explained to me that while she was prepared to wait a little bit, if the head had got fixed, and there was progressive dilatation. She added that she was not prepared to take a risk and wait for too long. She also mentioned that my ‘ischial spine’ was a bit longer than normal, and the baby’s head was a bit bigger wrt my structure. Again I was a bit disappointed, but I believed in Destiny and was willing to let go.

I went to the hospital because there was disharge and I got admitted. The contractions began soon after and there was slight dilatation too. I was examined and then taken to the OT. This time too, the head was not fixed. They attched a urinary catheter which was very uncomfortable. Apparently they do that in second time surgeries to prevent a urinary block.

When I was regaining consciousness , I had the strangest feeling. I understand that it is the effects of the chloroform. I felt like I wanted to let go- of what- I’m not sure- just everything. Like I was beyond all worldly care- not even my DH or my babies. I just wanted to melt into void and become nothing.

Soon, I woke up and I was shown the baby. He was 3 kgs. I had known it was a boy earlier itself and I was glad that I was prepared. I had wanted a girl very much but I had reminded myself to just pray for a healthy baby. Still, I realized that somewhere, I was hoping that the scanning results would prove faulty and the baby would be a girl. But I did not like to dwell on that and I deliberately stopped myself from letting my thoughts go there.

I asked to see my elder son and he seemed fine with everybody else at home. I think I was extra attentive to him and my amma pointed out that all this was natural in life and children would get used to it eventually. Amma and me even today have opposing ideas regarding this.

This time, the pain was much bearable, perhaps because of two reasons, one, I was mentally prepared for the pain unlike the first time. The first time, I had not even thought of a c-sec. Another reason being, I did not undergo the labour pain at all and so my energy levels had not depleted. Last time, they had waited as far as possible until the baby showed signs of distress.

Another change was that many of the elderly ladies did not turn up this time and we were pretty much on our own.

During my stay at the hospital, one night I woke up sweating and terrified. I was afraid to go back to sleep and thought I was going to die. I had palpitations and demanded to see Dr. aunt immediately. My DH and amma who were with me tried to pacify me . I could see that amma was really scared . After some time, I went to the loo, and emptied my stomach. Soon I was back to normal and went back to sleep. I had been given a laxative the previous night and the ensuing discomfort was perhaps due to that- I’m not too sure.

Both the times, I developed high fever as the milk came in. My tongue went thick and dry and I was shivering uncontrollably. This time, it was “Baby Friendly” mode at the hospitals and new mothers were asked to feed the baby on demand!

We ( both me and DH) belong to families of ayurvedic physicians and so after the intial course of antibiotics I was on ayurvedic medication. However, I was not able to have the oil massage because of the c-sec.

As for bonding with the babies, everything felt kind of surreal and I learnt to love my boys with time.

Some years later, when my co-sis was inconsolable because she had to have a c-section, I did my best to convince her that having a baby by c-sec did not in any way lessen her femininity, or her motherhood, nor did it change the way a mother loves her baby and the way a baby loves his mother.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Festivals and Celebrations

What is it about festivals that make people look forward to it- wait for it for months…so many factors, I guess- new dress, lots of delicious eats, meeting friends, relations…having lots of fun in short.

And I wonder why I don’t look forward to festivals? May be because my definition of fun is different, may be because festivals mean lots of work and I’m Laziness personified. I do like new dresses, but not enough to wait for a festival.

Eating- yea, ok, I do like some of the eats- but better if I don’t have to cook them. Festival cooking to me means getting the kitchen messy- the cleaning up afterwards…

Meeting people- hmm…I like that too- but then I’d like to attach a few clauses to it- I enjoy meeting people when there is no burden of too much responsibility involved- one should be able to relax without having to worry about how well the dishes have been cooked- perhaps I sound a bit self centered? Yea, I too think that sometimes- but I can’t help it- that’s how I am…

However all this does not mean I do not participate in such activities- I do, I mean I have to at times – it’s a part of the socio- familial culture that one is a part of. And I do my best on such occasions- but I admit that all the while I’d be waiting to get it over with and get back to my own space and company!

How did I become like this? I have often asked myself this question because I realize that things would have been so much easier if I enjoyed such activities a bit more. Believe me, I’ve tried to, but somehow have not been able to make it a part of my personality.

Whenever I see all the festivities around me, I am unable to appreciate the “enjoyment” factor. I’m able to see only the toil, effort and work involved. The comments, the mess, the cleaning up and restoring of the home afterwards, the exhaustion…I ‘m aware its my attitude that’s to blame, because I have seen other people enjoy these very aspects . I am amazed, because I just cannot find the same anticipation, excitement in me.

As a child, we did have our share of festivals and celebrations- but since I grew up outside India, it was relatively muted- the paraphernalia was restricted, the elaborate feasts were of course very much there but I don’t remember looking forward to it eagerly. We had friends and relatives joining in the celebrations and I enjoyed the company of my friends. As for the cooking and cleaning up I never noticed. However I do remember how the toilets and the bathrooms became dirty. Looking back, I realize amma must have handled everything single handedly!

Then during my growing up years, when we came to Kerala for vacations, there used to be a couple of family get tog ethers at least. I never enjoyed those. Well meaning “Karanavars”- elders would remark unkindly about my dressing, express disdain at my clumsiness at eating off plantain leaves, especially slurping the free flowing payasam. That I did not know how to serve the seated guests and clean up the floor later. My cousins who were years younger than me were experts in such tasks and comparisons were inevitable. Though I realize that no one meant harm, it did haunt me forever.

There were so many rules like serving with the right hand, not to touch the leaf, not to kneel while serving, wash the hands after serving rice/ghee/curds each- no eating pappad with the left hand, and serving dishes in its assigned place on the leaf- misplacing was sacrilegious. The elders seemed to believe that my mother ought to have made me practice all these abroad! Those days I slinked away from the scene with brimming eyes and a mortified soul, but today I seethe in the memory.

While in college, my grandmother did try to train me in such etiquettes, but I skillfully avoided serving guests whenever I could. Needless to say my inefficiency was attributed to my NRI status and lack of parenting skills on my mother’s part.

After my marriage, one of my first “certificate courses” in housewife skills was tested during the Birthday celebrations of the eldest Karnavar in my husband’s family. It was a tradition to make the latest recruit- i.e.: the recent most bride serves the batches of guests- I can only see this as a sophisticated mode of “ragging”. However, I managed to pass the test with flying colours, for which I’m grateful or my parents’ image would have been eternally tarnished.

Even today, the tradition continues, and I hate it. But I must add that perhaps I’m the only person who seems to take all these so seriously- most others just skim through all these and forget about it. I am still trying.

While living in a joint family, the daily discussion would always revolve around dishes that had been cooked, that which was being cooked and that which was to be cooked – about how vegetables could be cut in different shapes to bring about variations in flavour- about how different households cooked the same dish differently and how the said household was un questionable the superior most in its mode of cooking the said dish! I would sit through these highly exciting and enlightening discussions passively.

Festivals, celebrations and guests turned to become a terror- but I just went through all the actions and activities like a zombie. Perhaps I did learn a lot of things- but they were definitely not pleasant memories- I remember we used to have feasts at least five days of the week- and each dish had to prepared in more than one way- because some of the elders had BP, cholesterol, diabetes and recipes were modified again and again accordingly. Curds had to be of at least three types- just set, medium sour, and very sour. The food items had to be served to the males straight from the stove- a slight delay in the proceedings invited a discourse on how women should not talk in the kitchen- One could not even dream about luxuries like sitting down, reading or listening to Music.

Once I forgot to bring the water jug to the table- and the events that followed ensured that I would never forget my duty ever again. I was “taught” to pour Idli batter into the idli mould without a single drop overflowing- even today as I pour idly batter smartly into my very own moulds, I remember the apprehensions of my “probation” period. But I must grant that everything was done with the best intent!

My MIL, mother and all the other ladies in the family did undergo such experiences, but they did not develop any trauma afterwards. Only I nurtured this phobia to celebrations. In fact my MIL underwent such terrible experiences that it is a wonder she remained sane. Had I been in her place I’d be serving sentence for massacre!

However, I survived all these because the women in the family were quite sympathetic.

When I came to trichy, every alternate day is about festivals and rituals in my neighbourhood-
One is constantly questioned about
The absence of the “kolam” (rice flour rangoli) at our doorstep-
Not offering “kumkum” (vermillion) to the sumangalis as they leave our home…

But I have learnt to look beyond all these expectations and compulsions and only appreciate the acceptance and affection of our friends and neighbours here.

The last few days saw me all trussed up in silks dug up from the depths of the almirah- and go around to the various homes- see the “golu”- (the artistic array of dolls of various sizes and shapes arranged in various attractive themes), belt out a couple of recycled bhajans, collect “chundal” (made from chick peas, bean sprouts and coconut) and “vettila pak” (betel leaf, betel nut). I still cannot claim to enjoy it all.

I find the rituals and rules stifling at times. When the puttars fell ill with chicken pox a few years ago, I was told by a lady neighbour (who works in the collectorate incidentally), that I should not permit my relatives into my home, while my husband’s relatives had the sanction….I said nothing…

However, I never get into arguments- I don’t see the point- neither me, nor they are going to get converted, then why simply waste time and energy? Besides it only creates a bitter aftertaste. And anyways, I have all this space in cyber world to vent to my heart’s content!

During Onam, we cook elaborately, and distribute the various food items to our friends- and though I like giving them, I’m afraid I cannot say I enjoy the cooking and cleaning up…I’m so exhausted, and I feel even worse if they’re showing some good movie on T.V –

I remember during one Onam- there was a leak in my kitchen tap- and my kitchen floor was overflowing- it was such a mess- I wanted to scream- I like to see my kitchen spick and span most of the time with minimum clutter.

This year, we celebrated Thiruvonam at our grandmother’s home- and so on the Uthradam day; we made the goodies and gave to our friends.

At grandma’s place, vallyamma (MIL), sculpted the images of Lord Mahabali, the Brahmin and his wife cooking the Onam delicacies- a few kitchen accessories, and tiny figures of vegetables and fruits- with red mud and decorated it with rice flour, and flowers. She enjoyed doing it she said- and though I appreciated the beauty and artistry of her efforts, I’m afraid I do not have the patience or inclination for the same! Just me, I guess….

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Avalanche of Memories

Reading Nithya’s “going back in time-“ brought on an avalanche of memories…only them being much beyond fifteen years…perhaps 25 or more??

While Nithya’s memories had a very picturesque locale, my memories were set in a small flat in Ghatkopar- it was a housing society and most of my neighbours were Tamilians …

After coming back from school which was a stones throw away from our building, we also went down to play “paandi”- the stone each of us used were precious and we vied over one another as to whose was most soft and “lucky”…how we used to ask our eyes turned skywards as we precariously put our foot on the squares:”amiright?”…we were not supposed to step on the margins…I used to keep my stone over the regulator box of the fan- wonder why…my brother wanted it, and I wouldn’t give it to him!

Yup and running around in shimmies!…also liked to wear blouse ove the school pinafore like half skirt and blouse!

And then shrieking “dabbiceprise” when the denner spies a hiding player- still don’t know what that decodes to- when we played hide and seek…

And then I remember we calling out “cheetangoli” when we wanted to express disgust…no idea what it meant…

I loved wearing “pattu paavadai”- kunjalam…and when I wore amma’s old sari to play, I was very disappointed with my short hair- I staunchly believed that sari went well only with long hair…I would tie a towel over my hair…but was still not very happy with the outcome…

Then ‘poison medicine’- similar to “lock and key”, I guess- land and water, “sangli”- the chain game- each player joins hands with the denner and sets out to catch the rest of the players…
By 6.30. p.m- I had to rush back home- the unspoken rule was that I should be back before amma called out for me…after freshening up, was supposed to say my shlokas sitting under the little shelf (in the kitchen) holding the little photos of assorted Gods…followed by the dreaded Tables! And amma would be rolling out perfectly round chapattis from under her belan magically- yeah, for a long time thought it was nothing short of magic…and suddenly she would pounce on me if I uttered a wayward number…

After that was homework time- another dreaded routine …

Hated lunch time, my friend Geeta and Sunita would be waiting for me as I tried to swallow “Ashtachoornam” + ghee + rice…literally struggling to keep them down my gullet…and amma would tightly tie my hair to a little ponytail on the side…I remember I could not wait to grow my hair…amma used to say that I should keep them short until the eighth standard, only then it would grow long and thick…how I waited to reach the eighth standard…well, my hair did grow long and thick later but alas they lasted only until I joined the college hostel- once my hair was under my care- they disappeared…amma used to oil them regularly…and I was terrified of the days she announced- that I was to call her when it was time to wash my hair- she would pour huge mugfuls over my hair..and I would be spluttering and struggling for breath! I was not supposed to cry… But I guess my hair thrived under her care and shrivelled away when I took charge…Even today, amma sighs in despair when she sees the pathetic state of my hair today…I am a blot on the family legacy of long , thick , dark tresses- amma sorrowfully says may be I took after my father’s family in this aspect…

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Marriages ARE made in heaven!

Long, long ago, about half a century back- a little girl – S , she was just a toddler then, was the apple of the eye of everyone around her- she was fussed over by her parents, the servants, and there was another person at home whom she referred to as Big brother.

After a few years, Big Brother got married to a girl. The alliance was suggested by S’s parents.
Years passed, the girl S, grew up, got married. Soon, S had a baby daughter who was born not in a hospital but at home, as it used to be in those days. At the time of delivery, S was attended by a nurse/mid wife, S’s mother and Big brother’s wife who was also a distant relative and very close to the family!

In due course, S and family got relocated to a place far away from her home, but whenever they came down for vacations, they remembered to visit Big Brother and family. On one such occasion, S’s daughter A, who was maybe 5 or 6 years old, went over to Big Brothers home. There she met two boys-brothers and another girl-a cousin- all of them were older than her. They invited her to join a game of –house-house in the back yard. A was fascinated to see that they were playing with real vessels, albeit worn out ones, using leaves, mud, pebbles, a little bit of pulses and cereals. They even kept these vessels on fire, which they lighted on bits of twigs and paper. She had not yet learnt to light a matchstick! They had a great time that day, tho one of the vessels got blackened like soot. The boys also challenged the little girl to jump from the high wall in the compound which she did. Her little feet pained a lot but she kept a brave front.
Many, many years, passed- A came down to join college. She and her parents visited Big Brothers home. A met one of the boys with whom she had played long ago, but she did not know which one of the brothers he was- The boy was now a man and he showed them around the town and helped them to go shopping.

A joined college, she stayed in the hostel, and she ran into both the brothers now and then when she visited her local guardians home.

Few more years passed, A finished graduation, her grandmother was busy scanning horoscopes for her. Many were scrutinized, but none matched. A was supposed to be kept in the dark about such developments, but she had an aunt- her uncle’s wife who was more of a friend who would loyally update A about all goings on. A was getting worried about what kind of a person she would ultimately be chained to, but she knew she could do nothing much about it.

And one day, her aunt informed her that the latest horoscope being scrutinized was that of – V- the elder son of Big Brother! Big brother himself had suggested the alliance to her uncle and everyone was only too happy to consider the proposal. A was shocked, she had seen V several times during her college days, had also made small, formal conversations a few times, but that was about it! She had never thought of such a possibility. But as the matter sinked in, A was happy about the proposal, and she prayed that the horoscopes would match. And match it did!
It has been 15 years now, that we have been playing real time House- House and it has been a great life- with all the ups as well as downs! Tell me friends which other girl entered the world with her future mother- in –law in attendance?? And Vallyamma still reminds us of her vessel that we blackened many years ago!

Thank You God for Everything.

Sari Initiation...

While in my 12th std, on November 14th- children’s day, there was this tradition in our school that the senior most students would become teachers for the day and we had to teach the younger classes. It was a free day for the “real” teachers and they enjoyed our excitement, our dramas- they had a fun time giggling behind our backs, but we used to be so full of our enthusiasm that we overlooked all this.

We used to be so excited about this ritual, and on the previous day, we would go selecting which teacher’s role we were to choose, get the timetable, the reference texts and all such details. Some of us even gave surprise tests on this occasion- it was a golden opportunity coming just once in a year!

Next came the sari of course. Now, here my situation was a bit pathetic-I have always been short, small- whatever- its been the story of my life, yes, there have been advantages of being short, but those days I never appreciated them. All my classmates looked quite grown up and I looked like I had lost my way into the higher classes. That is another story for another blog- The travails of being short- mebbe another time.

Anyway, after a night long deliberation, chose Amma’s pure silk sari- the type that I used to describe as “airhostess sari”- amma altered her blouse for me, and next day, she trussed me up in this seemingly never ending length of beautiful cloth. Naturally, I had taken the precaution of boarding high heels for additional height, but it did not help much, and what’s more developed blisters on my toes! I knew that I did not look quite right and my confidence was at its lowest ebb. Since I was the only “teacher” in my school bus, I insisted achhan take me to my class mate’s house and that I would board her bus with her. Achhan agreed to humour me, and he was doing his best to keep his indulgent amused smile in check.

My class mates looked so beautiful and grown up, only I looked like a school kid swathed in a sari. I had a tough time taking care not to trip over my pleats, and walking on heels was literally tightrope circus. Anyway, once I took over my duties as teacher, I forgot my apprehensions, and had a rocking time teaching tiny tots- I had chosen to be the teacher to KG students of course, so that I looked older surely.

That was the first time.

Then the actual formal initiation came later while in college. There was this function in the temple in my native place, and my grandmother declared that I should wear a sari. By now, I had a couple of my “own” saris with blouses though I had not yet quite summoned the courage to wear it in public after my school fiasco. Anyway, my ammayis (maamis) helped me drape the sari- it was a beautiful pale orange sari, and they looked me over quite appreciatively after the draping ceremony.

But I felt agonisingly shy to emerge from my room- but there was no way out. I was feeling so painfully conscious, I felt as if my face was on fire upto the tips of my ears. I have no memory of how I felt about my looks. I just wanted to hide. My uncles who usually rag me pretended I was invisible, my father had this funny kind of look in his eyes- did I see a pang in them? I think the first sari day of the daughter is a day of reckoning for the parents too. The day they suddenly realize that their baby is no longer a baby! My amma usually lingers unobtrusively in the background on such landmark days, and maybe I will never know what she felt during those occasions, because I have no daughters! My ammayis however had a field day teasing me- The usually chirpy me remained silent that evening.

To cut a long story short, I went to the temple with my folks, and everything was an excited, embarrassed blur. I was flattered by compliments and yet I yearned to crouch back to the security and privacy of my room.

That night, as I lay on my bed, I realized childhood was now “was” and not “is”. Was I happy? Sad? Excited? A little bit of everything. I suppose- The Sari Initiation ceremony is indeed a milestone in the life of an Indian woman! Today, I wear a sari without a second thought and I am quite comfortable in it .

Song of the moment: Kahin door jab din dhal jaaye
Saanjh ki dulhan badan churaaye, chupke se aaye (Aanand)

Hostel Life-4

We had this beautiful chapel in the campus. Daily we wud go to pray there, and then sit on the ledge near by. The landscape was beautiful and one cud sometimes hear the muted strains of devotional songs from afar. We cud watch the sun setting into the greenery behind the ledge. During these times, we wud share stories of home.

When it was the bday of one of us, the rest wud get up earlier than the bday girl, arrange the room, and set the study table with an assortment of cards and gifts. In the evening the bday girl had to treat her gang at the college canteen.

Like I mentioned before,our campus was beautiful, and sometimes on holidays, when the climate was pleasant, one just could not think of spending the day studying. It was sheer bliss to curl up in the bed by the window and read some book.

We even had a couple of midnite feasts on the sly, inspired by Enid Blyton! We bought fruits, sweetened condensed milk, chips and other such goodies. My gang mates wud be from different rooms, and wed stay awake until midnite. At the appointed hour, each of us gang members wud sneak into the venue room, rustle up a fruit salad with the fruits and condensed milk. I hated fruits and so I was allowed to lick the milkmaid can empty-yummmmmy! We hogged the goodies, as if we had been starving , amidst suppressed laughter. We dressed up funnily and took snaps too! More than anything it was the thrill of doing something secretively. It is another matter that some girls got wind of our escapade and complained to the warden, but the case remained unproved!

Have participated in a few harmless pranks- we put up -just married- sign on our wardens door!-chuckle!- we had heard this folk lore of a love failure regds this good looking warden. And u know what, she wud doze off mid sentence in class, assemblies! We had our own pet hostel ghost , and she wore anklets too! There were several mango trees in the campus, and we used to steal the mangoes. I hated fruits but somehow those stolen mangoes were delicious!

When a visitor arrived for a girl, it was party time for all. We wud pounce on the eatables as if we were refugees from Ethiopia, we wud adopt the said friends folks and they wud reciprocate the affection obligingly. Day scholars were compelled to bring lunch for us hostelites cos, we wud ransack their tiffin boxes anyway. But they never grudged us this favour, I remember how one of my day scholar friends mom wud send me payasam (pudding) on my bday to the college. Another friend wud daily bring dosas for me.

There were a couple of occasions, when the hostel parlour became the venue for -Bride seeing ceremony - for a friend! All of us wud be so excited.

The lecturers were quite friendly and jovial. They magnanimously excused our pranks, becos somehow we managed to score fairly good marks in the exams.

Three years simply sped away, and tho there were good times and bad times, today when I look back I can remember only the good times. The sharing, caring, petty jealousies, envies, the pranks and fun times. The final year, we savoured each minute.The farewell party, the convocation ceremony were all poignant. The last days were sorrowful. Collecting autographs, addresses, photos, promises to keep in touch forever- today, tho Im in touch with a few of my friends, there are many others whose whereabouts I know not. For three years, we all lived tgether as a family, and then went our ways.

But those three years were special, it was a learning ground for me in several ways, and I loved my hostel Life. Once again, the tears flowed freely, but this time it was because I was leaving the hostel, my friends and a beautiful slice of life behind!

Hostel Life-3

I had begun to enjoy my hostel life, made several friends, it was fun. Of course missed my folks now and then, but I had learnt to cope. Once in a month, we were allowed to go home, and Id go to my grand parents home. Wed leave college in a group, and then separate at the station/ bus stand.

Wed go shopping in a group from the hostel once in a while. After ransacking shops on busy streets which were so narrow that we had to go in rows, and still we wud try to stretch along the entire width, unaware of the blazing sun, amused stares. We wud then bustle into some restaurant, have icecream, faluda/juice talking nineteen to the dozen. Finally, when we reached the hostel, we wud be exhausted but merry.

We wud be taken to the movies once a month.we were given a choice of 2 movies, and the whole lot wud decide and divide ourselves into 2 batches. There wud be this huge gaggle of giggling girls, huddled into a bus, with a sister escort. The entire week wud be spent in anticipation of the weekend trip, deciding what to wear, some of us wud plan to drape ourselves in saris for the excursion. Wearing saris meant getting onto the job much earlier , and that too help had to be solicited in the draping. Gang mates who were experts in the art of sari draping wud help with the pleats, tucking in, pinning up of safety pins at strategic points, and finally, the person in question wud emerge from the center, exhausted, looking like a trussed up chicken, but feeling all very grown up. I remember the actual movie was not an important issue. Interestingly, the first years always seized the occasion to wear a sari, but by the time one reached the final year, one preferred something less cumbersome and more comfortable. The bus trip to and from the movies was fun, we were a sight to behold, and ours being a womens college ( and that too located away from the main town), this trip meant much more than just watching a movie!!
We were allotted timings for bathing in 2 sessions, morning and evening. My slot was the earliest -the unearthly hour of 5 am- which to me might as well have been equivalent to mid nite. I do not remember ever having bathed during my slot, except on days, when we made a trip to a distant temple. On such days, we got up very early, had our bath in ice cold water, then wearing, pavada/ long skirt blouse, or half saris, we wud trudge along a scenic path to the temple. For us it was nothing short of a piligrimage. By the time we reached the hostel, we wud be famished.

Amidst all this, there were times when I wud remember that I was here for an entirely different purpose- study, this brain wave usually occurred when I got a letter from my parents/ on the eve of the exams. Then I wud diligently try to study, and friends always rallied around to help one another. We wud stay awake into the nite, doing combined study, sometimes when one felt too sleepy, one wud have a doze for 15 minutes, after which a friend wud wake us up to continue. I remember, how tempting the beds looked at those owl hours.

Hostel Life-2

Our campus was beautiful. Everything was well maintained and tidy. The food was also good. The college and hostel were run by Carmel Convent sisters.

Soon it was Freshers Day. We were asked to rummage up some kind of cultural programme to entertain the staff and seniors. Some of the girls were friends becos they had done their PUC in the same college, and there were the rest of us who had come from other places. Anyway, the occasion demanded that all of us get together. We made up a humorous skit- Evolution of the Zoology student along the 3 years of graduation -. it was well appreciated, and we enjoyed playing it.

Next was the programme conducted by our seniors. They imitated the various staff members, their mannerisms, speech which was appreciated by those who were familiar with them, but was lost on us freshers. The staff too took it very sportively, happily joining in the ensuing laughter.
Finally came a game for us freshers. We now knew-THIS WAS IT! It was actually a ragging session in the guise of a game. Later, I realized that it was quite a harmless, mild version of ragging when compared to the horrors that take place in professional colleges, but at that point of time, I did not know that and was not in a frame of mind to appreciate the fact. Each of us were given a number, and later any number would be called out at random, and the student holding the particular number had to perform a particular task! Quite a common place thing. Many numbers were called out, and the tasks were also quite easy, the usual, sing, dance, imaginary chair kind of routine. My nerves were relaxing, I was mentally rehearsing a few songs, dance steps perhaps, perhaps I wud even succeed in impressing them.

And I heard my number being called out. My heart started pounding, I was already having a head ache, which aggravated with tension. I stepped fwd, with what I thought was a smile on my face, ( but later I was informed I looked more like a sheep being led to be slaughtered). My task- I was asked to impersonate a hen laying an egg, and the cocks reaction!! Obviously, I did not oblige, gave them the lame excuse that I never witnessed a hen in action! Needless to say, I was made fun of, loud comments were passed and I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment, anger and sorrow. Tears dangerously lurked within my eyes but I stubbornly refused to let them fall. My friends later told me that they were perhaps irked that I back answered them, if I had been meeker, perhaps Id have been spared. And to think that, until that day, I had always considered being meek was my cross.

And from then on, as I walked down the campus lanes, the corridors, I cud hear the endearment- Dubai Kozhi- ( the hen from Dubai) echo behind me. The pet name stuck till the third year students remained in campus. Few months into the year tho, I made friends with my seniors.

Hostel Life –1-

Did my graduation staying in the college hostel (in Kerala). My first foray outside home. Was very apprehensive in the beginning. Was not sure of how id manage without having my parents at my beck and call. Had also heard abt ragging . a caravan of relatives left me at the hostel parlour. There were suppressed sobs and invisible tears in the air. I smiled bravely, assured my folks that id manage and finally, their vehicle zoomed away. All of a sudden, I felt like I was marooned all alone in an island, but I was determined to put up a brave front. The Hostel companion showed me to my room, it was one of the best in the building. I arranged my things, the lump in my throat was getting heavier by the minute, deliberated whether to go the rest room to have a good cry, and decided against it.

Meanwhile, a room mate arrived, we introduced ourselves to each other, and both of us decided to go to the mess hall for tea. I was carrying one of my bags with me, afraid to leave it in my room! As we made our way to the hall, we had to pass this corner, where there was this bunch of seniors seated glaring at us like predators. My room mate and me passed them self consciously, but carefully ignoring them. I cud hear laughter, and some comments abt my carrying around the bag which perhaps contained a treasure. One plus point was, the lump in my throat was negligible by now, I was plagued by nervousness.

I was seated on my cot , watchg the happenings in the room opposite mine, and I cud see a tall, thin bespectacled girl running around energetically arranging her things. She had come with a group of students, all from the same place, I assumed. They seemed quite at home, perhaps becos they were friends. Suddenly the girl I noticed earlier, came into my room, and with a cheerful smile addressed me,-hallo, U remind me of a very dear friend. Her name was Aparajita, so I thought I must speak to u.- I warmed upto her immediately, we introduced ourselves to each other, and I was beginning to like it here.( Her name was Geeta, and Im still in touch with her).That nite, the seniors came visiting, asked each of us freshers , our details, like where we came from, etc. I noticed them grinning maliciously when 2 of us said that we had done our under graduation in a school in the Emirates. We learnt later that this qualification made us eligible for detailed grilling! It was automatically assumed that since we came from outside India, we were sure to have a couple of horns , albeit hidden temporarily.

Later, I unpacked my things, arranged my bed, hoisted my mosquito net all with meticulous efforts and finally retired for the nite, clutching tight a little photo of my Ishta Deivam to my heart. Finally, I let the tears flow silently onto my pillow.

( Geeta came to visit me with her family last week and we had a great reunion! We were meeting after abt 14 years!!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Life Abroad

My father was relocated to the UAE, when I was in the 5th std. After nine months of my fathers departure to the emirates, my brother, amma and me followed. I was sorry to leave my friends but was excited by the prospect of going outside India.

I had associated life abroad with affluence and had this image of a palatial home with carpets and bathing tubs and other such works. What I saw was something very different.

Achhan had a rented a single room in a villa with 3 rooms, a common kitchen and common bathroom. One room was occupied by 3 bachelors and another by a newly married couple- all from Kerala. The 4 of us occupied the 3rd room. My brother and me were too young to view these circumstances as travails and just enjoyed being together.

Meanwhile, my brother and me had joined school and were busy getting adjusted to the new environment. My brother had lots of problems initially on joining school. He would vomit daily in the bus and no kid would agree to sit near him. He fell ill frequently and was very weak.

Later, I understood that Achhan was having problems on the job front too. There were these labor problems and achhan used to be very tense those days. The final straw was when Achhan lost his job due to nepotism shown by his immediate boss who was also an Indian.We were asked to vacate the villa one fine day. Where do we go? We packed our things, left the furniture back at the villa, and went to my fathers brothers place, who lived in the next town. They lived in another villa- with just 1 living room and 1 bedroom. But it was a cute place, They already had my aunts brother and wife with them and willingly accommodated us too.

Achhan hunted for a job and finally landed one. We shifted once more- again another sharing accommodation. Our co tenants were a nice family from Kerala. After a few years we finally shifted to an independent flat. I was thrilled to have a home all to ourselves.

Achhan held a good job, but he did not get travel and rent allowance, and so when we traveled to India once in 2 years, the entire savings would get drained out in travel expenses and gifts for friends and relatives. But the label, -Foreign returned -stuck like a badge!When we came down to Kerala, I was eager to project that we were very much Indian in habit and behaviour. My parents anyway insisted that we spoke Malayalam at home and English was reserved for school. Yet, folks sometimes taunted saying that we might be uncomfortable with Indianness. I would do my best at eating off banana leaves at functions, and yet some well meaning elder would loudly point out my clumsiness and I would cringe with embarrassment.

I got the long awaited opportunity of learning Indian classical Dance while in U.A.E. Incidentally, we got to attend more Indian cultural functions while outside India, than while living in India!
Our school was Indian and affiliated to CBSE. The atmosphere was cosmopolitan, and we had people from all parts of India. I enjoyed my 6 year school life every bit. Independence day, Republic Day etc were celebrated with great pomp and fervour. I observed that outside India, one was Indian first and regional diffrentiation was not of much importance. Our teachers too came from various parts of India. I would like to mention here that, by a lucky coincidence , I stumbled upon one of my favourite teachers from Dubai, here on Sulekha! The school was actually co-ed, but later on orders from the ministry, boys and girls were segregated into morning and afternoon sessions! Interestingly, it was after segregation that graffiti , creative drawings started appearing on the school walls!

Our school canteen had delicious stuff- samosas, potato chips- and my favourite was galaxy milk chocolate. My folks did not believe in pocket money for kids and I remember I stole a few dirhams a couple of times to buy chips. Then we had to study Gandhijis - My Experiments with Truth-The story of my life- in 8th std, I think that was. There was this famous incident of how Gandhiji confesses to his father abt having stolen money , and I am reformed instantly! That evening, I very righteously confessed to my father abt my crime, and my father though initially seemed rather nonplussed, told me that I could have always asked him if I wanted money for something .Funny, that possibility had never occurred to me. Any way, I felt very goody good abt it, and that satisfaction abt having shared a common Life experience- My own personal experiments with Truth- with none other than The Mahatma.

Other crimes that I indulged in childhood, was that of helping myself to delicious sweets that amma made and kept in the fridge, while I was supposed to be studying, and she was having a nap. It helped that I sat for studies in the kitchen! Then of course, reading story books hidden inside school books. The other day, I caught my elder son doing the same thing and I was shocked. After chastising our son gently, my husband reassured me that our son was not a juvenile delinquent beyond redemption. History repeats!

My Brother arrives

My brother was born when I was 6 years old. I got to travel by plane for the first time when we went to our native place for ammas delivery. She was wearing a yellow paper sari-it was called those days-that was gifted to her by my mama. I enjoyed the trip, the sweets. Best part was, I got to skip my 2nd std final exams (did KG when I was 4, 1st std when 5 and thats how I was 6 in my 2nd std) .I remember being a bit disappointed at not getting a sister, but eventually accepted the situation.

I do not remember being jealous of my brother, and I used to smother him with my over protectiveness. I used to boss over him no end, behaved as if he was my personal property. I was by nature aggressive in my affections and my brother was comparatively subdued. I used to hover around him constantly,and not allow him to turn this way or that, much to his annoyance.I could not bear to be separated from him, and showed him off to my friends. My friends adored him.

We did have our share of fights and arguments, sometimes I would make him cry, and I would cover his mouth so that Amma did not hear him crying. I would frantically try to pacify him. After a fighting session, I would keep sulking for quite some time, but he would forget the tiff soon after and win me over. He was so prone to accidents that we were always worried about him. He somehow always managed to get into some kind of trouble, and many a time was blamed for things that he did not do. He was a brilliant student and seemed to score marks without having to study.

In school, we were in different shifts, my brother in the morng shift and me in the afternoon shift. Early in the morng, I would accompany my brother to the bus stop, to send him to school. The climates were extreme, and in winters, I would wear 2 sweaters, and a scarf. My brother on the other hand hated wearing a sweater. During these trips, I would collect all sort of junk that Id find on the road, bits of coloured tiles, cute stones, little boxes and what not. I would treasure these, and during recesses in school,I wud draw rows and columns, place these bits and pieces on them and predict the future of my friends. Somehow I used to succeed in making them believe what I said.

After I reached school in the afternoon, I would give my brother orange juice that I had with me, put him in the bus heading home. I remember, I was perpetually afraid that if I did not put him in the bus, he would get in the wrong bus and reach elsewhere.

Once, I remember, I thought he got lost, and created such a ruckus in school, that from that day until I left the school, everybody in both the shifts knew us! There was this peon who would call me by my brothers name whenever he saw me on the corridors.

Many years later, when I was in college, and he was in a residential school, it broke my heart to think that he was away from us. It is another matter that he seemed to manage quite well in school. He was quite popular and had many friends.

He did his PUC, staying with us, I was married by then. We had lots of fun together- the three of us-My brother, my husband and myself.

Today, he is on one side of the globe, and Im on the other, and I miss him so. He is now married and the father of a little boy. We do keep in touch by mails and phone calls. We get to see each other a few days in a year, and we try to cram up all that we missed sharing amidst jet lags, numerous trips and other social obligations. But there is this sense of loss in the awareness that this is all that we can manage in the business of Life , and sometimes I yearn for his tangible presence, his closeness-I know he is always there for me, but sometimes that is not enuf- but it cannot be otherwise. The days when we used to be together always have gone forever, never to come back and that knowledge hurts.

Early Childhood

One of my earliest memories, I have of my childhood, is that of falling and hurting myself real bad on my forehead. I think there were many guests at home then. I was taken to the hospital screaming my head off, stitches had to put. I remember admiring them in the mirror later. To this day, Ive got a scar on the right side of my forehead commemorating the incident. I was prone to such minor mishaps, and secured yet another momento from school the next time, on my right temple. This scar looks something like a division symbol in mathematics.

Our flat was situated in some interior area of ghatkopar, and I remember taxi walas wud hesitate to ply to our place. The road from the highway, to our building was kuchha and on either sides were jhoppadpattis/ slums. People would be attending to calls of nature on the roadside, and the stink was awful. Once I reached the beginning of this road, I would refuse to budge an inch and Achhan was compelled to carry me all the way home! However, there was a private road which by passed the dirty kuchha one, and we usually opted for this one.

My school was very near our flat, and on my first day in school, I remember kids hollering all around me. Somehow, I did not cry, perhaps I was too dumbstruck seeing all the other kids bawling. Those were the days of the Indo-China, no, I think it was the Indo-pak war, and Achhan (father), had covered all the windows with brown paper. When the siren was heard, we would cover our ears with cotton and crouch under tables/ chairs. I was too small to be afraid, and rather enjoyed the adventure. So did my friends. At nite, we were not supposed to switch on the lights, but everyone would go up on the terrace. It was great fun for us kids.

My greatest grievance was that my bday always fell on a holiday, and I could not wear a new dress to school. So one year, amma let me celebrate my bday earlier, so that I could go to school in my new dress and distribute sweets. However, I remember explaining to everybody,how it was not actually my bday, and that I was celebrating it becos it fell on a holiday!

I hated lunch and dinner those days, and I preferred to survive on air. It was an ordeal-having food, and amma was often exasperated. My friend Geeta would be waiting at the door to go to school together, and I would be pushing down food down my reluctant throat. I loved dancing and always wanted to learn it. I wanted to participate in the dance items that the teachers taught for the Parents day function, but I was never chosen. I used to beg the teacher to include me, but they never complied. All my friends would be there, looking beautiful in colorful dresses and I would watch them with unshed tears. My best friend would however teach me the steps and I would practise diligently at home. I used to be selected for group music, and I kinda liked that too, but then we did not get to wear color dresses, we had to go on stage in our dull grey pinafores! But we got to wear lipstick.