Celebrating a life well lived

“Let me tell you about love,” Aita said. We were seated in front of our grandmother, my sister and I. Baidew (that’s what I call my sister) listened intently, while I felt an indescribable thrill at being invited to the adults’ table, so to speak. I was barely eleven, my sister seventeen, and I still couldn’t believe that my Aita was including me in what I considered a conversation beyond what my age warranted.

“Love is one of the purest feelings on earth,” Aita continued, placing a mouthful of ground Tamul- paan in her mouth. She chewed silently for the next few moments, relishing the taste of betel leaf and nut. When she started speaking again, I could see that her tongue was stained red. As were her lips.

“Fall in love. I’ll never tell you not to. But remember one thing,” she said, leaning a little closer. My sister nodded earnestly to show that she was listening carefully. “Make sure that you fall in love with a guy you can bring home and introduce to your father with pride. Make sure that you don’t ever have to bow your head in front of your father because of that guy. Caste doesn’t matter. Neither does religion, really. Just the character of the guy.”

And that, in my mind, describes my Aita the best. Progressive. Informed. Opinionated.

Despite having spent the major years of her life in a small village, my Aita refused to be shackled by small thoughts. She read and read prolifically, kept abreast of whatever was happening in the world, analysed and drew her own conclusions (not always correctly, if I may add) and vociferously challenged anyone who disagreed with her. Aita was the formidable matriarch, who encouraged women of all ages to voice their opinions and offered sound advice to anyone who approached her with their woes. She was way ahead of her times, and despised age old traditions that had no place in modern society. Superstitions were abhorred in our household. We were taught to question, and if we weren’t satisfied with the answer, we were told we could happily forsake those traditions.

Aita had had her fair share of trials and tribulations, and then some. She raised my father by herself, facing numerous struggles on the way. She uprooted herself from her familiar village in Dumunichowki and followed my Deuta to Tezpur when he got married. She even gave up her dialect and learned to speak in a manner that everyone understood in the new place. And yet, the moment she’d arrive at her old family house back at the village, she’d start speaking that dialect naturally – almost as easily as though she were slipping into an old garment.

I grew up listening to Aita’s stories and songs. Come evening, I’d find my way to Aita’s lap, clamber on top of her and settle there, cocooned in her warmth. She was the quintessential grandmother in that sense – telling me stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and Burhi Aair Xadhu. It’s from her that I learned about Beula Lakhindar, about Usha Anirudha, and about Prahlad and Holika. No story was complete without a song to go with it. Aita sang like an angel, and in her voice, the stories came alive. I wept for Tejimola when she sang to the passerby and begged him not to pluck the lemon off the tree. I could see Beula on the raft with her husband’s corpse as she made her way to Heaven, determined to bring him back to life. Even now, when I hear those familiar songs, I can feel Aita’s soft arms on my back, gently swaying me, my face buried in her butter soft white cotton sador. Even now, I can smell coconut oil on her hair, mingled with the wisps of incense still burning from our evening prayers, the fragrance permeating everything in the room.

I don’t know anyone who was more organised than my Aita. Nothing was ever lost in our house, because they all found their way back to a wicker basket in which Aita saved everything. Spools of thread, balls of cotton, safety pins, hair clips, unused pens and refills, buttons, erasers, pencil snubs – every little item was rescued and stored “just in case”. She hated throwing anything away, and would often berate us for not taking better care of our things. Shameless that we were, whenever we needed something, we’d go to Aita first. More often than not, we’d dig through that basket and find exactly what we needed. At the end of the school year, Aita would tear off unused pages from all our notebooks and use her big sewing needle to sew all of those pages into one giant notebook to be used as our rough notebook. Fruits about to turn bad were cooked with sugar and made into jam or battered and fried and turned into pitha. Old dresses were turned into fabric strips that were then carefully sewn into rugs. Nifty with her hands, Aita would reuse and recycle everything, even before recycling was a thing. “I can do something with this,” was her favourite mantra. Nothing was ever wasted.

Blessed with charcoal black hair that fell in a cascade of curls all the way to her back, Aita considered our hair her personal project. Saturday’s were for hair oil massages. We’d take turns sitting in front of Aita, and she’d vigorously rub oil onto our scalps and then comb our hair neatly into braids. On Sunday morning, she’d pound hibiscus leaves and flowers, mix it with water to form a slimy concoction, and rub it onto our hair. If it was not hibiscus, it was outenga seeds. Aita didn’t trust us to wash it off ourselves and oversaw that as well. Post Holi showers were especially brutal. It invariably fell upon Aita to wash off the powder colours off our scalps, and she’d aggressively wash twice, thrice, four times, until our scalp was all shiny and pink again, all the while muttering and mumbling about how people who take pleasure in rubbing colour on hair are a menace to society.

There was a time in college when, tired of having to comb my long hair and bored of wearing it in the same style, I went ahead and chopped it all the way to my shoulder. Aita took it as a personal affront and refused to talk to me for days on end. Even when I pointed out that it was easier to take care of my hair now that it was shorter, she wouldn’t let me forget how much effort had gone into turning my hair long, glossy and thick. It’s been a decade and a half since that time, but even now, when I cut my hair, I offer a silent apology to my Aita. “I’ll wear it long the next time,” I promise. Now that she’s up there, watching over me, she knows I’ve been making those promises. Which is why I have already started oiling my hair every week, hoping to undo all the damage I have done upon it over the years. This time, for certain, I want to grow my hair. For her, if not for me.

Aita was one of those people who are happiest when they are busy. Until old age caught up to her and her body turned traitor, Aita would be seen pottering about in the garden, a gamusa tied tight around her waist. Armed with a trowel, she’d go about digging and loosening earth, adding manure to plants, gently and lovingly coaxing them into growing. In turn, plants loved her. It was a running joke in the family – while none of us were blessed with green thumbs, and managed to kill almost everything despite our utmost care, all Aita had to do was dig a hole with her bare finger and plant a sapling anywhere. It was certain to flourish. In the kitchen, Aita was all about efficiency. She taught me how to clean as I go, so there wouldn’t be any mess or dirty dishes to deal with after cooking. There are certain dishes that only Aita could make to perfection, and regardless of how many times I tried to make them, they would never taste like hers.

There are so many things I learned from her. So many things I picked up just by watching her, being around her. The first time she took a flight was to go to Kolkata to visit my sister. She wouldn’t have done it had I not accompanied her and she certainly wouldn’t have done it if not to visit my sister. I knew she was scared. She was terrified of the escalators and even more when the flight took off. But to her credit, she didn’t once waver. She simply held my hand tight, as tight as she could, and told me she was okay. She taught me that no sacrifice was big enough for the people you love. She taught me how to love someone so much you were completely blind to their flaws. She taught me to be unapologetic about voicing my opinions.

She was formidable, my Aita. But she was also warm. She was a force to reckon with. But with her by your side, you knew you could win the world. I’m sure she’s already demanding a one-on-one meeting with The One above to answer her many, many questions. And if I know her, which I do, she’s creating a storm even up there.

Rest In Peace, Aita. You’ve deserved it.

The Things We Do For Love

Nineteen years ago, on this very day, I learned a very, very important lesson. It could be broken down to its fundamentals in two parts. My sister is smart. I am a sucker. 

I was taught this lesson in such an effective manner that I haven’t forgotten this date for nineteen years. My sister always tries to trivialize it. She says the only reason I remember it is because of my elephantine memory. She adds that whatever happened couldn’t possibly have been her fault, that it isn’t possible that something that happened nineteen years ago has left such an indelible mark on my mind. To her I say, well played, sister. Well played. It isn’t everyday that one wishes to bang her head on the wall repeatedly for being such a dumb head but when it happens, one remembers it. And registers it. And records it for future reference.

The year was 2002. It had been a winter that was characterised by drama of epic proportions. I’m talking movie style drama. Fighting matches. Locked rooms. Sob fests. Tense dinners weighed down by a silence so thick you could slice it with a knife. Ultimatums and threats. And then hushed conversations behind closed doors. So many, many hushed conversations. It was the winter my sister discovered her rebel streak – much to our, and perhaps her own, surprise. And no, her rebel streak didn’t involve smoking or drinking or tattoos and piercings. She was above all that. After finishing her engineering, she informed our parents that she wanted to pursue an MBA degree, and that she wanted to go to Delhi to get coaching for the CAT exams. Deuta informed her that she could go to Delhi when hell freezes over, and thus, war was declared. 

What no one was openly addressing and yet constantly referring to, was the fact that my sister’s then boyfriend was in Delhi during that time. He had, in fact, already completed coaching and was appearing for entrance exams and was well on his way to finding a place in one of the business schools there. Just like the heroines in the movies, my sister desperately wanted to be there with him. And just like the villainous father in the movies, Deuta put his foot down and told her no. If it was indeed an MBA that she wanted to do, she could do it in Tezpur University, couldn’t she?

It was too much, too much. My sister took to locking herself up in the attic/half a room that she had claimed as her own – complete with a clunky desktop and a dial-up internet connection and a telephone to boot – coming down only for her meals. It was quite a sweet set-up, if you ask me. She had everything she needed in that den of hers – including the much needed privacy that she sought. Too often though, I’d pick up the phone receiver downstairs only to be privy to snippets of an ongoing conversation. It would almost always be followed by her yelling, “PUT THAT PHONE DOWN!” She was a force to reckon with, that tragedy queen of ours. Wronged and oppressed, kept away from the love of her life, denied the right to live HER life the way she wanted. She walked about the house like a silent hurricane, threatening to take down everything that came in her way. Ma, typical of her, took no stand at all, refusing to be drawn into this battle between father and daughter. Aita vehemently and vociferously championed my sister, lamenting aloud about how she should just be allowed to what she wanted, but her vote sadly didn’t count. And there I was, stuck in the middle. Unwilling to say anything to my parents – not that my vote counted, either – unable to comfort my sister, and miserable in that stress.

In the end, love and perseverance reigned supreme, and my sister emerged victorious, brandishing a one way ticket to Delhi on the 25th of February, 2002. It was a happy ending to trump all happy endings. For my sister, at least. My Deuta still wasn’t a hundred percent assured that it was the best decision, but had accepted his defeat. Nevertheless, my sister started packing with an enthusiasm that belied her heart-rendering distress until only a few days before, singing songs of love and hope. The storm had passed and sunshine shone down upon the Saharia household once again.

But like in a typical movie, this drama had one last twist remaining.

Two days before my sister was supposed to take her flight to freedom, our monthly telephone bill arrived. For reference, our usual monthly bill was in the range of about six hundred rupees, if that. That month, our bill amounted to a thumping eleven thousand rupees. Because it arrived when my mother was at work, my sister immediately hid the bill, knowing full well what the consequences were going to be. And just when things were going her way! When I arrived from college, my sister took me to her room, showed me the bill and said, “Listen, I can’t show this to Ma and Deuta now. You know what would happen. So you keep this, okay? And show it to them when I am gone. Do this for me, please?” And like the dumb head that I was, I said, “ Of course, Bu. You don’t worry about that!” Why did I say that? Because I loved her, also because I was glad to do my part to ensure her continuing happiness. Poor girl deserved it after all.

On the 25th February, once I came home, I placed the bill on the living room table where Ma would see it. It was like a ticking time bomb, that bill. Never before had an innocent piece of paper looked so menacing. I was a wreck that day, willing time to go slowly so that Ma wouldn’t see the bill, and at the same time, wanting all of it to be over already. 4 O’ clock came, and with that came the tell-tale sound of the gate opening, announcing Ma’s arrival. I sat on my study desk, my heart beating a million drums, counting the seconds till Ma would reach the living room, see the bill, pick up the bill and find its shocking content. Right on cue, Ma shouted my name.

When I agreed to hide the telephone bill for my sister, all I thought was that I was doing her a favour by keeping yet another secret from our parents. It was our “thing” after all – to be the kind of sisters who never blackmailed each other for favours. We didn’t use secrets as currency; we kept secrets in good faith. What I didn’t realise was that when a bomb explodes, it shatters everything in its vicinity. And with my sister gone, far far away from the explosion site, guess who was right next to it to bear the full brunt? Yes, me. Of course someone had to take in all of the yelling. Someone had to be blamed for the catastrophe. Someone had to bow her head and nod and say yes, we are privileged and yes, we take our parents for granted and no, we didn’t think money grew on trees. Ma’s scoldings were nothing compared to the typhoon Deuta hurled through the house after he came back from work. All the while, I wanted to say, “But it wasn’t me! I didn’t make those long distance phone calls. I wasn’t the one talking to my boyfriend for hours!” But none of it mattered. I was guilty by association. I was guilty because my sister and I were always a team. “Us” vs “Them” always. I took it like a champ, too. I was calm and composed, and seething inside, waiting for my sister to call my parents so she could partake in this family event too.

It was past dinner time when my sister finally called. I braced myself (and smiled a little) when Deuta picked up the receiver.

“Beti!! Have you reached? Are you okay? Oh, from a PCO? Yes… yes… take care. Is it cold there? Stay warm so your congestion doesn’t act up, okay? Yes… yes Beti. Bye!”

Whatever it was that I had expected him to say, it wasn’t this. THIS ISN’T FAIR, I wanted to yell. But then again, it was as if Deuta had no more fight left inside of him. Having admonished the ready representative of the guilty party, he was in no mood to go through it all over again. Which meant that my sister walked Scott-free, leaving an eleven thousand rupees bill in her wake, and I got robbed of my telephone privileges for the next month.

See? My sister was smart. I was a sucker.

P.S. Deuta asked for the detailed bill for that month just to check if there were any anomalies. When it came, it ran on and on and on, a testimony of a long distance relationship that was hell bent on surviving all odds. My sister, reunited with her boyfriend, went on to do her MBA from Delhi, got her first job there, and got married to him five years later. Deuta held on to the bill, saying he would present the bill to my sister and her groom on their wedding day.


I feel old.

And I don’t mean the blackhole most mothers fall into, the day they have a baby. You know, *that* blackhole – where you live perpetually like a homeless person in three day old pyjamas and your hair’s a mess because who has the time to actually blow dry their hair forget about going out to get a haircut and you’re carrying around all of the extra weight like it were a baby too. I’ve been in that blackhole before. Mine lasted three years before I could actually stop feeling old and start feeling myself.

But no, I am not talking about *that* old. That would have been nice actually, because I would take solace in the fact that once I was out of the blackhole, I would feel like my old self again. This year, while the rest of the world partied all night long on New Year’s Eve and counted down to midnight with friends, I snuggled next to the bebe in bed at 9pm. And again, this wasn’t my first time. Neither did I regret not being out there, getting drunker by the minute, knowing in my bones that the higher the high of the night, the deeper the crash the next morning (been there, hated that) But somehow, this time was different. As the night slipped between the old year and the new, for the first time ever, there was a niggling voice inside my head that said, “So what?”

This has probably been the most lethargic start to a new year. With the disaster of last year behind us, I think we are all a little skeptical of hoping too much. I, for one, am reserving expectations for now. Which probably explains why I am cautious in its celebration, lukewarm in my merrymaking. The rain isn’t helping much. It’s been three days since the year began and I am already in a daze, incapable of telling one day from the other. It feels like one interminable day that started a million hours ago, with the soporific rain beating a gentle tattoo on our glass windows and the wind singing – sometimes eerily, sometimes cheerily – all day long. To add to the disorientation, it’s cold- yes, here in Singapore! I’ve had to dig out my flannel shirts and warm leggings. Any colder and I might break out the socks as well. My seven year old already has.

I made it a point to take down the Christmas decorations yesterday – over the years our Christmas decor has expanded to include not just the tree and the ornaments but also random Christmas bric-a-brac scattered all around the living room – just to see if it would make a difference. But no, there’s nothing to remind me that the old year has gone and the new has come. I guess the one thing that marks that the celebrations are over is that the husband goes back to work today after probably the longest break he has taken this year – the birth of our baby included. I feel a little sad because I had quite gotten used to being with him, specially because even when working from home, we hardly see the man until the work day ends. It merely adds to my melancholy, certainly not helped by the grey weather.

But I haven’t given up hope yet. Neither on me, nor on this new year. I do have things to look forward to this year. Regardless of how things turn out pandemic wise, I can’t wait to see my baby stand up on her own and take her first steps. I can’t wait for her vocabulary to extend beyond Ba-Ba (what she calls her sister) and Mamma (but only when she is upset and wants me) I can’t wait to see how the girls find a way to be with each other despite their age difference. And this year, as the husband and I celebrate out tenth wedding anniversary together, I can’t wait to see how we grow as a couple, particularly after the trying last year.

As for me, I have decided to set my cynicism aside and do things that I had written off as “not me”. Reading and watching romance, for one. I’ve been reading only whodunnits, social dramas and psychological thrillers for nearly six years now, and I think it’s high time I find my way back into a genre I had once thoroughly enjoyed. I think part of me hopes that this can be the small step that will hurl me through time back into feeling young again, particularly because I have started envying the young their unadulterated faith in love and the happily ever after. I think it is working too, because yesterday, while watching Music and Lyrics, I felt myself get all warm and gooey inside – just like I did the first time – and I found myself grinning instead of shaking my head. And yesterday, as I snuggled in the living room couch with a box of chocolates and the first book of the Bridgerton series, I didn’t roll my eyes at how Simon is described as handsome as the devil. I almost did at their meet-cute because of how blatant it was. I mean yes, I get it. These two people are attracted to each other before they can even exchange words. I don’t have to be hit on my head with it. Sigh, old traits die hard. But, I didn’t toss the Kindle away in frustration. Instead I reached for yet another chocolate and carried on. When I finish reading the book, I might even watch it on Netflix.

See? There is hope after all.

Begin As You Mean to Go On

And because one of my resolutions for this year is to write more, here I am, churning out a blog post on the first day of the year, hoping that it will set the tone for the rest of the year.

It’s not like I haven’t been writing at all. In fact, I spent most of October and November editing my second novel, Mrs. Crookshanks (remember, the one you guys read chapter wise right here on my blog?) I typed on my phone while I put baby to sleep, and then turned on the laptop the moment she’d wake up. I woke up in the middle of the night to add sentences to my notes because I was sure that while my sleep addled mind had no problem recalling in perfect vivid detail all of my weird dreams, it would promptly erase the single coherent thought I had. I was so excited I couldn’t get Mrs. Crookshanks out of my mind.

And then December came, and with it came the Christmas songs and the signature Singapore rains. Not to mention the elder one’s (I am still not used to calling her that!) birthday.

I still can’t believe Miss Munchkin turned seven. We had a fairy themed birthday party for five of her classmates (the limit for guests being 5 during that time – it’s been increased to 8) and like my sister said, I was probably the happiest of them all. The girls came dressed in pretty tutus and floral skirts and made flower crowns and wands. They giggled and chatted as they sat down to eat and perhaps because I was hovering over them a little too much, the husband nudged me away and said “Leave them be.”

I guess I was just glad to have another year with my little one’s friends. Too soon, I know, she’ll request to have a party at, say, Domino’s or McDonald’s and I’ll be politely asked to stay away because having your mom at your party would be so, like, uncool.

The husband and I, passing the pretzel sticks between us, took solace in the fact that we at least had a few more years of party planning to do for Boss Baby. I really am in no hurry for that one to grow up soon.

But did I get a breather once the birthday party was over? Nooooo! For now it was Christmas we were waiting for. I’d spent nearly a month receiving Amazon packages and then wrapping them and I swear it felt no less than an elaborate production that would culminate on Christmas morning. But then again, this was our first Christmas in Singapore after four years. Our Christmases are always spent in Hanoi, staying at the Hilton, having a customary breakfast of coffee and cake in the nearby Highlands Cafe on Christmas morning. Because we couldn’t travel anywhere this time, we decided to squeeze every ounce of festivity we could from the holiday.

Between planning a fairy birthday party and putting up this production, it was almost like Mrs. Crookshanks said “Maybe this isn’t the best time? I’ll come back when I have your full attention then shall I?” and made a graceful exit. All I can do is hope that when I sit with my laptop again the words remain my friends and don’t give me a tough time.

So yes, I do intend to write more this year. Hopefully finish editing Mrs. Crookshanks and start working on the other quarter-written novel sitting on my desktop, while churning out blog posts at a regular interval. All this while taking care of a now eight month old who has discovered the unadulterated joys of crawling all over the house and putting things in her mouth and STILL doesn’t sleep through the night. I mean, one can be ambitious, can’t they?

But if morning shows the day, and consequently the first day of the year shows you how the rest of the year is going to be, then it looks like I am going to be spending the year snuggled with my elder one, wrapped in a blanket, both of us reading, having great food and then napping with the baby. Not to mention writing a post after putting baby to sleep. It’s been raining all day, and I’m stuck in that delightful point where I am done with a wonderful book and am waiting to start a new one.

All in all it sounds quite delightful actually. I wouldn’t mind doing this for the rest of my year.

My Mamma’s Sewing Machine

One of my earliest memories involves a blue polka dotted frock.

I was around six years old, and running a mild fever. It was evening, but instead of having a lie down in my bed, I was in the green room behind the stage at District Library, practicing with the harmonium and guitar because I had to go on stage in a few minutes’ time. I don’t remember much of my time on stage, except for the fact that I kept rubbing the sides of my frock (It wasn’t until much later that I learned how to keep time)

Now I have very vague memories of that day (hey, I was just six) but I remember the dress vividly, and that is because it was one of the first frocks my Mamma had sewn for me. When I saw this photograph from that day however, I was confused, because it didn’t look like I was wearing that dress after all. So naturally, I called up my mother.

This doesn’t look like a blue polka dotted dress to you, does it Ma?” I asked her.

No, it was a green crepe frock I had sewn for you,” she said, as she looked at the photo I had sent her. “Ah, I can’t remember for the life of me who gifted you this fabric. But it was a gorgeous frock.”

And just like that, I remembered that frock. It had white flowers on it, and I still remember how the fabric felt beneath my palm.

I got a text from my mother a few minutes later.

Your Renu Pehi had gifted you that fabric on your birthday. That blue dress you had worn on the previous day.”

I can understand why it was so important for my mother to remember who’d gifted that fabric. You see, back in those days, when people visited you, it was kind of a norm to bring sweets for the family. Not chocolate, not candies, but the kind that came from the mithaiwala in a white paper box that almost always would be wet on the outside from the mithai inside. Mamma would say something like “Oh why did you bother?” and then serve those sweets for tea. Sometimes though, especially if the guests were visiting for the first time, instead of the white paper box, the gift would come wrapped in a brown paper packet that we would accept with profuse thanks. Because we were decent kids, it was only when the guests would leave that we would open it to reveal, well, fabric to turn into dresses. Usually of a similar kind for both my sister and me.

(On a side: why people why? Would it have killed you to choose two different fabrics for the two of us? Do you realise that because of you, my sister and I had to wear similar dresses almost all the time?)

That is when Mamma would bring out her trusty sewing machine.

It was gorgeous machine – its body a regal black with a golden and yellow design on its side, and a gleaming silver handle. This was a hand sewing machine, not the foot pedal one, and was fitted on a wooden base. My Mamma had got it as a wedding gift from her sister, and the lid was a gift from my Deuta as compensation for forgetting her birthday two years later. I still remember how it smelled – of machine oil and crisp new fabric. But most of all, I remember how it sounded. Sheer music to my ears, that’s what it was. If my childhood had a background track, it would certainly include the lulling khatak-tak-khatak-tak of Mamma’s sewing machine, and the delicate crooning of Deuta’s violins.

One of the earliest frocks I remember was the blue dress with white polka dots all over it. It had puff sleeves and an umbrella-cut skirt (probably my favourite kind because I loved how it puffed up when I twirled) The fabric was a gift from my Mami, and keeping with tradition, my sister got gifted a similar fabric, although hers was green with white polka dots. Ma turned hers into a skirt with a complicated honeycomb pattern just beneath the waistband, and my earliest memories of her wearing that skirt was to her music class.

Growing up, it would start feeling like Bihu the day Ma would tell Jugeshwar Da (our family rickshawala – yeah that deserves a whole different post) to take us to Chowk Bazar on the way home from school. I’d feel all tingly with excitement at the prospect of getting to choose the fabric with which Ma would sew my dress. We would take ages, Ma and I, going through bale after bale of fabric, choosing colours and patterns. I would be so indecisive that it would finally fall on Ma to pick one. And when we’d bring the cloth back home, I’d drape it on me and look at my reflection on the mirror to see how it would look like, on me.

I would then patiently wait for Ma to get to the brown paper bag. Experience had taught me that rushing Ma would gain me nothing besides an earful about how she would get to it when she could, and oh, did I think she had four hands? Finally, when I’d think my heart would burst out of containing all of that excitement, Ma would bring the fabric out and lay it flat on the bed. She’d fold it this way and that, tilting her head just so, pondering over the potentialities the cloth presented. Sometimes she’d have a very clear vision of what she wanted, and sometimes, I believe the fabric would speak to her. She’d then call me, take measurements with that green measuring tape with fraying edges, and mumbling a short but sweet “Krishna!” as a prayer, start snipping the fabric. I think that prayer was very important, because there was no room for errors once the fabric was cut. I still remember the satisfying sound of the scissors cutting through the fabric. But the most satisfying sound of all was the khatak-tak-khatak-tak that meant that Ma had started sewing my frock.

I would lie down on the bed staring at her all the while that she would sew. Sometimes, if Ma had to get up for a glass of water, I’d hurriedly offer to go fetch her a glass from the kitchen myself so that she could keep sewing. It felt never-ending, watching my frock take form in her sewing machine, and I would detest anything that kept Ma away from the machine, including meals and oh, school. Sometimes Ma would sew late into the night, after dinner and putting us to bed, and I would fall asleep lulled by the hypnotic and oh so sweet sound of the sewing machine. And then, one fine morning, I would find my brand new frock laid out on the bed. Slipping on a freshly sewn frock for the first time and feeling the crisp fabric rustle against my skin has to be one of the top five best feelings in my childhood.

That machine churned out quite a few beauties. I remember once Ma had sewn a frock with what felt like a hundred tiny pleats on the skirt, for my birthday. The frock was a pale peach with tiny white polka dots all over it, and Ma had sewn white piping on its sleeves and a delicate white lace around the collar. My sister, who was pretty nifty with the iron (being the perfectionist that she was) spent half an hour ironing each of those pleats into place. There was also an ombre red frock that I wore for my cousin’s wedding when I was twelve. It was shorter than most of my frocks, ending just above my knee, and simplicity itself. It had a plain sleeveless bodice and a full umbrella-cut skirt (told you it was my favourite) and I remember feeling like quite the fashionista as I paired it with a pair of black kitten heels – my first – with my hair tied in a high ponytail that swished each time I took a step. And oh did I have a spring on my step that day!

And then I turned sixteen, and suddenly, wearing frocks started feeling childish. I wanted to wear salwar-kurtas like my friends were wearing, and so I asked my Ma if she could make me one for my birthday that year. It started smoothly, alright, with us selecting the fabric without any hiccup (a rarity those days) but it all started going downhill when Ma asked me how I wanted it sewn. By then I had opinions of course, and I told her I wanted the a really long slit on the side of the kurta like it was fashionable those days, and Ma refused, and that was that. We reached an impasse, with Ma finally compromising on half the length of the slit that I wanted, but my way of protesting was to not wear that kurta as often as I should have. That was the day Ma announced that she was done sewing clothes for us.

It’s not like Ma has stopped sewing. Infact, around the time I got married, nine years ago, my sister gifted her a new fancier sewing machine. When I had my first daughter six years ago, I insisted that Ma make her a dress to wear for her first month celebration. It was quite similar to the one I had worn on my cousin’s wedding – with a sleeveless bodice and an umbrella-cut skirt, and one of my most precious keepsakes from my baby’s newborn days. Ma also sewed her a patchwork quilt using that with embroidery work all over it.

These days, Ma says she doesn’t quite have time to sit on the sewing machine, but I swear each time I go home and enter the bedroom where she keeps her machine, I can still hear the telltale khatak-tak-khatak-tak, and I feel the same tingly excitement that I used to feel all those years ago. I wish I could be the kind of mother who sews clothes for her little girls. I wish I had learned how to sew from my mother. My education, sadly, got limited to looping the thread around the machine and preparing the bobbin. I could, if pressed, possibly, sew one straight line, but that’s it.

To Mamma’s sewing machine, and a childhood filled with frilly frocks and crisp fabrics and the serenading sound of a frock being brought to life in my Mamma’s deft hands. And of course, to my Mamma, for making my childhood absolutely delightful and unique, and making an effort to ensure that even if my sister and I got gifted similar fabrics, the frocks were never the same design. One had to draw the line somewhere, I suppose.

In the end, we are all stories.

I was getting ready for bed, trying to be as quiet as possible so I didn’t wake my little boss baby in her crib, when the phone call came. It was my cousin.

“Did you hear the news?” he said. 

I thought I knew what news he was talking about but that didn’t make it any easier to ask him, “No, what is it?” 

“Dangor Mama,” he said, leaving it at that, because both of us knew what that meant.

My mother’s eldest brother, who’d been confined to his bed for a long time, much longer than he deserved, embraced eternal sleep after suffering multiple heart attacks. He was 75. We had known this would happen some day, but had probably taken solace in the fact that that “some day” was a vague date in the much distant future. Destiny had already claimed two of mother’s brothers in the last four years, and Dangor Mama was the lone soldier left behind.  He had been in and out of the hospital many times, and despite how bleak the situation looked, he would always make it back. He had been a fighter and we were counting on him to keep fighting for longer. Which is probably why the news hit me hard. It was not the unexpectedness of it, but the suddenness of it. 

It fell on me to give the news to my mother, and even as I saw her phone ringing on the screen, I kept praying that she wouldn’t receive the call. I wasn’t ready to tell her that her brother had passed away. So I called my sister instead, and after a minute of stunned silence, she told me that she would need time to process it. We talked for a few minutes and hung up with the promise of a longer conversation the next day. I tried calling home again, this time at my father’s phone. When he finally received the call and I told him the news, he simply sighed and said, “Ah, that explains all the missed calls on your Ma’s phone.” That’s when the floodgates opened, and I let myself go. I heard Ma talk to someone in the background, possibly my cousin, and ended the call with my Deuta, with the same promise of talking to her the next day as well. 

When my husband found me in the living room, crying by myself holding the phone, I gave him the news, and then started talking to him about my Mama. I told him how one of my first memories of Mama was sitting next to him while he watched Hindi movies in his bedroom, smoking cigarettes all day long, and how the unique cocktail of cigarette smoke and my aunt’s bath products wafting from the attached bathroom was a heady fragrance that is still registered in my mind as the “Delhi” smell. I told him how my Mama was one of the funniest people I knew, because his humour was so dry others often missed it. I particularly remember how he saved his choicest cusses for reckless drivers on the streets of Delhi. “I’m sure this one has an emergency, of the toilet kind. Look, look at him go, that son of a b**ch” he’d shout. Sitting on murhas in the back of the Maruti Omni van – because that was a perfectly safe thing to do back then- my sister and I would laugh out loud. “Ask me what shade lipstick I wear, go ahead,” he’d say, and when we’d oblige him, he’d smirk and say, “Wills Classic Filter”

The next day when I talked to my mother and my sister, that’s all we did. We exchanged stories. My Mama was such a colourful personality that there was no dearth of stories to share and laugh at. I talked about how he had once walked out of an exam hall during his engineering days, having submitted a blank paper, and gone back to his hostel room to sneak a textbook back to his friends in the exam hall, because he didn’t want them to fail. He was the king of one-liners, and he delivered them right on point. After his bypass surgery, he told my sister, “You know why they call it the by-pass? Well my heart wasn’t letting blood flow the way it should so they had to make a bypass for the blood to flow” We talked about that contraption he had made out of straw and pellets to shoo away the cat, and how he would send emails to the family all the time, sharing some nugget he had found on the Internet. He was very meticulous, and before any of us had emails, he would take physical prints of photographs he’d wanted to share and post them to us so that he could share his news with the entire family. We laughed some, we cried some, but we celebrated a life well lived.

Two days later, my Ma told me how it hit her all of a sudden that she had lost all of her three brothers. Ma was the youngest of five siblings, and although she was far from spoilt and pampered, she was definitely shielded and protected, and her brothers and sister always looked out for her. Ma said she wished she could pay some kind of tribute to her brothers, and I told her she should write about them. She said there was a lot to write, for instance, about the time my Xoru Mama had to spend three whole days and nights stuck in a water body because he was stranded behind enemy lines in the middle of transmitting radio message during the Bangladesh Liberation war.

I recalled Ma telling me this funny story about my Xoru Mama. Once, when he was just a little boy, my Mama had visited some relatives where everyone complimented his big round eyes in jest, and told him he looked really cute because of his eyes. When he returned home, my Mama went up to his mother (my Aima) who was lying down and resting her eyes because of a headache, and insisted that she repeat the same compliment to him. His exact words in fact were “Ma, kouk sun kouk, teleka sokure, sepeta nakture amar Ranu’k imaan dhuniya lage!”

And that’s when it occured to me – we all are nothing but stories. All the people in our lives have created stories of us in their mind that paint a unique side of us, and when these stories come together, they piece as a whole to form the portrait that is us. When we are gone, we might leave behind material legacies if we are lucky, but even if we don’t, we leave behind these stories that keep us alive in others’ memories. And that’s why I made a promise to myself – to live a life so full of stories that when I am gone, they’ll make a whole evening out of swapping stories, laughing and celebrating the life that I’d lived.

Here’s to my Mama, and a life well lived. Here’s to the stories that will keep him alive in our minds forever. If there’s anything I have learned from this, it is that we are nothing but stories, so we better live a life worth telling stories about. Do that scary thing, be in that embarrassing situation, take that risky plunge, fall flat on your face, take on those challenges, be the butt of that joke. Just do epic shit.

On that note, here’s sending a prayer that my Mama’s soul finds solace, and that wherever he is, there’s a keyboard to play, endless cigarettes to smoke and a group of people sitting around him, hanging on to his every word as he tells his stories and makes them laugh.

Two Sundays, Two Songs and Two Stories.

There’s a friend of mine I keep sending songs to. Well there are quite a few friends I keep sending songs to, but with this particular friend of mine, I always find myself sharing the stories behind the songs I send him. I tell him why I love the song and where I heard it first and what it means to me. A song is never just a song, after all. It is a moment, a memory and an emotion all rolled into one, and when I want the other person to hear the song, I want them to feel everything that I feel when I hear it. 

This, is the story of two songs, an of two very different moments that define motherhood to me. Why I want to share this is because I have been told, on multiple occasions, that my posts on social media make it look like parenting is a breeze and this made me think. My intention has never been to paint a glorified portrait of what parenting is like, and so I owe it to myself, and to the people following my posts, to be nothing but vulnerably honest about what motherhood really is like. 

In case you didn’t know, a baby’s first few months are chock-full of growth spurts and sleep regressions and mental leaps. But then again, you don’t need to know all of these jargon. All you need to know is there are many, many phases that a baby goes through where they are extra hungry, extra cranky, extra clingy and just generally impossible to soothe. Fun, right? Just when a new mother thinks she has got a semblance of a routine down, BAM! Hello anarchy! Routine, please jump out of the window already. 

So yes, either because of a mental leap or something else that her tiny brain was going through, the last few weeks have been tough. The week before this, our Boss Baby decided that she didn’t want anyone to hold her except her Mamma and my poor back almost creaked each time I had to pick her up and rock her because she couldn’t be soothed otherwise. It all culminated last Saturday when she had her two-month shots, and I brought back home an inconsolable baby, who screamed until she was gasping for air and refused to be put down on the bed. After six whole hours of carrying her and still have her wake up screaming, I caved in and gave her the medicine prescribed for fever and pain and within half an hour, she was a different baby. She was coping and smiling at me, and I almost cried in relief, while mentally cursing myself that I hadn’t thought of giving her medicine earlier. I had a difficult night, with multiple wakings and her refusing to sleep for two hours during the night because she wanted to keep talking, but I was so glad that she wasn’t crying that I didn’t mind rocking her in my arms all the while. My mind was at ease, but my body revolted the very next day because of the combined assault of sleep deprivation and backache. I was beyond tired  when my husband suggested we go to my sister’s place for a break. 

The moment I reached my sister’s place though, something in me eased up. It was almost as if my shoulders loosened right away, and I let go of all the anxiety and stress I had been carrying along with me. My sister swooped in and took baby out of my arms and to my immense relief, she didn’t cry. What’s more, our boss baby actually had a long “conversation” with her aunt, and just watching the two of them melted something in my heart. While my firstborn made a beeline for her cousin’s room with the coveted iPad and Nintendo (off limit at our place) and unsupervised screen time, my husband settled down in the living room with my brother-in-law (who was once his hostel mate) my sister and I cozied up in her bedroom with some good music so I could nurse the baby whenever I wanted. When my sister saw that baby girl had no intention of letting go, she fed me lunch instead. When baby was finally done nursing, she started fussing a bit and as I am wont to, I stood up to rock her. And that’s when I realised that she was actually enjoying the music and the hearty thump thump of the bass speakers. I played Deathcab by Ditty for my sister, and we let Spotify Radio do its thing. It was then that this song came up. 

I’ll never forget that precise moment. I was patting baby girl’s tiny bum while rocking her. My tummy was fed and so was my soul. At that moment, I was plain grateful. I was grateful that while my mother was far away from me, I had my sister next to me. I was grateful that she fussed over me, offering to carry baby girl to give my tired arms a rest, and asking me every other minute if I needed anything else. I was grateful for a brother-in-law who kept coming in from time to time to offer me nibbles and sips. I was also content in that moment, with a droopy-eyed baby in my arms, the screaming banshee of the previous day a distant memory. This song has nothing to do with the situation I found myself in that day, but to me, this song will always remain a memento of that slice in time them when I felt like maybe mothering this little attention guzzler wasn’t so tough after all. That if it takes a village to raise a child, I have my village right here.

Cut to today, which is another Sunday, and it’s a different story altogether. 

You see, we start each night with the best of intentions. Baby wakes up once within the 11pm to midnight window, and once again within the 2am to 3am window. But after 3am, anything goes.  I have forsaken my comfy quilt in favour of a light throw so it’s easier to get up from bed each time she wakes up, but after 3am, I don’t even bother using the throw because I am up so many times. She could be waking up every hour, sometimes even after 15 minutes of drifting to sleep and in the four hours between 3am and her wake-up time, I use up all of the energy my three hours of sleep had given me until I am an exhausted jittery bundle of nerves. Every. Single. Morning.

Today was no exception. I woke up feeling tired, and couldn’t wait for baby to take her first long nap of the day so that I could nap with her. I barely managed twenty minutes when big sister came back home with her Dad from her piano lessons. My nap cut short, I gave up on sleep, although miraculously, boss baby went on to have a nice long nap. That first long nap, however was followed by two really short naps, leaving me with an overtired, cranky nuclear mess of a baby who was gradually becoming more and more inconsolable. Loud music wasn’t helping, neither was offering her the breast, and nor was rocking her. 

And then this song came up, again, thanks to Spotify Radio, and I couldn’t take it anymore. 

I broke down in big gulping tears, and before I knew it, I was heaving and gasping, unable to control myself. At that moment, it was almost as if everything was intensified, and I was painfully reminded of every tiny thing in my life that wasn’t going the way I had hoped it would. Like how at eleven weeks, I really thought Boss Baby would be sleeping better at nights, or that she would be at least taking naps independently without someone having to hold her and lie down next to her all the time. Or how I felt just so, so lonely each night in the big king-sized bed in our bedroom, sleeping by myself because the husband slept in big girl’s room. Or how because of this stupid pandemic I am terrified to even go out and do things that otherwise would have helped with the cabin fever. I felt exhausted to my bones, and overwhelmingly helpless. Helpless because I had no clue how to soothe my baby, and also a little let down because boss baby wouldn’t let the husband hold her without screaming bloody murder. And so I cried and cried and cried without really knowing why. All I knew at moment was this profound sadness that threatened to engulf me whole. 

(If you look up the lyrics of the song, you’ll realise that the song is all about letting time do its thing, that whatever is happening is just because you’re going through a rough time and that you should just let it pass. So poignant.)

I felt much better after that cry though. It was cathartic and provided a release perhaps I had been unknowingly seeking. And a long hot shower later helped considerably. Boss Baby is tucked in her crib now and while I ought to be making the most of this time by sleeping, I’m writing this because, priorities. 

If someone were to ask me what parenting is like, I’d say it is a pendulum that sways somewhere between these two moments. You won’t always be filled with gratitude. Believe me, there will be times when you’ll wonder why you even thought this was a good idea. But then, you won’t always be a teary tired mess as well. And somewhere between those two, you’ll find moments of balance where everything is just like it should be. To attaining that semblance of balance, then. And to songs that define moments and make room in our hearts to be embedded forever.  

A letter to my girls

My girls, my lovely baby girls, the two bits of my heart,

It’s been a week and a day since we welcomed, you, Mou into our family, and just five days since we brought you home. From the moment we stepped inside the house, Mon, you have been enamoured with your little sister. You stood at the doorstep with an aarti thali all ready, stepping into shoes that your tiny feet are too small for. With no one else being able to meet us at home because of the global pandemic going on right now, you made sure that we wouldn’t feel left out. And so you fulfilled all the duties that otherwise an adult would have performed. When you hugged me, my arms were full and so was my heart.

You have been an amazing elder sister so far, Mon. You want to do everything for Mou, including brushing her hair and carrying her in your arms and even helping me with diaper changes and sponge baths. You are careful around her, ensuring that you don’t wake her up when she’s sleeping. You don’t let me carry my own water bottle, instead insisting on holding it up for me while I drink! Who would have thought that you would grow up so soon?

Mou hasn’t been letting me sleep a lot, but I know it is just a matter of time. Because I can’t get enough sleep at night, I spend most of my days in a sleepy daze, all spent and tired. And while I wish I could have spent time with you, Mon, my body simply can’t stretch thin enough. I hope someday you’ll understand that it’s not that I don’t want to be with you. It’s just that I simply can’t, despite trying my hardest. Someday soon though, when Mou sleeps for longer hours at night and I get a break from endless diaper changes, you will get your Mamma back, and that is a promise. Until then, my love, let’s snatch those quiet moments when we get, when it’s me and Mou and you on the bed – Mou sleeping, me trying to, and you reading a book by my side. I think when all this is over, I am actually going to miss these quiet moments, specially in two and a half months’ time, when your school will reopen, and you’ll be back to your world of friends and playtime and oh so much learning to do. I hope when it happens, you’ll still come back home wanting to be with us. I hope you’ll miss your sister a little when you’re in school and I really hope you’ll be excited to come home just to see your baby sister.

Mon, there are times, I know, when your Dad and I have probably been too hard on you. Things have been strange and unsettling for you, even without taking into account a new baby in the house. The entire world is shut inside their house, trying to ride out a dangerous pandemic. Your school, your friends, even your playground has been snatched away from you. You haven’t let that get to you though, perhaps because one of your favourite things to do is run around screaming and laughing with Jenny. In fact, sometimes I wonder if Jenny is closer to your age rather than mine. Because of Mou though, I’ve had to ask you to please be quiet because she is sleeping. I’ve had to, many times, stop you from doing something because it would disturb your sister. If it’s not me, then it’s your Dad asking you to stay quiet because he is on a call and he needs to focus. It breaks my heart, Mon, it does. I know patience is in short supply, and I could certainly do much better. But you have been mature beyond your years, understanding beyond my expectations and accommodating beyond everything. For this, I am so proud of you. I hope I tell this to you enough. I hope you realise just how much it means to us that you have found ways to entertain yourself either way, and are extremely cautious around the baby, tip-toeing and whispering when she is asleep and talking to her and singing for her when she is awake.

You make it all worth it. Both of you. The pain, the sleepless nights, the lonely nighttime duties. Seeing you together stirs something in my heart that I can’t define. My favourite time of the day is when Mou wakes up in the morning and Mon, you come to the bed for snuggles and we let time stand still. Seeing Mou look at her big sister with those big eyes, almost as if she senses that the same blood runs in your veins, that what you two share goes beyond mere skin and flesh, that both of you are connected on a deep visceral level, warms the deepest core of my heart, and it swells in a gush of pure unadulterated love that is beyond my understanding. I can’t wait to see the two of you grow up together.

Remember these times. Remember this when Mon, you are ten, going on twenty, losing patience with your four year old sister. Remember this Mou, when you chase after your sister wanting to play together and she says she has to do something else first. Remember this, both of you – that you love each other. That you are wired to share something that you can’t share with anyone else. Even when you bicker and fight and yell to each other that you hate each other, remember that you shared womb space with each other and no one else can get you like your sister will. And someday, when you are all grown up and have gotten all the petty fights out of the way, you will suddenly realise that both of you belong to a world of your own making, with its own languages and own rules and traditions and inside jokes and you’ll look at each other and say “Thank heavens for you.”

I promise you this.

Love, Mamma.

Almost a month now!

I remember reading this joke in a Reader’s Digest (but where else?) ages ago: 

At a wedding reception, a woman walks up to the bride and congratulates her.

“Any marital advice?” the bride asks cheerfully.  

“The first year is the toughest,” the woman says with a smile.

 “Is it?” The bride replies. “So for how long have you been married?”

“Oh, a year,” the woman says. 

If I were the woman in the joke, and this was a baby shower instead of a wedding, I would probably say that the first month with a newborn is the toughest, but everyone knows that the tough part starts with falling pregnant and never ever ends. I mean it. Ask my mother, who had to stay on the other side of the phone and console me while I wailed like a baby, ugly crying and complaining that she didn’t care for me because she didn’t call me for two whole days. And it’s been what, thirty three years she since gave birth to me? 

Why I recalled the joke today of all days is because the little one is four weeks today – just two days shy of turning a month – and to say that this first month of being a mother of two has been absolutely nerve wracking and terribly exhausting and emotionally wrenching would be an accurate description. 

Remember how just ten days ago I wrote about feeling human again because the baby gave me three hours of sleep at a stretch? It’s almost as if the little one thought Mamma was having it easy and there was no way Boss Baby could let Mamma slack off on the job. So instead of two hours, we were suddenly waking up every hour. Yay! 

For the last ten days I feel like I’ve been sleep walking through everything, including my showers and meals. There are lighter moments, of course. Like at 3:30 in the morning when I see that the family in the opposite block is watching television and I take comfort in the fact that someone else is awake with me, even though I wish I was watching something on the big screen instead of watching reruns of Modern Family on my phone because I need to make sure I’m awake enough to feed the baby and not too awake that falling asleep after feeding the baby gets difficult. Then there are moments of utter frustration, when the Husband changes her diaper but isn’t quiet enough and so she gets wide awake and it takes another two hours to finally get her to fall asleep AND stay asleep in her crib, and I ask myself for the umpteenth time why we thought having another baby was a good idea. Then there are moments of total anarchy when Boss Baby fights naps like it’s her job and after three hours of trying to rock her and sing to her I finally strap her onto the baby carrier and get her to sleep but the moment I try to get comfortable on the recliner she wakes up so I am back to standing and rocking her until my back feels like it’s going to break. Sometimes it feels like I can’t catch a break. If it’s not hunger, baby girl wakes up hiccuping. If it’s not hiccups, it’s the poor thing’s blocked nose. If it’s not blocked nose then it’s gas and a couple of loud burps that need to get out before she can settle again. 

Yesterday I called the husband, who was happily sleeping in big sister’s room, and told him, “She’s fed but fussy. Put her to sleep. I’ll be in this room if you need me. Good luck” and promptly took his place beside my six year old in her bed without waiting to see if he could actually manage to settle Boss Baby and put her to sleep. It was the best 90 minutes of sleep I’d had in ages until he woke me up saying Boss Baby was up again. 

The funny thing is, like my friend was telling me the other day, we seem to have no problems staying up late late late binge watching shows on Netflix. She said perhaps because it is of our own volition.  My theory is that staying up all night is difficult, but not as difficult as the constant sleeping and waking and sleeping and waking again. Which is why, at around half past four in the morning every day, I give up on sleep. I vigorously rub the sleep off my eyes and tell myself sleep is for losers anyway and although sleep deprivation is a form of torture I am Wonder Woman and I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire, ’cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me ro-o-o-o-o-ar. 

My five am thoughts aren’t exactly the epitome of lucidity. 

Every evening I undulate between “My thoughts have power! I’ve got to think positive. Tonight’s going to be a good night!” and “Who cares? How does any of this matter? I should just accept that I’m not getting any sleep.” I should probably add here that these thoughts are almost always intercepted at cutting jibes at the poor husband who can’t even yawn in front of me these days because I’ll slice him into two with “Oh oh oh are you sleepy? Poor baby, was eight hours of sleep last night not enough? Why don’t you go AND SLEEP SOME MORE?” Or “You do realise it is my choice to breastfeed her that’s giving you all the luxury of washing your hands off night duty? How about a little appreciation, huh?” Or, “You know what’s funny? You try to put her to sleep for five minutes and if it doesn’t work you hand her back to me. Who do I hand her to after three hours of constant rocking, huh? WHO?

 It’s either this or a slip slide into a total sobbing mess incapable of coherent speech, going on and on about how I simply can’t do this anymore. 

But you know what, I do this every night anyway. Because that’s what mothers do. And then, even when the little stinker has kept me up all night, I still kiss her before putting her on the crib each time she wakes up me. And when she looks at me and smiles like she thinks it’s a riot to see Mamma all flustered, I laugh because well, it is a riot. 

Someday, she’ll sleep for longer than an hour at a time. It might not be tonight. It might not even be next week, but someday she will. And when she does, I’ll probably waste it watching Kdramas on my phone instead of catching up on sleep. Because guess what, that’s also what mothers do. 

On feeling human again, and the small wins.

They say women forget all about the pain of childbirth the moment they see their babies. While this might not be completely true – recovery isn’t a breeze for most women – I think it is true that women develop a sort of “selective memory” when it comes to the first few weeks after giving birth. Perhaps that’s the way nature intended it to be, to ensure that women aren’t so daunted by the process that they refuse to go through it more than once.

I would know. It’s been six and a half years since Miss Munchkin was born, and all I can remember about the first three weeks of her life are snippets of memories, like vintage sepia-tinted snapshots of a time long forgotten. I remember watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time on mute on the television in the living room at 2am, willing myself to stay awake because I was so terrified I would fall asleep and let her slip from my arms. I remember the first time the husband and I went out by ourselves, leaving my in-laws at home with a sleeping baby, and I remember feeling anxious all the time that she would wake up wailing. And finally, I remember that glorious night when I woke up to realise that baby girl had slept for five straight hours without waking up, and I felt a lot like Cinderella in the opening scene of the movie, with birds singing over her head and cute animals happily skittering, with a backdrop of a pastel-hued morning.

It’s been six and a half years and I am going through the same thing all over again. I keep getting flashbacks, a sense of de ja vu, if you will, that this has definitely happened to me before (because, duh, it has) but with subtle changes here and there. You know, same same but different. I tried looking up my blog to see if I had chronicled any of those days, but I am reminded that after Miss Munchkin was born, I’d stopped writing for a whole year. This time around, I hope it’s not the case.

Why I am thinking about my recovery six and a half years ago is because I can’t seem to remember when I started feeling “human” again, as opposed to, you know, brain dead zombie walking in a daze. I keep telling myself, I’ve done this before; I can do this again. There definitely is light at the end of the tunnel. All I need to know is how long the tunnel is. When I am up at three in the morning, having drifted to sleep only two hours before, knowing full well I’ll be up once again in two hours’ time, I tell myself this too shall pass. When I find myself waking up all the time, even in between those those two hours just because newborns are noisy roommates, I tell myself one of these days, the little one too, shall sleep for five hours at a stretch like her sister. I mean, one can hope.

But all is not lost. I am slowly, but surely, getting myself back. Like that time at the hospital when the nurses complimented me on my red lipstick, which they saw only after I took off the mask after delivery, and I felt braver just because it’s such a big part of who I am. Or the other day, when I took out my ukulele and played and sang for half an hour, even though I couldn’t hit the high notes. Or when I cooked lunch for all of us while the little one took a nice long nap during the day. Or when I managed to spend time with the elder one, watching a funny movie while cuddled up on the couch. Or even the other day, when I managed to write a blog post. Or when I tried on my favourite red dress and it fit, and I found myself smiling at my reflection because even if I might not look the way I did ten months ago, I am surely on my way to feeling that way.
Or today, when I went out for a walk by myself after a good night (meaning little one woke up every three hours instead of two) I put on my earphones, blasted a happy song that has become my anthem these days, put on my mask (because again, CoVid) and felt, well, myself.

It’s all about the small wins, but I’ll take my small wins where I can, because someday, when I look back at these days, I want it to be a string of small wins threaded on to the passage of time, instead of vague recollections of inconsequential trivialities. To small wins, then. Because the major achievements can wait until I get a full night’s sleep.