Saturday, November 26, 2011

Taking care of Mama

It was a misty, silvery Saturday morning; the kind where the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds and bathes the leaves with a mellow glow. Mama stood in the living room battling a familiar inner conflict: the thick sheaf of tempting Saturday newspapers and a mug of ginger chai or the little girl playing alone in her room? Mama always looked forward to her quiet Saturday mornings with the paper, but this Saturday was a little different. This Saturday Daddy had had to rush off for an urgent meeting at the office leaving behind a very upset little girl who always looked forward to her extended Saturday 'Daddy brunches', and a weary Mama. A massive volcanic eruption masquerading as a tantrum had followed Daddy's departure and now that the dust had finally settled, Mama was wary of provoking any further unrest. Besides the little girl seemed happy now and was even humming to herself...but then again she had looked so terribly forlorn when daddy left...

Just ten minutes. Mama promised herself. And then she would go and build towers with the little girl. And make little pink playdoh pigs with curly yellow tails.
She sank gratefully into the welcoming couch and gave herself up to the thick Saturday newspaper.

Not for long.

"Mama?" The little girl stood beside her with her basket of hair clips and rubber bands and a definitive gleam in her eye. "Your hair looking so funny. Room-it your pony's tail and Nikki make your hair pretty pretty just like Nikki."

"Okay" Mama said meekly. She knew better than to offer any resistance and she also did not think she had the capacity to weather another tantrum.

Besides there was the whole debacle of U didi. U didi who had sidled insidiously into the little girl's life, to help take care of her and who had left just as insidiously without so much as a by-your-leave a few months later. Now U didi hadn't been good at many things but if there was one thing she had been rather proficient at, it was making fancy hairstyles. While Mama had thus far considered it a major achievement to pin the little girl down for a few seconds while she hastily ran a comb through her hair and put a clip or two in place, U didi spent copious amounts of time creating elaborate hairstyles. Right from the simple 'fountain' on top of the little girl's head to hairstyles reminiscent of the fancy bouffants of Bollywood's leading ladies of yore, she attempted several hair-dos and managed to create outstanding results. It almost became a ritual of sorts; the little girl would sit patiently by the large French windows in the dining room while U didi wove her magic, and then much ooh-ing and aah-ing would happen over the little girl's latest hairstyle. And then U didi left one day taking her hair styling skills with her and breaking the little girl's heart. Overnight the little girl didn't want anything to do with her fancy hair clips and scrunchies and hair bands. She refused to entertain thoughts of having her hair styled into even a ponytail despite Mama's best efforts. Even combing her hair seemed to upset her. So when she began displaying an interest in combing Mama's hair instead, Mama was willing to do anything to help her get over that evil U didi who had left without a second thought for a little girl who had thought the world of her (curse her pointy little bouffant-ed head).

Besides after the initial few attempts at 'combing Mama's hair' which had comprised much jabbing and poking and shrieking of the anguished kind (by Mama), the little girl had managed to master the art of putting a comb to Mama's hair without irreparably damaging her scalp and Mama didn't really mind her hair being made 'pretty pretty' any more.

So when the little girl appeared beside her with her basket of trinkets, she obediently loosened the clasp that held her locks at the nape of her neck and settled down on the floor to make it easier for the little girl to wield her comb.

"Very good Mama! You're a good girl. Now I make you look pretty pretty okay?"

The little girl got to work in a determined sort of way and since she didn't seem too inclined for conversation, Mama decided to continue reading. After all this didn't really hamper the reading process at all. Actually, maybe this was a good thing, this obsession with combing Mama's hair. Maybe Mama could use this as an opportunity to stop cribbing about all the unread books piling up on the bedside table and actually get some reading done for a change! The little girl could comb away and Mama could read. Yes, it was brilliant! Mama was so happy she smiled a little smile to herself.

"Why you smiling Mama?"

"Because I'm reading."

"Now your eyes tired. You take some rest. Close your eyes."



"Okay. Sigh."

Mama let the newspaper drop to the floor wistfully and closed her eyes. So much for catching up on her reading. Now she'd have to sit here for God knows how long with her eyes closed till....actually it had been a while since she just sat with her eyes closed like this. It felt kind of good. Relaxing, in a meditative kind of way. Actually maybe this wasn't such a bad idea either. After all everyone was always telling her to take a chill pill and learn how to relax, and now that she thought about it, she was beginning to feel a little bit relaxed. Yes, Mama could get used to this. Just sitting here, no unnecessary thoughts crowding her mind, no talking...ahhh, bliss!

"Why you again and again smiling Mama?"

"Hmmm? Oh nothing, just feeling relaxed!"


Short pause.

"Okay Mama. Now you sing. Sing 'Aloo Kachaloo kahaan gaye the'. Start."

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An extract from ‘No Deadline For Love’ (Penguin Books India)

‘Whoa! What happened, Megha? You look like a fright!’ Vijay had looked a little startled when I’d bounded up to him and I didn’t blame him. I was having a bad hair day and all the running up and down the stairs hadn’t helped matters. It probably looked like a tornado was swirling around my head by now.
I hurriedly explained the situation to Vijay and he told me that I would find Yudi at the little coffee shop in the basement of the building that housed our office.
‘He’s gone there for his daily shot of caffeine,’ Vijay grinned. ‘That guy is a tea-totaler—he can’t stand the sight of tea and there isn’t any coffee served at these high tea sessions! Hey Megha, tell him I’m looking for him too, will you? Oh, and Megha?’
'Yeah?' I turned around just as I was rushing out of the cafeteria again.
‘Tie up your hair, will you? It’s kind of, you know, frizzy,’ Vijay said kindly and I smiled and continued on my way. A comment like that would have normally unleashed my temper but Vijay had said it so sweetly and in the most well intentioned way that it was impossible to get angry. Besides, he was right. I paused to glance in the mirror of the office elevator that was transporting me to the basement and cringed at the sight of my hair. It was in a particularly mutinous mood today and each strand had declared independence from gravity; any more frizz and I would look like I’d been electrocuted. I whipped out a hair band and quickly secured my hair into a tight knot at the nape of my neck. I normally avoided tying up my hair because everyone said pulled-back hair made me look very young and vulnerable, like a little lost soul. I had interpreted this to mean diffident and under-confident and had taken to wearing my hair loose most of the time. I was so used to it now that I felt strangely exposed with my hair pulled back, as though a crack had appeared in the facade of supreme self-confidence that I kept up most times as I lurked behind my gloriously swinging mane. Vile Varun could’ve probably eaten me alive if I’d walked into the appraisal with my hair tied back like this.
The lift lurched to a stop, jerking me out of my reverie, and I hurried along to the coffee shop, my eyes peeled for Yudi. A strong whiff of espresso hit me as soon as I swung the door open and I inhaled huge gulps of it, the familiar smell comforting me somewhat. The Beans Coffee Hut was a popular hangout for the office crowds that worked in GF as well as the surrounding area, and even though the food sucked and the coffee tasted like dishwater, nothing could compare with the fantastic juke box they had in the corner which churned out melodies from as far back as the ‘70s. The owner, Samarpreet, had some ‘connections’ in the Bollywood music industry through which he had acquired this treasure and he took loving care of it, servicing it personally every week and polishing it until it shone. I had spent many a post-work evening there in the reluctant company of Vijay, who was more of a rock music buff, listening to old Hindi film songs and melting my office-related woes away over some piping hot masala chai which was the one thing the Beans Coffee Hut did a reasonable job at dishing out.
I looked around and my heart sank suddenly as I spotted Yudi in a corner, partially obscured behind some potted greens. He was in the middle of an intense discussion with Priyanka who was looking at him devotedly, her hands clasped in front of her. My mind whizzed back to the thousands of times I had seen Yudi and Priyanka together—at work, in Goa, at the restaurant where I’d met Gautam. They were definitely a couple from the looks of it and if not that, they had to be interested in each other given the amount of time they spent together. Maybe Yudi had turned his cell off so they could be alone, I realized, as I remembered the 'not reachable' message on his cellphone. Maybe they wanted to celebrate Priyanka’s success in private and here I was all set to crash the party. Well, there was no going back now—I had no time to lose if that stimulus material was going to make the flight with Yudi. I took a deep breath and approached their table, suddenly feeling terribly self-conscious and acutely aware of my slightly dishevelled appearance. Priyanka could make me feel like a country bumpkin in severe need of a makeover on the best of days, and today was not one of my good days. The recent work overload had taken its toll and I was looking like a dehydrated raccoon with dark circles occupying prime space on my tired face. I had rushed to work that day in my raggedy old jeans and a faded tee, taking advantage of GF’s Friday dressing policy, because I was much more comfortable working in them than the formal work wear I normally donned.
‘Umm . . . Yudi?’ I said nervously, walking up to the table. ‘Can I talk to you for a minute, please?’

Read the rest here!

An extract from ‘No Deadline For Love’ by Manasi Vaidya, reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books India, exclusively for ‘The Punekar’.

Oh boy, oh boy, oh Bai!

A few weeks ago a visiting aunt who’s been living in the US for over the last twenty years dropped in for tea. As we chatted over some hot ginger chai and crisp samosas, my cook ventured into the living room to enquire if we’d like some more tea.

“Ah what a blessing it is to have domestic help!” my aunt sighed wistfully “Back home in Seattle we have to do everything ourselves and even getting someone to make a cup of tea for you is a luxury! You’re so lucky!”

I glanced warily at my cook who shot back a pleased smile and trotted off to the kitchen looking mighty chuffed. She had finally showed up for work that day after nearly a fortnight’s absence during the course of which she had been systematically dispatching members of her extended family to join the heavenly choir in the sky and subsequently taking leave as a result of the multiple illnesses, deaths and funerals in her family. The month before that it had been a mysterious illness that had afflicted her, before that she’d had a wedding in the family and before that the roof of her rented room had suddenly collapsed one fine night necessitating a week’s leave. Just that very morning, fed up with her litany of excuses (impressed as I admittedly was with her creativity at storytelling) I had threatened to give her the boot and she had miraculously chosen to turn up for work instead of attending her chachi’s mami’s first cousin’s husband’s funeral.

As my aunt went on about the luxury of having domestic help in India I found myself thinking about my unending bai woes over the last couple of years. Back when I was footloose and fancy free, or for that matter even after I had settled for matrimonial bliss and set up my own home, bais had never really figured on my list of worries. A spot of cooking and a dash of cleaning were good enough to fit the bill and on the many days that the bai didn’t show up for work I was only too happy to experiment with some cooking or try out the hip new eatery in town while adeptly ignoring the dust bunnies and the mountainous stack of laundry at home. We existed in blissful oblivion, the bai and I.

All that changed when my baby came into the picture and I began spending significantly longer stretches of time at home with her. All of a sudden managing the home front and ensuring that the domestic machinery was ship shape assumed utmost importance. Grabbing a masala chai and a brun maska on the go was no longer a viable option for breakfast when you had a baby demanding to be fed. Dust bunnies needed to be banished into oblivion and the pile of laundry (now multiplied manifold with baby in the picture) screamed for immediate attention. The bai suddenly became the fulcrum on which the domestic chakra needed to whir without a hitch. And not just any bai would do, it had to be one who was clean, sincere and efficient. And one who showed up for work.

I found myself floundering in the Bai Market as I desperately searched for such a domestic diva. It all began with the Great Bai Hunt, which required you to keep your eyes peeled and be on watchful alert when you were out and about. I found myself carefully assessing the various bais on display in my society. I drew up a list of parameters and must-haves against which I ranked them based on their appearance. Finally, satisfied that I had perfected the Great Bai Hunt to a finely honed art, I approached the top choice on my list of prospective bais with what I thought was a suitable job offer.

“I’m not a bai, I live here!” barked the lady in question turning a delicate shade of green and shooting me a poisonous look that turned my intestines into jelly. She marched off to another group of ladies nearby and began speaking to them in an aggrieved tone while simultaneously throwing more poisonous looks my way.

“Please find me a bai!” I whispered in desperation to the watchman as I sped to the safety of my apartment, deciding to abandon any further plans of the Great Bai Hunt.

The watchman rose to the occasion rather admirably and I soon found myself facing round two in acquiring a bai; the Bai Interview. Prospective candidates began streaming into my house in response to the job vacancy. The interview process itself was mercifully short. I would open the door to find myself being given the once over by a pair (or sometimes two) of beady, knowing eyes.

“What is the work? How much time? How many people? How much money?” the bai at the door would bark out the questions in a series of staccato bursts before shaking her head disdainfully and marching off.
Many bais came and went but no one seemed remotely interested in taking up the job. My confidence sank to an all time low and I began seriously doubting my ability to hire, let alone retain any help, when one fine day in response to my meek answers to the standard interview questions, a bai actually acquiesced to take up my offer.

“I will only work for two hours, accept X amount of money, take Sunday off and have two cups of tea with four teaspoons of sugar each, if you want me to work here” she declared walking in and looking around with an air of detached contempt.

“Fine, as long as you do the job well” I said meekly, too dispirited to negotiate.
“When can you start?”

And so began my tryst with round three, the most complicated round of them all: Hold On To Your Bai For Dear Life! For after months of painstaking training, supervising and offering a variety of retention incentives, just when you thought that things had finally fallen into place and when you least expected it, the bai would quit for the flimsiest of reasons and vanish into Bai Oblivion, setting into motion yet again the Great Bai Hunt for a new bai.

After many years of handling the process of searching for, hiring, training and losing bais, I have finally reached a happy place where it really doesn’t bother me anymore. Unlike old times when I would go through a despairing cycle of shock, anger, regret and what-ifs, the disappearance of a bai now merely gives me cause to shake my head with a reproachful tut-tut and with steely determination I venture forth yet again into the Bai Market. Of course there are stories (not mine, I seem to have been blessed with more than my fair share of bad maid karma) of the faithful retainer who’s been loyal to the same family for years at a stretch and I live in constant hope that I too will one day find such a domestic goddess. Until then though, I make do with what I have and keep a watchful eye on the clock every morning as I pass through the dreaded hour between 7.00 and 8.00am during which the course of my day will get decided; will the doorbell ring heralding the arrival of my bai or will it be the phone call instead informing me that Sopu Kaka’s maushi’s brother has had a heart attack and there will be no bai in the foreseeable future.
And when the bell does chime and the bai walks in and later as I sink with gratitude into my first cup of tea for the day, I realize that for better or for worse I am stuck with my bai, and all said and done having her around does take the bite out of daily domestic drudgery a fair bit. Here’s to all the bais (or the lack of them) in our lives then, all those formidable ladies who are a daily and integral part of our households and who still have the capability to make all the visitors from abroad go green with envy!

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The 'happy party'

So its been a while since I posted here last. Not counting the Punekar posts which were written some time back and which I decided to put up just to fill in the increasingly growing gap between posts. The last three months have been far from rosy and for a while I had just given up on everything, blogging included. It all started with P falling ill, followed in close succession by Nikki, which I blogged about here. Just when life seemed to be limping back to normal and things were getting back on track, Nikki fell ill again. Except that this time round it wasn't the routine fall ill- go to the doctor-take a dose of antibiotics jig that we had kind of gotten used to, given the number of times she's been unwell ever since she started playschool. No, what happened this time round made the whole go to the doctor- take antibiotics routine seem like a faraway, rosy dream. It was a complete nightmare from the word go, comprising a week's stay in the hospital, two days of which were spent in the ICU. My first and only visit to a hospital before this was when Nikki was born and that was something I had prepped for, for over a year. This time round it was unexpected and scarily so. Its been well over a month, nearly two, since this happened but even now just the thought of that hospital stay gives me nightmares. The only good thing that came of the entire episode, even though I wouldn't have thought such a thing possible at the time, was that the short, harrowing hospital stay helped me get a lot of things in perspective. They say illness always gives you a new, sometimes improved perspective on life. Very true in my case. This episode happened at a time when I certainly needed some perspective and I got it by the cartloads. And cliched as it may sound, I think somewhere it has left me a wiser person. I can handle any shit Mr Murphy (he seems rather fond of me) chooses to throw my way now. Having said that, an illness of this magnitude for Nikki is certainly not something I want to undergo ever again. I would much rather happily go under a truck. Even a multitude of trucks. Its one thing to be ill yourself or even watch another adult suffer. Its excruciatingly difficult when its your young child and its not something I think I have the fortitude to bear again. Food for thought that, considering I've always considered myself to be a rather strong person otherwise, but this episode left me shattered. For weeks after we'd got back home and even after Nikki was back to her usual naughty little chatterbox self, I was moping around wallowing in self pity, feeling quite fed up with life.

Life, meanwhile, went about her business with nary a care as she is wont to. The maid vanished into thin air a few days after we got back from the hospital without so much as a by-your-leave. The dhobi continued to delight with burnt shirts and mysteriously stained collars. The people who live on the floor right above us carried on with their all year round home renovation program which gives one the constant impression of living under either a bowling alley or a hammer wielder with a particularly nasty temper, or on some particularly good days, both. All delightful little reminders that the show must go on and you really have no choice but to pull up your socks and get on with it. And eventually, time will heal all wounds even if it doesn't necessarily erase all memories, and life will seem less miserable even with the bais who don't show up and the errant dhobis. (I draw the line at the people on top though, they really are a a royal pain.)

In other news, in all of this general chaos and turmoil, my beloved book was launched. I really couldn't give it the attention or the time it deserved, much less blog about it but I hope to be able to do that now. All in all, it has been around for a couple of months now and by the grace of God its doing well. The reviews have been very encouraging, its made it to the Landmark best-seller list two weeks in a row(Woo Hoo!) and readers have written in to me with very ego boosting kind of stuff which could have potentially gone to my head if it hadn't been for the able support of my family who've taken it upon themselves to keep me grounded.In their own special ways, of course. A couple of months ago when the book had just been launched, an impromptu get-together was organized at my aunt's home. "Read from the book!" someone shouted.
I blushingly obliged. Surrounded by a gaggle of aunts and cousins, heart thumping so hard in my mouth I could barely get the words out, I nervously read from what I hoped was one of the funnier bits in the book. A frozen silence ensued. Baffled looks were exchanged.
"Erm, are we supposed to laugh now? That was the funny bit was it?" inquired a bewildered voice.
Yep, don't think there's any danger of my developing a swollen head anytime soon. They help me stay grounded, my family, they do.

I was chatting with my mum on the phone about the last three months the other day and I told her I was fed up with all the worrying and the fretting and that 'the pity party was over'.
"What is a pity party Mama?" chirped an inquisitive little voice at my elbow.
"Umm, a pity party is when you're feeling sad Nikks. But Mama has decided not to feel sad anymore."
"So Mama will be happy now? Have a happy party?"
And a happy party it will be. Let the good times roll.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Little Things That Matter…

Last evening Nikki and I attended a Hannah Montana themed birthday party. There was a large Hannah Montana cake, Hannah Montana balloons, goody bags, paper plates and cups, Hannah Montana streamers on the walls; by the end of it I pretty much had the effervescent Hannah coming out my ears. The party was rather nice, if a little impersonal, and it was probably just me, but I found the sight of several little three year old girls dressed up as Hannah Montana clones a little disturbing. I told the husband about it as we trudged home bearing a large (Hannah Montana, naturally) goody bag and we found ourselves reminiscing about the vastly different birthday parties of our own childhoods. The simple, do-it-at-home affairs where you would plan the party games yourself and spend the afternoon of the party feverishly making chits for the passing-the-parcel planned for the evening while your mother worked in the kitchen to provide the few guests, each of whom she knew by name, with homely fare.

There are very few, if at all, of these parties anymore and you can’t really blame the parents. It’s a little difficult to explain to your young child, after having attended a Winnie the Pooh themed birthday party complete with the Hundred Acre Woods, that she should be happy with a simple party at home. Having given in to one of these themed parties myself for Nikki’s first birthday however, I’ve emerged from the experience weary but wise, and with a rock solid resolve to try and pass on to Nikki the simple but soul satisfying birthday parties of my childhood.

This got me thinking of a few other things that I would like to pass on to Nikki from my childhood. The simple, little things, that you could easily overlook, but when you really think about it, went a long way in making your childhood special.
A love for reading and books would most certainly top the list of these. There are very few experiences in life that can surpass the joy derived from a good book and a rewarding and enriching relationship with books is something I definitely want to pass on to Nikki. A lot of people scoffed when I began reading to Nikki when she was just about three months old, but when I peek into her room now and see her little head bent in rapture over a book, and when we bond over the adventures of Silly Sally or Bubbles the Monkey at bedtime, I know that with books, it is never too early to begin (or for that matter, too late!).

Next on the list would be the family dinners my parents imposed on us when we were kids and whose value we realized only years later. Every evening, come hell or high water, or to be more apt, exam or new TV soap, all of us were required to show up at the dinner table to have the evening meal as a family. The television and phones were strictly off limits during this time and we were all required to participate in some dinnertime conversation. It was a simple, routine thing to do, something that we did every evening without really thinking too much about it, but when I look back now I realize that back then, no matter how much I overtly resented this intrusion into ‘my space’, subconsciously I looked forward to these dinners as a time when I could just switch off from the rest of the world and connect with my family, and those shared meals helped us grow closer.

And so in my own little family now I try and recreate those family dinners of yore by putting Nikki firmly into her highchair at the table and dragging the husband there as well, and insisting that all phones and the TV are turned off. It can get challenging at times with Nikki insisting on using the rotis to play Frisbee with and the husband twitching nervously with severe BlackBerry withdrawal symptoms, but we manage to emerge unscathed from most meals and feel only the better for the time spent together. As the years pass and Nikki grows older I hope we can use this time to strengthen the bond we share and practice the fine art of conversation and the finer art of listening.

Which brings me to the next item on my list; the art of listening- really listening, to other people and taking a genuine interest in their lives. I’ve met so many self obsessed people in the last few years that I can almost sense it when a person genuinely interested in others walks into a room. I’d like Nikki to be one of these few, increasingly rare, but precious people, something that I’m sure will go a long way in developing her personality and helping her forge real, lasting friendships.

And lastly, I’d like to teach Nikki the ability to be comfortable in and to enjoy her own company, because at the end of the day, no matter how large your circle of friends, you are alone with your own thoughts.

There are many other things I’d like to pass on to Nikki as well, and like every other parent if I had to list them all out I’d probably end up with a compendium in several parts. But if I had to list just a few, I would choose these. Little things yes, but things that will help build a rewarding childhood, filled with the simple pleasures of life, the way childhood should be.

What about you? What are the things from your own childhood that you would like to pass on to your children? And if your kids are all grown up already, what are the things you think you did well to pass on?

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing…

I was first introduced to the concept of summer camp for toddlers the summer my daughter turned two. I was blissfully day dreaming about the long, lazy summer days ahead on the last day of what had been quite a hectic school year (getting a two year old to preschool is no easy feat!) when I was accosted by another mum who was part of the mother toddler club that I attended with my daughter.

“So which summer camp are you signing up for?” she asked me urgently, while waving a few brochures that screamed ‘Summer Camp!’ in bold letters in my face.

“Eh?” I answered in my customary eloquent manner.

“Summer Camp!” she snapped impatiently “There are just a few days left before seats fill up everywhere. You have to act fast if you want to get in!”

“Really?” I was quite horrified “And you think this stuff is necessary for our kids? I mean, they’re only two!”

“Of course it’s necessary!” said the woman looking at me as if I was a particularly slow species of the human race “It’s an important part of their educational base! You don’t want your daughter losing out in the long run do you?”

I headed home suddenly feeling a lot less happy about the lazy summer vacation I had been looking forward to. What if that other mother was right? Maybe summer camp was an integral part of toddlers’ early education these days! After all, the times our kids are growing up in are very different from our own, relatively simpler childhoods. I took a few deep breaths and decided to tackle the summer camp issue in a calm and rational manner.

“We need to send Nikki to a summer camp!” I shrieked like a banshee the minute the husband walked in through the door that evening “It’s an important part of her educational base! She’ll lose out in the long run if we don’t enroll her right away!”

“What nonsense” said the husband without batting an eyelid, “There were no summer camps when we were kids and we turned out fine!”

“However,” he added quickly seeing that I was about to get into the wailing banshee mode again “You can always take a few trial classes and check them out. See how you and Nikki like them.”

And so a few days later, armed with all the research I had done on summer activities, I set out to attend a few trial classes with Nikki. I had identified a summer camp which had a variety of activities for toddlers, designed to hone their gross and fine motor skills, sensory abilities, cognitive behavior, speech development and every other skill a young person is supposed to be equipped with these days.

Our first stop was a yoga class for mothers and toddlers, which aimed at getting the tots introduced to fitness while the mothers improved their flexibility and mental well being. A matronly looking woman greeted us as we entered a room where a few mums and their babies were already perched on yoga mats.
“We will begin with some basic exercises” she announced “Please lie down on the floor and stretch out your arms and legs.”
I obediently lay down and stretched out my arms and legs as instructed. As I took a few deep breaths I felt a feeling of calm envelop me. This was brilliant; I would soon be relaxed and supple and I was introducing my daughter to the benefits of yoga at such a young age!
“We will now begin the deep breathing” the instructor called out “Please inhale deeply and exhale with an Ommmm”
I took a deep breath and began to exhale slowly “Ommm….OW! Owwwwwwwwwwwww!”
Nikki, seeing me lying prostrate on the ground with my arms akimbo, had assumed this was some sort of new game and had clambered up on me.
“Horsey horsey Mama?” she asked brightly and began bouncing up and down on my tummy like it was a particularly springy trampoline.
“Ommmmmmmm” said the instructor, quite oblivious to my predicament.
“Owwwwwww” I yelped in agony, desperately trying to get Nikki off.
I saw the instructor shoot me an irritated look from the corner of her eye. Thankfully the stretching exercise was over soon and we got ready for the next posture. This involved balancing on gym balls and doing some more stretching.
“Look Mama, beeeeeg ball! “ Nikki said delightedly and made a lunge at a bright red gym ball on which a plump woman was precariously balancing herself. I grabbed her in the nick of time and deciding that slip disc surgery would probably be the outcome if I tried any stunts on the ball with Nikki around, beat a hasty retreat.

Our next activity was art where I hoped we would fare better since Nikki enjoyed doodling. The room itself was lovely with a multitude of art and craft materials strewn around, and Nikki grabbed a handful of crayons delightedly and began scribbling away.
“Do you know how to draw a circle?” a teacher came up and enquired. Nikki obligingly drew a squiggle.
“No, let me show you” taking the crayon from Nikki, the teacher drew a perfect circle. “Let’s try a triangle now” she went on.
“I want to draw!” Nikki took another crayon and drew a few more squiggles.
“No, no, no!” the teacher looked vexed “That’s not a triangle!”
She tried taking the crayon from Nikki again who decided that enough was enough and began flinging the crayons on the floor like a missile bomber on a combat mission.
“That’s enough drawing for today Nikki! Maybe we should try something new!” I took Nikki out again and looked around for another activity. Music! Just the thing we needed to calm down. I walked into a room strewn with musical instruments where a few parents and babies sat in a semi circle around the teacher, a kindly looking elderly gentleman, who was explaining to the group that he would now introduce the kids to the concept of ‘sur’ and ‘taal’.

“Mama I don’t like this uncle!” Nikki announced.

The teacher took a deep breath and broke into a ‘sa re ga ma’. With near perfect precision Nikki threw her head back and burst into a loud howl matching him perfectly in pitch and crescendo. The elderly gentleman, now looking significantly less kindly, was beginning to give me pained looks so I gathered a bawling Nikki and headed out to the garden, dejected. I sat down on a clump of grass and contemplated the summer camp debacle. Beside me Nikki sighed contentedly.

“Mama, I so happy now.”

“What?” I gaped at my daughter. She hadn’t been remotely close to happy in the state of the art yoga class, art class or the music class and here she was sitting around, doing nothing and proclaiming great joy. “You’re happy Nikki? Why?”
Nikki gave me a look of infinite wisdom “I so happy Mama, because I do nothing.”
And I finally got it. It was all quite simple really, just the way my childhood had been, until I had tried to over complicate it with my own misplaced zeal and paranoia that my child would get ‘left behind’.

We didn’t sign up for any camp that summer, Nikki and I. Instead we spent a lot of time in the park, counting birds, chasing butterflies and watching the clouds make funny shapes in the sky. We pottered around at home in the kitchen and baked a cake. We went shopping for vegetables and fruits. We made up games and wove imaginary stories out of nothing. And when we got bored we thought of ways to amuse ourselves. It was a happy, contented summer. And at the end of it I really didn’t feel like Nikki had missed out anything or lost out on building her educational base. Because you learn a whole lot more when you are just doing nothing.

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Mum on the Block

In my pre-mommyhood days, what sometimes seems like a lifetime away now, I used to be a very different person. I was a driven career woman, climbing up the corporate ladder; laptop bag in my hand, stars in my eyes. I met deadlines, dealt with demanding bosses, thrived on coffee-fueled early morning meetings and late night presentations. On weekends, I enjoyed lazy lie-ins and luxuriated in bed with a book and the papers. I experimented with food and dined in exotic places. Long lazy brunches and quiet dinners during which I mulled over the little perplexities of life. I took pride in my appearance and indulged myself with lazy soaks in the tub and frequent trips to the salon. My clothes were impeccable, my hair shiny and blow dried. I went dancing and to the movies and the theatre when the whim struck me, curled up with a good book at home when I preferred a more mellow way to unwind. I travelled often, to far-flung exotic destinations, at times long trips, sometimes short ones, embarked on an impulse. They were rather nice, those pre-mommyhood days.

All that changed when my daughter first announced her appearance in my life with an ear splitting shriek. “Mother” that shriek seemed to say “I am here now. Get ready for your life to change. Big time.”

And change it did. I went from being the driven career woman to perpetually harried first time mother, grappling with the new found challenges of motherhood. The laptop bag was replaced with the diaper bag. The stars in the eyes remained, but they were borne more often than not of a sleep induced haze. Coffee continued to be my best friend. Except it wasn’t to handle deadlines and meetings anymore, it was to keep up with a sleepless infant. Lazy lie-ins became a thing of the past. The child arose each morning at 5.30am sharp. Except weekends of course, when it was 4.30am sharp. My appearance now was the last thing on my mind. I was usually just grateful on the days when I made it to the shower. I had cereal in my hair. The lazy soaks in the tub were quickly replaced with two minute dashes in and out of the shower, in the middle of many of which I often emerged dripping wet with my heart in my mouth because the child had let out a blood curdling yell (which as it turned out was because she was just imitating ‘Oliver the Monkey’ on television). I still danced, but only while entertaining the child at mealtimes. Mealtimes themselves were quick shove-the-food-down-the-gullet affairs for me, and more elaborate ones for the child, stretching on for hours while she mulled over the little perplexities of life and I mulled over what I would serve for the next meal that she might eat faster. I rarely went to the movies anymore and the few times that I did, it almost felt like a surreal, magical experience and I felt like a child at the candy store looking at all that Pepsi and popcorn. I still travelled but only to child friendly places and with luggage enough to make people wonder if I was considering a permanent move to a different planet. Naturally, ninety nine percent was the child’s luggage.

And yet, in spite of all these changes, I was the happiest I had ever been now than before my daughter was born. Motherhood is a transformative experience. It was for me. The most life changing, gut wrenching, overwhelming experience of my life. Yes it is tough and challenging and oftentimes frustrating. But it is also hugely rewarding and satisfying and capable of filling you with a fizzy, warm happiness that touches your soul. Those little arms wrapped around you, that little head trustingly resting on your shoulder and that little voice that says “I love you Mama”. The eager little eyes that search for you in a crowd and, when they find yours, the way that little face lights up with radiant joy. The discovery each day, of a new wonder, seen through those innocent, hopeful eyes, something you would never have caught with your own jaded and cynical ones. The experience of watching that tiny bundle you got home from the hospital grow up, the gradual shaping of that little personality, the understanding of what unconditional love means.

Yes I do think of my pre-mommyhood days sometimes. I even miss little bits of them. But I wouldn’t want to trade my mommy days for anything in the world; not even the ones where I have cereal in my hair. For I know that nothing can compare with being my daughter’s mother.

Join me then, dear reader, as I walk through first time motherhood with my daughter, sometime stumbling, sometimes waltzing along. For all the parents out there, especially the mothers - new mothers and old ones, mothers to be, those who’d like to be mums someday, those who value their own relationships with their mums, and those who like a good laugh. This column will take a tongue- in-cheek look at everything that has anything to do with mommyhood. And about being a mum in Pune. And also a little bit of life on the side as I see it. Until the next column, then.

Originally written for "The Punekar"

Manasi Vaidya, Author of "No Deadline For Love"
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