It’s not that I don’t like my job, I do, most days at least. But of late, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s coming between me and my life. I want to do those things they talk about in pretty pictures with quotes — about how we need to stop and exhale, and see the flowers, and feel the wind and get wet in the rain… But there’s no time. No time to stop and breathe in. To say, today is a beautiful day. To think how the grass looks greener today because it’s rained, to watch the sky turn orange and red, and grey at sunset.
Forget all that. There’s no time for a bloody pedicure in a week of 7 days, month of 31. No, not one day in a quarter of a year for a pedicure. There’s no time to get a massage in a fortnight full of backaches. Or ever before that. I see those white strands of hair every time I comb my hair — they’re right in the front, near where I part my hair. There’s no time to even think if I want visible grey in my hair right now or not.
I wonder if this work is coming between me and my life. I have no time to do the things I want to do — to read, to write, and sleep, and do it all on one day. I want to cook, for my baby. I want to watch movies too. I just want to watch TV. I want to put my legs up and maybe just watch a movie on the TV. Why can’t I just do that?
I have a zillion plans in my head, all of them need time, that I do not have. I live each day like I’m on a short fuse. Actually, my days are on short fuse, they just blink out before I can fit everything I want into them. I’m meeting deadlines every single minute of the day. And nothing gets done which doesn’t need to be done before the deadline. What kind of a living is this?
Of all the things I want to do, I want to do nothing the most. You know, nothing at all. I want to empty my head out, and make space in it for some things new.
There has to be time for something new.
Yes, this is the same man I live with. This is the man I’ve been married to for close to 10 years. This is the man I’ve known since 1997. So why would I write a post about just 12 hours with him? Because they were 12 hours of just him and me, and nobody. In the last 21 months, that’s a first!
So it was a day trip to Delhi — we’d taken a flight on Sunday morning from Lucknow, and were back that evening. We went without the little one. The last time I had to go to Delhi for some office work in March, I had insisted that Arjun come with me. And had tagged The Guy along to babysit him while I was at work for a couple of hours. The Guy tried to tell me I could make a round-trip on the same day, since the Lucknow-Delhi flight is just 50-minutes long. But I was petrified that I might not be able to come back in time to be with my baby before he goes to sleep (I always put him to sleep, how will he sleep without me?). What if my flight back from Delhi gets cancelled, I had argued like only a mother in distress can. My family had given in, smiled through the unreasonableness of my argument, and played along. But this time, I gave in. This was also a work related trip, except that this work involved both of us — The Guy and me. So, no one would be there to babysit him, and everyone knows that getting work done with a restless toddler isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I had butterflies in my stomach about leaving him behind, but what must be done, must be done. Also, in the last four months, we’ve grown up just enough as mommy and son to know that we can stay without each other for 12 hours. So, I planned his day so that he would be at Nani’s place for half the time that I was away, and back home for the other half.
I woke up my son before leaving, said goodbye to him, and took off.
It was like being on a date. We talked, we joked, we teased each other, and laughed. We ate together. I don’t think he has any idea how much it meant to me.
I realised some time on the trip that I had been missing this, that between answering the urgent, persistent calls for “Mamma!” and the tugging at my hair for attention, and the sealing of my lips with his as I open them to say something to someone else (yes, my I’m-in-love-with-mommy son does this), The Guy and I have lost the space for conversations. Usually, we don’t even realise we miss it, we’re so immersed in parenthood.
But you can go out for date nights. We do, but it’s just not the same, we don’t perhaps call them date nights, they’re just dinners out. But they’re always hurried, we both tend to rush through our meals, and have so much else on our minds, we cannot relax enough.
But you can talk after your son’s slept. Yes, we can. Except that the whole task of making a toddler unwind and go to sleep is so laborious, I end up asleep by the end of it myself. There’s no time to talk.
And for those reasons, I found this half-day reprieve from everyone was a God-sent. Even in London, we were with family, never alone. And needless to say, it’s not the same. As much as I love to be with my bachcha, I wish they were more days like this.
PART 1: THE TODDLER TALES
I cannot think or surmise my trip to London without enough emphasis on what it is to travel with a toddler. Yes, this was Arjun’s first overseas trip (but not his first trip, that he undertook when he was 18 weeks old in my womb…), and though there was enough discouragement to travel all the way to London with a kid who will remember nothing of the trip, I wasn’t discouraged enough. For, one, I don’t think everything we do for kids is so that they remember it, and two, because I refused to go for another time to some pretty place in Asia that I did not want to go to in the first place, just because my baby isn’t old enough to make travelling easy for me. So, London it was!
An 8-hour flight, and 24 hours of non-stop travelling from home to holiday destination were only made easy by the company of both the grannies — Nani and Dadi, and Bua, apart from The Guy, of course. But lesson learnt: on trips out of town, there’s no substitute for Mamma. Mamma to carry around the baby, Mamma to feed, bathe, clean, Mamma to hug and Mamma to sleep with. Phew! You know, I need another holiday. But here’s what you should also know: that’s what I chose. I’m not leaving my little munchkin behind to go on a holiday till any such time as the little munchkin is really ready for it. I could do with a lot less travel, but no less than my complete bundle of joy.
So, what’s it like travelling to London with a toddler? Well, quite like what it is travelling to any place with a toddler. The child will eat, poop, sleep, laugh/cry when he wants to, whether you’re at the London Eye, or the expansive Westfield Mall; just be thankful there are diaper changing stations in close proximity to every place, and that the child can doze off in his stroller when he wants to. It’s a child-friendly place, extremely stroller friendly too, made even easier by friendly passers-by who will offer you a hand when you come to stairs that you want to carry your strapped-in-the-stroller-baby across. Of course, it is quite another matter that for the first 5 days of our trip, we had no stroller for Arjun because the airlines we were flying never put it on the aircraft from Delhi to London! So, for those five days, Mamma’s arms became accustomed to carrying the rather petite child over long walks across streets, parks, underground stations. Like the one across Green Park, while getting to Buckingham Palace from the tube. Or from the tube to our apartment (yes, we preferred an apartment over a hotel so that the little one could get his fav foods even in London).
We had to face all of one meltdown in 8 days, right in the middle of Bicester Village, and it lasted no less than an hour. But once we discovered the teddy bear cake and the play area around, things were so much better.
Yes, there was a lot we could not do because we had a 20-month-old in tow — like catch a musical, watch a play at the Globe Theatre, go for the opera, or just take in the night life, or clicking enough pictures (yes, that I really, really missed doing) — but like I’ve been saying, this is just my first trip to London. And anyway, 8 days there are just not enough to see everything and do everything. So, no regrets.
PART 2: THE ADULT EXPERIENCE
I love big cities. Unlike a lot of people who’re settled in smaller cities like Lucknow for good, I do not miss the comfort of knowing every street and every face on the street that Lucknow is for me. I love that in places like London, I can cease to be me. I can be anyone, just anyone at all. I’m not D. I like the anonymity that a big city affords you, the freedom that comes with losing your identity. I love that I don’t need to be this or that, I am part of a crowd. When I go to places like these, I ask myself why it is that I do not live there. Because I’d love to. It’s where my heart belongs.
A lot of Lucknow happened to be in London this summer, and we actually caught up with friends from here in London. But no, that’s not what I like to do on my holidays. I like to get lost on my travels, and to hibernate, so that I can come back with renewed energy.
But that’s not about London. That’s about me. The city is everything you’ve ever heard about it. It’s also everything you want it to be. I wish I knew better what I wanted more — to take in the sights and sounds of the place, which I partly did on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour, or to indulge in London shopping, which also I did at Oxford Street; whether I wanted to savour the local flavours, like I did at the Camden Market, more than to be the busy tourist, as I was at the Town Bridge Museum, where the MIL really wanted to go to see the Koh-i-noor, or the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum…
But between all those things, we walked around a great deal. I came home with blisters on my feet, even though I’d taken my best walking shoes. And my best walking shoes were no match in prettiness to the high-heels and ballerinas that the well-turned out Londoners were sporting. Yes, it’s a well-dressed city. So, even if someone’s wearing a bohemian look, they’re doing it in style. I mean, the girls almost always had their eyes done up, and they almost always were accessorised well. I miss that too where I live — having enough inspiration to get dressed up everyday. I’d love to, except that I feel like there’s no one really to notice it when I get into my car at home and get off 7 minutes later at work. And it’s not half as much fun to be all dressed up till someone sends you an appreciative glance.
Did I dress up in London? In the mornings, yes. By evening though, I didn’t care or know what I was looking like. I was just a trying-to-get-everything-done-in-a-day tourist then, who wanted to eat fish & chips every other day. We did, however, try other cuisines — from Lebanese and Vietnamese, to Italian, Indian and Chinese. And I think the Indian restaurant we went to on Bloomsbury Road was the worst, for serving moong ki dal for Dal Tadka! Utter nonsense!
PART 3: THE SHOPAHOLIC’S CITY
We were told don’t think too much about shopping in London, it’s very expensive. It is, considering that the pound to rupee rate was 1:91! But sales make the world just a tad better than otherwise. And we shopped like crazy. The Guy, not much of a shopper usually, had a field day at Harrod’s, shopping for perfumes; I’ve stocked up on Arjun’s wardrobe for I think a year, apart from getting him sundry books and toys from Hamley’s and John Lewis; I loved browsing through the tourist curios’ shops, and got one of those tea-leaves-in-interesting-tin-jars that you get in London. I also loved the Cath Kidston stores, and thank god I don’t have a girl, or I would have bought the whole shop for her!
Oh, the shopping subhead could be a whole post, in terms of what all I loved. But honestly, I’d hoped to shop a little more than I did, and I really want to go back, to pick up a few things that I should’ve.
Actually, I just want to go back. I’m not really enjoying too much this London-to-Lucknow transition. I want to be in a place which is big and beautiful like London was. I can’t wait to go back.
PS: I thought I’d do the pictures with this post, but that’s not happening because I write on a different computer, and the pics are on a different laptop. So pics later, ok?
My 20-month-old still just babbles, doesn’t speak much except a little bit of Mamma, Dada, Bua, Tata (for Papa), Didi, flawa (which is for flower) and lizza, for his favourite thing in the world — lizards! He also says, aao (come in Hindi), when he wants to call any of us. But I’m not here to bore you with my boy’s developmental stories (though as a mother, I think they’re far from boring!). I’m here to discuss one of those mothering dilemmas that come with our times. Should I tell my boy that the tree in the garden is a mango tree or an aam ka ped? Should I ask him if he’d like some cucumber or kheera? Would he like some milkie or doodhoo?
I’m essentially a bilingual now. Not by birth, but by education. My mother tongue is Hindi, so is my husband’s. And Hindi is still the language spoken at home. I take pride in the fact that I know my Devnagri as well as the English alphabet, though like everyone else from this part of the world, my Hindi is liberally peppered with Urdu. I also feel there’s nothing bright about not knowing your native tongue, given the right context. It’s quite another matter that years of English education has conditioned me to think in a language that wasn’t the first I spoke.
So where was I? Yes, about whether I should teach my son to say grass or ghaas, corn or bhutta… I have friends and cousins living in metros who converse with their children entirely in English, because that’s the language they also use to communicate with each other, and since there’s no one else at home, they feel no need to resort to Hindi, except while speaking to the helpers in the house. I’ve met those kids, and honestly, I’m mighty impressed at how they speak such good English at 3, 4, or 5 years! It’s the language of the educated in our country, and like any ordinary Indian still reeling under the belated effects of the Raj, my first reaction is to hope my son’s not going to look like an idiot for babbling in Hindi. But thankfully, I also know better than to let first reactions decide what’s right and not for us. And here’s what I have decided: I’m not going to keep him away from knowing his mother tongue before he learns cat-bat-mat. I understand that I come from a culture that’s perishing in neglect, because we’ve not done enough to preserve it. But culture isn’t just about heritage buildings and folk songs. It’s so much about language. I have had the chance to meet a fair number of really successful people from UP, who’ve made it big in the entertainment world by the sheer dint of their language skills — the enunciation, the vocabulary, the diction, which still retains a certain degree of purity. It’s the kind of Hindi/Urdu that Mumbaikars can never speak. Why is that a skill I must not pass on to my son? I’m not saying he’d go on to be a wordsmith of Hindi, or a singer, but it’s something he will take with him from the place he was born in.
I come from a completely Hindi speaking family, and I think my English speaking and writing skills are more than adequate. Yes, perhaps I wasn’t speaking fluent English when I was 4, 0r 5, or even 8. But it’s not a survival skill my life depended on. So, there’s no reason why my boy will not pick up another language, along with Hindi. And I understand children this young can pick up more than one language pretty well. But I don’t want him to be grappling for the right tenses in Hindi, and the correct syntax, and the proper word for an object, while he rattles off English without any problems. I just want him to take a little bit of his culture with him in the way he speaks. I like that idea.
Browsing through the perfumes section at Harrod’s in London, I chanced upon this fragrance called the Nawab of Oudh.
We don’t even have an itr that’s named after the nawabs, and a perfume in London named after one? I was happy like only tourists can be to find a trace of home in a foreign destination.
Of course, the efficient sales guy quickly caught on to my enthusiasm, and asked if I was interested in the perfume. I said I was, not just the way he thought I would be.
“I belong to this place,” I said, pointing to the perfume bottle.
“Really? Is that what the Nawab of Oudh smells like?” he asked, offering the bottle to me. He wasn’t joking, he honestly wanted to know.
I inhaled the perfume, it was a strong, pungent smell, nothing I would ever buy. “I don’t know, I’ve never smelt one,” I said, smiling at the prospect of smelling a Nawab of Oudh! I’ve read about the clothes and jewellery the nawabs wore, and the food they ate, and the lives they lived, but somehow, I don’t remember reading anything in particular about the perfumes they wore. Or did he mean, what a Nawab of Oudh just smelled like without any perfume?
“I’m just excited this perfume is named after the place I belong to!” I simply replied.
“So, you’re from Nawauuub?” he drawled.
“No, I’m from Oudh,” I said, even more amused now.
“Oh, ok,” he said, “Where is this place?”
“It’s in India, near Delhi, it’s called Lucknow now,” I proceeded to explain, “The nawabs are the erstwhile royalty of the place.”
“Oh! I thought Oudh was a tree…a dying tree, and the Nawab of Oudh was the fragrance of the tree!”
I looked at him incredulously this time, waved an arm, shook my head, and said in my best English accent, “Never mind!” and moved on, still smiling!
PS: Yes, we went to London. Yes, I will blog more about that later
For the longest time in my life, I’ve lived life in the fast lane. There was never a dull moment, so to say, and I kept myself consciously engaged in so many things that left so little time for me to be alone. I was a visitor in my own home, I loved being out so much then! The Guy and I were the ones making plans with friends, for movies, dinners, late nights… We were society’s ‘it’ couple, at some point I think.
But in the last two years, it’s been a different story. I’ve learnt to slow down, breathe in, exhale, and live life at my own pace. My new pace. Because the life in the fast lane was also a pace I’d set for myself.
This new life that I’m living at breathable speed is probably the stuff that would classify it as boring. And by my own admission, it’s the kind of life I hadn’t imagined I’d be happy living. Yes, it’s taken some getting-used-to, but now that I know that this space I’m inhabiting, and the way I’m doing it, it’s where I am meant to be right now, I feel so much at peace. I no longer want to be at ten places at the same time, I’m okay saying no to doing things I don’t want to do, I’m okay, in fact, doing nothing. To me, it’s the most evolved I have been at enjoying my personal space.
Some of you who’ve followed my blog in my hey days might remember my tales of partying, dressing up, and partying some more, of ‘living it up’, travelling, burning the midnight oil when it came to work. Now, I cuddle my baby and hit the bed at 10pm, wake up to his smile and the sweetest ‘Mamma’ ever said, and just go about my day doing things as they come. Yes, there are days when the baby work is just too much, and getting to office is so much hard labour, and there’s the mad morning rush to do all the chores that need to be done before I step out for work. Perhaps, those days make me cherish even more the ‘doing nothing’ — periods of quiet and calm, when I can just sit and watch my son toddle away, busy at his ingenuous games, chasing lizards, running after his ping pong balls, pushing his fruit cart around, and hold him in a tight hug when he remembers in the middle of all his playing, that he needs to smell and feel the warmth of mamma. Pray, tell me, why would I want to do anything else?
Earlier, I would be loathe to spend a Sunday just being home. Yesterday, I revelled in the feeling. I curled up on our lazy boy, and watched Hindi films on the TV from middle to end, and that’s it! No movie outing, coffee, dinner, nothing even remotely interesting.
I understand that this transition is everything to do with having a baby. But I’ve seen unhappy parents, mothers who feel too tied down, restrained, bored with their lives, for whom it’s a half-hearted choice. I’m just thankful I’m not in their shoes. Probably because we’ve been there, done that, there’s more reason to enjoy this and now. But I also think that this isn’t just about having a baby. I think I’m just happy I know how to be happy without attaching it to a hundred things outside of me.
There are people who would like me to believe I’m losing the plot, that I must get back to a ‘normal’ life now that my son is 1.5 years old. To them I want to say: