Friday, September 23, 2016

The Politics of Motherhood

Amidst all the different kinds of politics that exist in our society, there is one distinct category of politics which is never really probed into- mom politics. I really don't know if any kind of literature exists on this, but my two years of motherhood, and being acquainted with many different kinds of mothers, have given me a strange insight into this phenomenon.

What exactly is mom politics? It is essentially moms trying to engage in a game of one-upmanship, passing judgements on the kind of mother the other person is, and often trying to force their parenting styles on the other. I am a part of several moms groups on Facebook, which exist for the purpose of connecting different mothers, and providing a forum for discussion and seeking advice. To put mildly, in my humble opinion, it is nothing but a platform for mothers to pass heavy judgements, often engaging in severe arguments. Don't get me wrong, they can be really helpful too- I got the details of my son's current pediatrician from one of these groups. But apart from a few instances, these groups are no less than an online battlefield.

When does this politics really begin, in the lifespan of a mother? Based on my personal experiences, I am 100% sure that this has an evolutionary basis. It must be something which is passed on in our collective unconscious (Jungian psychology at its best). This conclusion is purely on the basis of my personal experiences, but I am sure everyone has a similar tale to tell.

I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy (save a manic case of morning sickness and nausea which lasted about 5 months) and since I was pretty physically active during those days, I always assumed I would have a normal delivery, to the extent that I never bothered to read or gather any information regarding C-Sections. Cut to the date my son was born- due to abnormal BP levels, my doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-sec. On hearing this, I started howling at the hospital, and told my mother how my BP wasn't my fault and I don't know why this has to happen to me. Looking back, I see that a strange sense of guilt had overpowered me at that time, and I felt the need to justify that I had to opt for an "unnatural" method of delivering my child. To end this story, I had a very uneventful surgery, and my baby and I emerged absolutely healthy from the episode. What is the politics here you might ask? It is in the brouhaha that followed, from all kinds of people, women predominantly who heard that I had a C-Sec. The essence of the reactions was essentially "Oh my god- what sacrilege!". It is absolutely amusing that these reactions are evoked even today, when I discuss the story of my son's birth. The C-Sec moms sympathize and the natural delivery moms just smirk. I can almost hear them gloat. I appreciate women who have delivered their children naturally, I really do. Labour pain is something which I can only imagine, and I also know that the healing process for the mother is much easier and faster- it is called natural for a reason. But just because you didn't have a health issue, and were able to deliver naturally, really doesn't make you any kind of an expert in what I should or shouldn't have done to ensure that I didn't go for a C-Sec. And in the end, it really doesn't matter. I am healthy, my child is healthy, and that is all that is important.

A similar story regarding breastfeeding. Since I had a C-Sec, I had a harrowing time with the process of breastfeeding initially, because apparently in such cases it takes upto 72 hours for the body to understand that the child has been born and milk production needs to begin. So those initial days were terrible- because mothers around me expected me to be a natural, and I wasn't. It took me about a week to really get into the groove and I am really proud of the fact that my son was breastfed till 10 months, and he weaned himself off. It was also possible because my doctors were awesome, my mother and my husband were absolute rockstars in terms of providing me with the support which is required. As easy and natural as the whole process seems, you need an excellent support system to really nail the thing. But that is besides the point. The point is, that some mothers are not able to breastfeed, or just don't want to. And there is absolutely no reason for the world to make them feel inferior. An acquaintance of mine called me within a month of childbirth (she had delivered her baby around the same time) and I remember she asking me what formula milk I use. I told her I breastfeed and she, very honestly, told me that she is not able to. I remember asking her twice, very forcefully I might add, "But why? It's tough at first but you need to persist". And she repeatedly said she couldn't. I am sure she hated me at that time, for not being empathetic. On my part, I feel I said that because I had heard a similar thing from another new mother, and was very influenced by her entire rant on how I MUST breastfeed. And I somehow probably felt that because I was following it, everyone else should, and could, as well. (One tight slap to me-from-2014.)

Having gone past this whole phase, I often feel like shaking people and telling them that no one cares. When we human beings go out in the world, our successes and failures are not dependent on how we were born. No employer ever asks whether a recruit was born via C-Sec or forceps or normal delivery, or whether their mother breastfed them or gave them formula milk. What does matter is how we raise our children. Whether they are good human beings and whether they have healthy lifestyles. Whether they are kind, and helpful. Whether they have a positive impact on the people and places around them.

I don't expect men to understand this. I often find it rather silly when men pass comments and judgements on a woman's mode of delivering her baby or her choices - really, just shut up! But the fact that women, mothers, judge other mothers is quite saddening.

It is rather disappointing that mothers (me included), instead of sticking out for each other, and helping each other out, always end up engaged in some kind of a competition. The underlying theme is always "My style is better than yours", "My child is better than yours". I have friends who are new to motherhood like me, and one thing which is common in all of us, is that we all have a tendency to prove that we are good mothers. This validation, leads us to constantly compare and evaluate other mothers, and coming to the conclusion that we are the best. The working mothers think they are awesome because they manage to balance work/home/family. The stay at home mothers think they are awesome because they have given up careers and professional lives to raise their children. I am somewhere in the middle, and I know that both are really tough. And instead of passing judgements on a mother's choices, we must understand that motherhood, or rather the 'kind' of motherhood, is a life choice. We choose our paths of motherhood, and the choices we make in this path are the best that we do given our circumstances. Whether we send our children to day care, or leave them at home with grandparents and/or maids, or stay at home and take care of them- it's a life choice. Like the subjects we studied, the people we marry, the friends we make. There is absolutely no need to shame a mother, because frankly, a mother has enough guilt of her own to deal with.

A close friend, whose child is the same age as mine, once called me and asked me what I give my child to eat the entire day. After I narrated the entire day's worth of meals, she heaved a sigh of relief and said "I do more or less the same! I thought since you're at home and I work, there must be some difference". Something about that conversation stayed with me. The seemingly inconsequent questions on whether your child is potty trained, or bottle fed, or when he/she is starting school, and how much he/she talks- all end up being a process of proving the success of our motherhood, and in this journey of proving our self worth, we often say hurtful things to other mothers.

What is so important to understand is that a mother struggles every day to prove to herself and the world that she is doing the best she can. And most mothers, are doing a really good job. Their methods, their parenting styles, their concerns might be varied, but they all want to raise healthy and good children.

The struggle to be a good mother is lifelong. I know I will face dozens of such situations when my child starts school, and in the future. I cannot reiterate enough that being a mother is physically and emotionally extremely exhausting and the least that mothers can do, is to be nice to fellow mothers.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

When words aren't enough

I don't remember when it was that we actually became so close. I don't remember when I shifted from calling you by your name, to calling you Didi. Maybe it was when my laptop had to be given to the service center, and I started using your pretty gold coloured WAIO. You ended up reading my poems/writings, and discussing them with me. Or when you developed a ritual of putting me to sleep by putting on "Do Naina Aur Ek Kahani", when I would complain that I can't sleep with the tubelight on. Or when my bed broke, you put your bed aside, cleaned the room with a jhaadu, and exclaimed that we would both sleep on the floor.

We didn't meet for a few years after you graduated and left Room 103. But we always spoke, always knew about each others lives. We definitely got closer when you got married. Somehow, the fact that you married someone from my community, brought us infinitely closer. The fact that now you somehow understood the whole context of which I was a part of, cemented our friendship in a funny way. I was going through our chats the other day, and realized that the first conversation where you told me you were dating V, was also the first time I mentioned about AV to you, by saying that a friend of mine was trying to set me up with a friend of hers. So funny na?
My cousin got engaged the day you got married, and I couldn't make it for the wedding. I visited Bombay a few months after your wedding, and you came all the way from Matunga to Bandra to pick me up for breakfast, and then dropped me back to Bandra. You also gave me a supremely pretty suit, which I wore when AV's family came to my house for the first time. You told me that you were honoured that I chose your suit for such a momentous day.
You wrote me a beautiful letter when I got engaged. And I remember meeting you in Bombay soon after and you insisted on meeting AV. "Main tujhse nahin usse milne aayi hun". You couldn't come for my wedding, and it was an ongoing joke between you and me that it was just so you could take revenge for me not being there at your wedding. But I knew your reasons.
One of the reasons I have the best memories of my time in Bombay is because of you. How you used to turn up randomly and AV would open up his Pandoras box of complaints about me. How you used to support me, unconditionally, every time. Your "Tum log kitna zyaada khaana order karte ho!" Those two months of mine at work were so awesome. I remember when my seat was allotted diagonal to yours, and your boss exclaimed "Well I don't see Ankita being very productive for the next two months" How we chatted all day, every day. The day you came to my house to take a bath, because there was no water at your place, and I made breakfast for you. You are the only one, apart from my family, to be subjected to my cooking.
You were the only one who knew that I 'might' be pregnant, apart from AV and me. And you told me that you have a good feeling about this, and how I will be your Ankita Didi this one time. I remember telling you that this pregnancy thing is unnerving because I don't have any "Ankita Didi said this" to base my life on. I travelled to Bombay in the 4th month of my pregnancy for AV's office party, and I remember a friend mentioning "Tu sirf Ankita Didi se milne jaa rahi hai na?!" You spent practically a whole day with me, and then came to meet me for 10 minutes to Phoenix. We also had breakfast at Matunga just before our flight...remember?! Then you came to meet me in my parental home, when I was 7 months pregnant. That was the last time I saw you. I wish I had taken a picture, I don't know why I didnt.

You always used to say you felt a special connection with Surya. You had a beautiful handmade sweater set sent for him soon after he was born. The gifts you got for him from Canada, reached him exactly on his first bday. You were waiting to meet him, and would often ask me how he would differentiate between the two Anki Maasis. I kept telling you that we will figure out a way.
I was heartbroken when you told me about the cancer. And I was waiting to meet you. I almost met you in November, but plans got changed. December was planned. And awaited. I told you our plans a week before, and told you that even though things seemed so packed, I will meet you. You replied "I hope we meet". I don't know why you said it. You shouldn't have used 'hope'.
Out of all the clothes Surya has, I ended up choosing your birthday gift to him, the day you died. Looking back, it was a funny decision. Usually, I make him wear someone's gift when we meet that someone. I kept mentioning to everyone that you had sent it for him. I remember my mom saying that I should take a picture and send it to you, and I said you already have a picture of him in that outfit. But I wish I had listened to my mom. Maybe it would have been one of the last things you saw. Maybe we would have had a last conversation.

Those moments leading up to the news of your death are vivid. I was bang in the middle of a family reunion, laughing with my aunts and cousins one minute. And then saw that there were 3 missed calls from a Bombay number. I never return missed calls, but this one I did. The moment V said hello, I knew there was bad news. I hoped against hope that it wasn't the worst. It was. I remember asking him a series of questions. Looking back, I don't know how I managed to speak with such coherence. But the minute the call ended, I crashed. My heart was broken and my world had literally shattered. No one even tried to console me, because they knew how terrible this whole news was. They knew nothing they could say would make it okay. I had to put on a tough and happy exterior though. I had a baby to take care of. I had a family event to attend, people to socialize with. I couldn't look morose. But I cried my heart out in the cab on the way to the airport. I allowed myself that.
As per our plan, I went to your house on reaching Bombay. But you weren't there. Your picture was. The picture from your brother's wedding- I recognized it. Your family was there. We all recognized each other from the millions of stories you had shared. But there was nothing to say, not even tears to shed. I had nothing to say to V, who I had always met before in very pleasant circumstances. We hugged and held each other for 5 minutes, trying to share the grief, trying to understand the unspoken words. I looked around at the apartment, imagining the situation which was supposed to happen in those very hours. I imagined me visiting with AV and Surya. I imagined you holding S, and him taking to you and you exclaiming "Wunjoo I can't believe you are a mommy". I couldn't believe how 24 hours had changed everything.

I spoke to so many of our common friends about your death. Some, who knew your story. Others, who had no idea. To most, I was a messenger. They wanted information, the how, the why. With the others, I tried to piece together this whole ordeal. I made an unlikely bond with your BFF from college. We had barely spoken all these years, and here we were, talking for hours, trying to deal with this unimaginable shared grief of ours. We shared stories about you, and laughed at silly things. It helped a bit, because while we didn't know who the other person was/is, we knew who you were and what you meant to us. And that was enough to deal with this sadness.

I never realized how much a part of my life you were, or rather, still are. Small, inconsequential things remind me of you. I say your name unconsciously while narrating random stories. I don't know what to do with the truckloads of memories I have of you. It's like I need to do justice to those, put them somewhere for safekeeping, but there's no place big enough to keep them all.

Your death has changed my soul forever. Every time I feel like throwing a tantrum, your face flashes before my eyes, and I calm down. I feel like doing everything that comes my way, seizing every opportunity, perhaps because I feel like I have to live your share of life too. You would have definitely found it funny.

To say I miss you is the most meaningless statement ever. Maybe "I think of you so much" does more justice. I think of you everyday. In my happy moments, my sad ones, those moments before I sleep at night, my moments of doubt. I miss you most when I need Didi-level advice. And then I imagine what you would have said or reacted. The one thing I cannot wrap my head around is how I missed you by a day. How you never met Surya.

I still cannot believe you are not around. That I will never ever see you or hear your voice, or take a picture with you. I think its for the best. Because on the days when I believe your death, my life comes to a standstill, and the sadness is too much to handle.  

Most people who know me, told me to write, to deal with your death. I did write, but fragments. I wrote a piece about breast cancer for work, and a blog about the earrings which you made Alisha buy for me as a farewell gift. But nothing which captured the essence of my grief.

Maybe this does. I don't know. But I hope you read this Didi, wherever you are. There will never ever be another one like you in my life. And I hope you know just what you have been and will continue to be.

Love lots.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Navigating through the Delhi roads!

An old post dug out from the drafts!

People who have interacted me on a somewhat deeper level than "hey whats up?" would know that if there was such a term as "geographically challenged", i would be the human representation of it. Its something which I openly admit to, and am not in the least apologetic about- I am horrible with directions...and while my other sense are pretty intact (yes common sense included!), my road sense has been deep in slumber since birth.

So its really no wonder that I wasn't exactly most enthusiastic about learning how to drive and getting a license. Most of my friends/acquaintances celebrated their 18th birthdays by getting a permanent driver's license. On my 18th, i had just started to figure my way around Delhi. Since then, a small group of people had been pestering me to learn this so-called art of driving, and get my license. I had a million excuses ready- "I don't have a car, so its not like the license will be of much use" "I stay in a hostel, i don't need a license" "i LOVE delhi's public transport!" (i do really!) and of course, the trump card "Do you NOT know how horrible I am with directions? I mean i get lost inside my own colony!" Funnily, the majority of the people in my life never pestered me too much about this whole thing- i guess people know me too well :)

However, things changed. One summer evening in July, I decided that i had to know how to drive. Kids younger than me, wayyyy younger than me, were navigating through delhi roads...i mean its insulting right? Thus began the driving classes- official and un-official. The official ones, with the driving school were a bit of a joke. It was during the unofficial ones, with the father, that (to use a phrase which has to be in hindi!) aate daal ka bhaav pata chala! The first day of driving, I promptly announced to one and all that I would much rather do a million dissertations than drive- yes i am melodramatic like that!

Yesterday was my maiden drive on the scary roads of Delhi allbymyself. Yes- There was no father, no brother, no one who would tell me to slow down, give the indicator, lower my speed, go right/left/wherever. I was on my own. I was the driver and the navigator
It was the scariest experience of my life. I wasnt this scared when i drove for the very first time. Or when the father took us on the ring road when we hadnt even got our learner's license. Or when he asked me to drive through naraina during peak hour and the mother was mortified, and prayed to all the gods known to mankind till we made it back home. I don't think i have ever experienced true fear like I did yesterday. For a second, I considered taking the metro instead- i mean who am i kidding? I was definitely NOT born to drive...why do i even try? Thank god I don't take myself seriously most of the time ;)
My maiden drive was horrible. I mean i drove my worst. Not unsafe driving, but just sheer horrible driving. But it was extremely rite-of-passagey, and i felt very very proud of myself; i urge all of you to be proud of me as well ;)

No i haven't changed drastically. I am still geographically challenged- it is no co-incidence that i only drive to places the directions to which have been permanently ingrained in my brain. I would still be a thousand times more comfortable at the idea of taking an auto or the metro. But I can drive! And it has given me a completely new perspective to Delhi roads- the world is a very different place behind that steering wheel. I hate pedestrians when I am driving (i think driver-me would have long killed pedestrian-me had they shared a road). I hate those auto-type/van type/three-wheeler things (i had never really noticed them before). I hate DTC buses and cycle rickshaws (such conflict inside my head!). I hate trucks (ya those I always wasnt too fond of). I swear a LOT inside my head (!) I hate people staring at me when I am driving- yes i am a girl. yes i drive horrible. yes the engine goes off. yes i have a problem parking, and taking the car out of the parking. what is YOUR problem? overtake my car, and GO.

I don't know how comfortable i will be with this whole driving thing in the future. There's a high possibility that I might give it up, just like that. But for now, let me bask in this glory :)
And thus endeth the saga of my journey from geographically challenged public transport loving girl, to geographically challenged public transport loving girl who learnt how to drive and navigate!

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

A book with a lasting impact

A teacher recommends three books in her class. The students take turns borrowing the books and share notes.

“So how was bitter chocolate?”

“Umm, depressing yet amazing…very well written…you should definitely read it.”

So I get the book and start reading it. The book begins with an author’s note which churns my stomach. Ok, its ok, just a book, I tell myself. Except that no one told me that it’s not JUST a book. Bitter chocolate is an experience, albeit a traumatic one at that, which makes your mind go totally haywire, and has a lasting impact on the reader. But first, let me tell you about the book in much the same fashion as Pinki Virani, the author, writes it: dripping with facts.

Bitter chocolate is a book about child sexual abuse in India. It is divided into three notebooks. The first deals with what CSA is, the statistics and the effects of it. The second notebook gives two detailed case histories. Finally, the third notebook talks about the healing process, recovery of CSA victims and their families. The book is interspersed with several real life case histories.
The book ends with a list of books recommended by the author on CSA and related subjects, such as marital abuse. It also contains a small compilation of contact details of NGO’s working in the area of CSA, in the major Indian cities.

Now that the facts are over, let me come to the real thing- Bitter Chocolate was a harrowing experience for me, which shook my very soul. I was never ignorant to CSA/sexual abuse before reading the book: the countless OPRAH shows which I have watched on the subject will vouch for that. 

But this was different. Very different. Perhaps it was the Indian context, perhaps the cold bloodedness of the hard facts or perhaps it was the sarcasm underlying every word in every page of the book; I don’t know. 

But I know that I will never be the same again. I am seeing every human being in a new light, in a new perspective. Every male seems like a potential perpetrator of CSA. Looking at every woman and child makes me question: have they been sexually abused today? Or yesterday? Will they ever be sexually abused at any point in their lives? Oh leave aside strangers. I have started to doubt my family members, my friends, their families, neighbours and about countless people who I have ever known in my life: all of them seem like they hold some secret related to CSA….do they?
None of these emotions are in any way exaggerated or written for effect. Not even the fact that after I finished the first notebook, I stayed up all night crying inconsolably, questioning just about everything in this universe. 

Would I recommend this book to anyone? OF COURSE and not just to anyone, but to everyone who cares to listen. To everyone who has ever loved and trusted. Essentially to everyone who knows how to read. It would be to create awareness, to make CSA a dining table conversation. But more than that, perhaps I would recommend it to people in hope, that someday, someone, somewhere would read it and find peace, even for a few minutes. Or better yet, prevent CSA from taking place.
Would I read it again? Or rather, do I have it in me to go through the whole ordeal again? Honestly, I don’t know and I can’t say. 

So coming back to the question: how IS Bitter Chocolate? Simply put, an experience, one which leaves a lasting impact.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.