July 13, 2004

bachche to bachche, baap re baap!

i miss gayatri.

not the gayatri who’s now about four and a half years old. but the gayatri who was two. and i miss all the time i spent with her until she was two, perhaps two and a half, i think. after that i went away.

when i met gayatri — she was only a day old then — i was surprised that i fell in love with her instantly. quicker than the three-or-more odd years (during school and college) i took to be close friends with her mother, jayashree.

unlike the popular scene that most girls and women enact when they see a child — going “oooh chooo chweet…,” buying toys and clothes that outgrow and lie in a forgotten closet days later — i am just not fond of children. i hold back usually. my shields are pulled ‘down’, and i just cannot bring myself to hold the baby/child in my arms for any reason. in such situations i do what i think is best…leave the child with its parent/family/fans and let them do all the cuddling and cooing, while i stand aside quietly, smiling so i don’t offend anyone, more so because i’m not very sure of how i must react. it has always been like this.

if the child is a little older, i turn even more skeptical.
firstly, i don’t know what to speak to or how to play with the kid; secondly, i am *so* sure he or she is up to some mischief, and then i guard my toys like an angry bulldog; last but not the least, i think i just don’t have the patience or energy to stand and watch them play or, heavens forbid, read them a book. and that’s when i am in india. when it comes to the kids in the united kingdom, i’m just plain terrified of them! you’ll never catch me walking on the same side of the road as them…they all look like little bullies to me for some reason. i have thought hard but still cant point a finger at why.

perhaps this has to do something with the fact that as a child i was always a very quiet one, and hence i was bullied a lot, almost three-quarters of my primary school life. after that i withdrew into a shell. it was only in the late college years that jayashree and i ‘clicked’, and decided to stick by forever. gayatri only helped to strengthen that bond. touch wood.

this darling of a creeper
tickles me
like a cuddly questionmark…
i feel the dewdrops
sometimes it winds
around my neck
and casually throttles me.

(– from my old scrapbook of poems. this one was written by my favourite teacher, shubhangi karnik.)

praveen and i share the same feeling about children. both of us shudder at the very thought of a kid who will rule the rest of our years. while my thoughts about having a kid are more rational (i think) yet mixed – health-related, healthy-baby related, patience-related worries — given my 11-year old and going bad-to-worse backpain, praveen is quite clear about why we shouldn’t have kids. “bachche?!!? what about my retirement then!?” he exclaims at anyone who dares to ask him now.

with gayatri it was different. she would cling to me every time i visited her, and soon i was going to see the little bundle of smiles more often than i would call her mother on the phone. i remember one particularly difficult time when i visited jayashree after work. my father came to pick me up later but gayatri just wouldn’t let me go. chanting “laadu…laadu…” (radhu – short for radhika and what they call me at home), all the way till the gates of her building, she wailed aloud and kept kicking her amused mother with her tiny arms and legs…one filmi moment i will not forget for a long long time.

just a day before we left for london soon after my marriage, i visited my little friend again and kissed her goodbye as usual, lying that i would see her the next day, just so she didnt create a scene. this time it was jayashree and me who had fat tears welling up in our eyes and lumps sticking in our throats. i still haven’t forgiven praveen for that moment, tearing me away from those i loved…knowing especially well that soon gayatri would grow up and forget all about me.

that is why when praveen’s friend jitesh and his wife ranju came to stay with us for a while recently, i refused to venture anywhere around her three-month old boy. i like to be honest so i told ranju i was scared, and had never held a child so little in my arms. i was telling the truth, but ranju just laughed and said: “well, someday you have to…”

four days later, ranju was in the bath and i was cooking downstairs, when i heard the boy wail. he had been left alone in the bedroom and was afraid. i ran to him, making baby noises, shaking his clattery rattle, clapping and snapping with my fingers to distract him, but nothing i did seemed to help. on some impulse, though very very apprehensive myself, my heart pounding, i managed to gather the child (bedcover, babysheet, fleece and all) in my arms. he just wanted to be touched i guess, because the very next moment he was gurgling playfully again, the little cheat.

“congratulations!” ranju beamed, fresh from her bath and grinning ear to ear: “you’ve finally conquered your fear…”

“thanks” i said, going red in the face and glad to hand him back to her right away, “now my bhaji’s all burned up.”

two months later, jitesh’s work would take all the three of them to the united states of america. in these two months we had turned into bosom-buddies, ranju’s son and me. i could make him laugh with the baby-language i just created for him (and earlier, for gayatri). he had learnt to hold my finger tight and he was just beginning to turn on his side, my finger still in his tiny grip and now going all the way to his fifth-month-and-toothless mouth. i was not afraid to hold him anymore, and in fact, waited for my turn as he was exchanged between the other arms around the house. on the night before they flew, i went up to his room where he was peacefully asleep, placed a gentle kiss on his cheek lest he woke up. trying to be as silent as i could (the wooden floor creaked under me), i said goodbye. it was so much easier this time i thought, relieved.

as i tiptoed away from the dreamy j&j’s baby-powder-and-cream smelling room, i wondered if it really was.

it’s something praveen and i can run from but not for long.
will we forever wait for little angels to come and touch us when they pass by, or finally decide to have one of our own?


  • radhika said:

    very well written. I was in the same boat as you (maybe because we are namesakes?:) )till I had my daughter..but even now,I can’t speak baby talk convincingly…:)

  • George said:

    This sounds so much like me around children when I was growing up and before I became a father. Kids and me never got along, I would not know what to say or how to behave around them, if you see me now, talking to my two month old you’d think we’re carrying on a conversation in gibberish ( and she seems to understand everything I say ). Anyways, I linked to your blog from where I do not remember but I’m glad I did, I enjoyed reading the few posts that I did.

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