Monday, January 30, 2012 13 comments

LEAVE THOSE KIDS ALONE!


The recent story in the press about Norwegian child protection services taking way two young children belonging to  the  Indian couple Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya has raised a lot of debate. The reports indicate that the Indian couple living in Norway have been accused of being “unfit” to be parents and hence the intervention of the child protection services who have taken the children away to be put in foster care. While the reasons do not appear to be very clear – one point that keeps appearing in most of the stories is about the objection taken by the authorities to the fact that the children sleep with their parents and are fed by hand!

 Surprised? Well, so was I when I read these reasons. While I am not sure if these are THE reasons, the fact that they are mentioned raises some concerns about cultural sensitivities. Tell me, how many of us in India have slept with our parents till we were teenagers? And about being fed by hand.. I feed myself with my hands and so is it unnatural if I were to feed my child with my hands? Spoons are western cutlery that do not figure in a traditional Indian kitchen.

So the question that is bothering me is why were the Norwegian authorities so insensitive to this?

Child rearing practices are very closely linked to the society that we live in. There are tribal communities who leave their children away in forests to learn survival skills and some other communities who get their adolescent children together  to experiment with each other and  learn about sex. Is it right for us to say that these are “wrong”? These practices are linked to the lifestyle of the people living in these societies. A child who is from a tribal community needs to learn how to survive in a forest as much as an adolescent in certain society needs to learn about sex so that procreation is not a problem. But when we look at it from our context they may seem bizarre and even perverted! The point is to see it through the lens of the communities practicing them.

It is really unfortunate that the Norwegian authorities have not been able to look at it in that way.

The issue of foster care itself is something that can be contested. It is a very western concept  followed in  countries where the social systems are breaking down and therefore the need for state intervention to “rescue” children and put them into the care of families that are paid to look after them. It does not in anyway suggest that these families would provide the love and affection that children require for their upbringing. There are also numerous cases of foster parents abusing the children under their care. Therefore , how can we expect that children being taken away into foster care would solve the problem?

While not contesting the fact that the Indian couple in question may  have had their problems in extending the right type of care for the two young children, therefore affecting their development, would it not have been better to have counseled them and tried to understand what are the drivers behind the so called “unacceptable” practices? I do understand that what we take for granted in terms of child care like yelling at children or slapping them for misbehavior would be considered cruelty in certain other societies. I am in no way condoning such practices. But then as a society we are used to this sort of disciplining and it is therefore not strange if parents should adopt that for their children.

There is also this thing about the thin dividing line between the private and the public domains. I am surprised how these authorities were able to cross these boundaries entering into the family circle and make a judgment about the couple’s parenting skills. It also assumes a certain cultural superiority about what is right and what is not where child rearing is concerned.

I am now beginning to wonder if a person who lives in these countries has to live by their rules even within the house? I have heard about the rule of  children not being allowed to sleep on the same bed as the parents being followed in other countries too. Many Indian couples living abroad are  so  afraid about what might happen to their children if the authorities find out about this They may  not believe in it but adopt it –rather like having to wear the “abaya” or veil when moving around some of the middle eastern countries.

I am often surprised when I see the way children are brought up in western societies. They are carried around in baby carriers, prams, sleep on separate beds – all this leading to limited physical contact between the parent and the child. While I am not going to be judgmental about this, I can only say that though this lack of physical contact may make the child very independent which is probably a must for the western societies where they are being brought up it also runs the risk of  making them emotionally detached- they may not be able to  bond with their families the way that an Indian society may require!

Breastfeeding on demand is what doctors say about children during the first three months after which mothers are encouraged to follow a feeding schedule. However, as many mothers would agree, it is easier said that done. A child used to being breast fed on demand may protest when its demands are not being met.  It would be very exhausting for a mother to deal with a crying child. We mothers often give in feeding the child whenever it cries, throwing the feeding schedule to the winds! It is more likely that an Indian mother who is living alone in a foreign country without any social support and with another toddler to care for would be  finding it doubly difficult to follow this schedule. It is surprising that the Norwegian authorities have not been able to understand this simple fact and have instead added it to the list of misdemeanors cited against the mother.

Children are not state property. They belong to the parents until they are legally old enough to be on their own. However, this does not suggest in anyway that parents can treat them like their property using or abusing them. A parent who is unable to care for a child whatever be the reason needs to be counselled. If a parent is found “unfit” there are other family members who can be brought it and the issue dealt with in a different way. Placing a child in the care of a family which wants to earn money for the child’s upkeep is nothing but emotional deprivation of the child. We are not sure what criteria the state of Norway uses for selection of such couples or families for giving foster care. Do they receive some form of certificates I wonder?

Childcare is a difficult skill. Not all of us are perfect care givers as parents. And there is no perfect way to raise a child. It is often a society that feels culturally superior to others which tries to impose its child rearing practices among all its residents. Or it is a society that has so many depraved individuals living in it who do not adhere to what is culturally appropriate child care even within their own  social norms that an external government funded system has to be introduced to protect children from these individual. The problem arises when such societies impose it on other cultures refusing to see it from their point of view.

Is this what  “Child Protection” is all about? In Norway it probably is....!
( picture courtesy NDTV)
Saturday, January 21, 2012 12 comments

WHEN MARKETS DEFINE KNOWLEDGE


I suddenly had a panic attack over the pongal weekend! During a casual conversation with a friend whose son studies in a CBSE ( Central Board of Secondary Education) school, I was informed that his school did not  offer Humanities or Social Science based subjects for specialization in classes XI and XII. All they offered were Science and Commerce group subjects. 

Patience- I will explain the reason for the panic in detail.... My daughter is studying in a school that is affiliated to the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education or the ICSE board. The school has started standards XI and XII about three years ago. affiliated to the Indian School Certificate examination system ( which is the 11th and 12th standard equivalent of the ICSE). However given the fact that they are just establishing themselves they are not very sure about the different combinations that they may be able to offer to the students until about a few months before the session begins. This is on account of the fact that they need a critical number of students before they decide the combination to be offered to students for that batch. They try their best to accommodate all interests but sometimes they are unable to adjust the timetable for this or find the required number of teachers. We are confident that the system will get streamlined over time but then time is something that we don’t have. 2013 is just a year away!

The city of Chennai has only two ISC schools ( why  I used to wonder but now I am  beginning to understand) . There used to be one more but this third school is at the moment having some internal problems relating to their infrastructure. . Therefore we have in reality ,only one more school to bank on.  The practical aspect I thought would be to understand what are the options available with the CBSE and the state board schools? Meanwhile, I continue to be quite uneasy about what my friend had to say about the CBSE schools in Chennai

Anyway, I kept a positive outlook to things and started searching the websites of all the prominent CBSE and State Board schools of Chennai to see what groups they offered at the XI and XIIth level. I was dismayed to find that none of them offered anything other than the Pure Science groups of  Maths/ Physics/ Chem/ Bio or Commerce subjects like Accountancy/ Commerce/ Economics / Business Studies!! So what happens to kids like my daughter who want to specialize in History, Sociology, Psychology or English Literature? I called a friend in Delhi to check if  the CBSE actually did not offer these subjects. She was baffled as to why I wanted to know because she knew atleast four children who had opted for groups like what my daughter was interested in! So, this was obviously a Chennai ( or Tamilnadu?)  thing!

I find this obsession with science education in this  state too much to handle! I  mean, are other subjects not worthy of being studied? What about children who find science  and Maths a burden? What alternatives does the education system in this city offer to them at the level when they can exercise the option of unburdening themselves? Is the next possible option only these commerce subjects where again there is a Maths Angle in Accountancy and Economics! And then there are kids like my daughter who have great potential in social sciences. Is there no way for them to excel at the XIth and XII th level by opening up an opportunity to study subjects which they love and would therefore score more marks in?

I remember there was a time when the Government of Tamil Nadu ( I think during Amma’s previous term in office) wanted to abolish English literature, History etc from the University level !

I am pained to see the way the market seems to be deciding knowledge options! What happened to knowledge for knowledge's sake? Commerce subjects are probably still being offered in this city because all these kids would become CA ( Chartered Accountancy) aspirants.

I firmly believe that the kids who opt for these two streams ( science and commerce) do so ,not because they actually want to but because they have been brainwashed into believing that these are the best options for them. Many of these children would struggle through their XIth and XII th standards coping with these subjects! They would then be again pushed into an engineering or medical college because Appa and Amma have saved the money to send them to one of the millions of private colleges offering these courses across the state- many kids who are unable to cope with science will continue to moan and groan  here also . But somehow or the other they would clear all their “arrears” and come out armed with a stethoscope to treat you and me or worse, join some engineering firm that manufactures  things where hopefully, any mistake in the manufacturing process would not have any major consequences for anyone! There are ofcourse the usual numbers who join the droves of “IT professionals” – what they do by way of work is something that I am still unsure of! I am told TCS/ Infosys and the rest of the big IT firms have to again teach them the ABC of what their expensively procured college seats did not!

There are again those burdened with the commerce group who will spend about a decade failing their various levels of CA exam till some of them decide to take a short cut and do a ICWA or a Course in Company Secretaryship. Please note that I am not suggesting in anyway that the ICWA or the CS are  inferior to the CA. What I am saying is that these courses are not often opted as the first choice..

Finally there would be  those who will try to escape all of this at the graduate stage by trying to do a course in “viz com”  or visual communication in the one and only Jesuit college or the dozen Vaishnav colleges in the city ! This is surprising because communication, like Development Studies is usually a course that needs to be studied at the post graduate level after one has had a sound grounding in some subject! I don’t know what these kids do after they finish up.. Join some local TV station I presume!

They say that there is a serious dearth of  people who are teachers! I understand the reason now. If all the students are going to become software engineers, plain engineers ( sounds like saada dosa/ masala dosa right?) or doctors or chartered accountants or some sort of a local TV channel host then who is going to come into the teaching profession? Who is going to specialize in a specific subject with a post graduate degree , go for a degree in education and come back to teach the next generation? I suppose, very soon this group would  become extinct! Somebody needs to seriously do a study on the “informal sector” around education to see how much money is spinning around in what is called the “private tuition” sector. Anybody I guess can become a tuition teacher!

When I was a little girl I remember my grandfather explaining to me the difference between the Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswathi. While Lakshmi Devi is the Goddess of wealth she cannot replace the Goddess of learning Saraswathi Devi.  Money and markets may go together but it is not right to equate knowledge and markets. Knowledge needs to be pursued for the sheer joy of learning. Educational institutions are expected to provide these opportunities.Besides, markets have two sides to them- demand and supply. The supply side for this demand is rather pathetic for the reasons mentioned earlier. So this kind of mediocre "over supply" is not going to get people to meet the demand.

 It is sad today that Gooddess Saraswathi plays her veena to the clang of the coins coming out of Goddess Lakshmi’s  pot!  It is not a chicken – egg situation. If there is a Humanities groups there will be children who will opt for it- not that no body opts for humanities so there is no need for a humanities group!  Negation of a body of knowledge is not the answer to this problem.
Sunday, January 15, 2012 21 comments

THE MALL MADNESS


Yesterday our daughter  was celebrating her birthday ( her birthday was on 2nd Jan when school was closed for the vacation. So we decided to do it this weekend). We had all the kids over for lunch after which we ferried them across to see a movie. The movie was at the ESCAPE theatre complex in the EXPRESS Avenue Mall.  As the movie was for one and a half hours only, my husband and I decided to wait there rather than go home and come back again. The idea was to spend some time together .while the kids were inside the theatre

But when we reached the mall, we realized that this was probably the last place in the world to spend some quality time with anyone! There was some sort of an event happening at the reception where a girl  was shouting into a mike asking people to do “push ups” to win a prize!

 To escape  that shrieking voice, we tried to run into the food court-which I must confess was more crowded than a college canteen on days when ragging is in progress! There was not a single chair left unoccupied!. We then decided to try the coffee shops- the same ..! They were willing to serve us coffee if we were willing to stand and drink it like in Madras Central Railway station –but ofcourse at the exorbitant Mall rates.

In sheer desperation we went into a rather expensive restaurant just to have some coffee – or should I say some PEACE? My husband felt that the crowd was on account of the holiday weekend. But I have usually found it like this on all weekends!  In fact we try to avoid coming there unless absolutely necessary. But as I looked around I found that this was THE place for many couples! I wondered what kind of conversations they might be having in that noise and crowd? The movie theatres there did not seem to be improving the situation either. Each time a show was over we found the crowd suddenly surging with more people!

This  thing about Chennai that always puzzles me is the inability to get movie tickets at short notice! I know that this is a city of movie lovers but with movies in atleast three languages ( Tamil, Hindi and English ) one should  be able to get some tickets for some movie. I think even flop films run “house full” in this town!

Now this is my theory, ( I may be completely wrong) that Chennai is not a very social place – people here do not really visit friends much or make social calls. Yes they do make those obligatory social calls on relatives but that’s about it! Chennai is also a place where strangers are not easily accepted or made to feel at home. So, for the huge population that has come in from other places to work in the various offices in Chennai, it must be a feeling of complete alienation and loneliness which they can only kill by “hanging out” in  malls! Lets face it , a mall offers everyone a relative sense of anonymity along with the comfort of being in a crowd. It is better than sitting alone in a restaurant and eating a meal I guess!

Otherwise I cannot explain the reason for such huge crowds in the malls every weekend. There are atleast five malls in the city and each other has movie halls too but you cannot get tickets easily ( I once kept an alarm and made a call to the Satyam call centre at 1.00AM because I desperately wanted tickets for a particular movie for the next weekend!) in any one of them. Eating at the food courts in these malls is stressful to say the least!

I have been to malls in Bangalore , Hyderabad, Gurgaon and Ahmedabad. I did not ever see this kind of maddening crowd- and imagine this is reported to be the largest mall in Southern India! I just think this is the fall out of being in  a  unfriendly, conservative city which has limited entertainment options ( sorry, hardcore Chennai lovers!). I think it is about time we Chennaites opened our homes to  colleagues and friends so that we can build more relationships and have quality interactions rather than trying to lose ourselves  in a crowd!
Monday, January 9, 2012 11 comments

THANE TUSSLES- Making hay in Tamilnadu!

The year 2011 came to a destructive end as the Cyclone Thane lashed across  the coast of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. Wind speed  over  120km/ hr smashed huts, dislodged tiles from houses, pushed electric poles down to the ground and destroyed acres of crops! Along with the union territory of Pondicherry the districts of Cuddalore and Villipuram in Tamil Nadu  were stated to be the  worst hit!

31st December saw people from various Non Profit Organizations like ours going out into the affected areas trying to guage the extent of damages. I have been part of this exercise since 3rd January. In terms of the scale of the disaster it was no comparison to the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004- neither can it be compared to the AP/ Karnataka floods of 2009 or the Bihar, Kosi flood of 2008. I have been part of  the post disaster damage assessments of  all these emergency situations except the tsunami in which I have been deeply associated from the rehabilitation phase.


After about three grueling days out in the hot sun ( there are no leaves left on the trees that are standing to provide any sort of shade ) with peeling skin and long hours I am drained out! But what is bothering me is not the physical exhaustion but the mental fatigue.

Why I wonder? Have I gone numb after seeing  destruction and damage in the various humanitarian contexts that I have been involved in ?What has made this experience so different?

I think that the first thing that struck me as different from the AP, Karnataka situation was the attitude of the Government of Tamilnadu. If there is something called “Megalomania” then the state government here displays it at its best! Information being the source of power, they wanted to hold on to it! They were refusing to share it  with anyone. They kept declaring that the entire district has been hit while visual observation showed clearly that was not the case.  For a Non Profit like ours it is important to get some information and idea about the scale of damage so that we can float an appeal for people to donate.  I try to contrast this with the Krishna flood situation in AP and Karnataka- in both cases the governments were open to sharing information. In fact I remember meeting a Mandal Revenue Officer in Guntur district at 11.00PM. His office was humming with activity and when I wanted details of damages he  gave me a print out with all the information I required. In Karnataka, the officers of the district administration in Gulbarga were keen to know when and where we would be distributing relief and whether we had plans to continue working in rehabilitation activities. They all but extended a written invitation..

The arrogance of the state government in Tamil Nadu however, is amazing! They want all relief operations to be coordinated by them. Infact the district collector is reported to have told some representatives of civil society organizations that they should hand over all relief material to the district administration!

While we were on our way to Cuddalore on the 4th of January,  we had a drama in progress as former Chief Minister Karunanidhi came in by road to the district to distribute relief . Not to be outdone, Amma dearest swooped down from the skies on a helicopter distributing relief hours before the old man got there! There have been announcement after announcement about compensation.

But what about the people who are affected? Or should I say, people who live in the affected areas?

One of things that really depressed me was the way that everybody wanted relief irrespective of whether their houses were damaged or not! Pampered as they have been by a government that doles out freebies at the drop of a hat, they found it very difficult to understand why an organization would give out relief only to some. We had meetings with communities trying to convince them that we were a NGO working on limited funds and we could therefore only reach the  most deserving! It is amazing how people living in nice pucca houses with a few damaged windows felt they were as entitled to a tarpaulin as those living in huts that  had lost their roofs! We also realized that where the government was concerned they had enumerated all these people and their houses as “affected” or “damaged”. It was very demoralizing after a point to realize that people in this state did not even understand what a NGO was! The government had such a larger than life presence – almost like in China that no other presence was acknowledged by anyone including the communities we had come to help

People tell me that I am wrong- that this is a one off situation. They tell me that the government encouraged civil society participation in the post tsunami relief and rehabilitation activities. But people like me who have been here for so long , know better.. the Officer on Special Duty coordinating relief and rehabilitation activities on behalf of the government during the tsunami days, had quickly realized that NGOs had funding that could be leveraged for the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities. So what did he do? He “invited” them to participate in activities like livelihood and shelter reconstruction projects. While livelihood restoration took its own chaotic course with huge numbers of boats and nets getting dumped on fishing communities, the shelter program was another story altogether. The government asked NGOs to build using their funds but did not allow them to select the beneficiaries of the housing projects. The beneficiaries were selected by the government and the houses handed over the government to them. So what were we? Contractors?

The community in the affected villages “spoilt” as they  have been through receipt of freebies from the government are today expecting something along the lines of the tsunami relief. We found dead animals being left to rot out in the field just so that the owner could claim compensation. We also found people giving us pictures of their damaged houses in cases where some repair work had been initiated. Everyone wanted something and the sad thing was that few  understood who we were and who were funding us!

As a development worker engaged in humanitarian work, these Thane induced tussles with the government and the communities have  been really frustrating.. Is it too much to expect to see that smile on somebody’s face and sleep with the satisfaction of having helped someone? But unfortunately what I saw in this disaster was largely discontent on one hand and some shrewd calculations on the other –both from the communities and the government. I also saw, I am ashamed to say, NGOs with eyes full of hope of mobilizing resources and keeping themselves employed. I also noticed among my own team mates, egos rising- people trying to manipulate village selection criteria so that areas which they wanted to be included got the required attention…

Everybody there is out to  make hay while the sun of relief operations shines on them… So what do I do? Stand back and crib, just do my job or get ready for retirement?



This post has been selected by Blog Adda on 10th January as part of  their Tangy Tuesday  Picks- Thank you folks!
Sunday, January 1, 2012 11 comments

FOURTEEN YEARS OF PARENTING


It is nearly fourteen years now. The 2nd of January 1998 seems like yesterday!

We were just recovering from all the feasting of the 1st of Jan of that year! People in our country, believe in feeding pregnant women, until they are ready to  burst! And by 3.00 PM of the 1st of Jan,  I was reaching that point of bursting at the seams! The doctor had indicated 5th of January, as THE date. We wanted a new year baby.. but when have babies followed what doctors and parents have wanted?

By 6.00 PM I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. So my  husband and I decided to go for a walk- or should I say, he did the walking while I did the running?  My five foot nothing frame did not support legs long enough to match the strides of my beloved!

Around 10.30 PM, I was still awake, trying to catch up on Hercule Poirot’s latest exploits ( my mother in law completely disapproved of my reading about the Belgian detective while I was pregnant – she probably felt that I would have a child with an egg shaped head and an enormous mustache!). It was getting more uncomfortable by the minute.. I realized with a start that the amniotic fluid was probably slowly seeping out…!

Within minutes, we put together the evacuation plan into action- the packed suitcase was loaded into the car along with myself and my mother. Just as I was settling into the back seat- the husband came in with a bunch of old towels  spreading them out  on the seat- “ this is to protect the upholstery. You know we cannot afford to do it up once again” he said. I was ready to kick him!!! He cared more about the upholstery than his wife and about to be born baby!

We reached the hospital by 11.00 PM. It almost looked like a scene from a Mani Ratnam film- silence and darkness all around..! We made our way to the reception area at the hospital and told them that we were here to have our baby! The sleepy nurse looked at me curiously. I was certainly not in labour.. we had to fill in some forms and I soon found myself ushered into the labour ward. My doctor was not there but there was an extremely sweet lady who introduced herself to me as Dr. Prema. She told me that my doctor has asked her to examine me. In a very conversational tone, she did her job and then injected something into me to induce labour..!

Meanwhile,  there was  drama happening outside the labour ward. My mother was trying to locate my husband so that between them they could organize a room for me to be taken to once the delivery was over. What she probably did not know was  that her son-in-law was never to be found away from his beloved car- I was in no position to enlighten her and in those pre cell phone days, there was no other way to look for a person except to physically go around  searching for them!! Poor thing, I supposed she actually did that until she found him sitting inside the car in the dark hospital car park! “Why does your husband behave like a driver?” was the first thing she asked me once we were alone again after the delivery. Well, I had no answer except probably that he would have been happier married to an automobile!

Inside the labour ward, I found that I was the only patient. There were two nurses chatting in Malayalam and instructing me in English (with a strong Mallu accent) to lie down and breathe deeply! I glared at them and asked them how long this was going to take. “Oh.. ten to twelve hours easily” they said going back to their chatting and giggling! My baby was beginning to make her presence felt in every possible way by now. I was nauseous and I started throwing up! “What did you eat for dinner?” asked the duty doctor conversationally. “ Oh nothing much! Just some curd rice” I said conveniently forgetting about all the chocolate pies, sweets, payasam etc that I had consumed between 4.30PM  to 7.30 PM!

The nursing staff  made me lie down on a corner bed and  thensuddenly realized that my doctor did not like her patients to be confined to that bed. So they made me get up and lie down on another bed. I was beginning to feel very annoyed..! I was also in considerable pain by now. I wanted my mother!  “Oh, it is not allowed” said the matron looking at me sternly!

By about 2.00 AM, they wheeled in another patient- I will call her The Diva!! She was completely into high powered histrionics! She was screaming her guts out and cursing the nurses loudly. I wanted to applaud! She was doing everything that I was feeling inhibited about indulging in. I tried to start a conversation with her.. She ignored me.. and went back to her screaming and cursing..! “What is wrong with her?” I asked the matron. The matron was busy scolding The Diva. Actually the entire nursing staff was now gathered around her. I was beginning to feel a bit neglected! Another duty doctor came in and tried to do an internal examination! I told her to lay off! I was not some bag that people could insert their hands into and check whether the goodies were there!!! “Leave me alone” I said. “Please Madam, you need to cooperate” she pleaded! I glared at her stubbornly! She went away for a while and returned again with the matron for support. “What is this my child?” asked the matron! I noticed now that she was actually a nun! Okay, so what did I expect- this was a missionary hospital!

“Where are my husband and mother”  I asked. “Your husband is in the room that has been allotted to you and your mother is sitting outside” they told  me! And imagine- I was thinking he must have worn out his shoes pacing outside! In all probability he was  bringing down the antique electrical fixtures in that room with his snores

It was nearly 5AM  of the 2nd Jan now! The Diva continued with her theatrics! “Don’t push please… your doctor is on her way” said the matron to me . “Whaaat?” I have only seen movies where they tell the pregnant woman to push and just my luck that I should be given the exact opposite instruction!!! I was getting confused…! Suddenly, I saw a familiar face- yes it was indeed my doctor. Only, I was not able to recognize her clearly in that cap and apron. She tried to engage me in a conversation as she settled down near me…! I heard some sharp instructions” Watch it.. her BP is falling..!” “This way… don’t block my vision” was another sentence I heard. The Diva I guess was now feeling  well and truly neglected. She let out a piercing scream. I was momentarily distracted. I suddenly heard a baby wailing!

Dr. Lakshmi was smiling at me and saying “ Meera look at your baby”. “My baby?” I asked in wonder. “Yes whose did you think it is ?” she asked with a smile. How could I tell her that I had thought that the Diva in the next bed had delivered.. But nearly five hours with me had enlightened the nursing staff about my thought processes. The matron said loudly “She must have thought that the patient in the next bed had delivered”! I had a glimpse of the 2.4 kg bundle that they brought to me. She reminded me of a baby monkey!

Why was a pediatrician there? “Oh nothing to worry. I just called him by way of precaution. The chord was pressing to the side of the baby’s head” reassured the doc!

Two hours more and I was being wheeled into a private room! “Where is the baby” I wanted to know. “In the observation room” said the  nurse. “Why?” I asked. Were people beginning to avoid my questions I wondered. I was anyway too tiered to think. I was also ravenously hungry! Both my husband and mother had gone home for a while. I was with my father! “ You just lie down. I have something important to attend to” he said as he left the room.

My father, I think has seen too many Hindi and Tamil movies. He had by now convinced himself that the observation room was the place where the babies got exchanged…! So he stationed himself next to it his eyes fixed on that small bundle with the hand tag that said “Meera’s baby”!!! No power on earth would move him from there during the four days that she was there! He struck up conversations with the nurses in the baby ward and by the end of our time at the hospital, he was the most popular person among them! When we were about to be discharged, we had a line of his newly acquired nursing girlfriends coming in to say "Bye"  to "Uncle"

The brought the baby every now and then for a feed. I was terrified to hold her lest I break some part of her!! She was all wobbly and kept squirming! But I must say that I was completely impressed with the way her father handled her. He held her with confidence and even walked up and down the steps holding her – something that even my mother was nervous about!

We discussed names – there were some simple easy to pronounce ones that my parents came up with. But ofcourse we wanted what we thought was the most unusual one- also probably the most complicated! We were sure that there was no one else who had a name like that – that is, until we left the hospital for home- we saw on our way three shops all of whom had the same name that we had decided to call our baby!!

An amateur astrologer in the hospital told us that our daughter had been born under a special star- people who were born under this star apparently had so much of money that it  came out of every part of their being! I am beginning to see the truth of that today when we do our laundry- we find school uniform pockets filled with coins making jiggling noises inside the washing machine!

Fourteen years of parenting, and we have been through our share of happiness and worries..  We watched her every move and breathed easy every time she crossed a milestone! As she grew, so did we! We gained more in confidence and sometimes even doled out advice to parents of more junior kids …! But each stage brought with it its own set of worries. It is funny but I remember how we used to think that there would be no more worries when “this particular milestone’ was past.. It took us a decade to realize that…worries are part of parenting. We can allow it to bog us down or enjoy each stage in our daughter’s life as she grows.

There was a time when she used to seek us out in a crowd running to us whenever she spotted her parents. But today she prefers to be left alone- she gets irritated when I hold her hand in a crowd  ( I have to tell her nowadays that I feel scared in a crowd and therefore the need to hold her hand!)

Like all parents our hopes and dreams revolve around our child. The doubts whether we are doing the right thing keeps creeping into our heads! The world that she is growing up in is a more complicated one that the one we grew up in. We want her to be equipped to deal with the requirements of this world but we don’t want to weigh her down with the burdens of our expectations!

The process of giving birth is often written about so much in books. But what people forget to mention about is that this is probably the easiest part of being a parent. The difficult part is what follows…..






 
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