Jun 1, 2010
In the final days of pregnancy one can see the baby’s features and movements. Now and then you see a limb. Sometimes, you see the bulge of the head. I used to tap my wife’s pregnant stomach. Just like that; for no particular reason. For the baby, mother’s womb is like a swimming pool; most of the nine months it swims alone, in the darkness, unaware of the external world.
One day, when I tapped, the baby kicked back. It realized that there are life forms on the other side. Subsequently, much to my wife’s annoyance, the baby would respond like a dolphin at the show – with much vigor and enthusiasm. It liked the attention.
The baby doesn’t have a sense of time. Sometimes, in the wee hours, it would start kicking, in anticipation of a response.
“You have spoiled her even before she is born,” my wife would complain. Her due date was around my birthday. This was a coincidence, not a planned thing. I don’t know if one can really plan a delivery date.
My daughter and I were destined to share the same star signs; hence, possibly, similar characteristics. This alarmed my Mother – another difficult person in the family - she concluded. “I wish she would be exactly like you,” she chuckled, “that will make you realize the pains you had caused!”
My wife got admitted to the hospital one day before my birthday. I begged her all along: “Hold tight for one more day!”
That annoyed her. “You are crazy!” she said.
“I had warned you long back,” said my mother-in-law.
Mothers-in-law, around the world, in spite of cultural and geographical differences, are the same: they are just great! My mother-in-law brought many interesting things from India, including but not limited to, a medium sized bottle of Parachute oil, 3 bottles of Gripe Water, a giant snuff box, a dry coconut-shell, a tiny Kajal box, a framed picture of Saint Anthony, 5 bars of Medimix soap, Dabur Chyawanprash, Iodex for black shirts and MOVE for white shirts - any one of these items could have got her into a lot of trouble at the airport. An intelligent person, with all these items, can make a crude bomb. My Mom can make a bomb out of all this – she is an intelligent person.
“Why the coconut shell?” I asked.
“To bathe the baby!”
Life before the child
My mother used to say - instead of having a son like me she would anytime prefer not to have children at all. I am her third favorite child: she has 3 children. If she had 10 children, my position would have been 10th. I was a difficult child. Our neighbors compared their children with me and considered themselves lucky. I am mortified by the thought that my daughter would grow up to become my replica! I myself won’t approve a child like me!
However, having a bad child is any time better than not having children. In fact there are no bad children, only bad parents! How about that? I wish someone would tell that to my parents.
Like everything else in my life, the child has arrived late. I had a long child-less period that was the worst period of my life. Accidental sex before marriage leads to pregnancy and well planned sex after the wedding leads to nothing! This is the law. People ate my brain so much that I had developed a phobia for people. Unlike animals, humans have emotions and language skills; equipped with these superior skills, humans are in a position to cause substantial harm. When the casual talkers realize you don’t have children, they suddenly assume the role of an authority on child-bearing. They give you a lot of unsolicited advice. I have patiently heard all these suggestions and thanked the morons. It is amazing how, in a casual conversation, people ask the very questions that hurt you the most. I guess, we all have a subconscious urge for other people’s misfortune. Germans have already invented a word for such a thing – Schadenfreude!
To avoid people, I spent much of my time at the office; and made my boss’ life miserable by constantly pestering him for more work. On Fridays, I would go to my boss and ask: “Do you really mind if I come to work in the weekend?”
I had so much free time, I used to read all the comments of every article on Daiji: only the comments not the articles! Comments are more interesting than the articles! There are morons whose only purpose in life is to oppose whatever the articles have to say.
There are two types of men in the world: those who were present in the delivery room at their child’s birth and those who were not. Being in the first category I am now a changed man.
As I mentioned before, my wife was admitted to the hospital one day before my birthday. I prayed to God, and to my wife (who is also my God) to delay the delivery by one day. I was restless till midnight. At 12, I let out a sigh. Once again, I prayed to God, and to my wife (who is also my God) - This time not to delay any further.
Finally, my daughter was born at about 2 am. We share the birthday! It’s the greatest birthday gift. I was born in the wee hours too, however, I don’t know the exact time. Last time when I asked Mom, about the exact time of my birth, she said: “What? Are you a celebrity now - to remember all the intricate details?” In fact I don’t have a birth certificate. Sometime back, the hospital people burned all the old documents. “There is no space for patients!” the hospital management had declared. They faced the painful dilemma of opting between patients and paperwork. With great reluctance and pain, they opted to get rid of the paperwork, although, they would have been equally happy, to get rid of the patients!
Over the period, not having a birth certificate has put me in many difficult situations. In the US, when I applied for a driver’s license, the man across the counter said: “For the record, without a birth certificate, you don’t exist!”
“I have a passport and 15 other documents that confirm my date of birth,” I said.
“I agree! But you don’t have a birth certificate.”
“I have a passport –”
“Sir! Without the birth certificate there is no proof of your existence.”
“Is it not proof enough of my existence that I am standing in front of you in flesh and blood and conversing in human language?”
No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince the automaton. This reminds me, I have never convinced anyone in my life – not even my daughter – who is barely 3 months old.
Since I was in the delivery room, I was one of the first ones to see my daughter. I have often observed, people compare babies to parents or grandparents. At these times, often, I have failed to see the remotest resemblance. However, I must say, when I saw my daughter for the first time, I was awestruck by her uncanny resemblance to me. She was a miniature me! My bonsai. My zip file.
Most babies are born with eyes closed, which they open only when some moron introduces them to Sponge Bob - after that they seldom close their eyes – they become a part of the idiot box. However, from the very beginning, my daughter’s eyes were open. She looked around with great curiosity. I stared at her: she stared back with a penetrating look. I am not used to blank stares. This is probably what Nietzsche meant, in his famous and most mis-interpreted quote: “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
Did I just misinterpret Nietzsche?
After the birth, the baby was taken into to the nursery. That gave us a few quiet hours. I was awake for 18 hours at a stretch; so was my wife. Only at this time we could take a nap. When I woke up, it was still dark outside. In the dim night-lamp I saw my wife sleeping. She was relaxed and content; all the labor pain was gone.
I tapped her shoulder. She hardly raised her brows.
“Do you need anything?” I asked.
“Do you need anything?” I repeated the question.
“I want to check my e-mail,” she said.
After the child birth
We have named the baby – Ria; Already people have told me, R-I-A is a wrong spelling; others have found it - uncreative, non-Catholic, too short, too common, run-of-the-mill etc. If I may, I want to kindly remind these people that this is my child and I will name her as I want.
Since she is born in the US, she is a US citizen. She needs a visa to visit India. In fact she is the first US citizen in our family. We already have other anomalies: gays, transvestites, alchemists, dormant CIA operatives, former SS members, Knight Templars, Yakshagana performers, suicide bombers, unpublished authors (you know who), etc. If the US ever wages war on India, then the father and daughter would find themselves on opposite sides. In this case, I might say, in the lines of Aristotle, who had said, in a similar situation: “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth!”
Only a few months before the child, I was seriously thinking about getting retired from the corporate rat race and settling down in my small town. I was thinking of opening a small shop near my home. Probably a Xerox shop, with a coined telephone at the entrance, some popular magazines for sale and SIM-cards at a concession for college students, etc.
But the baby’s arrival has sky-rocketed my expenses. For the first time in my life, my monthly savings is in negative. The delivery cost is more than my wedding cost plus my parents wedding cost! Insurance is supposed to cover all the expenses. However, insurance companies hire some of the smartest people on the face of the earth. They find every loop-hole not-to pay the money. One needs to be a genius to understand how insurance works in the US. Einstein, who was in the US for sometime, could not understand it; frustrated, he took refuge in something simpler – and developed: The theory of relativity.
I have become a paranoid after the baby’s birth. I drive in the slowest lane, 5 miles under the limit – lower than that would be a traffic violation! People, over speeding in the adjacent lanes sometimes show their disapproval by honking – Illiterates, I presume. The speed doesn’t give you much leverage - unless your destination is the Moon - in which case even a small rise in the speed would make a great difference.
In Mangalore there is no speed limit. The Mangalore-Udupi express buses travel at the speed of light. I avoid these space shuttles; however one time I could not. I boarded at Mangalore, paid for my ticket, and was about sit down and relax – we reached Udupi international bus stand!
When I got down from the bus, I felt lighter, felt younger, more energetic, my watch was showing an old time, and the 50 Rupees note that I had given to the conductor was still in my pocket. All this happened because of Einstein’s stupid theory, that says, if one were to travel at the speed of light he would actually travel in the past! I had never believed in this bogus theory till I experienced it first hand.
Sometimes, these Mangalore-Udupi space shuttles, veer from their orbits and kiss the innocent bystanders – a mortal kiss! A couple of traffic signals, at regular intervals, should suffice to check this intergalactic speed. However, so far no important person or a politician has received the deadly kiss. Action will be taken immediately after such an incident occurs. Mangaloreans are waiting patiently – like the wait for Godot.
Everyday is a miracle
It is the fulfillment of some kind of a Murphy’s Law that the most complex project of my corporate life and the baby has come at the same time. Everyday, how I juggle a balance between the baby and the office work is a mystery, a wonder, a small miracle.
Every baby is different and difficult. For outsiders babies are cute and angelic; however, managing a baby 24/7 is a nightmare. Babies have their own mind and space. They like the attention and exploit it. Just when I remove her soiled pampers, she proves me wrong. This is crazy; happens all the time. She wakes up at all hours. Sometimes, she cries long for no reason. On one such occasion, I tried everything, nothing calmed her down, till I accidentally played – Hips don’t lie. Nowadays whenever she is restless I play the same song that calms her down. The song, Hips don’t lie, is by Shakira, not by Emily Dickinson. Hence, there is no room for subtleties. The song means exactly what it says – I am hot tonight, my hips don’t lie! I am yet to meet a woman, who would say – she is hot and her hips won’t indicate otherwise; definitely not a Mangalorean woman. My daughter’s liking for this song has scared the hell out of me. No father, including Shakira’s, would want his daughter to be that candid! I am fine as long as she doesn’t understand it.
My wife, before the baby, had several short term goals: exploring Mexican underwater caves, a picture with Dalai Lama, bungee jumping, para-gliding, salsa, saving dolphins in Japan, controlling my weight, saving tigers on Facebook etc. Recently, upon asking her latest interest, she said: “The only thing I want in life is to sleep for 8 hours at a stretch.” Such is the change a baby has brought in her life. It’s like resurrection.
Having a baby is addictive, though. As soon as you have one, immediately, you feel like going for the next one – resulting in Irish Babies. Since I have a baby - at the grocery store, I can avail the parking spot nearest to the entrance. At airports, I am now eligible for priority boarding. People will offer me seats in buses! All these little perks make a baby worth it!
In a few weeks, my wife has become super efficient in handling the baby. She can hold the baby in one hand and operate a chainsaw with the other. I can not do that. I am very scared to hold my daughter. She is so small and fragile. Before holding my baby, I need to switch off the mobile, mute the TV, take the pressure cooker off the stove, role up my sleeves, tighten my belt – only after this I can hold Ria.
In between there were some magical moments. The other day my daughter saw her first rain. So much water! That amused her. Looking at the mirror, she thinks there is another baby on the other side. Toggling the power switch on/off, and the effect that creates on the distant lamp, raises her curiosity. She giggle and laughs, while bathing – she doesn’t know, yet, that she is supposed to cry. I remember as a child I too was amused by all these simple things. But then my Mom put me in a school.
The whole baby business has freaked me out. I am on cloud nine. I am on Empire State building. I am on Pisa tower. I am in Taj Mahal. I am in Malgudi. I am in Shangri-La. I am in Atlantis. I am in Ideal-ice-cream parlor – oops! That was not required. But I am a Mangalorean. I am so happy I may just commit suicide. I have never been crazier before. If I continue typing I may write nonsense. I guess I will just stop here.
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