Indian society has a problem. We somewhat detest the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Rather we’re followers of the ‘live and let’s tell others how to live their lives’ movement. And true to this ideology, if you happen to be a single person on the slightly northern side of the age scale that begins at twenty-one, it is highly unlikely that you haven’t been asked even once - “So, when are you getting married?”. And even if you somehow manage to run away from that question and eventually with someone you want as your better half, they come up with the next question - “So, you’ve been married for ’n’ years - no kids yet?”. Sadly, there's nothing much we can do about it apart from silently mouth, 'Mind your own business!' Or deliver that witty and sarcastic one-liner we've been carrying around.
As the father of a 33-month old cuddly, yet at-times overly active toddler, I have my hands full. Pretty much all through the day. Anyone who says that looking after young one(s) is not considered as a ‘job’ in the real sense of the word - kindly get a rectal examination done - your head seems to be stuffed all the way up your behind. Because, trust me - it’s the mother of all jobs. And hats off to every single mother on the planet for making it seem so effortless. I guarantee you - it isn’t as easy as it seems.
Ever since we’ve had our little one, there have been times that we’ve questioned the sanity of our decision to have kids. Yes, it is incredibly delightful - sometimes like living with walking, talking, laughing, utterly cute and cuddly teddy. But at times, it is also a rather dreadful experience when neither you nor the kids know why each of you are throwing a tantrum or bursting into tears over something as silly as a broken glass vessel. Yes, it’s a mixed bag of emotions, feelings and experiences, to say the very least.
During my pre-fatherhood days, I’ve often mused about this whole parenting thing.
What is it that a kid brings to that already healthy equation of two loving partners who mean the world to each other? Is a kid necessary for you and your spouse/partner to complete the picture of a ‘perfect’ family? Or is it because you are really worried about your lineage and that without kids, it may stop with you? Or is it because you love your parents so much that it has been your life long dream to give them grand kids?There were plenty of such questions running through my head when we were trying to decide if we wanted kids. And to be brutally honest, even as we waited for the home pregnancy test unit to show either the plus that would make us jump up for joy or the minus that would just make the optimists in us try again, I still did not know the answer of many of these questions. I got around to writing this post because over the past year, ever since my ‘Daddy Journals’ started gaining a bit of popularity, I’ve had a few friends and readers ask me this question - if fatherhood/parenting is so awesome as you make it out to be, then why aren’t more people taking it to it? I could be plain blunt and answer that question with the charismatic smirk of a know-it-all diplomat and say ‘To each one their own’. And while that as a phrase is as good an argument as any, on a more personal level, I can only tell you what I’ve learnt. For what it’s worth, I’d like to share it here:
Do not let anyone rush you into this parenting thing. Because once you’re a parent, your very life as you know it, will change. You will still have late nights - except that the drinking and dancing will now be replaced by a feeling of helplessness while trying to figure out what a confused little soul wants. Oh, did I mention a confused ‘crying’ little soul? Enjoy.
Parenting is complicated. It always will be. People will try to 'un-complicate' it for you, but remember this - only YOU can do that. Because every kid (yes, even each of your own) is different.
There are no shortcuts or right ways to parenting. And no, there are no coursebooks. It is mostly a learn-on-the-go kind of practical lesson and you must be open to trying out what best works for you, your partner and your kid(s).
Having kids is like trying to eat your favourite ice cream while trying to navigate a heated obstacle course filled with LEGO bricks and other every day objects. Yes, if Daddy Journals ever got made into a movie, LEGO bricks would play the supporting cast.
If you’re lucky, until they grow up and are ready to clean after themselves, every day will involve either dirty diapers, poop-y behinds, sniffling noses, watery eyes, various bumps all over the body, chipped tooth, messy clothes, wiping drawings of Picasso off various surfaces such as walls, tables, sofas and sometimes even your favourite white shirt, projectile food and picking out stuff from your hair or pockets and being held to ransom over going to bed and wanting to play.
If you’re extremely lucky, you may get to see all of these in a single day. Sort of like the weather in magnificent England.
However as with everything in life, parenting has this balance which you must experience to see the blissfulness.
Like in my case, I was happy as a person before I met my wife. But having her in my life gives it a whole new meaning - a new dimension of happiness that I cannot begin to describe. And with my little one added to the mix, I’m now happier than ever. For it is a strangely humbling experience to realise that you will do everything in your power to make your kid’s life as perfect as you possibly can. And despite the constantly messy, confusing and exhausting life that I have now, I am richer and feel more loved than ever before.
Plus you have the perfect excuse to eat ice cream almost all the time and play with toys and video games.
Image courtesy - shutterstock.com
Karthik stared at the tall, rusting wrought iron gates emblazoned with the familiar insignia of the institution. He smiled wryly. He clearly remembered the day these gates had replaced the short wooden picket fence that had originally guarded the entrance to the college. They had watched from the hostel, as the iron bars were lifted off the back of the truck and placed vertically, erect like sentinels standing guard to a castle. The gates had been put up to serve as a deterrent to late comers from entering the campus after a night out. But what the college administration didn't realise was that Bikram bhaiya (brother), who proudly manned the gates in his khaki uniform was easily bribed with a bottle of rum and a plate of half-chicken from Velu Military hotel down the road.
Extinguishing the cigarette in the ashtray of his car, Karthik got out. He smiled as he caught the eye of the pleasant faced Nepali guard who sat at the desk near the gate. As he walked up to the entrance, the guard got up from his seat and gestured towards an open- register on the table. Karthik leaned over, signed the register and picked up the pass that the guard handed him. As the gates creaked open giving him access once again to a place that was etched in his memory, a wave of nostalgia swept over Karthik. He slowly ambled down the corridor of the first block, lightly running his hand along the short wall that ran the length of the corridor. Though most of the class rooms were empty, there were a few students around. While some of them had their heads bent over the desks, some others were deep in conversation. Karthik smiled. He was sure they were hostellers, undoubtedly skipping the nuisance-ridden dorms, wandering along the corridors, books in hand and chanting away formulae like they were reciting a holy verse. He’d been one of them too, a long time ago.
He glanced at his watch. There was still plenty of time to kill. He slowly walked up to the stairs and started climbing them, one step at a time. He casually glanced at two girls huddled over a thick book, hastily scribbling in their long, unruled Classmate notebooks. As his shadow fell over their notebooks, they looked up at him and smiled. Returning their smile, he pushed ahead slowly, his left hand firmly placed on the cement hand rail of the staircase. It took him a little over ten minutes to climb up to the sixth floor. He looked at the thick set wooden door that was in front of him. The door was latched with an Aldrop bolt and secured with a rusty padlock. As Raju kaka had promised, there was a rickety wooden chair by the corner. Karthik lightly ran his hand under the seat of the chair and found what he’d been looking for - a bronze coloured key.
As he opened the door that led to the terrace of the building, he felt a light vibration in his shirt pocket. He decided to ignore whoever was calling and shut the door behind him. Whilst most of the terrace was open, there were a set of cylindrical domes that ran along one side of the terrace providing a relief from the harsh Chennai sun. Karthik walked under one of the domes and perched carefully on the parapet wall. Leaning against one of the pillars, he slowly lifted his left leg and let it dangle from the roof. He glanced at the boy’s hostel in the distance, where he could make out the bustling activity that accompanied every normal week day. He smiled as the memories came rushing back.
Hailing from a reputed middle-class Iyer family, Karthik had initially found hostel life tough. And that fact that it was his first time away from home did nothing to help ease his woes. His first couple of months had been a nightmare. It involved night-time ragging by the seniors, surprise raids by the hostel warden, long queues for the toilet, a maddening dash to finish bathing before the water stopped, sub-standard food served from the hostel mess and waiting by the phone room for the permitted weekly phone call, to name a few. The list had been endless. But as with everything in life, he had eventually settled in. The ragging almost stopped, the raids became less frequent and with a little bit of smart planning, he had even managed to ensure that his morning ablutions proceeded unhindered. He had even surprised himself when after a few months, he had actually started to enjoy his new found freedom. He enjoyed having friends around all the time and gradually started exploring experiences which went beyond academia - the thrill of secret clubs, the adrenaline rush of smoking on the roof, the sweet intoxication of alcohol, the “high” of rolled up marijuana, the carnivorous delight of meat and sinful pleasures of the flesh.
A continuous toll of ringing bells from the hostel brought Karthik’s attention back to the present. He smiled as he pictured sets of hardcore religious students going about their morning prayers asking their favourite deities to bless them abundantly, whilst secretly hoping that their “gods and goddesses” would throw spanners in the progress of the non-believers.
Karthik inhaled deeply. He desperately needed a cigarette. Cursing himself for leaving the pack of the cigarettes in the car, he took another deep breath. The smell of fresh, deep-fried medhu-vadais (doughnut shaped golden brown coloured crispy south Indian snack) along with the fragrant smell of sambar (a spicy south Indian dish consisting of lentils and vegetables) wafted up his nostrils, causing his eyes to water slightly. He glanced at his watch again. He needed to leave if he wanted to accomplish what he had in mind. Karthik walked back to the door and exited, shutting the door carefully behind him. Having bolted the door and secured the padlock, he re-attached the key beneath the seat of the rickety chair with a piece of cellophane tape that was left there. Slowly, he walked down the stairs and got off on the third floor. He glanced down the long corridor. The room he was headed for was at the very end.
As he opened the double doors to the room that had been his classroom for four long years, Karthik stopped. Suddenly he wasn’t sure if coming back here was a good decision. He hesitantly stepped into the room. Though his association with this classroom had officially ended almost two decades ago, it still held a special place in his heart.This classroom had made him what he was today. It was here that the foundation stone for his successful career had been laid. It was here that he had spent nights and mornings trying to cram up equations, theorems and modules that helped him pass his engineering degree with flying colours. It was here that he had made friendships that had held strong through the tough times. It was here, that he had found his true love - Divya Nair. Suddenly Karthik felt a bit dizzy. He stumbled over to the nearest desk and sat down. The memories were coming fast and strong now and each caused a new surge of emotion in him. He could feel sweat beads starting to form on his forehead. In a bid to shut the emotions, he wiped his eyes. As his eyes refocussed, he looked around the room. Nothing had changed. He got up and walked to the second desk in the last row. Though plenty of students had left their mark on the desk in the form of initials, names, equations, caricatures and other graphical art forms, his eyes settled on a small engraving in the top right corner of the desk. It was so small and inconspicuous, that most people would not have given it a second look. But not Karthik. As he ran his fingers over the tiny compass-engraved heart with the initials KI and DN, he felt his eyes start to well up as he thought about Divya.
He could still picture her walking towards the wedding mandap (covered structure with pillars) where he was seated, draped in a gorgeous ruby red sari, the shine of her jewellery no match for the mischievous twinkle in her hazel brown eyes. Though not a believer in fate, at that instant he had silently thanked his lucky stars for having brought her into his life. They were complete opposites, yet strangely similar. And that had been the secret behind their long lasting relationship. But life had other plans. On 2nd July, 6 years after their marriage, Divya and their daughter, Shruti, had been killed by a reckless drunk-driver who had jumped a red signal. Karthik had gone into shock from the grief and it had taken years of psychiatric help and support from friends to get him to accept the truth that Divya and Shruti were no more.
Karthik splashed his face with water from the tap. The cold water helped soothe his pain, even if it was temporary. He looked up at his reflection in the mirror and noticed that his eyes were still bloodshot. He rapidly splashed his face with water again, taking special care to rinse out his eyes. After a few attempts, he stopped. His eyes were still red, but at least he no longer looked like a drunkard. He put on his round-rimmed spectacles and straightened his hair. It was time.
As Karthik entered the room, everyone fell silent. He slowly walked up to the table and placed his satchel on it. He noticed the group of young women in the front row watch him intently. He slowly walked up to the board and wrote the date - 2nd July 2014. He turned around, flashed all of them a pleasant smile and spoke slowly. “My name is Karthik Iyer. And this is Digital Communication - 101”. It was time to restart his academic journey in the same classroom that held all his memories.
As they wheeled her away into the room, I stopped at the entrance. Though my thoughts were starting to wander, and my legs were refusing to move, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the mid-wife help transfer my wife onto the bed, and prop her up with pillows. “This is it!” I thought as I willed my feet to respond, and take that fifteen- step walk towards my wife. I slowly walked up to her bed, and sank into the single cushioned chair beside it.
Heavily exhausted from lack of sleep the previous night, and loaded on epidural shots, my wife kept drifting in and out of consciousness. The doctor had mentioned that they would try to “push” in a couple of hours and it might be best if she rested until then. "Labour was going to be hard as it is, without the added fatigue from no rest” she’d added. I sat wondering what I had gotten myself into. I kept asking myself if I really wanted to go through with this. As I watched the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, I found myself thinking about us and what we’d been thorough in the years gone by.
Neither of us were believers in love at first sight. I mean, to see someone and know that they’re right for you. Surely things like that don’t happen in real life. Well maybe for a handful of people, but definitely not for most of us. And ours was far from even “like" at first sight. I first met my then “would-be-life-partner” while pursuing my engineering degree. If my memory still functions well, the year was 2001. She was the stereo-typical studious first-bencher, whose talents ranged from academia and sports to music and quizzes. Me - I was the cornball back-bencher, who wasn’t necessarily a bad student, but whose talents were more suited for extra-curricular activities like music, some amount of sports and general slouching. We couldn’t be more poles apart, if we tried.
Though we studied in the same college and even the same class, it wasn’t until a college trip in 2003 that we started talking. At the beginning, our chats were usually about trivial things and college gossips, as you’d expect. At some point though, we both felt that we were “inversely right" for each other. She was organised, practical, meticulous and focussed. And that hasn’t changed to date. I was (and am still) easy-going, sloppy, unplanned and definitely carefree. As it normally happens with premature relationships, I, as the guy, was really vocal about taking the next steps, while she remained in the quiet whenever this topic was broached upon. However her smile and twinkling eyes left me in no doubt that we both wanted the same thing.
Most of 2003 passed by in a haze, with me trying to convince her that we should go around (note : It wasn’t a proposal as such), and she singing the “let’s just remain friends” tune. As the next year unfolded, I decided to do the honourable thing and give her some breathing space. After all, it had to be a mutual decision, if we were to go ahead with this for life. The year 2004 was an eye-opener for us. It was the penultimate year of our engineering degree and we both knew that the end was near. She had a lot of high expectations riding on her - to graduate top of the class, gain placement with a good company and choose a path which would hopefully propel her into a successful career. Me - I had two objectives; complete my engineering degree with decent grades and elicit a favourable answer from her. After all, time was running out.
April 7th 2004:
Weather wise, it was probably one of the least romantic days. The Indian summer was already underway, and the unrelenting 46 degree Chennai sun beat down on the barren land of our college grounds. Fortunately for us, we were sat in the cooler surroundings of our college library. As an avid reader (and not to mention one of the few air-conditioned rooms in our college), the library was my favourite haunt. As I sat immersed in a novel wrapped within a Digital Signal Processing (DSP) text book (hey, don’t judge me!), I felt something flutter onto my desk. I looked up from novel/DSP text, to see her flowing dupatta trail her graceful walk. I glanced down onto the desk, and saw a note, which was folded with absolute precision. Holding my breath, I carefully opened the note. Inside was a single word. THE single world which was capable of making me jump up on the desk and sing one of those cliched Bollywood numbers. Resisting the urge to do anything cheesy (as if !!), I smiled and watched her walk out of the library.
Now if this was Bollywood movie, I would probably end it here saying that “that was and is our Platinum day of love”. But for those of us living in the real world, whilst this was a close contender, I’m going to chug along to the remaining part of the story. There’s a simple reason for it. Though that was the day my “future wife” agreed to make our relationship official, we were both still very young at heart, young in love and to an extend I might even say immature. I’m not downplaying the importance of this momentous occasion in our lives, but hopefully when you finish reading you’ll understand why I did, what I did.
In the interest of saving you some time and escapism from the cheesiness, let’s fast forward a few years to the time of my present writing, circa 2012.
Happily married with the occasional tiffs and expecting our first child, the year began as a hope-laden one. We’d been together for almost eight years, and were ready to start a family. As with any couple in love, we’d had our share of disagreements, arguments and “Talk-to-the-hand” moments. But deep down in our hearts, we both knew that we’d be there for each other. She’d already proved that to me more than once - be it leaving everyone she knew behind and moving to the UK with me (even prior to marriage) or leaving her dream job in Pune to be closer to me in Bangalore. As for me, I was yet to deliver on my promise. Of course I took care of her needs and was there for her as any normal husband/partner should. But I was yet to show a selfless act of support. As I’ve once posted before, I am not the bravest of souls. And so when my wife asked me to be with her during the labour and subsequently the birth of our first born, I was surprised when I agreed. Probably on a sub-conscious level, I knew this was my chance to make good on my promises to her. Which brings me to the present.
“Excuse me, sir?” The mid-wife’s calm yet shrill voice snapped me out of my day dream. “Are you alright? You were mumbling something incoherently and smiling.” she goes on. “Oh, I’m sorry. I just …well…dozed off” I say and snap myself back into reality. “Yes, you’re actually here” my inner voice tells me. “You’ve got to go through with it. You can’t chicken out now!”. Great, I’ve now got an inner voice admonishing me.
“We’re about to start the process. Kindly bear in mind that it will be physically stressful for your wife, and you will have to support her as we go along” continues the mid-wife, complete unaware of my inner turmoil. “Oh, and before I forget, if you want to leave the room, you have to do it now. Once the process starts, you cannot exit till we get the baby out or unless we have to take your wife to the operating theatre for anything that may go wrong” she continues. My heart starts to beat wildly. “Are you for real?” I want to ask her. “Who says “something going wrong” and “operation theatre” in the same breath?”. As she thrusts a form into my hand, asking me to sign my acknowledgement, I realised that it was crunch time. All the “sweet-nothings of following her to the end of the world no matter what” that I had whispered to my wife over the past years, had come back to haunt me. Unable to make a decision, I look at the mid-wife and say “ Can you give me a couple of minutes please?”. She shrugs her shoulders, as if to say “whatever you crazy man”, and walks out of the door, closing it behind her.
As I watched the love of my life slowly stir in her drug-induced sleep, I suddenly feel nauseating waves of embarrassment and love wash over me. Embarrassment for having second-thoughts about being by her side for what was probably going to be the most physically and emotionally stressful day of her adult life. Love for her commitment of going through with this. Here was a person, who at the pinnacle of her career, took the conscious decision to give up all her potential promotions and social engagements that she loved, to fulfil our “collective” dream of starting a family. Here was someone, ready to tackle the intense physical and emotional trauma associated with giving birth, all out of her love for me. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, I grew up.
I wiped away a tear from my eye, and signed the acknowledgement/acceptance form. I loved her and I was going to be there for her. The mid-wife came in, glanced at my hastily scrawled signature on the form, and went over to my wife. She slowly woke her up and commenced the preparation for the delivery. I looked at my wife. Now fully awake, it looked like her epidural drugs were starting to wear off. To me, she looked to be in a world of spasm-ic pain. As I walked over to the bed, she glanced up and gave me a half-hearted teary-eyed smile. I gently squeezed her hand to reassure that I would be there with her, and that she was not alone. Once the final preparations were done, the doctor arrived. She smiled and said “Let’s do this!”
Through eerie chants of “Deep breaths…and…push”, I focus attention on my wife. She is in excruciating pain and looks like she could possibly explode any moment. Digging her nails deep into my flesh with every contraction, she cries out loud. As we briefly make eye contact, her glassy eyes silently plead to me to get her out of her misery. I fight back my tears of helplessness, and whisper to her “We can do this….together…you and me!” She smiles weakly and releases her hold on my arm ever so slightly. Three long hours and a gallon of bodily fluids later, I hold up our pale, pink bundle of joy up to her and whisper “We did it!”. As our little one cuddles against my wife, I put my arm around her and look at my watch. The date read 7th April 2012.
Eight long, sometimes amazing, sometimes crazy years, since she had dropped that little folded note, changing my life for ever.
As we cradled the little one in our hands, a realisation dawned on me. We had made the right decision all those years ago. We were perfect for each other. And eight years on, we still loved each other more and more with every passing day. What we’d been through together a few hours ago, had brought us closer than ever before. And for me, I looked at her with new-found affection. That was our Platinum day of Love.
Just like Platinum, our love had stood the test of time, and would continue forever, indestructible and always pure and true to its form. Next year, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our togetherness, our life will have come the full circle, and nothing but the best would do to celebrate this momentous and precious occasion of the realization of our unfading and untarnished love.
Of course, your blessings are invaluable gifts too :)
Also a bit of a disclaimer: I know my handful of regular readers probably did not expect such a "cheesy, at times romedy-ish" post from yours truly. But thank you, for taking the time and effort (yes, I know how long it is!) to read a "true story" with some "literary freedom" thrown in for good measure.