One umbrella stand,
unpolished oak wood,
solid immovable base,
communal sharing permitted,
not for sale.
The folks who love me tell me I matter. And yet, because of who I am, I know I don’t. Having lived my life as multiple forms of a minority group (mainly religious, cultural, geographic, socio-economic and political), I am aware that mine is the smallest voice, not less powerful as much as less relevant.
My views on public celebrations are mere squeaks amid the roar of the disco-dancing revelers. My thoughts on enforced religious practice matter squat because I am one of only 69,000 in the world. A Parsi is not a votebank, only a good-hearted crank, easily missed by even a microscope.
Culturally, I’m the oddball who knows her Brahms but not Bally Sagoo, who learned about “muthias” only yesterday but grew up slurping porridge, and who believes marriage before 30 is detrimental to sanity. At the NCPA one evening, the Symphony Orchestra of India played Liszt, to the nodding-swaying enjoyment of the audience. When this mostly European group of musicians swiftly changed to Dhoom Macha Le as a surprise, they were met with blank faces and silence. I knew I was among the 3 ½ people who even recognized it.
Geographically, I am surrounded by friends and family who think Bandra is the end of the world, while the rest of the city jostles and rushes by without a thought to daily commuting. Even among my own, I am the minority for trekking to Powai while they remain south of Worli and fear for my health and sanity.
Socio-economically, I’m a teeny-tiny sliver of people who aren’t a business community, aren’t nouveau riche, aren’t aristocracy, aren’t old money, but have impeccable accents and know how to work the silverware at the Sea Lounge. The middle class spread is like a middle-aged man’s girth, but as upper middle, I’m somewhere near the lower abdomen.
Politically, I’m mid-left on social issues and middle-path on economic ones, while my milieu resembles the Indian version of Republican senators. That I continue to hope and vote and believe in grassroots work isolates me further.
Amid a billion and then some people in this nation, my life choices, my beliefs and the strength I feel them with have no significance in the scheme of things, because I am a lone number amid majority hordes and the statistics always win.
There will be resentment toward my “snobby life”, all the “what do you know” questions hurled at me, and this is not about garnering sympathy. It is about the life I live, as real as anybody else’s, but not counted or taken seriously because it is a rarer existence. It rankles, sure, but I’ve lived with it long enough to know it’s here to stay. (And yes, people have worse afflictions.)
So I write. In the hope that I can escape leave my labels at the door, divorce my history, blur my “identity” and be just me. But if you were to ask whether I’d be willing to trade any of this—and I know you will—my answer is: Not on your life.
At 8.27 p.m., in a mad rush after being 6 days late, Ghatotkachh B M, red, grimacing and all of 3.5 kilos, made his grand entry into the world.
Mommy J is doing fine, (she looked mighty relieved to me) , Daddy M’s face has split into a permanent grin, Grandmas and Grandpa are delighted in their sweet wise way, Aunty S has threatened to make tandoori kebabs out of him (already) and Aunty OJ has, among other things, tripped over her own feet, jumped until she jiggled and congratulated the gynecologist in her blubbering excitement.
Ghattu, of course, looked mighty pissed at our paparazziness, although we were granted an audience for a whole 3 minutes before he was whisked off for his first bath.
I have GOT to stop wanting to cry. The girl I met at 15 while standing in line to pay Junior College fees is a mommy now. That’s no reason to bawl. Is it?
Oh, and one last thing: those of you who know me personally know how badly I want girls if and when I have babies. After what I’m feeling now, not so much. Just give me an itty bitty cuddly wuddly cutie patootie ball of happy healthy squishyness and I’ll be bowing and scraping heavenward.
To my darling J, congratulations.
To the Lord, thank you for this biggest of birthdays.
To my uterus, shut up and await your turn.
This one is called The Story of OJ and the Boy in a Restaurant.
It could be any cuisine, though they prefer Italian or seafood.
Come join them in the merriment, especially if you’re dieting.
Consideration being their joint middle name, they’ll ensure the food never reaches you, thereby guaranteeing your skinny happiness ever after.
Ghatotkachh B M is a much-loved baby, by virtue of his very special momma, who, mind you, is my best friend first. Ghattu, as he was named by a friend amid much protesting from his parents (but who listens to parents anyway), is also a lucky baby. To be born to calm, stable, happy parents with only the odd hysterical aunt (stop looking at me!) waiting to chomp on his cheeks is a privilege.
Of course, Ghattu could also very well be a she. Since s/he is taking his/her own sweet time about showing up, we’ll just have to battle our butterflies and wait for the filmi wail. (Although if he’s anything like his mother, he’ll save his breath and begin organizing his bedclothes according to size and color.)
While my peaceful Virgo BFF goes about her days stoically, I’m tying myself into knots in anticipation. I’m not very helpful, I know, calling hopefully and bouncing around Mother Care eyeing: 1. things I think will be Very Useful for Ghattu, 2. things that will actually be Very Useful for Ghattu, 3. things I think look will look pretty scattered around while Ghattu poses for his/her first pictures. I’d list my purchases so far, but the BFF reads this page (I think…. do you, J?) so I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Ack. I think I just did.
While we’re on the subject (don’t ask “what subject?”—I just wrote that because it sounds like an almost-auntie thing to say), does anybody know of any research that proves children’s personalities could possibly be influenced by their mother’s best friend? Two pairs of sensible Virgo eyes raising their brows at me would be a tad unbearable. Right now though, I’ll take my chances, if only to see a tiny version of one of my favoritest people in the whole world.
Please pray Ghattu is among us soon. Safe and healthy and blessed. I’m worried I’ll have to start on my toenails very shortly.
a.k.a. How OJ Got Her Groove Back
Sapna Govind Jadhav stole my phone. At 18, her unlined face is the picture of innocence, and her eyes well up in half a blink. She came into my office on Tuesday, to interview for the post of school attendant, accompanied a local maid who procures help for employers in the area. When she left, so did my phone and its case, although I didn’t miss either until a good hour later. Sapna Govind Jadhav, whether stupid or desperate, came back the next day. To work at the organization she had stolen from. I showed her around her duties, watching her carefully. When she was occupied with my staff, I called my mother and asked her to bring in the police.
“Bhau chi shapath,” she swore, insisting she hadn’t taken it, while staring at the floor and twisting her fingers into pretzels. A quick 2 minutes later, she admitted to “picking up” something that had fallen on the floor. That was lie # 2.
“Let me go,” she begged in Marathi, “I’ll get it for you tomorrow.” (#3)
“You aren’t leaving my sight until I have my phone back,” I said calmly, while the policewoman chided her about how her little brother would be all alone at home, were I to press charges. “I’m not filing anything,” I said, “Just give me my phone back.”
Many convoluted stories about how she had been a mere accomplice to how the person with her didn’t know she had taken it to how she didn’t know there was a phone inside the pouch (# 4,5,6) later, she was marched off to the detention room for questioning, while I intently studied the two-way transmission system of the Malabar Hill police station.
On the drive to her suburban shanty, more tales followed between bouts of weeping (# 7,8,9,10). About how her parents died, about how she and her brother have no one in the world, they’ve been living alone for 3 years now and this is her first job, about how she would be shamed if her neighborhood got wind of this act. And my bleeding heart mother melted at this vision of misery, assuring her we (including the plainclothes policeman) would pretend to be people from her workplace as long as she handed the phone back.
Ghatkopar is not the prettiest place I’ve been to. And the dark, winding, drain-lined, claustrophobically narrow alleys of her slum, let’s just say I’ve seen better. With her in the lead, the cop and I following close on her heels and my mother bringing up the rear with her recently operated foot, muttering sadly about “abject poverty” against a background of loud television soaps, we wound through what appeared to be unending gallis before we realized she had brought us to her uncle’s home. Yes, now there was an uncle. Who lived exactly 10 seconds from where we had begun our journey 15 minutes ago. Who, of course, had no knowledge of the phone being stolen and had believed her when she said she had found it lying around.
“My phone,” I said, extending my hand. I closed my fingers tightly around it and checked that it was mine. All good, except for a missing sim that was cancelled anyway. Now for the cover. “Please, Didi,” she begged, “you wait here, I’ll go get it.” For some reason, she was extremely reluctant to hand back the cover. The policeman intervened and we were marching along in single file, through even darker, filthier alleys with my mother’s mutterings about abject poverty floating ahead. In her almost-60 years in this city, my South Bombay born-and-bred mother has never visited a slum and was horrified in equal parts at the squalor and the fact that I appeared to be immune to it due to teaching in similar areas in my teenage years.
We reached a cul-de-sac, where she called out for a key. One promptly appeared and we were following her up the steepest ladder I’ve climbed. Even as I pulled myself up, I couldn’t help but remember that my feet were shod in what would be 2 months’ salary for Sapna Govind Jadhav.
Up in the little makeshift kitchen, she climbed onto a stool and pulled my cover out of a plastic bag containing a blanket and some scraps of cloth. My lemon yellow Amish county quilted cover with its little pink and blue flowers looked like a rag. A rag with a big splotch of blood on it. Puzzled, I turned it over to examine it further. “Give that to me,” said the cop and snatched it away in a hurry. It went into a plastic bag that had housed potatoes until half a minute ago.
Descending the ladder, I noticed the zipper of my bag open again. Really, I’m not a careless idiot. And I know I didn’t leave it that way. A quick check affirmed the presence of my bag’s contents and I firmly tucked it under my arm from then on, while my mother’s mutterings now included “nimble fingers” and “survival”.
After the policeman had completed his inquiry procedures that included questioning all the four sisters (have you been keeping count of what # lie we’re on? I’ve lost track), we headed back to the car, where my father waited patiently.
Driving back under a large moon at almost midnight, I learned that Sapna Govind Jadhav’s parents died because they were HIV positive. Her brother, who is 12, also has the virus. The other sisters have married and though they live in the area, refuse to provide financially for him. It has fallen on Sapna Govind Jadhav, 10th standard pass and all of 18, to work as household help and rent out their own kholi to pay for his treatment. Both the policemen who assisted us through the evening were helpful enough to explain how they looked for chinks in her armor and inconsistencies in her story. Made a ton of sense too, and was very, very interesting to learn. But even as I drove away from that Ghatkopar slum, through Dharavi and Kurla, toward my South Bombay life, Sapna Govind Jadhav’s 18-year-old face refused to leave me. I doubt our paths will cross again, and I wish I could’ve helped her, but I did send up a prayer for her tattered body and soul that night, and thanked the powers that be for my life’s riches, that extend way beyond a snazzy cell phone.
To all you people whose numbers I have had saved on my phone:
The phone’s gone. Yes, the very same piece of gorgeousness that the Boy gifted me on my birthday, less than 8 weeks ago.
IT WAS STOLEN (the pox on the thief!), and I’ve been officially AWOL for the last 10 hours.
The new sim will take a few days to arrive, and my number stays the same (hallelujah!) but until then I’m just going to attempt a phone-less existence and pretend I live in 1997. (My mother doesn’t buy that I’ll survive without my ear extension, so I have a point to prove here.)
Alright, now if you’re done clucking in sympathy, please to email your numbers. And do drop a little something in my Phone-For-OJ Fund. I’ll be in that corner over there, still foaming at the mouth.