Her first li’l ponytail

 

As parents of babies, toddlers or children, we gush over a lot many things. And we wait for a lot of firsts. The first smile. The first ‘tata waving’. The first kiss. The first step…well, the list is endless. More so, in the case of first babies, much to the agony of the younger sibling, and the embarrassment of the older sibling, whose ‘first everthings’ (including the first nappy) are not only preserved zealously, but also demonstrated with gusto to select audiences.

One of the things the husband and I were waiting for, from quite a long time, was the daughter’s first pony tail. We could never get enough hair to pull back into a pony. So the baby was always seen only with two distinct hairdos – either a la Zakir Hussain (but not as tidy as Hussain saab), or a fountain pony right on top of the head, when I could manage tying it up.

                Our wish came true last month. I realized, with glee, that I could finally have a 90% pony tail (of course with great difficulty and tact, as she doesn’t like any pressure on her tresses). I immediately pinged my husband, who was on a month long tour in the US. And we skyped. He was equally thrilled.

So here’s to you, S, on this occasion:

–          I know you will reach an age where pony tails are so passé, and you would laugh at me if I suggested it as a hairdo.

–          I know you will have Monday mornings, where your biggest ‘waking up concern’ would be whether to cut or to keep your hair long. And curse your lineage for not having given you a headful of glossy, easily manageable, and totally artificial looking ‘shampoo-ad’ kind of hair.

–          I know you will hardly recognize yourself in your ‘first ponytail photo collection’, and may nonchalantly wave it around, asking your friends, “Can you even believe this is me?”

–          I know you would probably be very anxious on how you turn out on your important days, and would be experimenting with your looks maybe for days together.

–          I know you will probably have a lot of admirers gushing over you, some of whom you will just vainly ignore, and one of whom you may choose to share your life with.

–          I know you will have a panic attack on seeing your first grey strand of hair, and will spend the next few years in denial, and further few subsequent years, ageing gracefully.

All I want to say – don’t stress too much about your appearance. To two sets of people, you will always be the most beautiful of all – your child, and your parents who eagerly waited so long to see your first little ponytail.

Feed it back!

In the corporate world that has now taken a sabbatical from me, feedback was always the ever-important term. I also give it credit for making me go weak in the knees every time I came into any kind of contact with it. No, I am NOT a weakling (Really, you know, am not). The special thing about feedback is that it’s one of the very few things that can be treated as both art and science. As they say, a giver of feedback should know –

When to give, Who to give, What to give, How to give and such others.

The recipient of feedback (yeah, the victim) should know –

How to listen,

What to listen to (Very very important – separating the rice from the chaff types),

What to say (well, the clever thing to say after the session. You get the drift, right?)

How to put ‘feedback into action’ (tough one, eh?)

Now amidst all this mayhem, the feedback Cupid (and I am sure there’s one) plays his role to determine if ‘what you intended to communicate’ was exactly ‘what the recipient understood’. Or  misunderstood.  Totally. Or partially. Whew!

As I sometimes do, in a pocket of time that I suddenly find to be ONLY mine, I started mulling over how much I was missing the feedback session of my corporate avatar. It did yield results, I thought. For all the hard work by everyone.

Suddenly, I rubbed my hands in glee. I would apply the feedback in my day-to-day life. Well, who says it’s meant only for the office. For all you know, it may better my life. (Not all by-products of free time should be given wings, was something I didn’t realize then).

My maid cum cook was the first target. I was all armed. I gave her one of my most beatific smiles and asked her to first sit down before starting her work. We need to have a discussion, I said. With a million worry lines on her forehead, Vandana Maushi prepared to sit on the floor. ‘No, no! Idhar’, I said, pointing to the dining table chair. We made a strange pair on the dining table, she, with her frown laden face, as if I was going to ask her about a missing golden bangle, or about the dead fly in the lunch she had made.

Me: Maushi, aap hamare liye ek saal se kaam karte ho. Aapko kaisa lag raha hai? (Forgive the ‘Aaj Tak’ punch line)

She: Pauses interminably before asking ‘Kyun, mujhe teremnate karnewale ho kya?’ (Are you going to terminate me?)

Me: (trying to put the merits of feedback in the ‘layman’est of terms) ‘Nahi Maushi, mujhe jaanna tha aapko kaam me kya achha laga, kya accha nahi laga, kuch badalna hai kya, woh sab. Tumhala samajhla na?’ (literally translated from Marathi as ‘you understood, right?’)

She: Worry lines reduced somewhat. Hmmm, everything is fine Didi….. (Now don’t ask me why ‘Maushi’ calls me ‘Didi’. It has worked for our excellent chemistry so far, you see)

Me: ‘To kuch badalna nahi hai kya?’

She: ‘Manjhe?’ (means?)

Me: ‘Kuch bhi, kaam karvane ka dang, kitne bartan daalti hu, kitney chutti deti hun. Kuch hai to bolo maushi!’

She: ‘Chutti to accha deti ho. Magajmaari bhi nahi karti. Bartan kabhi jyaada hai to kabhi kum. Chalega didi, sab theek hai.’

Me: (Now a little exasperated that the session is just not yielding any improvement point) ‘Ok, to kuch bhi change nahin karna?’ I add a final twist. ‘Kuch hai to bol do maushi, nahi to agle mahine ko hi bol paoge.’

She: ‘Haan didi, yaad aaya. Ek chhoti si baat hai.’

Me, happy that its finally going somewhere. ‘Bolo na!’

She: ‘Bas woh 801 wale ko mera pagaar mat batana. Har ek kaam ka unse jyaada paisa leti hu didi. Kya karu, kaam bahut hai udhar, aur who aurat kitna jhikjhik karti hai, maahit?’

I almost want to bang my head against the nearest wall.

The husband comes home. I greet him with a very very unusual smile. Usually its a curt ‘hi’ which means a lot of things –

You’ve had a good day out working, look at me, dealing with diapers and nappies all day. You better take care of the baby now.

Don’t ask me to make tea now, I really need to put my feet up, have been running all day! Etc. And etc.

He: ‘Hey! Seem to be in a good mood today eh?’

I: ‘Yeah…kind of.. do you want me to make some tea?’

He: ‘uhmmmm..ok…thanks for asking.’

I: ‘Anytime! Hey, by the way, need to have a discussion with you.’

The husband’s high drops a bit. ‘Yeah?’

‘Lets talk over tea. Nothing to worry, just a casual chat.’

We start chatting. Luckily the baby is asleep.

I: ‘I was thinking, you know, that we should have a feedback session’

He: ‘About?’

I: ‘Well, about what went right during the month, what didn’t, you get it – just like our corporate ones?’

He: ‘Hmmm…Why do you want to do it?’

I: ‘Well, you know, the benefits of feedback n blah blahs. I have a feeling such regular sessions will help us to be better partners in the long run.’

He: ‘Ok, if you really think so. When do we start?’

I: Cocking my eyes slyly, ‘What’s a better time than now?’

He: ‘Fine. So let me start. Things that I didn’t quite like in you in the previous month –‘

  1.  ‘You cut your hair. Real short. Without even telling me.’ (hey come on now, it wasn’t that short to really pre-warn you. And remember, your sister streaked her hair red, and you didn’t even notice?)
  2. ‘You bought yet another truckload of bed linen which you will definitely not use in the near future as we can’t leave the baby on it for all the right reasons.’ (Hello, but it was on sale!)
  3. ‘You didn’t act cheerful enough in front of my friend who visited last Friday’ (now whatever that means? Well, how cheerful can one get when someone is invading your only TGIF evening of the week)
  4. ‘You never take good photos of me.’ (Like model, like photo)

At this point, I have to time-out the husband to warn him that he is getting too micro. He shushes me, and goes on, this time attempting to be more macro, and macho.

  1. ‘You never cook for me.’ (Typical MCP point)
  2. ‘You don’t offer me tea.’ (Still thinking of an appropriate retort to this one)
  3. ‘You don’t call my dad very frequently.’ (But even you don’t call him twice a week, baby)
  4. ‘I have learnt Tamil to an extent, you are not even making an effort to learn Gujarati. How will the baby learn the mother-tongue’ (Hmmm, but I thought it was the mother’s tongue)
  5. You didn’t encourage me for my bullet trip to Himalayas (Encourage? Hey, you just went on a backpacking trip to Sikkim with your friends)

At this point, I almost want to wail like a banshee and curse my hormones for bringing this feedback thingie up and out in the open.

‘OK OK!!’ I scream. ‘Enough! I haven’t heard so many complaints in all the four years of married life. And it’s all about negatives. Where are the positives?’

He pauses just for a moment before retorting that he needs some time to think and get back. ‘Yeah, right’, I yell, at my sarcastic best, ‘You never thought even for a millisecond before you spat out all the complaints. It was as if they were sitting neatly wrapped, right below your tongue, ready to be released anytime’. And, phew, there goes my evening.

Next day, my deal is with the baby.

‘S, don’t step on the book. It’s ‘Jay-Jay’ (meaning ‘God’ in Gujarati baby-talk).

S gives me an understanding nod, and feeds puffed rice to the book, all the time standing over it.

It’s on my nerves now. Feed it back to the corporate world, pleaseeee!!

Yes, I have a cook

I don’t find cooking very interesting. Well there’s nothing in this to pop your eyeballs out, is there? Not really, but things do change slightly if you are married to a Gujarati. It matters now. And matters a lot. It did help that the husband is uber supportive, although, given a choice, he would always opt for my cooking. But frankly I didn’t give him much of a choice. Since we both were consulting galley slaves with hardly any compartmentalisation of work and life, we chose to have a cook who would redeem us, rather me, from this mundane chore. And I dreamt of waking up to an aroma filled home. Hot breakfast and lunch ready on the table. Freshly cooked dinner after a stressful day…mmmm what joy.

After a couple of trial and errors we did manage to find the right cook who would go on to help us for over two years. Not the best of cooks, though, but didn’t give us much to complain either. So there we were, trying not to give in to the whims of eating out, despite an extremely stressful job. Priding ourselves on getting our own dabbas to office. Despite being newly married, and just having settled into a nuclear setup in a new city. But what I had not braced myself for, was the animosity I would face on this ‘cook’ topic. And that the animosity would come from so many mutually exclusive quarters. All of whom were women. Let me start with the one closest to my heart.

My mother, a devout Tam-Brahm, for whom a house help entering through the main door itself causes a slight upheaval, who wouldn’t dream of someone else entering her sacred abode. My idea of a cook was met with mixed reaction. Mixed because she couldn’t accept the idea of a stranger cooking in her daughter’s kitchen. But she couldn’t let her beloved daughter down either. This was the easiest nut to crack.

Scene 2

We used to do occasional trips to Mumbai, where my father in law stayed. It was there that I, the new Madrasi bride, was subjected to intense scrutiny by some of the female and elderly (a lethal combination) Gujarati relatives.

“So what time you have to go to work?”

“I have to leave around 830 aunty”

“And K (the husband)?”

“We leave around the same time”

“And what time do you get back home?”

“Cant say, there’s usually lot of work, so depends..” (there is no question of when K gets back, as that is totally irrelevant you see)

“Aur dabba? Do you cook before leaving?”

(Now I can’t hide it any longer) “No we have a cook.”

“You mean just for lunch?”

“No for breakfast and dinner as well.”

Uncomfortable silence.

“Does she cook well?”

Now if you have ever tasted authentic homemade Gujarati food, you would rather not answer this in an affirmative tone. Reason being, Gujaratis just love their food. Men love their wives for cooking them great food. And the wives love their husbands for giving them a chance to cook great food. And so it goes…their standards of good food, cooking etc are way way above that of lesser mortals like me who can churn out the banal food just enough to keep one’s vital stats unaffected.

So I meekly say “yes, quite decent food”

“Decentttttt bole che!!!!”, guffaws a particulary loud woman who has been eyeing me suspiciously from the very start of this conversation. And they all have a hearty laugh. And I am almost the college girl being ragged there by a bunch of irate seniors. I pretend to look at my mobile and attend a non-existent call.

Scene 3

Visiting my cousin’s wife, again a Tam-Brahm, but yes, she’s from my generation, and so I was off- guard.

“Hey, so you have a cook?”, she asks.

“Yes, luckily. How else to manage man?”

Pause. “Even he told me to keep a cook yaar. But I refused.”

The same story then. Quickly collecting myself, I ask, “So you manage all the cooking before leaving to work?”

“Yeah, luckily I have a habit of getting up early you know so I can finish off all the stuff before heading to work.”

“Oh…he also helps you maybe? “(I have already made up my mind to berate the husband for not helping me in the kitchen only and only because of which we have to resort to a cook)

“No no…He can’t even boil water” (giggles like a schoolgirl)

I am stuck between my feminist sentiments and the cook saga. While I am still wondering what to say next, she pips in, “I dont like anyone else entering my kitchen yaar, that’s why. I only have a lady for making chapattis. She comes every morning and night.”

Huh??

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

The above post is my entry to the ‘Just married, please excuse’ contest, around the release of Yashodhara Lal’s new book (http://www.yashodharalal.com/2012/08/the-just-married-please-excuse-contest.html)