Monday, 6 February 2017

A Very Happy Birth Day, Son!

Ever since I can remember, I have heard stories of what happened the day I was born, as has my sister, regarding her 'birth' day. Unlike most Indians of her generation, my mother never believed in concealing the fact that all babies pop out of tummies, usually in a hospital. So we always heard detailed stories of our respective days, including what she ate for dinner that night, who dropped her to the hospital, what the doctor said, our maternal grandmother's first reaction to each of us and who informed our dad. When I was born, he was serving the nation in far away Ladakh, in Jammu and Kashmir and had to wait for the roads to be cleared, as they were blocked due to a heavy January snowfall, before he could set off for Mumbai. When my sister was born, he was studying at the College Of Military Engineering, a few kilometres from Pune and so he made it to the hospital in Pune city, within an hour of getting the news, unlike the five days it had taken him to reach me...
My son turned thirteen today. He reads a three hundred page book every couple of days, no exaggeration, but he does not read my blog as it does not contain blood, gore, weapons and is rather non violent. But I decided today would be a good day to put down his birth day story in the hope that he will read it one day soon. So here's to you, my newly minted teen!

By the third week of January we were all set for our second baby to be born. The previous month I had resigned from my job as a lecturer in Pune's most prestigious and at that time also India's number one Law College: ILS Law. My husband had arrived from Dar Es Salaam where he was working then, my mother was on stand by to take care of my five year old daughter and my suitcase was packed and placed in the car. My due date was 3rd February but my doctor was very confident I would not go beyond the 26th of January.
But here we were at the end of January and there was absolutely no sign of the baby. Every day our daughter would come home from school, eagerly anticipating good news, find me still hanging around the house and promptly burst into tears! I have a penchant and a fantastic memory for dates. I knew so many people born in January that every day I used to say, not today, not this date, I want a fresh one for my baby, a date on which no one I know has a birthday! Now this was like looking for the proverbial needle in the hay stack, given that there are only three hundred and sixty five days in a year, and my mother began getting really irritated with me and my fresh date attitude. As if I actually had any control over the date! People were calling her night and day for news and she was tired of saying "No, nothing yet"!
When I met my doctor on the 4th of February, he told me he would wait until the 9th of February but no longer than that and would then induce me. Another doctor who had been present during my daughter's birth bumped into me at the hospital and advised full squats, something I diligently began doing. May be they helped..
Friday, 6th February, 2004, 6:15 am. My daughter had school and so I got up to help her get ready. I could feel waves of painless contractions radiating across my lower abdomen, even as I packed her tiffin and laid out her uniform, but I dismissed them as Braxton Hicks, the 'false' contractions. Anyway at that point it was more important for me to see my daughter off to school on time. I am a stickler for school attendance and both my children know it and they usually have 100% attendance every year. I can proudly say in all her fifteen years and in his ten years of school life, they have never missed school because I got up late or because they were late for the bus!

7:45 am : My husband and daughter drove off to school and after saying good bye to them at the gate, I entered my mother's house, instead of going up to my own. The 'Braxton Hicks' had not abated and had got steadier. She was on the phone with yet another aunt who had called up to ask her if I was in hospital yet! As I leaned against the door jamb, something in my face told her it was probably time. She hurriedly bid a good bye to my aunt and then I told her that it would be a good idea to go to the hospital though I did NOT want this date! I know at least FOUR other people born on 6th February.. My mother had no words left...

8:45 am: A quick shower and then I sat down to have breakfast with my father in law. My husband had just returned from dropping our daughter  to school and my mother had accompanied him upstairs to our house. I used to actually have bread occasionally in those days and the sight of me peacefully chomping down toast and butter while unhurriedly taking soothing sips of ginger tea, became too much for my mother to bear. She finally asked me if I planned to go to the hospital at all! I said I did, but I wanted to eat first for who knew when I would get my next meal? I told my husband to eat as well, which he quickly did. Good habits are deeply ingrained in us by our parents but at times I'm sure they regret it! I picked up my plate and cup to carry to the kitchen and my Mom (who rarely yells) shouted asking if I could not just leave them on the table for one day! My mother had lent me her cook for a few months and she was cooking in my kitchen. I quickly prostrated before our kitchen temple asking the Gods to ensure all went well...The cook was watching me and she later told my mother that I would surely have a son because I had bowed really low, notwithstanding the fact that my stomach was in the way! Will India NEVER escape the omens and signs associated with giving birth to a son? When will the desire for a healthy baby replace the overwhelming desire for a son?

9:45 am: We were finally in the hospital and one of my doctors had examined me and declared that today would be the day! Now there was no escaping the date because given my pattern of super quick delivery, I knew there was no way I could stretch it till 7th February. Well, so be it! Another quick examination later, in which she marvelled at the rapid progress of labour, the doctor told me I would deliver before lunch. She gave me the option of either lying down in a room on the first floor or walking around on the ground floor. I opted for the latter as I'd rather walk than lie down on any given day.

11:00 am: The baby's heart beat was monitored for a few minutes, the print out looked good, the nurse gave me an enema and I resumed walking. Though I could feel the contractions increasing in intensity, I was in no pain at all, thanks to the fantastic birthing genes I have inherited from my mother which ensure that we have naturally painless and very quick deliveries. Her mother and grand mother had the same pattern and that was why my mother had been so worried about me reaching the hospital well in time..Neither my mother's sisters nor my own sister inherited these genes and so it remains to be seen if my daughter has picked the right ones from the vast gene pool!

11:50 am: By then I was bored of walking around with nothing much to do. My ever patient husband was reading ancient magazines, asking me once in a while if I was fine. So I spent some time at the reception observing  the chaos that represents a maternity hospital because there's always something happening to someone and women are loud when in pain! A middle aged lady saw me standing there and asked me which month I was in. ( This is a favourite 'aunty' question in India and it is asked to even absolute strangers!)  I told her I had been told by my doctor that as soon as HER daughter was out of the labour room, I would be taken inside and it should happen in the next few minutes. She was shocked to the core and could not believe her ears. I guess she had never met anyone who wasn't screaming and shouting a few minutes before the baby was born...

12:00 noon: I was in the sterile gown and on the labour table, chatting with the two lady gynaecologists, waiting for my husband to change and come in to witness the birth.

12:05 pm: There was no sign of my main doctor, nor was my husband in view. I dispatched a nurse to go and look for him as I knew we had very little time left by then. The junior most doctor, Dr.Parte, was called away just then for another emergency and she assured me she would be back very quickly, in thirty minutes at the most, and she would be there when the baby was born. Given my pattern the first time around, both she and I knew I would be through before she came back, but I agreed, and asked her to please hurry up.

12:10 pm: My husband FINALLY entered in sterile green scrubs. In more than two decades of marriage, by God's grace, the number of times we have argued is less than the number of fingers on one hand. This turned out to be one of those momentous occasions! Here's our dialogue, verbatim.
Me: "WHERE were you?"
Him: " I was with Dr. Avinash Phadnis right outside."
Me: "Doing WHAT? I waited for ages" (It had been five minutes actually!)
Him: " We were watching the cricket match. I thought any way nothing is going to happen until he enters the labour room, so we were watching and discussing the match." (India was playing Australia in Melbourne).
Me: " This is the absolute limit! HOW can you think of cricket at this time? I hope India loses today!" (India lost to Australia by seven wickets later that day! Never enrage a women in labour, so what if she's in no pain!)

12:15 pm: I finally realized that my main doctor was NOT planning to put in an appearance at all and the equally skilled and experienced second in command, Dr.Neena Sathe, would deliver my baby. (Last year when I went back to the hospital for mandatory tests, as I had just crossed the age of forty, I discovered that Dr.Sathe was an East Africa veteran and had been brought up in Uganda and had visited Kenya every year as a child, to holiday in Mombassa. She had moved to India to study medicine. In those days, Justice Dave of the  Supreme Court mercifully wasn't around to block international medical admissions! Given the fact that I had found out in Tanzania, East Africa, that I was going to have another baby, in retrospect, she was absolutely the right person to deliver him!) From having all three gynaecologists around me when my daughter was born, I had been reduced to just one the second time around. Not a very comforting thought... My case had been deemed too easy to merit his cricket match being interrupted! I reminded her that I wanted to see the baby's placenta before it was disposed off. I had missed it the first time round as I had not realized that they do not automatically show the mother the placenta in India. She assured me she would do that.

12.20 pm: Dr.Sathe gave a quick cut to ensure that there was no haphazard tearing of tissues (sadly episiotomy is the norm in India and women are not given a choice in this matter) and a minute later the amniotic sac burst at just the right time! Finally I was given the go ahead to push the baby out!

12:29 pm: Just a few easy and totally naturally painless pushes and a quick vacuum suction later, the baby was out! I finally got to see the placenta... Not a very pretty sight...  My first question was if the baby was normal. (Yes right, like they were going to declare right there to me if, God forbid, there was an issue with the baby! The first of the rhetorical questions mothers ask for the rest of their lives!)  Then I asked what it was and my husband told me it was a boy. I asked him to go and get my cell phone from the locker outside so I could call my mother and speak to my daughter as I wanted her to be the first to know! By this time my mother had picked up my daughter from school and they were already at the hospital, contrary to my explicit instructions, given that very morning, of going home and changing and having lunch before coming to the hospital. So my daughter got to see her baby brother minutes after he was born, while still in her blue St.Mary's school uniform! Our baby was exposed to really elite school germs very early...

12:40 pm: I watched the paediatrician, Dr.Nivedita, give the baby his first shot, Hepatitis B. I asked her the baby's weight and APGAR score. He was an eight pound baby and his APGAR was 9 (out of ten). Mercifully I had studied Dr.Virginia Apgar's work in my psychology class in college and had also refreshed my knowledge before the baby was born. So I knew no one gets a perfect APGAR, at one minute and again at five minutes after birth. Else I would have asked, like all Indian parents do once the child starts school, "Where did my child lose ONE mark? It's not possible. Please check again!"

12:45 pm. My junior doctor walked in just as they were cleaning me up and winding up before moving me out. "Wow, that was fast!", she said. My main doctor finally tore himself away from the match and just popped his head in from the labour room door to ask if all was well. I replied that yes everything was fine and under my breath said, "it will be as soon as India loses that match..."

12:50 pm: Dr. Sathe's parting shot as she left the labour room was,"If I would have had your pattern, I would had had twelve kids!" I thanked her, all the while wondering when I would get my lunch. My huge appetite had not abated even though the baby was out. This time I did not make the mistake of  asking the nurses if I could hop off the table and walk outside to the recovery room. I had asked this after my daughter's birth and they had been shell shocked. So this time I waited quietly until they transferred me onto a stretcher and wheeled me into the recovery room, where I finally met my daughter.

1:30 pm: I was finally taken to my room and could have my lunch in peace, as could my doctors and nurses, because my baby, exactly like my daughter five years earlier, by virtue of being born at the times they were, had not disturbed anybody's sleep or meal times and I was very glad for that! I'm sure the doctors were thankful too...



                                         My son, five minutes after birth.( P.C My husband.)

 (I never share my children's picures on my blog because I have no control over who reads it. But since my son looks NOTHING like this any more, I guess it is safe to share this one picture!)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Someone Is Sitting In the Shade Today Because...

.......Someone Planted A Tree Long Ago.

As I read these lines in last Saturday's Mumbai Mirror, (which I received yesterday here in Nairobi), only one person came to mind: my paternal grandfather. Ironically today, on the first of February, it has been exactly thirty four years since his death. Life had moved on, we have all grown up, he lives on only in our memories now but most of the trees he planted in our garden survive to this day. This is the story of one such tree. A mango tree, but no ordinary one, an Alphonso mango tree, the Queen among Mangoes in my part of the world.
My grandfather had retired and constructed a bungalow in Pune. A handful of years down the line, the grandchildren began being born but he was still in the process of planting saplings which, one day, would be towering trees. We had come for our annual vacation to Pune from MHOW (Military Headquarters Of War!) which is a small cantonment town in Madhya Pradesh in India. I must have been around four years old or maybe even younger, because the only memory I have of that day is of peering at him through the corridor window, able to look out and see him working in the garden, only by virtue of standing on tip toe. My mother says the conversation between by grandfather and me started by me asking him why he had planted so many trees. I wanted to know if he was going to eat all the fruits by himself. (He had recently gifted my sister and me a beautifully illustrated book about fruits and I probably associated fruits with him then, as we read that book everyday with my mother!)  My mother said he laughed and said he would no longer be around by the time these saplings flowered and bore fruit. But all his grand children would definitely enjoy the literal fruits of his labour. He passed away around three years after we had this discussion which, of course, I have no memory of.
For many years our Alphonso tree grew and grew. The stem of what was once a slender sapling thickened into a sturdy trunk, the leaves grew in abundance,turning a deep soothing green, the branches branched out in such a way that they seemed tailor made for all of us to sit on and even accommodated all our friends. Sunlight filtered through the thick foliage, creating a pretty dappled spot right beneath the tree.We were all between eight and ten years old by then so the tree was perfectly able to bear our weight and consecutive summer vacations and many weekends (because my Dad was posted to Pune at that time so we frequently visited our grandmother) were spent feasting, frolicking and fighting on or under that tree. Our grandmother had given us a little washable carpet and we would spread this out under the tree, play cards with our friends and even play 'house house' that eternal, universal game enjoyed by children all over the world.Was this part of the vision my grandfather had seen when he planted the tree on that long ago day?
But no fruit was in sight, though the tree was almost ten years old by then. Somehow the blossom never took hold and my grandmother who had taken over the garden's care after my grandfather's death, began to despair of ever tasting a mango from her own garden! She had begun buying mangoes from her pension money for us during every vacation and these were strictly rationed out to each grand child every day. A couple of years later my father got transferred to Guwahati in Assam, and my grandmother was left alone with the tree.
I think she must have got the tree pruned because suddenly there was news through our frequent letters that a few mangoes were hanging off various branches and it seemed as if finally there would be fruit! She harvested a hundred odd mangoes in the next couple of years and then the tree suddenly had a mango spurt! In subsequent years it yielded five hundred plus mangoes then eight hundred, then the figure crossed a thousand mangoes! It finally peaked at a record one thousand five hundred mangoes during one spectacular year. All from just one tree. It was as if the tree was making up for its late start in life...My grandmother did a quick crash course in canning, and armed with a sealing machine, began bottling mango pulp for us and for my aunt's family, so that all of us could enjoy the taste of home grown mango, no matter in which month of the year we visited our home town. I lived on those mangoes during the summer all through my high school years in Pune. A couple of crows made it their home one hot summer and built a nest and it was a wise choice because they did not have to look far for some delicious fruit for their young ones! That was the year we could not venture near our own mango tree as they attacked us fiercely, as they felt we were a threat to the nestlings!
One bone of contention between my grandmother and me was the issue of the raw mangoes! She was willing to buy me as many raw mangoes as I wanted to eat but did not want me to pluck them from the tree! She kept a very careful record of the tree's final yield every year and obviously mangoes consumed when they were slightly past their embryonic stage meant those many less during the final count...We finally compromised by her allowing me to pluck just a couple of green ones very year. The bliss I experienced every year by eating a raw mango straight off our own tree with red chilly powder and salt from the kitchen, is absolutely unmatched to this day.
Another year, my then to be husband also helped harvest a thousand mangoes from the tree with a contraption my grandmother had specially got made for that very purpose. It was a long bamboo stick with a net and a hook attached to it, which ensured that with a neat flick of the wrist, the mango fell directly into the net as mangoes that fall on the ground do not ripen properly. Since then, I feel the true test of a man is his ability to pull down mangoes from a humongous tree for nearly the whole day, without losing patience or a mango, even once!
 Both my daughter and my son enjoyed mangoes from that tree as did many members of our extended family and our friends.. So my grandfather's prophesy was more than fulfilled. But all good things must come to an end. Our beloved tree was attacked by termites after almost a couple of decades of giving the most amazing mangoes I have ever tasted. Loathe as we are to chop down trees, we let it grow in the garden, though it no longer gave fruit and we could see it was becoming a shadow of its former self as each year went by. But finally a day came when we had to get permission and cut it as it was in danger of collapsing on anyone at anytime, as it had become completely hollow from inside thanks to the termites. So the tree was chopped down, barring a stump with a few leaves growing on it.
My father sent me a picture two years ago when even the stump of the tree was finally removed and the tree no longer existed in our garden at all...It was the end of an era begun by my grandfather. It felt like my childhood had finally, truly, irrevocably come to an end...


     Most of the branches have been chopped off here but you can see how perfect they were for climbing when we were kids.( P C My dad! He sent them at a moment's notice!)

                                                          Imagine this tree in its prime....


                     And they carted off the stump for firewood. This tree gave till its last breath! Like all trees do.....

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