Letter to my firstborn

You are the one who first gave me the title of ‘Mommy’. You introduced me to fears I did not know existed within me, the strength I never thought I had. For you, I could do things I would never imagine doing for anyone else (and I’m not just talking about changing smelly diapers here). You were the be all and end all of my life. So much so that when I found out that you were going to have a sibling, I was afraid I would never be able to love anyone as much as I love you. You were you after all, no one else could come close.

Until it happened one day, when the baby came into our lives. We all adored the tiny hands and feet. We loved playfully competing for his attention, trying to make him smile as he grew everyday. Our little world was changed forever. Your little world was changed more than anyone else’s. Your face, your hands, your feet suddenly seemed bigger. You grew up in a matter of hours. Or so it seemed at the time. What we expected from you changed too. Suddenly it felt like you should know better. You were the big boy after all.

My patience started to grow thin. After all, my life had also been shaken from its comfortable, mundane ritual of living each day exactly the same as the previous one. Caring for a newborn took precedence over a five-year old’s requests to play hide and seek. I don’t think I can ever forget the look on your face that day when I was at the end of my rope and yelled at you to stop bothering me and go find something to play. A few months ago, you would have stomped your feet and cried buckets of tears. That day, you just hung your head down and left the room. It was like you had given up on me. I can never think of that look on your face without my heart breaking into a million little pieces.

Every day I woke up with a fresh resolve – to be a better mother to you, to spend more time with you, to just listen to what you had to say without any rush. Some days were good, some not so. It has been an emotional roller-coaster ride, the last few months. Sometimes I feel like you have handled it better than I have. So far, you have not shown an iota of jealousy towards your little brother. You love him, he loves you, it shows in the way you both interact with each other.

The question in my mind is – do you still trust me like you did before? Or do you now look at me as a fault-finding, badgering, no-fun-to-be-around parent? People say kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for. Maybe it is true. Maybe I am beating myself too much for not being who I used to be with you anymore. Maybe a few months down the road, you will not even remember the pain in the neck I used to be. Or maybe in my sleep-deprived, confused state of mind driven by strange hormones, I have changed the dynamics of our relationship forever (hopefully not).

There is one thing that I am sure of though. You are and will be my best little buddy forever. In your own special way. Just like your little brother is too (like you say – “it doesn’t always have to be a race”). I just hope you will forgive me for not sticking up for you, for not being the best listener always, for not giving you as much time as I used to and for being the tantrum-throwing adult sometimes. Thank you for being patient with me and still loving me at times when I don’t even like myself. Slowly but surely, we will find a new normal again.

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To Bauji

Bauji and Vivaan

He is the only grandfather I knew, and the only great-grandfather my son will ever have the honour of knowing.

He is no longer with us physically, but he will always be with us.

He passed away 85 days ago and it is still hard for me to refer to him in past tense. I hear his resonant laughter in my head so many times, feel his hand patting my head. Sometimes I want to just call and ask to talk to him, hoping that if I just ask for it and pretend he never left us, all the events will reverse themselves and he will be here.

I am still grieving, and always will, because how can you ever get over the loss of a lifetime of love?

This picture was taken in April of 2008, just a couple of months before we moved to Indianapolis. Our little guy was barely 3 months old and I wanted to visit my grandparents so that they could see him and he could meet them before the move. The moment when this picture was taken is still clear in my mind as yesterday. Bauji was singing Vivaan a lullaby. He used to sing with all his heart, everything in him – all the pain, all the happiness, pouring out in his words. I was watching them. And before he could even finish, I had to leave the room, too overcome by the rock in my throat. “Why are you going away from this?”, I thought to myself. “Can you imagine how many such moments you are going to miss? What if you never see them again?”.

But then reason prevailed, and I convinced myself that Bauji would not leave us anytime soon. He was after all healthy and active and still working more than I did, at his 74 years of age. Before I knew it, we would be back and then we would have all the time in the world to be with our families. Unfortunately, he could not wait long enough for that to happen.

There are a lot of things one feels when one loses a close family member. Disbelief and denial – I spent the first night when we found out, telling myself that this could not have happened. That this was a big mistake or a really bad dream that will be over soon. Anger – at him, for ignoring the signs his body must have given him, but more at myself for not being there to stop this from happening. Regret – for not being there for my mom and my grandma and the whole family. Gratitude – that it was sudden and he did not suffer a lot, and that he was home with his loved ones and not travelling alone (something he did frequently for business and for his social pursuits). Gratitude, for a husband and a five-year old who wept with me when they found out, and for a strong grandmother who is always worried more about my well-being than her own loss and sorrow. Gratitude also for being a part of Bauji’s life and his family. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Most of all, I feel hope, that all the talk about the afterlife is true, and I will hear that laughter again on the other side, one day.

Homage to a great lady

Big Naani (12 Apr 1929 – 15 Jan 2012)

Her grandsons teased her by addressing her by her first name Santosh ji. My son calls her Badi Naani (big grandma) because she is his great grandmother. I have known her since last 9 years or so, ever since I have known Chetan, and she is one of the youngest 82 year olds I have ever known.

She has always been particularly fond of Chetan and Chetan is so much like her that it makes you think he is her son and not her grandson. From the way he sticks his tongue out while concentrating on something, to being a cleanliness freak and a perfectionist in everything he does.

Ever since we moved away from India, one of my biggest fears has been that something wrong might happen to one of our loved ones in our absence and we might not be able to make it back in time. That fear became reality today. Santosh ji left us after suffering a major stroke a couple of days ago. But it seems like she had it planned all along.

As soon as we reached India for our 5 week visit in Nov-Dec last year, she fell really sick and had to be brought to Delhi for treatment and to stay at home till she got better. We went to pick her up from her home town about 10 hours drive from Delhi. We all went. She was in a hospital, unable to comprehend a lot of stuff, even unable to recognize some people she used to meet every day. Still she was concerned about whether there was enough food for us at her home. She still smiled and shook her head when she saw I was wearing jeans and not a traditional dress with enough jewelry. These are the things we all love about her and will miss beyond words.

There is comfort in the fact that we got to spend time with her before this happened. That her great grandson got to know her and she got to see him. That she did not suffer and departed gracefully.

Her husband, Chetan’s grandfather, passed away about 20 years ago. I have always heard her talk about Chowdhary Saab (that’s how she addressed him) with great nostalgia and admiration. I hope she will get to meet him and be with him soon. Free from the limitations and pains of an aging body. Young like she has always been.

Rest in peace Santosh ji. You will always be missed.