>The story of Naseem


One day I’ll tell you the story of how we came to name our baby Naseem.
It is the story of India. Of its partition into India and Pakistan. Of being uprooted, massacred, looted, raped and killed. Of love that survives. Of love songs and poetry.
Mosques demolished by young men, a baby cut out of his mother’s womb and dangled on the tip of a sword in broad daylight.
Of love. Love that survives. That builds, rebuilds. A story of poets and activists.
Of humanity. Not one that is invincible, no. But humanity that will not die.
Naseem  ~fresh breeze of morning

>Love Child


I thought I’ll write about it when I feel less angry. When the shock wanes. When I don’t feel so gobsmacked about it. When I become coherent again.

I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. I don’t dwell on it. I’ve been told I over-react. Its not personal. These people are all nice at heart. I stay quiet.

Today, I was nursing Nam to sleep, music was playing on my phone. First Bhimsen Joshi, then Amit Trivedi. Words welled up unexpectedly, wanting to come out.
By the time I reached a keyboard, the picture seems fogged up again. But I’ll go ahead anyway.

When we conceived Nam, when our pregnancy became threatened because I got jaundice, and then when Nam was born: the most unexpected people reacted as if Nam’s life was not important. As if her life was something that could be shrugged off. As if a third daughter was just bad luck. To be mocked, judged or commiserated. As if Naseem, our child, is unwanted.

I’m not talking about random, illiterate, conservative, stupid ‘other’ people here. I am talking of people like you and me. Our friends, my colleagues. My doctors.

My social, cultural, familial delusions were smashed in one sudden moment. It was the loudest crash I had ever heard. It was devastating.
I was holding a miracle of a baby, my body and soul flushed with joy. Yet I felt like we were stranded in a wasteland, surrounded by debris. It made me confused and angry.
Even joy needs validation, I found out.

A few months after Nam was born, my grandmother visited me in my dream. My Nani. She was alive, living on a green island, like the Andamans, in a locality of narrow streets like Lahore. She was listening to the music of Indian Ocean on high volume. She said to me, ‘I am alive, I am well. I didn’t die. I live here.’

In August 1947, Nani had been 8 months pregnant with her 7th child.  As one of the millions caught in the bloody turmoil and violence of the partition of India, my grandparents also left behind their home and life in Lahore and migrated to refugee camps with their family. My mother was 4, their youngest child at that time.
Nani had 7 daughters and 2 sons. Nana was a robust entrepreneur, building and rebuilding his businesses as they migrated from Lahore to Amritsar to Delhi. I never knew him.
Later, both their sons became alcoholic and died of it. Their daughter, Kanchan died in her 20s.

Despite being surrounded by family, my grandmother always seemed ill and tired to me. She died when I was 7 years old. I know her through her daughters. My mother and my aunts.

In my dream, my Nani said to me, ‘I am alive, I am well, Neeru.’ Don’t think of my struggle, recognize my triumph. See my peace.

I started recovering. I talked less to people. I wrote more. I shut some doors offline, I opened some online. I sought help.

Two years later, I am surrounded by a community of people who love Naseem like we do, who love me for loving Naseem. Who cheer with us, share our happiness.

I am recovering, I shall be restored.

Does it always work? Of course it doesn’t.

I wrote this article for Express Eye, the Indian Express sunday supplement published on 2nd Jan 2011.

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I spent a good part of the last decade getting into the role of a parent. 8 years on I can confidently label myself as an earnest novice.
I had imagined I would raise my kids on the side, like an intense hobby that I’d be really good at and really involved in.  When I found out that this was a hobby that clung to my knees on the days that I wanted off, I became confused. The camel had entered the tent, woken me up and demanded to be patted to sleep.
Delusions have their uses too. Today we have 3 kids. We could say, 3 kids have us.
We are a generation of very self-conscious parents. We read, we research, we buy, we collect. Later we stand amidst the clutter and realize that it is just that: Clutter.
Finding one’s balance as parents is a unique journey for each person. I look around at my friends’ lives and see very contrasting choices.
Pooja’s job as a cameraperson requires her to travel frequently without her child. Geet is single, has a fulltime career and has adopted two daughters. Between Geetika and Haider, he was the one who took a year off from work when their kids were younger. Rajnish and Harnit had crossed 40 by the time they adopted their first child. Sushmita and Shilpa quit work when their babies came. My husband and I work in relay, juggling our assignments so that his work starts when mine finishes. I miss him, but we chug along.
At a fundamental level almost everyone is trying to work out a system that allows them to preserve their own sense of self, nurture their family and forge their relationship with the wider world.
Does it always work? Of course it doesn’t. It needs constant hammering and negotiating. Partners turn adversaries, friends wander off and beloved jobs become oppressive. Or vice versa.
Yet, historically, we have never been better placed to confront the cultural baggage and aggressive consumerism that surrounds us.
Somehow, we still seem to fritter away our advantages. In casual analysis, we often treat choices as something that can only be traded. If you have a demanding career, you must be a neglectful parent. Not having kids is selfish. Single parents can never get it right. A non-earning parent is alternately noble or lazy or enslaved. Mommy blogger is the new self-obsessed gossiping housewife.
What a waste of energy directing our anger towards our own! In my journey, after a few initial crashes, I figured that the onus to create a cohesive identity for myself had to be my own project.
When I refuse to accept judgements, I defuse them. When I hold on to my power, it grows. It influences and it creates change.
The global consumerist culture is relentlessly marching into family spaces seeking to diminish the power of the parent, to define our desires and needs. Yet, as adults, it is for us to define boundaries. To defy standardization with our own imagination.
Just like that, the earnest novice gains confidence. And she spells out a few mantras for the next decade.
Let’s not be passive consumers, let us be disruptive. Feel the dissonance, ask questions.
Let’s climb out of the pressure cooker and be medium-range parents. It is OK. Remember how resourceful we were as kids; we can give our kids a chance too. 
Let us light up our relationships with renewed energy to love, care, protect and nurture. Be overenthusiastic, inappropriate and foolish. Laugh too much. Be a happy kid. That will be the spring of our wellness.