‘You know,’ he said over tea one day, ‘you used to say that you are not a feminist.’
Then I started remembering. Man, I must have been so desperate for you, I thought to myself. Rather fondly.
It also reminded me that for many years we did not have a language in common between us. You misunderstood my Delhi hindi-english and I misunderstood a lot about you. Frankly, I didn’t understand much at all.
(I think I will elaborate on this post another day. Why would I have denied being from Delhi, being Punjabi and being feminist to impress an Urdu speaking fellow from Jaunpur? As it turned out, he is really from Ghazipur, but at that time it all sounded the same to me.)
We became parents for the first time in Port Blair.
Within a couple of weeks, we were on a beach in Havelock Island. In the photograph from there, I am holding our baby wrapped in my light blue bandhini dupatta. Her father’s shirt on my shoulders, over my sarong. Post-partum afterglow. My wet hair flying.
The photo I do not have is the father’s face. But I remember the insane conversation we had.
“In another 10 years or so, I will leave all this and go to the mountains,” he says. Looking gravely at the baby sleeping on a towel over the white sand. Under the shade of a large umbrella.“Why? What?” I ask.
“I can’t deal with all this,” he says, looking around. There are some Indian families enjoying their annual LTA, Israeli tourists, other couples.
“What can’t you deal with?” I ask.
“I know how guys look at girls on a beach. I can never come to a beach with my daughter,” he says. “I don’t want to deal with this, man. I’ll run away.”
I looked around. Fathers and teenage children bobbing in the dazzling purple-blue water of the Andaman Sea. The soundtrack of waves crashing and breeze in the palm trees. Picture-perfect.
And the new father next to me, miserable. Temporarily overwhelmed by fear and confusion and the frightening responsibility of keeping his baby safe. For life.
Without love, we are lost.
Your child will change your life. The unconditional acceptance s/he will offer will shock your system and move things inside you that you didn’t know existed. Love and despair, exhilaration and exhaustion will hold your hands as if they are twins, demanding equal attention. You will know trust, you will stare at the serenity of your baby’s sleep and absorb it.
Ultimately that will not be enough. You will find that lost-ness will come creeping back into your life. You will become sad and distracted, addictive and sleepless like you have been many times before.
Becoming a parent eventually demands squaring up to one’s growing-up years. Your childhood will revisit you, and not just as a useful lullaby. You will become your father. And your mother. Together. I know I did. It was scary at first. But it was also a fabulous laugh as I began to identify and unravel the story. Step by step.
Now, for the good news.
Your children will stand up to you. Your authoritarian voice will lose its usefulness. You will pretend to be shocked at the new generation, but actually you will relish this.
Your children will protect you. They will tell you to get off the computer and put your phone away when you are at the dining table.
They will call you when you are stuck in traffic and make you talk to them in your funny jelly voice.
Just 5 minutes ago, little Naseem climbed into her father’s lap and put her hands on his mouth. “Stop talking,” she said. “Just drink your tea.” He had been ranting in a loop. He stopped.
And those whoops and dance in your honour, as baby runs out to greet you when you return home, that is your everyday red carpet welcome.
You will realize new talents. The excellent father in our home is also an expert baby-burper. Every time we visit friends who have made a new baby, I can’t stop myself from showing him off. “Burp the baby, no?” I will say. He will smile and make the baby burp. The new baby will recognize an old hand and surrender on his shoulder.
On the way back home sometimes he will tell me something I know already. “You know, in my home, fathers hardly ever touched their children. Except my uncle, who whacked his kids once in a while.”
Because, you see, identity is really like a porcelain piggy bank. One day you’ve got to shatter it to start something new. Leave behind the broken pieces. Take the money and run. Free.
Also Read | Natasha Badhwar’s previous columns