I don’t remember exactly what it was that started this conversation. We were out for a walk in a park after dinner. The children were scampering ahead of us.
“I am becoming more and more like a mother and you are becoming like a father these days,” Afzal said to me.
“That sounds like a good thing,” I said.
“I’m not sure it’s a good thing,” he said.
“It is, Afzal,” I said. “One person doing the same thing all the time gets depleted. Like farmers rotate crops, we need to be the other parts of ourselves too. People who don’t get a break become angry. And bitter.”
“Like our mothers,” he almost completed my sentence softly.
“Like our fathers too,” I added.
Naseem, the youngest, comes running towards us. Splotch! Her foot lands in a dark patch in the path. She almost bounces out of her sandal, which is stuck in the wet mud. Some giggling, little crying and a treacherous rescue. Also, end of conversation.
Afzal leads the way home, holding Naseem mid-air and at arm’s length. I do the same with the “favourite sandal” and follow with our older children.
I know a man who never wanted to be a father. He is the father of our three children. His daughters have started to become quite bossy with him. Very bossy.
Naseem climbs over him like he is a tree and perches on his shoulders. Next she will try to sit on his head.
“Are you a monkey?” he will say.
“Yes. Come and make a puzzle with me,” she will answer. She has absolute power over him.
“MY Papa,” she asserts.
Sahar, who is 8, scolds him, tells him off, and explains things to him very slowly. Sometimes she interrupts our absent-minded conversations to explain to Afzal what I really mean. Or want.
“Let me speak, he will say. I am explaining something to Natasha.”
She will clamp her hand on his mouth.
“Am I talking too much?” he will say in a garbled voice from behind sealed lips.
“Look how he sounds,” she will announce with glee. The others will mimic him. Like audio playing in rewind.
Aliza is our middle child. We used to call Afzal and Aliza twins, when she was a baby. Afzal would stick his stubbly face next to her cheeks and ask: “Don’t we look like twins? Tell, tell.”
Many years ago, we were sitting in the front seats of a state transport bus on our way from Dharamsala to Pathankot. We had the seats ahead of the front door. A fabulous panoramic view, and the soundtrack of enthusiastic honking all the way down from the mountains to the plains. I had my dupatta loosely over my head and face to protect it from the heat and dust. And to soften the light, I suspect, so I looked pretty to him.
“Why do you want to marry me?” he asked me.
“I think you will make a good father to my children,” I said.
“I’m quite sure I never want to have children,” he said.
I had heard that a few times before.
I’ve always known that I want to be a parent. Afzal was always clear about not wanting to be one. I have looked back at my growing-up years and said, “I am going to show you how it is supposed to be done.” Perhaps he looked back at his times and thought, “Man, what a mess! Why bother at all?”
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that two seemingly opposite positions can actually be motivated by similar experiences. People who express conflicting views may be the perfect allies, with the same goals and aspirations. Our words are often deceptive, and we need to go beyond them to begin to see in our hearts.
I show this to Afzal. “I have called you a man who never wanted to have any children,” I say to him.
He reads. “Don’t use the past tense, he laughs, I still don’t want to have any children.”
“You’re so clever, no?” I say.
“I’m just being honest, Natasha. This is scary stuff.”
“Just like the adventures you chase,” I say. “The demons you like to slay. The rescue missions you paraglide into. The cliffs you’d like to jump off from…”
“Can you give me a new snake and monkey story idea?” he says. “Naseem is waiting for me in the bathroom and that’s my challenge for now.”
“Oh, you mean, one day at a time, baby?” I say.