Sunday evening in April (Have I recovered, I wonder)

In the last two hours, I have
baked two chocolate cakes, 
taken photographs of evening flowers and uploaded them, 

read comments on previous photos and column and replied to some,
heated dinner and eaten it with all three children,
listened to Sahar tell us about the human digestive system as she learnt in school,
tweeted epiphanies,
shared music online,
thought about what to write in the next column,
tried to figure out Path,
hosted Jamaal Bhai briefly,
cleared the table and kitchen,
worried about friends I haven’t spoken to,
written a birthday poem for no one in particular
and eaten warm cake.

Also completed Sahar’s school project. [Don’t ask.]

Shefali brought a Casio keyboard for the children yesterday, so the background score to our evening has been the little girls’ fingers on its keys.

Have I recovered, I wonder?
When I am happy with you, Afzal, I am not unhappy without you.

But of course, if I tell you that right now, you will ask me if I have sent mail to the C.A. with my service tax details and I will have to repeat again that I said I will do it, so relax, okay?
I will do it!
Remember I am at home alone with the children and I can only get anything done…I mean WORK done, when they have gone to sleep.

But creation…creativity, that’s another thing.
Unstoppable, apparently.


Message from a friend.

Dear Natasha, the Internet is a huge world but it’s your photos that sustain me in this time. I just lost my father. Thank you and namaste.

[We have a book at home with a story of a baby turtle called Honu. Honu is born on a beach in Hawaii and gets separated from his siblings, but later after a series of adventures gets reunited with his sister and their group swimming together in the ocean.]

Camera fingers at a red light.

I have camera fingers.
We had just left from Dr. Dhama’s clinic in Kotla and were on our way to a CNG station near Nehru stadium.
At the first red light, we saw pigeons. Pigeons, oblivious to the harsh afternoon sun, perched on wires and bars in front of us. I took a photo through the dashboard.

Take a photo of me, said Aliza. She was sitting in my lap. I took a photo of her.
When your children ask you to take a picture, you always agree. But you never take a picture of me, Afzal said. I aimed the iPhone camera at him. Aliza said something from behind me that made him laugh.
Get your yellow teeth whitened, I said to Afzal after taking his photo. Then shuttuped myself. What kind of person am I becoming, I thought to myself.
Naseem was screeching in my ear. Take my photo, take my photo. Of course. The purpose of my life is to take Naseem’s photos. So I did.
That left Sahar. Sahar did not ask me to take a photo of her. She does not behave like a demanding child. She is our first-born. She wants me to be happy. She has heard way too many times that she is not a baby anymore, she is not a child anymore…how will I get anything done unless she helps me out?You’ll tell me I over analyse. I should not think too much. I will nod my head as if I agree with you.

Next, I took a photo of Sahar. She is 9.

I showed this to Afzal on the phone screen. She is the most beautiful of all of us these days, I said. Then we began to joke. Only after you, of course, we all said to Afzal.That’s the family joke. Afzal’s beauty. The children play along with him. You have the longest hair, Papa. It has such volume. We have all inherited our hair from you. Like all good jokes, this one is based on reality too. Afzal is beautiful.The light turned green. We moved on.

One day at a time, baby!

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.
“Now that’s clever,” he says.

This was published in Mint Lounge on 14 April, 2012.


Naseem’s first day of big school.
Nursery B, Pragyan School.

Naseem woke up, showered and shampoo-ed. Wore her oversized uniform, shoes and socks. I love the oversized part, in an old-fashioned way.

Then I asked Sahar to take Naseem to look at the new pink roses, so that her hair would dry in the sun.
They came back too soon. I said to Sahar, take her again, her hair is wet. Sahar said, ‘Okay, I will make her sit on the swing for a while. That will dry her hair.’

Give me a smile, Naseem, I say. This is the one photo I knew I was going to take well in advance.
Naseem stuck out her tongue first, to exercise her agency over her moments. Then she smiled for me. She likes me.

We reach school. Afzal and Naseem walk towards the pre-primary block, Sahar and Aliza go towards the main building.

The uniform and new shoes inspired Naseem. She took a bag that was once Sahar’s, then Aliza’s. It has both their names still on it in faded red permanent ink. Those permanent markers that were part of the NDTV camera kit. I used to label boxes of DVC-pro tapes with it. Then I brought it home with me.

I had tears in my eyes as I left Naseem in her class. I knew I had to avoid looking at Afzal. My fucking hand shook as I took this last photo. (It is instagrammed.) If you know me, you know my hands don’t shake.
I went back to pick her up at 4pm. After 8 hours, breakfast, lunch and a nap in school. She was exhausted and had sketch pen colour smeared on her face. She started crying. She sobbed for a long time in my lap.

We went to pick up Sahar and Aliza from the big building. We had to wait for 10 minutes. I held Naseem in my arms like a baby and sung a soft lullaby in her ear…even as we stood in a crowd of other parents.
Once again she was my baby, in my arms…and I was singing her blues away.

After her first day of day boarding school, Naseem gets 4 days off, because it is Mahavir Jayanti, Good Friday and then the weekend.
Kanta Mausi met Naseem in the morning. She asked her what she did in school. ‘Mera man kar raha tha ki main Kanta Mausi ke saath mein park jaaoon.’ I was wishing I would go to the park with Kanta Mausi.

She cheers up quickly. Bravely. And with abandon.