Category Archives: motherhood

Love letter to my firstborn

My dear Sahar,
You were sitting in my lap in the front seat of our car. Your father was driving. I was crying. “My baby, my baby,” I whispered, holding you tight. We had just found out that we were going to have our second child.
My world with you, my perfect world with you, was going to come apart and I was not ready for it.
There’s a photo of you from that year. You are sitting on the floor with a newspaper, and you look up at me pointing a camera at you. The morning sun reflects in your face. I have captioned that photo in my album with these words: This photo was taken when Sahar and I were still one.
We talked to each other all the time. I would tell you what we would do next. I made up stories about everything we saw together. Someone would look at us and say, “You are talking to the baby like she understands you.”
“Of course she understands me.” There was no other possibility.
We both grew up really fast from that point. Now we are a family of five. You are the nine-year-old BIG sister. I am a BIG mamma. You are not so even-tempered any more. You get crabby, you snap at your sisters. You feel ill and tired and quite frustrated.
So do I.
I had a big brother too, when we were children. I don’t remember him ever being like a child when he was a child. He was always Bhaiya, the elder brother. I didn’t always like that about him. I look at you and realize that this is how we push the first born to grow up too soon.
“Don’t be such a child. You have grown up now.”
“Help me. I cannot help you. Hurry up, stop talking, finish your work.”
“Look, don’t cry. I cannot handle this right now.”
“I cannot believe you made this mistake. You know better, how could you do this?”
“Mamma,” you say sometimes, holding back your tears. “Just like you, I get irritable too.”
I need your rebellion, my little woman. It stops me in my tracks and reassures me. You stand up to me when I push you too far. You challenge your father. You tell him what you think, what you feel, what you want.
I also love your spelling mistakes, Sahar. You are a phonetic speller. You invent spellings. “Sichul,” you wrote, when you wanted to label your drawing of a cycle. “Dilicious,” you write, because that’s how you like your food. “Preety,” is what compliments sound like to you. I love your spellings because they are an expression of baby Sahar. They show me the working of a child’s mind. The child I so often forget you are.
I get unexpectedly lucky some days. You call me on the phone when I’m away. Sometimes you pick up your father’s phone when you read my name flashing on it.
“Hello Mamma,” a little girl’s voice says.
“How are you, jaaneman?” I ask.
“I’m fine, Mamma,” you say. “I have finished the drawing I started. We ate ice cream after lunch. It was A’s turn to choose a film today, so we are watching Balto. N has fallen asleep. When will you come home, Mamma?”
Your voice on the phone presses the reset button in my brain. You are so young, just a child, I am reminded. This is the baby whose diapers we changed at roadside dhabas. The baby I bathed in awkward hotel bathrooms. The one who held my hand at airports as we read signs together. I want my baby back.
Just like that, I figured out the formula one day. Sahar is the key. If Sahar is well and okay, we are all okay. When Papa asks what is the matter and Mamma says nothing is the matter, Sahar knows that something is definitely the matter. You get the sniffles and you have aches and allergies. You offer to tell us a joke from your repertoire of a nine-year-old’s jokes.
In a school essay on our family, you wrote, “One thing I don’t like about my mother is that when she is upset, she doesn’t tell me why she is upset.”
I’ll tell you, Sahar. To be able to tell you, I will tell myself first. When I neglect to pay attention to myself, I neglect you. When I hold my pieces together, stretching to be perfect for everyone else, you can see all those pieces of me separately. Like I could see my mother’s.
After a while, it is just a tedious hobby, this desire to be picture-perfect. There is nothing more perfect than stealing time from everyone and everything and running away with you. Our time together is here again. We’ll hold hands till our conversations come back. And listen to your jokes.
Love, Mamma.

[This was first published here: Love letter to the firstborn ]

Letter to baby PoPo (Sahar before she was born)

I have copied this post from an old mail from the bottom of an e-mail box. Sahar turned 7 years old this month. I wrote this when I was 7 months pregnant with her.

23 January, 2003
I was so busy when we were together, trying to get well, trying to get
married, trying to look good, trying to please the new family, trying to work, but I was happy most of this time.

I go to the loo a lot and there is this mirror in which I can see my
watermelon stomach when I begin to undress. Whatever may be on my mind when I enter the loo, I always start laughing when I see you inside me.
The sight makes me laugh, grin idiotically.  I am very happy with you, you are going to change my life completely. Hopefully we will always
remember the footloose times of my twenties (of course we will, there is no need to
be paranoid)
I was saying, you are going to change my life completely. We are
going to make sure that we have a lot of fun together.  There are two very
strong images in my mind. You and I running on a beach and kicking a ball
around. Daddy, Abbu must be sitting somewhere nearby watching us or
maybe not watching us. He’s an old man, maybe he will grow younger as we go along.
The other image is also playing.

There used to be a very sentimental maternal poem we learnt in junior
school. About a mother reliving her childhood all over again as she
brings up baby. Just remembered it as I write to you.

And did I tell you, whatever mood I may be in, specially these days when
Afzal sees a mixture of exhaustion, frustration and anger in my
expression……whatever mood I may be in, however upset, when you move
inside, I smile. And feel peaceful.  Its a way of being reminded that
nothing else matters. Just relax. Cliched but true.

I met Rubina today, she’s a new Mom. She suggested Rifa. Apparently it
means dignity.  I like the meaning, am not totally satisfied with the
sound. I like the sound of Fiza.

How about Nargis ?
Now we are going to be travelling to a beautiful place. Stay warm inside
me, be comfortable and relax, we are going to take care of you, my

What are we going to call you if you are a boy……MY BABYLOU?

Sahar was born in 2003. We were in Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Afzal, my Mum and I.

Sahar turns 7

Looking back, I think getting pregnant with Sahar is the line that divides a major before and after in my life. Ceratinly it is THE one line drawn in the middle of Afzal’s and my time together.

On this side of the line, I have often been very agitated, I have run back and forth, I’ve crossed back to the previous side, stood on the line a lot. I have felt anger, frustration, loss, confusion…..I’ve not always been good but I have been determined to deal with it. I have figured out that the only way to love my children well is to love myself well. And my parents well.

Sahar has been my perfect companion. She can see right through Afzal and me, often she pats us with love and tells us we are fine, we are beautiful, we are good.

Thank you Sahar, my baby, my baby, my baby.

Angry and Fragile

One Saturday afternoon, in the summer of 2009, I said to Fr. Os, Aliza is so fragile. The smallest things make her breakdown into extreme reactions. (Like me suggesting a different sandal or offering a pink bottle instead of the leaking red one she wants)

Fr. Os interrupted me sharply and said, Aliza is NOT fragile, its YOUR Child Ego state which is fragile.

I understand that a little bit, but not totally.

It does help me turn the focus back to myself, though. If Ali seems to be in trouble, look into your own state of mind first.

The other question I want to go to Fr. Os with is this: Why is Sahar so angry? Not all the time, in fact when the stress levels are high, she puts up a great Adult performance, sometimes Parent too. But when everything seems to be normal, sometimes without reason, she seems to wake up crabby and return from school angry. And she lets me know by pushing Aliza around, so that Aliza will ring the alarm bells…Sahar is pushing me, she took away my crayon, she called me crazy…..something like that.

So I suppose the question is likely to turn around to me: Why do I think Sahar may be angry or dissatisfied?
Or, what am I angry about?

I think part of the answer may be that Sahar holds up so well under stress and looks out for me and Afzal so much (being the one gifted with extreme empathy) that we tend to take her for granted too much. We forget to appreciate her and cuddle her and thank her in time….which leads to a neglected Child in her who then becomes resentful-deprived Child.

The first year of her life, when I was a somewhat timid, tense new Bahu, holding on to my baby for comfort. The second year of her life, when I was expecting Aliza and frustrated at work. The third year of her life when Ali was born, Afzal had a bad accident, we moved to Greater Noida and I lost myself somewhere.

Baby Sahar, I OWE you.

My Mum

This visit home I understood something a little better.

How she coped with everything putting her best efforts into it, because she tried to give Dad everything like he wants it, she tried to keep things peaceful for us, and she insisted on surviving.

I think her childhood script is: Make the best of it girl, Survive.

Strange that her daughter should have come so close to Giving Up.

She doesn’t cry, she doesn’t protest or complain…she almost never has throughout her life. I wish she would break a little sometimes, we’d hold you, Mama. We’d hold you.

She almost never smiles for photographs anymore…. I took some recently, almost always with a new grandkid in her lap. I ask her to smile. A very feeble movement of the lips that stops too soon. She never looks like that in real life.

Or at least I don’t see that expression.

Dad was showing me some figures on an excel sheet, stating some financial facts, asking me some questions. Savings. What I have, what I don’t.

Tears welled up and started rolling down my eyes. Quietly.

Papa continued to say and show what he had to.
Mum tried to stop the proceedings. What happened? What happened to you? Why are you crying? She expressed as much agitation as sweetly and safely as she could.
“Nothing, Mama, nothing.”

Later she followed me into another room. Explaining.
“Listen, its just the way he talks. You know how loving he really is. What can I do, I’ve coped with it all my life.
You tell me if there is another way.”

“He gives me everything he earns. Then he speaks harshly about what I do with it. But he’ll still hand over everything.
And this big Diwali gift that we’re giving to all three of you this year. Its his own idea. He got it from the bank himself.
Then he’ll say I don’t know what you do with all my money.”

“If I started taking all this to heart, Neeru, where would we all be.”

Cameramen Make Good Mothers

Among other roles, I have also been a Cameraperson, a Videographer for television news and programs. And I’ll tell you this: Everything I know about being a Mum I practiced in the years that I was a Cameraperson, lugging my equipment and travelling the world.

Its not a limelight kind of role. Childhood uncles who watch too much TV will appear disappointed in you. Your mother will have difficulty explaining your choice to her friends. What a waste of good looks, they’ll mourn!

As for you, however much fun you are having, always keep the camera and accessories in mind.

Others can hold it…. but take it back soon enough. Strangers, no please.
Don’t leave the camera in the car ever.

Best to clean everything and everyone at night before sleeping. Wake up happy in the morning.
Charge its batteries in time, talk to it lovingly.

How come your hair is so funny?
Charge your own batteries. (for emergency keep fruit, biscuits, painkillers and other useful substances)
Don’t mix your drinks on a shoot.

Watch out for sudden changes in temperature…. protect it, may catch a cold and not switch on at the last minute.
No point yelling at the camera, it doesn’t have brains. Your job to think precautions and backups. Don’t bother with performance anxiety, this baby knows its role.

We rolled the credits on this shot. Oncoming traffic silhouetted against a setting sun. Starburst from headlights. Reunion of Rhythms
Having a friend for a partner makes all the difference. That’s Radhika, my Co-Director, Soulmate, shielding the lens from the glare of the setting sun. After the shot she will replenish me with a lime drink.

Tourists will take photos of you. Make no mistake its the baby they want to show off later. Manvi and I were treated like mini-celebs outside the White House by Japanese tourists, all thanks to the DVC-Pro camera we were wielding. 

Everyone loves cameras. Airline staff always pays extra attention. Armymen smile. You can ask for the seat of your choice. Confront customs, visa, immigration, security and other bullies by planting the camera on their desk first. When the baby makes eye contact, something changes. In the confusion, you might be able to get away with what you want.
On a night train, sleep with the camera towards the wall. Hug it. Cover it.

In my glorious years, I’ve driven off twice forgetting the camera behind. Once in Yangon, once Delhi. (don’t panic, soon enough, I reversed and picked it up from exactly where I’d left it)
Lost 1 tape, in St. Andre, Reunion Island.
One camera lost consciousness on me, in London.
One fell from the tripod in Pokhara, Nepal.
(what do you think I did? In fuzzy slow motion, I picked up the baby, returned to my resort room and hung myself by the 5 mtr. XLR cable. Went shopping the next day.)

Once, after a fashion shoot, I topped up white wine with red, they had run out by the time I came around for a second glass. It was messy.

In the last 6 years, twice or thrice I have forgotten to appear at Sahar’s school bus-stop to receive her. Ok, thrice.
Naseem fell once from my arms. Sometimes Ali’s batteries run out.
(yes, bring on the firing squad, shoot me, shoot me!)

You work with TWO cameras… wow, you are so awesome. Three cameras is a bit MUCH. You will be mocked.

years of practise
Pack carefully, pack yourself, make lists….. unless you have the blissful childcare staff…..I mean camera assistant.
No bliss as much bliss as the good camera assistant.

All camera assistants want to grow to be cameramen. Learn from them, teach them well. They’ll never forget you.
(And vice versa)

Be prepared for new technology and trends. (oh we hate change)
You don’t want to be stuck on location trying to figure out what this tantrum is all about. What is this new language in the viewfinder? How does the menu come on?
(It happened to me once, In Delhi’s Tihar Jail.)

When in trouble, call a colleague.
Be friends with enough colleagues, who else knows the pain or the highs. Who else will you call from Tihar Jail?

If you stick around long enough, you either evolve to a higher form of being or become a crabby alcoholic.
Some switch from one to the other between dawn and dusk.

Its not a limelight kind of role. But I swear it makes you SEE the light.

Differences. Well, cameras never cry. They stay in one place when you ask them to. Alas, they get obsolete.
As with all love stories, the memories acquire a warm glow.

(And on a good day, someone would say, “what’s a little girl like you doing among MeN like us? Ha hA ho Ho”)

Ladakh Scouts. Anything to get close to the lads

Why do I write this blog?

One reason is: I write this for my daughters.

I expect they will be as confused, lost, lonely, searching for validation….. when they are mothers of young children as it has been for me…. besides all the predictable beauty and happiness of the experience.
I doubt I will remember these times as lucidly…. and I certainly don’t think they will have any patience for my memories.

So this is my way of expressing my motherness to them. Of loving them honestly in a way that I know how to.

For Sahar

And this one is for you, Sahar.

Sahar is a born lady. You were poised, calm, gracious, indulgent as a baby….. and so you are today as well…. at almost 4 years old.

You are also very cranky….. and eccentric. You hold your pee till your head will burst, you get cranky from hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, dying to pee….. but, by the grace of God, you will not do what you need to do. And get crankier and crankier. (that sounds horrifyingly close to your Mum actually, but she won’t agree right now, so we won’t tell her)
Its very trying !

You are also very graceful… what your father calls ‘jamazeb‘ in Urdu.

And your OCD…. I’ll pour that out some other day.
For 6 months you only played with blocks, then came puzzles and now it has been colouring with crayons. Books get filled in less than a day !
The only constant has been stories… listening, reading and telling.