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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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”)
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.
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.