Baby Shower Babble

Baby poems

 

 

When my cousin Neeraja invited me to a baby shower she was hosting last week,  I immediately said yes. I did not know the mother-to-be, but Neeraja told me she is the grand-niece of  D.K Pattamal, she of the  Female Trinity of Carnatic Music.  There were going to be other interesting women, and it would be an enjoyable evening. When you are a journalist,  sans the cynicism, and  listening to people, watching them, and  talking to them is what you do for a living,  you  generally find that any gathering can become as interesting or as boring as you make it.   

The real reason Neeraja didn’t have to persuade me was  the fact that it was a baby shower.  I never cease to wonder at the power that a baby exudes over adults. Even when it’s not born. The mere news of a baby’s  imminent arrival, somewhere in our orbit, does strange things to the mind. Happy-strange things. Normally serious-faced people go about with goofy smiles, or act extra tender when they come within ten feet of the mother-to-be, and  the father-to-be gets his shoulders thumped, and silly things are said by people who are not normally expected to  be affected by such news.

At a baby shower,  there are no inhibitions. Everyone is allowed, rather,  expected to  be goofy, and  indulge in baby-talk  freely, perhaps even try to outdo each other in talking baby, exclaiming over teddy bears, rompers, blankies, bassinets, crib, bib, lullabies,  picture-frames and the like.

And why not.

At Neeraja’s on Sunday afternoon ( we couldn’t miss it, with all the balloons, and buntings that announced this was the place, and  she had even drawn an auspicious kolam for the touch of  the Tamilian home) all menfolk were banished. Gladly, I suppose. The husband had offered to drive me to Rockville, and  hang about the nearest Barnes & Noble’s for the next couple of hours, chiefly because he loves me very much, and also, I suspect, due to the fact that a baby was involved!

Is it necessary to add that the day before, we had great fun picking out a present for Ishu, the mother-to-be, and  even chose the most adorable card, with a rocking horse and some beautiful verse.

I think I was the last to arrive, and the fun and games were in progress. You’ll meet some really neat people, Neeraja had said. Of course, It turned out that I was one of those “neat people”–The moment Neeraja introduced me,  everyone asked me how my writing was going on, and what was I writing about.

It didn’t feel at all like I was meeting everyone for the first time.  It was truly “neat” to meet  Chandra,  Uma, Latha, and of course, Ishu, the hero of the evening,  who it turned out was having twins!  I just hoped  the two little bundles of joy would learn to share the toy I had got them.

Though there were more than a dozen women, for about a quarter of an hour, there was quiet, barring some loud-thinking by someone trying to find the words in the game grid, and unscrambling the jumbled words- the games that Neeraja had set for us to play.  I learnt a new word-  onesies. It was the only word ( of 24) that I failed to get. This was a baby-themed puzzle, and everything else had been a breeze. This proved to be a toughie even for those who’ve had babies!

I was chuffed when Neeraja announced I’d won a prize.  And the other prize was won by Raji.

When Ishu opened her presents,  there were a couple of onesies! (an infant’s one-piece close-fitting lightweight garment, usually having sleeves but leaving the legs uncovered and fastening with snaps at the crotch, says the dictionary) most of them had known about the twins. Uma had crocheted and knitted  two  lovely blankies that I’m sure the two babies will never outgrow.  There were bibs and booties, little day suits and stuffed animals, who I’m sure are going to come alive and  have the most exciting adventures that a child ever imagined, in the coming years.

I had taken along a loaf of banana bread , and was pleased that it was pronouced “delicious”.  I gorged on the lemon rice ( Chandra’s) and  quinoa salad (Uma’s) and  samosas. I brought back some strawberries, which Neeraja said, had been sliced by her husband.

Neeraja had meant this evening to be about women bonding, and  a baby shower, is a great way to make it happen.  A baby shower detoxes you of cynicism, and accords you the luxury of  guilt-free enjoyment of  the pure innocence that surrounds babies like an aura. Apart from the unadulterated joy that the presence of a baby brings into one’s life. Any baby, not necessarily your own.

That  private world that little Chichu and I  lived in for a few months, when each day, he’d wander into my apartment, and we’d  go through the ritual of  playing with my doll, Gita Paapa, rubbing her face with baby lotion, and admiring our handiwork, and holding her , standing  before the mirror. That  gasp of  anticipation and the  joy that lit up his face as he ran up the corridor asking to be carried.  They chase the blues away.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through your hair once every day, Audrey Hepburn advises.  Let a baby walk through your thoughts once a day, to feel beautiful all day, she might have said.

 

Eat No Meat Here, It’s No Maas Media

IT’s been a few days since the meaty lunchbox was banished from the precincts of The Hindu. Everybody has an opinion on the matter. There are people who would take up cudgels on behalf of the meat-eating employees who, they allege, are being forced to become vegetarian and “Brahmin in their thinking”.

People who have never entered the portals of  The Hindu and by virtue of their  tweets, , probably never will,  suggested, ” The Hindu should rename itself  “The Brahmin”, and  urged the proprietors to  display a signboard to say “Only Brahmins need apply”, and a third suggested wrapping chicken kebabs in  the newspaper would be the Gandhian way to protest.

Now,  I have been a The  Hindu insider,  and you don’t need to be one to know that all  vegetarians are not Brahmins , employed at The Hindu or not. The second suggestion  is  absurd. The accent  at the Hindu, in fact, is on diversity. As for the final  suggestion, being kebab wrapper I’d say is an upgrade from the days a few decades ago, when grandma’s wisdom suggested   yesterday’s newspaper made cheapest baby wipes.

I admit I am a vegetarian and until this  advisory  came up, I never really considered what might be going on  in the mind of  the non-vegetarian employee of The Hindu. Or  what the vegetarian in The Hindu canteen might be thinking. Speaking for myself,  the only thing that’s important to me is what’s on my plate. My best friends are non-vegetarians. When we eat out  they order what they like, and I order what I like, and of course we all sit at the same table.

I am trying to  recall what  my colleagues at the Hindu did at the canteen. I don’t remember  anyone  opening their  dabba of chicken biriyani, or anything non-vegetarian. In fact most of us  did not carry a lunchbox from home at all most days, because it was more convenient to eat at the canteen.  Our colleagues from other newspapers frequently asked if they could come over and lunch at our canteen.

In the newsroom, lunchboxes often got opened and passed around  if someone got hungry, or  brought something interesting,  or   Ramesh Vangipuram  brought his sack of Krishna Janmashtami goodies, or someone had a birthday. or ordered pizza (vegetarian, I admit)

There might have been at some point someone who brought some non-vegetarian  food. No one asked, or said anything.  I’m guessing  they’d have ordered  non-vegetarian if  it was available in the canteen, and were  generally happy to eat whatever is available- viz. a  decadent spread of saapad with sambhar, rasam, palya, appalam, pickle and curd. On the other hand, I’ve known many of them to order vegetarian at the Press Club, even though a non-vegetarian menu is served there. There was none of the offending or offense-taking  that is being implied between  colleagues.

What if anything has changed, after the   advisory was issued?  Very little, I’d say.  The HR manager is not necessarily speaking for every vegetarian in the building, and  he has doubtless verified facts before saying that non-vegetarians are in the minority.  This minority knows what to expect, and  abstinence while on the premises is not asking for the impossible– most non-vegetarians  often abstain even when they are not  at work, for  personal, spiritual, and health reasons..  Besides,  what are the chances of someone  actually bringing a non-veg meal into the building, and that some vegetarian/non-vegetarian tattletale is  going to  spill the chicken on a meat-chomping colleague?

This is  more akin to a case of  telling  non-smokers  to refrain from smoking!

Meanwhile conversations on FB are meandering from The Hindu canteen into Hindu spaces. “The notice of the Hindu management is nothing but insulting the Dalit-bahujans and non-Brahmin castes and their food cultures” says  someone on a group that I desist from naming here.

When will the day come when Dalit journalists conduct beef festivals in media houses in this great democracy! exclaims another, while someone else compares it to  the ban on sale of eggs at Rishikesh-Hardwar. 

When will the day come when Dalit journalists conduct beef festivals in media houses in this great democracy!exclaims another!  

I think my takeaway from here  is “beefing up the media house equals Dalit empowerment”

 

I Wish I Was Back In Babelore

Some years ago, I was walking into the Conference Room in Vidhana Soudha to cover the press conference of the Chief Minister,  H.D.Kumaraswamy,  while speaking on the cell with a cousin. I spoke in Tamil, and  after a few minutes  I hung up, and found myself a chair. A journalist from another newspaper slid into the seat next to mine, said hello and asked, in Kannada, “Madam how come you are speaking  the Konga bhasha? ”  I replied that’s because I was a Konga. He had the grace to blush, and mumbled his apologies but he was also surprised to learn I am not Kannadiga.

I told him there was no need to apologize, as he had no way of knowing this , but couldn’t  resist telling him that I was quite conversant in 75 per cent of  South Indian languages. At home the lingua franca is Tamil, but it’s simply impossible not to pick up some Telugu when you have seven uncles and six aunts who were born and raised in Nellore, and argued ( they call it conversation) in the only language in which mythological movies must be watched.  My second language at school was Kannada, and  it was also generally the language in which I played, but  there never was any occasion to learn  even a smattering of Malayalam.

Now everyone knows, or has often lamented the  penchant of many Kannadigas to deny their language, and  reams have been written about the Kannadiga pride in displaying  ignorance of their own language. When two Malayalis or two Andhraites meet, the happily lapse into their language, whereas the Kannadiga , so the common complaint goes,  will lapse into English.

This was the theme  of  friend   Sandhya Mendonca’s blog a couple of days ago- in which she pointed out that many Indians are bilingual, and  can switch between the languages with great felicity.  I have always been amused to see my father and his five siblings communicate – one pair of his sisters would speak to each other in Dharwad Kannada, my dad and his elder brother  too spoke to each other in Dharwad Kannada, and the other two sisters spoke Tamil to each other. But if the pairs broke up,  Tamil was the medium!

I  enjoy  my GP Rajaratnam and Kailasam in Kannada, I can identify a  Bharatiyar gem or two in Tamil , and  as for Telugu,  there is no greater joy than to watch the movie Mayabazar and soak in the romance of  Lahiri Lahiri or laugh till I get stitches in my sides at Vivaha Bhojanambu. I find Thyagaraja and Purandardasa equally epiphanic in their respective languages,  and despite a limited understanding of literary Tamil, I enjoy the occasional Rajaji’s Korai Onrum Illai  for the voice of MS,  and  take a guilty , childish pleasure in  parodied  renderings of K. B. Sundarambal’s  Avvaiyar songs. And of course,  knowing Kannada has been a great boon- I have taught myself to read  my grandfather’s Telugu translation of Valmiki Ramayana, since the scripts are similar.

My life has changed in the last five years, and I now live in a place where knowing 75 per cent of South Indian languages has been of little help.  The husband speaks Malayalam, the 25 per cent that I never  learnt!

Which means,  we are now a 100 per cent English speaking family. And I have begun to recognize that  it takes a lot of effort to learn a new language, never mind the comforting “its very easy,  just like Tamil,” etc.   I was on the plane to visit  cousin Meenakshi in Minnesota a few months back, and it turned out I was the only desi among the 30 odd passengers on the tiny plane. both onward and the return flight. It was any icy winter morning, on the return flight, and we were delayed an hour  while the plane and the tarmac got a wash. I passed a good deal of the time thinking I could say things in four languages (including Hindi) to anyone on the plane, and no one would even know  that  they were getting gibberish of four kinds!

Which brings us to my present peeve. In order to speak lustily and for long in Kannada, Tamil, or  even Telugu, I need to call friends and family back home in India, or here in the US.  There are reasons why when I hear these three languages in this wonderful land  that I currently call home , I  turn away, move to another aisle, or pretend I am not there at all.  Experience is a great teacher. I mostly blame the knol khol pyramid at the Korean store, Lotte’  Plaza where you can buy  dosakai  (Mangaluru Southekai) under a  gantry sign that  loudly declares “DOSAKAI).

There is a lot of Telugu to be encountered at  say  Lotte’ ,  COSTCO, or Walmart, and  Tamil, and much Malayalam. Kannada, on the other hand, is  rarely heard.  So I could barely conceal my delight when I heard this urgently pregnant  woman  contemplating the knol khol in her hand, and wondering, loudly, “idu knol khol allva?”

Too excited to  consider that it might be a bad idea, I  cheerfully volunteered, “howdu, idu knol kholenay“, because I had asked myself the same question when I first visited  this store. One can never be sure of  our familiar veggies  knol khol, seemebadnekai that goes by the exotic name of chayote, in this country . They tend to be giant sized, and most of the time, quite tasteless . I long for  the pungent “aroma” of  a radish simmering in the sambhar nearly as much as I pine for a  chinwag in Kannada. With someone sitting by me, on the same couch. Not over telephone .

Well, the upshot of my  interjection was that we were soon talking about Uma theatre, Bull Temple, Gandhi Bazar, and so on, and exchanged phone numbers. . A couple of weeks later, she called, and asked if i was interested  in a project. I am mortified to say I failed to see through her  jargon and  was in denial when the husband said it sounded like an Amway scam. I asked for more details, and found out, indeed, that it was Amway. I  told her I wasn’t interested, and forbade husband from every mentioning this episode again, if he wanted  his parippu prathaman

So you see,  I can’t be blamed for  being wary of  Kannada- speaking pregnant women on the loose in   Herndon Halli, and  turning to   FB, youtube and my  small library of Kannada books  to my regular fix.  The important thing is to know  you may take me out of Kannada, but you cannot take Kannada out of me. On this cliche’d note,  I end, yearning deeply for my Babelore!