Thursday, February 10, 2011

No shame or what?

An old friend from Delhi visited us recently — a really great guy who is stylish in the way that only men from Delhi can be. One evening, I asked him to carry a perfectly good, purple coloured, non-crackly (crucial detail) plastic bag. Nothing prepared me for his shocked yelp. “A plastic bag you want me to hold? It crackles and it’s pink! No way! It just won’t go with me.” He shuddered.

I took it back, muttering something like, “Wait-till-you-have-a-kid-bugger.” See, the last six years have changed us. Pista-green candy-striped cloth bags, ugly red-and-yellow umbrellas, Tinkerbell raincoats, sky-blue potty seats and the like have been lugged by us.We have, in many ways, lost our sense of style — and, truly, lost our sense of shame too.

I blame it all on the process of becoming parents. The loss of one’s coolth begins with the woman getting pregnant. As a guy, once your woman’s bump starts to show, and there’s that civilised and public acknowledgement of your sex life by neighbours and parents, you change in crucial ways. Don’t ask me how or why, but it happens. I had fertility issues at one point, and I remember the doctor — a respectable, middle-aged, mom-type — asking us to ‘have relations as many times as possible’ on a particular date. I stared at her for five whole seconds, eyes narrowed, wondering what in heck she was saying. And suddenly I realised that she was asking us to have sex. When we recovered from the acute nails-on-the-wall-feeling induced by her euphemism, we knew that nothing would be the same any more; least of all, the act itself.

As for women — do I really need to elaborate? Somehow, having a child is equivalent to being in a reality show inside a goldfish bowl in your neighbourhood. Because once you’re pregnant, the human race at large suddenly begins to take an active interest in you. This is probably an atavistic thing, dating back to centuries of being concerned about she-who-bears-life. Apart from being prodded by the doctor and his/her team, the world and its cousin will advise you. The best nugget I got was a vital tip on human anatomy from an elderly Punjabi uncle on my morning walk. "Eat  ghee-rich ‘panjeeri,’" he said, "It will ‘make your insides smooth’ so that the baby ‘comes out easily’." Between incomprehension and shock, there is a small space called parenthood.

Inevitably and slowly, you will relax into the state, wantonly discussing vomiting, acidity and bowel movements with strangers.

One of the most painful tasks in the final weeks of pregnancy was something i take for granted now - the security of my salwar. No matter where i tied the salwar string, and no matter where, the salwar would slip down the parabola of my belly, and I would keep hitching it up. Pull up that salwar in full public view often enough, and you realise that dignity-wise, it’s all the way south from here. (Why did I continue wearing falling-naada salwars? Because this was deep, dark 2003, when only aerobics instructors and male dancers wore tights. Respectable pregnant women were either looking like ducks in frocks, or seahorses in saris, or were wearing ‘punjabi dresses’.)

Once you have the baby, the change is irreversible. You talk about food, poop, milk and breast pumps with a quiet insouciance. You used to be angsty, reserved, cool people. Now you’re loud, hustling parents, who have no qualms asking stern pediatricians daft questions, or doling out free advice to pregnant women and new moms. Yeah, and you stop being so darn particular about things like bags.

Between losing her senses of style, shame and sanity, Anita Vachharajani raises a child and writes children’s books

This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, Jan 30, 2011