Wednesday, March 25, 2009
In praise of the small and simple.....
She appeared at the door last week. An old stooped lady, wearing glasses with fairly thick lenses. Wearing a traditional nine yard sari, the sort you carefully wash, fold and then store under the mattress in such a way, that it gets a natural ironing, thanks to everyone sitting and or lying down on the one big bed in the house , holding several mattresses. In her house, the place isn't big enough for large amounts of furniture. And the mattresses are pulled down at night for everyone else, while the oldest elder gets the bed.
She was accompanied by a grandson. That's who I thought he was. At first I didn't recognize her. She looked up at me, and smiled. Toothlessly. Through her cataracted eyes. Shining. And then it hit home.
Bhagabai. Who was so much a part of my life when i went to my parents for my first delivery.
It is very traditional, for a girl expecting her first child, to go to her parent's house sometime before her due date. Today, with so many working women, and migration to the metros from small towns, understanding parents make the reverse trip to be there for their daughter and help. Sometimes, understanding parents-in-law chip in with their own help.
But going to one's parents house gives you the sort of freedom, you don't get anywhere else. You can sleep late, cups of tea magically appear when you vaguely wish about them, all kinds of culinary stuff is made for you, and you can absolutely dig in without appearing to be a greedy fool. "I don't feel like doing this", a phrase you dare not utter in front of your in-laws, is quite acceptable here. Although it is considered bad manners to sit with your feet up even in front of your parents (forget in-laws), going to your parents at this point is like mentally putting your feet up , if you know what I mean .... When you go out, you run into some of your school friends' parents and siblings, the local cycle shop fellow who repaired your punctures in college, asks after you and your husband, and the vegetable lady, sends her granddaughter with you, to carry the veggies when you return from shopping .
Post delivery, a very interesting person arrives on the scene. That was Bhagabai.
About 30 years ago, it was fairly routine to employ ladies like Bhagabai, for what was called Post-natal massage, and bathing and massaging the baby. I came home from hospital, and settled in. Bhagabai appeared a few days later. Ladies like her, are experts in the bathing and massaging of babies, in the traditional way. Alongside, they also massage the desperately tired muscles and ligaments of the mother, and there is a technique to it.
They use ordinary oil, and you feel the goodness oozing out of the rough, hardened, fingers, as your muscles get a indulgent talking to. An unusual aspect of the massage is a small utensil made out of a certain alloy , for which I do not know the English name. This utensil, and the oil , is rubbed on the soles of your feet, to remove the "heat". Whatever the science behind this, it used to feel good, and you felt very light after the sole rubbing. You were then accompanied into the bath, where water, as hot as you could tolerate, was poured on you by the big tumblerfuls, and garbanzo flour paste was used to remove any oil that had not managed to seep in by then, into your somnolent body. It felt wonderful. It did things not only to your body, but also to your mind. And some hot-off-he-griddle freshly made tortillas for breakfast with some delicious veggies completed the heavenly routine.
Bhagabai would then sit on the floor, with her feet out in front. Tuck in her saree above her knees, spread a soft white freshly washed cotton towel across her knees, and place the baby on her knees. A dab of oil on her palm, a rubbing together of the palms, and she would proceed to massage, the fairly new knees and ankles and things. Arms, shoulders and back were next. Sometimes the baby was laid on its stomach , so that the shoulders got a nice rub. Indian babies tend to have a nice mop of dark hair, and that was oiled too, with a special type of massage at the point where the fontanel was. You needed to go a bit easy there, as things were still joining up there at that point. The baby was bathed with warm water, to which sprigs of Neem were added. No soap was used, but it was all about using garbanzo flour paste. It had no chemicals, it didn't matter if you managed to eat some, and the face shone after you washed , to such an extent, Proctor and Gamble would have simply quietly vanished if they were watching....
Swaddled in fresh cotton clothes, and a cotton wrap , special wraps being done for the belly button area of the baby which was still healing from the loss of the umbilicus, the baby would lie restfully next to the mother, while Bhagabai would fan a largish plate containing some charcoal fire. She would then throw a mixture of few seeds like fennel, cumin, ajwain (carom seeds), etc, on the fire, and a wonderful smoke and aroma would pervade the room. This was designed to disinfect the atmosphere in the room, as well as give protection from allergies to the mother and child.
At the end of it all, she would sit back, have a cup of tea, chat with my mother for a while, and push off for her next massage assignment. If she felt the child was developing a cold or something, she would alter the mixture of the final seeds that were smoked, and the baby would be fine.
Bhagabai came to us for a month for me, and another month more for my son. She was a big part of the day we had the naming ceremony, and got special sarees from my in-laws and parents on that day. By and by I returned to my own home in Mumbai, and lost touch with her. But she would come once in a while to see my mother, ask after us. At some point of time, she kind of retired from all this and went back to her native place, to her ancestral house, where she lived then with her two sons and their wives and children.
She had been to Pune , and someone told her about my parents being no more. She asked about us, and my cousin told her where I lived. Her grandson was accompanying her to Mumbai as they had come to see someone who was seriously ill , and in hospital, and belonged to Bhagabai's generation.
On an impulse, she found out how to get to my place and came. To offer condolences.
"You know , those days are gone. These young mothers today can't sit still. They start going out to work and shopping, and stuff, and eat outside stuff. They worry about their figures. They avoid eating the old style prescribed stuff , satwik food, and then complain about aches and pains and inability to breastfeed the child....", . She shook her head, adjusted the end of her saree over her head, and looked up at me, as her grandson sort of rolled his eyes and looked up, but indulgently.
I remembered a friend's daughter who had just delivered and I asked if she was interested. She was nearby. Bhagabai could stay with me, and go there. It would be a nice change for Bhagabai, for me, and the new mother.
"You know, the heart is willing, the hands are willing, but I need to go back in a few days. " She motioned to her son to carry the empty teacups and plates into the kitchen and leave them there.
Her reason completely stumped me.
"Elections are there. My name is registered at the village. And I have to be there to vote. I have not missed a single election so far. It is important that we vote for the correct chap. today money power is misused. ....."
Yes, we are having our national elections in April.
This has been a tumultuous time.
Tumultuous in the highs and lows of economy, morals, money,violence,politics and yes, sport; as the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai festers in every one's mind, and makes you look over your shoulder, more than normal. For the ordinary person on the street, worry is a real and valid activity, till you reach your destination. Every time your child is late getting home, your hand reaches for the TV remote.
In the midst of this, India decided to keep its date with democracy. We have general elections, every 5 years. And now is the time.
Come April, and in a country , with an estimated population of 1.15 billion, representing 17% of the world population, 714,000,000 voters will use 1,368,430 electronic voting machines, to indicate their choice. Some will fly in, pose, smile, and vote; some will drive; some will step out of a decelerating public transport to do their civic duty; and in the back of beyond, rural areas, some elder son with a strong back, will carry his old mother piggyback over hill and dale, so she can cast her vote. She may be illiterate, may not know the names of first citizens, but she has a fine work ethic, a pride in the country, and can discuss and decide which man or woman, is worth voting for.
29 different languages are spoken by at least 1 million people each, where several hundred languages are designated as mother-tongues.Being the most culturally, linguistically and genetically diverse geographical entity after the African continent, this country is home to folks from 9 major religions, Hindu (80.5)% (13.4%), , Muslims Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahá'ís and others. Tribals constitute 8.1% of the population.
Folks will make their way to 828,804 polling booths, and do their bit to preserve democracy.
Something we seem to be fairly good at, given that we have more reasons to divide us than unite us.
The Home Minister cannot emphasize enough the security aspect of these elections, and the country's law and order forces are totally committed to this.
In the midst of this , the Indian Premier League, the most commercialized money making cricket extravaganza , if there was one, schedules its matches right in the middle of the election period. This, despite the fact that a schoolchild knows that elections must happen before May.
As if that wasn't enough, Mr Lalit Modi, the gung-ho IPL commissioner argues and tangles with the government demanding security for the games. The latest terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka Cricket team in Pakistan has upped the threat perception. Big names in cricket , from UK, Australia, NZ, and SA, who have signed up, are expressing doubts about their own availability , worried about the security aspect.
Everyone is aware, but the amount of security personnel are barely enough for countrywide elections. The interests of the country are paramount. Cricket can always be played later. And IPL isn't even cricket, like test cricket. . It's like McDonald's trying to be the Taj Mahal Hotel.
The news channels show nothing else for 3-4 days, not having the IPL matches is declared a shame on the Nation, and the IPL pffice bearers, all politicians , who knew when the elections were scheduled, alternately huddle together, and fly cross country in a frenzy of discussions.
Yes, the IPL matches WILL be held. But not in India. The head honcho, Mr Modi flies to SA and the change in venue to SA is announced.
To me. the IPL-organizers is a standing example of what should not be. Wheelers and dealers. To them, its all about maximizing revenue, and reducing losses. Commercials and media ads, and sponsorships, and stadia advertising. They have "bought" and traded cricketers for huge sums, and will have mud on their face if these don't turn up due to perceived security problems.
So they make outrageous security demands from the government during election time. Refusals from the government are blithely dismissed as political posturing. In the meanwhile, someone somewhere is quietly moving the jamboree out of India. So that the foreign players will turn up. The Indian players will miss out on so much family time because of travelling .They play for the country, and that dedication is ruthlessly exploited. So many people will stay away from the country and forget to vote. But who cares.
These big guys, non-playing, non-sporting IPL types, who have so much in life, money, power, prestige, hangers on, authority, and what have you, don't have one thing that Bhagabai has.
Its your country, and its important that you vote. That you be there.
But is anyone listening ?