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Mom & the city

It’s an occasion to reflect. Four writers muse over the challenges of being a mother in a city of flash, nostalgia, exasperation — and affection.

delhi Updated: May 10, 2013 22:36 IST

Lessons in altruism
Moving to Delhi as Bhabhiji, mom to a preschooler helped me make peace with the loneliness that motherhood brings. I live in a world where most of my significant relationships are conducted in cyber space. Dad tucks the kid into bed over Skype. In Delhi we run outdoors, play amongst its built history, attend open air concerts, ride toy trains, walk to school picking up silk cotton flowers for the teacher.

Come summer, the heat gave us permission to treat ourselves the gift of getting bored. We are a TV- free household. Sundays there was no going out, the help’s day off, no pressure to be productive, lying around, reading papers, playing board games. By evening dying to go for a walk. We would, but quickly run off to buy ice-creams, chaach from Mother Dairy. Dussehra season makes for interesting conversations as my boy's Ravan channels our tirade about Delhi’s infamous traffic.

“Ravan is so naughty Mama. HE DOESN’T LOOK LEFT RIGHT CROSSING THE ROAD.” Also indignant that Ravan is not returning Sita, but mostly bad traffic sense. Giggling at the image of a ten-headed Ravan at the traffic light looking left right, a Sita squawks at his side trying to wriggle her wrist away.
In winters a fortnightly salon my people coming over for a meal, ‘scintillating conversation’, husband and boy a room away so I am never in a rush to be with them. I am finally home.

But soon the city reminds me that I have been altruistic about motherhood courtesy a tadka of selfishness. It’s class. My location provides for a rape- suraksha kavach. Happy Families dressed for comfort not character certificates. Parks with the guard at the gate keeping Delhi away. My bubble that helps me push April’s newspapers under the sofa. I can’t afford not to listen.

Aneela Z Babar, 38, is a researcher/anthropologist wri­t­ing on gender, popular culture and militarism

Simple rituals
Was Delhi a challenging place to raise us?” I ask my mom. “And what place isn’t challenging to raise children?” she smiles. They seem like two different cities: the one I was raised in, and the one where I am now raising my child. The Delhi I grew up in was more airy, roads less crowded with cars and minds less crowded with fears. Rational fears, I might add. But let’s not go down that dark alley. Back then, afternoons were spent walking to Delhi Public Library — hardbound books under one arm and 10 paise for water in the tiny cloth purse strung across the shoulder. There were instructions from mom to cross the road alongside someone older. Nine out of 10 times, they knew, the older aunties and uncles, that I was waiting for them, so I could tag along. They would smile, hold my hand and guide me across. Now, I shudder at the thought of a stranger touching my child’s hand. Will there ever be the comfort of simple rituals like that again in this new, New Delhi? What happened to all the girls playing Kokila Chipaki, Tippy Tippy Tap and Elastic? The air resonant with their arguments and laughter. Where did they disappear? The parks were taken over by loud boys playing cricket, the streets by cars, the houses ate up their driveways to make room for more rooms. I saw a bunch of six-year-old girls the other day, huddled in a bedroom with their Barbie sets, talking in hushed tones. When did we send the girls inside? The challenge would be to find a spot in the sun for my child; to run, skip, laugh and roll in the park — children should be children, before they are forced to become girls or boys.


I don’t know if the times were better or if nostalgia is just a sweeter name for selective amnesia. What I do know is that when one loses hope, one loses everything. I’d like to believe there’s still hope for this city of my childhood. “And what place isn’t challenging to raise children?” I ask you.
Arti Jain, 37, is a columnist and co-founder of www.FriendsOfBooks.com


The old and new blends
My son was born when we were posted in Madras. Pleasant enough, but it wasn’t home. I fought, cajoled and emotionally blackmailed my husband to move back to Delhi. I needed my friends and family as I walked the new mommy path.

We did. And I’ve never regretted it. A city is as good or bad as its people, and we had friends trooping in at all times. That isn’t what any sleep deprived young couple with a newborn wants, but strangely it was just the fix. Potluck lunches, late nights with wine out on the balcony as traffic roared past and brunches, sprawled across the floor. All the while my son learnt to negotiate obstacles and relationships, holding on to an Uncle’s shoulder and pulling himself up there, gurgling, being tossed into the air.

Delhi offered me space. Space in physical terms, a huge old house, cool marbled floors to lie on, wide open balconies that brought parakeets and doves out of books and into our lives, space to be, with no one asking after our caste before showing us a house on rent. It gave us four parks next to the house and the Deer Park over the weekends. My second born, my daughter, learnt to climb the stairs at Agrasen ki Baoli, picnic at Humayun’s Tomb and feed ducks at Lodhi Garden. Very few cities allow the past and present to blend so seamlessly. Nowhere else will you get to clamber over a ruin to retrieve a cricket ball.

As the years go by, people ask why I made this choice, considering neither my husband not I are native to it. The answer is simple — it is a city that accepts you for what you are — artist, refugee, entrepreneur, expat, writer, teacher. You need no domicile certificate or proficiency in a third language to get admission or dance at Lorhi or enjoy the bhog at a Durga Puja pandal. It gives you a taste of Onam Sadya and shelters the momo stalls sprung up at street corners, making it as native to the city as chaat. For a family such as ours, Hindu, Christian, Tamil, Bengali and others, I couldn’t have made a better choice. This is a city that doesn’t care for antecedents. A melting pot. And as we drive through fog down the beautiful Sunehari Bagh road on a crisp winter morning and the children write their names into the misty windows, this is the best thing I could have done for them.
Smriti Lamech, 34, is a freelance writer and a blogger


That ‘dilliwala’ attitude
I grew up in Delhi, before moving to Bangalore and then Mumbai. Now I’m back — as a mom raising three kids. Amidst issues like safety and pollution, I also worry about bringing up my kids exposed to that famous Dlliwala Attitude.

I notice subtle variants of the DA (Let’s call it that, shall we?) There’s ‘The-Customer-Is-Always-Fight.’ At a Blackberry store, where I was with my kids, a balding middle-aged man suddenly began to scream, using expressions involving mothers-sisters of the hapless staff. I would have intervened, but was busy covering three small pairs of ears with only two hands, and frankly, yeh Dilli hai, meri jaan — I was afraid of a spontaneous shootout.
There’s ‘Haan-Yeh-Mere-Baap-Ki-Sadak-Hai’, I found myself standing on the highway, attempting to reason with an enraged man, whose sole purpose in life seemed to be the removal of the innards of my taxi-driver, with a wrench that he had resourcefully produced during their argument. Eventually, we were able to leave, innards shaken but not removed.

And also ‘Well-Manicured-But- Not-Well-Mannered’. At the Bookaroo fair, I waited in the line with my sister and daughter, listening to two ladies behind us. They complained about the Delhi heat (in Nove­m­ber), and lamented the fact that the Chow-mein might finish before their turn. As we finally made it to the front, the ladies (who I’ll fondly refer to as the Aunties) tried to elbow us aside. My sister and I raised an objection, cau­s­i­ng them to get more aggressive, taking out all their Chow-mein-related frustration on us. We let it go — because my 5 -year-old was watching the exchange, wide-eyed and confused.

Now, I enjoy the perks living in Delhi. There’s family, good help, great new schools. And definite pockets of decency, like the people who intervened to stop the wrench-fight. For me, as exasperating as this city can be — it is, after all, home. So if I have to figure out some way to counter the influence on my kids of the DA — that endearing, uniquely-Delhi combination of aggression and pompous self-entitlement — by George, I’ll do it. Because I too am a Daughter of Delhi. And therefore, ever-ready for a fight.

Yashodhara Lal, 33, is a marketing professional and a graduate from IIM-Bangalore. She wrote her first book ‘Just Married, Please Excuse’ last year and blogs at www.yashodharalal.com