“You mean she is holding the baby?” That was my mother screaming into my brother’s phone (in China, I hear, landline subscriptions are dropping at such an alarming rate that even the government is worried — and there, I guess, ‘phone’ now equals to ‘mobile’; to cut a long story short, when I said my brother’s phone, I meant his mobile handset).
“That’s what I said: Didi is holding the baby,” my brother replied patiently.
“How extremely weird,” my mother wondered in Calcutta. “She hates kids, she tells me all the time — which is why she doesn’t want to have any of her own.”
“Well,” my brother continued patiently, “Baby seems content in her pishi’s arms, so Didi obviously has a flair for parenting.”
“I can’t believe it,” my mother ranted on indefatigably.
The baby — my niece — was exactly 23 hours old when I lay eyes on her. “It will be a life-changing moment, when you first see her,” someone in office informed me gravely, chomping on a slice from the chocolate cake I ordered when I found out I’d become a pishi, the Bengali opposite number of bua.
Quite honestly, nothing changed in my life, except that I took off for a couple of days to go on baby pilgrimage to Gurgaon. Having said that, I must admit that I can’t stop telling everyone how “well-formed” my niece is — for her age: bright, focused eyes, a thick mop of hair, an aquiline nose… “Look at you, you can’t stop gushing,” someone pointed out.
“I’m just reporting,” I said defensively.
The infant — she’s been named Roraima, after a national park in Venezuela — has been blessed with a most unbecoming manner of bursting into wails the moment she’s left static: she needs to be moved around constantly. “Can you please be the motor?” my sister-in-law implored, her eyes sunken pools of sleeplessness, the moment I walked in.
It was my call of duty as bua. (The word pishi I have a problem with, makes me feel like a mortar being ground by a pestle. The more elevated pishima makes me cringe, it denotes I’m safely over the hill.) So, for the next two hours, I walked Roraima around the room. “It’s like being in the gym, on the treadmill,” my sister-in-law observed.
My brother’s first assignment as a father was to buy a bathtub for the newborn, and he came back, triumphantly, with a plastic fruit holder — albeit a rather large one, the sort fruit retailers would use to display their wares. The poor thing had to go back and change it after being roundly scolded by his wife.
He was also keen on buying a medium-sized basket meant for housing pretty bric-a-brac, displayed at a maternity wear counter in the nursing home foyer, because he was convinced it was a baby cot. “How much for the cot?” he asked the bemused counter girl.
“Cot? That’s not a cot, that’s a basket,” she laughed.
“Arrey, that’s alright, a newborn can sleep in it, right?”
“No sir, the basket will break.”
Damn, he said. “I’m not enjoying this one bit.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, my mother called again, on his mobile, to tell him he shouldn’t name the newborn ‘Roraima’. “All my students here are saying that Roraima doesn’t quite ring a bell,” she insisted.
“Listen Ma,” the beleaguered father said plaintively. “I’ll courier you a printout on what Roraima means.”
Oh, all right, his mother relented. “If you despatch it today itself, I’ll get it tomorrow evening, before my students come for evening tuition.”
After he hung up, my brother needed a break. “I’m going down to grab a tea,” he said. “Let me come with you, I could do with some fresh air myself,” his wife hobbled out of the room with me.
I was left holding the baby. At that very moment, Motu SMS-ed me, “What’s it like being a pishima ?”