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Saturday, 1 October 2011

Happy Birthday Ranbir!

Kheer - delicious and delicately flavoured – is synonymous, in my mind, with festivity!

I come from a completely un-ritualistic family – indeed I am hard pressed to think of many things we did, growing up, that can be granted the stature of ubiquity. The one thing that definitely qualifies, however – that we did ritualistically, without fail, and that they continue to do, even in my absence (sob!) is to eat Kheer on special occasions. So, be it Diwali, birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, promotions, even Christmas, there was always Kheer at lunch. For us, it was a symbol of congratulations and celebration. Of good luck and continuity.

And so, on this – my most special occasion yet - I am making Kheer.

October 2, 2010

The biggest countdown of my life has just ended.  9 months of anticipation and 22 hours of labour later, I am holding, in my arms - my son.

I don’t know what to do at this moment to be honest.  Or what to feel. The emotions overwhelm me. I am jubilant. But I don’t know why. Because the pain is over? Because I am no longer fat? Because I am holding this tiny squirming being in my arms – this being, that Sid and I have created. This being that is now mine?

I am tired, oh so tired. I am crying. From relief, from happiness, from sheer exhaustion? I don’t know. Dr. Teoh is congratulating me – “you did it, you did it,” he repeats over and over again. Ebi, my midwife (God Bless You, I will never forget your kindness in all my life) is laughing, her perfectly white teeth shining against her smooth, perfectly dark skin. Sid is hugging me, his face reflecting a pride so marked, that I remember it still.

He is a father.

And me? I am a mother.  A mother. The words don’t seem real somehow. 

And I don’t know what to do at this moment. But Ranbir does. He needs no help, no direction, no guidance. The first thing he does on this earth is feed.  He is my son.

October 2, 2011

Time has flown like a creature with wings.

A year has passed. And how far we have come!  How far we have come from the day we brought Ranbir home from the hospital.

Our First Year

Fear
It is 9am on Monday morning. The sky is steel grey, dark clouds looming above us, threatening rain. Ranbir is so tiny, his newborn sized sleepsuit (the one smaller than 0-3 months!) hanging loosely around his little body. He is smaller than the length of my forearm, light as a feather.  I am looking back woefully as we drive home. I know I am leaving behind the protective shelter of the hospital, my bright room in the maternity ward done up in cheerful hues of yellow, the midwives who know everything. This is the moment – the precise moment – that reality hits. Cold and Hard.  This is it folks. Moment of truth. It’s just us: Sid and myself, my mother (the only somewhat knowledgeable one of us all, albeit from 30 years ago) and my father (if-i-touch-the-baby-i-will-break-it.) With a 2-day old. Who shares our emotions exactly. We are all the same. Alone. Clueless. And terrified.

Despair
The first 12 weeks seem like 12 years. The days that end before they begin, the long, endless nights.

Time stops.

People tell me he is “cute.” Really?? “Mishti mukh” my mother coos to him all day long – sweet face. Whatever. To me, he barely looks human. He certainly doesn’t behave like one.  I mean, couldja just not pee in my face the next time I’m changing you? Please? Cause you may think it’s cool, but I certainly don’t.  

Sleep, precious sleep. Dark circles. Tears.  I dread the nights. And when the sun comes up – finally – I breathe a sigh of relief – I have survived one more day.  Sometimes I laugh. I call him King Khanna –“What can I do for you now your Majesty?” Sometimes nothing works. The baby cries all day and all night.  Is this how it is meant to be? Or am I a failure? Sid holds me. Tight. It gives me strength. He tells me I’m a great mom. I don’t believe him. I read the books – the expert books – over and over again.  “All they need is love,” the books say.  I look down at my wailing baby. “I love you so much,” I whisper in his ear, “but do you love me?”

Hope
We are learning, Ranbir and I. We are learning how to understand each other. Only now do I begin to appreciate the full power of language, how wonderfully enabling it is. But we don’t have this luxury, Ranbir and I, the luxury of spoken language. Of words. So we both learn. Slowly. Patiently. How to communicate in other ways.

I learn the subtle differences in the sound of his cries (I’m hungry, I’m bored, I’m sleepy, I need changing, I’m just throwing a tantrum because I can) and what I must do in response (feed, play, settle, change diaper, ignore).  I learn that when he kicks his legs furiously, he is happy and when he rubs the side of his face against the hollow in my neck he is sleepy and that when he yawns in the middle of his bath, he is blissfully content. I learn.

And he learns too. Many little things. But one big thing. He learns that he needn’t be scared. That he will be fed and cuddled. And loved unconditionally. He learns that with us, he is safe. And that it may not be such a bad thing after all to keep us around.

He is starting to look human now.  When people call him “beautiful” and then follow it up with “he looks JUST like you” I have to concede – I enjoy it.

There are still times that frustrate me. When communication fails. And I throw up my arms in resignation. But I learn how to deal with that too. I am a fast learner. In times like these, I put him in a safe place, shut the door, and eat chocolate.  It TOTALLY helps.

Love
There are many milestones in the life of a new mother, each one special in its own way. To me, the most memorable will always be Ranbir’s first smile.

It is astounding how much that first little glimmer of a smile means to me. At first, I can’t believe he’s done it. But then he does it again. And he looks at me as if waiting for me to smile back. To respond. It’s the first time he’s held my gaze. It touches  my very core, melts my heart to mush.

Because it is more than just a smile. It is a turning point of sorts.  It is, at long last, an acknowledgment of my existence. It is LOVE.

And as my friend Aimee says to me when I moan to her - about losing sleep and losing me-time and losing independence and losing sanity. “Well, you clearly know everything that you’re going to lose. But, trust me, you have NO idea how much you are going to gain.”

This I discover now.

I discover that the hardest and most selfless job I have ever done in my life is also the most fulfilling. Because I have turned my baby into the most delightful little person I know.  And I am privileged, so privileged, to be his mama.

And from this point on, time flies like a creature with wings.

Lots of things happen, at amazing pace. The squeals of laughter that crack me up every single time, the butterfly kisses, the baby babble (though in Ranbir’s limited vocab, everything and everyone is “da-da”). Suddenly life is a game.  He takes things out of drawers, dustbins, handbags. I put them all back patiently and he takes them out again. This time, I don’t take the bait despite the sorrowful look he’s giving me. He moves on to putting my shoes in his mouth. Or touching the wheels of the pram. Dirty things entertain him the most. My mobile phone is a close second. Now when I hold him, he holds me back. And I want to hold on to that moment forever. I kiss him on his neck and smell that milk smell of his and he laughs because he is tickled. It is the best feeling in the world. Indescribable. Incomparable.  Before I know it, he eats egg fried rice. And mud. He sits up, crawls, plays peek-a-boo by himself, “reads,” claps his hands, waves, does high-fives.

Sometimes I watch him watch me – his large brown eyes looking at me with – dare I say it? Adoration? And it fills my heart with so much love. So much that I didn’t think my heart was big enough to hold. I wonder – how can a person so small affect a love so great?

Sometimes, I watch him sleep – his smooth unlined face so peaceful, so calm, his hands managing to break out of the swaddle I have so painstakingly wrapped him in, his little escaped fists clutching his blanket or a toy, his mouth making little puckering sounds.  And I think to myself – I made that?

Today we have reached the 1 year mark.
Today the English sun is shining for me.  
And I am basking in its glory.

Please celebrate with me. With Kheer.

I am making my Kheer with rice, but every part of India – and every Indian family, for that matter – probably has its own version of Kheer. The essential ingredients are milk and sugar, but different variations can be made by replacing rice with vermicelli, semolina, and even oranges. My mother makes a fantastic and absolutely unrivalled mango Kheer. But I’m rubbish at dessert anyway, so I’m sticking to the basics.  This is homemade, wholesome goodness. This is Rice Kheer.

Here’s what you need:

- 1/4th cup long grain rice, washed and drained
- 4-5 cups milk
- 2-3 cardamom seeds, crushed
- 2 tbsp almonds, blanched & silvered
- A few of saffron threads, soaked in a little hot milk
- 1 tbsp skinned pistachio nuts, chopped
- 1 tbsp sultanas or raisins
- 2  tbsp sugar or as desired

Here’s how you do it:

Add rice, milk and cardamom to a pan, and slowly bring to a boil stirring constantly. Simmer gently until the rice grains start to break up and soften, but keep stirring to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Continue to simmer (and stir) until the milk is reduced by about half; this may take as long as 1 hour. (No pain, no gain, as they say :) When the milk has thickened, add as much sugar as you like (I don't like to add too much because as I explain in my coffee recipe, boiling milk releases enough sugar for my taste, but then I don't like my desserts too sweet) and stir until completely dissolved. Finally add almonds, pistachio, saffron and raisins and simmer for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the Kheer from heat and let cool. Keep it in the fridge for a few hours and serve chilled.

They say the day a baby is born a mother is born too.  To Ranbir then.  And to me.  On our 1st birthday.


3 comments:

  1. That is what I call a magical post to commemorate a magical day! Kudos.

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  2. Thank you Eb! I never believed people when they talked about this mad love you feel for your child! It's really something else, no?

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  3. Great Job! Comes straight from the heart- you can totally tell!

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