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More than three decades ago this day was born my First Born. He was not expected for another two weeks or so, but apparently he was keen to lay his eyes on the world sooner and so let it be known through intermittent backache that he had different plans. That’s how he happened to arrive sooner, on the evening of 27th of February.

Summer had begun and it was unbearably warm in the village where I was with my parents, as custom demanded. No breeze blew. The trees stood motionless, as if immobilized in a tableau. On the rare occasions the breeze condescended to blow, it rose too warm from the empty fields and the rocky surroundings, in the middle of which stood their house. Imagine the baby and I being lathered with oil and given warm baths under these unbearably conditions! It was pure hell, especially when we also had to deal with long power cuts.

The worst part of living in a village is everyone is family, or think they are, which automatically entitles them to taken an undue interest in you and your life. I know some of you consider this a plus point, but I beg to differ. Father had only recently settled down in the village having only then retired.

The whole village and its inhabitants took it upon themselves to renew connection with one of their own, a beloved ‘child’ who had, after a successful tenure in a government job, had returned to settle in their bosom. And when his eldest daughter comes home to give birth to her eldest child, they thought they owed him, to come and look her up and the baby. All fine so far. I’ll tell you what was not fine though.

It’s the custom in the village for visitors to feed the newborn a pinch of sugar. If you have ten visitors in a day that meant ten pinches of sugar. The worst part? If the baby was asleep, the visitors thought nothing of asking for the baby to be woken up so they could feed him themselves. I kid you not. I would have just bathed and fed the baby, all set to relax with a sigh when along came someone and said, ‘Wake him up! Let’s give him something sweet!’ Some demanded to hold him, inevitably leading to the baby waking up and bawling his heart out. Of course there were the rare good ones, who said, ‘Let him be!’

I was aghast that my parents did not speak up against this nonsense. The only rest a new mom gets is when her baby sleeps, and here were people barging in at just any hour of the day demanding attention. Then there was the matter of the sugar. How was it okay to feed a newborn so much of it? No more of it, I had to insist, instantly becoming the unpopular one.

The First Born was colicky baby. At least I think that was the reason he cried so much. He cried a LOT, especially at night. His voice carried next-door and also across the fields on quiet nights that it became common knowledge among the villagers. Advice started pouring in. Everyone had suggestions, home remedies that were guaranteed to work. ‘Give him x mixed with y.’ ‘No, no, y plus z would do the trick.’ ‘Add w to it and it can’t go wrong.’ ‘You are all wrong, a together with b is what worked for my children.’ ‘I gave b and c for my grand-kids.’ It went on and on.

Mother was all eagerness to give the various remedies a shot to make the baby sleep through the night. I was horrified. I might have been a new mother, but I recognized nonsense when I heard it. Nothing doing, I said. My baby is not a guinea pig. So, no testing various remedies on him. Besides hadn’t the doctor assured me that newborns do wake up at night a lot and all that would gradually change? My faith lay with the doctor. My popularity came down another notch.

I was glad when it was time to leave home and join the L&M at his work place, with the three month old First Born. There, I could bring him up the way I planned to, with no interference from anyone, whether good or bad. If anyone were to ask me today what the secret of my parenting is (not that I am perfect or have done everything the right way, far from it, I have made mistakes galore and am willing to admit it), but suppose I were asked, I’d answer without hesitation that it was the opportunity to bring up both my children away from interference by anyone/everyone.

© Shail Mohan 2019

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