Not ‘Four Score and Seven Years ago’ – but definitely more than Two Score and Few Years ago.
During my school days – in Panaji Goa.
One night, Satish and I sat on our favourite bench at Campal ground and listened to the melodious songs being broadcast by Vividh Bharati on the program ‘Chhaya Geet’. And our talk turned to gender bias.
“Every time, the teachers ask the students to write an essay – it’s always on ‘My mother’.” Satish said.
I disagreed. “Mrs. Chico asking us to write few lines on ‘My parents’.”
“She is the exception. Do you recall anyone else?”
I couldn’t, and the discussions drifted slowly to other topics.
It is true. In my sixty plus years, I have noticed importance being heaped on the ‘mother-hood’ – at the neglect of the poor father. No, no – please don’t take me wrong. The importance of mother is unquestionable! Heap as much praise as you can – on mothers – they deserve them, and some more. But don’t, for heaven’s sake, ignore the father. Poor father!
Remember that the ‘daasi’ (servant) – the harbinger of good news – she always runs to the King:
“Sir, the Queen has delivered a baby. You are a proud father of a daughter / son.”
And the King would immediately take out the heavy chain with a diamond pendent – from his neck – and hand it over to the daasi.
“Here, take this gift! Thank you for bearing such good news.”
The daasi is richer; and the King poorer. Today, the chain with a diamond pendent is replaced by wad of notes in the wallet with a chain. The result is the same – Richer Daasi; and Poorer Father.
Fast forward to my professional life in Mumbai:
My second one – she was a difficult child even before her birth. On a rainy August night (that too a Sunday) – a whole three weeks before her ‘scheduled arrival date’ – she decided that being confined to the womb was no good. It was ‘time’ for her to venture into this wicked, wild world. She kicked; and we rushed to the hospital – passing through seemingly impossible hurdles – water-logged roads, unavailable cabs and non-operating local trains. In the end, exhausted, we achieved the goal – reached the hospital. Right into the waiting arms of our Gynecologist – Dr. Naik. One look at the mother, and she proclaimed emergency.
“You – you wait here. We will try to have normal delivery, and if not we will go for C-Section.”
It was few minutes before midnight. Wet, cold, alone, miserable. I searched for a tea-vendor – yearning for a hot cup of tea. Finding none, I settled for half pack of Four Square Cigarettes and a matchbox.
“After all, it’s going to be a long wait; and I was cold. I need to remain awake. I need to welcome our child. And she would never know. Also, in the West – they do distribute and then smoke a cigar or two when a child is born. In East, I could settle down for a slimmer cigarette”. I rationalized, and I puffed up the smoke..
Warmth flowed through – and I thought of sitting down. However, everything was locked – except the ‘special room’ where the patient and the baby would settle down. But there were no chairs in the room. Only a bed, a cradle attached to the foot of the bed, and a bed-side cabinet (to keep fruits, cookies, etc. which the visitors would be bringing in, I surmised). I stood the ground – shifting the weight from one foot to the other (so that both the legs shouldn’t get tired at the same time). I remember glancing at the wrist watch every thirty minutes or so – to find that the minute hand had moved only a notch.
After what seemed like several hours, I sat gingerly at the edge of the patient’s bed. Very carefully, so as not to disturb the starched and sterilized bed-sheets. NO SMOKING sign prevented me from taking any more puffs. I tried to remember the names of all gods / goddesses and then relatives and then friends…
A sharp jab on my ribs and a screech “GET OUT OF THE BED. HOW DARE YOU?” startled me from my meditative trance. I jumped out of the bed, and tried to smooth the bed-sheets (and her temper) to the original state (and failed).
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep, I am so sorry.” I used my saccharine tone to pour the sweet chutney on the spicy, sour Bhel.
Ms. Florence Nightingale pushed me aside rudely. “Madam was so much in pain, and delivered the baby after the operation. And here you are sleeping like a ….” she seemed to be at a loss of words, and I butted in:
“Baby – girl, I hope.”
“Yes, very pretty – little Princess, in fact.” I came to know much later that this is standard dialogue taught in the Nursing School of Hard Knocks.
I tentatively touched the portion between my chin and the chest. All I had around my neck was a blessed black thread with a small pendent of Lord Hanuman. Baa had tied it around my neck – to ward off all evils. It had no intrinsic value. Ms Nightingale smiled as she accepted bunch of one hundred rupee notes fresh out of my pocket. All was forgiven and all was forgotten.
“Madam will be wheeled in soon. Let me arrange a chair for you.”
And the father in me – the poorer father in me – waited in anticipation to have the first look of the new born Princess and the Queen. Everything else was forgiven and forgotten.