“Tell your VVIP guests that I am coming to the party as well,” I fumed.
“Are you sure?”
“I am f**king sure.”
“Will you be able to manage the baby?” Major Sa’ab asked.
“Of course, You will also be there right?”
“Hmmmm”. Major Sa’ab, showing wisdom that comes only after getting 2 extra minutes in BPET, did not reveal that he would hardly be around for the baby duty at the party.
Aren’t you wondering why (really, why?) I wanted to go to this party?
Two reasons — Baby and Husband.
The Baby, urf Chhote Sa’ab. Because this three-month-old bundle of joy and poop was the reason I was not able to step out of our house these days.
Husband, urf Major Sa’ab. Because it was the sixth day after my return from a two-month stay in my hometown and I was yet to meet him for more than an hour a day (excluding sleep time).
Our brigade had just wrapped up some very important exercise or training or something like that (it’s all the same to me) which had kept all officers and jawans busy. It ended the day I came back.
Like a fool I thought I’d get to see more of him now that he is free. H’d come home for lunch and go off to sleep. Then games in evening and some or the other bloody party.
Ek din brigade me party.
Ek din Badakhana.
Ek din neighboring unit threw a party.
Ek din Brigade Commander kept a house party.
Ek din JCO Mess me party.
And on all these days, I struggled as a new mom to take care of Chhote Sa’ab alone. I was too invited, but excused because of the baby.
I cried almost every evening and wondered why the father of my child had to attend parties at such a time.
“I have to go for my troops.”
“Commander becomes senti if we don’t go.”
“There are only three of us from our Unit, so I have to go.”
Angrez chale gaye, forced socialising in fauj chhod gaye.
ENOUGH! I said. If what it takes to be with my husband is attending a party, then so be it. I will go.
Our Unit was celebrating the Raising Day in our own Mess’ garden, so prior arrangements for me could easily be made. A lanky Lieutenant had graciously agreed to let me use his room for nursing Chhote Sa’ab during the party.
We, as hosts, had to reach at 1830 hours. I started getting ready at 1600 hours. Though limited, experience in last three months told me that getting the baby ready takes minimum 2 hours.
An infant will sleep, poop, cry, soil clothes, feed, not burp, puke, feed again, sleep and refuse to get into new clothes quietly — all on a loop. There is simply no way you can plan a punctual outing. Major Sa’ab got a taste of it that day.
I was excused from draping a saree, but being the stupid-saree-lover that I am, I decided to wear one. Bad decision. New mommies, please learn from me.
We reached a couple of minutes late. Major Sa’ab did not make an issue out of it. Brownie points for him.
I was really touched by the warm welcome I got from Unit’s officers and ladies. It was good to see them after so many months. Chhote Sa’ab was coochi-cooed and passed around by all the uncles and aunties. Even the kids were excited to see a baby.
It wasn’t exactly chilly, maybe a couple of degrees above what you call ‘pleasant’. That’s the WORST kind of temperature for a new mom — she just can’t decide how to dress up the baby.
“Should I keep a sweater? Should I make him wear a jacket? How many blankets should I keep? What if he feels hot?”
I packed everything with me. With two big bags and a pram stashed into the back of our XUV 500 and an infant car seat occupying one-third of the backseats, I casually remarked, “Ufff itna samaan! Ye gaadi chhoti padd rahi hai!“
“And you wanted me to buy a Nano!” Major Sa’ab teased me.
At the party, as the guests started trickling in, I relaxed a bit. Retired officers of our Unit came and blessed Chhote Sa’ab. Almost everyone said he looked like his father. To which I would reply like a cool cat — Shakal papa pe gayi hai, Akal maa pe. (Five pointer!)
Chhote Sa’ab had just dozed off after soaking in all the fairy lights and new faces. Husssh. I settled him into his new pram, covered him with two blankets (just to be sure) and sat down to chit-chat. Drinks arrived, and I gulped down my juice in one go.
“Arre Arre, what’s the hurry?” asked one of our Unit ladies on seeing my bottoms-up stunt.
“I don’t have the luxury of time. If he wakes up, I won’t be able to finish my drink,” I explained lamely.
She was a young lady, barely an year into her marriage. She filed this piece of info in her brain as “Things kids make us do”.
Just as I was thinking of handing the sleeping baby over to Major Sa’ab, I heard an officer on the mic requesting everyone to settle down.
WTF! It was Major Sa’ab on the mic! He was to conduct the whole programme that evening, which obviously meant that he can’t move away from the stage.
Images of Discovery Channel’s documentaries on animal species with least-interested-fathers flashed in front of my eyes.
And the loud speakers instantly woke up Chhote Sa’ab. Brilliant!
“What happened? Is he cold?
“He must be hungry.”
“Why don’t you go inside the Mess.”
Oh god! If I had a rupee (not a nickel cos that is Angrezon ka term) for all the free ka advice I got during my pregnancy and early months of motherhood — I would have put India’s Defence budget to shame.
I picked the wailing monkey and rushed to the Lieutenant’s room. Wow! what a room!
It had nice gray walls, rock music posters, industrial lamps, guitars, music system, curtains and bedding to go with the theme, and books…. the room felt like a nice and clean place to relax.
Or maybe I was just overwhelmed at seeing a tidy room after so many months (that’s right, blame it on the baby).
I settled down on the floor bed to nurse Chhote Sa’ab, but he was so fascinated by the new place that he did not focus properly on his dudu.
Once back in the garden, I heard our Unit officer singing his trademark Nepalese song “Tulsi Anganmaa Ropaula” — he refused to sing any other song at any event all these years.
Major Sa’ab walked up to me casually and said, “I was looking for you.”
“Errr mein tere liye drink leke aata hoon. You’ll have wine, darling?”
“I told you I am not supposed to right? Since I am still feeding Chhote Sa’ab…” I shot back.
But Major Sa’ab was looking at me funny and did not seem offended by my rebuttal. He was looking at my saree, actually.
“Why don’t you give Chhote Sa’ab to me and go fix your saree?” he said. It took me a minute to realise that something was terribly wrong with the way my saree was hanging on me. I quietly went back to the Lieutenant’s room (because that was closer than the washroom) and draped my saree again.
Once back, I think I consumed almost 3-4 kgs of snacks meant for all the oldies, who were too busy catching up on old times and telling youngsters stories about “In our times…”. I was hungry all the time. As are all new mommies.
Some of the ladies took me around to introduce me to the women folk of other Units in our Brigade. Chhote Sa’ab was also duly introduced.
And then, the unthinkable happened! I was standing with around 4-5 ladies, exchanging pleasantries, when Chhote Sa’ab decided to do some gymnastics. For those who don’t know, lemme tell you that while holding small babies on one shoulder, their neck needs to be supported.
Chhote saab was doing just fine on my shoulder, looking at one of the aunties and smiling.
And the very next moment, he did this:
“Oh god bacche ko sambhalo.”
“He is such an active baby.”
“Keep your palm at the back of his neck. ALWAYS.”
I should have died of embarrassment right there. This kid never did anything like that before. He was just waiting for the right audience.
I slipped away the moment I found my escape cue. Major Sa’ab swooped in and took Chhote Sa’ab with him on a stroll. I trotted along happily. But this sweet family moment was short-lived…it actually takes longer to say, “Mutual funds are subject to market risks. Please read the offer document before investing.”
A retired Colonel Sa’ab from our unit, now well into his 80s, intercepted our family ride. “I don’t know about these days, but back then we were told to always cover the head of a baby or he will catch cold.”
Yeah… So? I thought. Just 10 seconds ago I had seen Chhote Sa’ab’s head nicely tucked into his hoodie. I turned to see that Major Sa’ab had pulled it down just before the Col met us. Talk about timing boss…we were on a roll.
Sometime later, just as I finished answering FAQs about why I didn’t put a kala tika on Chhote Sa’ab, I heard the DJ roll out some dhinchaak Bollywood songs with guests heading to the dance floor. I tried to remember the last time I danced… That would be almost an year ago, just before I peed on the pregnancy test and the two pink lines told me “Behen, game over.”
Ladies were waving at me, urging me to come over. I shook my head, since I had to stay with the baby, who was by the way looking at me shell shocked (maybe because of the loud noise) from the pram. Major Sa’ab got dragged away by some junior officers who were happily high.
Sigh! I assumed it would be a while, maybe 3-4 years, before we would both be able to dance together.
Our Unit’s 2IC walked up to me with his wife. “Ma’am, I am giving you 10 minutes. We are here with Chhote Sa’ab. Go have fun.”
Ja simran ja. Ji le apni zindagi.
I opened my mouth to protest… I was going to say something terrible like “No, no, it’s OK, I am fine here.” Thank god I didn’t.
I ran up to the dance floor and danced for full 7 minutes before I started sweating and my eyes rolled around in their socket a couple of times. My body was still recovering from childbirth and I had not started working out yet. That dance floor activated all my muscles and I was panting in no time. Back to pavilion.
I was tired now. I picked up Chhote Saab, planted a nice long pappi in his cold cheeks and chuckled, “Beta, you are heavy yaar. I can’t hold you beyond five minutes.”
A lady standing with us there suddenly exclaimed, “Haww don’t say that. Mummy ki hi nazar lag jayegi baby ko.”
“Listen woman… I don’t know your name, and I’ll bet a thousand rupees that I won’t see you again after the party. I am sorry that you feel the need to talk shit. But not just me, even Aamir Khan (jo Science ki taraf se hai…remember 3 Idiots?) will tell you that there is no such thing as ‘nazar lagna‘. So zip it and save your precious lipstick from eroding.”
👆 This is what I wanted to say.
👇This is what I actually said.
Postpartum hormones I tell you!
I rapidly retreated and bumped into a group of veterans’ wives. For some reason, Chhote Sa’ab liked the non-supersonic attention that they gave him and instantly smiled at them. They then started telling me some wonderful stories about the time they became mothers.
Mind you, these were women who’s husbands retired just before the internet boom, mobile mania and the 6th Pay Commission. So, for them, life in fauj meant letters, STD calls and limited travel options.
“Which is why raising my son alone was tough, since my husband won’t be around most of the time,” Mrs Deokar, now in her 60s, said. Mrs Kulkarni chipped in, “Exactly! My husband was not even with me at the time of delivery. My daughter, and three years later, my son, were born in SF. His CO did not give him leave to come home.”
The two ladies, joined by three more veterans’ wives, narrated their own struggles with motherhood. Everyone told me one thing very clearly — for a majority of my child’s growing-up years, I would have to be both, mother and father, to him. Because Army wives have it tough, but mothers have it tougher.
The guests settled down for dinner and we saw them off just around midnight. Throughout the party, I took breaks for two more nursing sessions and three saree re-draping sessions.
Since ladies get to fill up their plates first, Major Sa’ab offered to look after Chhote Saab while I gobbled my dinner super quick. Somehow, I feel getting married to him was the turning point in my life after which I stopped eating my meals the normal way. I could now give an NDA cadet a stiff competition in gobbling meals. I am not saying I’d win… I’ll just give competition, a la Aam Admi Party Or Shiv Sena.
So yeah, I was halfway through my dinner when I heard Chhote Sa’ab wail. Major Sa’ab was taking him around the garden to distract him, but the monkey had had enough. I think he wanted to go home. Waiters, bar attendents, and the rest of the mess staff was clearly amused — I assume they had never seen Major Sa’ab so flustered that too because of such a tiny human.
I excused myself from the dinner table even though other ladies were not yet finished. I rushed to rescue the father of my child from possible loss of hearing. I saw a fraught baby, an exasperated father, a brilliant three-piece suit splashed with puke (milk reflux to be precise) on both shoulders and the pram, abandoned at some corner of the garden.
Feeding Chhote Sa’ab calmed him down, but he was still restless and wanted to go home. Meanwhile, Major Sa’ab ate whatever he could get his hands on — food enough to feed the three judges of Masterchef Australia but clearly not enough for a fauji! He understood the Need For Speed. But other officers and ladies refused to move from their place and were busy chitchatting. It was midnight for heavens sake!
Chhote Sa’ab was now 4th gear cranky. “Why have you made him wear the warm jacket and blanket? It is so warm, we all are sweating,” one of the ladies said.
“We all are sweating because we just danced so much,” I pointed out.
One cue, a senior officer suggested that everyone stay for some more time to enjoy the DJ (the guests had left, it was just us hosts), and I started getting panic attacks.
Major Sa’ab, my knight in puke-covered armour, saved the day that night — no pun intended. He quickly protested, “Sir hame jaane do please, warna ye baccha hamein disown kar dega.”
The moment we were given the green signal to go, we quickly fired off “Good Evenings” in all directions and ran towards the parking. Fastened securely in his car seat, Chhote Sa’ab showed no signs of slowing down, and kept crying with Ganga-Jamuna flowing from his eyes.
The entire journey we kept saying “sorry beta” to him. I vowed never to bring him to any mess party. Major Sa’ab vowed he’d stay with him at home rather than go to parties. “Sorry beta” continued for another 5 minutes till we reached home. The boy settled down and immediately went to sleep.
And we stayed up for another hour.
And that was how Chhote Sa’ab first Mess party ended. Phew!!!!!!!