Daughter Diaries

“The father of a daughter is nothing but a high class hostage”

Crowing about the breeze

The expansive inviting air that the sea and sand bring is frequently marred by interruptions of commerce of the ‘wants and desires’ fame. Commerce that comes in the form of the ice cream seller who peddles the rosy syrupy ladles of crushed ice and the photographer chap who has the charming nerve to tell me that my camera is no good and that his camera is best suited for Juhu! We walk. Actually, we run. Me and the missus. Chasing the daughter. It must have been very funny to look at from a distance.

Imagine this. An ice cream seller, and a couple of professional photographers on a beach are chasing a couple, trying to sell them wares and skills. The couple themselves look completely haggled and freshly hassled, as they run to keep pace with their daughter. Leading them is their daughter. Running in myriad random directions that could give new meaning to what random is. With tender legs landing on shifting beach sand, a cackle for no reason and a cry at the drop of a hat. She is chasing crows today.

Ahead of the daughter are a bunch of crows. A murder of crows, if you will. The crows are in a playful mood today. They have wings that could take them to the end of the beach. But they make inept use of them today, as they respond to the daughters chase by hoping a few feet and then, a few more feet.

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It must have been quite a sight. The ice cream seller chasing two overgrown couple, who are chasing a daughter at her playful best, who is chasing crows!

Today I sit by the table lamp and recall all of this happening as I read the story of the crow to the daughter. The crows were at their most playful bit.

The ice-cream seller and the photographer were the first bogeys in that silly Sunday beach train to disengage. Fairer weather beckoned the ice-cream seller in the form of a couple behind an umbrella, who certainly were talking about the policies of the International Monetary Fund & the antecedents of global warming. In some time, the photographers and their pleas for a picture in return for an exorbitant sum of money, vanished perhaps realising the futility of the chase.

It fills me with warmth and oodles of delight to recall that day.

The daughter’s relentless energy kept the crows on their toes. Or maybe it was the other way round. After what seemed like three hundred and thirty nine years, the crows had enough of this nonsense and just took off on a whim. The daughter clapped and cheered. She after all had driven the crows off the beach. Mommy-daddy slopped on to the sand. Like a marathoner who used the last ounce of his energy to cross the finish line and collapse.

And that was that. A morning at the beach. That fills us to the brim with happiness and brings a smile on my face every time we think of that time or just happen to look at snaps from there.

There are other mornings that have seen us take trips to the mall and such other places that thrive with throbbing consumers. Buying labels to super size smaller persona. Indulgences that gladden the senses,  careening past truck sized egos and slick people. These stay remarkably distant in the memory while the soul searches for many such lost morning and the wallet sheds silent tears.

In contrast, the mornings that stay are the ones when we randomly went shooting the breeze and lunging at crows, with commerce making futile attempts to reach our pockets. Or the time when we spent curled up with a book or drawing pencil sketches on the magic slate. I wonder if its just me, or that is the way with the world.

Heres to a happy week people.  Do shoot the breeze and stay friendly to crows. They give you new wings even while they are on their toes.

Family Picture

Children are magic. Their laughter surreptitiously dispels vacuity. Bland walls become vivid. And in their being themselves, they do so much more to the average adult than an average adult can ever realise. Except when there are poignant magical moments of reflection. One such is when this is getting penned.

There are many things that get the daughter excited these days. Topping the list, is helping her draw and imagine stuff on something that was called “Magic Slate” in my wonder years. Much coveted those days. Perhaps more coveted, now. 

Two diametrically opposite sketches bring her untold joy. One is that of the ‘cat’, made by drawing a set of circles. And another, a pencil diagram that represents our family.  The realisation that ‘diametrically opposite’ is a neat pun, came much after it jumped off the keyboard. So, unintended. 

A set of fat circles is all it takes for a cat to jumps to life.  One for the head. A much larger one for the body. A couple more for the eyes. A couple of triangles make the ear and then I pause for a poignant moment for her to shout out “SMILE”, to begin sketching the mouth, of course with the smile. Its a great fun till the time she asks for the repeat of the picture for the 267th time, which is when it gets a tad boring.



The pencil thin family picture is an all time favourite that I can go on far beyond the 267th time.  So can she. The ‘pencil thin’ holds substantial allure for all of us. Me, the missus and the daughter. 

For me and the missus, ‘pencil thin’ it is a perpetually moving target. Moving farther and further away, not only from spheres of possibility but almost also from allure! I have been telling people “Not being pencil thin is OK. “Pencil think” is worrisome”, I say often. With an emphasis on the first half of the sentence! 

There is no part in that pencil image that resembles us. Those of you that pause and point to my fast balding head, well, you guys are smart, knowledgeable and very sharp. And bloody cruel! 

But what gives me hope and lightens the soul in proportions that can mildly be described as ‘epic’ is this: the daughter doesn’t care.  Every time the family makes an appearance on the magic slate, there is incessant clapping and the occasional roll-on-the-floor laughter. I roll on the floor laughing too. At times, I wonder why she laughs like that.  But these days, I nip these thoughts in the mind even as they appear. 

This is a golden age. She is two years and a few months. Every dear friend, acquaintance, passerby and the dhobi have told me in no uncertain terms, repeatedly, that this time defines ‘time of life’!  Of course, I have taken this seriously. Or at least, tried to. 

Occasionally, my thoughts dart to wonder where our leaner selves went. Consumed by an inexplicably unbeatable combination of inviting diets, salubrious slumber and accouterments that many of you know only too well. Life’s experiences get us to bloat! While the bloating in the body is obvious, what happens in the mind is a bit of magical treachery! 

It hurts going down that road. 

Am turning right back there in this post, to turn the spotlight on an already bright area: reckless vivid imagination in a kids mind. That rich uncorrupted pure terrain, which imagines well and implicitly, trusts everything that is offered, without judgement. 

And these days when the daughter laughs at the picture, I laugh too. Sometimes at the end of it all, I feel lighter.  At times I wonder how wonder it would be if all the laughter helps dissolve some fast growing fat.  Only to realise quickly, that it does dissolve some silly accumulations in the mind.   

Brimming Over

It’s been a while. For a variety of things. 
 
The Mumbai skyline is grey. Odd for a March morning. But it is. Or atleast, so it seems. The breakfast has been missed a few times sunk in aimless walks and sullen stares into the sky. So have dinners. The snacks haven’t been missed. Infact, they have more than compensated. 
 
I think of the last time I spoke to her.  It is a long while ago.  I pick up the phone and dial. The phone rings. Rings. And rings again.  I hang up. A message pops on the phone, ‘We just spoke 28 minutes ago!  All fine here. Let me know if urgent. Will call later’. 
 
I sigh. Get on to do other things.  For a long time, I shuffle in bed with protracted motions of a drunken caterpillar. Sleep hits me in fits. 
 
Early in the morning, I run.  The feet pound the pavement waking up irritated dogs and the odd tea seller.  My thoughts are with her. Would she have woken up by now? I wonder. Maybe she is shifting in bed. Would she even think of me, I wonder. 
 
My run isn’t going too well. It is taking me forever to complete a small distance. I don’t mind. I hurry home. Pick up the phone and send out two text messages. ‘Hope everything is ok’. 
 
The silence that comes back as a reply reminds me that this time of day is called ‘wee hours of the morning’. I stretch. And as I lift my head my eyes catch her photograph on the side table. Those eyes. Those keen eyes reeking mischief and a boundless love speak to me. The eyes that lift my mood and warm my heart. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. 
 
In a short while I assemble all the assorted paraphernalia a modern work day holds and head out lugging the laptop bag.  It is still early for the world to hit the road. The RJs blabber in the background. I realise I am immune to any pain like their blabber when my thoughts are about the pretty little thing in my life. I reach office quickly. I park. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. 
 
As I stow the sunglasses in the glove compartment, my fingers find something that I haven’t seen in a while: Her hairclip.  A broken hairclip from the past. The hairclip that used to sit on her head and hold her hair pretty. I sigh. The hairclip nestles in my palm for a brief while. The RJ is saying something inconsequential in the background. As usual.  
 
I sit there in the car park.  The hairclip nestling in my palm. It catches the security guards attention.  To see me park, stay inside the car and stare emptily into the sky with a hairclip in hand. ‘All ok sir?’ he asks. I smile. And nod. 
 
I look into the phone. No messages yet. Silence rings louder than the loudest ringtone in town. 
 
I amble to my desk. The janitors are still at work. I open the laptop and voila, the blank dark screen has her finger prints. Eight in all. For some reason, some weeks ago, she saw me working intently on some inane mail, came over and planted eight fingers on the screen. Keeping her thumbs to herself. 
 
I sigh. I look into the phone. No response yet. 
 
I dial. 
 
The missus picks up the phone. “WHAT?” She asks. I mean, it isn’t this bad, usually. But today it seems like Princess Diana shouting at the stalking Paparazzi! 
 
“How is she?” is all I can muster. 
“She is fine. She is fine. She is fine. She is fast asleep now. She was awake the whole night and she’s just slept an hour back. Don’t keep calling. Ok?”
I am silent. 
 
She calms down. I realise am talking to a sleep deprived lady.  And a wife too.  
 
“Are you at office already? Its just 7.30” she says. 
 
I am silent. 
 
“Get on with work” she says. ”And don’t behave like a smitten teenager ok? Your daughter is just fine. And she isn’t thinking about you”. 
 
“Smitten teenager?” I ask. But the missus is long gone. That was an insult. I think. But I couldn’t care less.
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The next couple of weeks, my days go by slowly. Thinking of her. The missus and the daughter are away.  With my parents.   I spend my time preserving her fingerprints on the laptop monitor and nestling the broken hair clip for company.  
Work helps. For there are a ton to things to finish. I have to earn the bread. 
 
I speak to them on the phone now and then. I am often told that she is fine. That she goes around showing my picture and shouting ‘papa papa’. The heart twitches more whenever I hear that.
 
After what seems like the time Sachin Tendulkar has been playing cricket, finally it is time for them to head back home.  
 
I hurry to the airport. On that day, if there was an “Eagerest beaver” award, amongst all the eager beavers awaiting people landing in the airports of the world, I would have won it. Hands down. 
 
In some time, I spot her. She sees me. Doesn’t say a word. I extend my hand. She still clings on to the missus. I extend my hands again. 
 
She keeps looking at me. Tears well up in her eyes.  Not a sound escapes her lips. Her sixteen month old cheeks witness a torrential downpour of tears. No crying. Not a sound escapes. No wailing. Just tears. I don’t know how to handle this. 
 
In some time, she clings to me. 
 
I look at the missus. Who smiles. I want to tell her, that the ‘smitten teenager’ comment was inappropriate. ‘Lost lover’ would work with me. I think. 
 
But today, nothing matters. The missus hands me her handkerchief.  It catches the first tear that overflows my eye that has been filled to the brim. 
This post was first published on www.parentous.com

Twiddling Thumbs

She has a basket full of toys. Dolls. Lego blocks. Trinkets.  Press-Me-I-Make-Noise stuff. Windup toys. Etc. Some of them are broken. Some of them have been used many times over. Some trampled and deformed permanently.  Yet others, preferred. But all of them share the single basket. 
 
Like today, we often guide her to the basket to interest her to play. She takes to them for a brief while. Plays with a few. Tosses away a few. Largely leaves the majority alone. And then, perches at the vantage point of her most favourite toy.  
I mean, she climbs onto my shoulder. 
 
‘COMMM’ she says. 
 
‘Come’.  It means. It is said so very nicely. 
 
Her ‘Come’ (pronounced as COMMM) roughly translates to “start walking”. “Crawling”. Whatever.  It means, as they say in English movies, ‘MOVE’! It doesn’t matter what I am doing. Working on the laptop. Cleaning shoes.  Reading a book. Having food. 
 
If she says, ‘Come’, I bloody well drop everything else and move. I am only more than happy to do that. That however is beside the point. 
 
Sometimes we step out for a walk & carry session. She looks into the sky and beckons the Sun, and the moon and waves at the stars. At other times we roll on the grass or she slides down with a zing or just about manages to balance on the swing.    
 
When you drive around town or walk the Powai promenade, if at all you spot a bulging balding man, fill his cheeks with air or walk on all fours and carry a young cute toddler on his shoulders across the streets, stop and say hello. It could well be me.  
 
At other times, when work saps my sinews silly or if it is an odd hour of the day, we stay home. Doing similarly exciting and exacting stuff!  The unsaid expectation is for me to come up with games that will occupy an ever so energetic mind.  
 
Her most favourite game however is devoid of any crazy showmanship. It has the following procedures.
•Stick the left thumb up. 
•Take a pen and with four markings, make a face. 
•Do the same to the outstretched thumb of hers.
•She looks at my thumb and calls her name out. I look at her thumb and call my name out. So in a quick jiffy, her thumb transforms to ‘Papa’ and my thumb morphs to ‘Baby’!  
 
The thumbs dance. They kiss. They chase. They tumble. They hold each other well. That is the game. In-between insane cackles and hysterical laughter that you could only think laughing gas had the power to produce. 
 
I call it Twiddle Thumbs. 
 
Yes. That’s that. That is the game.  I am astounded beyond belief at a new mind operates and is easily excited by such a simple thing.  But that’s the way it is and it does rather well too. 
 
The other day, we stay up late. Sitting and chatting. Me & the missus. The daughter is fast asleep. We look into the moon and the stars that she was beckoning some time back.  It’s rare that we get to chat up at all these days. 
 
“What do you think we will leave behind for her?” asks the missus. This is like a scud missile that came from nowhere. 
 
The coffee that I am sipping sputters out of my lips as I laugh. ‘You mean, something like a legacy?’, I ask. I haven’t thought about it. I have been engrossed in the joy of the present, that the future seems beyond outer space.  Perpetually arraigned to the wilderness that is beyond imagination, requiring a laborious labyrinth of years to get there.  
 
The reality of the years just swishing by quickly often strike me hard. Not thinking about the future is my way of dealing with it. 
 
There is a slight tension in the air. After the missus has popped the legacy question. I think humour will defuse it. ‘I have nothing to declare I say. Except my writing’. I say.  Remembering the famous Oscar Wilde remark to a customs official:  ‘There is nothing for me to declare except my genius’ 
 
The missus jumps on it. “Writing?” She asks.   Muted in the intonation of that singe word questions is this: “You-write-a-clutch-of- incoherent-blogs-not-Nobel-Prize-winning-epistles”.  
 
Silence moves from a punctuation mark to become the mainstay of the conversation.  “I don’t know”. I say. 
 
Frankly I don’t. I nurture no desires of chasing pots of gold, packets of money and the ominous luxuries that the world offers. My desire revolves around the daughter learning to choose well when the choices present themselves every moment in life. If that happens, I would be a happy man. But ‘legacy’ I would leave her with, I haven’t the faintest clue. 
 
I sip the last remains of the filter coffee.  
 
“I don’t know what I’ll leave behind for her”, I begin. “But I can tell you, if at all I get to old age I hope to clutch with dear life a ton of memories. Of spending time with her. Of being present. And of course playing Twiddle Thumbs endlessly”. 
 
The missus laughs. She thinks it’s a good answer.  I am all chuffed.  It’s not often that my answers pass muster as ‘reasonable’ with her. But beyond that, the answer seems to have answered some other unasked questions in my own mind as well. 
 
In sometime we hit bed. 
 
I realise that today, me and the daughter have played Twiddle Thumbs for an incredibly long period of time. And she sleeps like a log. I watch her sleep. It is then that the missus spots it: She is holding her playing thumb with her other palm. Almost as if caressing a baby.  
 
The eyes that I drew on her thumb stick out and stare at me.  And from the safety of her palm, those eyes seem to implore me to leave behind nothing but a bounty of memories. 
My thumb twitches. I am barely conscious as my thumb kisser her thumb 
 
There is peace in the world. 
 
This is a replug from my post for Parentous.com

 

Stress Busters

“You mean the yellow ones with the smiley?” I ask. Half open-mouthed. “Do they work?” Mildly surprised that what sounded like a global endemic was sought to be ended with a TV news anchor’s sound bite. Or so it seems. The simple solution befuddles me. Imagine asking Sachin Tendulkar what the secret of his success was, and he saying ‘Brinjal. Two in the morning and one at night’. Or something like that.
 
“Yes. I carry them to meetings”, he says. I stay silent. For a long time. Long enough till it’s about time to get going.
 
‘Oh’. I say. That’s all I can muster. You see, he is a successful bloke. The cars. The houses. The degrees. The titles. The gadgets. All hang well on him and his belt clip. The fact that this idea didn’t strike me even as a remote solution, disturbs me no end. “Sounds like an idea to try”. I tell him.
 
That evening, I buy one of those yellow smiley stress balls.
 
I carry it in a bag and leave it on the dining table rushing in for a shower and change. I am looking forward to the evening with my daughter. She soon will be all over me, I think. Thoughts of our conversation around the Napoleanesqe at the workplaces disappear within minutes of stepping home.
 
For her toys are strewn all over home.
 
“Pappaaa”. She says. And runs in.
 
Our games begin.
 
The elephant game where she becomes the mahout and I the elephant. That is a tough game requiring me to balance her, my weight and call out like an elephant with one hand doubling both as a leg of the elephant and its trunk. We can play the game till the end of time or till my knees hurt. Whichever is earlier.
 
The ball game, where I become the ball picker. The building blocks game, where the building blocks are to broken up with an ease that would have done a US drone proud, while I keep building them. And a few other variants of other games. She is cackling away.
 
And then, her eyes rest on the stress ball. She lets go of a charming smile. The next I know, she is at ease with the yellow stress ball is in her hands.
 
She finds it infinitely fascinating that a smile can be perpetual. Or that it can return to the position after all the twitching that can be done. That smile coming back on the ball’s face livens her up no end.
 
I am immersed in her joy. The stress ball in the hands of the little wonder is doing a world to my stress levels! I smile and close my eyes for a bit. To take everything with a measure of curiosity & joy and to remember that no joy is small and no discovery is tiny etches a silly smile on my face.
 
The phone rings.
 
Someone calls. It’s from work. Something to be done. Someone needs to be spoken to. I speak. Sort things out. And hang up soon. Pleasantly.
 
I see the little wonder is more fixated on something. She has her back towards me. I presume it’s the stress ball. She has moved a couple of yards away from me.
 
The quiet fortitude of her single-minded focus unsettles me. She surely is upto something. I think. I shout out. She turns. And sports a genial smile. A smile that could launch a zillion ships. I melt. I clap my hands to excite her.
 
Half relieved. And half guilty that I had imagined she was upto mischief. Here she was as pretty as pretty can get, working up the stress ball. I have to be more positive, I tell myself.
 
In a fleeting moment of boundless joy she laughs out loud and claps her little hands that are still clutching the stress ball.  And as she is closing her mouth, I see a tiny shred of yellow saying hello to her alimentary canal. My eyes dart a little and find the stress ball in her hand, sports a crater. Bitten off and chewed silly.
 
I leap across the room. If only there was a video recording of this dive across the living room. Alas. If only that were possible, Jonty Rhodes will be an ordinary man and the video would have gone viral. For even as I land with a thud on the tiled floor, my outstretched finger reaches inside her mouth.
 
With the mastery of a special services commando unit that pulls out a hostage from the clutches of bad guys, the fingers pull out yellow rubber that was part of a nice stress ball till a while ago! Just as it is being dispatched with such seamless ease into the inner recesses of a tiny body.
 
 
She smiles. I heave a huge sigh of relief. I smile too.
 
In a bit, I call up my friend. ‘Do you need another stress ball but with a crater on top’, I ask. We laugh. I narrate the story. “Pass it to me, he says. It reminds me of someone with a crater up there”. He says. We laugh again.
 
“I don’t need no stress ball”. I tell him. “Come home sometime. Anything to do with stress gets chewed away”!
 
This is a replug from my post for www.parentous.com 

Firm Footing !

“Anklets.  She would place her foot firmly. For she would love the sound they would make with each of her steps.”  We were told.  
 
I didn’t know if she would like it.  I knew I would! 
 
 
They were ‘fancy’ to some folks.  ‘Traditional’, to others.   ‘Beautiful’ to me. And it was plain ‘utilitarian’ to the missus. For it was a rough equivalent of a sophisticated GPS system. It always announced which part of the home the little feet were prancing about in. Often causing our minds to whirr and think of possible objects there that the little hands that came with the little feet, could be exploring. 
 
Today, the little feet are exploring a stack of paper in a corner. She turns around and looks at me.  Her year old legs reveal their age with the stutter of the unsure step. Each with the jingle of the anklet.  Usually, she lets out an incoherent shout of joy, blissfully oblivious of the next lurking danger. Like a bowl of water, the edge of the cupboard or the end of the bed!  Unmindful, she usually stutters on. With obvious results.
 
Today is no different. She is soon atop the stack. It’s not a tall stack. But it perhaps is a Edmund Hillary moment for her.  Her shouts of joy punctuate the air. This time around too, I stay a good distance away. 
 
Her mother’s heart beat almost shakes up the building with every one of the little stutter in the step.  Growing louder, as the stutter of the small feet reaches very close to the end of the stack. One more step and she would fall. Not a plunge across the Grand Canyon. But a small fall.  Similar falls are part of her routine.     
 
Her mother lurches forward to hold her, anticipating the fall and all the crying later. I lunge and catch hold of her mother’s hand stopping her midway. We are a few feet away from happy feet. Her mother squirms in my grip. Reserving the choicest of ‘are you a nutcase’ look. I hold firm.  I hiss ‘Quiet’. 
 
I stay calm. On the exterior.  With the countenance of a sage who has been in meditation since the time dinosaurs roamed the planet.   Grey butterflies adorn my stomach lining. In hordes.  
 
“Will she fall?” An inner voice asks me. 
“I don’t know”, I answer. Inside me. 
“Then let go of her mother, who atleast will hold her in case she falls”. My inner voice tells me. 
“I can’t”. I answer. In a fledgling moment. 
“Why?” The voice persists. 
 
“The stuttering feet have to learn. She will”. I tell myself. “She will learn what causes a fall. Perhaps how to fall.  Or perhaps how not to. Even better, she will gradually learn about her options, choices and consequences. In any case we are at hand to pick her up and let her know that its ok to fall”! 
 
The inner voice stays quiet with the rapid fire conversation within me. A conversation that lasts not more than a second. 
 
Nano seconds appear like hours today. The sounds the anklet produce, reach a spot where one more step will mean a slip and a fall. The hundred butterflies have morphed into two hundred and make their way all the way up my alimentary canal. 
 
I notice that the speed of her mother heart beats could get Usain Bolt’s heart cowering in the bushes.  I still continue to hold her mother.  Firmly. 
 
The stuttering feet take the next step. Almost. She changes her mind at the last minute. And turns around.  To find her father holding her mother’s hand, and her mother struggling to jump out of his grip and both of them ready to jump.  
 
The clinks of the anklet stop for a minute.  A look mixed with bemused curiosity loads up on her face. It could have asked, ‘you idiots thought I was going to fall, didn’t you’?  Her usual arrays of celebratory sounds are released perhaps at the sight of an unexpected audience to an event that didn’t happen.  
 
The cutest of smiles escape her perky lips and she stutters off in a different direction. The seeming search for new objects, shapes and spaces to explore, exposing an intact confidence announced by the pronounced anklet. 
 
Her mother frees herself from my grip. ‘She could have fallen’. She says calmly. 
 
“Could have”. I say.  And smile.  
 
“But she will learn.  Awareness. Choice. Freedom to choose. Doesn’t come easily. But will eventually come.”  
 
 Her mother looks at me. “Look, you can continue to be Gautama Buddha. Or whoever.  I am just going to be a simple mother to my daughter”.   
 
It takes a while for the heart beat to slow down. 
 
She smiles. I smile.  
 
We both know each other too well.  
 
To stay distant enough to give space for her to exercise choice and face the consequences head on, yet staying close enough to pick her up incase she falls. It’s a thin amorphous line there. 
 
I realise, that’s going to be a lifelong quest.  Today we have shiny anklets made of silver.  In the days ahead, the time that we spend with her should help her do the job: Place her feet firmly! 
This post first appeared at www.parentous.com