I was assigned the job to keep the little one engaged for a couple of hours while the big one got her 80 winks.
When my daughter, Ankita, was a few months old, my wife Madhavi, decided since I was of no use in the feeding and bum-washing departments, I should at least help in putting her to sleep.
Now Ankita was a night creature from day one. While she slept like a twig (obviously for anyone as cute and dainty and delicate as my daughter ‘log’ can hardly be used as a simile!) during the day, she was in the mood to ‘party’ at night.
I was assigned the job to keep the little one engaged for a couple of hours while the big one got her 80 winks. But unfortunately Ankita didn’t like my mug one bit.
The minute I picked her up she would bawl her head off. And it was really amazing that one who was barely as heavy as my wife’s left wrist could stir up such a racket. But stir up she did and Madhavi would wake up, give me the mother of all dirty looks.
As nights passed, I tried everything to win Ankita’s confidence: doing callisthenics, making faces, creating sounds and even yodelling. The result was the same. She would just howl and continue doing so until Mother Madhavi would come and rescue her from the clutches of Attila the Papa/ Papa the Barbarian.
A few months went by and my next assignment was administering Ankita mini-feeds. I remember very clearly the first time I had to do it. I sat on the floor of the living room with Ankita sitting in front of me. I gave her a big spoon and a small plate so that she could beat them together and create the ‘euphony’ she always delighted in achieving. Then I took one spoon of the gooey mix which, fate and Madhavi had ordained, should be her diet. I fed her making all the right noises and faces which I had seen Mother Madhavi do.
Ankita swallowed a mouthful and a strange gleam lit up her eyes. I was thrilled. I had, at last, succeeded in crossing a significant milestone in my career as a responsive and responsible father. The next moment she made a funny sound and spat the entire mouthful of the gooey stuff on my face. I was too stunned to react, but Ankita wasn’t.
I don’t know how much she understood the pitiable predicament of a poor Papa but she burst into peals of laughter. I cursed silently and went back to round two. Caesar might have backed off, and Napolean would have given up, but how could a die-hard Papa who is also a Virgo, like yours truly, capitulate?
I don’t know how much she understood the pitiable predicament of a poor Papa but she burst into peals of laughter.
This time Ankita was more benevolent. She took three spoonfuls and just as a look of triumph started suffusing my face it happened. Splat! This time she had deposited three times the ‘yuck’ on my face and was grinning and beating her gong with even greater abandon.
“Idiot!” I shouted and hell broke loose. Ankita screamed like she had never screamed before, my mother-in-law who had chosen this rather delicate moment to pay us a surprise visit, hollered and Madhavi came charging from the kitchen like a bull after an unfortunate matador.
I sat with my head bowed, a picture of remorse.
My first chance at redeeming myself in the eyes of my dear family came a full two years later.
“You write satire and poetry, don’t you? Then why can’t you tell Ankita stories and put her to sleep,” Madhavi told me one day. To her shifting from satire/poetry to children’s fiction was as simple as moving from the realm of the boiled to the world of the poached egg.
Anyways, I took her rather broad hint seriously and started thinking up little tales to tell my little one. I don’t know whether she liked the plot more or my antics, but she lapped up my stories and my confidence grew. Soon it became a tradition which continued even after my son, Aniket, grew up and doubled the size of my audience. The stories liked by my kids found their way to the laptop and from there to the publisher’s desk.
Our daily tryst with tales created indelible memories. Sitting on the bed, on long summer nights, cold winter evenings and rain-drenched twilights we used to laugh, jump, sing, dance and yes sometimes shed a tear or two as we explored the world of magic and mystery, action and adventure, sentiment and values. The tales created a gossamer fabric of trust and togetherness which, I am sure, we shall always cherish.
Even today, when the kids have entered their terrible teens, I look back upon those precious vignettes of sharing and caring and my eyes grow misty.
Yes, if Papahood often confronts you with your own frailties it also gives you moments of pristine joy, pride and esteem. If Papahood defined me as gauche and uncouth it also gave me the prized title of Papa Scheherazade.