I found myself looking at the variety of infant needs being catered to in the children’s section of John Lewis, chief of them being the pram and the baby cot. They also sold fitted sheets, bibs, comfort blankets, pacifiers, mittens and caps among other things, all of which came in blue and pink, and in white and a neutral beige which probably has a fancier name than I know. I wonder if the babies know there is so much to choose from and so many things they need before they can be taken out for a walk. The weather of course is a good reason for the light jacket, the heavy jacket, the woolen cap and the lighter summer cap, the indoor socks and the outdoor ones, and then there are the blankets, the warmer ones and the cellular others. Being an Indian, “cellular” reminds me always of the cellular jails of the Andamans where the British dumped the Indian political prisoners. That has no connection at all with these light blankets that let in air and keep the little ones from getting too hot.
Every one of these is designed and marketed with the parents in mind. I don’t expect the baby gets to pick and choose anything, or even much cares if it is dressed in a hot pink onesie being a boy, or a blue set of clothes though a girl. As long as it is not too cold or too hot or hungry or sleepy or just feeling upset, knowing how to make its complaint heard, it just does not care what the parents do with it. But it is they who get wildly upset if they have a pink outfit on their hands when they have a boy in the pram and would not dream of dressing the baby in the pink dress, probably because it would traumatize the little darling. They may not be too wrong in the prevailing atmosphere in this country where a child of three can say he is a girl when he is clearly not and some NGO starts counseling the child on gender change without the parents’ knowledge.
Like all old people, I am at this point entitled to recall the past as long as I confine myself to my blog and do not inflict it on a perennially bored and angry younger generation.
The color association is not very prevalent in India except among the urban affluent and was unheard of when we became parents. Sundry aunts would turn up with badly stitched clothes in riotous colors and prints and we would gratefully accept them. Sometimes we were forced to accept them for fear of giving offense as we were all very polite people in our time. We still are. Now we defer politely to the younger people.
Coming home from the hospital with a new baby is a momentous event. Today and in the western world, it requires a car seat and a carry cot, which require great effort and time to fix in the car. Back home I am sure a car seat for an infant or toddler is non-existent even now. I belong to a country where there are people who hold their infants in the front seat and do not belt up. A baby here may not be sent home without a car seat and simply carrying a swaddled baby home in the parent’s arms is not allowed generally.
We took A home as a week old baby in a cycle rickshaw. I sat in the rickshaw and held her and the rickshaw puller was told to go carefully across the potholes. Even so it was a bumpy ride home. D had a better time going home because taxis were available in the city of Madras and the road was a proper cement road.
When S was born, R hired a whole tempo which was actually a large phat-phati similar to a large auto which carried eight persons. It was a new tempo, as the owner proudly told us, and it was the first ride for both the tempo and for S. It was certainly a noisy ride because tempos are designed to make a lot of noise.
I did not have to travel during the first few days of my life because I was born at home in my grandparents’ house. I would have been the first hospital birth and could have boasted about it if my mother had not developed cold feet at the last minute and refused to go into hospital. She was only twenty one at the time and could have been excused but I am not sure that she had thought things through. Did she imagine she had the option of canceling the delivery, I wonder? Anyhow they had to send for the midwife in a hurry and fortunately the woman did not object to having been overlooked earlier in favor of hospital delivery and turned up but only just in time. By then I had decided to come out without waiting for help and she managed to finish what I had started.
The midwife seems to have been surprised by my size though, and remarked that I was as big as a rat. This nugget was overheard by a neighborhood child who went home and reported to her mother that a rat had been born in our house. The first comment on my appearance was not very complimentary but luckily I did not either hear or understand it, though it was repeated to me often enough later.