Please note: This is Ep.24
Please go here for Ep.23
(As everything I write is true, names have been changed to protect identities.)
Jai was born on the 5th day of the autumnal Navratri. Navratri is a celebration of the nine nights dedicated to the Divine Mother. The 5th day is Lalitha Panchami. It never ceases to amaze me that this was the day Jai chose to be born, as the form of Ma Lalitha Tripura Sundari is very dear to Swami ji; His main Sadhana was dedicated to Her as He describes in His memoir If Truth Be Told. And, we chant the eulogy of Her thousand names, the Lalitha Sahasranama, every evening in the temple at the ashram. The Divine Mother chose to make me a mother on that day. For this, I feel greatly honoured.
Veer, too, chose to be born on a very special day – a bright and beautiful Guru Purnima. At that time, I wasn’t aware of the powerful significance of either of those days and how much they would come to mean to me. Both boys are truly gifts of the divine. (Jai and Veer are, of course, pseudonyms for the purpose of this series. The actual names I gave them mean divinity or saint, and an instrument (of God)).
I remember I was five days overdue and unable to sleep the night I went into labour with my first. I had been talking to Jai. I called him by his name even while he was in my belly. We’d already chosen his name beforehand. In fact, Jai had chosen it himself.
One afternoon, six or seven months into the pregnancy, I’d amused myself, laying on the bed, talking to him, as usual, with my palms lovingly caressing my rounded belly. I thought I would give the baby a selection of names to choose from. I explained to him that I would call out a few names and he should kick when I called out the one he liked best. At the sound of one of the names, he kicked! I was amazed. I tried a couple of times again to be absolutely certain, and he kicked again upon hearing the very same name. So, from then on, we referred to him by his chosen name and no longer as ‘the baby’.
We’d celebrated my eighteenth birthday just a couple of months earlier. Ironically, although it hadn’t been very long at all since I had left school, we held a ‘Back to School’ party. It was my first birthday celebration as a part of Maanav’s family, and they really went all out.
Maanav hired a beautiful manor house in London’s suburbs that looked like an aristocratic school building with lovely rose-filled gardens. Everyone came dressed in school uniform — family, friends, and even the usually unadventurous uncles and aunties. My parents and Maanav’s parents dressed up too.
Our dads wore school uniforms with grey shorts, long socks, and cheeky sideways school caps. Their cheeks were painted rosy-red and dotted with freckles. Maanav’s mother played to perfection the part of the headmistress, in her black graduation cap and gown. She held the assembly where we all sang Happy Birthday and cut the cake.
My mother arrived with her gang of dinner ladies, hairnets and pinnies in tow, ready to serve us all yummy pizza, chips, and apple crumble with custard in the dining room. At the entrance, we’d set up a tuck shop with penny sweets, orange squash, chocolate and a candy floss machine where we could throw in the sugar and colouring ourselves and spin it into sticky, sweet, airy clouds.
We’d decided to make it a school sports day. Maanav had even had trophies made, which my mother-in-law awarded to the race winners during the assembly. Everyone took part. It was so much fun to watch the oldies get in touch with their inner child again. They were full of mirth as they bounded down the running track in gunnysacks or tied to their running partner at the ankle in the three-legged race. Brows furrowed with focus and bit lips or tongues to one side, they ran the egg ‘n’ spoon race (well, in our case, the lemon ‘n’ spoon race, ‘cos, you know, vegetarians). And the spectators cheered and called out the cheeky-cheaters, of which there were many; it all added to the merriment.
We also had huge, pump-action, bright-neon water guns for water fights. It was the best day ever! I’d never experienced a party like this before. Little Jai in my belly was coming into a family full of love, joy and laughter.
It was at this party after the cake cutting that we officially announced the pregnancy. I was five months along at the time, but I had to hide my little bump as everyone was told the baby was just three months in the making. But even so, it was a beautiful moment.
It wasn’t an easy pregnancy for me as I was malnourished and very underweight when I’d met Maanav and gotten pregnant, and I was sick throughout it; not just morning sickness, but all the time sickness, and not just for three months, but right up until the delivery. But with the love and joy between the families and the support and care of my husband, whom I loved to the moon and back, I got through it.
So, there I was, five days after his due date, and Jai was still not on his way out. (Thankfully, he didn’t arrive early, so I could save face a little. Thank you, Jai). The night before he was born, I felt restless; I couldn’t sleep. I had already filled in a fair few crossword puzzle books, which I seemed to love when I was pregnant with him and never did before or afterwards. They were my pregnancy craving, along with mangoes, clementines, and chunky chips from the fish ‘n’ chip shop, with lots of vinegar and a pickled gherkin. I never liked chips before then either, and I have hardly eaten them since.
The clock ticked midnight, then 1 am. I still couldn’t sleep and Jai was letting me know he was hungry. While the rest of the house slept, I popped downstairs, into the kitchen. My mother-in-law had made uttapams (savoury South Indian pancakes) earlier in the day.
A small stack of uttapams devoured later and I was doubling over in pain. Did I eat too much too fast? Oops, no. Jai had had his fill and was ready to go. When I realised the intermittent pains were actually contractions, I woke up my husband. Within moments, the rest of the house – Jai’s aunts and grandparents – was a flurry of excitement as we got ready to leave for the hospital.
I’d decided I wanted as natural a delivery as possible, so I had a TENS machine for natural pain relief and was breathing through each contraction. I was, I thought, a picture of strength and tranquillity, like the animals of the wild in the nature documentaries I’d seen on television.
When I’d watched her give birth, even my neighbour’s cat was as silent and stoic as the lions Sir David Attenborough spoke about so vividly on Wildlife on One. If they can do it without a sound, I thought, I’m sure this labour thing is no biggie. I could do it without ruffling a hair of my caramel highlights or breaking an acrylic, French-polished nail.
But when we reached the hospital and I was admitted into the delivery suite, I heard, what sounded like a real animal of the wild: a lion roaring. A full-grown mama bellowing out into the jungle. But this was not Africa, this was Watford, and this sound was coming through the walls.
“What’s that?” I asked the midwife.
“Oh, that’s just a lady pushing in the next room,” she replied ever so casually.
“What…?!” The image in my mind was just too much. “How far along am I?” I asked her. “’Cos, I’m not in that much pain,” I said, clutching my husband’s hands until both our knuckles turned white and trying to breathe through the intensifying contortion in my uterus through clenched teeth.
“My dear, you’re not even halfway there yet.”
“Erm, stuff the natural route… I want an epidural!!!!!”
They tried to give me Entonox (gas and air) first. But after hearing Simba’s missus next door, I was having none of it.
I think they got the message.
Ten minutes later, I was lying on my side on the bed. The humble TENS machine had been removed and a juicy needle full of lovely numbing liquid, ahh, total pain relief and paralysis from the waist down, was being inserted into a tiny space between two vertebrae in my spine.
The tiny cannula had just been inserted, ready for the anaesthetic, and at that precise moment, I heard a pop and felt a gush of liquid. My water had broken. The next contraction came hard and fast after that. With no Entonox or TENS to take the edge off, I looked to my faithful husband who had been at my side holding my hand.
What came next was like a scene in a movie. I watched stunned as Maanav’s eyes rolled up into his head. He lost his grip of my hand and crashed to the floor! With the cannula still sticking out of my spine like a hamster’s hosepipe, my legs and the bed soaked with the fluid of my water just broken and trying to breathe through the hardest contraction yet, the team immediately stopped what they were doing with me and rushed to him. It had all been too much for my sweet husband and he’d fainted.
With the swift action of the medical staff, he came to moments later, thankfully unhurt, except for his slightly dented male pride, and was by my side again within minutes.
We got through it together, and later that morning, twenty-four years ago today, our baby was finally in our arms.
Jai was a gentle child of the Mother Goddess, tall and long-limbed, with dark eyes and a full head of dark hair. He was calm from the moment of his birth. No crying. He entered the world instead quietly, blinking inquisitively under the bright hospital lights, gauging me and his new surroundings with old soul eyes, probably wondering if he had made the correct choice after all.
For me, it was love and sheer wonderment at first sight. I couldn’t believe that this cuteness was inside my tummy all these months. Maanav and I had made a little person; wow, a real person! One that would grow up with likes and dislikes, one that would have hopes and dreams, who could learn anything, do anything, even change the world – whatever he wanted to do. It was beyond miraculous.
Once we were moved from the delivery suite, Jai met his grandparents, uncles and aunties for the first time. They were all huddled around us cooing and aahing. Jai’s Nani (Maternal Grandma) and Dadi (Paternal Grandma) were hugging each other, crying with joy.
That picture is ingrained in my memory forever under the heading: Love.
Please go here to continue to Episode 25