The joys of Indian life – for babies!

“Rolly polly, up, up up!”, a chubby three year old sings, while her  cousin,  a cute little two year old, chortles with glee and a ten-month old Baby M watches them intently, fascinated. He kicks his legs wildly in protest at being held. So what if he can’t walk yet? His friends are running around playing and of course he must join them!

The girls are our neighbors at my parents’ home in Mumbai. Everyday, morning, afternoon and evening, the three get together in the building compound to ‘play’.  Whoever gets down first calls out to the rest until the entire building knows the gang is getting together again! Sometimes a little boy from across the street joins in as well. The older ones sing songs or tell stories (picked up at playschool), while Baby M is usually content to simply watch them, that’s when he’s not looking at the crows and butterflies, trying to grab at flowers and leaves and staring at the neighborhood cat! Sometimes he’ll laugh out aloud or try to imitate the funny sounds his friends make, more often he simply kicks his legs in delight at their antics.

In the morning, when Aaji sets out on her daily rounds of the market and sundry other chores, Baby M sees her pick up her purse and gets all excited. It’s time to go out! Aaji tries in vain to slip out unnoticed, but the ever-alert Baby M lets out a loud wail until she picks him up and takes him out. Perched on Aaji’s shoulder, Baby M roams the lanes of our sleepy suburb, visiting the bank, the fruit seller, the local library, even the school for physically challenged children where Aaji volunteers her time every week.

Every evening, when Aai shuts down her laptop for the day,  she gets herself and Baby M ready and mom and son head out, to the park, to the local bookstore to browse books for Aai, to pick up Aaji from her yoga class or to the market to hunt for some elusive ingredient for Aai’s recipe-of-the-day.

And at night, when Ajoba comes home, Baby M leaps into his arms before he enters the house and demands to be taken out for a walk or a ride in the car. Weekends, he travels to South Bombay to visit his cousin, just a year older to him, or north to the suburb where his paternal grandparents, uncle, cousin and many more of our relatives live.

Grandparents, uncles and aunts to pamper him, cousins and neighbors his own age to play with,  older cousins to teach him new tricks, the household help, the driver and  the watchman to entertain him when everyone else is busy, traveling by bus, train and rickshaws, a fruit seller gifting him an orange just because he seemed so fascinated with the color, random girls on the road pinching his cheeks and going ‘so cute!’ at him, the lights of Diwali, band-baaja of Ganpati and kites of Sankrant – could a baby’s life get any richer?

When Baby M first arrived in India, he’d look at a gathering of  two or more people and burst into tears. Guests at home, burst into tears. Enter a strange home, more tears. A stranger picking him up, loud wails and shrieks! Today, he throws himself at anyone who’s standing at the door. An unfamiliar uncle picks him up and all he notices is the pen sticking out of the uncle’s shirt pocket. He’s traveled to Khandala, Pune, Delhi, Agra and Indore over the past couple of months without showing a hint of stranger anxiety.

“Rolly polly, down, down, down!”, Baby M’s friend ends her song and I watch him laugh aloud, my heart bursting with happiness. The decision to move back home never seemed wiser!

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A difficult choice – 2

Yeah, sounded too good to be true, didn’t it? Okay, now hear the other side of the story.

I try not to indulge in mommy guilt, but the nagging feeling that I am missing out on a beautiful part of Baby M’s childhood is always there. I hate it when he discovers the fun of splashing around in the bath tub for the first time and it’s my mom who sees it and calls out to me to come watch. Sure, it is a privilege to be able to rush in and watch, but I’d like to be the one to see that first look of delight on his face. Watching him enjoy the bath tub so much, I realize it’s time to take him swimming, but the pool is crowded on weekends and I have no time on weekdays. Little things like that. I took him to the beach (which is a 10 minute drive from our place) for the first time in six months last Monday (when I had a New Year’s day holiday) and he loved it! If I wasn’t working, we could do these fun things every other day, not just on weekends.

Then there’s so much stuff I’d like to do for myself.  My mom’s learning Madhubani painting this month, I’d love to join her. I want to take up gardening seriously. I’d like to learn the basics of home interiors, so I can do up our home myself next year. A neighborhood aunty’s teaching Bollywood dance – it’s no secret that I have two left legs, but I love to dance and I’d like to learn a couple of dance moves at least, so I can stop making a fool of myself dancing in public. And so on and on.

So what? Many women manage home, work, kids and still find time for themselves, I hear you say. But the point is, I don’t want to be one of them. I hate to rush through life. More importantly, I think we are in a good enough place money-wise that I can afford to take it easy for a while. Also, working from home offers me flexibility, but I miss the interaction one enjoys at the workplace.

And to be honest, I was never cut out to be an engineer or a career person. I never was geeky, nor am I terribly ambitious about my career. I just happen to have reasonably good brains and once I take up something, I take pride in doing it well. So I am a software analyst by default you could say. Sure, I mostly enjoy what I do, but my work has never defined me – it’s just something interesting that keeps me busy and stimulated, and the fact that I earn good money for it is like icing on the cake. In contrast, the husband is pretty ambitious and serious about his career. So call it a gender stereotype or whatever, but those are the kind of people we are.

Having said all that, giving up work is still a difficult decision to make. What if the husband takes time to find something good post-MBA? What if staying at home bores me out of my wits? And the biggest of all – what if no one offers me a job ever again?

Tell me, what do you think?

P.S. These thoughts have been churning around at the back of my mind for a while now, but the trigger for this post was my boss offering to try and renegotiate my benefits so I can continue to work from India. The Indian benefits are unlikely to be as good as the US ones, hence this need to re-evaluate my priorities.