Everything changed last year.
I was at home with a fever a few days ago, whining and moaning in the same room as the children. I asked our youngest child, Naseem, for help.
“Ohoo hoo hoo. I’m not well, Namnoo. Make me well,” I said to her.
She looked up from her puzzle. “I cannot make you well, Mamma. Go and see a doctor.”
“You can make me feel better, jaanoo,” I said. “Say something nice to me.”
She came to me. She caressed my hair. “Lie down. You will feel better. Do you want a hug?”
I received a hug. I lay down. I felt better.
Another winter afternoon, our three children are playing in the parking lot outside our home. Laughter, energy, dust and sunshine. The youngest speaking too loudly, complete synergy between her and the middle child. Sahar, the eldest child, is quiet. She seems to be somewhere else. Her trousers are short on her, ending too early before her ankles. There are so many photos of her wearing pyjamas like that. It’s a constant, especially in the winter holidays.
She will be 10 years old in a few months. Sahar wasn’t 2 yet when our second child was born. She had come to meet me in my hospital room, holding my mother’s hand, like a little woman herself. When we returned home, she spent endless afternoons watching the video of “Yeh taara, woh taara, har taara” from the film Swades, on a loop. I managed the new baby and myself in the background. In a home video we sometimes watch, she wakes up from sleep, comes towards me for a hug, then stops and says, “Mamma will feel hurt, no, if I come too close to her?” We all know that dialogue by heart, in a toddler’s sleep-coated, sing-song, plaintive accent.
At 2, she had been my perfect travel companion as we returned to Delhi, cutting short a holiday from visiting family in San Francisco, US. Her father had had an accident and was recovering after a surgery in Delhi. Between take-off and landing, we would spend 40 hours on flights and at airports. Balancing the four-month-old on my chest in a baby carrier, and pushing a trolley laden with bags and stroller, Sahar and I had wandered around Singapore airport looking for a transit hotel room. She walked next to me, reading my face as I read signs and tried to find my way in the middle of the night.
“Have we come the wrong way?” she would ask me every now and then. That two-year-old voice, concerned for us, trying to support me, reassuring me, is embedded in my memory. I had said to her before starting our journey, “You and I, Sahar, we are a team.”
Our family’s big challenge arrived when our third child was born. Sometimes we were just a bunch of scared, lost people in the same space. We were doing so much, yet it felt like we were getting nowhere.
I was gentle and loving with the baby, my voice would always change when I turned to her. I felt depleted and dissatisfied with everyone else. In my frustration, I would yell at the older children. They had not met this angry, edgy mother before, and she seemed like she was here to stay.
Sometimes it’s a long time after one has crossed a threshold that one realizes how far one has come. One day at a time, little by little. Suddenly you look up and the season has turned.
The baby has become a big boss, the papa has become the mamma and the big girl gets to be the baby she missed out on being before. Instinctively I hold the older children more now that the youngest has jumped off my lap to conquer her world.
When we slow down and spend some time doing absolutely nothing, things begin to happen by themselves. We heal. We find our voice.
It’s nothing, really. Just a small story from one person’s perspective in one family. One woman trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of her life. Create a barrier between the good and the hurtful in our everyday lives. Help preserve the gifts the children came with.
“Naseem,” I call out to her. “Tell me what to write in this column.”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t even know how to write.”
“Should we draw something?”
“Look, Mamma,” she is suddenly distracted. “Light is shining in that corner. Get your camera, quickly. Take a photo.”
The leaves of the plant on the window sill are aglow from our angle as a shard of light cuts through them.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.
Also Read | Natasha’s previous Lounge columns