Within weeks of my marriage, I was a mother. Even I did not expect it.
I entered my husband's home with a head full of dreams, a heart full of hope and a minor trepidation of being saddled with a host of relatives that I hitherto did not have. Like many a newlywed, I too was more than just a little bit frightened. Oh I knew my husband and his parents well enough by then but here I was from a nuclear family, walking into a joint one. Yes, I was going to live with my husband in the ancestral house, far from the indulgent eyes of my immediate in-laws, with a assortment of relatives. I was not only frightened, I did not know what to expect.
As some of you may already know, I am not particularly fond of kids. So when I saw my niece and nephew, Ziggy and Rubic, for the first time, then all of two and three, contemplating me with those big cute-as-a-button eyes, I chose to ignore them. No, it certainly wasn't love at first sight. But their dimpled smiles and unquestioning affection won me over.. and why not? So long before my daughters were born, I was already a "mother". They say a mother is born when a child is born. I think I became a mother when, for the first time, I took those tiny hands in mine, dumped them in the dicky of the Maruti Van and took off with them. We even had this ritual when I would say, "when Chachi says jump.." And the kids would look at me and jump! I must admit, that first time I took them out, (it was for a swim to the club) even I did not know what I was doing! And I appreciate their own parents, who trusted their children (who did not know swimming) with a relative stranger. I have often wondered. Would I have been able to trust myself, had I been in their shoes?
"Is she a safe driver? Can she look after the kids? What if she neglects the children in the pool? Suppose something happens?" I guess thoughts like that would plague me. I don't know if my brother and sister in-law ever thought that way, but they sure as hell never showed it. So I happily bonded with Rubic and Ziggy.... got drawn into their magical world. They kept me young, they made me play their games. Hopscotch, Chor-Police, Football, dancing in the rain, Cluedo, Dark room.... there's nothing we did not do. My own daughters came later, Isha and Amisha. Ziggy still teases Isha that she is my first daughter! Then came another niece, Zoya. Followed by Veer, tiny Veer, whose tiny fingers clutched at our heart-strings for a fraction and let go, leaving this dent in our hearts. Then came yet another nephew, Sarthak. And now, the greenest of my bunch, the twins Meenakshi and Satvik, all of seven months old. My brood, for now, is complete.
Why am I saying all this? It happens all the time, you say, in joint families? Ah yes, I suppose it does. In a house with five brothers, eight kids are not such a big deal, right?
But for me the novelty has never worn off. Rubic and Ziggy are now grown, they both live away from home. They come only on vacations, that too for Rubic, since he lives in Canada, it's just once a year. Isha is at the threshold of her ICSE and Amisha will hopefully follow a year later. Soon, it will be time for them to leave home. I hope they do, for it will be their turn to spread their wings and find their own skies. To find themselves. I know little Zoya who loves my brownies will also grow up. And Sarthak, who still holds my hand and clings to me in the pool will also swim away from me. And I also know I will take the twins swimming to that very club, that very pool where I learnt to swim myself! And the circle will be complete....
And you know what, time has a nasty habit of changing things, changing equations. People pass away, the house becomes emptier, corners go dead and then a little light flickers, tiny feet are heard again. The voices change, the old songs go unsung, footsteps fade away never to be heard again; all that remains are the memories, the tiny little bits of us that we leave in another person's life. Last week I had one of those rare windows when the twins had their 'annaprasan' and each of my eight children were home...together. My heart was full.
I guess what I'm saying is, I don't know what will happen, how empty the house will be. I can't imagine who will return and who won't or where they will be, say twenty years on. But I know I will always have them, here, in my heart, meeting, coming together again and again. And I will scold them and hug them and cry with them and share my life with them.
For they have taught me to love.