April 9th 2003 – 6.45 pm
Dusk, A sleepy old muezzin called the faithful to prayer in his baritone. As the azaan from the dilapidated minaret rent the air, the street lights came to life. They ushered in a world that looked golden, a vestige of the glorious era gone by. The famous Chudi (Bangles) bazaar was bustling with activity. The old quadri-cephalic sentinel Charminar rose in the background overseeing the melee of the Old Nizam’s city. This had been a routine for ages.
Across the Falaknuma palace, an ink-black Musi River dragged on its heavy feet as its noxious stench wafted through the Old City. Local dhobis went about washing dirty linen on the granite boulders on her banks. Mobile hawkers roasting peanuts in sand lined up the street. A few others sold roasted whole corns (butta), peppered with red chilly powder and a generous dash of lime juice and salt to taste. They fanned the charcoal embers with palmyra fans, the fire crackled as the corn turned a shade auburn, just perfect and tangy to be nibbled.
Irani tea shops (the twin cities of Hyderabad & Secunderabad reportedly have a few hundred Irani Tea Shops), especially Shaadab & Nayaab in the Old City dish out Chai by the thousands everyday. One called Alpha in Secunderabad claims to brew around two hundred thousand cups a day. Irani Chai has a flavor of its own; a great concoction brewed with tea leaves, milk boiled with Milkmaid (sweetened condensed Milk). The tea always tastes the same, thick and creamy- anytime! Not to mention, the eternal bliss of the Chai drinking ritual; Cup to saucer to lip – slurrrrrrrp! Nothing beats that one.
Urdu is the zabaan-e-awaam (local language) of the Old City. The typical localite speaks with an unmistakable accent that is quintessential Hyderabadi – Urdu laced with Telugu and a generous helping of gaalis (slander).
It is a driver’s nightmare during peak hours, especially if you owned a four-wheeler. Two wheelers moved like side-winders let loose, pedestrians jaywalked with indifference as if it was their baap ka jaagir. Vehicles merrily parked by the roadside, the old jalopies sputtered and choked along emitting black smoke from their sooty behinds. The narrow, single lane roads didn’t help much either.
Honking huge buses & menacing truckers urged you on like they were seasoned, cold mid-wives assisting a delivery.
I gulped a large dry lump down my throat as I remembered. Promising to return my wife’s call in the afternoon, I had casually forgotten.
I was in a meeting when she called, briefing the Media guy on the huge hoarding facing the Charminar. We had booked this prime spot to announce our new international call tariffs. My CEO wanted this at any cost; any price and I had managed to yank this right out of the competitors’ mouth. Working in the Cellular Industry was a real grind.
This was 4 hours ago…
Now, as I crawled back to Secunderabad in that evening traffic, I dialed my wife’s cell number- I could hear my heart beat faster than the rings, No answer.
I tried again.
"Sorry, the H**** Phone you are trying to reach cannot be reached now", the recorded voice prompted.
Next, I tried my wife’s Bank. "Welcome to H*** Bank".
Oh, how I hated these ritual marketing stunts that used the IVR as a media tool.
The marketing gurus must have been highly evolved form of cockroaches, for they left no space untouched.
Not even a private phone call!
"We make your life simple", the Bank’s home IVR crooned.
Thumping the steering wheel in disgust, I yelled a juicy 4 letter word! A few knowledgeable minutes of banking gyaan later, I hung up. Distraught!
I tried her direct number now, her phone rang deliriously. No luck! How simpler could life get?
Fumbling at my mobile phone’s keypad, I dialed home, no response.
Where on earth was Mom? She had offered to stay with us ever since my wife was confirmed pregnant. She couldn’t risk any harm to her daughter-in-law and of course her grand-child. Mom’s presence meant a little rest for my wife at home, great food and of-course discipline.
I redialed the landline number, same result. No one picked up the phone!
"God"! I screamed my lungs out, tired from the day’s grind and the ongoing tension.
A traffic snarl, would I ever get out of this one?
I was sweating profusely- the heat, the pollution, the cantankerous vehicle horns and the palpable tension of the whereabouts of my pregnant wife. I was immersed in a deluge of thoughts.
Some blind mole had rammed into my rear bumper!
Life sucked and sucked big time! This time it came in the form of a City Bus! Naidugaaru (the honorable marketing savvy Chief Minister) had got them painted all yellow – Yellow was the official color of his party and City buses made damn good mobile advertising.
The cockroaches had infested the political circles as well.
Hordes of onlookers had gathered around my car- a typical Hyderabadi Mob mentality. Amidst the hush-hush of kya hua, kisney toka, kaisey hua bhai, I heard someone cuss my family in chaste Hyderabadi as he sped past. Maa ke….That was all I needed to hear.
I blew my top. I belted out a few Hyderabadi verbal serves and the Bus driver replied with volleys. Just as I was getting ready for a panga (fight) with the Bus driver, I could see the traffic move. I decided to drop the fight and move on. That was a sane thing to do in the situation. The car could be mended, I thought to myself. My anger could wait, I held my horses.
As I zoomed through the evening traffic, I tried regrouping myself. My wife- Where was she? How was she?
She had been such a support! Ours was a 5 year long courtship before we got married. There had been chivalrous moments, like offering her my jacket during a walk in the rains and the chilly Bangalorean winter. Some intimate candle lit dinners and some tender moments.
And now after 4 years of marriage, at the peak of her pregnancy- I had taken her for granted-not returning her call. How could I be so callous? Did the quest for professional glory cloud my responsibilities so much?
My Banker wife- An inimitable workaholic.
Pregnancy reins in most workaholics, but alas not this one! Her morning sickness stopped and began at the door-step of the house. At work, she would be pushing and testing her own physical endurance.
Deep inside, I feared if she could last through the grueling trimesters ahead, but she had managed it beautifully. It was the chequered flag for her and she was on her last lap. Did she stop before the finish line, I thought as another blaring bus horn brought me back to my senses.
Tank Bund road, a landmark that categorically divides the twin cities, is on the banks of a huge water body, the Hussein Sagar Lake. A huge lung-space for a bustling, droning city, the lake has some lovely verdant parks around. A huge monolith Buddha stands tall in the middle of the lake, a harbinger of peace amidst all the chaos that a metropolitan life offers.
I had a fleeting glimpse of the Buddha as I stepped on the pedal; Gosh! I was headed in the wrong direction, towards my office! My inbuilt radar had gone berserk too. And there was no U turn in sight either.
10 kilometers and a good 45 minutes later, as I was zipping down Banjara Hills, Road No.3, I came to a screeching halt, nearly skidding on the tarmac. There was a VIP motorcade expected; the CM’s official residence was in the same area. No please, I begged God!
I had barely finished my heavenward SOS- Two pilot cars- sirens blaring, followed by 3 similar looking bulletproof cars zoomed past. A minute later, the signal turned green!
Reaching home, I careened into the parking lot, rushed out and ran up the stairs; we lived on the first floor. The door was locked! I tried calling her mobile once more; I could hear it ring inside. She had left her mobile at home?
Desperate and dead-worried, I turned as some-one tapped my shoulder; It was my wife.
"Hi Sweetheart, Mom and I went out for a walk. I came in early today as I had a little pain on the sides. I called you, but I guess you were busy. Must be Gas, I am ok now".
She had managed to say all this in one breath before I could mutter "Why"?
I let my questions hang for the day.
Mom made me a hot steaming cup of Tea and some piping hot banana fritters. Mom was happy to have us both back early that evening and she was smiling.
Her smile crashed when I said, "Mom, I will quickly go to office and get back ASAP".
"You aren’t going anywhere, not with your wife in this condition", Mom thundered.
"But I have my MD visiting Hyderabad tomorrow Mom", I tried to reason out with her.
"Do what you want, I never imagined you would be so careless", she said disgusted with my attitude towards my wife.
"And in case she delivers tomorrow, what will you do"? Mom had the game now, Check & Mate.
"I will think about it tomorrow Mom, let me please go now", I said, hurriedly kissing both her and my wife good-bye.
"Come home for dinner sweetheart, Mom’s made Dal & Prawns masala fry for you", my wife’s voice faded as I reached my car. I drooled at the thought.
My mobile buzzed, it was Mom. "We will wait for you for dinner tonight, you better be back early", she ordered.
We had dinner, Mom and wife at home; me with my colleagues at the Dum Pukht- Kakatiya.
Final plans for the MD’s visit were being detailed out over Cocktails and Appetizers; he was to arrive by the 4 pm flight the next evening. I had set my mobile in the meeting mode. By the time we were done, it was 1 am. I checked my mobile groggily – 18 missed calls; all from home!
Driving home as quickly as I could, I saw street-urchins sleeping blissfully on the pavements.
"Lucky lot", I thought aloud.
Turning into our home avenue, I saw it was rather dark; no street lights were on that night. A Gurkha walked ahead in the eerie darkness, armed with his lathi beating it rhythmically on the asphalt and blowing his whistle into the night. He did his customary 3 round vigil of our street every night, clockwork.
A white stray dog, angry at being woken up unceremoniously, chased me tail-up till I reached my gates. I remember this guy loved chasing every white Maruti car and Hero Honda bike that went past. It was a kind of a harmless canine thrill, cultivated and perfected over the years. I knew of curs that were loyal, but brand-loyal – he must have been the first of his kind.
The cockroach- a canine?
The huge steel gates of our apartments had been locked by the night security, but they knew the moment I reached. I tip-toed into the building carefully, made sure I did not trot on the marble flooring. Opening the door with a thief’s clinical precision, I cat-walked and walked- right into Mom who was plonked on my bean-bag.
"Is this the time to come home?" she asked admonishingly. I did not reply.
"Let him be-Mom, he cares for no one" my wife joined in, from the bed-room. I blushed in embarrassment.
"How many did you smoke today? You are stinking" Mom was on the offensive. I was quiet yet again.
"Ask me Mom, it is always 5 cigarettes", my wife offered to reply for on my behalf.
"She has been having pains the whole evening. Did you even bother to call and ask her how she was?" Mom’s volley of questions continued. I skirted this one too, but could not hide my guilt.
I showered, changed and came back fresh. Mom had gone off to sleep. My wife had knocked off too.
April 10th 2003 – 8.30 am
Morning, there is no idle discussion at the breakfast table. It’s a mechanical routine every morning. I skim the newspaper headlines and sip my tea. No Chai ritual here. My wife is ready to leave for work. This meant I had to be ready too.
"I am leaving for office Mom" she had strategically chosen to ignore me.
"Take care darling", Mom hugged her in reassurance that all will go well.
"Ouch", my wife winced in pain holding on to her back. I rushed in to offer her support as she clung on to me.
"It’s time" Mom told me as she hurried to fetch something from the kitchen.
"Let her walk, it will help".
A minute later Mom returned with a glass of water boiled with cumin seeds "Jeera water, drink it, it will ease your labor".
My wife meanwhile yelled in a trance, beating her fists violently. All fell silent after a while.
"The contractions must have stopped", I told myself.
I felt her tummy; it had gone hard as a rock and almost still.
"Sweetheart, it’s hurting me terribly" my wife cried, inching towards the washroom.
"We will leave for Matrika now baby, I will be ready in a flash".
Eleven seconds later I am done with my jeans and tee as I hear a thud in the bathroom. She had slipped and fallen, legs almost spread-eagled. Luckily she hadn’t bolted the door.
As I picked her up she wailed "I think my water broke".
I picked her up from the floor and in a few minutes post-ablution we were off to Matrika- Dr Kalpana’s cute little hospital in Punjagutta.
In a matter of minutes, she was wheeled away into the labor room, while I completed the registration formalities.
At the labor room, Dr. Kalpana, donning her surgical gloves, asked me "Are you sure you can handle watching this"?
"No sweat doc", I claimed with a dash of arrogance.
As I was getting ready for the major event, my mobile beeped. It was my Head of Marketing- Sahil Anand.
"Boss, where are you?" he asked.
"Sahil, I am at the hospital, my wife is in labor" I replied irate.
"OK. What time will you be free"? Sahil asked.
"Buzz off Sahil, are you ok in the heado"? I shot back.
"AB, you know the f***in MD is expected today, there are so many bl***y things to be done for the sawn- off shotgun", Sahil reminded me.
I remembered the conversation with my wife and mom last evening. For some reason I went ballistic and Sahil bore the brunt.
"To hell with you and your slime-ball MD Sahil, my MD is coming today"; I was pleased with my reply.
I hoped my wife and Mom heard my repartee.
I could feel my wife clasp my hands tighter. As I looked into her eyes, I could see an acknowledgement of love, of togetherness, of pride and a silent gratitude.
"I love you sweetheart" I said as I kissed her on her forehead, she smiled.
It took her 11 hours of excruciating pain, tears, blood-curdling yells, gore and waste. I stood by holding her hand as her nails dug deep into my forearm.
7.15 pm – our little Nizam Denver, he was out naked, messy and trembling. As the doc spanked him on those tiny bunny buttocks, he cried for the very first time. I cried too, joyously. I was overawed by my own creation, as I tried to bask in the aura of fatherhood.
They had now severed his maternal cord, the umbilicus, cleaned him up and weighed him.
Our tiny little piece of heaven, he weighed in at 3 kilos. My wife kissed him tenderly; her new found maternal instincts well in place as she passed out from the sheer effort.
30th August 2006: 12 pm
Now, nearly four years later, we relive those moments that define life in all its glory, in a distant country.
12.10 pm- Her labor is quick this time and lasts just over an hour.
"The baby is out already"? My wife is surprised at the speed we usher in our second son into this world.
Dr. Najma has now severed him from his mother; he is naked, messy and trembling too and looks like a piglet. I click a few pictures hurriedly as my wife kisses Neil for the first time.
Its unmistakable- I have seen it before too- the tenderness and the spark in her eyes, maternal love can never be diluted. She passes out, yet again. It’s a rest well earned.
The muezzin calls from a nearby mosque. The accent is middle-eastern but the passion behind the call seems similar.
As the paramedics place Neil on the weighing scale, the pointer moves up a few notches.
I whisper in Neil’s ears "Our tiny little armful of Heaven, you weigh 3 kilos too."
Author: Amarnath Bantwal- Kuwait