Scene 1: Local Costa Cafe:
Parisa, my eleven month old baby, gawking at random strangers forcing them to politely turn towards her, smile, converse animatedly and contort their faces to amuse her as one of the many unwritten British customs or maybe a rule from a secret code of conduct book, this one from the chapter ‘what to do when you come across a random baby in a public place’. The rule book must also proclaim it’s not necessary to interact with the mother responsible for putting said baby on earth as they completely ignore me.
Parisa locks eyes with them, serious and studious assessing their antics like a director of a movie looking at auditioning comedians and then after a few minutes depending on their performance either extends them a handshake (Paul Hollywood of Great British bake off style) or starts bawling as if they have poked her with a burning hot needle. Unfortunately, it’s the latter verdict for two hapless strangers who’ve tried to make contact. Her wailing is so heart breaking that the blond random stranger number 1 and ginger random stranger number 2 get up immediately, apologise profusely and make a hasty exit. No amount of my embarrassed smiles and reassurances suffice to pull them back to finish their still steaming flat whites.
Meanwhile, my husband texts me as he returns from work asking me if I’m out. I confirm. He knows where to find me at my usual haunt. As soon as Parisa spots him, making his way through the cramped cafe towards her, she shrieks, claps her hands ecstatically as if he’s an A list celebrity. A few cafe goers turn to see if Henry Cavill has walked in to grab his poison of choice. Papa scoops her in his arms and she hugs him tight, shaking and cooing with excitement and then turns to give me an arctic look which roughly translates as; I don’t know you anymore, woman.
Scene 2: Mother in law’s house:
Parisa is placed on grandmother’s lap by hubby. On cue exactly after two seconds Parisa starts crying. ‘I am your grandma, ok?’ She tries, appealing to her logic that no foul play is afoot. Parisa continues her emotional angst until she is handed over to Papa. ‘Such a daddy’s girl.’ The remark is thrown around with a confusing mixture of disapproval and love. Sister in law makes her entry. Well versed in the ways of her niece, she wisely declares, ‘I so want to hold her…but I don’t want to start her off crying.’ Having given her explanation on why she would be ignoring her, she is still unable to help herself. She tiptoes towards her brother to steal a sneaky look at her. As her aunt’s pretty face appears in her line of vision, she predictably starts scrunching her face into a ball of intense emotion, her lips quivering and her eyes watering. Sister in law jerks back as if stung by a bee.
I recall my call to another friend in a general cribbing session. This friend is of the opinion that the baby has been marked by higher forces. When I narrate incidents of her general clinginess, she thinks for a few minutes and then states her conclusion. ‘Hmmm, See her name is like that. The name has a big impact on a person.’ She explains to me. ‘Huh?’ I ask not getting the gist. ‘Parisa means like a fairy, fairies like forests you know, solitary places and avoid contact with humans.’ ‘Ah.’ I say, enlightened for a second and then confused. Fairies are fictional anyway and if I were to choose a fictional fairy to model my daughter on I might as well make her the fairy god mother who helps Cinderella get her prince thereby being helpful, kind, resourceful (come on, creating carriages out of pumpkins) etc?
The musings in my head are interrupted now by a high octave screech. Parisa has been deposited in her aunt’s arms by now. After a lot of reassurances by Papa she begins to calm down. Funnily when she goes into sister in law’s husbands arms she is as quite as a room where pins can be heard dropping. ‘She’s probably got used to being passed around like a parcel,’ sister in law says, directing a sour look at her husband, not wanting to accede her position as more important in her niece’s tiny trust world to her husband. I try to exchange one of those meaningful couple looks with my husband but he is too engrossed entertaining his little princess.
Wedding of a distant relative of a relative whose name to this day shall remain a mystery:
Parisa clings to daddy dearest throughout the proceedings from our touch down, to bride’s grand entry to the solemn Nikah ceremony. I am seated at another table with sister in law (who is pregnant and I am her self designated helper for the evening) and mother in law. Parisa and Papa are on a chair at a table nearby due to lack of space. The table we are at is full of ladies only and an old lady is seated next to me. Papa tries putting baby in the car seat umpteen times but Parisa is not on board with the idea and is right back in his arms where she feels she rightfully belongs. Papa sighs occasionally, his right arm rapidly turning stiff.
Starters arrive and he manages shoving spoonfuls in his mouth awkwardly with his left hand while still holding her. I make my way to him determinedly and confidently tell him to finish his dinner, I’ll take over. He raises his eyebrows doubting my ability at taking charge of my own daughter. I raise mine higher and pry her away from him. At first Parisa is too stunned at the dislodgment. As I turn her around to face me, she starts whimpering and as I make my way towards the other table she starts crying loudly. Papa is forced to get up and take her from me with a told you so air. I apologetically smile at him now and then to offer my moral support as he begins to pace up and down to distract a now whimpering Parisa.
Parisa is comforted, I swallow my pride and the main course arrives. I shovel down half a plate of biryani angrily before glancing at my husband whose plate remains morsel less as he sings baby shark to her. That’s it, I think in my head feeling it all a scheme by the duo to vilify me in front of all and sundry. I walk over, this time not so confidently, and try again to relieve him of his burden telling him loudly (for all to hear) that he must eat, but Parisa is not amused. She yells as if she is being kidnapped. I redden and give an embarrassed smile to the room at large. A lady, seated on the same table with her complaint baby soundly sleeping in his car seat gives me an amused smile. I try and lighten the mood, ‘I can assure you I am not snow white’s evil step mother, haha!’ Not wanting to say what’s in her head she turns away to tend to her own peaceful bundle.
Tail between my legs I come back to my table. The old lady nods thoughtfully at me and remarks, ‘Is that your baby?’ I affirm, not meeting her eyes. ‘She is very lucky to have a father like that. Where can you get fathers like these?’ It’s a philosophical question not meant for a response like ‘it’s not taboo for a man to hold his baby.’ ‘I never saw a father like that!’ She finishes her observation. ‘I tried to take her away from him but she is refusing to come to me!’ I justify in a squeaky voice, the noise of my guilt louder than the blaring Bollywood song on speakers. ‘Tu Jane naaaaaaaaaaaa’ Atif Aslam croons and I frown propping my chin in my hand. Yes, indeed; you have no idea.