The strange thing about baby hunger. It can strike you anytime. I first had a bad bout of it when I was in my early twenties. The sight of an infant would transform me into a cooing, silly-face-and-sound-making idiot, a follower of new mothers in the street and a compulsive sniffer of baby scalps. Finding someone reckless enough to impregnate me became a full time preoccupation. And since I was one of those rare impractical young Indians who absolutely believed she'd never find true love within a tick-all-the-right-boxes arranged marriage, life was complicated for a while.
Eventually, though, I found a suitable someone who went shopping for pregnancy tests with me and pushed me into the local gynaecologist's waiting room. Pregnancy was an exciting project and I noted every change in my physical self with fascination: That first flutter in my womb, the way my taste buds changed, how my always formidable sense of smell now became a superpower (problematic while journeying over Mumbai's Mahim creek), the sudden mad urge for specific foods - bombay duck, jamuns, Nestle Milkmaid! Everyone seemed willing to fulfill my food fantasies. At 11pm one night, I had only to mention a craving for vanilla ice cream for a visiting relative to rush out and get me a bucket. I looked good too, in the dazzling shiny way that women do during a happy pregnancy.
The delicate perfume of the bombay duck
I can't say I enjoyed labour. When the pain kicked in there were times when I thought I would die. I begged the doctor, a wise old woman who'd brought a thousand wailing children into the world, for an epidural, a numbing injection to the spine. I couldn't read her thought bubble then but it would probably have said "What are you, a wailing whimpering MAN to ask for a painkiller?" Some women doctors are terribly macho.
Finally my son was out and I couldn't believe the minute perfection of him. The fully formed nails with their half moons, the shiny mop of deep black hair and the straight nose. I had never fallen in love like that before. But it happened again three years later when my younger son arrived.
I loved looking after the babies, singing them to sleep, feeding them, potty training them and making them their favoured gourmet meal, stewed fruit mixed with milky Marie. All thoughts of a career, even a thriving life of the mind vanished. I took on jobs that wouldn't require me to contribute too much of myself. I don't think I read a book through for at least five years. But I was happy. Babies are so helpless and dependent and so unconditional in their love. There's something heart wrenching about the way they look up at you with their huge clear eyes, how they hold tight to your finger, how they cry brokenheartedly when you leave for the grocery store without them and how absolutely delirious with joy they are when you return 10 minutes later.
As they grow older, your children surprise you with their personalities, with their new talents, their sense of humour, with how like you they are and how unlike. My sons have taught me to be more forgiving of men, to look at them without that white hot rage that used to sometimes consume me earlier in my life. They've taught me that some sorts of male behavior are intrinsic and that other sorts definitely need to be yelled and nagged out of existence. Every day, I learn something new from them about what it means to be a woman.
Recently, though, I've returned to that uncomfortable place I was in my twenties. I thought I was done with that messy procreation yearning but quite unexpectedly I find myself cooing at strange babies again. Every time I see one I feel afresh that need to have a little perfect person for whom I am the world. I can understand that Octomom, her greed. Having babies is fulfilling in an unexplainable instinctual way. But this time, my hunger is abject and hopeless. The Hum do, hamaare do family planning campaign was so successful in changing the way we think that it is now rare to find an Indian family of a certain socioeconomic background with more than two children. It doesn't mean, though, that all of us want only two, just that a whole generation has decided very sensibly to stop at that number even if we continue to be haunted by thoughts of a third phantom child.
My rational mind knows I shouldn't go back to that love hormone-suffused space of the new mother. I have important things to do, that college fund to build, the rejuvenated career to nourish. But on some days, it's difficult to convince my instinctual self of the real importance of those intellectual and economic imperatives, to not daydream about being a kind of modern day Venus of Willendorf.
All boob, no brain
Ah, it really is time for me to get a dog.