Travelling with parents is not easy. Especially when you are an independent-minded adult with a history of living and travelling alone, and your parents are prejudiced, finicky, middle-aged people. I had planned to steer clear of them days in advance and had consequently e-booked my separate window seat. During the time at the airport before check-in, I didn't pay much attention to my surroundings as I was beginning a new book, and hence wasn't really suspicious of the alarming number of babies being carried around everywhere. It was only when I had comfortably seated myself and was mentally deciding whether to order a coffee or save on the caffeine-intake-percentage of the day, that the first blow hit me. I didn't even turn to see how old it was. I was made aware of its strong timbre and pitch. It went on, right behind my right ear, and then another one, from somewhere in the back, followed suit. Then it seemed they were on a duel, trying to outdo one another in tantrums. After what seemed a cruelly long time, the second baby stopped, having accepted defeat. My right ear had nearly lost its function, and I decided to turn back to place my well-practised steely glare on the baby and the parents who apparently knew nothing about child control. My practice was lost because the baby was turned the other way towards its opponent, and the parents seemed to be proud of their toy and were strutting it like a peacock in the other direction. The baby began again, and I tried to play mental scrabble, which got jumbled up when the mother tried cooing it by singing - hold your breath - "Why this Kolaveri di?" Of course I was scandalised. I have since then been trying to decipher if it is absolutely necessary to confront a baby with the existential angst that is Kolaveri di. The baby however, didn't seem to be as disturbed as Meursault and continued its cacophony. At length I turned to my book and the words which first met my eyes were -
"Siddhartha had one single goal - to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow - to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought - that was his goal."
I closed the book, and amidst all the din I nodded off to sleep.
Oh to think that that would be the end of my tryst with babies! But that wasn't to be. In Shillong I was romantic and cynic, homesick and nostalgic by turns, and staying in a cottage overlooking the Wards Lake, I had forgotten about the experience. We catch our return flight from Guwahati, and having come here a day in advance ("to be on the safe side" to quote Baba), we decided to visit the Kamakshya temple. I will not even go into the effort I took to get up early in the morning after a long and bad night and to meticulously perform all my beloved ablutions to show that I was being a dutiful (and eager) daughter (yes, I intend to write my memoirs someday and incorporate all this). We reached in time and stood in line, and I nearly let out a scream when I saw that the person standing in front of me had a baby in his arms. It was wriggling and squiggling and writhing and kicking and climbing and throwing things all around. Then it had the gall to slip out through the metal grill and slip in again. There was a severe space crunch - of course - and that baby used all of us standing nearby as branches to climb the tree that was its father. The next step was inevitably throwing the flowers on young women's heads (sly!) and pulling dresses. I still kept my temper. Then as the queue moved and the space crunch became severe while entering the cave, it bellowed out in the most furious of noises I have ever heard. Its father tried ingenious tricks but nothing helped. It went on and on, and suddenly before I was aware, there were babies all around me howling and rattling their lungs out. I asked aloud why do parents have to carry their "little" babies all around and not just deposit them somewhere for safe-keeping. Of course I wasn't answered but glared at. Being a young spinster and all, looking all fashionable and all, commenting on babies and all. This went on, and as if to avenge themselves on my remark, a lady behind me with an arse-fixation, grabbed the one in front of her (mine, that is) and started yelling, "Go ahead, girl!" I was so infuriated that I wanted to hit her. I just hissed, "Don't touch me or push me. I'll move only when the queue does." The baby behind her grinned at me and I glared back. This continued till it was all done, and when I emerged, I got scared at my own reflection. Maa, who wasn't with me during the adventure, asked me if I had been wrestling inside. I gave her a wry smile and muttered about wild babies and barbaric mommies. She missed the point.
The thing is, I'm not an avaricious or compulsive hater of babies. I have been fortunate to meet some cute, cuddly, friendly, ones who didn't throw such tantrums and were mostly what one would call "good". But the majority of the species is rueful, wrathful, conniving, and definitely not innocent. I love childhood, but my favourite part of the phase begins when the child enters the age of comprehension. If I had my way, I would keep them locked up till they were old enough to understand instructions and respect them. If you think I'm cruel, clip my wings; but thank your heavens that I haven't intended ants to carry them away in their baskets. In my neat spinster world, there is neither the time, nor the inclination for such (in reverence for a polite word) neo-natal sentiments. I am dying to return to my city tomorrow and meet my lovely spinster friends, and over coffee, check-out young good-looking men, bitch about the menace that is babies, and discuss at length on how sex is over-rated.