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Continuing with The TamBrahm Series, this post is about the customs, traditions, fanfare and the social attitudes that women tend to exhibit towards pregnancy, in "educating" the mother-to-be on what to expect and quite successfully scaring the living daylights out of her. This is Part 9 of the TamBrahm Series. Am also posting the links to the earlier 8 posts in the TamBrahm series.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 1) Jaadagam Eduthacha - Horoscope matching and bride viewing. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 2) Nischayathaartham - The Engagement Ceremony. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 3) The Wedding Part 1. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 4) The Wedding Part 2. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 5) Kalyana Saddhi (The wedding feast) and Nalangu (games after the wedding). Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 6) Shanti Muhurtham a.k.a The Wedding Night a.k.a Suhaag Raat. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 7) Valaikaapu and Seemantham Part 1. Click here to view the post.
The TamBrahm Series (Part 8) Valaikaapu and Seemantham Part 2. Click here to view the post.
Once all the fanfare of the Valaikaapu and Seemantham have settled, I mean once the dust has settled, it is time for the parents and the in-laws to decide upon when the expectant mother can go over to her parents’ house. I mean, she can go over anytime she chooses to but given the TamBrahms’ penchant for muhurthams, there simply has to be one for this situation too. After all, she is going over to her parents’ house and she will be staying there for a month or so after her delivery. More importantly, she is carrying the next generation of the family. So, finding a muhurtham is an absolute essential.
The family priest is consulted and he, in turn, consults the religious calendar and somehow, a consensus is arrived upon. I’m making the word consensus sound like some sort of magic because people, trust me, it is. The word “consensus” is just about as rare between a set of TamBrahm parents and in-laws as would be torrential rain in the deserts of Arabia. It simply does not happen. They just have to differ – it is a compulsion of some sort – they have to differ. Period !! I’ve always wondered why there is as much of a fuss as there actually is, over this “going to her parents’ place” thing. There are many instances where the parents live in the adjacent building but that does not, in any way, diminish anything. People still behave as though the expectant mother is embarking on a journey to Timbaktu, for her delivery.
When the expectant mother leaves her in-laws home for her parents’ home for her first delivery, there is this weird custom of sticking twigs of the curry leaf plant or the neem tree (I can’t seem to remember which one but there definitely are twigs in the picture) in her clothes – not in her, mind you, in her clothes. Yet again, this is one of the customs which don’t seem to have any logical cause-effect relationship. Or even if there is one, it is not something people seem aware of. It has become more a case of “twigs were stuck into my clothes so I’ll stick some into yours” kind of a thing.
I remember many of those twigs being stuck in many different parts of my clothing until I resembled a plant which started growing with the full gusto of a teen hitting a growth spurt and somewhere along the way, suddenly decided that it did not want to grow any more. Just like that ! Had some Red Indian tribes seen me then, I would have been elected their chieftain, unopposed. Simply put, I was a sight ! Just when I thought that was the end of my “make up” session, someone handed me an iron knife. I kid you not !! There I was, with a forehead that looked like Morse Code because of the number of dots and dashes of Kumkum on it, with twigs sticking out of many different areas in my clothes, brandishing a large iron knife. Truth be told, I must have looked like an exemplary cross between an Red Indian Chieftain from some far away tribe and Phoolan Devi !! Had it been put to the vote, we would have had a hung Parliament, for sure.
I simply did not know what to do with that iron knife and neither did any other person around. All they knew was that an iron knife was to be given to the expectant mother. What she was supposed to do with it or more importantly, what she was not supposed to do with it, no one helpfully knew. I mean, a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy would not really need a large iron knife even for self-defence because even if she had a large knife, defending herself or attacking someone in that condition, would have been a mighty effort. So yes, that is another one of those traditions, the answer to which no one knows !!
Once at her parents’ place, the expectant mother will have a steady stream of relatives and other mamis from all over the neighbourhood, stopping by to visit her. Now when they come over to visit a pregnant lady, they always bring goodies with them. Usually it is some home made savouries and sweets. The timing could not have been worse, I say. That late in pregnancy, women usually cut down on food intake because of the acid reflux situation. If Lady Luck has been rather unkind, they would also have to watch their diet because of gestational diabetes or some such transitory phenomenon. Now, this lady who has been asked to cut down on salty stuff (because she cannot risk sending her BP shooting up), oily, spicy stuff (because of acid reflux) or sweets (probably gestational diabetes), will have a large variety of goodies on which she can feast her eyes and only her eyes. It is small wonder then that many women, late in pregnancy, are known to go looking for walls …. To bang their heads on !!
When these helpful mamis come visiting, they also bring along a wealth of experience to share with the expectant mother – whether she likes it or not, whether she wants it or not. I, for instance, was told my many a mami that labour is so difficult and so painful that it is as good as a rebirth for the woman going through it. In this instance, me !! While I’m sure it is said with all good intentions, it does not help at all, at that stage of pregnancy. As it is, the expectant mothers are quite apprehensive because they simply do not know what to expect. To top this, to fill their heads with horror stories is not really a good idea. The fear factor climbs exponentially and since ladies at that stage of pregnancy are not able to sleep much anyway, they have a whole lot of time at their disposal to imagine and conjure up all sorts of situations, most of them involving horrible or terrible pain. No, it does not help ! What would help, under these circumstances, is having a sane voice of reason, one that does not hide the fact that there is a whole armload of pain waiting but one that also says, in the same breath, that it is very much doable.
When one is a novice, there is always a fair amount of trepidation, of fear because one is basically stepping into the unknown. In the case of couples expecting their first baby, this anxiety hits exponential levels because as the due date looms larger, appears closer, it always gives things a “larger-than-life” feeling. That is when it hits people square in the head, that is when the penny drops, sinks even. They are bringing a new life into the world and their responsibility as parents does not end with that. On the contrary, that is when it begins. The very thought of being responsible for another little human being, his/her well-being, of raising another member of society is quite a huge responsibility and the thought is a very humbling one, to put it mildly.
Not to sound sexist here, but women experience more anxiety towards the end because if there is one thing any living being wants to avoid, it is pain. Having their heads filled with innumerable tales of how extremely painful and distressing labour is, does not help. Yes, expectant mothers (even ones expecting their first baby) do know, people, that labour is painful. The least other ladies can do is present facts (if they are asked for or called for) without making the whole thing sound like one of those Saas Bahu serials, which are so utterly long drawn out, overly dramatic and excessively painful.
I still remember how many mamis had sworn then that they almost died of the pain, they saw stars in the daylight, they “went to heaven and came back” (now why anyone would want to do that, is beyond me !) and what have you. Even worse is when the whole thing turns into a lamenting saga on “this is why women should not be born as women”! Huh ???!!!! What’s that even supposed to mean ? Anyway, no disrespect meant, but when one of these sagas would begin, I had trained my brain to switch off. There were but a few ladies who sounded extremely practical about the whole thing. What society needs is more ladies like them around. We need people that actually infuse confidence in expectant mothers, ones that state things for what they are or what to expect rather than overly dramatize the whole issue.
On that rather rebellious note, let’s leave the expectant mother at her parents’ house, for now, where she waits. We’ll leave the expectant parents as they wait for the magic to happen, wait for the moment when they will touch their newborn baby for the first time, gaze into the baby’s eyes for the first time, when they will stare at those little tiny fingers and toes and feel that little being tugging at their heartstrings with a force they’ve never experienced before, when they will be completely bowled over by the sheer force of nature in all its glory and they will experience love for a little human being as an emotion in its purest form.