Since she was a month old, eM’s been taken for walks twice a day. We walk to the two parks that are on each end of our road, and stop to watch the cows, hens, dogs, and birds on the way. Ever so often, we see a herd of goats or cows. On one memorable occasion, a passing political parade even included a camel and a horse!
Apart from stopping to look at these animals (which gives us a chance to practice our animal sounds), we invariably pause to chat with at least twenty people every day too.
There are quite a few children on our street, and they’re fascinated by eM. ‘Is she hungry? Does she have teeth? But then how will she learn to eat?’ They give her their footballs, and fly their kites for her; they show her pieces of chalk, and tell her about the time they went swimming. She, in turn, is happy to be the centre of attention and babbles back happily. She often finds the most active child around, and tries very hard to keep up with them!
The other demographic with whom we spend a lot of time is retirees and old people. Some of them are brisk walkers, reminding me of my dad. Others walk for the atmosphere, delighting in the birds and the flowers. All of them tell me about their children when they were young, or their grandchildren near or far. There’s a wistfulness in their voices when they talk about infants, and they’re as delighted as any child when eM waves and says ‘Hi!’ to them with a big beaming smile.
This being India, the land of zero political correctness, quite a few people intrude our personal space and pass on unwanted advice (often misinformed, if well-intentioned). There was one memorable instance early on when a person I’d never met before stuck her head out of the seventh floor window of a flat down the road, and yelled, ‘Go home! Go back home! Go now!’ Apparently you’re not ‘supposed’ to take babies out until they’re a year old. When faced with ‘suggestions’ like these, I either stretch the truth a little and say I don’t understand the local language at all; or, if pushed, snap back. (“If you put her in a carrier, she won’t ever learn how to walk.” To which my response was, “She knows how to walk, do YOU even know how carriers work?”)
Among the people we meet frequently is an apple-cheeked old lady with paper-thin skin. She walks a little way with us daily. There’s always a smile on her face. She seems to talk to everyone in the (admittedly small) neighbourhood. She even introduced us to her visiting relatives, undaunted by the fact that I understand very little of what she says in Telugu! However, she isn’t a chatterbox. She listens as much as she talks. She doesn’t try to pull eM away or tug at her cheeks. She has a low, pleasant voice. In short, she’s exactly the kind of person I look forward to meeting.
However, for the last two months, we haven’t seen her, either on the walks, or in the courtyard of her house. I hoped she’d gone to one of her other children’s houses. I tried changing our walks’ timings each day, so we could find her. Just when I’d given up, I saw her leaning against the gate of her house this morning. She’d shrunk to half her already-elfin size. Her voice was a whisper as she said she’d fallen down and broken her hip. She had been on bed rest, with no way to get up or even talk, but, she said, “I saw you & the baby from my window every day. I didn’t want you to worry when you couldn’t see me.”
eM smiled at her then, and the old woman’s face lit up in a familiar wide beam, despite her obvious pain.
Encounters like these make me realize how special a baby can be. Would I ever have noticed this tiny old woman if it wasn’t for eM? What would she find to be happy about? Having a baby, and walking with them, allows for more social engagements than we would otherwise have. Each conversation, even if some are frustrating, are enriching experiences. In a generation where virtual connections supercede regular interactions, these are an easy way to connect and brighten yours, and other people’s’ days.
Do you walk with your baby?
Eight years into her journey from digital marketing newb to ninja, Akshaya has worked with the giants (Google), as well as startups (Anahat), and start-ups on their way to becoming giants (Zomato). She’s now working with the most challenging startup of them all – her baby girl – while freelancing. Every now & then, she gives up on the three hours of sleep available to her, and blogs at New Girl in Toronto.