Accuweather tells me it’s 41 degrees out. Inside, it’s even hotter.
The cramped room seats about thirty people, with plenty more hovering around. A family of four is seated in the middle of the noisy throng. The mother has just given birth to her second child two weeks ago; her stomach, under the swathe of her silk sari, shows evidence of her recent pregnancy. Her hair has been teased back into a traditional plait, and heavy wedding-worthy ornaments have been weaved through it.
Her two year old daughter has been dressed to match her, in a miniature silk sari of her own, with elaborate ornamentation and dabs of kohl across her eyes. A combination of sweat and indignant tears have caused the kohl to streak across the child’s face, and she lets out sporadic shrieks of protest.
No one’s paying much attention to the small bundle in the mother’s hands. All of a fortnight old, the newborn nestles in a silk kurta-jabba set that he’s still too tiny for. Silver anklets weigh his legs down, his hands have bangles tied onto them so that they don’t fall off. Heavy kajal obstructs his forehead in a mark to ward off the evil eye; it streaks under his virgin eyes that have barely managed to hold themselves open yet. He tries to lift a hand feebly, to move a leg, to open his eyes and see where he is. The effort overwhelms him.
Overhead, the fan has been switched off so that the priest’s deity-invoking smoke can rise up to Heaven as intended. “The baby must be cold!” someone says, bringing a knitted woollen hat over. The oldest woman in the gathering intercepts the hat, and fumbles with it. The hands which have just been showcasing her new leg injury to passers-by brush against the baby multiple times as she attempts to get the too-big hat to stay in place on his head. Satisfied, she picks up the baby, and passes him to the next person. The baby gets shunted around the room full of crowded strangers, none of whom bother to sanitize their hands, regardless of whether they’d just been eating the hot jalebis that have been passed around the room at the same time as the infant.
Three hours of smoke filled chanting later, the priest announces the name of the baby. The crowd queues up to press gift envelopes and teeny baby clothes into the hands of the parents. Some of the attendees head to their homes in the same building. Others head to the parking lot downstairs, where lunch has been displayed in buffet fashion along a rickety wooden table.
“Will the rest come down for lunch later?” I ask.
“They’re not Brahmins,” someone explains sotto voce. “We can’t give them food on auspicious occasions.”
… This is, indeed, 2016. Why do we do this to babies? Why do we do this to ourselves? What kind of a legacy are we passing on when we begin an infant’s life with this kind of thing in the name of tradition?
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.