Shahid Kapoor cancelled his film commitments to help take care of his newborn daughter. That is a good thing. She’s his best release this year. I did a similar thing when my son was born. My job as a professional word clown allows me the Baba Ramdev (read: flexibility) to do this. Most normal jobs don’t have this Shilpa Shetty yoga DVD (read: flexibility) that my BFF Shahid and I have. A majority of men have normal jobs and, hence, don’t share similar luxuries with regards to their bundles of joy.
Yes, husbands seem largely useless at feeding babies — because, you can’t play tennis with a mosquito racket. Our main job then is burping the baby, a task that gives us great pride. When I first successfully burped my son, I felt like Tenzing Norgay when he let Edmund Hillary reach Everest first. But, there’s so much more — you’re your wife’s intern, coach and errand boy. And, after carrying and pushing out life from inside her, she deserves nothing less.
Fortunately, we also had a nanny or a jaapa. It made taking care of this brand new human being much easier. But, there was still work. Our army of three could not contain this excitable Rajpal Yadav. And, here is the truth: it is extremely hard for every couple to afford the same. Jaapas cost almost as much as it would to get a return ticket to Japan, with the price of the Dreamliner included. Plus jaapas are largely a new thing.
Traditionally, Indians tend to have joint families, a perpetual Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. So, at any given point in time, there are 34 people and one Alok Nath to help with a newborn. However, these days, more families are going Kim Jong Un (read: nuclear), which leaves one husband, one wife and one reluctant cook, who is hoping for a bonus the size of Africa to compensate for cleaning a tiny person’s poop, to take care of the baby.
Maneka Gandhi and her Ministry of Women and Child Welfare announced 26 weeks of maternity leave, which is good, despite some criticism as to its implementation. The surprising part is it took so long. Till three days before my birth as a human (more or less), my mother used to go to work and back by DTC buses. She tells me this story with nonchalance. Though, my sister alleges that every bump by those suicidal DTC buses was a bump in the realignment of my brain.
The truth is that a majority of Indian women still deal with pregnancy in similar or tougher circumstances. Babies in our country pop out so often, we often forget what a miracle every birth actually is. And, also that having a baby is a lot like maintaining a car: you have to do lots of after-sale service, ie, breastfeeding and the like. Almost 30 per cent of all Indian babies are malnourished, which stems from not getting enough mothers’ milk. A fact endorsed by a WHO study, which is about three centuries behind every nani or dadi.
Women get 26 weeks leave from work to allow them to feed their babies and make them strong John Abraham or PV Sindhu type individuals. Men employed in the government services get 15 days, which is the same as most Europeans countries — so, fair.
However, Maneka Gandhi’s statement that husbands will take a vacation if they get more days, was unfair. Taking care of a baby is not a vacation. It is a hostage situation. Except your terrorist is a tiny monkey type creature that uses tears and poop as weapons of mass destruction. My idea of vacation is not cleaning someone else’s diaper, barely sleeping, running around aimlessly, sitting in a room that smells like a broken toilet and having arguments over whose idea it was to have this baby. At the moment, the 26-week maternity leave is a good initiative. And, maybe, for most Indian families, paternity leave is still an alien concept. But, to dismiss the very essence of fatherhood as a “vacation” is silly. Fatherhood is not a vacation available on MakeMyTrip — it is a ceaseless journey of sleepless paranoid nights on WebMD — spent reassuring your wife everything is OK.
An aunt of mine still remembers when she stopped voting for Indira Gandhi. It was when Sanjay Gandhi’s widow, Maneka, was thrown out of her mother in-law’s house — like an evicted Bigg Boss contestan,t but, with more callousness and no prize money. It was a publicly recorded moment of brutal heartlessness on part of the Iron Lady (Indira, not Pepper Potts). And, one can only imagine how hard it was to raise a young boy alone for Maneka. I’m sure she understands the travails of parenting.
The maternity law is great. But, we fathers are not half bad. We’re not on vacation — even though sometimes we mentally wish we were in Sweden sipping cheap beer and forgetting our responsibilities! And, guess what, the mothers are sitting right next to us, sipping and smiling, but hoping we have enough money left over from this fantasy vacation to hire a jaapa!
But, it’s Sweden so it’s okay. We have 18-week paternity leave here.
Sorabh Pant is a comedian and has a standup show about his son, My Baby Thinks I’m Funny. Follow him on Twitter @hankypanty.