"A boy," he said. I was thrilled and overjoyed. A girl. Yes, just as we expected. We had a name ready. Avni. A combination of our names. How cute. Yes, great, that's just perfect. We always wanted a girl and our wishes were fulfilled. A girl. Yaay! "A boy," he said. I heard him just right. A girl. Wait. What? A boy? I'd cleaned my ears just yesterday. I wasn't drunk. This wasn't a dream. Yes, I hadn't slept much last night when my wife was in labour. But I was fully in control of my senses. I pricked my fingers just to check. Ouch. It hurt. I was awake.
The ward boy that had emerged from the maternity ward to give me the good news also looked normal. I could hear him loud and clear. A boy? What? Who wanted a boy? No wait. This guy's wrong. I asked him again "Excuse me, kind sir, may I bother you for a minute? What did you just say? I heard you say 'boy', but I'm so sure you said 'girl'. So, please tell me again. What did you say?" Collectively those words merged into one sound: "Haan?" I stared blankly at him. "Haan?" I stared meaninglessly and helplessly at him. What am I going to do with a boy? Go put him back in. The deal was a girl. No I want a girl. Give this boy back.
I had to take control of my collapsing senses and at least smile. Show that I hadn't completely lost it. So I gathered my thoughts and wits, and smiled. Ward Boy was happy too. He stood there. I stood there. We both looked at each other. He seemed reluctant to leave. Someone, an elder I'm sure, next to me whispered, "Paise do. Khush khabar laya hai." My friend pinched me "Dude, he's waiting for a tip." Slowly, reluctantly, almost unwillingly I fished out a Rs 500 note from my pocket and gave it to him. Ward Boy's smile grew bigger and he seemed thrilled as he left. My friend later told me, "You were mad to give him Rs 500, man. That's too much. You save that money. For the hijras."
All this drama before I even saw my son. And I wasn't even part of the real-life action in the operation theatre. I had forgotten to tell the doctor that I wanted to cut the umbilical cord. I was in a daze when they were wheeling my wife in. I was still recovering from a night of seeing my wife go through labour pains. Nothing had prepared me to see what she was going through. And yet we were told that we were lucky. In the room next to ours, there was another couple that had been there a lot longer without hope of going in for a delivery any time soon. Our friends had had a similar experience. Due to complications, my friend's wife had to spend the last 3 months of her pregnancy lying on a bed at Breach Candy Hospital, without even the luxury of turning over. So, no, I wasn't thinking clearly. I was just relieved that the whole thing was over.
So, cutting the umbilical cord? Not for me. The thought was lying in some forgotten sector in my mental hard drive. Besides, I'm queasy. I shiver and quail at the thought of seeing blood and skin in an operation theatre. So thanks, but no thanks. I will skip that bonding moment between father, mother and child; when the child is too young to remember, the father too dazed to figure out what's happening and the mother focused solely on getting the hell out of the OT. I envy you if you've experienced that emotion. But if I make a list of 'The top 5 regrets of my life', I'm sure that cutting the umbilical cord will not be among them.
So there it was. Finally everything was over. I had to accept that we'd had a boy, not a girl. There was no 'undo' option on this keyboard. Our son was born. All wrapped up, and tucked in. This little bundle with his fists clenched tight. Alternating between sleeping, bawling, and staring. "Give me a break," he seemed to say. "You've seen the world for 36 years, I'm only just seeing it now." Well guess what, it's new to both of us. I'm new to you and you're new to me. And like 2 strangers we stare warily at each other. The start of a new friendship, eh? We'll see about that.
If popular culture is to be believed, this is the definitive unforgettable moment in a man's life. It is best captured in ads. This is the moment when all you can think about is home loans, insurance policies, pension plans, child plans, Maruti cars and suraksha kavach. In my experience, those are the last things you are thinking about. I believe it's different for every father. My friends tell me they were reborn. A few swore to their respective gods that they would quit smoking, drinking, gambling and every other vice the very first moment they set eyes on their newborn. Me? Hell, I didn't know what was happening. Just yesterday I was playing Farmville on Facebook and today I'm a father. Too much to digest. I was too confused. I didn't know what was happening and what lay ahead. It sinks slowly. Very, very slowly. And each moment is a confused world of chaos.
You don't emerge from that world of chaos. You've just seen the beginning. This is the joyride of a lifetime. There are highs, there are lows. It's fun, it's frustrating. It will test you, it will reward you. For a man, this is when it all starts. The transition from bachelor to husband is easy. And yet we crib about shaving-till we see our wives go through labour pains. But, from husband to father? One small step for your kid, one giant step for you.