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The long journey to find home

LiveMint logoLiveMint 13-04-2017 Natasha Badhwar

We were still relatively newly married when we decided to pack our bags and elope. I was seven months pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know it yet, but we were on a journey to find home. To create one between us.

We arrive in Port Blair on a sunny day. The flight is turbulent and I dutifully throw up in the barf bags provided. I don’t know it yet but I will be hopelessly sea-sick when I leave the Andaman and Nicobar islands five months later by ship. Between these bouts of barfing though, we will discover a thousand million reasons to stay together, stay alive and stay here forever.

I live in my own cocoon in these months of pregnancy. My nesting instinct has kicked in but I have chosen to build a camper van kind of nest. I am carrying a dhurrie that I will roll on the floor of every hotel, resort and home-stay room where we will unpack our bags for the next five months. I am carrying books and stationery and tank tops I expect to wear again as soon as the baby is born.

Unlike my expectations, Port Blair is a sleepy, provincial town. From our balcony, we see women with umbrellas crossing the runway at the airport in the middle of the day, taking a short cut from one part of the city to another. A fire engine visits the football field every night to water the grass. I waddle into dark, cool rooms in aquatic museums mesmerized by fish and other sea life. I can see God at work and I note in my diary that God is a designer.

We register me in the obstetrics and gynaecology OPD of the government-run GB Pant Hospital on the same day that we visit the Cellular Jail in Port Blair. The two campuses share a boundary wall. I feel intensely emotional walking past the jail cells looking at the small window in the stone wall from where inmates could see a piece of sky. We eat ice cream at the beach. He takes a photo of me. My face is still mine but my body contours are all about our soon-to-be-born daughter.

We rarely talk about the baby. He concentrates entirely on maps, routes and me. I refer to her as Baby Popo and send text messages to my brother on her behalf. He texts back to her.

Despite my preparations and all the reading I have done, the process of birthing the baby leaves me shocked. There is helplessness and humiliation, yelling and tears. There is nothing natural about a natural delivery, I write to my friends.

The first thing I do while I am still on the birthing table is ask to hold the baby and sing to her. She knows my voice, she knows this song. Some things do come naturally to me. On her way out, the gynaecologist tells my husband that the baby looks exactly like him.

There are no books he could have read to prepare himself. He cooks, cleans, washes clothes and goes out to send emails and make phone calls to his family. He gets his Yamaha RX 100 shipped from Delhi to Port Blair. He needs wheels. He is restless.

We go to Ross Island on the same day that we get the immunization shots for our baby at the hospital. We take a ship to Havelock Island on the day we get her birth certificate from the municipal office. I notice the inky black colour of the waters. This is where the name Kala Pani comes from.

We have stopped talking to each other in the way we are used to. Yet we have designed a formula that makes us stick to each other. We may have lost the words between us but we still have to figure out the routes we take every day. We are distracted by external challenges.

At some point, we calm down and begin to recognize each other again. After the misery and desperation of the first few weeks, I have learnt to demand-feed the baby anytime, anywhere. He has learnt to burp her and rock her to sleep. We are world champions at changing diapers by the roadside.

Before the rain reaches us, I see tranches of it sweeping towards us from a distance. On our bike we drive to national parks and reach places from where he can go for short treks. He wants to go snorkelling but the idea makes me panic. Baby sleeps in a hammock, swaddled in my soft blue Bandhini dupatta. I take photos of her beatific face. He returns from snorkelling and tells me that he didn’t enjoy himself like he expected to.

Sometimes it feels lonely, and sometimes the silence is extraordinarily comforting. There is always baby. Gentle, smiling baby, responding to my gibberish, being comforted by his touch. Teaching us to stay in control.

We have discovered a dhaba where we eat a dosa and fried fish thali for Rs10 every day. I am still eating more than him and it makes me very happy. The tank tops can wait.

We travel to Little Andaman sitting on the floor of a ship for 9 hours with hundreds of island people. We hear Bangla, Tamil, Kannada and the distinct east UP accented Hindi around us. On the island, we go to meet the original inhabitants of Little Andaman. An Onge woman holds my baby and I hold hers. We have no other language to speak to each other. Their poverty is heartbreaking.

We sit on the rocks by the beach looking out at the dance of the waves. I soak in shades of purple, lilac, aqua and green. They cleanse the clutter in my head. This light and these colours will always stay with me.

There is a lesson in being face to face with the drastic beauty of nature that isn’t always translatable into words. The silence it inspires is a conversation with the self.

Home is a place you create inside yourself, we discover. It is a landing ground whenever we need to touch base with our own selves. The further we travel to immerse ourselves in an unfamiliar world, the closer we get to ourselves.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

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