Babysitters in the East & West : The Tribune India

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Babysitters in the East & West

Babysitters in  the East & West

Photo for representation. File photo



Gouri Sen

I WAS returning by train with my two sons from my parents’ place in Mumbai. Sitting quietly in a corner, staring at the twinkling stars, I mused over my two-week sojourn. Leaving our seven kids in my mother’s care, we (my sister, two-sisters-in law and I) had rushed off almost every day to Colaba or Crawford Market, if not to the Century Bazaar. Ruminating over our shopping frenzy, I was reminded of a story told by my father long ago.

The year was 1946. England was yet to recover from the upheaval caused by World War II. Luxuries were non-existent; necessities were scarce; sugar and baby food were rationed. Life in general was drab and difficult. In those trying times, my father arrived in England. He stayed with a British couple as their paying guest. Mr Smith, his host, who worked as a junior executive in a private firm (later, he became one of the directors) welcomed the additional income. Mrs Smith graciously and promptly attended to all requirements of the guest. She would wash his clothes and even brush his shoes. My father, extremely grateful for these small courtesies, looked for a way to reciprocate their kindness.

When he found the couple had an abiding interest in music, he could think of nothing better than to buy occasional tickets for the operas and musical soirées to enliven the dull London evenings. Mrs Smith would then request her widowed mother to come over to attend to John, their six-year-old son.

Twice they went happily, but when my father suggested a third time, Mrs Smith politely declined. My father was perplexed. He thought that like himself, they had immensely enjoyed these outings. Noting his perplexity, Mrs Smith explained that each time they went out, she had to ask her mother to babysit. And that was hardly fair since she was not compensating her mother for the time spent at her house.

My father was aghast. He could never dream of a grandmother being paid for the time spent with a grandson. He remembered the time when his wife had gone unhesitatingly to her mother’s place during her pregnancy. He recalled the numerous occasions when he had taken out his half-a-dozen brothers and sisters-in-law, along with his wife, leaving all their children in their grandmother’s care. But how could he say all that to Mrs Smith? He acceded to her wishes and that put an end to their occasional outings.

Things have not changed one bit here, for we had done exactly what our parents did decades ago. We had unceremoniously dumped our ‘volcanoes’ with our mother and dashed off on our shopping sprees. My mother would look indulgently at our bedraggled figures when we would troop in, one by one, loaded with parcels, too exhausted to take charge of our kids.

I recalled Rudyard Kipling’s lines: ‘East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.’

#Mumbai


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