Bhavani Nayel is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer, and combines classical and folk styles in her performances. Her children include a daughter, a son, and a rambunctious Golden Retriever named Leo. She takes us through her journey as a mother, and shares what it is like to have two children so far apart in age.
I grew up in a suburb of Mumbai called Bandra. Most people know it as a swanky, upmarket pocket of the city, teeming with couturiers on every street and gourmet bakeries on every corner. Back when I was young, Bandra was yet to acquire this avatar. Then, it was a bustling, rustic, homely little locality, where neighbours went out of the way to help you, and Diwali brought the whole street together. I started learning Bharatnatyam at the age of 4, and as I grew, it became part of my identity.
I became a mother for the first time in 1989, when I was 23. I’d married into a joint family that was based in Delhi, and soon after my daughter, Vaishnavi, was born, she became the apple of everybody’s eye. She was the first girl on my husband’s side after many decades, and I suppose she filled the home with a certain sparkle that only daughters can. As a first-time mother, I tried my best to give her a model upbringing. I nursed her until she was 16 months old, and introduced her to formula only after that. My father-in-law would pick her up from the bus stop after school, tell her stories and spoil her rotten. She would wear my dance students’ footwear as a ploy to make them stay and play with her. Oh, the hilarity of it all. One night, I distinctly remember that she threw a fit, howling that she wanted oranges. It was ten o’clock at night; hardly a time to venture into the market. And yet, my father-in-law, unable to witness her tearful face, set out and returned with a bag full of luscious oranges. You should have seen her delighted face!
We moved to England in the autumn of 1996, when my daughter was six-and-a-half. My husband, Devesh, had been transferred on a project for a year. From the fiery heat of Delhi to the fierce chill of London, it was an adjustment for us in more ways than one. Those days, there was no concept of data calling. There was a gateway through which you’d have to dial in, to make an international call. And the rates were exorbitant. Somehow, Vaishnavi deciphered the gateway code, and would sneak away upstairs when she was back from school, to make a daily call to her grandparents. The first month, we worked up a phone bill of £100, after which Devesh ruefully deactivated the international calling service.
At the end of our first year, as is common with most expat projects, Devesh’s project was extended by another year. My daughter wasn’t pleased. And in a bid to appease her, we thought about having a second child. We hadn’t considered having a second child while we were in India, because we were content with the way things were. With so many people in the household, we never felt a dearth of company. But life in London, as a nuclear family, was different.
On 13th June, 1998, I gave birth to my second child, a bonny, chubby-cheeked little boy. Jay’s upbringing was vastly different to my daughter’s. In Delhi, children used to flock to the park outside our home to play. In London, when I’d take Jay to the park, I’d notice the other children, playing independently, and then returning to their mothers when they were finally ready to go home. I found that children didn’t socialise as easily and didn’t engage in baby banter with each other. Instead, I resorted to fixing playdates for Jay, reserving time from other parents in advance for a few hours in the evening this day or that. It was all very formal, and now that I think back, rather amusing.
By 2003, Devesh’s professional base had become London. But there was a gnawing in our hearts, urging us to go home. We returned to India in October 2003, when Jay was 5 years old and Vaishnavi, 13. My children have always been poles apart. My daughter has been academic since she was young, while my son excels in football and table tennis. I feel that their environments have played a large role in moulding their personalities. My son is more reserved, probably an influence of his formative years in London, while my daughter is vociferous and animated in her conversations.
My children are eight-and-a-half years apart, a gap I sometimes feel is too large. We should have probably planned a second child sooner. With a smaller age gap, siblings grow through the same phases of life together, become each other’s confidants and can relate to each other. My children treasure each other, and are now at a stage where they share experiences and confide in each other. It’s funny when I think back to my childhood; despite an age gap of only four years between me and my sister, I always thought of her as a child. It’s only when we entered our late teens that I began to think of her as an equal. I think it happens with all siblings.
I sometimes draw differences between my upbringing and my children’s. When I was growing up, my sister and I were sheltered. My school was around the corner, and my junior college, a few lanes away. It was only when I started my degree that I started travelling by local train alone, for the first time. During the summer, our parents encouraged us to swim, cycle, draw, paint and dance. Amma would hail a bus in the sweltering Mumbai heat, and take us to the Olympic Swimming pool in Shivaji Park to learn swimming, in spite of her busy work schedule at home in a joint family. Back then, sleepovers meant a night spent at my grandparents’ house. I owe a lot to my parents. They showered us with so much love, encouragement and support. Wherever they went, they took us with them; no parties or movies by themselves. They always put us before them.
I think I’ve evolved as a mother. With my first child, I was new, young and held back a little. We lay importance on academics, and while we encouraged Vaishnavi to pursue Hindustani classical music, tennis and theatre, we always considered academics of a higher priority. With Jay, Devesh and I have both loosened up a bit. He has always been a sporty, athletic child, and we’ve let him follow his heart. We don’t wince when he tells us he has a tournament two days before an exam, or that he has a fest to prepare for when he has an assignment to submit the next day. Time can work wonders on parents. I think I’ve become more seasoned with time.