Monday, April 07, 2008

Rock-a-bye baby.

At the foot of my bed is a steel cupboard. As I lie in bed reading, I sometimes lower the book and look up. My eyes fall on the very special baby rocker stored on top of it. This rocker was specially made when I was born in 1936 in my uncle’s house opposite the Roxy Cinema close to the Royal Opera House. At that time, my father was a Presidency Magistrate presiding at the Girgaum Police Court one the top floor of which the Mankars resided at that time before they moved to 233 Khetwadi Main Road. The rocker is a rectangular cage open at the top with columns on three sides and two poles at the centre of each of the shorter sides. There is a detachable strip on top resting on two knobs at the end of the poles. The aforesaid poles extend downwards and are fitted with two crescents at the floor-level end that allow it to rock without losing its balance or stability. The wood is of an excellent quality and the craftsmanship is so intricate and exquisite that the final effect is what you would call a work of art. You put a baby bed in the cage, cover it, add pillows and bolsters to make the baby safe and secure, slip a mosquito net over the top strip. Quite ingenious, what? Apart from me, several other babies have been rocked to sleep in this rocker. My three nieces: Rekha (now in New Zealand), Shubhada (still in Mumbai), Dnyanada (now a medical practitioner in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), our sons Ashu and Abhi as well as Ashu’s younger daughter Avantika (now in the US of A one and all) are the ones that readily come to mind. It’s possible that the rocker may have rocked many more infants in its seventy and odd years on Planet Earth. (In fact, Ujwal says she can think of at least two more occasions when the rocker went to homes of strangers.) Of the seven known babies it rocked, five now happen to live abroad. This may be no more than a coincidence, of course. I remember the name-giving (christening) ceremony of Ashu. The father’s and the mother’s respective sisters “give” out, i.e., announce, the names chosen by either side. (In Ashu’s case, the two names were Ashutosh, a name of Lord Shiva, and Ashish = "benediction".) Before that, the baby is lifted by one of the aunts and passed to her counterpart from under the bottom of the rocker – a somewhat dicey and risky procedure as far as the poor infant is concerned. I remember seeing this curious rigmarole on six occasions, five of them at 233 Khetwadi Main Road.