It takes a baby to make new friends
Babies are like magnets as anyone who’s held a baby will attest. What is it about babies that draws everyone’s attention? What attracts everyone to these little souls? Is it their helplessness? Is it their cuteness? Is it their shy smile? Is it their big eyes? Or is it their softer than soft, soft skin? I’m sure no one knows the answer to these questions but what is undeniable is their universal attraction and their ability to change your world inside out.
It’s been almost two years now since Little P came into our lives. We’ve been in the building for more years than that but ever since he arrived, our circle of friends has expanded. He has served to break the ice in many, many ways. Suddenly family that had been holding on to grudges began smiling when we met, neighbours whom we never glanced at began nodding in recognition, people whom we never knew existed invited us to baby parties and all of a sudden our world which had begun to contract with our empty nest began expanding yet again.
Old Mr. Variava was the grumpiest man in our building. With his long nose and huge ears that stuck out, his slow ambling gait and a brow permanently crossed in consternation, my girls used to call him the Big Friendly Giant though he was neither big nor friendly. For years he would go about his business, slinking in and out of the building in complete silence and oblivious to everything till one day we found out that he had become a grandfather. All of us were surprised that he had become a grandfather because we didn’t even know he had a daughter. Of course we knew that he was a widower (and that partly explained his taciturn and almost stern demeanour) but none of us even knew he had a daughter, least of all a daughter who was married! And what brought about this revelation, you may ask? Quite simply – the birth of his grandson early last year. Suddenly everyone found Mr. Variava going every morning to the hospital with some homemade tea for his daughter, his gait distinctly faster and more sure and then a week later, he brought home his daughter and grandson proudly announcing their arrival with the tooting of the horn! A month later he dropped off a box of chocolates in every flat proudly announcing the arrival of his grandson and within weeks he was seen in the garden, pushing the pram with his grandson, his joy evident in his beaming face as he smiled at everyone. All at once he was embraced yet again by our building community and included in the daily chatter of neighbours passing by. Since then he makes it a point to stop and talk to me especially when I have P with me, chatting away in Gujerati that I can’t understand but which obviously makes P listen to wisely.
There’s nothing really like a baby to break the ice. Indeed, the frostiest of frosty faces breaks into a smile when confronted with a toothless wonder staring at him/her with those huge big innocent eyes. I can never forget an incident at the Club when P was only 6 months’ old. I had gone there hoping to enjoy a quiet morning in the company of my family when all of a sudden KN crept up quietly from behind my daughter’s chair. Normally he would have said a cheery “hi” and gone ahead with his business without so much as bothering about our response; but this time he crept up slowly and stealthily to catch the attention of my little grandson sitting in my lap. Before I knew it the little fellow began to wriggle in my arms and then started waving his hands in excitement saying “ta, ta, ta,ta” his latest word. This was all it needed to get KN galvanized into action, swooping down and taking the little fellow in his arms. Little P giggled and cooed as KN twirled him down the verandah, dancing cheek to cheek, humming “the Blue Danube”, and showing a side of KN which none of us ever knew existed.
He was then Little P was grabbed by Mr. L who we all knew was a confirmed bachelor and whom we always imagined to be allergic to children. But surprisingly, Mr. L seemed to be a pro as far as babies were concerned and kept Little P engaged with all kinds of noises and faces which made him cackle with glee.
All through the morning, Little P grabbed eyeballs and we discovered many members who were otherwise just strangers in passing. Every time he flashed his gummy toothless grin and wiggled coyly, or made his pumpkin face, the women would gush “Ooh my look at that choochie woochie” while the macho men who would normally go by in a rush, ready to grab a game of squash or tennis would stop and chuck him under the chin promising to play a game with him some time in the future whenever he was ready to do so!
While babies draw attention to themselves and you, bringing on unsolicited advice and suggestions you could well do without, they also serve to break the ice. The other day, I found Mrs. S waving frantically to me and asking about little P. For someone who hardly spoke a word to me, I was, for a moment wondering what brought along this sudden warmth when suddenly it dawned on me that finally we shared a common ground – we both were grandmothers and it wasn’t long before we were sharing notes, comparing milestones and anecdotes, exchanging recipes and formulas and chatting away like old friends. Since then our worlds have collided many times with both of us watching our grandsons play in the garden.