It’s 10 am and time for baby’s bath. I love this time of day when the house is empty and there’s just baby and me. The bell rings and I hear the jangle of Subhadra’s keys and the shuffle of her slippers as she removes them by the door. Swishing her huge behind, she comes into the room and immediately starts talking .
“What to do, that woman from upstairs made me wait for 1 hour. She was having her coffee. I told her that I had to give baby a bath and she just wouldn’t listen.”
Every day Subhadra had a different tale of woe. Sometimes it was her “useless son” who wouldn’t get up, sometimes it was the “wretched traffic which slowed down the bus” , sometimes it was the rain that made it impossible for her to come on time. Whatever the excuse, the end result was the same – she managed to come at exactly 9.45 rather than the 9 o’clock we’d decided upon.
Baby didn’t seem to mind the extra few minutes she got to sleep in and as Subhadra gathered the oil and mixture of turmeric cream and some besan she yawned and stretched herself out like a contented cat. She loved her oil massage and bath, a morning ritual that was unchanged since her great grand mother’s time.
And Subhadra, despite her bent back and cracked skin, loved massaging babies.
She let the bath water run and sat down on the low stool on the bathroom floor. Deflty she picked up the baby and lay her across her outstretched legs. She quickly took off baby’s clothes and dipped one finger in the warm oil. She put one spot of oil on baby’s forehead, one at the base of her neck, on her stomach, on each of her limbs and then began her massage.
Starting out with the arms, she oiled each limb and gently massaged the oil inside with upward strokes and concluded the arm massage by folding them tightly folded across baby’s chest. “This is for your strong arms,” she crooned while baby lay still, enjoying the passive exercise. She repeated this with her legs as folded them up to baby’s chest, “Strong legs for you to run,” Subhadra intoned, ” so that you can become a squash champion like your mother.”
Then she poured a bit of oil into her palm and dabbed it generously on the fontanelle. She rubbed the head vigorously so that her “hair would be thick and long”. She stroked the forehead gently and then pressed the nose upward toward the bridge so that she gets a “nice sharp nose” and finally flipped her over to her stomach to give the back a gentle rub down.
I helped her with the water, pouring it on my baby’s body and handed her over the catori of fresh cream, turmeric and besan. “This is to remove the hair” she said and I rolled my eyes. How long will we continue believing these old wives tales? Can body hair really be removed with besan? But I indulged her because I knew that what my granny did couldn’t be wrong for as far as I know she never visited a beauty parlor in all her life.
“Here’, said Subhadra handing over the baby to me as I received her in a soft pink towel. I gently patted her dry and then dressed her with fresh clothes, placed her in her swaddle cloth and made her into a “kathi kabab roll”. Before I could even put my little bundle of love down in her cradle, she was fast asleep.
“See,I told you a traditional massage and bath is the best way to keep a baby happy. They sleep well after a good massage and it is when they sleep that they grow.And from tomorrow, you’re going to grow up and give your baby a massage.”
Looking at my little angel, I doubted if I could be as good as Subhadra who as though sensing my hesitation prodded me in the shoulder and said,” What are you scared of? Aren’t you one of the babies I’ve massaged? All my babies are big and strong and fearless. So stop being a baby and enjoy massaging your own baby.”
She tucked her sari , put on her slippers and let herself out.