Foetal curiosity

I would never have imagined that two drops of urine could have such an exhilarating effect on my heart, until the day my emotionally elated wife sent me a picture on WhatsApp of her positive pregnancy test. With it was a message: ‘Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’ For a flash, I thought she believed I was Rajnikanth (when you’ve lived in south India too long, that’s the first thing you think of when someone passes a supernatural comment) but the enormity of that statement sunk in after rereading it several times over.

When we met sometime later—which is what happens when you live in different cities—I introduced myself to this new entrant into our lives, taking partial responsibility for this wondrous creation.


“What if the sky was yellow and the sun was blue?” whispered the embryonic voice as I placed my elephantine ears on my gorgeous wife’s gradually growing and glowing belly. After the initial startle and confirming she hadn’t consumed any banned substance (which I’m told happens often during pregnancy) I took a seat and then proceeded in a composed manner.


Just to make sure that the density of the amniotic fluid wasn’t blurring ‘his’ vision, I gave the tummy a little shake. I say ‘his’ but it could just as delightfully be ‘hers’. Since there wasn’t an immediate response from me, there soon came a reminder from inside in the form of a sweet-tempered kick. “Then Van Gogh would have to redo The Starry Night,” I said, with a cocky glee in my eyes, hoping to baffle him completely. I also tried to explain how abstract art would lose its value if convention became confusing. Getting intellectual with a foetus is interesting!


He then interrupted with, “While you’re discussing art, could you please tell me why everyone’s still making such a big deal about the Mona Lisa?”


“The smile is enigmatic; you look at it from any corner and she’s smiling back at you,” I said with some degree of prophecy.


“Try that with me and we’ll give Leonardo da Vinci a run for his money,” he said in a shamelessly charming mutter.


“We can do that with Apple’s new Fetophoto app,” I suggested, and we both had a hearty laugh while mommy dear was baffled with amusement.


As the conversation proceeded, I realised how inquisitive we are when we enter the universe, unhampered by its norms. And then, over the years, we’re taught to conform, measure up to benchmarks, and fulfil goals set for us by others. Like Picasso rightly said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.


“Talk to me about falling in love!” a now amorous voice echoed from within. I figured it was futile to be surprised. On one hand, I was urged to tell him that this might be a wee bit early for him, but on the other, I was glad he’d asked about love before sex.


I told him that I remembered reading somewhere that you don’t fall in love like you fall in a hole; you fall like you’re skydiving through space. It’s like you jump off your own planet to visit someone else’s planet. And when you get there, it all looks so different; the plants, the fruits, the colours people wear. It’s a big surprise because you thought you had everything going right for you on your planet until someone signalled you across space, and the only way you could visit was to take this giant leap. Away you go, falling into someone else’s orbit, and after a while, you might decide to pull your two planets together and call it home. And you can bring your poodle or your cat or your goldfish. And you can bring your friends to visit and you can read your favourite stories to each other. The falling was really the big jump you had to make to be with someone you don’t want to be without. That’s it. You have to be brave I told him.


As I recollected this breathlessly poetic response on falling in love, I could hear a big yawn from my unborn child. So, we quickly shifted focus to discussing a psychoneuroethological approach to happiness, the art of intuition and the difference between curiosity and wonder. We debated on whether scientists prayed and whether religious people had scientific doctrines. In-between, he also quickly checked up on the music and theatre scene in the city, having already been quite a connoisseur of Western classical music, thanks to his mother’s frequent visits to the Symphony of India festival doing the rounds at our NCPA.


I asked him what life was like inside. “It’s like being in Disneyland and Water World at the same time,” he said, as I imagined him bubbling away after his deep-sea dive. He explained to me why fantasy and imaginative escapism are essential for him to satisfy his mental vivacity. “Dreams are both more exciting and more scary than daily life. They are a sign that our brains are fascinating and marvellous machines with powers we don’t often give them credit for. Dreams show us that we are not quite the bosses of our own selves,” he said in a speculating charisma. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye’—a line from the famous book, The Little Prince—is what I was thinking during this little tête-à-tête with this little, way-ahead-of-his-time hero of mine.


After this conversation, I wondered whether my child was no more than God’s curiosity about himself. I had to head back into surgery and he had an agenda that was far beyond anything my elementary mind could comprehend. We both promised each other a lifetime of togetherness on a day when two hearts had become three, but in reality, we were all just one.


I held my wife’s hand, and with an emotional lump in my throat and a tear of joy in my eye, I asked her what she felt about giving birth to our child. She smiled back gently, tilted her head, held both my enormous ears in the palms of her delicate hands, and said, “It’s probably going to feel like giving birth to a car with both its front doors open!”