Chitra Ramaswamy: Soon I’ll be the Invisible Woman

Chitra Ramaswamy. Picture: TSPL
Chitra Ramaswamy. Picture: TSPL
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IN FOUR weeks or so I’ll have a new title. So far in my 34 years on this planet I’ve been a baby, a girl, a teenager, a woman, a graduate, a journalist, a Londoner, an Indian (in Britain), a Britisher (in India), a British Asian (on 20th century forms), an Anglo Indian (on 21st century forms), a bisexual (on no forms) and a columnist. Next up? A mother.

It still sounds strange to my ear, like the first time I was called madam in a restaurant. It makes me feel younger than my years, more daughter than mother. And it still conjures up a host of grown-up things beyond my chubby-handed reach. Things like car seats, parents’ evenings, lipstick kisses, saris, great big supermarket shops, and, of course, Ma Ramaswamy. Yet somehow, I am about to become Ma Ramaswamy too. It seems impossible. And yet…

Any woman my age will have got used to answering the question that starts coming at us, usually without warning, in our twenties and stops – who knows when? A maddeningly personal yet oddly mundane question; the kind of conversation filler that’s thrown around as freely as “any nice holidays planned?” is at the hairdresser. Sometimes it’s welcome, sometimes it irritates, and yes, sometimes it saddens too.

“Do you have children?” And always the answer is the same. No. And then silently, to ourselves… not yet… or not now… or not ever.

Soon my answer, after years of “not yet”, will be yes. A yes as simple, profound, and satisfying as the last word of Ulysses. At parties (which I realise I won’t be going to for a 
while) people will ask me what I do, and instead of saying “I’m a journalist”, I will say “I’m a mother”. Then instead of wanting to ask me about the demise of the newspaper industry or my worst ever interview, I’ll watch them glaze over and look for someone more interesting to talk to.

Motherhood, despite being amongst the most difficult and poorly-paid jobs in the world, is dismissed as brainless, boring, and obsessed with the contents of nappies. Or worse still, it’s as invisible as the woman struggling down the stairs with a buggy as commuters rush by. I’m about to become that invisible woman. Maybe I should take advantage of my new superpower and get up to some mischief. Tweak some noses. Carry lots of buggies up stairs. Because surely motherhood can be cheeky, wild, kind and subversive too.

First, though, come these last few weeks of limbo. All is waiting and solitude. As of tomorrow, and for a while, there will be no more paid work and no more column. My time will be spent stocking up on sleepsuits and figuring out breast pads. Things that mothers do. It will be a time for reading all afternoon, learning how to nap, and going on slow, methodical walks with Daphne in an attempt to get the baby’s head to go down for labour. There aren’t many times as knowingly transitional as this one. What will life look like on the other side? Who will I be? What will this new person in my life look like? Happily, scarily, I have no idea. But when I have some answers, I’ll let you know.