The year of living in intimacy … and imperfection

Two weddings including a trip to India. The birth of my son. Contemplating this year leaves me with the “is this really happening to me” feeling in a good way. Suddenly it seemed everything fell into place in life in a compressed space of time. While this was the wonderful episode of life in 2010, the struggles for me as a husband and parent were also going on in the background.

Managing to travel back and forth between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, doing a film on Mekong fishing were the livelihood stuff. Trying to spend as much time as possible with my son watching him grow was the life stuff. In the middle of both, was the effort to get our marriage going as my wife and I learnt intimacy.

Though we had spent time together, we had never really lived together and we were sharing a space that soon also had our son in it. Saying that we were at hand and watched our son grow can mean something wonderful to people who hear about it, but we think only those who have been parents to a new born fully understand and appreciate the miracles, misapprehensions and misunderstandings that it brings to the relationship.

Having to wake up in the middle of the nights is sometimes not quite the worst thing in the world. There are other worse things involving bickering, late-night emotions, terse replies that leave each other feeling bad until we meet again. But its also good to realise that all of above actually happens (thank god) only about 5 percent of the time. The rest of the time we’re quite contented in many imperfect ways. We cook for each other burning the occasional omelette, take trips around Bangkok with our son and get caught in traffic, enjoy our evening walks showing him around the trees and birds in our condo, look for toys and shirts anticipating what we’re going to get him when he grows up. When my wife comes back form work, its often with a beer for me, and I bring back steamed corn for her. When she is out working all day, I set aside my computer and take care of Rawin; we switch at night as I start work and she plays with him. Striving for imperfection or at least giving ourselves up to it has helped us forgive our imperfect selves and brought us a measure of intimacy.

Here’s thanks to 2009. And looking forward to more intimacy and imperfection in 2010 and the many years ahead. Cheers!

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Rawin … from Tagore

We started looking for a name for our baby when Tuk was about six months pregnant. In Thailand (and unlike India where it is actually illegal), doctors are free to tell the parents the sex of the baby upon request. Actually we had preferred to not know and did not plan to formally request our doctor. But once while doing the ultrasound scan, he casually asked us if we wanted to know; as we paused and looked at each other in some confusion, he told us that it was a boy, and that he was very healthy. It wasn’t a big deal after that. It also meant we could start searching for a name.
Our search for names extended to Thai, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu and even Persian. With just one scoping condition: that it should begin with the sound of “ra” – thus similar to our names Rajesh and Ratchaneewan. A month before our son was born, we had whittled our selection down to a “top 3”. But we were still not totally satisfied with any of them. Until one day Tuk and I were chatting and she asked me “why not Rawin?”. We both liked it at once. It struck me as being inspired by, and also sounding like, the first part of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the famous poet, writer and philosopher of India whom we both liked and who was also well-known in Thailand for his song “Gitanjali” (which is translated into Thai).
Rabindranath (or also sometimes Ravindranath) is most well-known as a poet but he was much much more. He was an extraordinarily creative and versatile person bringing out sublime prose and poetry and plays as well as songs, music and painting. He was also active in the politics of his time being a reformer and critic of colonialism. His writings reflected his critical perspectives on topics ranging from Indian nationalism and identity, to caste, ethnic and religious conflicts and violence. In the early 1930s, he lectured and wrote poems and dramas criticizing India’s “abnormal caste consciousness” and the practice of untouchability. An important aspect of his life was his contribution to religious and philosophical literature through his collection of essays like “The Religion of Man” and the very beautiful and touching “Sadhana: The Realization of Life” (see excerpt below). The essays in “Toward Universal Man” also show him as a social and political theorist.
Tagore was a musician, a vocal performer as well as composer. Apart from writing eight novels and four novellas, he composed more than 2,000 songs. He developed a new style of vocal music which is called, after him, Rabindra-sangit. His “Gitanjali” or “songs offering” about divine and human love is his best-known collection for which he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature (becoming Asia’s first Nobel laureate). Two of his songs are the national anthems of Bangladesh and India: Amar Shonar Bangla and Jana Gana Mana (Thou Art the Ruler of All Minds) respectively.
In 1922, Santiniketan (abode of peace), the school he had founded at Bolpur in 1901, was expanded into the Visva-Bharati University with a curriculum that emphasized social reform, international unity, and rural reconstruction.
Tagore traveled widely across Europe, North and South America and Southeast Asia including Japan and Indonesia. His writings after his travels in Southeast Asia were compiled in “Jatri”. He visited Bangkok on his way home to India from Java and Bali in 1927. Following that visit, he wrote poems on the “Buddhist spirit of Siam” and the maitri or fraternity of the Borobudur of Java. In Bangkok, Tagore was received by the King and Queen of Thailand along with two other members of the royal family: Prince Damrong (a collector of Siamese art) and Prince Chantabun (publisher of the Siamese Tripitaka). Tagore gave lectures in Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

The man whose acquaintance with the world does not lead
him deeper than science leads him, will never understand what it
is that the man with the spiritual vision finds in these natural
phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his limbs, but it
purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth does not
merely hold his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact
is more than a physical contact–it is a living presence. When a
man does not realise his kinship with the world, he lives in a
prison-house whose walls are alien to him. When he meets the
eternal spirit in all objects, then is he emancipated, for then
he discovers the fullest significance of the world into which he
is born; then he finds himself in perfect truth, and his harmony
with the all is established …
When man’s consciousness is restricted only to the immediate
vicinity of his human self, the deeper roots of his nature do not
find their permanent soil, his spirit is ever on the brink of
starvation, and in the place of healthful strength he substitutes
rounds of stimulation. Then it is that man misses his inner
perspective and measures his greatness by its bulk and
not by its vital link with the infinite, judges his activity
by its movement and not by the repose of perfection–the repose
which is in the starry heavens, in the ever-flowing
rhythmic dance of creation.

From Tagore’s “Sadhana: The Realization of Life”,
Ch 1: The Relation of the Individual to the Universe.

Rawin

On 10th June 2009 at 1.43 pm our son was born weighing 3.1 kgs. I still relive that early morning when we drove to the Ramathibodhi hospital in the Bangkok traffic trying to be calm, chatting of this and that while trying desperately to not think of the worst – that all may be lost. Tuk had complained of pain the previous night but we both became anxious when she found herself bleeding in the morning.

We rushed to our respective pregnancy books and decided to immediately leave for the hospital. My anxieties were soothed by the fact that things went so smoothly from the minute we landed at the hospital entrance. And I cannot thank enough the government hospital and its wonderful nurses and doctors. Entering the hospital, Tuk walked to the wheelchair stand where a staff came over with a wheelchair and then we all three went to the sixth floor maternity ward. Tuk was asked to get to a bed behind a green curtain while they left the filling of forms to me and another nurse.

The nurses and doctors went about their work calmly and professionally. By now my heart was beating loud enough for them to admit me into the cardiac seizure ward. Our doctor walked in after a few minutes and chatted with the others. Then he went and checked Tuk. I had one eye and ear on the closed green curtain with Tuk on the other side while helping the nurse fill in our forms, now even more openly thinking of the worst, asking whether our son was going to make it, praying, weeping inside for everything to be alright.

A few minutes later our doctor (a cool dude) walked by and, as I waited to see if he would explain anything, he cheerily spoke to me as if wishing me good morning: “oh for sure, the delivery is today, … for sure”.

So. It was going to happen. Almost 11 days in advance of the scheduled date. I hung around hoping to see Tuk. After a while, she walked out clothed in the hospital green robe. I was still trying to figure out what was going to happen when we were told that Tuk would be taken inside to the delivery room and I wasn’t allowed there. Tuk wondered aloud to me if she should just ask for a c-section and get it over with. I was almost going to say yes just so we could get this unbearable suspense and waiting over with, but I then asked her to wait on a bit. She nodded and then walked down to corridor into the rooms.

The nurse told me that it was only the beginning of labour and it could take more than ten hours sometimes before they could tell me anything. They told me to go home and rest and gave me the ward telephone number to call and find out the status. Since men were not allowed to hang around there, I had to leave but of course I couldn’t go home really not while Tuk was there waiting and god knows what was going to happen. Tuk’s friends called by now and they told me a place to have coffee and a bite to eat.

I wandered off downstairs totally lost, surrounded by the hospital buzz of people and announcements trying to find somewhere to sit and collect myself. A small park and a coffee shop. Thank god. I tried breathing calmly and medidating, thinking of our life together which already seemed to have been filled with so much of everything, pain and joy and anguish and anxiety.

I called my close friend Sunil who advised me to go to his place and eat and rest rather than wait around. I couldn’t decide at first, waiting around near Tuk seemed the best thing to do. But then there was nothing to do there and so I took a taxi to his place. Suddenly while inside the taxi I had the urge to fling myself out and rush back to the hospital. What was I doing? Why wasn’t I near Tuk? What if she needed me? I had to grip the seat and eventually made it to Sunil’s place without completely losing my mind. A shower and food and some conversation greatly helped. We checked with the hospital every hour. They told us to check later in the afternoon.

But by 1 pm I was feeling refreshed but also anxious at waiting around so far away, and left Sunil’s place and come back to the hospital. I went straight to the 6th floor ward to check. I wasn’t sure what would have happened, probably nothing although it had been more than five hours. When I went to check, the nurse looked up the screen.

Yes, Tuk had brought us a baby son to this world at 1.43 pm, the boy and mother are well. Gosh. I couldnt believe it, and kept peering at the screen dumbfounded. Deo gratias as my father used to say. So this is how it feels. We have completed one part of our journey together, Tuk and I. I was wondering what to do next, hanging around trying to be inconspicuous in case they asked me to leave again.

Then I turned round and suddenly Tuk was wheeled out in the bed and was near me. We held hands and she looked up and I smiled at her and said “congratulations mum”. Tears immediately welled in her eyes. I’ll never forget that moment as she smiled at me, lying there in her green robe, tired and a bit dazed, but her eyes tender and brimming with tears. I wiped her eyes and cheeks and we then smiled and held hands.

I started telling everyone starting with Metta her older sister and our closest friend and companion. I still hadn’t seen the baby our son. But that could wait. He was fine they said and had been taken to be checked and would be brought back in a few hours. For now, we were relieved and happy and together again.