Birth of a commoner

Gifts would be showered on her if the baby happened to be a male.

In contrast to the arrival of the royal baby of Kate and William in London that is still keeping the British media agog, baby arrivals in our  household in those days in Poonamallee kept only my fussy grandfather on tenterhooks.

As a rule, such regular deliveries took place in the dead of night in our electricity-free house and so grandpa, a great planner and worrier, made sure he had two lighted hurricane lamps, match boxes and an alarm time piece in readiness. An almanac with a picture of a  slithering snake on its cover  would always be there for him to look up and find out the star under which the child would be born.

Hospital births being unheard of in those days, the room reserved for labour  into which only ladies had access would be guarded by him from outside with ears pricked to hear the first cry of the baby over the long drawn wails.

Unlike the modern day practice, the father of the baby, the author of mischief, would not be allowed to witness the childbirth being advised to stay put in his place of work, with a promise that an express telegram would be dispatched to the eldest member of his family about the baby’s arrival.

The template text of the telegram would be, “Vasantha (or Gita or Shanta) delivered a male child. Both safe.” My grandpa would  include  the star of the baby as well as a must. A postcards would be dispatched extending invitation for the christening ceremony. And no betting on the names as it would be that of any of two grandfathers or grandmothers. That he or she would be called several names later, depending on the extent of mischief mongering is a different matter.

In the absence of any scanning facilities, the gender of the expected baby would be known only after the midwife would ascertain and announce. Gifts would be showered on her if the baby happened to be a male after a string of females. If yet another female, she was bound be named Mangaalm which would mean an auspicious full stop.
The child of the lady that had preceded the current birth would be sent away to relatives’ places so as not to be terrified by mother’s wail. One such boy who returned, when asked if he had a brother or sister, said with old world  innocence, “I don’t know. The baby is not wearing any dress.”

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