Seven-year-old Atharv kept on feeling anxious at times though as usual, he was playing with his friends because it was Sunday morning. He did not like the way that of late his mother had stopped letting him burrow his head in her tummy or carefully brushed him away. Today he could sense something was afoot from the way his mother was getting things ready. Of course, It had been explained to him that he was soon going to get a baby brother or sister. Anyway, he had declared he wanted a baby sister and not a brother.
Their neighbor Ruchi aunty came to see them off as they were going to the hospital. She offered that Atharva could stay with them. Her son Rishan was Atharv’s best friend. Atharv looked towards his parents, “I will get bored in the hospital. Let me stay with Rishan” and their nod had had him out of the car in a jiffy. He cheerfully waved to his parents as the car moved.
In the evening Ruchi aunty told him that he had got a baby brother. “Oh, okay but I wanted a baby sister. Mummy should have waited to get a baby girl. Hmm, I know we have to welcome the baby – girl or boy.” He turned to his friend, “Rishan, we have been decorating the baby’s room. I have chosen an aquatic theme. I have made fishes, octopuses with colored papers and hung them on walls. They flutter with the wind.” Suddenly the immediate concern halted his commentary, “Where will I sleep tonight? Mummy, Papa will be back soon, won’t they?” He looked troubled momentarily.
“Oh, you will be sleeping in Rishan’s room in our house,” said Ruchi aunty.
“Yay, we will be together tonight,” cheered both the boys who were sold on the idea of sleepovers.
Next morning Papa came and got him ready for the school. Papa had taken permission from his school for coming late. He took Atharv to the hospital to see his baby brother. The baby did not open his eyes, did not acknowledge his hello. He was so small. He kissed the baby and knew that both his parents were watching him expectantly. But instead of the baby the hospital room, the gadgets, the nurses fascinated him. Papa made him hold the baby but Atharv could feel that Papa was tensed up ready to spring into action in case he dropped the baby while mummy took snaps with her cell phone. He waved bye to mummy and went to school.
The whole class was waiting agog for him to come. Their teacher, Mrs. Salazar, had already announced that Atharv had got a baby brother. Linda wanted to know, “He is cute, isn’t he?” Atharv thought to himself, “Huh, I did not find him cute, he was so small,” but kept quiet and nodded. After a few minutes and more such comments, he heaved a sigh of relief as the focus of his classmates shifted to other things. He was a bit worried. Earlier mummy had told him that Naani would be there to look after him when she went to the hospital. Naani had not come but the baby had come. Anyway, the baby was good in one sense – he would again get to sleep at Rishan’s home. Ruchi aunty did not pressurize him to finish his homework even.
Next day when he came home from school in the afternoon the baby too had come home. He watched the baby sleeping. The baby didn’t even thank him for decorating his room, didn’t even give him a smile – just mewed in-between sleeping throughout the evening and mummy attended to him. He wasn’t fun though mummy assured Atharv that Avan (that’s what they had named the baby) would play with him later. The baby’s name had A and V like his name.
Naana, Naani’s flight was to come in the evening. He was waiting for them to arrive. Papa had gone to the airport to get them. Unknown to him the whole family was anxious to take care of his feelings, that the beginning of his interactions with his brother should be smooth and positive. Naana and Naani made much of Atharv in their usual way talking and playing with him, showing him the gifts, they had brought for him. At last Atharv thought of broaching the subject himself and informed them, “Don’t you know the baby has come home. Come I will show you the baby” and he caught hold of Naani’s hand and took them to the nursery.
“Oh, he is cute” they exclaimed, “He looks like Atharv!”
“Cute, again!” thought Atharv. He was finding the world cute irritating. Then. Naani looked to him for permission, “May I hold your brother?” and he magnanimously nodded. Meanwhile, Naana brought out a silver trophy from his bag and it was solemnly handed to him. On it was inscribed “Atharv The Best Big Brother”. He felt he had really achieved something. Yes, he had become bhaiya, the big brother! Some part of him wondered how the big brothers acted.
Naani wanted to put Atharv to bed. She discovered that ‘once-upon-a-time’ of their last visit was almost gone since now Atharv could read. He preferred to read before switching off the lights. She told him about their flights, the funny passengers she had met en route and Atharv felt relaxed. He had been feeling that mummy was distancing herself. Naani’s voice soothed him.
Next morning as usual mummy was there to cuddle him, wake him up, get him ready for the school, packing up his favorite snacks. Naani was with the baby. He went to say bye to him. When he came back from school he went to say hello to the baby. He told mummy about his day at school. She bathed him, gave him his lunch, played with him, helped him with homework. He felt his world had righted itself. He felt happier Naanu and Naani were there. The baby had become a background noise.
The elders hovered if he was near Avan. Avan’s U-shaped pillow boppy fascinated him. He read its instruction and very importantly told mummy how it was going to be of use to her after Avan became four months old. Now she was using it only while feeding Avan. Most of the time he was shushed away from the room. The baby needed repeated feedings and mummy needed privacy for that. Mummy had given him all the notes that the hospital had given. Being a very sincere and conscientious boy, Atharv had read all the instructions and was ready to do his bit. He knew the baby had to be fed, burped, bathed etc. very carefully. During weekends he helped mummy to bathe Avan.
Over the next few weekends, he realized mummy wasn’t being fair. She was giving Avan more time. Weekend mornings were his favorite time to play with her, cook breakfast with her while Papa slept. Now she slept through them excusing herself that the baby had kept her awake through the night. Naani, Naanu played with him but he wanted mummy. And then one day he declared at the dinner table, “The baby is rather annoying.” Four pairs of eyes turned to him with a question in them. “Why? He is cute, isn’t he cute? Ask yourself,” said Papa. Atharva was determined to have his say, “Yes, my heart says he is cute, but my brain says he is annoying.” Obviously, he had been thinking over it for some time. He complained to mummy about the missed weekend mornings. And how he did not like all the guests who came bearing gifts to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the baby. The focus had shifted from him. The focus was on Avan. Mummy pointed out that the guests brought gifts for him also, Atharv agreed. Yes, he loved unwrapping the gifts and mummy let him open all the gifts. The baby clothes did not attract him, but the baby toys did. And he loved listening to mummy’s stories of how he too had the same toys and how he had played with them.
Gradually, Avan became a fixture in his life. Naana, Naani had gone back. Now when he came back from school he ran to Avan’s room to see him. Avan craved for his attention because he had been gone for hours. He loudly wailed and shrieked till Atharv came to hold him. Avan wanted to be held and Atharva was afraid to hold him because the more excited Avan became on seeing him the more he moved, and this made Atharv nervous. But secretly he felt very proud of this special welcome. Avan liked to stand in his bouncer jumping up and down and wanted Atharv to do the same. Then he began crawling and followed Atharv like a faithful dog. It was flattering but he had to be careful also not to step on Avan’s hand. He had to hide his Legos because small babies can swallow them. He played peek-a-boo with him. Atharv had learned one very good trick if he did not want to do his homework. All that he had to do was tickle Avan who would cry or want to play depending on his mood and force mummy to realize Atharv’s no-more-teaching message. At such moments he really loved Avan very much.
Mummy told him when he was at school Avan went again and again into his room searching for him. The first word that Avan learned was “Bhaiya.” Atharv had strutted like a cock that day while telling his friends this bit of news. Lucien and Andrews were not interested but over the months he had been getting much attention from the neighboring girls Angel and Saanvi. Both were senior to him by two years and never used to include him in their games. Now because they wanted to play with Avan they became friendly with him and gave him importance. All of them taught Avan to clap-clap, wave goodbye. Slowly Avan had become an intricate part of the fabric of his life.
Once Mami, who was visiting them jokingly said: “Atharv, now Avan has started on solid foods, right? I will take Avan with me to my home now, ok?” Atharv got really frightened. He flew into a rage, shouting and wailing, “No, no! How can you? He is my brother.” And she immediately apologized and said that she was joking.
Adults were weird. “I will take Avan with me to my home – weird, weird! Huh! Avan is my brother, has always been my brother!” That day Mami earned a big negative mark in his opinion. She should understand this was Avan’s home. They were a family – Papa, mummy, Atharva, and Avan.