It isn’t every day that one gets treated like “royalty” and when Dr Joy Desai was the recipient of special attention on-board a Mumbai-bound flight from London, he missed no chance to enjoy it while it lasted. Of course, the only reason for the attention was his co-passenger, a six-and-a-half-month-old infant that gave everyone the impression he was a single parent. So much so that a passenger even inquired the whereabouts of his wife. “I was tempted to say that she left,” laughs the 54-year-old neurologist of the episode back in 1999 whereby his wife Margi, stayed home to work on a research paper. Things have only improved significantly for the doctor couple as they hired help much later. However, the journey of two ambitious professionals, who were just learning the ropes of the parenting game while shuttling between cities and doing it by themselves, makes for a fascinating story.
The couple had moved to London very early on in their marriage, which is where their first son, Anand, was born. Despite being away from family and residing in a foreign country, Margi, a neurophysiologist, never took a break after she delivered her first child. The pile of pending projects on her desk often compelled the young mother to head to work at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery with her baby in a pram. Working with your child in tow is not easy, but she found a way, “I used to leave him with the secretaries and they had a nice crèche too. I would finish my work in an hour or two and return. You can’t leave the baby at home because there was nobody there. We didn’t have a maid. You couldn’t find a babysitter suddenly for an hour either.” But no matter what, when duty called, she was always present. Like when she travelled to Vienna for her research fellowship and Joy had to be home taking care of the four-month-old fellow. Around that time, Joy had started working a lot from home.
If there was one thing both of them were determined about, it was the return to their homeland. Things were much easier once they moved back to India in 1999. Although, they were both originally from Ahmedabad, the couple later settled in Mumbai after receiving offers from Jaslok Hospital. Joy’s parents moved to Mumbai within three months to help raise their grandkid. “It helped a lot having the grandparents at home to ensure supervision and provide emotional security to the kids,” he explains. Margi’s mother, too, visited from time to time, though she was present much more after Aditya, their second child, was born in 2009. By then, Joy’s parents had passed away, leaving the couple to manage on their own again. Aditya was only five-years-old when Margi’s mother passed away. This meant that the couple had to adjust their work schedule to make time for their younger child. Back then, Joy worked a tedious 12-hour shift; Margi had a more flexible schedule that allowed her to go back and forth to check on patients.
As for Anand and Aditya, being a decade apart meant that they both witnessed different support systems at home. While Anand had got to spend more time with Joy’s parents who were ably assisted by their live-in maid; for Aditya, it was a new person whom the family of four welcomed — Usha, their full-time domestic help, or Ushatai as she is fondly called. Sure, she shares no blood relation with the family, but that doesn’t make her less of a mother to Aditya, Margi adds. Ushatai has been with the family since 2005. For one, Aditya dislikes it when either of his parents reprimand her. She recalls one such incident, “Once, when I reprimanded her, Aditya went to Ushatai — told her it is not your fault. Mummy must be in a bad mood. Also, Aditya comes to me and says — just because you are tired and angry, don’t shout at other people.” The hullaballoo at their house has died down a lot since. Anand is currently a freshman at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the US. Joy and Margi, however, have their hands full with eight-year-old, Aditya, who is making up for his brother’s absence.
Given the age gap, how different was it raising them?
Margi: Aditya’s generation is more materialistic than Anand’s. The elder one used to play tennis, but never once did he ask for, say, an Andre Agassi jersey. But Aditya insists on a Real Madrid and FC Barcelona original; he demands the exact kind of studs that Cristiano Ronaldo wears. Instead, I went to Fashion Street and bought one for 400. I said, “If you are going to throw a tantrum saying you don’t want it, then you won’t get anything. So decide what you want.” And now he wears the very clothes we get him.
How do you instill the value of money?
Margi: Despite having two cars, I always take a taxi to go from one hospital to another. But Anand experienced frugality first-hand when I took him to Everest Base Camp with me when he was in the 8th standard. I took him there to show him that there is a life where there are no cell phones, no TVs and the food is the same everyday (kaali dal and gajar-muli ki sabji) and he should be grateful for everything he has.
Who is the more lenient one?
Joy: Margi is far more lenient than me. I am very clear that some things will not be allowed.
Has there been an incident/remark that your kids made which stunned you?
Joy: When Anand was in Class 1, he had to write an essay on “My Mom.” He wrote two things: My mom is fond of drinking beer and buying diamonds. My father plays with me. Sometimes, my mom plays with me and cooks bhindi.
Margi: Next day, the teacher called me and asked, “Do you drink beer in front of him everyday? What is the diamond thing?” His teacher knew me and was very upset. She told him, “No, your mother is also a doctor. So you should say that too.”
How would you describe the bond between the two brothers?
Margi: Anand is very fond of his brother, but he is also very strict with him. In some ways, Anand is a stricter parent than I am.
Which were your most stressful moments as parents?
Margi: I think schooling is the most stressful part. Their school, Cathedral & John Connon, is very competitive. Anand was very good in studies, so I got very competitive with him. Later when he grew older he would always say, “I am your showcase child. You want me to get As in everything so that you can tell everyone that, ‘My son gets A in everything in Cathedral.” I realise now that I was wrong in pushing him.
If given a chance to start all over, is there anything you’d change?
Margi: With Aditya, we have learnt to let go. We only insist that he does his work properly. I’ve realised that if you start doing this with your child, they can develop a dislike for academics.
Joy: Anand would often ask us, “Why would you create pressure like this?”. Now that he’s in college, we don’t even ask for his grades. He himself keeps us informed about his performance.