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Am I Doing This Right? Insights from Priyanka Chopra’s Mom in ‘The Parents I Met’

Ever wondered, “Am I getting this parenting gig right?” In Mansi Zaveri’s The Parents I Met, take a stroll through chats with successful parents, picking up timeless tips for navigating the tricky path of raising kids. This book is like a friendly guide, saying, “Hey, in the middle of life’s chaos, what matters most is your love and commitment to your kids.” It’s an easy read, full of stories and advice that any parent can relate to, giving you a bit of comfort and a lot of insights along the way.

 

The Parents I Met
The Parents I Met || Mansi Zaveri

 

***

Initially, I had arranged to speak with Dr Madhu Chopra via Zoom, but after our conversation, I knew I had to meet her in person. She never made her career, marriage or the proper upbringing of her children a lower priority simply because she became a mother.  

 

Despite her initial doubts about whether her parenting practices from nearly three decades ago would still be relevant, she welcomed me with open arms and was happy to talk. Friendly as always, she paused to ask her assistant Zarin for a green tea in Gujarati, all the while considering which chai flavour would best prepare her for this exchange. She then took a sip and said,

 

‘Mansi, what was important is that I didn’t back down—that gave me immense confidence. That confidence emanates power and brings me respect from my kids even to this day. If they respect you, it becomes easy.’  

 

She has fond memories of working night shifts at the army hospital, which were always a family affair because she had to bring her two children along, Priyanka and her brother Siddharth. ‘I turned it into a game by telling Priyanka, “Mom’s on night duty, baby’s on night duty,” as she carried her toy backpack and squealed with excitement. I didn’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty because my work gave me immense joy. The guilt crept in only once when she talked back to my father and that made me wonder, “Is it because I am working?” Even the fancy well-planned tiffins of other kids who had stay-at-home moms couldn’t make me feel guilty as I sent the same tiffins every day, like a paratha roll or jam sandwich. I taught her to not compare these tiffins or feel deprived. Parenting is not a day’s job. It starts the day your baby is conceived and continues forever.’ 

 

I asked her if Priyanka had ever asked, ‘Why can’t you sit at home or why do you need to work?’ and she said, ‘No. She didn’t know any other way and took this as normal.’ Family was a huge support, with both sets of parents and relatives chipping in at every stage.  

 

Dr Chopra continued, ‘Both kids used to tag along. If mom had night duty, baby had night duty. She would pack her little bag to carry to the hospital because she knew she had to keep herself busy while I was away on duty. You see, we didn’t give them choices that didn’t exist.’ 

 

Dr Chopra then unapologetically admitted, ‘I am a great parent.’ To see a parent be so self-assured was refreshing. Especially when parents today second guess most of their decisions.  

 

When Priyanka was preparing for Miss India, her entire family pooled their resources to buy her new footwear, wardrobe and cosmetics. No one ever questioned who she was or why she would want to compete in a Miss India pageant. Some parents hope their children will follow in their footsteps and go into business with them or pursue a similar line of work, but Priyanka knew at the tender age of three that she did not want to become a doctor because she did not like the smell of hospitals and did not want to leave her child at home.’  

 

She added, ‘When your path is different from your kids, there is no tantrum and shouting but there is a conversation. You convince me or I convince you.’ The one time that we did push our wishes on a child who was a topper in her academics and extracurriculars, was when we asked her to sing and dance both. When her grades dipped, I backed off, but being a committed, competitive learner, she persevered. Her habit of seeking perfection in everything that she did was most evident when she helped her younger brother Siddharth learn his speech on Chacha Nehru. She corrected his work and sat all night rehearsing with him till he didn’t even miss a single word. 

 

She continued, ‘I think this is the temperament that has got her here and is keeping her here. Ours was a democratic house, and questions and curiosity were rewarded promptly. When Priyanka was in kindergarten and questioned why her name was missing from the name plate outside her house, her father, Dr Ashok Chopra, got it changed the next day and added “Priyanka Chopra-UKG”.’ 

 

Dr Chopra went on to say, ‘Dinner table conversations were animated ones, where you could pour your heart out and no one would be judged. No one raised their voices or banged plates—it was not allowed in my household. Our kids never saw us yell, fight or be violent—it started and ended in the bedroom, but even that was a discussion.’  

 

‘I was heartbroken when I sent her to boarding school at seven years old after she had talked back to my dad,’ she confessed, ‘but the end result of that decision was a polished, responsible pre-teen who could even parent me. She became so disciplined, much better than I could have ever done. Each leap of faith was made with my family as a safety net.’  

 

When I asked her if she had had any indication that Priyanka was exceptional before she turned eighteen, she said, ‘I knew my child was focused and never frivolous. She would make the most of every opportunity that was presented to her. You cannot be a great parent if you don’t have a receptive child.’ 

 

When I asked her how she managed to instil such a sense of hunger and determination in her children despite their privileged upbringing, she told me that teaching them to say ‘no’ was crucial, as was making them work for what they want.  

 

She said, ‘Don’t be afraid to be that “bad parent”. The word “no” carried great weight in the Chopra household. One parent’s “no” would never be followed by a “yes” from the other. Their “whys”, however, were never shunned but addressed with discussions and explanations of the consequences early on. My children knew from day one that their every action had a consequence and that would be theirs alone.’  

***

Intrigued to know more?

Get your copy of The Parents I Met by Mansi Zaveri wherever books are sold.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared’ – The painful world of IVF clinics

Detailing the difficulty of undergoing infertility treatments, What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina is a nuanced, heart-breaking and heart-warming work on the indignities of medical procedures, the precariousness of motherhood, and what this means to women. In this excerpt, Rohini Rajagopal talks about one of her Intrauterine insemination sessions.

~

I heard of ‘artificial insemination’ for the first time in a Malayalam movie when I was eight or nine years old. It was Malayalam cinema’s cult classic Dasharatham (1989), which was so ahead of its time that even now I am not sure if its time has come. A leading mainstream actor, Mohanlal, plays a rich, spoilt man-child who decides to act on a whim and have a child through surrogacy. He finds a desperate woman who needs money for her ailing footballer husband’s medical treatment and agrees to rent her womb. They draw up a contract, turn up for the procedure, and fifteen days later she is pregnant! No failed attempts, cancelled cycles or any other complications. With this movie lodged in my brain for reference, I thought fertility treatments were an easy-peasy lemon-squeezy affair. To be fair to the movie, it is not about infertility. It’s about a healthy, fertile couple who use artificial insemination for conception. It may well have happened that quickly and effortlessly in real life too. But the movie glosses over the unseemliness and hardships of the treatment. For those who have seen the movie, I hate to burst your bubble. Welcome to the world of ART.

Front cover What's A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina
What’s A Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina||Rohini S. Rajagopal

I began our first IUI in July 2011 with the earnestness of a debutant, expecting early and prompt success… The procedure itself was relatively simple with only a few key steps. The first step was pills to stimulate my ovaries to release multiple eggs. The second was follicular study. Follicles are tiny fluid-filled balloons in the ovaries that function as the home of the egg. They may expand from the size of a sesame seed (2 millimetres) to the size of a large kidney bean (18 mm to 25 mm) during the course of the menstrual cycle, eventually bursting to push the egg out. The follicles are measured at regular intervals during a cycle to ascertain if they have matured and are ready to release the egg. This is done through a transvaginal ultrasound (TVS).

I was not a big fan of TVS. It involved insertion of a long, slim plastic probe into my vagina and twisting it around to get a close look at the uterus. Magnified images of the uterus appeared on a computer screen. I was appalled the first time when the doctor covered the transducer with a condom and dipped it in lubricating gel, indicating that it had to enter an orifice in my body. I thought that scans, by definition, were non-invasive. It caused some discomfort, but it was not very painful. Eventually, I learnt to relax my muscles and spread my legs far apart to make things easier. I wished I didn’t have to get a TVS, but if I had to then I could tolerate it.

The cycle got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. The first ultrasound showed only one big-enough follicular blob (at 13 mm). The other four or five follicles were too small, indicating they might not reach maturity. This meant I might have only one egg despite taking drugs to stimulate the release of many.

…It was a busy day at the hospital for Dr Leela, who was swamped with several emergency C-sections. I sat alone in the deserted waiting hall of the IVF clinic, biding my time. Other patients had left after their ultrasounds in the morning. No one else was lined up for a procedure.

…Finally, at around one, Dr Leela came and apologized for the delay. I was taken to the operating room, asked to remove my leggings and empty my bladder. I lay down on the bed and pulled a sheet over my naked legs. A tray of surgical instrument kits was placed on a stand next to the bed. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping there would be no speculum.

Dr Leela began briskly tearing the kits open one by one and getting ready for action. When she pulled out the speculum, I lost my nerve. The thin mask of composure I was wearing until then crumbled. I sprang up and held back her hand desperately.

‘Please, don’t. I am scared.’

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. What was I thinking? It was a meaningless request. And Dr Leela had no patience for such trembling and dithering. She was not known to offer empty, placatory words, ‘It’s okay. Just relax. It will not hurt you.’ My protest was an annoying interruption and she reacted sternly.

‘Take your hand off. I don’t need it here.’
The room became tense.

…The ninety seconds it must have taken to fix the speculum and inject the semen were excruciating, and not just because of the physical hostility of the act. Not just because it felt raw or sore or I was bleeding. But because it was a breach of my already fragile self. It tore through the membranes of my defences, leaving me exposed and helpless.

In a few minutes, it was over and the doctor left. The stainless-steel tools were taken out by the nurses. The housekeeping staff cleaned the floor. The room became empty again. The pounding in my heart ceased. I rested in the metallic stillness of the operating room for thirty minutes, drove home, ate my lunch and went to sleep.

That IUI was an eye-and-mind-opener of the path ahead. An IVF clinic is a cold place to walk into. It doesn’t matter which IVF clinic you go to. There might be a difference in degree, but the air is still chilly and biting. You must shed your inhibitions, modesty and fears quickly because the most crucial part of fertility treatment involves lying on your back, knees bent, legs wide open, while probes, catheters and lemon squeezers are thrust inside your vagina by professionals whose day job this is. What you need is the stance of a warrior, not the long-suffering bearing of a patient.

~

Years later, I am just a few weeks away from going into labour. Ranjith’s mother and I are alone at home. We are having a woman-to-woman conversation about the trials and tribulations of bringing a human into this world. We discuss pregnancy scans and the improvements in technology since her time. She speaks about her own repulsion and discomfort during an internal examination, which was necessary in her days when ultrasounds were not as prevalent.

She asks casually, only half-asking, but mostly reconfirming, ‘You’ve never had an internal examination, alle?’

I gasp and mumble something to the effect of, ‘Yes, I have.’ But the truth is, there was no short answer to that question.

~

What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina opens up a discussion that we are hardly willing to have, sensitising us to the physical and emotional toll that medical procedures and social scrutiny take on women.

 

 

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