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The doctor will see you now

First-time parents owe the doctors who guide them from ignorance to competent parenthood. But the path is rockyand strewn with celebrities

Actor and comedian Mindy Kaling played an ob-gyn in the romantic comedy television series ‘The Mindy Project’.
Actor and comedian Mindy Kaling played an ob-gyn in the romantic comedy television series ‘The Mindy Project’.

We have a very good obstetrician-gynaecologist (ob-gyn, to us veterans). This doctor is extremely busy. Our record, for time spent in his far-too-small waiting room, was just under 3 hours. But no sooner are you under his warm and avuncular gaze than all thought of complaint goes out of the window, the memory of that tortured waiting time withering as you bask in his shimmering Parsi splendidness for a brief few minutes. The great thing about him, I noticed, was that while we were in his office, my wife was the only person in his universe. Sometimes I had a question, or what I thought was an intelligent observation, and he would glance briefly in my direction, as one might at an errant ant, smile vacantly, and without a word return the full radiant force of his attention to the person who was actually doing all the work.

It was difficult to get an appointment with him in the first place. We live in the Mumbai locality of Bandra, which can be very pretty, and everyone is quite nice to one another—if your cat happens to run away, for instance, people on the road drop what they’re doing and help you search—but also has an age-old infestation of film celebrities. The funny thing is, no one outside The Industry sees these celebrities, though they go to the same restaurants and Starbucks and what have you.

These film people hover upon a different plane from the rest of us, like an alternate dimension from Star Trek, if the Trekkie alternate dimension were populated primarily by ageing actors with very expensive hair transplants. You see the crowds outside the homes of the genuine stars, double-decker buses bearing fans from all over Gujarat and Maharashtra (I’ve learnt that it is this metric that is the true marker of popular success, and Shah Rukh and Salman are safely bigger than Aamir, at least until the Chinese invade). Sometimes you spot a blacked-out Range Rover, bracketed, forward and back, by a convoy of Scorpios filled with hulking men, but you never actually see the stars themselves.

I have also learnt the reason these people occupy this near-ethereal plane. It’s because everyone else in our neighbourhood is constantly bending and scraping for them, preparing special takeaway orders and kicking customers out of shops, as if we’ve all decided that even sharing the airspace of a normie would contaminate their celebrity beyond recognition. Having spent many years in Delhi, I’m used to the sight of a restaurant’s waitstaff behaving like this for politicians who truly serve the nation, like Amar Singh and Amit Shah, and Arnab Goswami. But for actors? It shocked me.

Not everywhere in Mumbai do they behave like this, I was happy to note. On one occasion, as the hours ticked over in our ob-gyn’s waiting room, an actress/singer from the mid-1990s Channel [V] heyday walked in with her teenage daughter, whereupon she picked up a magazine and sat down like the rest of us. Granted, this was not Kareena or even Shraddha Kapoor, and said songstress is most recently known for writing long and contorted columns about how the neighbourhood azaan is disturbing her beauty sleep, but she was far more famous than anyone in the room. A young couple, the man in a shining polyester shirt and sandals, the woman in full burqa, were then called in by the doctor. Immediately, I felt glad: we had found the one doc in Mumbai who didn’t care if you were songstress or seamstress.

But now our visits to the ob-gyn are rare. The big red circles on the calendar are for when we take our son to the paediatrician. The paediatrician also seems to be very good, and though I have no information to report about his interest or lack thereof in film stars, I enjoy these visits a lot. Mostly because of the eight months or so I was roundly ignored at the ob-gyn. An ob-gyn’s primary focus is the health of the mother, while the paediatrician’s attention lasers in on the infant. I have begun to suspect that to most paediatricians the mother is basically a milk-pump with built-in locomotion. They expect so much of mothers, and are gravely disappointed by any claim she might make for her own time or peace of mind. Everything must be subservient to baby. I like this because it puts my wife and me on an even footing. Unlike the ob-gyn, where I was roughly as visible as a mote of dirt, at the paediatrician’s, both my wife and I are simply adjuncts to the far worthier presence of the baby.

I imagine it isn’t an easy job. They do such a tremendous thing, both these kinds of doctors, carrying couple after couple from abject ignorance to vaguely competent parenthood. Just yesterday we took our boy to his doctor for a second round of inoculations. The first round was a breeze because the child is very young, and hardly reacts. But this second time. It’s hard for me to forget the huge needle going in, the scarlet blood bubbling up on either thigh, gushing out from him, and—worst—the look of shock and betrayal on my son’s face. We read into our children’s expressions, but in that instant I could see only how deceived he looked, how devastating the pain was to his tiny legs. He burst into wails of a kind I had never heard. Each cry felt like a skewer.

In the evening, we waited for the fever to break. Nine, 10, 11 o’clock, nothing happened. At 12.30, I put my hand on his forehead and was happy to note it was cool and dry, that the boy was asleep. I went to my cupboard to pull out sleepwear. Suddenly he was awake, crying, and when I turned, I saw he was bright red and burning up. The fever came and went all night. He hardly slept. My wife was calmer, but by around 1.30am, both me and Pushpa, the lady who helps us with him, had become firm anti-vaxxers, and we cursed to the heavens the mad scientist who had done this to our little boy. But the fever subsided. Morning and good sense returned. Still, think of all the crazed midnight curses they receive. It can’t be easy, this doctor gig.

Dad Goals is a monthly series on the pleasures and pitfalls of becoming a first-time father. Prayaag Akbar is the author of the novel Leila.

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