Sapiens

Historical books are not normally on my non-fiction reading list; mugging up endless lists such as ‘What were the causes of the second world war?’ for A Level history was more than sufficient to kill any lingering interest I had in the subject. So when Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was discussed and recommended, as it has been often and variously over the last year or two, I never really intended to read the thing. Sapiens though as it turns out is unlike most history books.

For a start, unlike his more timid state-the-fact and then retreat colleagues, once Harari has all the research and information at his finger tips he isn’t scared of joining the dots as he sees them and offering at times invigorating new perspectives. Our indifference towards the animals that become the meat on our plate for instance is presented as the same indifference civilised nations had for those abducted from Africa for the slave trade. We need our bacon and eggs just as people then needed their sugar; and the businessmen in the middle both needed their profits. It’s not cruelty but disregard. Not that that makes any difference to the victims.

Harari does make some bold and often questionable assertions. While his description of animism changing into polytheism changing into monotheism is convincing, his assertion that intelligent design is a modern invention of man (think genetic engineering and cyborgs) and that up until this point everything has been driven by evolution alone is less so. And not all will agree with him that humans are on the verge of becoming “a-mortal”, that nothing but a few years’ more research and a fat cheque book are all that stand between us and the defeat of death. On the whole though he talks a lot of sense and is fairly even-handed. Money is, he argues, “the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised”, and a wonderful unifier of mankind. On the other hand, “as money brings down the dams of community, religion and state, the world is in danger of becoming one big and rather heartless marketplace.” Similarly he sees the history of mankind neither as a path to “inevitable progress” nor as a banishment from the utopia of our original nature-dwelling forebears, but rather something in the middle.

This is the bigger (though not the whole) picture writ large, and Harari succeeds in challenging many of our long-held and unquestioned perspectives on humankind as we know it. For instance, Homo sapiens as a species is not a natural food chain topper. For most of our existence, we were firmly in the middle, and our niche as Harari puts it to use tools to break open the bones left by scavengers such as hyenas after a big cat kill. Our big brains seem to have given us very little evolutionary advantage for a good millenia or two, taking up a lot of energy and giving us precious little in return. It was our use of fire which helped us move up the food chain. It also allowed us to cook our food, thus reducing the time and energy needed for digestion and freeing us up for other things. What really set and sets us apart though from our animal brethren though is our ability to think and communicate things beyond empirical reality (many other animals have languages but as far as we know use them only to state facts, such as ‘Lion coming. Run!’), and then collectively believe in these “common myths” as Harari calls them. Thus a heterogenous group of Homo sapiens living on a rather rainy, grey island collectively believed in the idea of Britain as a nation to which the all belonged and thus came together to fight Hitler in the second world war. No other animal has or can ever cooperate in such numbers. Our closest relative the chimpanzee forms groups of 20-50, and almost never more than 100. This is our forte: large scale cooperation. And indeed as Harari sees it these collectively held fictions – which include money, religions, nations, ideologies, the economy, the law and institutions such as companies, universities and governments – have over centuries and millennia helped to unify all of our species. From local and diverse we are becoming global and homogenous, and there ain’t nothing we can do about it.

Infatuated as I currently am with hunter-gatherers and their lifestyle, the first half of the book demanded my special attention. It is perhaps no longer headline stuff to acknowledge that Homo sapiens has been a hunter-gathering species for almost the entirety of its existence and that consequently we are physically, mentally and socially designed for such a lifestyle, hence our inability to resist eating the entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (carpe calories or die). Even within this though there is much new stuff to digest, such as our innate terror of maths – our brains evolved to acquire and process vast amounts of incredibly complex information about the flora, fauna and landscape we live with and in, not to do algebra. In fact many modern hunter gatherer communities have no words for numbers beyond one and two.

For several years now rewilders, paeleo dieters and other slightly fanatic mainstream-bailers including myself have been debating how we as hunter gatherers used to live. If we could just figure this out, we could perhaps fix our own broken existence and live happily ever after. The problem though as Harari explains is that we have almost no idea how they lived. Ancient hunter gatherers neither built things nor acquired things, so left no trace. And modern hunter gatherers are probably unrepresentative, living as they do either in complete isolation due to inhospitable terrain or influenced by nearby agricultural societies. All that we can tell from modern hunter gatherers is that they are so varied that it’s difficult to see any general truths. (Although Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday does find some significant commonalities.)

What we do know is that they were far healthier physically than the farmers who came after them. This fact it seems is fairly simple to explain: their diet was wonderfully varied rather than being dependent on the grain crop(s); their daily life demanded a variety of often skilled movement rather than the repetitive and brute force required by agriculture (think balancing on branches to get a honeycomb vs hacking away at hard soil to plant next year’s crop); their children were breastfed until around the age of four, which also thus became the minimum age gap between siblings, giving mothers a break from childbirth and small children lots of care and nutrition without a rival; and they were not prey to the infectious diseases such as measles and small pox which were introduced to humankind by the animals we domesticated. In addition, we can imagine that hunter gatherers led much more interesting and varied lives, and worked much less than the vast majority of their descendants. Foragers even in a place as challenging to live as the Kalahari Desert still only ‘work’ about 40 hours a week. (Jean Liedloff said that the Yequana didn’t even have a word for the concept of ‘work’; there was no work/pleasure distinction). As a hunter gatherer you have no home to build, maintain and protect; no crops and livestock to nurture. harvest and store;and almost no clothes and possessions to make or buy, look after and guard.

Perhaps the biggest news though in Harari’s discussion of this period is that our brains may have actually shrunk since the agricultural revolution. Unlike the typical representation of our cave-man ancestors, to survive and pass on your genes in the pre-agricultural world you had to be physically and mentally extremely sharp and skilled. To be a farmer requires much less skill. To be an office-goer, even less.

So why did we as a species switch from foraging to farming? Well it wasn’t intentional of course, and even if we could convince people with hindsight that the agricultural revolution really was “history’s biggest fraud”, there is no going back because we are far too many now to survive except by intensive farming or by massively reducing our numbers. And this brings us to the other perspective. The agricultural revolution was a huge biological triumph for us as a species. We increased in number from an insignificant few to our current world-dominating 8 billion, as indeed did the chickens and pigs and cows we domesticated. On an individual level, our lot, and that of the battery chicken, is far worse than our ancestors; on the collective level we are the success story of the universe.

Harari doesn’t idealise – well at least not too much – the life of hunter gatherers. They were prey literally to a lot, and if someone were injured, or a twin, or ill, he or she might well be thrown out of the group and left to die. What for me though was a major revelation is the impact hunter gatherers had on their surroundings. For a start, there were many different species of humans and it’s not clear why the others, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, died out but Homo sapiens looks like a likely culprit. Secondly, the blitzkreig we are unleashing on the world’s fauna and flora right now is not the first nor the second but the third wave extinction. The second came with the agricultural revolution. The first with hunter gatherer groups as they moved out of the Afro-Asian landmass in which they had originated. Within a thousand years of Homo sapiens’ first footprint in Australia, the local mega fauna, including a marsupial lion, a 200kg kangaroo and the diprotodon (a 2.5 ton wombat for those that didn’t know), was wiped out. As a species we thankfully didn’t leave our incredibly destructive mark on the ocean’s creatures, until now that is.

If only we could have read this kind of history book in school.

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A New Name

This time two years ago I brought Uppu here for a short stay only for Gautam and I to realise as the weeks and months passed that this was in fact now home. This time one year ago Theos was born in a beautiful water birth in Goa and the three of us moved back here a few weeks later, with Gautam continuing to commute on the weekends.

So it seems appropriate that we are now marking another beginning, that of The Wildside. We had never named the piece of jungle land upon which we live. We weren’t quite sure what it was or what we wanted it to become. The ideas of wilderness and wildness, of escaping the nets of comfort and convenience that civilisation has spread have all become increasingly central to our lives here. And the discovery of the term ‘wildschooling’ captured our imaginations immediately; how better to describe what the children do here. So, with a nod, albeit in a very different context, to Lou Reed, The Wildside it is.

In one of Uppu’s books there is a tiger who, railing against having to wear clothes, walk upright and talk politely in the city, throws it all off and escapes to the jungle only to find he misses his friends too much. Like him we found it’s hard to live alone, even in paradise. We have a rich and wonderfully eclectic stream of short term residents here – friends, family, homeschooling families and volunteers – but no one else who calls this home. That has now changed with the arrival of another family of four.

Jeune and Avin, and their five year old twins Elena and Ethan, quit Bangalore to move here in late November. Avin is a technical whiz cum master chef who has already fixed the solar lights, set up a stereo and blender and brought home our first farm animals, a pair of ‘broiler chickens’ who are discovering for the first time movement, sunlight and freedom. Jeune is one of those super women who can smile through squabbling children, thieving dogs, unexpected visitors and still produce the perfect chocolate cake on a campfire. They are true believers in self-suffiency, making and doing almost everything themselves, from moving house to brewing wine to sewing the children’s clothes.

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The twins have settled in fast and we now have three Mowglis (plus one in training) running wild. To those who ask, as so many do, “but what do you do all day with the children”, the answer is we don’t. They do. There are no typical days so let me describe a few highlights from yesterday instead:

all three carted half filled buckets back and forth to help out for the much-anticipated bimonthly watering of the saplings

Ellie started collecting Lantenna flowers to make chutney, and was soon joined by the boys who made chat masala

one of the volunteers who was looking up a bird he had spotted helped satisfy the children’s curiosity by showing them the various birds he had identified so far

a family friend much loved by the children came to say good-bye which caused excitement and then sadness

Ethan made freshly burnt papad at lunch while Ellie looked after Theos as he ate; Uppu was being given an outdoor body scrub and oiling

they decided to rename themselves ‘Susu’, ‘Upside Down’ and ‘Princess Beauty’ respectively

Uppu and Ellie had a fight about a stick which Uppu then hid so she couldn’t find it

all three accompanied Jeune and I into the vegetable garden where they got very grumpy with us for not paying them enough attention, ate some ripe tomatoes, counted the ridge gourds, discovered a baby watermelon and danced along the pipes that demarcate our beds

they then came with us for a brainstorming session on what to do with the cottage, made a tunnel through the bookshelves which they then chased each other through screaming so loudly that we abandoned our discussion

Uppu tried to cut off a piece of old plastic pipe with a blade which led to experiments on wood with a saw and soon they were all sitting in the campfire ash making a refrigerator-oven out of a huge log

It feels good to be sharing this space with others and living as members of a community, with all the sharing, support, compromise, fun and challenges that entails. With a name and people The Wildside seems complete.

September Sky

The night skies in September are stunning. Autumnal full moons – the famed Sharad-rtu Purnima – and when the moon is absent the Milky Way often appears in all its glory. Here is a photo one of our recent volunteers, Jordy, took, showing all the stars, including those the naked eye cannot normally see.

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A Fruit Forest

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planting the first sapling

We eat a lot of fruit, a papaya each for breakfast, bananas by the dozen, whole watermelons and kilos of oranges to cool us down midday. And with almost seven acres of fertile land we thought trips to Sakleshpur to buy chemically-grown produce would soon be a thing of the past. It has though proved much harder than we expected to grow fruit.

The 300 odd fruit trees we planted three monsoons ago have grown a good inch and a half, or been eaten up by either cows or the jungle, or both. All but five of the 67 papayas I had nurtured from seed to sapling over the last year died this monsoon. The nearest we have got to a fruit yield has been a solitary nursery-bought papaya which gives miniature, albeit wonderfully sweet, fruits and two or three rounds of bananas (we have about five trees left out of the initial 100 we planted).

So when I heard about the Miyawaki method I was intrigued. The concept in brief is to create a tiny patch of forest with a large variety of very densely planted indigenous trees. The forest grows in a matter of years rather than decades and soon becomes maintenance-free, just like trees do in the wild. For us, it means we get plenty of fruit and fast, and maintenance is easy (especially keeping the jungle at bay, which is near impossible when you plant trees out over a large area in as wild and wet a place as ours).

Afforestt, set up and run by Shubhendu Sharma, has been creating these mini forests for customers in Bangalore and further afield for several years now. They charge big corporates, such as Bangalore International Airport, a hefty sum but they have also generously released very detailed notes on Dropbox for people like us who want to DIY it. Below is a fairly long description of how we created our medicinal fruit forest using Afforestt’s methodology. Those who are interested in trying out this technique are welcome to get in touch for more information.

1. Tree Selection

Our aim was to create a forest of indigenous fruit and medicinal trees (many of the trees we selected tick both boxes). One, very long-term and rather ambitious, aim of mine is to have the right kind of home-grown plants available to meet all our basic health needs. We selected only trees native to India and where possible ones which are indigenous to the Western Ghats. Afforestt recommends planting each 100m2 with 300 trees. We decided to start with just one 100m2 patch and thus needed 300 saplings.

As per Afforestt’s instructions, we (or rather Excel-whiz Gautam) played around with Excel equations to ensure we had the right amounts of each of our chosen ‘major’, ‘supporting’ and ‘minor’ species, and then adjusted again based on the tree size (shrub, small tree, tree and canopy). We then made inquiries with various nurseries to check on availability and costing. In the end we bought almost all the plants from the excellent nursery at FRLHT (the FRLHT aims to revive traditional Indian health systems and has a huge campus where they cultivate all kinds of rare medicinal plants; it is based in Yelahanka, Bangalore), which has high quality indigenous plants and can also provide cheap, organic manure and coco-peat. Here is our final tree list (the percentages inevitably got mixed up as some trees weren’t available when we actually placed the order).

Selecting and sourcing the trees was by far the most time-consuming part of the process, but by the end of it I could recite the botanical names of most of the 50-odd species on our list in my sleep and was thus well equipped to start the planting.

2. Site Preparation

Afforestt recommends preparing a 100m2 site with plenty of biomass to increase water retention, soil fertility and root perforation ability. They recommend that the digging (down to a depth of one metre) be done by a JCB, as well as the mixing process. Mixing involves putting half the soil back into the pit once dug, then spreading the biomass on top and mixing it in; then the remaining soil and remaining biomass is to be mixed in a similar way leaving a raised mound.

We chose a scrubby grassland covered in Lantenna, and, crucially, close enough to the kere to make watering easy. We almost created a 8,361m2 site when the combination of converting metres to feet plus squaring and square-rooting proved way too much for my math-challenged brain to handle, but realised our mistake early on, thanks to Bharath’s unschooled common sense.

The simple ball and ribbon test showed that the soil from this site is either clay loam or sandy clay loam. That would mean we need around 6.5kg/m2 of both perforation and water retention material as per the Afforestt calculation. We ended up buying 600kg of each, mainly because I forgot the figure was 6.5 rather than 6. For the perforation material we used rice husk, easily and cheaply available locally. For the water retention material, I bought coco-peat from the FRLHT.

We weren’t able to test the soil for carbon and nitrogen but assume it is reasonably rich in both so opted for the minimum amount of manure: 3kg/m2, so in total 300kg.

We try to avoid JCBs and Hitachis wherever possible as they are so very destructive, ripping up whole tracts of healthy land every time they turn round. To dig the site by hand though would have taken a full week, excluding mixing, and cost almost double. So we contracted a JCB to come and do the job.

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It took him about four hours in total but it was quite a mess. For a start, we should have asked him to pile all the soil on one side of the pit to make it easier to push back in. Instead he spread it all round and we were then visited by a large thunderstorm so by mixing time the whole thing was a quagmire. The machine had to go behind the piles of soil on all four sides, multiplying the destruction, and mixing was not very thorough. The JCB had also arrived several hours late so by the end of the mixing it was pitch black as well as pouring. We thus decided to cut short our losses and send the monster home. We employed two men for a day to try and level the site and raise the mound.

3. Planting

When you get a big delivery of many different species of trees from a nursery, there is a high likelihood, unless you are a botanist, that you will have no idea what most of the plants are. It took me many hours to identify and sort out all of the trees we bought, using videos that had been made as the saplings were loaded, and several books.

We then divided the (mainly) identified plants according to their size categorisation: shrub, small tree, tree, canopy. Afforestt recommends planting the forest by ensuring each m2 has a mix of each of these. So when we came to the sapling spreading it was easy to just grab one plant from each group and place them next to each other. Unfortunately I had somehow taken 60cm to mean half a foot so we placed the plants too close to each other, leaving half the site area bare. After realising the miscalculation, I tried to spread them out two feet apart and cover the whole site area, and in the process all of my careful efforts to place small by big etc were probably lost. Randomness though was definitely achieved.

Planting was done over two consecutive days, the first with a group of about 10 volunteers who were with us for the weekend, the second with a very hard-working Barki. We took care to follow the Afforrest method of first dipping the sapling bags in water, allowing the air bubbles to escape, and then planting and loosely packing the soil back in.

A friend was filming the planting with his drone.  Here are a few stills from the videos. In the last one you can spot the planting site top centre, where paddy and meadow meet.

We tied all those saplings that needed support and then mulched using four bales of hay from Bharath’s last paddy harvest. The hay when dry was about half a foot deep. We haven’t tied it down with rope as recommended because once damp it doesn’t seem to fly away. Perhaps in the dry season we will need to.

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mulch half spread

We have set up a pipe direct from the pump in the kere which we switch on for about 15 minutes in the morning – if it hasn’t rained – to water the whole forest.

4. Monitoring

As per Afforestt’s instructions, we plan to check how many saplings we have lost after about three months. It should be not more than 5% they say and certainly can’t be worse than the papaya wipe out…

We have also selected one tree each from around 20 species for monitoring of height and will keep recording growth every couple of months.  And I also labelled those trees whose names I may later forget.

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I finally found a use for all uppu’s old yakult bottles

5. Maintenance

Apart from watering and weeding there is no other maintenance required. In fact, we are specifically asked not to interfere should we see pests; the forest will sort it out. After two to three years there is no maintenance at all.

6. Costings

Here is the break-up of what we spent:

– Plants: roughly Rs 23,000

– Coco peat: Rs 250 for 25kg so total of Rs 6000 for 600kg

– Manure: Rs 150 for 20kg so total of Rs 2250 for 300kg

– Transportation of plants, coco peat and manure from FRLHT: Rs 7,000

– Rice husk: Rs 3,400 for husk, Rs 850 for gunny sacks and packing, Rs 600 transportation. Total: Rs 4,850

– Mulch: Bharath gave us the bundles; not sure of the rate had we bought them

– JCB: Rs 7,400

– Labour: mound Rs 600, planting Rs 600, tying and mulching Rs 300. Total Rs 1500

Total: Rs 52,000

Out of interest, planting the same amount of trees following normal methods in a jungle-type land like ours and with plants and manure purchased locally would cost about the same, as below. Maintenance costs though would be significantly more over the years.

– Plants from a local nursery, including transportation: roughly Rs 45,000

– Labour costs for planting and tying the saplings: Rs 4,500 for planting and tying (based on it taking a single man around one day to plant 20 trees after first clearing a patch for them in the jungle), Rs 1000 for tying each tree to a support stick

– Manure: Rs 1000-2000 for 50-100kg manure from Sakleshpur

Total: Rs 52,000

I hope to do a follow up post in perhaps six months or a year to report back on how the forest is progressing.

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Before, during and after the planting of our medicinal fruit forest, I have had the nagging feeling that I’m barking up the wrong tree. It’s not that the method is flawed but that my approach is all wrong. Rather than continue to try and poke and prod our piece of land into vegetable, fruit and herb productivity, perhaps we ought to focus on graciously receiving what she already so generously gives us. We have gluts of wild mango and jamun every other year. There is a wealth of Brahmi, way more than we can use in cooking and for our homemade shampoo. Wild brinjal gives us a tasty palya which simultaneously fights any intestinal parasites. We feast on greens such as ganikke soppu (Indian nightshade), huli soppu (purslane) and dantin soppu (amaranth) for most of the year. And friends and visitors are always pointing out new things, this flower can be heated in oil and applied as a dosha-balancer, that spiky leaf makes a wonderful sambar green. Should our priority be to document and use as much of the wild produce as we can before trying to harness the soil to our perhaps ill-conceived perceptions of what we need and want?

Not Suitable for Children

I was looking up an interesting farmstay recently – mud buildings, organic farm, freshwater pool, that kind of thing – and happened upon a Trip Advisor review of the place. Herewith complete and unabridged:

Well lemme be straight. we visited the place this weekend with family and friends. we booked 2 cottages and honestly we all were hugely disappointed at the end

1) To start with we reached the place and were greeted with 5 big DOGS.. now i agree that the dogs were friendly but at the first instances the kids get really psyched when they see them and also not everyone enjoy company of pets

2) the cottages were fine but the flush was not working in one of them, there were no additional blankets and again to top it up the dogs were with us when we wanted to CHILL outside

3) Food was average and nothing great. For veg people there are hardly any options as they server only organic stuff which is home grown. Now for people like us are ok with limited option BUT WHAT I CANT TOLERATE IS DOGS COMING AND SITTING NEXT TO US WHILE WE ARE HAVING FOOD.. as the kids were still afraid and we have to mange the kids rather than the owners taking care of the dogs 🙂

4) Cottage has insects and mosquitoes which dont add anything great to the room or ambiance. Also once it turns dark there are no white lights in rooms and becomes really boring in evening

5) The snooker table was not in any great condition neither was the pool, full of insects and flies. We cant really take a dip in there

6) Lastly the price which I have to pay for this facility – 8,350/- for a couple of one night.. I guess that way toooooo much for the service which I got

Wont recommend to anyone with KIDS or if you are planning to go for a luxury time.. you might be highly disappointed

Now you know why we would never set up a homestay on our farm…

The sad truth is that many children in Bangalore do struggle outside the city. Often they have never experienced the great outdoors except through the medium of a screen. Wilderness and wildlife are at best irritating and tedious, at worst terrifying.

Nature may be the aspiration du jour for Bangalore’s home-owners and holiday-makers – as all those ads attest – but the reality the glossy photos represent is way more than most can hack.

Birth

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I almost didn’t have the guts to publish this image. How many of us have actually seen birth photos? We tend to be too squeamish and embarrassed about this most elemental fact of human existence.

Just before the sky began to lighten on Friday 26th January, we birthed our second son, Theos Omakshara.

There is so much I want to say about an event that chokes me with emotion every time I think about it, but it is so hard to say it. Let me at least try.

Our quest for a midwife and a homebirth led us, after many twists and turns, to Goa late in our pregnancy. Our first child, Uppu, was born in a hospital, one of the fancy exclusive birthing hospitals that are springing up all over India, complete with luxury suites, baby shops and newborn photographers. We were lucky enough to find an obtstrician who believes in and supports natural birth and, after going to great lengths to ensure we would be allowed to birth with minimal intervention, we had the birth we wanted, at least on paper. Uppu was born vaginally with no drugs and no intervention. He took to the breast quickly and fairly easily and bar painkillers and antibiotics for me, neither of us had any kind of issue.

We had won for ourselves the natural ante-natal experience we had fought so hard for (Why should anyone have to fight – flooding the body with muscle-tensing, -clenching adrenaline rather than the oxytocin that birth thrives on – for what is in the truest sense of the term a birthright?), but we were left feeling somehow lacking. The hospital experience had turned me into an invalid from the moment I arrived, already in active labour, and was put into a wheelchair. I never quite shook that feeling off, so that it took me many weeks to return to health and normalcy. And somewhere among the bright lights; the succession of unknown, unnamed nurses and duty doctors checking dilation and foetal heartbeart; the sterile surroundings of our well equipped room; the aggressive ‘Push, push, push’ and having to swim to the surface of consciousness to refuse an episiotomy; the measuring and injecting of our newborn laid down in a plastic tray like a medical specimen – somewhere among all of this the euphoria of birth was limited to the moment of Uppu’s emergence. Hospitals and obstetricians have saved the lives of many an endangered mother and baby. In such situations they are invaluable. In healthy, normal pregnancies which should and would lead into healthy normal births were circumstances conducive, though, hospitals tend to do much more harm than good.

This time around, we were desperate to avoid the mainstream medicalised model. I even considered an unassisted birth, given how difficult it is to find a midwife in India (in Sakleshpur there are no longer even any traditional midwives), but neither of us felt very comfortable with that idea. Fate – via an old friend of Gautam’s – led us to Corinna Stalhofen, a German midwife who has delivered many many babies including his friend’s over several decades in India, and to north Goa where she lives, home to many an old haunt from our broke Bombay days.

Birthing away from home though has its challenges. I was fortunate enough to have my brother and his wife sign up to be with Uppu and me for the first three weeks (free holiday in Goa…) and my parents for the second half. My biggest fear was that Gautam, who couldn’t come and base himself here, wouldn’t make it for the birth; his presence was for me an absolute necessity. In the event Theo proved himself to be a master of timing: the entire extended family had jut arrived or not yet left, and Gautam, who was in Goa but being urged to get back to the office and who had until that morning been incapacitated by an injury, was present and able.

And thus it was that in the secure calm of our temporary home in Goa, Theo made his way from the warm watery womb into the warm waters of the birthing pool before gentle hands lifted him up – for his first contact with air, his first sensation of gravity, his first experience of touch, and his first face to face meeting with his waiting family. His passage to the outside world was fast and intense, accompanied by the medicine music we have grown to love over this pregnancy, and the chanting of Om. Uppu, asleep and oblivious to the night’s proceedings, awoke of his own accord a few minutes before Theo was birthed, quietly took in the scene from the bedroom door and then came and knelt at the side of the pool to await the baby’s arrival. With the intuition of small children, he knew that there was nothing to be scared of, despite the obvious extreme physical and emotional sensations his mother was experiencing.

As a family, we shared this magical experience with only one person, Corinna. She was with us throughout, quietly offering guidance where needed and readying the room for birth. She never intruded into the private realm of consciousness that Gautam and I were creating, preferring observation to examination. Her presence allowed us to focus inwards, trusting in her expertise and experience to bring us through.

Not that it was all sacred and mystical. There were glitches. A dodgy geyser had the rest of the family in the other flat up most of the night sending buckets and pans of hot water down as Corinna tried to get the pool on temperature in time for my rapidly progressing labour. There was even some light-hearted banter and attempts to moo like a cow. And there were times when I broke down and times when I gave up. Birthing a baby is the most overwhelming physical experience I have ever known. It is inescapably raw and primal; civilisation cannot touch it (perhaps that is why the Victorians first started to drug it into oblivion). And it can be tough.

The first week has brought tears, tedium and tiredness alongside the ecstasy, as first weeks do. We are all transitioning – from the known security and comfort of life inside to the big bad world outside, from full to empty womb, from only child to brother – and transitions are by nature challenging. This time though it just feels like normal life. We eat lunch in the same spot where Theo was born. There are no visits to the paediatrician or obstetrician, only Corinna popping in to chat about how things are going. Birth has happened. We are four rather than three. And now replete with beautiful memories of Theo’s arrival, life carries us forward to experience the joys and sorrows that have been vouchsafed us with this newly emerged soul. Never have I been so full of gratitude.

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Our new baby with Uppu’s several new babies, all duly nappied and wrapped up for bed