talks about her acting career and the arrival of Areeza, 18 months
Mumbai, 2006: It was two years after their marriage. Chhavi Mittal and Mohit Hussein were trying to get pregnant because everyone said it was the right time. But, her doctor diagnosed a dermoid cyst in her ovary, which she was advised to get removed. It wasn’t malignant but it could create problems if she wanted to conceive later, the doctor said. She explains how that surgery affected them as a couple: “I had woken up during the surgery despite anaesthesia. Mohit saw me in a lot of pain and was nearly in tears. I woke up very traumatised and he said he didn’t want me to go through any pain again. ‘You and I are happy together’ he declared. In the ICU that day, we decided that we didn’t want babies. We realised that we had tried for a baby not because we were ready but because of parental pressure.” So that was that, they thought.
A TWIST IN THE TALE!
However, there comes a phase in every relationship when you question yourself ‘what next’, and so it was with the Husseins. This time around, they were ready to receive a little angel, but didn’t consult a doctor and went the conventional way and it all worked out. Areeza was born on December 20, 2012. So, how did they decide to give this new disha (direction) to their life and relationship? Chhavi finds it hard to nail one reason. “I guess when you’re ready, you just know it. Mohit was ready for a year and was waiting for me to say yes. We had been married for seven years and thought it was time...” Of course, there were other triggers as well. She admits, “There are hidden signs... we knew our close friends Shweta Kawaatra and Manav Gohil for so many years and suddenly they were pregnant, and we saw them sooo happy. My other friends were also telling me that we should have a baby, that life would never be the same again, it would be so much more beautiful... And then there was the thought that we’ve shared a great life with each other as a couple, we are professionally very sound, so what next? Mohit and I have a very complete relationship, we share everything with each other and so sharing a baby was the next best thing.” Interestingly, Chhavi was hosting a kiddy show, Chhote Miyan, for COLORS channel, just before she conceived! “Everybody thought that I was really good with the kid and were amazed that I didn’t have one of my own and that I should have one. Nature has strange ways of pointing towards one direction and then it happens. There were kids of all age-groups on that show from eight-14 years. It was a kids’ comedy show, where they were doing stand up comedy. It was great to watch them do weird and funny acts. Even during the breaks, I would be sitting with them, they used to really love playing all over me,” she laughs. That she is good with kids was evident during our shoot with Chhavi and Areeza as well. April 28, 2012, was the eve of Chhavi and Mohit’s seventh wedding anniversary. But, the couple had fought and had not been on talking terms for the last few days. Chhavi had also missed her ‘dates’. “Since we were trying for a baby anyway, I could be pregnant any time. I had already bought a pregnancy test kit. So when I missed my dates, I did a pregnancy test at home and found it was positive. Just to double check, I went to a doctor and the news was indeed positive. I panicked. Though we knew it was time we had a baby, I didn’t think it would happen so quickly, the way it happens in the movies.” And here they were, not even on talking terms! “Though we never sleep over our differences this time our scrap had lasted longer. I was wondering what his reaction would be, what if he said he didn’t want the baby!” she confesses her vulnerability. Mohit, returning late after his shoot, entered with a big stuffed teddy
bear and flowers for Chhavi. “He had never ever bought me a stuffed toy in those seven years. So I asked him how come he got one that day. He said, ‘I don’t know, I went to buy flowers and the teddy was next to it, so I bought it’ and I started crying and I told him ‘I also have a gift for you’. I had gift-wrapped my pregnancy test, and when he opened it, he was stunned and he started crying, and I started crying and then we both hugged and patched up. I told him about my apprehensions about his reaction and he said, ‘Are you mad, why should you be getting worried? This is the best thing that could happen to us!’. I had bought a cake for our anniversary and had had them ice ‘Happy Anniversary, Papa’ on it. It’s amazing how we both bought each other baby-related gifts!” she giggles. This was also the time when Chhavi had signed a new show and was scheduled to leave for Delhi to shoot the pilot. She was in a real dilemma. She first broke the news of her pregnancy to her producer Tony. “He was very supportive and congratulated me. He told me not worry and to enjoy the best period of my life. ‘Let me handle it,’ he said. After breaking the news to the channel, he asked me if I would be able to shoot the pilot. I told him I could shoot till I start showing or till he didn’t want me to shoot. Putting the producer in a soup was not an option because I know how replacing a main lead is detrimental to a show. So I shot the pilot of the show, which was delayed by a year because they were hunting for a replacement,” she explains. When they finally started shooting for the show (with another actor), Areeza was born and was already two months old.
NINE MEMORABLE MONTHS
If ever there’s a ‘dream pregnancy’ it was Chhavi’s. “I gained barely 10 kilos in my pregnancy. The maximum weight I gained was in the last two months of pregnancy. Before that, my bump did not show much. I fitted into all my clothes, I didn’t have to buy a new wardrobe either before or after the pregnancy. I could even wear my shorts throughout my nine months! My skin glowed, my hair became long and lustrous, my nails became healthier... I wanted to be pregnant for the rest of my life! I loved the attention everyone around showered on me. I had been to a Chinese restaurant where they served a buffet and asked them if they could give me something that did not contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), and lo and behold, they laid a separate table for me with eight different dishes... that’s the kind of service I wanted to get for the rest of my life! It was the best period of my life,” she twinkles, as she munches on Threptin biscuits and sips on her cold coffee. No wonder then, that she got some of the best acting offers, not only in TV but also in Hindi and Punjabi films. Yet another reason why Chhavi loved her preggers phase! During pregnancy, she was high on fruits and amla juice on the recommendation of her mum. She also had her diet planned for the midnight hunger pangs. “In the middle of the night, I would eat Threptins, nuts and bananas. Mohit would prepare a glass of milk and store it in the fridge. At four am, I had to have apricots, figs, walnuts and almonds. I ate breakfast twice, which I continue to do. The minute I wake up, I need to eat and by the time my cook comes at 10 am, I’m hungry again, so he makes me paranthas. I never used to eat curds and salads so I included those in my diet. In the evening, it would be sandwiches. I’m addicted to cold coffee but I had to stop having it during pregnancy. My doctor had allowed me to have two cups of tea. I could have decaffeinated coffee. Mum used to feed me with a lot of paya soup and fish.
For some strange reason, I started craving cookies and chai, and also crab!” she shares. She also tells us how her social life started changing during pregnancy. “I didn’t enjoying going out as much because you can neither drink nor smoke and nor can you be around the smokers. I used to feel so hungry but I would find it awkward asking for something to eat every one hour. I feel people who don’t have babies can’t relate to a pregnant person. They wonder ‘why has she come, she’s a burden!’ I would move out if someone was smoking because I didn’t want to spoil somebody else’s fun. I stopped going out to random friends’ houses but continued to visit only very close friends’ homes,” she explains. It was at this time in her life that Chhavi met a whole new set of people, though. Her pre-natal classes were an adda for many mums-to-be, who attended counselling sessions on pregnancy, breastfeeding, diet and delivery. They bonded and became friends. As is the norm with the couple, Mohit was part of this aspect of her life as well. Recalls Chhavi, “Mohit was the only husband who came along for many other sessions, where he would sit in one corner feeling most embarrassed amidst so many pregnant women. For our session on childbirth, our husbands were also invited. In this class, Mohit got a lot of flak from all other husbands who couldn’t attend as many sessions and their wives had cribbed about it!” And then there was her fab baby shower, which Chhavi and her cousin and dear friend Karishma Randewa (who has shared her pregnancy diary on page 24), had been planning for a month. “We had fun games and everyone drank except me,” Chhavi mock-sulks, adding, “I got a yellow dress made for the occasion, while everybody else wore white.” When she was five months along, she felt a flutter, which felt like gas. Chhavi tried all kinds of tricks to get Mohit to feel the flutter but he couldn’t. “So I would lie down and tell him to put his finger in my navel but he still couldn’t feel anything. This continued for about 15 days. Then one fine day, it happened... a proper kick! I have videos of my stomach going up and down and sideways. This would happen most after eating and at night. The funniest sight was my navel, which would suddenly pop out and then recede slowly,” she says. With all these memorable moments and a minimum of difficulties, her pregnancy was truly flawless... just like her skin. “I don’t have a single stretchmark. I needed zero make-up while going out. In fact, I got these dark circles only after pregnancy because of lack of sleep and since I lost 11 kgs,” she says.
ANNNNND... HERE’S AREEZA!
When Areeza was born in Mumbai’s Kokilaben Ambani Hospital, Mohit was present in the labour room, sitting right behind Chhavi through the entire 45-minute ordeal, holding her, coaxing her to push. Her eyes brimming with emotion Chhavi says, “I could see the doctor was more worried about him and kept asking if he was okay... He helped me do my duckwalks in the room, he was counting my contractions, he even noted them down. Rather than the nurse, Mohit was following
all of the doctor’s instructions. We had had to induce labour because Areeza stopped growing in the tummy for two weeks. Her weight was only two-and-a-half kgs for the last two weeks, the doctor got worried and told us we needed to get her out. In the last month, the baby should put on half a kilo every week; I was 38 weeks mature, pretty much full-term. I was somehow not able to push and they had to use suction and even forceps... and finally, madam Areeza arrived! Even after the baby came, Mohit was very efficient.” Chhavi’s mum, who was in the labour room too, has a reason to adore her son-in-law. She says, “I saw his expression, he was about to cry when she was struggling with pain. Even after Areeza arrived, he sat still, only bothererd about Chhavi. In our times, husbands never went into the labour room. So I loved that...” Chhavi recalls seeing Areeza upside down with her black eyes wide open. But they had to take her to the incubator because her lungs had not developed fully. She remembers being full of wonder, asking herself ‘Was this the baby inside my tummy? Is she the one who was kicking around?’. Mohit was awestruck too, and after five minutes after the birth, the doctor had to remind him ‘don’t you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?!’ And Mohit came out of his stupor and said ‘Yes please...’ and the doctor broke the news that it was a girl. Says Chhavi, “A mother feels like a mother the moment she becomes pregnant, but a father feels like a father when he holds the baby in his arms. For the first three-four days, he was very scared to even hold her, but eventually he did. He would stare at her for long, try to touch her. Now we are scared to disturb her lest she wakes up!!!” So, how did they think of calling her Areeza? According to Chhavi, Areeza is derived from the word Arzi (message). On a night called the Badi Raat, Muslims pay tribute to the dead. You have to visit the burial ground where your ancestors are buried and light a candle. That’s also when you write a wish on a piece of paper, wrap it in flour and throw it into a water body for the fish to eat. They say that when the fish eat up that flour, they are tranferring your message to the 12th Imam. That wish or request is called Areeza. Chhavi explains, “This name came up on a Badi Raat when Mohit was explaining the significance of that night. At the very moment that he was telling me to write my Areeza on a piece of paper, everyone chorused – Areeza sounds like a good name for a girl. And then he explained to them its meaning. It was a unanimous decision that if it was a girl, we’d name her Areeza.”
THE EARLY DAYS
Chhavi’s story about being a mother would not be complete if we don’t tell you what happened when Mohit, who stayed with her for 15 days after the birth, had to resume work, and her mum also left after a month. She was all alone. She shares, “That’s when I found it difficult to cope. The baby and I were alone and that’s when I made a routine for her. For 20-25 days, I was trying to get her used to sleeping on her own. Her cot was in my room so I used to put her in the cot and stand near the door for hours waiting for her to settle down. She was about three months by then. I had read up a lot and followed instructions and did not rock or pat her to sleep. Gradually, she got used to sleeping on her own.” Nursing was a difficult period. “I used to feed her every two hours and that would drain me out. For five months, it was pretty much exclusive breastmilk for her. After a while, I started expressing it so somebody else could feed her. This was also the time I couldn’t step out and I used to be very hungry. Strangely, I had put on a lot of weight during this period. I have the most adorable videos of her feeding. She used to make a strange noise and we consulted the doctor so he told us that she a had a little blockage in the nose but it would be okay with time and it was. She would mostly dose off and Mohit would take her little foot and rub it against his stubbled cheek and she would wake up... it was the cutest time. Burping her took the longest and I would not put her down because of the fear of her choking. As a result, I used to get my sleep in fits and starts. I used to massage her and bathe her myself, feed her myself so I felt very overworked at least for those six months that I breastfed her,” she says in a gush of emotion.
She highly recommends a baby monitor and baby cot to every mum. “The baby monitor is a two-way alarm that can be turned on in the baby’s room and you have the receiver with you. If she wakes up, you can hear her crystal clear, you can even hear the rustling of sheets if the baby moves. I feel Areeza sleeps so much better because she sleeps undisturbed. Every parent should move the baby to the baby’s room once they feel the baby sleeps for a good amount of time through the night, otherwise mum and dad don’t get time together. I’m with her the whole day and I need my space, I need to watch TV in peace at night and unwind, I can’t do that if she’s in the room. I’m soon going to buy a video baby monitor, so I can see her too,” Chhavi declares. Chhavi doesn’t believe in baby-proofing the house overly because she rather Areeza gets used to her surroundings. “There’s a big bookshelf, so when she started crawling, she would take out the books and tear them, but we never stopped her so now she is done with it. She climbs on the couch but doesn’t know how to get off, but she’ll have to learn that herself. We all fall, get up and eventually learn,” she philosophises.
POST-BABY HUNGER PANGS
The downside of having a baby, if at all, was that she put on weight, her stitches took long to heal and sitting down for long became a problem. “I have a slipped disc and some pain in my upper back, which could be because of carrying Areeza on my left arm. During my lactation period, I had put on a lot of weight. I used to drink a lot of milk, and eat a lot of panjiri made of wheat flour, gaund and dry fruit, muesli and sooji halwa, apart from the regular food with desi ghee. Controlling the halwas, panjiri, motichoor laddoos, cakes and pastries was a bit tough. Mohit used to shoot in Naigaon, where there was a dairy – Bhajanlal Dairy – that makes the best rabdi and rasmalai... ufff... he used to get all these for me. Initially, my weight was 51.4 kgs, and it went up to 61.4 during pregnancy. But after delivery, when I came home, I was still 61.4 kgs. In the four days that I was in the hospital, I had bloated up. To lose those 10 kgs was very tough. Once I started going to the gym, I stopped all processed food, sugar, desi ghee, muffins and cakes. It took me six months to lose the weight,” she confides. Food has always been a big deal with Chhavi anyway, as she herself confesses, “My hunger pangs just irritate the [email protected]#t out of me, I have to eat in a 15-minute window.” But why Threptin biscuits? She answers, “They are high in protein and
I can’t tolerate hunger because I get a headache immediately. When I’m out or shooting and I don’t have the time to eat, keeping these biscuits handy makes good sense. I started eating these when I was pregnant because I used to feel hungry every one hour. Even now, a couple of Threptins and cold coffee and I’m sorted.” She has a word of advice for dealing with weighty woes. “Indian women can’t lose the post-pregnancy weight because they take too long to hit the gym and get back to normal life. If you let the weight settle for too long, then it takes even longer for you to lose it. It has taken you nine months to put on weight, so give yourself nine months to lose it too... don’t expect it to happen immediately. Take control of it after your stitches have healed and you’re feeling fine physically. You should start your walks within a month, whether you have a C-section or a normal delivery, and definitely hit the gym after two months. I started taking my evening walks within a month. After two months, I hit the gym. Gradually, I started increasing the intensity of my workout, which is why I could lose the weight. My doctor gave me the go-ahead after the first month itself but my mum told me to hold it a bit. We must observe our body and figure the right exercise plan for ourselves,” she avers.
AND THEN THERE WERE THREE...
Chhavi and Mohit had the best relationship anyway but after pregnancy, it scaled up a bit. “When I became pregnant, he started treating me like a baby. He would tolerate all my tantrums, never refuse me anything, no matter what I did or mistake I made, he never lost patience,” she smiles. And now, if he is super caring towards Chhavi, then he is like butter with Areeza. Says Chhavi, “He loves her a 100 times more than he does me. His routine is so tight and so is Areeza’s, he never gets to see her before leaving for work or after returning. So, when he’s home, he just can’t let go. Whether it’s been giving her a massage or bathing her or changing diapers or burping her – he does EVERYTHING for her.”
IN THE LIMELIGHT
When we ask her if we’ll see her on the screen again, she admits that the offers never stopped coming but she couldn’t take them up earlier because Areeza was too small. “It’s good to know that I’m still wanted and I don’t have to start from scratch,” she avers. Fortunately, Areeza’s grandparents are close at hand and happy to babysit if Chhavi takes on work. “She is very happy with Dada-Dadi; when they are here, we get no bhaav!” she laughs. Her first shoot post-baby was for an ad when Areeza was four months old. She has endorsed several top-end products – Benedryl, Google, Vanish and Kinderjoy. “Now, I’m ready to get back to TV,” she beams. “In TV today what matters the most is that you’re doing the most important character, and I’m happy with all the roles that have been offered to me. I want to make a comeback in a big way, not with something that will not be noticed. I’m not in a great hurry and can wait until my baby is two years old,” says Chhavi, clearly quite immersed and supremely content with her current starring role as mommy! M&B