Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Err...somebody tell me why

I think the outrage of the Mumbai attacks is a backdrop for more and more outrageous behaviour everywhere. Some Deepak somebody came on FOX News last night and spoke about understanding the reasons that drive people to terrorism. Huh? Someone, anyone, please tell me why I have to try to understand where the terrorists came from, what drove them to commit these acts, what I and others of my ilk might have ever done in this life and in my previous lives that drove them to this? Why the flying heck should I give a damn what makes them tick? Am I supposed to arrive at the conclusion that it's my fault for being attacked? (hey, it could have been me, it could have been any of you, it could have happened anywhere). Wait a minute, isn't that what abusive people generally do? Blame the victim? Ah, I get it, so these terrorist guys somehow felt disenfranchised and that is everyone else's fault, so they killed everyone else? Why should I try to understand their convoluted minds? Also, someone feels disenfranchised and left out by the general society around them, so they take a gun, shoot people midlessly, strap a bomb and take out hundreds, they say we other people have taken away some rights of theirs, so it's okay for them to take away our right to life? I think it's time people stopped analyzing terrorism to pieces and expect some hard action on the places and people that harbor such terrorists. Who do we start pandering to? WHich religion's fanatics do we expect to satisy? Let's face it - where there is religion and faith, there is fanaticisim and we cannot hope to try to please everyone at every point of time. People have to take civic responsibility in demanding that their governments stop arm chair politics (strange - I used to reserve that for the thathas and mamas back in the 80s, seems that's all our politicians do too, spout off nonsense from their extra security detail surrounded armchairs) and protect the people they have sworn to protect.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How far have we come, really?

I wrote a post a few days back about career choices and your daughters and it got me thinking about other issues that parents of daughters might confront. Now, when I was growing up, marriage was still the destination for all girls growing up and my parents worked very hard to provide for their daughters' wedding in addition to a multitude of education costs. The wedding was still considered to be one of their biggest expenditures and whenever my parents bought jewelry, I could see the wheels turning in their heads, calculating the total gold each time. They strived to be in all respects equal opportunity parents but in some part of them, the old Indian fears gnawed at them and the pressure was definitely on to save for our future. I do know that most boys' parents of the same generation did not feel the same pressure. When it came to paying money to get into an engineering college for me, there were people who cautioned my dad not to overspend as ultimately, I was going to get married anyway and to save for that big event instead of spending on this. One person even told my father that he would not have thrown his money away to send his daughter to an engineering college.
My question is this - do parents of daughters today, Indian parents especially, feel any of the same stresses that my parents and others of their generation felt? Are they compelled to save for a wedding nowadays (in any form, jewelry or otherwise)? I am fairly confident that a vast majority of parents will treat their children the same when it comes to education. When it comes to personal safety, I think it is parents of boys that have to think differently with awareness of abuses and pedophilia growing. So I think it comes down to this then - while demanded dowries are more and more a thing of the past, do parents still feel like they need to give a large trousseau, say 10 years or 20 years down the line? Are they saving especially for that? It is true today too that the cost of a traditional Indian wedding is many lakhs of rupees and the brunt of it is borne by the girl's family - is that going to be an expectation of future generations that the boy's family MUST spend equally? I am curious how this will all unfold in the future...

Monday, November 10, 2008

What of the children?

I came across this horrifying report here - A 13 year old Somali girl was raped, raped by 3 men and then stoned to death for daring to report it - stoned to death on adultery charges. And the 3 men, no the three animals? Err....there is no mention of them in any media report.
I am alternatively aghast and appalled that something like this happened and that there is not more of a hue and cry about it. This incident (the stoning) happened with about a thousand spectators. Not one of them stepped forward to question the verdict or stop the stoning. One is left to imagine that the stones were thrown by these very people, watching and thirsting for the blood of a child.
I cannot get my head around this whole incident - a 13 year old was raped. It happens in the world, yes, I know. Perverts exist, I know. And yes, blaming the victim is the most common form of defense, I know that too. But do these men have to subjugate a small 13 year old and rape her to feel all powerful and invincible? If our society cannot offer it's best protection to shield small children from atrocities like this, what is the point of going to war to defend the country? What, at the end of the day are we protecting? And stoning to death this small child, who has already suffered unimaginable trauma? Shame on you, Somalia! Shame on you, world! Shame on every one of us that has read this and chosen to move on, chosen not to speak up about this. I feel ashamed in the name of all womanhood and motherhood, as every woman and mother should. My heart goes out to her family who not only have to live with her horrific death but also with the shame of the slur on her name. Asking for justice is clearly not an option it looks like, so the best we can do is pray for them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dream for your daughter?

I am living the feminist dream - I am married to an utterly wonderful, non-chauvinistic man, who is not even aware while he is making them that his choices speak of equal rights for women. This post is not about my husband, but he is my excuse for why I have not had a single feminist rant on my blog so far. I read about issues women face and feel far removed from it all in my day to day life. Sometimes though, I read or come across something that shakes me out of my stupor and make me rethink my whole "I don't have a single reason to rant" lifestyle - what affects one woman affects all women as a collective and advocacy for women's rights cannot be dependant upon our individual life experiences - in that you can start advocating for a cause because of a negative experience you may have had, but you cannot stop because of one positive or continuing positive personal experiences. So here goes ...

I recently was speaking to a group of working mothers, most of us had cajoled, bribed and pushed our children into getting ready for a swim class and were exhausted and one mom started talking about how hard it was working and taking care of home and children and how going to part time hurt her career so she had to switch back to full time. What she said next made me sit up and take notice. She said " What do I tell my daughter about careers? I am personally at a point where I feel tired and exhausted and that I have completely wasted a good portion of my life following a dream that I am even debating that I needed in the first place. I could have just stayed at home, never had a career and hence never had a conflict of interest. Do I tell my daughter that she would have a better life if she decided to stay at home ?".
This stayed with me the whole day - how much our mothers influence our choice of life styles, career choices and life goals. I have sons and have never given much thought to their career choices or whether they will even have one. I hope I haven't been sexist in assuming my children would of course work outside. My own mother dreamt for my sister and me and she dreamt big. My grandfather used to joke that she had determined that I was going to get a Ph.D. at 2. Anyway, I wonder whether my life would have been different if my mother had decided to work outside, if she had become disillusioned with the inequities that exist in the pay structure based on sex, if she had tired of the constant battle to manage home and her job outside, would she still have pushed us as she did?

While you hear more and more about the stay at home dad, Woman is still largely the parent that quits her once loved job to look after her children. Woman is still the parent that has her career stunted because of a choice to cut back on responsibility or go part time. Woman is the parent that will hang herself out on a limb for missing bedtime because of a deadline. Woman is crying on the inside for giving up the opportunity to work in another country for two months while the mother in her thanks her for sparing them the separation. Woman is the parent that in many jobs earns lesser than Man for the same load of work - apparently, as a society we still are under the impression that women produce lesser throughput than men. Woman is the parent that has to learn to not act like a girl to be taken serioulsy - apparently, men will promote only if a woman is man like in nature. Woman is the parent whose choice is constantly reviled - her choice of working outside makes her seem uncaring and unloving to some and her choice to stay at home makes her seem antiquated and unambitious to another. Woman is the parent whose right to choose is constantly threatened - she must have her baby even if it means she will not survive the pregnancy to raise it. Woman is the parent who is under constant pressure to live the image of the "perfect mom" touted on any which magazine she reads. Woman is the parent who constantly has to maintain the perfectly spotless home, cook perfectly nutritious meals, coach perfect little soccer games, make the perfect presentation at work and have the perfect bedtime story. Woman is the parent that must be super-mom.
Little wonder then that my friend was confused about whether she wanted this life style for her daughter. I wonder what I would have told my daughter.

Do you have a daughter? What would you tell her?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Out of the mouth of babes ...

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think I will need a whole village and maybe the next ten to raise both of mine. Or atleast to answer questions I cannot answer and do not ever remember asking my parents. I don't ever remember asking my parents what marriage was - for the longest possible time (and this stymies even me how I was that ignorant for that long), I just thought my parents were siblings like my sister and I are, and that my grandparents were siblings too, this somehow reinforced in my mind because both my grandfathers had a "murthy" in their name - Ramamurthy and Krishnamurthy. Like I thought Rajnikant and Vijaykant were brothers (I know - I must have been a really lame kid) And then one morning, I woke up and I just knew what the whole deal was about. I just never asked my folks questions about stuff that I somehow knew would earn me a mild rebuke or at the very least some form of a dismissive answer. I stumbled into my own answers through incorrect assumptions and convoluted conclusions. Kids nowadays are different. And let's face it - we as parents are too. I would not dream of brushing off questions about marriage and babies and death as being too much too soon(or atleast I thought so). Hence the quandary - How much do you tell them? How much is too much? ANd on greater questions like religion and being a vegetarian, how do you teach them to accept that they are one while others around them are another? I obviously did not do a good job with the whole vegetarian shebang because one hiking trip, Vinay turns to the two other sole hikers - both white, strappy males in their 40s and says loudly, in English "Hunters! Bad hunters! Amma, do they eat the animals?" Needless to say, we cut our trip short.

Sample (on the subject of marriage):
Vinay: Amma, are you married?
Me: Uh huh. Yes baby I am
Vinay: To whom?
Me: Why, to your appa!
Vinay: Oh. Can you get married again?
Me: Oh no, I don't think so. And who would I get married to anyway?

Vinay: You could get married to Varun (this softly) or how about me?
Me: Oh baby, you will get married to someone else .
Vinay: Why?????

Sample on death:
Me(in a scream): Varun! if keep jumping off the bunk bed you are going to fall and break your neck!
Vinay: So then he will die?
Me: Er....no.
Vinay: He could die, right?
Me: Er ...we would have to take him to the hospital and the doctor would have to give him shots
(Now the "shot" word used to be enough to silence them both for a looooong time, sadly no more) So again....
Vinay: But could he die??
Me: Hey! WHo wants candy??!!!!

There are many times I simply bow to greater experience and influence and I let his teachers know. And they have been absolutely wonderful, guiding me through some particularly tricky ones and handling some at school in ways that I would never have dreamed of but which have worked out beautifully. Like the other day in the car, on our way back from school
"Amma, do you know some people have babies. And then some don't"
"Uh huh"
"And that's okay" "And then some people don't want babies -for a loong time. And that's okay too"
I sat there in stunned silence while my heart was just overflowing with gratitude to his teachers for patiently answering my inquisitive child his incessant questions while injecting a learning of acceptance in him.
So they say it takes a village.
I'll bow deep to that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sweating the small stuff

I had an epiphany today - I never truly appreciated before my two little brats just how many decisions a mother makes. And I am not talking about the life changing, incredibly big decisions like "I am going to raise my children to be vegetarian" or the "I am going to send my children to a public/private/charter school" or even the "I will let my son wear pink and show the world that there is no shame there" kind of decisions. No. I am talking about the small(er?) ones which still consume and ultimately subsume us. The decisions like "Has Vinay outgrown this shirt so that his entire tummy shows or can I still get away with calling it a midriff showing t-shirt? Do I need to put this pant away now? " or "Do they need to eat vegetables twice a day ?" or even "Does Varun's cold look bad enough to warrant a day off from schhol and me a day off from work". Somewhere around the 4 month mark after my first was born, in the interest of "making decisions jointly where our children are concerned", I asked Patta "Do you think his pillowcase is disgusting enough to wash today or can it wait another day or a week or so?". He looked at me like I had grown two heads in addition to the 20 (ahem) pounds from the baby and and like it was totally obvious said "Just turn the pillow over ". Huh. So much for making decisions together. Since then I have been plodding through these decisions alone, deciding what color vegetables and fruits they eat today, what color socks go best with their shirts(the red or the white?), whether to let them nap or whether not to...You get the picture. And all I can say is, vive la madre! while debating to myself whether the kids get to go to the park or the pool this evening.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The dog dilemma

I am scared of dogs and I don't like 'em much. There. I've said it and I feel better. If only until I realize that I will now be the social outcaste, the person that (gasp!) DOESN'T like DOGS! Don't blame me people, blame the good municipal corporation of Chennai for letting loose on the streets a number of strays all designed to make even your trip from home to the theravu mona potti kadai more laborious than the longest flight from Chennai to Phoenix through Japan with a halt in St.Louis. I could have sworn that the street dogs mutated into some brilliant strategists to make sure that there was always one of them lying in wait for me outside my apartment back when I was a kid. I would usually send my mom ahead of me to chase the dog away and then step out of the house. Once I reached the street corner, I would look carefully and if I spotted a dog, I would wait for some one passing by(my heart swells in gratitude to my numerous protectors, most of them the servant maids that worked in the different houses ), beg to hitch a ride with them (yenga, ennakku nai na konjam bayam, naa onga kooda nadandu varalaama?"). Sure enough, the mutt would come chasing me, I would run in circles around this person while the person would try to chase it away("nee summa vaa ma, adu onnum pannadu") and I would be screaming to the heavens. The dogs by this time had sniffed out the house with the wimp (meaning, me) and made a game out of lying in wait for me.

When I moved out to the US, I noticed not that the streets were clean, but that the streets were clean of stray dogs. For the first ten days, I mistakenly floated around on a cloud of happiness that here at last, I did not have to worry about being chased. Until that is, one morning I jogged down the park lane when suddenly I found myself running with 3 dogs! They thought I was palying with them and chased me down, the faster I ran, the faster they got until my desperate eyes searched out the owners and ran to hide, cowering behind them. The owners thought it was hilarious and repeatedly told me the dogs were harmless, but all that this proved was that parks were out for me. I then tried hiking out in the wilds (surely, dogs don't climb mountains now, do they?) with a trail head that had a big bold sign board that said "All dogs MUST be kept on a leash). I hugged the words to me like a talisman and climbed and climbed and reached the top. My mistake was in beginning my descent without my friends. I was a half a mile from the peak when I spotted this great big canine making straight for me, not another soul in site. I considered the peak I was on, I considered the dog. And I decided to jump off the mountain. But now these mountains - they do not look like they do in the movies where the hysterical sister of the hero jumps off one and she falls many many feet. No - these have ledges that are a few feet from the top and then another set of tiny ledges below that and then another - well, you get the picture. So all jumping would give me would be ugly scratches and even lesser room to dodge the dog (because the dog could jump here too, right?). I stood my ground with the wind whipping away my tears while the dog sniffed me and sniffed me, round and round. The dog left me well enough alone after all she could smell were the moth balls in my mittens but I learnt my lesson. Now I don't run outside and I plan hikes with a large group of people or atleast one other not-scared-of dogs person. And I have also joined a gym.

Rattling in my head ...

Ever wonder why ...
1. Women in their teens try to make themselves look older and claim they are atleast 2 years older, the magic age seems to be when they reach 25 and then they start lying to make themselves look younger?

2. The sun darkens your face and whitens your hair?

3. If something can make you late, it will make you late?

4. The dictionary definition of homely(ugly, but tolerable) has not impacted The Hindu matrimonial ads?

5. Most Indians are ready to passively accept the less than mediocre in India, but start throwing the "sue" and "lawsuit" words liberally the minute we set foot outside the country?

6. You pray and pray for a "little time away from my kids" and then spend the entire time away thinking and talking (and even blogging) about them?

6. Your kids always fall sick on a Friday evenings?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Medical "boor"ism, anyone?

I recently read this heartrending account of one family's loss due to gross negligence and purposeful maltreatment by a medical establishment in Chennai. For those that have not read this, please do so and follow the links at the bottom to see more accounts of sickening misconduct and avarice in the name of medical treatment by the same establishment. My heart goes out to all those affected and I pray that the outrage that we as individuals feel can somehow penetrate the lethargy and the indifference that we as a collective exhibit, that we move towards a complete overhaul of the medical establishment and their attitudes towards the patients, that they see us less as a money making mechanism and more as the hope filled individuals that are looking upon them as God. That we as a nation demand more accountability. And that we will not tolerate one more instance of wrongful death at the hands of the very people sworn to protect us. AND - while waiting for that change to take shape, folks, please! do your homework in choosing your doctor.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cooking Chronicles - 1

I am not a chef and I have never aspired to be one. Ever. I can cook rice in the pressure cooker and the most basic of vegetables. Most of my cooking before my kids were born used to consist of microwaving plates of cold rice and sabji the local “ben” aunty would provide. But in the last four years, with motherhood has come certain pangs – pangs of guilt that my kids are being conditioned to my bad food and that they are missing out on the delicacies that I enjoyed as a child. And come festival time, the pangs turn into a full fledged clamor in my mind. As much as I love the idea of celebrating every Pilayar Chaturthi with kozhakattais, every varsha paruppu with vadai and payasam and every Gokulashtami with thattai and seedai, as much as I dream about how I will be a bustling hive of activity come “pandigai” day, that out of my pan would come the crispest thattais, the softest polis, the sweetest athirasams, there is a part of me that is praying for these festivals to fall on a weekday so that I can use the convenient excuse of work to make the barest minimum to hold my guilt at bay. I also spend the two days before, working extra hours at work or taking my kids to an extra outing to tire myself out so I can convince myself that I am too tired to cook.
But Gokulashtami this year is a Saturday. And I had no excuses this morning. So I woke up and before you could say “good morning” I was already on the phone with amma, badgering her for recipes. Patta walked in bleary eyed and sensing trouble(and maybe work with the "help" he would have to inevitably provide me), busied himself with getting himself and the kids out of harm’s way. I started with the thattais. The dough had too much water, it seems, and the first batch refused to stay flat in the oil. Some of them even stuck to the bottom. I hurriedly took that batch out and threw them in the dustbin, to hide from Patta (and myself) the evidence of the beginnings of a disaster. The second batch came out brown but soft, like the chewy ├ęclairs Cadbury’s makes. Hmmm. The third batch ended up in the trash black and sooty and I didn’t even remember at that point what thattais were supposed to look like. I then decided that maybe we did not want to eat thatta’s this year but seedai, now seedais were supposed to be Krishna’s favorite snack. So I mixed the batter for the seedais. I proudly popped the tester one in my mouth and it was so salty I nearly choked on it. I then proceeded to mix in more maavu to negate the effect of the salt. Now amma had warned me that seedais tend to burst out of the pan and splatter oil all over you and the floor. But I was disdainful that such a thing could happen to me. So I proudly put in 15 or so in the oil and within minutes, it was a war zone in my kitchen. The seedais started bursting out of the pan and I am sure that they multiplied some how while they were in there. Dodging the flying missiles, I managed to remove the seedais out of the oil and proceeded to clean up the kitchen. By which point the oil overheated and caught fire. Somewhere between fighting the oil spill and the oil fire, self-preservation stomped on my guilt clamors, stomping till they went back to whatever dark corners they hide in on most days. I lifted the receiver and said “Hello, Patta, could you PLEASE pick up a packet of thattais from the desi store on your way back?”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's in a title?

Jan22, 2008
Today I became a periamma. My sister has a beatiful 9lb11oz. bundle of joy and I am ecstatic about becoming an aunt. But I am not ecstatic about becoming a "periamma". What's in a title? you may ask. But think about it - the cool aunt is the "chitthi", the fun aunt is her, the playful one, the one with whom you can get into vambu and veshamam, the one who gets scolded by Paati along with you. THe one who can throw tantrums just like you and have thatha or Paati still call her "kutti" (even though you are the real kutti of the house). She will run around the house with you and generally goad you into more mischief. She will beg with you for treats from Paati and amma. And she will play with you more than any other person in the house. Periamma - sigh, a periamma is an authoritarian, she is the one who doles out the treats you and your chithi asked for with identical puppy-dog expressions. She is the one that tells you to be more responsible, why, she even tells your amma to be more responsible. She is the one you can complain to about your amma and watch your amma getting told off . While that brought me great glee when I was little, do I necessarily want my niece to see me in that role? Not that I would mind telling my sister off occasionally. (she is our "kutti" you see and I CAN tell her off :)). I could ask her to call me "aunty" but i have never been a fan of unifying all our wonderful, numerous, relationship-specifying titles into one bland all-encompassing black umbrella of "Uncle" or "Aunty". Can you imagine not calling your father's sister "athai" or your mum's brother "mama" or your aunt "manni" or "chithi" or "perimma"? Exactly. So my niece WILL call me "perimma". And I will just smile everytime she does and learn to like it because I know that chithi or perimma, my love for her will always be the same (and maybe I will manage to throw in some chitthi style looti with her one day).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eulogy of trilogies and other series

I love books . I love trilogies even more and if there are more than three books in the series, I love those series even more. Don't get me wrong - the single book in a non-series also captivates and thrills me. But. Once I read it, I no longer have the anticipation I feel when I have a new book, unexplored, it's twists and turns not yet revealed to me. I envy, no, I am jealous of someone that starts a book that I have finished and loved. I will never feel the same exhiliration again of running with Amir and Hassan as they run behind the last kite or sit with Uncle Tom outside the cabin while he whittles his wood or commiserate with Emma as she cries about the secrets Jack has just revealed. Instead, when I read the book again (which I know I will do many times - I never get tired of most books), it will be as if I am looking into a Penseive of my own thoughts and I already know what happened but I need to dust my memory a bit to catch the finer nuance of the words, a specific cadence that I adore. The last page is the beginning of my mourning - that the adventure does not go on, that the love story that has no end has ended or that the hero or the heroine is dead and a part of me that loved them as much as their lover did, died. So that is why I love a series in a book. I carry with me like a talisman the knowledge that the last page is not really the end, that Harry has gone for the summer and is having a good time at the Weasley's while I can finish my chores and await his arrival back at Hogwarts, or that Becky continues to shop and will soon be married to Luke in a grand affair or that Gage will be back with Cybil and the blood brothers will finish the Big Evil with the three fated women. I know - the series ends and my mouning is bigger for the bigger experience with the people in the book but the anticipation of the arrival of the next book in the series is something I liken to the arrival of a baby after months of waiting, carrying the expectation and the longing in your heart to just know what the book will bring with it and to share the joys and the emotions of the characters in the book. I salute you JRR Tolkien, I salute you JK Rowling, I salute you Sophie Kinsella, I salute you Nora Roberts for some of the best series I have read and for making my life rich with anticipation and excitement while you have slaved over your writing tool to provide me with yet another adventure filled, excitement loaded classic

Monday, August 18, 2008

Of growing young and growing old

I saw my first white hair today. Not gray. White. It was a startling white against the remaining, just washed and shampooed and shined black, black hair. Actually, Patta saw it and ofcourse I thought he was joking and refused to believe that I could have anything less than glossy black on my hair until he actually pulled it out and gave it to me, a silver present that I really didn't want. I have been feeling my chest tighten with panic all morning - this is me, a 31 year old who has always assumed that I would age gracefully when the time to age came, but right now? And here I was, panicking because of one white hair and then panicking because I was panicking. You get my drift..how does one age gracefully when you are terrified of one white hair?
On another note, Vinay had his first Bala Vihar session last night and I was so proud! Here is where my youth lies, in my sons. I see it everyday in their eyes, their curiosity in everyday mundane things, reinforcing to me how blase I have become about my world. When the teacher was talking to the kids about the Ramayana, one little girl, all of 7, piped up and said " I have a question - why didn't Kaikeyi banish Rama into exile like forever?Why 14 years?" and just like that, I felt like someone had shaken me to the core. WHy indeed?