Sep 21, 2011

When Women Bond

I recently heard from someone, the idea that you can never be friends with a person unless you have shared a joke with them. For instance, this person said, she could not share a laugh with her mother-in-law and hence, no matter how much 'seva' she undertook, they could never really be friends.

So this got me thinking about my relationship with my mother-in-law. I don't remember if we ever laughed together. Maybe we did, I'm really not sure about that. However, we have certainly shared something else. Something, perhaps more profound. Something, I believe, that women have shared the world over, from time immemorial.

And that my friends, is gossip.

The 'upstairs lady' - how badly she raises her kids, the 'opposite-house-lady' - how she drinks gallons of Pepsi while she's pregnant, the 'cockroach-infested-house-lady' who lives in the next block, there's never really a dearth of gossip to chatter about. Any newly gathered information by either of us will be promptly shared and discussed to shreds by the end of the evening. Sometimes, a truly earth-shattering, jaw-dropping piece of information would evoke a reaction from my otherwise silent father-in-law and he would invariably join in the conversation.

When I was a kid, I read somewhere that you should live in such a way that you would not hesitate to sell the family parrot at the town square. Well, as a grown-up(??) I can now confidently say that in most families, no great bond can be fostered between the ladies if this rule is adhered to.

To come to think of it, almost all the best girl friends I have had in my life, I have gossiped with. About other girls. About our other girl friends. Every girl in our gang gossiped about every other girl, and yet we remained good friends. Looking back, I only have fond memories of my girl friends.

So, isn't gossiping a vice, you ask? Of course it is! But so is the consumption of alcohol, and don't men bond excellently over a few bottles of beer? Fortunately or unfortunately, most human beings seem to come together over their vices, barring a saintly few.

A little gossip never hurt anyone. The trick is not to over do, or before you realize it, gossip becomes a way of life. So feel free to indulge in a little 'girl-talk' the next time you meet your mother-in-law and watch your relationship flourish!

Sep 14, 2011

Of Parents and Love...

I've only just discovered a wonderful blog a couple of days ago, and read most of her posts in one go. She writes very well, and has a cute sense of humour. The nice thing about reading other blogs is that it gives me so much more to think and reflect on, it arouses my own Muse and allows me to get writing. No wonder all writers started off as avid readers. 

So anyway, Divya wrote a birthday post about the lessons she's learned in life. And one particular thing she wrote about was family. About how they are the biggest support in life. In her own words, "You can yell at them, fight with them, push them away, but they will still love you. Unconditionally."

That got me reminiscing about my Mom and my Dad. About all the things they've ever done for me. And no matter how much I've ranted and raved and argued and argued some more at home, the two people I will always think of when it comes to unconditional love, are Mom and Dad.

My dad has always been my hero. Although, it's funny that I never realized this until a few months ago at the dinner table with my husband and my in-laws. I was talking about my dad. When all of a sudden my father-in-law says with a small smile and an eye-roll, "Ya, ya we all know your dad is a great man." That's when it hit me. I talk about my dad a lot. I'm always trying to tell them how wonderful my dad is. My dad is my hero. 

He's the silent kind. But he does a lot. His love is only evident in his actions. And you would be a fool to miss those actions. He's the kind who puts everyone's needs first and his own last. Work comes first, relaxation, last. I try to be like him. I fail miserably. As I think about him, there are some instances that I will never forget. Instances for which I will be forever indebted to him. Like the time when I just started the 10th class and he had transfered jobs to another city. He drove 220km up and down every day to work and back, just so I wouldn't have to face the trouble of changing schools during the crucial year of board exams. Or the time when I wanted to meet a friend who was leaving the country, so he drove me to the hotel at 10:00 in the night. And drove me, a bundle of tears, back home in silence, respecting my feelings. Or just silly things like giving me a glass of water after lunch or dinner and insisting that I finish it. No one has ever done for me as much as my father has, and for giving him to me, I am ever grateful to the divine cosmos.

My mother, on the other hand, is not so silent. Her love is evident in her constant nagging. Which is of course annoying. Which I of course, waste no time in telling her. At the end of the day, however, I do realize that her heart is in the right place. It's always been. The true evidence of her love and support came to me during my college years when I was going through a rough patch. Of course, now I look back at it for the silliness that it all was, but at the time a few truths had been revealed to me and I was broken. Heart-broken. Friend-broken. Embarrassed. My self-worth had hit an all time low. There was no one I could turn to, no one who seemed to really understand. 

My mother could sense that something had changed, something was wrong. She asked me once, I couldn't find the words to tell her all the pain and disappointment I was going through, the same pain and disappointment she had warned me that I was heading towards. She did not ask me anything more. She did not say anything more. For the next one week or so she never nagged me. She didn't ask me why I wasn't studying. Or why I was engaging in listless channel surfing for hours. Or why I was listening to songs of heartbreak and betrayal. Or why I wasn't helping around the house. She just left me alone. And loved me the way I needed it. She cooked all the food I liked. She was kind, warm and understanding. For that one week, she was not a mother, she was a friend. 

I healed. I felt better. I felt ready to face the world again. Since that time, I have never been able to lie to my mother. Not for the sake of anybody. Not for the sake of any friend. The gratitude in my heart does not allow me to cheat her. Even when I eventually found the love of my life, I told her about it all right from the beginning. And even though she openly voiced all her motherly fears, I have found nothing but support in her. 

Yeah, my parents aren't perfect. No parents are. They have made their share of mistakes. But it's all in good intention. That's what is important. In the end it's their love that carries me across, not their words or their actions.

Sep 9, 2011

Living in India

From the time I was born till the time I was 15, I lived outside of India. I grew up in the land of the Arabs. Saudi Arabia. Although my mother and I came to India every summer during vacations, for me, home was always where I was growing up, where my school was, and where all my friends lived. No amount of my grandmother's love and cooking could ever shake that strong identification that I had with that country as my home.

And yet, coming to India was always an amazing experience for me. My mother tells me that the first time I saw a cow on the streets when I was old enough to recognize the animal, I could not stop telling my mom that that was a cow. "Mummy, that's a cow!" "Yes sweety, it is." "But... that's a COW!" The streets back in Saudi were so boringly devoid of any interesting cattle-folk.

I suppose I should start from the time I woke up in the morning. My aunt (mom's sister) would be getting ready for work, listening to Vividh Bharati on the radio. This was the sound that invariably woke me up every day. Of course, being summer, I wouldn't really want to get out of bed even though I was wide awake. So I would simply lay there on the floor (yes, we slept on rugs on the floor!) listening to Vicco Vajradanti (ayurvedic jadi bootiyon se bana sampoorn swadeshi) and Washing Powder Nirma commercials. Trying to sing along in my head. That is, until I would be the last one in bed and some adult would come and kick me till I got up.

There were no wash basins at Grandma's, we brushed squatting on the Cinthol-smelling bathroom floor. It was so cool. Well back then, bathrooms were just a room with taps where you took bath. You took care of your other businesses in a different toilet. So it was cool. And I would then have one steel tumbler full of steaming hot horlicks waiting for me on the kitchen shelf. To this day, the smell of horlicks reminds me of my grandma. The drinking water needed to be filled in big brass pots from the tap downstairs every alternate day. So as I sat on the bed with my milk, I would watch as the adults scurried up and down with the pots at their waists, dreaming of when I would be old enough to carry a pot on my own waist.

Once breakfast and lunch were done with, it would be entertainment time. And what an entertainment it was! Door darshan of course. I remember watching some really nice shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh. In the evenings there would be those song programs like Chitrahaar, Chitralahiri and the likes. Each day of the week brought some excitement along with it depending on the programs that would be telecast that day. On most days however, there would be a power cut just before the program started. And we would start playing candle-light antakshari. And of course, on Sundays everyone was hooked to the telly with those Ramayana and Mahabharata epics and those old Telugu movies in the evenings. There was something just so enchantingly simple about those times.

Life was slow, uncomplicated. I looked out the window, I could see a myriad possibilities to keep my imagination engaged. The vendors who sold everything under the sun, just deciphering their strange calls was sheer fun. There were just so many kids to play with. And to them, I was a strange creature from a foreign land and hence very much subject to all sorts of weird questions about my life. One kid actually asked me if I lived in a tent in the desert and drank water from an oasis!

Our family outings were simple. There would be those token trips to Birla Mandir and Tank Bund that would be completed within a couple of weeks of our arrival. And I would be taken out to watch one movie that one of the adults would choose. I remember watching Jagadika Veerudu Atiloka Sundari and Seetaramaya Gari Manavaralu and Anjali and other such movies at the theatre. I was always given one packet of potato chips and one Goldspot to munch on. Ahh, I miss Goldspot.

I loved the shops. The bangle shops that my aunt took me to, to purchase bangles for my birthday. The towers and towers of multi-coloured bangles stacked up in neat columns was nothing short of pretty to me. The small kirana shops at every street corner that sold 5-star and poppins. I even loved the names of the sweets in India. The flower shops and the coconut shops and the pharmacies that smelled like cough syrup. They bring back such happy memories.

I loved travelling by cycle rickshaws. I would sometimes flatly refuse to come out of the house if we were not going to be taking one. And the honks of auto rickshaws were simply a delightful sound. I was so filled with curiosity over these fascinating rubber objects that I once went up to an empty auto and started honking away. And the temples, how could I forget the temples? The Ganesh temple near the railway station I always loved for the laddoo prasadam. It was so divine. And the jatras that happened where people would dance wildly on the roads. And my grandma would take me to the jatra market and buy me little wooden toys.

There is no end to childhood memories and I could probably write a book if I kept going. When compared to the neat, urbane, organized, life we lived in Saudi where there were laws and rules and all the streets looked the same, India was a breath of fresh air to a child's imaginative tendencies. Many an afternoon, I would simply sit by the window, looking out and making up stories about all the people I saw on the streets.

The time came when I had to leave Saudi for good, to continue with my education. I had to come to India. As difficult as it was to leave the place that I called home for 15 years, moving to India was something I looked forward to more than anything else. Many friends of my parents warned me that it would not be as easy as I thought. There were a lot of perceptions about life in India among the Indians of that community. That the people are not good, there are no facilities there, and the kids, the kids are the worst, there is nothing but cut-throat competition in the schools in India. These are a few of the many things people would talk about. Many of my friends never did live in India. They chose to move on to other countries. But the India of my heart and my dreams beckoned me, nevertheless.

My intuition proved every one's fears wrong. Of course adjusting had it's own ups and downs. But as a teenager, I found that life in India provided me with the kind of freedom that I always pined for. I discovered so many things about myself, how independent I could be, and how I loved exploring and wandering and just walking on my own. Contrary to everyone's fears, India, rather Hyderabad, proved to be a safe place filled with warm people who were always willing to help. The kids in my new school were kind and helpful, even more so than any of the other kids I had met before.

I don't have a concept of 'home' anymore. Moving countries was a big change and the word 'home' doesn't really mean anything to me anymore. But India is truly a beautiful country. Her beauty is in her chaos. In her music. In her dance. In her sense of devotion. In her absolute freedom. 

Sep 8, 2011

Little Miss Hitler

Some teachers are forgettable. Totally. So insignificant and un-passionate have they been about their profession that I cannot even remember their names. Their faces, I only have a vague recollection of. It's easy to forget people with no passion. These teachers were so indifferent, they did not even have the passion to scold!

Well anyway, the teachers that I can never forget are the really good ones, and also the really, really bad ones. And I must say, I have had more than my share of the bad ones. While there are so many I can think of to write about, there was this one particular teacher who was so horrendous, that she totally commands a separate blog post completely dedicated to her memory.

She was, as most of the horrifying ones are, a teacher of Maths. A subject that fails to inspire even when the best of the teachers are around. She taught me, or rather my class, for two torturous years during 11th and 12th standards. The years being called torturous only due to her inauspicious presence in them. Never before in history could any person have managed to despise anyone, as much as I have despised her.

Everything about her was frightening, including her persona. She was a small, thin, bespectacled woman whose eyes looked significantly large enough through those round glasses of hers to create a scary effect. She was always clad in a saree (the pallu of which she would wind around her waist, as though she were a woman entering battle) with gold bangles jingling at her wrists, and her hair was always, always tied in a bun at the nape of her neck. With her nostrils permanently affixed in the 'flare' mode, she was verily the epitome of numbers, Her Highness, Miss Righteousness, High Queen of Mathematicsland.

If her very appearance was a scary sight to behold, her antics in class were no less, I tell you. She frequently reminded the class about how brilliant she was at maths as a student, and how she expected no less of her students. She often regaled (read:bored) us with stories of the "mathscapades" of her younger days that got her looking all dreamy-eyed and got me, well, nauseous.

Did all the students hate her the same, you ask? Well no. Not the ones that were deemed brilliant by her at least. She seemed to be, rather blatantly, of the opinion that the girls in her class who did not do well, simply did not deserve to be there. Since maths was a subject of choice at the 11th and 12th standards, she wasted no time in informing us that it was "our problem and not hers" if we were labouring under the delusions that we could learn maths. Of course, completely ignoring the fact that we were doing perfectly fine in maths until we happened to chance upon her hell of a class.

This female Hitler of sorts, I secretly suspected, had taken it upon herself to purge the nation (or at least the college) of the inferior math species. She taught maths in class orally. Yes, orally. Not once in two years did she use the chalk and blackboard. All theorems, all problems, everything that could be done in a maths class, she would solve sitting up on her throne at the top of her class, orally, while we lowly beings scampered and scribbled through our notebooks, trying to keep up with her. While this could be considered a remarkable feat by any other person, coming from her, it only added to the frustrations and tears of a student like myself, who banked on hard work and not brilliance to perform well in the exams.

There came a time in these two years, when she decided that she would like to experience a boost in her ego. She announced in class one morning that she would not be teaching, but administering a 'feedback' session that day. All the students had to write down on a piece of paper, exactly what we thought about her and her class. She also gave us a dare, "if you are confident of what you have to say, you may write your names on the paper." Ya right, no way was I doing that! As my pen flew across the paper with ease, I stole a glance across the room and thought I saw several gleeful faces around me. The feedback was written and the papers handed in. She was to read them at home that evening. There was much speculation among us girls as to what would be the outcome of the 'session'.

What happened the next day caught us all by surprise. She entered the class as usual, stern gaze, flared nostrils and all, with the stack of papers in her hand. She then took her seat and announced to us that she was very disappointed. We thought that maybe we had made her mad. But no, she said, she was only very disappointed. The reason of her disappointed status, she coolly revealed, was the fact that not one of the single feedback notes were written in proper, grammatically correct English! She then proceeded to read out each and every note, correcting the sentences aloud, and poking fun at those who could not articulate themselves in a proper manner.

It was a sad day for teachers around the world.

There are many more pearls of wisdom that came from her during various classes, some of which are the following:

  • "If the tomatoes are rotten, there's nothing the cook can do." (Us being the tomatoes, and her being the cook)
  • "The lid just doesn't fit the jar." (Her being the jar and us being the lids, I think. That one didn't make much sense to me)
  • "No student of mine can come to me for private lessons. The day that happens, it means I have failed as a teacher." (This to a parent whose kid was doing badly and asked her for private lessons. Umm, guess what lady, you've already failed!)
  • On an unrelated note: "Vante Mataram just sounds like someone pinched A R Rahman and he's crying."
And many more such gems had been passed along to us through two years of maths lessons that have been lost across the sands of time. I wouldn't wish her upon even the worst of my enemies.

Sep 1, 2011

Someone New...

I met someone new last week. New not just to me, but to the world. Only just a couple of weeks new. A tiny little person, a person nevertheless.

He had 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes, this cute little angel-doll person. He lay at the center of a bed, covererd tenderly by the softest blanket that was probably the size of my towel. His eyes were shut and hands rolled up tightly into little fist balls. His small legs wouldn't lay straight no matter how much I tried to flatten them out. His spongy, pudgy wrists were such a contrast to my bony, hard ones.

The poor creature had his first-ever cold; his breathing was disturbed and irregular. And yet, he slept. Slept, like only a baby could.

Occasionally, he opened his eyes and we called out his name. It is probably just a strange noise to him. A noise he has not yet learnt to recognize as his own. A noise that in a few years will become his strongest identity. He smiles his mysterious smile and goes back to sleep.

I wonder what he dreams of. I wonder if he knows things that I do not. Maybe, he knows the secrets of the universe. Maybe he knows of a galaxy far, far away where dreams woven and sent to us at night. What is it that he knows that he will soon forget, just like the rest of us, when he learns to speak?

I did not wish to stop looking at him. Maybe, I thought, if I stared long enough, I could break the barrier of words and join him in his word-less realm of knowledge. Maybe I could let him teach me, if he would consent to do so, that is. How wonderful it would be, to have this little creature as a tutor, who has not yet been afflicted by the maladies of being human.