Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A prescription for reality

I'm a little bummed after the bomb attacks in Ahmedabad - and even as I file my stories on the whodunit, I can't help wonder why. I mean, ofcourse, I know the socio-religious-economic conditions that ferment such hate - but why? Why people who had no role to play? A fruit-vendor who barely makes a living selling expensive fruit that his children never get to eat - a woman buying a few apples: was she fasting, was it for her child, an aged parent at home? Why the hospitals? Why people who had the decency to stand up and do something - offer a helping hand, a pint of blood, a few words of courage?

Last night, Nino's Dad and I watched M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening - It's not a great movie - the critics were right and not racially motivated as some of the press in the US suggested - and it's solution to the way we lead our lives and affect our planet is no better than the terror strikes that happen. Who decided than man can be held responsible for perpetrating a crime and nature can't? And if everything is quid pro quo, as in nature is just paying us back in our own coin, who made nature the magnanimous divinity she is?

Anyways, so I was totally bummed, and then I saw this picture:
'A woman kisses her child as they make their way through the flooded village of Godadhar in Faridpur July 27, 2008. Several areas in north and northeastern Bangladesh remain inundated with floodwaters after the embankments of the rivers Jamuna and Padma collapsed due to heavy rainfall earlier this week.'
She's got no roof, no food, no money, but she's got love. And she's got the time to show it. Something we all need to learn.
pic courtsey: Reuters

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sexed down

Ok, so it's not rocket science that the number of children you have can be indirectly proportional to the amount of nocturnal activities you engage in with your spouse. The rule still applies to those of us with a single child, mind you.

Needless to say, we have fallen prey to the parenting-leads-to-celibacy phase. Most days I'm too tired to even feign a headache. And it's not like we don't, you know, try. It's just that Nino has great timing. It's a grouse that Nino's Dad's been nursing a while now, he's even tried telling me it's a great way to burn calories!

Then I came upon this article about a couple that got so fed up with not having sex, that they entered a 365-day pact - a little bit of mojo, everyday! The pact was a gift from the wife to the husband, and surprisingly, he was a little hesitant - performance pressure, maybe?! So they had sex on almost all nights of the year (yes, even they missed a few!), even through a bout of vertigo! They also make all kinds of suggestions to help you pep up your night-life. But while they 'enjoyed it' and ended up writing a book about the pact, they don't recommend the experience to any one.

So I thought I'd send the link to Nino's Dad, maybe to make him relieved that other people go through what we are going through as well. Then, I hit paydirt.

Gather five random people in the English speaking world. Then ask them to name their hottest celebrity couple. Four times out five, the answer is bound to be, Brangelina. Yes, yes, the scrumptious Brad Pitt and the sultry Angelina Jolie. Needless to say, Nino's Dad is included in this electorate. Brangelina's fight-and-then-have-makeup-sex philosophy in Mr and Mrs Smith, made 'Come to Mama' a bedroom-drama favourite.

And now, it seems, after six kids, someone's suggesting that they could be, hold your breath, sexed-down as well. 'Your parents are having better sex than these two,' she says. 'Even if they're dead.' The tag of the 'Hottest couple in the world' is rendered pretty much meaningless.

Looks like the parent trap sprung Venus and Adonis after all. Where's the hope for us mere mortals?

Role playing

I walk into home, dead beat after a really nasty day at work. 'Mother me, Nino,' I say. It's a role he loves to play: 'I've two-two babies' is his constant refrain when he's playing with Nino's Dad and me. I want to put my head in someone's lap and have my hair stroked.
Me: 'Mama do nini (sleep) in your lap?'
Nino: 'Yes.' 'Mama come.'
I lie down carefully in the tiny lap he has made from his crossed legs. He begins to stroke my hair the way I stroke his.
Nino: 'Mama?'
I'm thinking he's going to tell me he loves me, the way I do everytime he tumbles into my lap. I can feel that glow of motherly love coming.
Nino: 'Mama hair dirty. Sweaty. Chalo, come, I'll do shampoo.'


A few nights later Nino and I were colouring with crayons when he suddenly looked up and said, 'Mama, I'm Vincent and you're Theo.' Nino's dad looked up, surprised, 'Does he have new playmates at school?' Sigh. If only the in-laws hadn't sent him to St.Xavier's Loyola Hall.

I bought Vincent Van Gogh's Colors from the Met Museum in New York for Nino this summer. The preface talks about how the celebrated artist used to write letters to his brother Theo describing and depicting through sketches all that he saw during his travels. Nino loves the book, but we hadn't read it in a while, so I was surprised he remembered. It's a beautiful book - a great way to show some beautiful art and the words (by Van Gogh himself) are simple, with a music to themselves. Just a sentence per page - and so much fun to read aloud.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The answer to 'What does he do after school?'

I've just enrolled Nino for his first 'class'. Yes, Nino, the two-and-half-year old. Before you gasp and faint, the classes will start only when he is four. Yes, one-and-half-years later. And I was told I am late for the registration, but my number was duly noted and I will be informed when it is time. 'Do I need to follow this up?' I asked, worried about my lack of networking skills in a city that runs on the word-of-mouth. 'You can, if you want to, but you don't need to.' Aah, polite slap in the face. Ofcourse you silly woman, you must call. But don't dare suggest that calling frequently is what gets you admission in the first place. Sigh.

There was a time when I protested loudly against mothers who sent their kids to 'classes' - drawing, reading, science, puppetry, phonetics, music, applied math - not tuitions, but extra-curricular stuff. Most of them do it out of herd mentality - last year, mental maths was all the rage in small-town Ahmedabad, and every kid I knew was at some of the other Hawaiian-name sounding classes. (This year I'm split between chess and art. I'll let you know the poll results soon.) There are also classes that let children do as many puzzles as they want, and for every sport under the sun or done by the neighbour - tennis, swimming, cricket, football. For the girls, there's kathak and bharatnatyam. Most of the time, it's because, heaven help us, if the kids are at home and have to be entertained, we'll go nuts.

My parents never entertained me and my sister. Though we never got bored, I believe there's a higher meaning to boredom. It's the space that allows you to innovate (ketchup and rice becomes bloody rice and you become the monster set loose), to create (ever wondered if the person who made sheep out of cotton stuck on a toilet roll really intended to make wooly sheep), to explore (cobwebs, forbidden magazines, the ant-hill below Mum's favourite pot of greens), to find out what we truly enjoy. There's a point to some idle time - and that point is not education.

Moreover, do the kids really like the classes? I doubt the parents have asked that question. So and so has sent her son/daughter and he/she is cracking math like a calculator. Or all his/her friends are going. Or it's a great way to break into that social circle that we haven't managed to so far. Some, like my sister-in-law, enrol kids because they believe such courses can be enriching. There's drawing, cursive writing, science and chess. And yes, he's five, going-on-six. Just some months back there was swimming as well. My mother-in-law rants and raves, in her quiet voice. Stop, she says, let him be. The sister-in-law's arguments are that the son not being the outdoor-sy kind, she'd rather that he go to these classes than watch tv or play with his PSP. And then the fact that the kid really enjoys all that he learns. Point heard. Our civic infrastructure has left us with no open grounds to play - no thick neem trees to climb. To discover the joys of swinging on a swing made from deflated rubber tyre tubes. Children can't be left by themselves in public areas. Every other person could be a potent pervert, a child molestor. We were literally kicked out of our homes in the evening. 'Go get some fresh air.' We don't even have that today.

Anyway, so this class that Nino's been enrolled for, is for phonetics. You know, a says aaa, b says baa, and so on and so forth. So that Nino learns to pronounce his mother's mother-tongue properly and drops his father's mother-tongue influences somewhere in between. No, no, the real reason I've fallen for it is that phonics is proven to help children be able to read faster - not read fast as per kmph speed, but read from books at an early age. Being able to read my own story book was such a huge high for me, that I still remember when I started to read. No one taught me phonics - in fact, my first brush with the Queen's Language was through my granddad who only reprimanded me in Shakespearean quotes while he showered affection in Tamil. But I remember my mother taking me to book-fairs when I was six or seven, leaving me in the children's section while she went looking for her books. And when she's come back, hours later (she's as crazy about books as I am, maybe more) - I'd have a single book in my hand. 'That's all you picked?' she'd asked, miserable that I had been able to choose only a single book. 'No ma,' I'd say. 'I've finished reading the rest.'

It's true, even if I do say it, glancing around furtively: I read fast. How fast? Very fast. My parents never sent me to a speed-reading class. I just started reading very quickly because I wanted to read more. I was allotted maybe an hour of extra reading, so I wanted to finish more than one book. I'd take books to the dining table, to the loo, hide under the covering with a torch-light. Even hide them in the school textbooks, since I'd already read that science chapter as well. When I was to be punished, they took my books away. So I read labels, social studies notebooks, even my elder sister's science textbooks. My hunger for reading drove me to do what I do now for a living - editing. I read. And then I chop, clean, and layout. Like I would want to have found it. I remember being told very politely but firmly, in a book-fair again, that I needed to pick a book and leave. 'This is not a library,' they said.

Nino loves books. I've been reading to him since he was six months old. And he's really taken to it. From touch and feel books to picture books to story books to alphabet books to I spy books to wildlife magazines - he loves looking and hearing me/Nino's Dad read everything. Sometimes even the newspaper. These days, he's been showing an interest in the alphabet. When I read something, he asks me, 'where is it written?' 'Is that a g?' (somehow, he always wants to find out a 'g'). I know very soon, he'll be ready to learn his a, b, c. And I want him to be able to enjoy the high of reading his own book, inbetween Mumma and Dadda as we read at bedtime. To be astonished at how the written word is as magical as the picture that depicts it. The grace of the curves in the alphabet. The majestic strokes. The welcoming punctuations. Because I know he wants to. He picks his books and 'reads' them, the words memorised after having read them over and over again, to his teddy and the caregiver. And he begs to buy books. Always, books.

That's why the phonics class. There are very few in Ahmedabad, this is the only one this side of town. And the waiting list is a good couple-of-years. Will he like it? I don't know. I do know that if he does not, he will not be forced to live this dream of mine - because I am secure in the knowledge that he will eventually take to reading the way I did. I never went to a phonics class and my pronunciations are perfect because of the many ruler-raps the nuns at school administered on my knuckles. Also because I love the feel of words in my mouth, the way my tongue teases them out. The high of a good, long word, pronounced in a particular way. Creating beauty, everytime you speak or read.

The sister-in-law called to inform me about these classes. She had missed out for her son, and thought I shouldn't let my opinion on classes, hamper Nino's chances. 'I've already enrolled,' I said, waiting to hear a jab about how I've given in to the 'vice of education' like I often claim she and other parents have. She merely smiled. 'Good.'

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Music Masochism

Have you ever felt numb - in your soul?

The kind of lack-of-tingling feeling that comes from having spent the entire night trying to get the tears to flow, or having jogged till the pain just refuses to register in your shins, or realising that you are not meant to succeed in all your roles.

It's in seeing people talk and hearing the sounds of silence in your own life. It's like working on auto-pilot, the chores helping to ease the dull ache. It is in realising that even perpetrators can be in pain. In knowing that being able to make a choice and making it are two very different things.

One of the only antidotes to numbness, is music. It can fill the right holes, massage the right ache. It can heal, or it can fester, depending on what you're looking for. And just that's why, as someone I knew once said, 'there's no hospital better than a song.' Want to cry, want to sleep, want to vent anger, want a shoulder that's wet with the same kind of tears? These days, the bestfriends, guides, philosophers and lovers - can all be found on youtube.

Here's my song for today, for this current numbness: Comfortably numb by Pink Floyd. The lyrics suit every pain - and every reason for it - age, destiny, love or the lack of it.

'I need some information first. Just the basic facts. Where does it hurt?' That, my friends, is my problem.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Of diamonds, music and a locked loo

Her's is one of the first blogs I read each morning, and the Mad Momma today is wondering if the world's out of romantics. 'Did your man think you were worth the effort?' she says, pondering on the proverbial pop-the-question.

A die-hard romantic turned to a slightly-jaded-one myself, I must admit 'the proposal' was one of the most romantic things to ever happen to me. Clarifications first: Nino's Dad is not remotely romantic. In fact, I believe he suffers a singular allergy to the emotion, which when he is exposed to, results in a not-very-well-hidden lopsidedness to his lips, also known as a smirk.

I had returned to Ahmedabad after attending a close friend's wedding in Agra. A stomach bug mid-way through the wedding had made me miserable and I'd just about managed not to barf on the bride's Ritu Kumar-wala lehenga.

Nino's Dad picked me up from the station after a really long train ride back, and took me to his place instead of dropping me home, as requested. There he persisted in offering me something to drink - Dionysus being his favourite deity - and after being offered every possible alcohol kind in the country's only state with active alcohol prohibition - I settled, amply irritated, on Thums Up. And then let the glass sit next to me, as I grumpily stared in space, anything to avoid the eys of the man who insisted on pumping liquid into me, even as my stomach pumped it back.

So we waited. He tried to make polite conversation. I glared. Repeat dozen times. Right, I said, time to go home. The help came to collect something from the room, and I gave him my soft-drink glass, still filled to the brim, to dunk in the sink. Wait, Nino's Dad said. There's something in the glass. I looked and found nothing, even the fizz was gone, so I said, it's okay, I'm chucking it anyway. No, he said, in panic, there's something at the bottom of the glass. I peered through my thick glasses and saw something round and silver and gasp, it was a ring!

For all the times that I'd fantasied (okay, never, but I did see it in the movies a million times) about being proposed to - throwing the glass at the man who popped the question and running to the loo as if my izzat depended on it, was never in the picture. That's exactly what I did: I ran to the loo and locked it - and life went completely numb for all of five minutes. Of course, Nino's Dad says I took half an hour, but what do men know about timing, huh? He kept talking to me through the door, but I don't remember any of it. I do know that he finally said, 'it's okay if you say no, alteast come out?'

When I did open the door, his eyes were moist and the ring was in his hand. It was a princess cut diamond ring, and I've never seen his face more vulnerable than when they wheeled me into surgery after Nino refused to come out of my belly. Turns out he'd been planning the whole thing for months, wanted to put the ring in my food (since I'm a foodie) but friends told him, the hog that I am, I'd probably just swallow it! He had gone to get the ring with his entire family - mom, dad and two sisters (one of whom was visiting from the US) - some of whom I know did not really think we were good for each other. But they trooped in with him, offering support. I asked him if the sisters' chose the ring, but he said he'd always wanted to propose with that kind of a ring. It was beautiful, just like in the movies. And though I'm a glass-blade-will-also-do kind of gal, the solitaire meant some big time thinking into commitment, becasue I know he couldn't really afford it at that time.

I was touched with the gesture because we were pretty much living in, and I hadn't seen this coming. I don't know if I was ready to commit at this particular time, but I do know I wanted to be with Nino's Dad if I ever did decide to marry.

Anyways, so I said yes, and then we drove home where my father made him sing and my mother made him cook (I still cant' cook!) as part of the proposal before giving their approval. Oh and yes, how can I forget, we had to pass the astrological test as well. I remember my mum cluthing his hand and whispering conspiratorily, 'Don't worry, I'll help you both run away if the horoscopes don't match'. And they matched. Perfectly it seems. So much so that the pandit wanted to know if Nino's Dad had his horscope altered to match mine.

Sometimes when I get really bothered with him, I crib that I only married Nino's Dad for the ring. Once he quipped back saying that's the reason he'd picked it! The scatter-brain that I am, I've dropped the ring atleast half a dozen times - once in a taxi cab in Mumbai - only to have it come back to me. As does the giver.

A Bag story

Nino's Dad and I went to a brand new pre-school/day boarding programme's orientation session on Sunday. It's a new concept in Ahmedabad: a large majority of women here don't work full time, or live in joint families, so day-boarding has never really taken off. But the new school offers a variety of programmes, from regular pre-school hours to day boarding to evening activity hours. I for one know atleast half a dozen journalist friends who work crazy hours, are not bonafide gujaratis and have no family support system in the city, who'd grab the chance: a curriculum that combines the best of montessori and its critics, a campus that's full of trees (such a rarity these days) and lots of outdoor activites such as a swimming pool (we've been wanting to get a club membership for us so Nino can swim, but the fees - well, that's a story for another post!). Though we don't know if we are signing up Nino for it, (because we're really happy with his current montessori pre-school), I do know the school has its heart in the right place.

Anyways, the real reason for the post's title. Well the orientation also served to bring together some friends of the couple that's promoting the school. We sort of fit in that definition as well: we know through a relative the couple's siblings. A six-degree sepration sort of thing that would wear anyone down, but in aapnu (which mean hamaara, ours) Ahmedabad, it's what we call 'family friends'.

So when the orientation wrapped up and we were all standing in groups drinking coffee/having icecream (at 11:00am on Sunday morning!), I saw a lady with a Bottega Veneta Cabat . Okay. Exhaling slowly. For those in the know, exhale slowly as well. For those not in the know, the Bottega is a premium and exclusive leather goods brand, and it's bags are exquisite and very expensive. The reason I love the brand so much is that there are no monograms on display (remember the LVs that airports are stuffed with these days?), and no one who's not read about the bag will say much about it, other than, 'it's a beautiful bag.' No bling, no show, just pure choclate brown, soft leather, woven similar to the warp and weft on a cane basket. It retails for around $4000 (Rs1,60,000).

Now Ahmedabad is a rich city. A generation back, it was known for its textile mills and old industrial families, many of whom have lost the firms, but still retain the money. Unlike the north, old money (even if the money's not currently there!) commands a fair bit of respect here, and the feudal system of old money marries old money still works. Many of these families don't even have a surname, the names of their forefathers serving as second names, as in the Hindi saying naam hi kaafi hai (the name is enough). There is a certain genteel-ness about this - a certain charm that makes them carry a cloth zari batua with more ease than a Channel. The nouveau riche on the other hand, and there are loads of them, the state being the hotbed for all things entrepreneurial, love their monograms, so much so that local grocers, pre-school gates and saloons see more than their share of Coach, Gucci, Channel and ahem, the ugliest of them all, Louis Vuitton.

The best part about these bags, monogrammed or otherwise, is that most of these are fakes. Bought from New York City's famous China Town when visiting friends and relatives in the US. Because no true blue Gujarati would spend a ridiculous amount of money on a bag. A sentiment to cheer, considering that some of the price tags are enough to get someone a roof over their heads.

Unfortunately, bags such as the Bottega, or the even more exclusive (and beautiful, may I add) Birkin, don't have fakes. If they do, the fakes cost nearly as much as the originals themselves. So seeing this lady with the bag sort of took my breath away, making me happy (about her good taste, ofcourse) and sad (so much money, for a bag?) at the same time. This is when our host rescued me. 'It's got to be a fake,' she said. 'She's just returned from Hong Kong.'

God bless the Chinese.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Of Ganpati and Oedipus

A few weeks ago, in the process of trying to distract Nino from shoving his boiled egg below the high chair, I embarked upon telling him a story. Not just any story, but one from the Hindu mythology, about my favourite pot-bellied God, Ganesh/Ganpati. The story was originally about how Ganpati got his elephant-head, but as I relived the tale, I realised it was ghastly and gory - Two and a half year old Nino could not have expected to understand why Ganpati's dad (Lord Shiva) was so angry with him, that he cut his head off... so I just twisted the tale around to Ganpati standing guard as Goddess Parvati bathed and the happy reunion between the three of them, and Lord Shiva playfully pulling up Ganpati and asking him to be respectful to his father, and all elders. phew. I doubt if back then, in our childhood, grannies or mums worried about how violently we would veiw these stories. Even though I admire the Hindu philosophy for its ability to pull up and question everything and everyone, a lot of its moral tales revolve around skirmishes and violence. Not something I want my mixed heritage son to view as the overall image of my culture.

I was reminded of Ganpati's tale a few days back in an absolutely unexpected way. I rushed home, one hour early, gleefully like children playing traunt at school. Surprised Nino with a big hoop and then told him I'm taking him to the local snake park. Just that minute (isn't it always) I had to pee - and I just said, without thinking, baby, mama's gotta pee, don't let anyone enter the room. (we have a lot of workers at home currently, and I'd left the room door unlocked) - as I plonked down on the pot. 'I'm right here, mama,' he said. 'Standing guard, with my stick. I won't let anyone come in.' And right then I knew, he meant it. Even his dad would not have been able to get into the room.

I've always wondered, and so have multitudes of women before me, what exactly it is with men and their mothers. One of my boyfriends hated his mother so much - his choices in women were the antithesis of what she was. So many girlfriends bemoan how their mother-in-laws plot and connive to get the son's attention, to prove the metaphorical umbilical cord is still strong. The sons who always compare the wives cooking to their mothers. The mothers who still dote upon their sons, pushing their faults under layers of affection, each behaving like an emotional ostritch - if you can't see it, it did not happen. and I wondered about this even more becuase I come from a family of daughters - we have one cousin brother among nearly ten sisters. I remember asking my mother-in-law this, as her dearly-loved daughters ribbed her about loving her son the most. And she said, simply, 'You'll know when you have a son.'

Now that I have a son, do I know 'it'? I don' t know. I know that he loves me to bits, that he runs to me when he's happy/sad/hurt/hungry/sleepy/curious. I know it's not because I'm there all the time - my husband and I both work pretty much the same number of hours, so we get to see him each evening around the same time. But I do know that I've never had a bigger fan - or someone who adores me so much. And as he pets me, compliments me, hugs me and cries for me in his sleep, I can see how this need of his, can be a heady shot, brining a joy that can turn into a need by itself. I now understand how this need-begets-need can grow and take root, and refuse to let you grow and change - like all those mums who still find it difficult to realign their love for the kid with the man who is their son.

Sometimes, Nino's Dad feels a bit leftout from the showering of love that Nino gives me. As he playfully sulks, I rib him, 'You'll know when you have a daughter.'

Any thoughts? Mothers of sons, wives of sons - and fathers, even?