Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Money, Money, Money...

... must be funny in a rich man's world.

Well, even Abba can't make me smile today.

If I had to look at my relationship with Goddess Lakshmi, I'd say she's been around, benevolent, but we haven't really gotten to know each other. I remember, even as a child, I'd ask for Goddess Saraswati's blessings first, even though my mum would says that Lakshmi only 'comes' to those who seek her. It was never money I asked for, it was always, always and irritatingly always, wisdom. Make me wise, I'd say, ever since I was six I think. 22 years later, I've been put face to face with the inescapable fact: what I know versus what I need are two completely different equations.

Nino's school admissions are on: and we've several options lined up, all the lesser of the evils that are home to the school system in my city. I've considered boards, teachers, first-hand experiences, my gut instinct, other people's freely doled out wisdom - everything - but for the fees. For long, I've been torn between knowing what can make my son happy and make him bloom, versus the fears (some mine, and mostly fed by others) of 'elite' groups, Nino growing up with complexes, about us having just one car in a 'social group' where every family has an obscene number of cars for itself, yadda, yadda, yadda. I've always believed that my socialist attitude to life would be helpful in shielding Nino from the trappings of economic status, but I've been told again, and again, that I'm not being entirely practical in my outlook.

The better of the schools are also expensive and my dad often points out that I went to a regular state board school and did pretty well for myself. And I'd always counter-argue that if we removed fees out of the equation, we'd still choose a particular school because it was so good for Nino. So why should lack of money prohibit me from giving my son the kind of education I want him to have? Because, dad reasons, there's no guarantee the brochure will be as good in real life. Be practical, he said. That's one refrain I've heard my entire life - I guess it is the one virtue I've missed out on entirely.

Today, I've been handed a fee slip for a possible admission that will break my already weakened financial plan. As I frantically thought this morning of what I'll borrow from whom, perhaps sell all those silly gold coins that I received in the wedding, I've been feeling like someone socked me in my gut. There's a voice in my head that says impractical idealistic fool, and I can't help the anger that stems from within me, for me. For all the books I keep spending money on. For being completely clueless when it comes to money, planning, saving.... Perhaps it is true: they were right about me. And yet, there is also this voice that asks me why would I mind being a fool for my son? He may not need it, or like I'm always told, he will not know the difference, and yet...

My childhood was filled with stories of heroism, of people who were brave and foolhardy who went forth to fight for what they believed in. These stories features mothers and women too. In a way, perhaps, this will be a heroic battle on my part. I too am brave and foolhardy, so what if my fight is monetary in nature.

I don't know if this time around I'll say 'Buddhi' before saying 'Lakshmi' when I pray, as I invariably do when I think of what I truly want from the Almighty, but I hope the lotus-wielding goddess is listening: I do want her too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When you have the time to stand and stare...

... You sleep in the afternoon, cuddled next to the warm body of your child, breathing in his hair in a calm sleep that usually evades you in the night as you race against time.

... You eat a lot :) Because at 4:00pm, there are just too many options in the fridge waiting to be cooked.

... You read a lot. Old stuff mostly. But I'm back to my 400+ pages in a few hours timing. Feels good. Feels like I'm 'back', somehow. And the genre doesn't matter. I did Potter's 7th book yesterday, for the nth time. And I still felt the same panic and thrill when he met old Voldy. The day before yesterday? The Other Side of Midnight. Today, I hope to conquer My Name is Red.

... You walk a lot. Errands. Evening walks. Nature trails. Feather hunts. Track the tailor/electrician/carpenter tags.

... You talk lesser. I'd so much to say and seek in the two-hours I got every evening when I got home from work - from everyone - and now I see and hear my answers in real-time: being present is an efficiency that makes me feel like I've a massive boulder off my shoulders.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night

So what do you do on the first day of not being employed?

Well, I'd planned to go back to bed once Nino goes to school. But my body clock is still hard-wired to the mad rush to head to work once his car-pool departs. And so I sit here, at 9:00am in the morning, blogging :D

I hadn't told Nino I would be 'more available' to him. I told him last night that you know, I'd be around more. It started out with his favourite question, 'so what stories did you do today'... and I did not quite know how to sum up my last day at work - considering it had been emotionally exhausting. I've been working there for three years now... and when I took the rickshaw home last night, after a full-day of goodbyes and goodlucks and confidentiality agreements being signed, this was playing in my head. I'm many things we could argue about, but there's no denying I'm a good girl .... who's free falling.

Anyways, so when I said 'well I did not do any stories, just checked other people's work', he groaned and said 'you've been checking for days now'... That's when I said that I don't think I'll be writing any stories now. And he sat up in the dark and asked why. I did not want to literally say I gave up work... so I just said I'm cutting back and I'd enjoy being there in the afternoons instead of getting home in the evening.

He heard me out, quietly. Then he made sure. 'So you'll be there in the afternoon'? Yes, I said. 'Not evening'? Evenings too, I said. 'Working from home?' Hahaha... my smart kid. 'Maybe' I said. 'But mostly not. Gonna do things with you'. With me and Gitaben, he prods... 'Yes'.

And then, just as quickly came his 'Yahoooo' and 'Yippeee'. And a flurry of activities got planned, including a visit to a nearby garden that he loves. Show me the way, I said. Then maybe you can show me what you guys (Nino and Gitaben) play in the afternoon... and then we could paint that board we've been meaning to, stick those wooden cars.... And the list went on.

Goodnight Nino, I said, finally prodding him to go to bed. But I can't sleep mum, he said. I've to 'teach' you so much...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Regret. Refresh. Rejoice. Reload.

Gosh, I have typed and erased an opening line so many times now, its ridiculous!

It's our wedding anniversary today. Five years. And I decided to begin it (well precede it) with a fight. Because I suffer from this 'occasion' trap syndrome. And I let my doubts over our differences swirl around my head with cigarette smoke. Thought of really cruel things to say, said some as well. From a smiling face, Nino's Dad when to a rather familiar place, silence. And as I sat twirling rogan josh on my plate while Nino chattered nineteen to a dozen, I realised how I'd come so close to not having a wedding anniversary today. How grateful I was that we were still together, still a family, disjointed and imperfect perhaps, but a tangible part of each other's lives.

Nino's Dad doesn't get ticked off too easily, and when he does, his forgiveness or peace takes a while to come. Just one of our many differences. When I hugged him and said sorry, I counted the 20 seconds it took his arm to come around and hug me as well. But it did. And it stayed there as I muttered my sheepish self-analysis. And my heartfelt gratitude that he'd walked those necessary steps towards me when we were faltering.

I wanted to share this with you - you know, because well, you've had a sorta ring-side view to the venting of my pain - and I realised I'm awkward, gauche when it comes to writing about the good stuff.

Maybe it is easier for me to share my pain. I know it well, and I've words and songs and silences that give it a familiar form. Joy? Ah, that. See, pain is one complete, all encompassing feeling. Joy is schizophrenic. There's happiness, glee, joy.... it's too dependent on someone else to be truly mine.

But that is where I'm wrong. I've read and known enough to know both pain and joy come from within us - someone else is just a convenient tangent.

As I sit here on my bed, still in pj's, a nicely scrubbed up Nino staring at the tv with an open mouth, and Nino's Dad sleeping through the noise, I'm happy. Not the delirious version. The content, calm one. Perhaps happiness has as many versions as me!

We plan to spend the evening with the one thing all three of us love: food. Nino and Nino's Dad will cook, mumma will play dj. In between I will groan about how long the food is taking, how the two chefs only want me to chop and clean but not stand with them. Then I'll sulk out of the kitchen and fight back that stinging happiness in my eyes as I hear them chuckling with laughter together.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Salaam Bombay

How does one fall in love with a city?

It's pretty similar to falling in love with someone actually. First there's the idea - the misty, subconscious conditioned tinted glow. Then there's the actual tangible meeting. There's like and dislike, strong like and strong dislike, and then the succumbing to the fact that despite and inspite all that you can put down on a two-page list, there's no escaping this person. Love it must be then, for the lack of a more evolved word.

That is how it is with me and Bombay. Or with any small-town kid and India's only true metro. It was Rushdie who stoked the first sparks of love - till I came to see it and got all run over by the dirt and the smells and the people who seemed so 'lost' within themselves and their city. I worked there for a bit - and learned to love the smell of sweat, the pushing and shoving on the local trains, the sweet Muslim cab-wallah-uncle who ran up three floors of the TOI to return my recently-acquired solitaire engagement ring. I remember the first time I was robbed, by a friendly faced girl on the local, how I sobbed all the way to Powai, and how the rickshawallah offered his silent looks and patient wait till I hounded down acquaintances for fare money. I remember walking out of a theater by myself at 2:00 in the night, feeling the same kind of security as I felt back home, the fact that this is perhaps the only other city where I'm safe despite my gender. Mistaken fact, but still, almost true.

I saw its glitz and glamour, its astounding riches and it's quiet alleys of pain. It was the pace that took my breath way - the purpose in the walks of the hordes who met me at CST. The talks of the women who left home at 5 every morning. The reason for all that jostling for space. The need for self-survival. I marvelled at its pride, and I understood my antagonism of how every Mumbaikar I'd met could not look beyond their city - and I understood why. I loved it and then I couldn't wait to get away from it. And it remains, like a dear ex-lover, with enough warm nostalgia to make it my own. They say if you can recognize and reconnect to someone through an insipid and stupid name-change, you're meant to be connected.

Mumbai, I mourn you still. The scabs over your wounds maybe falling off, but I feel your pain still. The pace was soon set, but I honour your pause still. The despair must make way for determination, because I remember your fear still.


OJ, whose twitter feed on 26/11, connected all of us who were away from Mumbai to its fears and hopes and tears, writes about picking up the pieces, here.

Prasoon Joshi and Amitabh Bachchan's plea to stop, to pause, to question, directed to a city that tends to pick itself up easily, here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mothers and Daughters

These days I'm in a 'gratitude binge' on Facebook. It's a tag started by T, who said to list what you're grateful for every single day till thanksgiving.

My first thanks went to my mum. Who remains my guru, teacher, friend and general rock. For her calm amidst my rage, for the lovely songs she sings to me over the phone to pep me up. Yesterday I came across a lovely poem written by a dear friend to her (future) daughter.

Henri has been a late entrant in my life - we studied together in school, but never really knew each other. This Diwali, we met and bonded, and I've discovered a dear friend, someone who Nino and I adore. Henri's mum had Alzheimer's: and her struggle with her illness and eventual demise when Henri was a teenager is a major contributor to the energy Henri finds within herself to work with those that society shuns. It has also given my friend a large appetite for life - and all of life, its ups and downs - and her letter to her as-yet-unborn daughter is testament to this joie de vivre. It reminds me so much of my mum - whose advice is generally a mix of emotional intelligence and large swathes of common sense.

A Poem For My Daughter

My mum was never around to give me advice on life’s problems. I learned things the hard way. I never want to be in a position where my wisdom doesn’t pass on to my children. Life is uncertain, so here is what I’d like to tell my daughter.

Dear Darling Baby Girl,

Pick a wild flower in my name,
Wear white and dance in the rain,

Eat ice cream on a winter night,
Kiss passionately after a fight.

Play word games to sharpen your mind,
Say sorry if you’ve been unkind.

Love deeply, but be your own girl,
Feed the crows and tame a squirrel!

But never have pets, they die and make you sad,
When in doubt, wear jeans, they’re never outta fad.

Marriages are made in heaven, but they break here on earth,
Don’t fight over petty things, value love’s worth.

Always eat breakfast, it keeps depression at bay,
Always keep chocolate just an arm’s length away.

Drive slowly, and enjoy the ride,
Visit beaches often, worship the sea-side.

Never waste water, or food or good wine,
Make your own mistakes, but also learn from mine.

Climb a mountain, swim in a river, row a coracle,
Read fiction, write poetry, language is a miracle.

Don’t just donate money, also volunteer time,
Leave your windows open, make your own wind chimes.

Friends are like crystal, tend to them with care,
Don’t just play to win, and always play fair!

Be the life of the party, but stay home when you like,
Enjoy good food, exercise, and you’ll be fit and fine.

Be proud of growing older, and you’ll remain in your prime,
Eat bananas to beat a hangover, for nausea use lime.

A person who breaks your heart, needs your prayers the most,
Believe in God almighty, but don’t believe in ghosts!

Love your parents, but know they can be wrong,
And never ever believe you’re gonna live long.

Remember life is transient, things never remain the same,
So when you miss me, my baby, pick a wild flower in my name!

Your Loving Mom, Henri

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A thing of beauty...

... is a joy forever.

It's true: I've willed it be wrong and false and foolishly romantic and therefore fated to an early death - but it will not escape me.

I remember reading sometime back this article about a woman whose husband is her better (looking, in this case) half, and all the funny and no-so-funny things about this situation. It was an article I instantly connected to - and I read it with relish, imagining all those mean aunties (most of them on the husband's side I bravely admit, and some silent ones on my side as well) who muttered 'wonder what he sees in her'.

I've come back to this situation often. I did not blossom into the proverbial butterfly, I just became more comfortable with what I looked like. I was a typical geek in school - all gangly limbs, braces and glasses, longer-than-long oiled hair with plaits. And I went to a typically trendy convent high-school. And I was put down directly and indirectly about how I looked. And now when I meet ex-classmates, it's the pretty ones who say - oh, you look nice! - like it's an unexpected shock. I'm dramatically different from before - but it's not the difference so much as the adjective they use.

Although I don't subscribe to the theory that things are easier for pretty looking people, why in some case beautiful women are taken to be dumb and it's pretty frustrating for them - but I do know sometimes it is easier for them. A traffic snarl that can be solved with a smile. A crabby fight that just needs a certain look. This feeling of coming home dead tired and feeling better by just seeing someone's perfection. I also know you get immune to beauty when you live with it for too long - but never really immune. Beauty is the best epitaph.

Why am I here, writing this? I just came across someone from my school who I don't really remember, but who used to play Mary in all our Nativity plays. Because she's got glorious skin and is angelic and cherubic. Every year. Who said Mary was beautiful? The subconscious treatment that equates beauty with being above ordinary starts in school. Why don't they have a random straw poll and pick a Mary in schools? Why not the short one or the dark one or the one with the pug nose? It takes no acting talent: she just needs to sit there and smile, so I don't believe talent had anything to do with it. We've conveniently equated beautiful with the divine. Hence anyone else is lesser, mere mortal. Little girls with pink frilly frocks and cherubic cheeks versus little girls with broken hearts wondering why they can't play princess.

Is this the same thing as picking the best speaker for the debate competition? No. Talent can be nurtured, developed, everyone has a shot at it. Beauty? Why that's the one damn thing that's not really in your hands. You can go as far as well-groomed or well-turned-out or well-dressed, but beautiful? Not even under the scalpel.

When I saw her today - Mary from school - and I looked through her photographs from school and I sat bewitched and saw her beauty - and felt very frumpy myself. And sorta felt cheated. And a little hurt that my 'blossoming' never came. And worried how I'd react if I saw my son being held back from something he wanted to do because of how he'd look. And grateful that perhaps he'll have to put up with it lesser because he's a boy. Maybe. Big maybe there.

Ofcourse I do believe that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. I just wish all the beholders were are short-sighted as Nino's Dad.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An update and a bribe :)

You know the most amazing part about trying to fix something? It's your best chance to experience an out-of-body feeling, one where you're watching yourself first break and then try to mend stuff.

Nino's Dad and I are mending stuff these days - and I've consciously stayed off the blog because I won't be able to not write what I feel: and I know that he would hope that these revelations come to me, in a well, less public way. But we're getting better *fingers crossed*.

In between all this conundrum, we've grappled with several illnesses between all of us - including Nino, who went from a completely toilet trained individual to someone who would wet his bed more than a couple of times in the night. Docs thought it was juvenile diabetes, and that was quite a scare, but that's been ruled out now. Then it was a urinary track infection in the sense that his foreskin was way too tight for him, and now, as of last week, he has been listed as a possible suspect for ADHD.

I must admit I haven't been the most ideal mother. I haven't stood up for my son. I have panicked, got him poked and tested, convinced my upbringing was wrong and had harmed him for life. ADHD took the cake, literally. I was looking at my bright, boisterous, opinionated boy and wondering if he had internalised all our troubles, stuff that we tried so hard to shield him from. And then a few sane voices reared their heads, including a friend who has worked with ADHD kids. She listened to me, poked big gaping holes in my fear psychosis, and then told me point blank that she thought Nino could have HD, but not AD, given his absolute concentration when he's doing stuff. But there's no denying he needs more time from me - absolutely needs it.

So, I'm quitting my current job. It's a huge thing for us financially - considering we're the worst example of credit security you could ever give anyone - but there. Ofcourse I'm going to try and work part time. For the money and the sanity of it. As I took the decision to quit last week, I felt this incredible sense of relief wash over me - like I knew, really really knew, what I was doing. I've been working since Nino was 9 months old, and several of you are aware that I've grappled with guilt a lot. It's not a great job, not even creatively, but I did it for the money. And well, like that really helped :)

Some of the good things? Well, we've been partying like... like... when we were young! Diwali brought friends and family from abroad, then Halloween brought Nino's friends and ever since, we've promised to entertain atleast twice a month - and not let routine wear us out.

As a bribe, I'm leaving you with some pix from Nino's Halloween party. We had proper monster food, a sit-down 'three course dinner' (menu decided by Nino ofcourse), some games and a reading of our current favourite book, Where the Wild Things Are. It was soo-per fun!


on an aside, hope you've noticed my updated 'Top Clicks' section *sheepish* . I did that a few days (or was it weeks) back - and it's our (Mine and Nino's) ode to the Cauliflower. Yes. We've a chef in the making here, so what if mumma can't cook to save her life!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize

I remember shadowing Hillary Clinton for a race that - even with its most obvious diplomatic connotations - did not matter to the average Indian me. And how I was a bit bummed when this chappie called Barack Obama eventually won the Democratic nomination. Then I got to know him better, read him a bit more, understood why people got goosebumps everytime he spoke, had stingers in my eyes everytime I saw him and when I realised what he stood for: for America, for the world, for every individual, if you looked at it in a really intent way. When he won, I was proud - proud unlike how I've ever been for any Indian election winner - and I cried.

But I felt no pride or tears of joy today when I read that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. There was shock, disbelief and anger. Shock at how much this puts into perspective the fact that what he signifies to me and the world and his country has done little actual, real-time difference, when compared to those who won the Nobel before him. Disbelief that Oslo, one of the world's few 'fair' awards, would spark such a massive international debate, honouring a serving president, one whose country is waging three wars currently, someone who has yet to cross even one major foreign-policy milestone. Anger, because there were far more deserving candidates: peace means and demand much, much more today. Anger, because this award has stinted Obama's chances of making real change happen - he has been stymied by this medal, which will take his every future effort to the bottom of the diplomatic cess-pool.

Give the Nobel back, Obama.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We've got incoming!

The cat-lady's just gotten a baby girl! yay!

Please head over and wish her, and the adorable Veeru and Basanti, a very very happy first step into motherhood!

I'm celebrating with lemon tea shots (Gujarat is a prohibition state - well, what the hell, actually I can't drink at work), but jeez, join me!

*skip, hop, skip, hop, skip, hop, wheeeeeee*

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A breakthrough, and some thank-you's

"Remember, the desires that are in our souls do not come from the nothingness; someone put them there. And this someone, who is pure love and only wishes our happiness, only did it because he gave us, together with these desires, the tools to make them happen."

- Paulo Coelho

I've, for a large part of my life and perhaps subconsciously, without giving it much thought, tied my 'identity' to what I seeked at that particular time. Seeker of wisdom, then love, sometimes strength, often patience.

Some searches seem eternal, overlapping with other things in life, sometimes they lie hidden underneath circumstances, coming up for air just when I'm concentrating on other things. That is why perhaps I feel like I've always been a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law. My searches transcended my social or cultural status - and they remained, even when tags changed.

Love, of all these searches, remains one of the most perplexing ones. It's not easy to seek it, neither to ignore it, neither to remain unaffected by it. All of us give love our heart, our soul, our best shot: I give it my rage too.

I've been raging in love for what seems like forever now - actually if I read my diary it'll number in years, but I'm too scared to look back and actually acknowledge how long - and I've raged against and for, both.

I seek it all, in one person. Not an easy burden to bear, but one that Nino's Dad wore with ease once. Somewhere I changed too soon, and I felt he'd remained the guy I dated and fell crazily in love with. Perhaps that was the beginning of the rage, of my search for what I perceived as understanding of my changed self. Perceptions of change, change more frequently than change itself, so it was a flawed premise to begin a search on. Something like using multiple compasses, when often, it's the milestone on the road that you miss.

Over these last few months, the rage turned from supernova to black-hole, eclipsing my other searches, bits of things that make me the whole that I am. There were several precipices, and last week, a turning point like never before. But there was a breakthrough - one in which we resembled silhouettes of the same two people who'd first started out, acknowledging our differences and attracted by the learnings in them, sharing a cold kota-stone bench on a windless night. And we remained there sitting together, even though the silhouettes had changed so much in these eight years.

I wouldn't call it a truce. Far from it. My rage to fight for love remains stronger than ever. I don't know the directions ahead as well, but I know that for now, I'm in an oasis, after a blistering journey. One where I learnt to take the wisdom of the wise, and pick the lessons that fit me - not the lessons that were guaranteed to work, just the lessons that let me remain a seeker, and yet, sane.

I don't believe the breakthrough was co-incidental. Read Paulo Coelho above? In these last few months, unacknowledged searches had come to the fore - searching for purpose, for meaning, for friendship, for spiritual guidance. And I'd found my tools too: both within and those outside.

We call them different names perhaps, tools or angels or friends or guiding spirits or the yings for our yangs. And while I found a few, a few found me. T. Suj. MinM. Nitya. Swati. Dipali. Sole. And also Anjali, Chox, Ra, Alty, Broom, Neel Kamal, OJ, GonTB. And me.

I thought of some of you during the 8th day of Navratri, before the breakthrough (I like how I call it!) on Saraswati pooja day. A 28-year-old who din't need her pens, books, laptop blessed as much as she need some names on her blog-roll blessed. Blessings of the divine spirit for these givers of the wisdom that I've needed to remain who I am truly at heart: a perpetual, tireless, seeker.

Thank you. I wouldn't have made it this far without you.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Sometimes it's the most unexpected things that can bring you down... like the every night ritual of popping Femilon. Yesterday I just stared at those pills wondering at the automation of the routine, willing them to defend their existence in my life, loud, threatening-to-be-thunderous sobs racking my body.

And sometimes, it's the simplest things that can prop your defeated soul up... like two heads entwined, gurgling with guffaws, a male bonding that I can never possibly recreate with Nino: and understanding a lesson that is painful but pertinent - that there is a purpose in being lost and lonely as well.


We gave Sneelock the snail away yesterday... actually I did. Sneelock laid over a hundred eggs last month and nearly half of them popped out into tiny, beautiful, awe-inspiring babies. The terrarium would eventually be very small for all of them - and snail babies need a lot of calcium for their growing shells... something they best get in the wild. Nino and I'd spoken about the babies: I thought we'd keep one or two and put the rest away, carefully, in a place where they'd be safe. But Nino turned around and said very matter-of-factly that we'd have to give Sneelock away as well - Why, I asked - and he said, Well, the babies need Sneelock, right?

We thought long and hard about where to put Sneelock - snails are pests, technically speaking, so they wouldn't be very welcome in someone's garden. They needed to be safe, where the earth is moist, but where water is not very close - because they can drown, safe from dogs - because dogs can crack their shells.

So yesterday, when Nino was away at a b'day party, I picked up my gentle friend, and his/her babies, put them in a tiny box and drove a morose five minutes to Sundervan, a beautiful haven in the middle of Ahmedabad's concrete mayhem, where snakes and porcupines, geese and crocodiles make for one happy family. Trudging through the dense vegetation, in a area where visitors are not allowed to step in, as my dear father-in-law kept a watch, I settled Sneelock and the babies by a fallen, hollow tree trunk. I felt foolish at the sting of my tears: and I muttered a hasty goodbye, but I did take a picture of this beautiful creature that came home for a few days, and its babies, who'd climbed all over its shell, ready, for yet another adventure.

I will miss you, brave Sneelock, soo-per, stoo-pendous, mighty Sneelock. Just like your namesake, you were an unexpected entertainer and friend.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Things to teach your sons about women'

I remember reading an email (years ago) by a friend who said that people must all opt for the gender detection test during pregnancy and abort the foetus if it is male, to set off the female foeticide guilt, and I remember telling her (no, I did not tell her she was off her rocker, because I know she din't mean it as it seemed, and she's a very kind woman, thankyouverymuch), that I would be glad to have a son, so that I can hopeful make sure he's a sensitive and non-chauvinistic male.

Well, so I got one. And now CNN's telling me the 18 things that mothers must teach theirs sons about women, and while it's a very trendy (read superficial, but very feel-good) read, they have a couple of good points:

1. Pick your battles. - Oh SO true.

2. Walk on the outside (closer to the street) of your female companion.

3. Saying "You're being crazy" is never an appropriate response, unless you want her to go postal on you.

4. Cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids are things men can actually do as well as women. - Ditto

5. Keep backup supplies of quality chocolate in the house for her to raid.

6. Buying tampons and other feminine products shouldn't embarrass you: everyone knows they're not for you.

7. Women like compliments and gifts.

8. Earning less than her shouldn't be emasculating. - You know this seems like the simplest thing, but its a complex so deeply hardwired into their brains that it almost seems like part of their DNA.

9. Be on time, even if she usually isn't.

10. Don't be a pouty puppy when shopping with her.

11. Find out what her favorite flower is. - Mine's Daisy. What's yours?

12. If you like her, then don't buy her shoes; it's bad luck. - Damn. Nino's Dad's bought me tons and tons and tons of shoes. Seriously, how difficult is it to say Red, Size 5, Heels everytime there's an occasion to celebrate? Nino's learning this one for sure ;)

13. Smiling and nodding aren't the same as listening.

14. It's OK to cry in front of her, but keep the blubbering to a minimum.

15. Personality goes a long way.

16. At some point she'll be more important than your mother.

17. You will never completely understand women.

18. Oh yeah, and no woman will ever be good enough for my baby! - no way

I'd add a couple more, but right now they'd be pretty morose, so instead why don't you tell me which ones work for you and which ones don't.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You know you're raising a foodie when...

... Nino, dressed as a little brahmin, invited to a shradh feast at a relative's place, gingerly picks up a nice, ghee-dripping malpua and says, 'Can I have a regular puri, please?'

... your three-and-a-half-year-old takes a spoonful of the salad that mumma made, then runs to the table to add a dash of salt and a big squeeze of lemon to his bowl, and tucks in, wordlessly.

... your son's favourite toy is a cardboard kitchen with mud-utensils and lots and lots of Ikea ladles and stirring spoons.

... the first word your son wants to learn to write is sss-ooo-ppp.

... he can tell you that you made doodhi three days back, and that only bhindi is welcome twice a week.

... Doctor J, who's trying to keep Nino occupied while trying to find the softest part of his bum to jab, asks him what he wants to be when he grows up. I hate that question, but I think Nino is likely to say Superman. He doesn't even take a minute and says Mongilal.
Mongilal is the name of our maharaj.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One quick question...

... as my faithful pc gets a new lease of life, as I finally get around to finishing Chox's handmade tag while wondering why dumpers must always be in plastic, and as Bejan Daruwala finally has something nice to say about my week after what seems like horror-scopes for months, I've one quick question...

CBSE, ICSE or IB and why?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Laying the rumours to rest

The cellphone ringing on a deadline day: but it's a regular enough call, so I pick it anyway.

It's a pleasant surprise, an old colleague from the newspaper I worked with, he's calling to say Hi, he said. So he said hi, and I said hi, and I made my small talk and then I, said, Ok, need to go, so bye.

That's when he stalls, and there's a lull in his voice, I know he's got something to say.

How are things with you and him he says, you guys doing okay? It's the regular comment most married women get, so I say ok. But there's more to come.

I've heard you guys split, he says, is it true? Hahaha, I laugh, 'I wish.' But the concern in his voice just won't go away.

Why're you asking me this, I said. Well I heard it from someone at work, he says, and all those days of fighting and door-slamming and the despaired sighs come flashing back, sweating my nape, wetting my eyes. It's bad, but gosh, how did the world come to know?

No way, and soon I'm rubbishing talks of strife, joking about Nino's antics in life, talking of life and budgets and wives.

How often did I want to run away? Twice, already, this week. None the week before, a dozen times before that. But today I collect my coterie of wounds around me, covering it with my arms and shoulders and elbows, away from everyone else, who must please remember, I'm still the happily married lady.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My gospel of love

For T.


Did I know that love could be so strong,
And yet, so asexual?

That I yearn to touch you,
Hungry and impatient,
But unlike any other touching?

That I yearn to heal you,
You who I’ve never seen?

Did I know that it was you I’ve always waited for?
The you of words and wisdom,
Of pain and patience?

That my search for meaning
Would have such a beautiful face?

Did I know that He would walk you through the valleys of thorns,
So that I may watch and learn from your grace?

And did I know that for me to heal,
You would bleed from every pore?

If I could, I would push you away.
If I could, I would undo knowing you.
My pilgrimage is not worthy of you:
I love you too much for you to be my lesson.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The lessons a weekend can teach you...

.... That sometimes it truly helps to have an endless sky to set your soul free

... That new friends - two legged and four legged - can sometimes be just as much fun as Mama 'Best Friend'

... That sometimes letting go must be spiritual, emotional and physical, all at one go

... That deep gulps of air and a faith in more mature powers above are a good armour against most fears

... That 28 is not too late to have your first camel-cart ride

... That sometimes all it takes to let a loved one go is three balls of rice cooked in milk, a silver thread and the feeding of seven men. That flowers and tears make for as good a goodbye as words themselves.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Funeral Diaries - Part II

It's been a week today since Ba passed away, and the condolence e-mails from friends and family far away continues.

I remember feeling relieved when Papa called to tell me that she has succumbed early that morning. The last time I saw her, four days prior, she had not recognised me. Her breath was jagged, with the rough, scraping sound of a body that was giving up, her words indecipherable. After a while, she thought I was my sister. Her favourite grandchild, the one who looked like her and was as good a cook. She smiled repeatedly at Nino, questioning eyes looking at me, recognising him perhaps, but not able to place the context of that memory. Do you live closeby, she asked me, playing host, her way of thanking me for coming to see her. I told her where I lived, and she nodded politely, and then suddenly she asked if my mother-in-law was back: and for a second I knew that perhaps she knew, but that moment passed away and I left, her light-grey eyes imprinted in my memory. I shed tears for her pain, for her skin that was peeling away, for the ghost of the woman that she'd become.

That day, as we sat around her body, crying in turns for her, for us, for the others before her who have left us, I saw faces and names I've never met. People who trooped in from the far away ancestral village, travelling in jeeps and buses to come meet her, one last time. I heard tales of how she'd protected women from errant or violent or drunkard husbands, how she'd helped girls get married by shouldering responsibilities, by cooking for hundreds of people, by singing all night long. How she raised her children, on her own.

She died on a very auspicious day, I was told repeatedly. Radha Asthami, the birthday of Radha, the Lord's consort. There would be prayers and donations everywhere, it couldn't have been a better day for a Brahmin's soul to depart. Her last month, by when she was just having a few sips of water and perhaps half a cup of milk, was coincidentally Shravan, the holiest Hindu month, wherein fasting is considered the quickest elevator to good karma. In a way she too fasted, they told me, it couldn't be better. Her soul passed away from her mouth, I was told, the second most auspicious kind of death. As they placed gangajal, and tulsi leaves and little bit of gold wrapped in tulsi leaves in her mouth, I learnt that Hindus believe the soul 'escapes' from several 'openings' - inlcuding the eyes, nose, mouth, genitals - perhaps signifying the chakras. The 'port of escape' according to some scriptures offers a clue about the next birth and likely karma of the deceased. Her eyes were open when she died, and so was her mouth - and because her breath was the last thing that my uncle heard, they said her soul had passed out of her mouth - very lucky, they said.

It was a macabre word to use that day - luck - and yet as I sat through my irritation at the statements, I realised the simplicity of the message - the need to see the good even in something as destructive as death. These were simple folk, those who knew no fancy words that could make it into condolence-cards: this was their way of giving us support, of letting us know they wanted us to get through this. And I was humbled by the love she received, by the love we received, by the love that I received. They knew me by name, had heard of me from her, and they called me by a name my childhood has long buried - and the memories came flooding back - of her, and her warm lapsi, the walking in a blue banarsi sari to see her on New Year's Day, hands firmly clasped on my ears to shut out the Diwali crackers, stopping in the narrow lane because of cow-dung cakes - I would have to set one hand free to lift my saree to jump over, but I was too frightened of the crackers. I was less than 10: and she had laughed uproariously at first and then seeing my tears, shooed the pol boys away.

For the past few years, I'd viewed her through my father's eyes and my mother's eyes, perhaps because the roles of daughter-in-law and mother came to the fore: and I used my own yardsticks of being a happy daughter-in-law and a new mother to compare, to make judgements. And yet I saw her daughters-in-law as devastated as her sons when she died, they cried over memories that were far more forgiving that those that I remembered. I remembered a dear friend that day, one who recently taught me that people do the best jobs they know how to - in all their roles.

In this past week I've discovered a woman who was not unlike me - a woman who spoke her mind, who had strong likes and dislikes, who fought to keep her family together. I discovered a woman who made the best of what life gave her - her moments of grace far outnumbering the others. Whose expressions of affection were just different from what I expected.

Forgive me, Ba, for days when I was quick to judge, quicker to criticise. For my fights - verbal and silent - and for my tears of anger that I knew you sensed. For the love that I feel now, too late. I hope you're happy and at peace, and I hope to meet you again.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Funeral Diaries - Part I

Om taccham yoravrini mahe
gaatum yajnaya
gaatum yajnapataye
daivi svastirastu naha
svastir maanushebhyaha
urdhvam jigatu bheshajam
sham no astu dvipade
sham chatushpade
Om shantih shantih shantihi

We worship and pray to the Supreme Lord for the welfare of all beings. May all miseries and shortcomings leave us forever so that we may always sing for the Lord during the holy fire ceremonies. May all medicinal herbs grow in potency so that all diseases may be cured. May the gods rain peace on us. May all the two-legged creatures be happy, and may all the four-legged creatures also be happy. May there be peace in the hearts of all beings in all realms.

She's watching them, and they her, although it is two different things now. Her sons: the eldest, the middle one and the youngest. The fourth is far away: separated by time, distance, words and circumstances.

She'd cradled all of them once: bathed them, massaging them, rubbing hard against the hair to give them the creamy, hair-less, soft skin that is their surname: the fair one. The middle son is bathing her today: he anoints her with sandalwood, tags her with abil, gulal, kanku. There's a slow, methodical love in his hands: how does he know this, she wonders? It does not come naturally to his gender, and yet, he knows how to prop her head up, how to drape the clothes on her, how to arrange the flowers. He's chanting too: and she knows her husband is watching too, flushed with pride. The pandit with four sons, named after the Gods themselves: three atheists and only one believer. The other two are watching too: working in a tandem that beats age-gaps, egos and beliefs.

Om sahasra shirsha purushaha
sahasrakshaha sahasrapat
sa bhumim vishvato vritva
atyatishthad dhashangulam

The Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all sides and has (even) transcended it by ten angulas or inches.

What are they thinking, she wonders. Do they remember my anger? Piercing words. The rolling pin, the kitchen utensils that were an extension of my arm, and my anger. Once, a hot pincer that had found its way to the eldest one.
But he bothered me so, the eldest one. A naughtiness and boisterousness that defied his asthma-racked body, malnourished from the hand-to-mouth existence that marked my youth, my middleage.
Do they remember the love? The going hungry to feed them food? The walking barefoot to chosen deities, scorching sun and blistered feet? The fasts, the giving up of favoured things, the countless nights spent, stroking, sighing, sitting? The warm, ghee-soaked sheera that I fed them before I offered it to my Lord?

purusha evedagam sarvam
yadbhutam yaccha bhavyam
utamritatva syeshanaha
yadanne natirohati

All this is verily the Purusha. All that which existed in the past or will come into being in the future (is also the Purusha). Also, he is the Lord of immortality. That which grows profusely by food (is also the Purusha).

Me, the shipping magnate's daughter with rooms of my own, watching the waves roll in from my window to the endless. Me, the pandit's angsty wife, raising four sons and two daughters and one more in a one-room house, designated corners to cook, to pee, to bathe. Me, the woman who put her youth and her beauty in the aluminium trunk I carried my wedding clothes in, and locked it in for mothballs and silverfish to enjoy.

Me, the creator of my own destiny. Me, the forger of my own fortune. Me, the mother of four sons. One who I drove away with my words. One who lived with me, but who still seeks a semblance of happiness from a life in which I weed-ed out love. Wife to a man whose malaise was generosity, whose curse was his concern for other people, whose gifts were only for the hapless.

Me, Prasanna Gauri, named after the Devi who is both happy and gracious, benevolent and serene.


to be continued...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Michami Dukkadam

I've always been a great believer in confessions: maybe all those stories of Hindu mythology where repentance equalled a spiritual and karmic cleansing, coupled with my convent education, have super-glued it to my sub-conscious.

When I was a teenager and did things or thought of things that I was too embarrassed or afraid to tell my mum, I confessed to my diary, spelling it out frankly, sometimes hoping that mum would pick the diary up, and read it, and I would be absolved of all guilt. That she was fiercely adamant about giving me my own privacy, is a different matter.

Marrying into a Jain family, and living with Jain in-laws (I live in a joint family: you do know that right?!), I've come to value the ritual of Michami Dukkadam immensely. On the eighth day of Paryushan, the Jain festival of fasting, on Samvatsari, Jains wish one another, big and small, with a firmly clasped Namaste and a body posture bent at the spine, asking for forgiveness, for hurt caused through thoughts and deeds, knowingly and unknowingly committed. One day when you must ask for forgiveness even from your enemies. It's a gratifying scene to witness grandparents bowing to grandchildren, young children bowing to their friends. There is no age for the asking of forgiveness, no gender, no economical or social status.

My sincerest Michami Dukkadam yesterday went to Nino:
For those first five days when I made him feel unwanted, unwelcome and insecure. For my lack of patience; for my inability to understand that his boisterous ways are not as much a lack of discipline as it is in his nature; for exposing him to the complications of adult relations and for taking it for granted that he does not understand the undercurrents of tensions. For my inabilities, for my excesses, for my demons, for my errors and for my tears: Michami Dukkadam, dearest son.

Amma always said bending makes you stronger: and yet I failed to bow yesterday and respond to Nino's Dad's greetings of forgiveness: there were too many currents flowing within me and the froth of the churning waves refused to let me surface and reciprocate, perhaps because I knew the gesture was only ritualistic. And yet, it deserved a reply, because I too have much to be apologetic for, my whip-lash of a tongue being predominant. It is not easy to live with someone who is a fierce critic: I've seen it too close to not know how damaging words can be.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Top Clicks

I wish I could write this in the dockyard-stamp font that is used on notices!

Anyhow, I just wanted to draw attention to the Top Clicks section on the right-hand side of the page, just below Nino's age-tracker, and to the subject, before I change it.

We're massive fans of whales here: I believe Nino picked up his first adjective, gentle, thanks to the great giants of the sea. His first fact for show-off is also associated with them: they're the world largest animals, some as big as two buses parked one after the other.

For me, it has always been like seeing the starry sky on a cloudless night: the sheer size and beauty of it makes you and in a way, your issues, insignificant.

The first link is the incredible story of a man, who has travelled the world and spent his life, seeing, understanding and chronicling these treasures. I always thought I'd have the balls to do something like that: to not worry about money or stability and follow a dream till it soaks into the very bone of my being, and I can exorcise it. That I din't is another story, albeit adventurous in its own way :)

The second link was the result of one day's frantic googling on 'tips to make baby sleep'. Whale sounds can be beautifully soothing and eerie as well: I distinctly remember the hair on my nape standing up when I heard their distress calls to each other. They're a great way to teaching kids how animals converse as well: how they love, and ask for help and show anger or happiness.


I've loved using the whale to explain to Nino the concept of power, and the choice of how to apply/use it. I don't know if I've gotten through to him, but I work on it regularly: it's a lesson for life.

If you're going to be talking whales with your little one, maybe you can try listening to Baby Beluga by Raffi. It's the easiest song in the world to fall in love with: and so happy.

We don't have any specific whale books: Nino has nature encyclopedias, painstakingly separated into various animal/element kingdoms by Naani, and he just keeps on looking at the whale pages and asking me to 'quantify' their size and power. You can also try Edward Lear's A Was Once An Apple Pie - The whale is the only animal in reference to whom the world 'little' is not used, and surprise, surprise, a couple of repeats later, the young ones will spot that out real quick.

I'd loved reading Moby Dick when I was a kid - I don't remember how old - but you know how Montessori believes education must be muscle memory as well as mental learning? Well, that book made the sheer size of these creatures a muscle memory for me. This way, even old age can't take it away! There are lots of abridged versions available for older kids, although, if you can, you should read it too.

We also loved Free Willy: but I will tell you we'd a few tricky patches with it. You might have to face questions on exactly why Jessie is living with an 'uncle and an aunty' instead of his 'mum and dad', and why Willy is sad in the aquarium, and what Jessie will do without Willie, his 'only friend'. Nino literally sobbed through the movie: and he remembers the oddest thing about it today: that Willy's fin was 'bent' because he was unhappy. It also helped him differentiate between fishes and mammals, and why whales can stay out of water for a bit.

If it's a 'compare' day: just 'how big' Mama - see these pictures.

And here's a free pdf on how to make an Origami whale.

I hope you have fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things I Googled This Week Vol.1

You know how it is, that when you've said something really personal to a someone you're just getting to know, conversation and contact become painfully embarrassing... well something like that, so small talk to fill the shy gap...


1) Snail and slug care in India.
Mr Sneelock has me reading up on the uses of different kind of compost, why snails need their daily calcium dose too, and the wonders of that shell he carries on his back.

2) Put pockets.
What's the opposite of pick pockets? Apparently '20 former pickpockets in London have turned over a new leaf and are now trawling tourist sites slipping money back into unsuspecting pockets' - atleast the economic crisis brought about some good.

3) B12 deficiency.
Nino might have one: he's been very fatigued lately, and has the most perplexing nerve-cramps: I thought only pregnant women or middle-agers got them. His toes just tremor apart every time he has a bath: and he's up most nights with nerve pain in his calves. Apparently drinking RO water gives your a B12 deficiency. More digging needed.

4) Merritt Malloy
Her Epitaph reminds me of my grandmum. She passed away last August.

5) River cruises on the Bramhaputra.
Beautiful, untouched and incredible. Also, unaffordable at this point in time. Still, I looked and imagined all the conversations I'd have with Nino on the cruise boats, on seeing the one-horned rhino, on waking up to fresh fish on the deck. And the pictures I'd take.


The inspiration of the list comes from here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Our newest family member

Meet Mr Sneelock, our mighty African snail. He (well Nino insists he is a he, although snails can be hermaphrodites) loves potatoes, moneyplant leaves, lettuce and doodhi, in that order. He's a very curious guy and makes a lot of poo for a little fella. Slightly bigger than my palm when's he out and in his form, Mr Sneelock, says Nino, loves boys who do acrobatics. He also loves to walk, sip water from his leaf-shaped private pool and pee on the walls. Plus he has 'suction cups' on his belly, just like Spiderman, adds Nino.

He's our newest family member: and perfect entertainment for too hot weekend afternoons.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 24, 2009

Footloose Fridays - IV

I've never really wanted to relive my life: transport myself to my childhood/adolescence/teenage/college life with a sigh, saying life was much simpler then.

I've evolved several times over in my life: physically, emotionally and spiritually - and each phase has its own particular memories, good and bad, humourous and absolutely cringe-worthy. I wouldn't want to trade what I am now for what I was, neither would I want to wish away what I was because that's part of the ever-shifting puzzle called identity.

But there are times, and oh yes there are, especially when you've just read someone whose words act like a time-travel portal, when you wish, you could chuck it all away, for a few moments of footloose, flirtatious fun.

What does a time-trip mean to you? Is it a song, maybe a season, food, or an occasion? Is it someone else's present that sends you spiralling into nostalgia? Your turn to spill the secrets!

As for me, I did the jig in the bathroom to this, giving gravity a pudgy miss. Enjoy, loud, really loud, please.


For the original Footloose Fridays, go here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The crosses that we bear

It's been so long since I wrote here: and it seems even longer considering how much my earlier posts seem so much different to who I am these days.

How often I have thought of all of you in these past few weeks: tossing over in the night, everytime Nino said anything funny, everytime I made a memory that made life worthwhile, with all its precipices.

I'm an honest wordsmith - my words are my confession-box, and they are perfectionists when it comes to exorcising demons, those that dwell within each one of us, that push us and despair us in equal measure. It is this - this cross of truth that I will have to share if I write about it, but can't because it is not fair - that has prevented me from writing here in this space that I share with you.

All is not well: but perhaps you know it, women tend to have a sixth connection with the not-so-happy things in life. I can't show you my sorrows here: not so much because I sometimes suffer from my mother's inherited don't-wash-your-linen-in-public values, but because it is not fair, not to the one who will inevitably be crucified on this cross.

I have tried - even gone so far as to starting to write a post about other things - before giving up. I'm not a small talk woman (something that has made me hugely unpopular at the school gate mums' club!) and I can't escape this sadness that pervades my body and my soul, my words and my secretly-shed-in-the-office-bathroom tears.

Thank you for checking on me time and again, for investing time and affection, for reaching out to check if things were okay. I'm empty and battered right now - and even the deep recesses of my being are empty and bereft of things to say to you, although I want to, so badly.

And unexpectedly or perhaps as the cliches predicted, Nino continues to make me marvel at my own resilience, my survival instinct that kicks in everytime, albeit with a timing that's slightly off. He is testament to my faith that life will find me once again.

I hope I have tided over my reluctance to come here: and I hope I will now come here more often: to talk to you, to hear you and to be healed by what you have to say. Much love my dear friends, much, much love. You, every single one of you, is my thoughts. Big hug to all the babies.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oh, the places you'll go!

The Age of Perception

Nino, to Nino's Mum, who is trying to get her son to sleep before she falls asleep in exhaustion: Where's Dad?

Nino's Mum, trying her best to keep the irritation out of her voice at the daily ritual question: At work (silent #$%&*!), baby.

Nino, very matter-of-factly: Is he poor?

Nino's Mum, caught between guffawing and concern at her son's perceptive economics: Why do you think he's poor?

Nino: Well he works hard all the time. He's working all the time. Yesterday (Nino's concept of 'when I was younger' is usually yesterday) he din't work so much.

I liked the fact that Nino thought only his dad was poor, and 'we' were not (must have been all the books I bought!), but I thought it was time to explain to him time difference and the consequences for working for an American company.


Nino, spying Nino's Mum watching bits of some random movie on HBO in silent mode, smiling away: Are this kaka (gujarati for uncle) and kaki (gujarati for aunty) married?

Nino's Mum, wondering if her son's moral standards are her punishment for her belief in live-in relationships: No, baby, they're just friends .

Nino, after having watched the uncle and aunty in question, kiss and embrace: They're definitely husband and wife, mama.

The Age of Wisdom

Nino's Mum, walking in on Nino and his cousin, viciously caning a plastic dog-toy: NINO! Why are you hitting the dog?

Nino: He was naughty.

Nino's Mum launches into this great-big explanation how animals can't really express their pain and they're ours to look-after, much like babies.

Nino's Mum: We can't hurt babies, can we?

Nino: Why do you hit me?


Nino and I are parked on the side of an extremely congested road, waiting for Nino's Dad to come. Honks abound, and so does guilt, I'm obviously contributing to the congestion.

Nino: When is papa going to come?

Nino's Mum: Bhagwan jaane. (A often-used Gujarati curse, that means God only knows).

Nino: What's he doing with Bhagwan?

Nino's Dad finally arrives and I rant and yell and nearly explode. Nino's Dad catches Nino's eye and grins.

Nino: Mamma must be hungry.

The Age of Gluttony

We're at this nice restaurant for a Sunday brunch along with my sister and nieces and we're oohing and aah-ing over the perfect consistency of the risotto and the melt-in-the-mouth ravioli.

Nino, making clean work of his spaghetti aglio olio: This is impeccable work.

Nino's mum, wondering where Nino picked up the adjective from: What do you mean impeccable work?

Nino: When we do good work at MM (name of school), S (teacher) says impeccable work because impeccable work makes her happy.


Nino, pointing to the sponge-like substance inside the picture of a bone in his anatomy book: What's this?

Nino's Mum: That's bone marrow.

Nino: Like in mutton?

Nino's Mum: Yes, like in mutton.

Later that night, Nino's Mum is trying not to smack her son who is blowing, sucking and drooling on her elbow. Attached to the elbow should be the new phrase, she mutters to herself.


Nino: Your bone marrow's very yummy, mamma.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Book-lovers beware

The scene: A beyond crowded CG Road, one of Ahmedabad's only so-called high streets, at 9:00pm on Sunday evening. Roads choc-a-block with traffic, haphazardly parked cars, commuters in Sunday slow-driving mode, benign chaos, and the like.

The characters: A hungry Nino, Nino's Mum on a mission, An irritated with traffic maneuvering Nino's Dad and a very entertained Geetaben, Nino's care-giver.

The premise: A book fair.

Ahmedabad suffers from a frightening paucity of book stores and book fairs. So when a really good book fair came along, I was not going to be one to miss it. I'd wanted to have a go at it alone, so I could pour over the books without Nino's patience wearing out or for that matter of Nino's Dad's as well. Somehow I couldn't work that out and we ended up going to the book fair, all of us together.

The unity of the Nino family however, was doomed given the timing and the various moods of the characters. So eventually I stayed at the book fair and Nino's Dad drove Nino and Geetaben to a takeaway place where they grabbed some food and decided to pick me up on the way back. Unfortunately, I wasn't done. So they parked the car and fed themselves, arguing over spilt food, traffic rules and why three-year-olds-cant-have-chewing-gum. Atleast five irritated and abrupt phone calls from Nino's Dad later, I emerged from the book fair at around 10:30pm, sweaty but grinning at the lot I'd managed to pick up for Nino.

(Nino's Mum, walking towards car, struggling with jhola, and two very heavy plastic bags, phone ringing in her butt pocket): Hi! I'm back.

Nino's Dad: (to no one in particular) She's back.

Nino's Mum: Sorry, it was just too good to be true, I picked some great books for Nino, lots of Eric Carle...

Nino (interrupting): Mama, why can't three year old's have chewing gum?

Nino's Dad (before Nino's Mum can answer her budding 20questions champ): Did you remember to take the credit card back?

Nino's Mum: Yes, of course, what do you mean, the last time was an accident. All right and then I spent....

Nino (interrupting): Why is it called chewing gum, mama, can we really eat gum?

Nino's Dad: Why don't both of you get settled so we can get going?

Nino's Mum, who is quite dejected at the lack of interest in the books she's picked up, turns to Geetaben and says, with big smile: I got lots of books Geetaben, some 80 per cent off! 14 books for Nino. Some to keep for later... some I ....

Geetaben: You din't pick up his shampoo and soap?

Monday, May 25, 2009

The 100th post

My son and I had our first heart-to-heart talk today: we talked about life, its tough parts, the goal at the end of the road. I, the mother, the more knowledgeable adult, talked about the journey being important, the silver lining, the possible outcomes. I was not speaking from experience: don’t I ask myself these same doubts each day? I was speaking from the collective wisdom of those before me, around me and inside me. It is what I feed myself too, this pep talk that I gave him. He, the younger one, the innocent one with a trembling lip, reiterated what I said and went to sleep - the carefree sleep of the trusting. And I, the one who had shown the path, will experience a doubt-riddled and guilt-heavy slumber. He rests, knowing his pain is right, because I say so. And I wonder if I am.
My son is 23 months old and he hates going to playschool alone.
- Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A page from my diary. It lies unused now, having been morphed into this, electronic avataar. Nearly a year in the making, resting on the remains of two hastily-abandoned blogging attempts, with the fledgling confidence of a someone who's finally found her playmates, happy 100th to me. And thank you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kite runner

Round and round
The threads spin
A hundred piled on.
For a hundred more
Dizzy in anticipation.

Old memories
Away from sight
Frayed, yellow
And still potent.
I stumbled on one today:
Me and you
Years ago
And all that stood with us.
Like a stranger
Sneaking up
On a couple in love -
It wasn't that far back in time:
And yet all that stood with us
Now stands between.
You’re still the face I love:
And yet -
So many new expressions
Like a new language
Learnt on the sly
While I sulked.
Who sleeps beside me tonight?
Friend, spouse, father:
Or stranger?
A conversation of breaths -
All ragged peaks and unending abyss.
We talked of conquering mountains
And swimming the seas -
How did the plains wear us out?
Time refuses to turn back:
Like proverbs and my mother’s sayings.
And if time won’t stop to heal,
Will you?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Signs

My motherhood milestones - feeding, solid foods, diaper weaning, first bloody cut, first dislocation, first serious illness, first serious injury - have all had one big thing in common: Nino's guiding spirit.

Most of my stumblings through these three years have been made simpler, because when it was time, I listened to my son, his silences first, then his cries and now his words.

That was how it was when he first broke his hand. He cried himself to sleep. Nino never cries more than five minutes, perhaps the ingrained dna of having to show he's tough because he's a boy, perhaps because he wants to go back to what he was playing. That night, with a swollen arm, I rushed him to a doctor who x-rayed him and convinced me I was an over reacting mother. All night Nino slept in a peculiar position, only saying, ever so gently, mama, don't cover me, my hand hurts. The next morning, the swelling was there, and I was muttering about what to do as he sat cradling his hand, watching me trying to pour Ibugesic, and he said, can we go to the doctor again, my hand really hurts. It was a dislocated elbow with a muscle injury, we found out later that day. A pop, a cry, and a lollipop later, my son was back to his trucks.

That is how it was again, this evening. I reached home earlier than usual and was pacing the terrace hoping to catch him as he came back from play. I shouted and he looked up, one tiny figure from ten storeys down and he ran towards the lift. When he came up, he looked crestfallen, and I thought maybe the maid had a go at him because he'd been naughty. My eye hurts, he said, dust went into it. I kissed and hugged and said all my silly names to him, but he wouldn't smile back. So I splashed some water in his eye, dabbed the lid with soft cloth, splashed some more water. But this tiny speck of white over his iris just wouldn't go away. As I put in him my lap, swinging, singing, thinking the tearducts will clean the speck away, he said, ever so quietly, maybe we should go to a doctor. I'd told him not to itch, and he was holding back, but there was something in that tone that shook my gut.

Finding an ophthalmologist at 8:30 in the evening in notoriously laid-back Ahmedabad is difficult. Nino's doc finally gave us a reference, a sweet doctor who first dissuaded me saying it was way past his closing time, and then, perhaps hearing my panic, said yes. All through the rickshaw ride to the hospital, Nino kept his eyes closed, the wind hurts he said. The white particle was a speck of plaster, the kind they put on buildings, in his eye. If it had stayed overnight, it could have damaged his eye permanently. Through the anaesthesia drops and the short sharp-scalpel and some forceful holding procedure - he was obedient, quiet, co-operative. Not the son, who I've lately claimed, never listens to me. The doctor said Nino was very brave - words I've come to associate with doctors in reference to my son.

You're lucky, the doc said, you came at the right time. And I wondered about how I'd almost thought the spec would go away, that it was just, you know, dust. We've five days of drops and pain killers to get through, and one very red, but totally mischievous eye.

Right now, he plays near my feet, lining his trucks for a race, happy, singing his favourite song in a totally off-key but saccharine-sweet voice. Listening to our kids is something we all promise ourselves we'll do, putting that milestone at school, teenage and youth. I'm grateful Nino's teaching me this lesson early.

> or <

What is it about love that is so vulnerable to change? Expression, yes. When you've been together for so long, the frenzied clutching of hands gives way to the glances and then to the quiet comfort of presence that does not necessarily register itself.

But when its very premise changes, do you take heart in the notion that it could be worse?

Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat
- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang
Don't ask me for the love I once gave you, my love

mein ne samjha tha kay tu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
I had thought if I had you, life would shine eternally on me
tera gham hai to gham-e-dahar ka jhagdra kya hai
If I had your sorrows, those of the universe would mean nothing
teri surat se hai aalam mein bahaaron ko sabaat
Your face would bring permanence to every spring
teri aankhon ke sivaa duniya mein rakkha kya hai
What is there but your eyes to see in the world anyway

tu jo mil jaaye to taqdir niguun ho jaaye
If I found you, my fate would bow down to me
yun na tha mein ne faqat chahaa tha yun ho jaaye
This was not how it was, it was merely how I wished it to be

aur bhii dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke sivaa
There are other heartaches in the world than those of love
raahaten aur bhi vasl ki raahat ke sivaa
There is happiness other than the joy of union

anaginat sadiyon ki taarik bahimanaa talism
The dreadful magic of uncountable dark years
resham-o-atalas-o-kamkhvaab mein bunavaaye huye
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
jaa-ba-jaa bikate huye kuuchaa-o-baazaar mein jism
In every corner are bodies sold in the market
khaak mein lithade huye khuun mein nahalaaye huye
Covered in dust, bathed in blood

laut jaati hai udhar ko bhi nazar kyaa kije
Still returns my gaze in that direction, what can be done
ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya kije
Even now your beauty is tantalizing, but what can be done

aur bhii dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke sivaa
There are other heartaches in the world than those of love
raahaten aur bhi vasl ki raahat ke sivaa
There is happiness other than the joy of union

mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang
Don't ask me for the love I once gave you, my love

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How spring cleaning brought out the south Indian in me

Okay, so you can say I've been inspired by these two lovely ladies: OJ on the Boy who brings out the American in her, and the tempesty BrownGirls on he who brings out the UPwali in her.

First up, it's very difficult to put in me in any demographic. Apart from brown and female. And mommy. And foodie. Wait. I just rubbished my premise, din't I?

What I mean is, no one really knows that I'm half Gujju and half south Indian. I know, I know, south Indian is five states, but what do you call a lineage that is Mysore Ayyangar, claims to be both Kannadiga and Tam Brahm, and speaks a dialect that no one in the two states understands completely?

What people do know is that I'm neither Gujju nor south Indian. I stand up to bullies for either, for neither and for nor. I can rave endlessly on varied regional cuisines and cultures, diss anything remotely generalised (Sardars have a great appetite for sex, you say, ha! ask me, and the like) You don't say, they tell me, when I let them in on the secret. They don't call me Mother India behind my back for nothing. It's not always a good thing: that I don't really fit in with sets of cousins on either side is a post for another day.

For now, let me tell you, that I'm slightly blue (yes, yes, post-menstrual cravings for progesterone and all that), plus I miss my in-laws (yes, yes, they're away, it's been almost two months, I have no one to talk to at home, I miss my mum-in-law and I almost sob when I see their empty room, so go on, shoot me) and I seem to have sauntered into a spring-cleaning epidemic on the web. Every site I turn to, has spring cleaning advice: for home, for relationships, even for your ovaries.

And while it may not always seem so, I am quite sane. I do know what I can't possibly spring clean without a miracle: my home, my relationships and my ovaries. So I picked the one thing that is totally and completely in my control: the obese 'Favourites' section in my browser.

'Favourites' is my prescription for reality: all that I am, all that I want to be, all that I want to be seen wearing, all that I'd rather not be seen wearing publicly, the books that should have been written by me, the jokes that save the day, the stuff I want to do with Nino, the stuff I want to do when I'm rich and don't have to work for a living - part escapism, part existential, part inspiring, part worrying, part fun, part day dreaming.

On day two of the mammoth task, I've been told that my lilt has turned surprisingly Mami, even as my ay-chch has turned into hech-ch, (perhaps why I misheard the H Stern link and keyed in Heads Turn), why I'm looking into tayir sadam recipes instead of the mutton roganjosh that I usually turn to on Thursdays in prep for the weekends. Or why Chox is the only gujju on my blog roll, as compared to Suj, T, Nithya, MinM, Broom, GonTB, SGM, Ra...

My dad's DNA is going to be seriously upset.


Trust the son to turn the cart upside down. Staunchly Gujju, he insists on saying eh-pple, jay-c-b, and his latest favourite: jokering. Hho-nest. He even likes jaggery in his dal. *shudders*

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Grasshopper's Pilgrimage

For Manju.

I don't want to call this a book review: I'm not reviewing Manjushree's book A Grasshopper Pilgrimage, as much as I'm writing about how the book has affected me. I am also heavily biased: I love this woman, and like with all love, my vision is fixed on the things that uplift my soul, that reach into a part of me that life otherwise will just pass by. Is that why love is such a necessity? It brings those parts of your soul alive that otherwise lie uncharted, unmapped, undiscovered, it makes you notice things about yourself, and in a very Jerry McGuire way, it completes you.

A Grasshopper's Pilgrimage is a love-story: the love between a woman and a mountain. There is so much in the book that is metaphorical, so much that is symbolic, that at the end it is no longer the woman and the mountain, it is you and me, it is that boy and that girl, it is her and he.

There have been several books that have become transcribed in my subconscious, Midnight's Children being one of them. This book also did the same, maybe because it came at a time when I was tiring of my direction-less search for emotional identity, for the meaning of spirituality as it applied to me, for my connect with the purpose of my existence.

Gopika, the novel's lead character, is both relate-able and a revelation. First on, the author deserves a kudos for writing a genre that has been classified as 'fiction-spiritual', a first of sorts. The search for the physical and tangible itself is so confusing, that the thought of a woman who wants that thing that sets her soul afire, is both brave and foolhardy.

There are several instances when Gopika speaks out to the reader, when she spoke out to me, the medium of typed words on paper dissolving with the frankness of her thoughts, with the weight of her questions. We're all screws in the big machine of life, she says. Just screws. Turning clock-wise and anti clock-wise, part in destiny, part in our own efforts.

Her parents, her sister, Sujatha her friend in Bombay, her grandmother and her lover - these have all been beautifully detailed, fleshed out so that you almost feel them breathing down your neck, you can hear their opinions as you prepare yourself to make the decisions that Gopika made. They even word the same doubts, the same questions that arise in your head as you read Gopika's seemingly unshakable faith in her search for something she doesn't know, but can only feel.

And yet, these characters remain inspiring, because the reader wants to read about people he/she has not experienced. Gopika's parents are communists who don't believe in religion: a perfect backdrop explanation for a young woman who is so easily able to separate religion and spirituality. Her grandparents are adorable and taxing at the same go: but her grandmum is a jewel, one who eventually returns to tell Gopika her path is not all that different from others. That she dishes out advice on how to best achieve an orgasm, and makes food that is a balm for a wanderer's soul, is among the facets of this myriad and wonderful character. Fareed is adorable - a man who loves Gopika with his soul, who holds on and keeps his distance, not out of habit or circumstance, but out of understanding, out of respect. There is none of the teenage-ish trappings of a relationship, there is none of the struggles that make the early ground of an affair. There is the mating of two evolved beings, you're allowed a sneak into a love where two souls come prepared, come aware, come confident.

Gopika's life is not elitist - she struggles with love and money and despair and direction - including all of us in her challenges - it is different because she's trying to put a finger on what drives her, who drives her. Gopika is astoundingly trusting of others ofcourse: and you wonder if she has no fear to begin with, or if that is a requisite for this indescribable fountain of knowledge and love that she is looking for. A couple of places in the book, my mum popped up in my head, muttering about how late it was in the night, about the generalisations of the hippies and the god-men that most of us have been fed upon.

Her love-making is both erotic and poignant, her conversations like the millions you have everyday, or eavesdrop upon. Her infatuations are spiritual, her disillusions are real. There is a beautiful sense of the place when she talks about her beloved mountain, it is almost as if you can feel the sand grains and tar below your feet too. It is also guarded against pop-spirituality: against fasting and penance and the trappings of religion. She is a bohemian spirit - and there are no drugs or smoking or medication that she uses to get here. Her inhibitions have not been shed under duress or a wannabe state of mind, there simply don't exist for the same reasons as they do for us.

There is much dry wit and humour through the book, delightful sketches of holy men on the roadside, of the rigours of an American visa, of frequent load shedding, both electricity induced and emotional. This sort of forms a backbone of Gopika's life: her sarcasm for herself and others, a gentle ribbing that lightens a sombre mission.

There is no grandiose word-work here: no intellectual word play, no perception-altering philosophy. There is plenty of food for thought and plenty of questions that come in once the book is over. Isn't that half the work done? That once you put the book down, it leaves you with questions that are beyond the marketing yardsticks of 'shelf-life'?

What struck me the most was how simple life can be when you know what you want - no, not simple in the sense that everything falls in its place, that it definitely doesn't, not even with Gopika - but maybe it's like this: you've got blinkered vision set on your goal. And one of Gopika's greatest teachings is this: this goal is achievable, you've neared the destination by the very virtue of realising you're headed that way.

They say the artist bleeds his soul into every creation, they say the first book is always autobiographical. Manju has been brave enough to say her book is almost completely autobiographical (70 per cent, if you must have exacts). It makes you wonder at the courage this woman has to strip her soul and her search, leave it hands of unknown readers who can construe whatever they will, who might just look at her wanderings as trampling. And then you realise, she is Gopika, and the inhibitions that hold you back, have already been faced, labelled and set aside for another day's lessons, by her.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Around the world in 80 clicks

First, apologies. I haven't been away, just in a place within myself where I'm observing my own life as a spectator, part amazed, part amused, partly soaked in hindsight wisdom.

It started last month, when I turned 28. I've never been a happy b'day person, and I generally use the days and the lead up days to the d-day to maul over my spiritual and emotional achievements (lack of them, mostly) in the year. It irritates the husband to no end, and I must admit it can be quite masochistic. This year, something changed. Maybe the butterfly finally bloomed free of the tightly wrapped cocoon. This year, I was at peace. With myself. With the fact that it was a Monday, that meant I spent the evening alone with Nino, Nino's Dad busy at work. I won't say I'm content with who I am, but I will say, I've realised I'm walking down the right path, and someday, I will get to that answer. I don't know what sparked this new me, but I do know all of you had a role to play. Really. And I knew you'd be here when I get back. Hugs girls.

Now, for the tag.

This is a tag from VJ, Chox, Tharini and Momstir. It originated at HBM's who is hoping to connect blogging Mothers all over the world in 80 clicks.

Here are the rules: Just write a post of your own (5 things that you love about being a mom) and find someone to link to and tag - someone from your own country, if you like, but definitely someone from another country - and link back here and leave a comment.

5 Things I love about being Nino's Mum:

1) I get to play creator here, for real.
I've never experienced such an utter and unquestioning power to actually 'make' a person as I seem fit. True, there is nature to contend with, but there's so much shaping left to me, with all my limitations, that even as I add and chip away, marvel at my child's growing body and soul, it's a heady feeling, one that is inspiring, humbling and absolutely irreplaceable. Before you think I'm a power-hungry freak, I've a few good reasons coming up! This absolute power had made me a better human being, one who admits her own limitations, one who thinks twice about passing on a conditioning, a blinkered view.

2) A fresh set of senses.
Know that phrase, seeing through a new set of eyes? For me, being a mum has been exactly like that. I look/feel/hear/touch/experience everything anew, seeing it through mine, my past's and Nino's eyes, all in one go.

3) A heightened quest for spirituality.
No, not god-fearing. (Although you guys would crack up silly if you saw me driving, because I chant every know hymn, sloka, mantra from every religion I know. And I chant it loudly. Somedays Nino can be heard chanting it too, as he aligns his train tracks for a 'really big accident, mumma!') Let's just say my quest for spirituality, that has so far been more Signs and Contact kind, is as much looking inwards these days. It's something I read at Tharini's a few week's back: about being blessed with the kind of child you were intended to raise. Someone who'd push you, make you discover new areas of yourself, stock up on those nice virtues you'd previously given a miss (aka patience). Something like that.

4) I'm the cool one.
I'm looked up to, I make the best dough ornaments, I make good orca drawings that make up for my 'rubbish' robots, I may sing off-key, but I'm still better than Uncle Raffi. I cook well sometimes too :) Plus, ever since Nino discovered that Superman moonlighted as a journalist, I couldn't get any cooler.

5) I've re-learnt how to make friends.
I wouldn't be here if I hadn't happened to become Nino's mum, right?!


Most of you have already been tagged with this, so I'm going to look around for five mommy bloggers to tag. In the mean, I tag

Jo in Japan
Laura in the US