Spirits in a Spice Jar – book review

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After a long time, I read something so poignant, lucid and gripping.

Spirits in a Spice Jar is an autobiographical account of the author, Sarina Kamini, chronicling a difficult period in her life and how she pulls herself from it by recreating the forgotten recipes of her Indian grandmother.

It reminded me of something I had read years ago on how cooking is so therapeutic to Indian women.

The process of cooking – pounding, grinding, chopping, stirring, etc all these supposedly invoke our genetic or cellular memories from the previous generations.  And this nurturing side of us apparently soothes us and heals us.

This book stands testimony to this very theory.

Each chapter is about a particular dish or an ingredient. She lists it’s qualities, associated memories and marries them beautifully to an emotion. The events unfold so well around the ingredient/dish.

When she was 11, her mother, an Australian, was diagnosed with Parkinsons. It shatters the whole family which consists of her Indian father and two older brothers.

Her father, a pious Kashmiri Hindu, deals with it by turning to religion and rituals.Kamini takes it the hardest. She loses faith and turns away from all that she believed in.

The book begins when she’s 30, married and a mother of two young boys. Though she goes through the motions of a busy life balancing her career in journalism, her marriage and her toddlers, she’s very unhappy, feels disconnected from her mother and tries desperately to come out of it.

For some reason, she feels following her grandmother’s recipe book is the way.

This book is rife with cross-cultural nuances when East-meets-west. A typical Indian father who tries to make everything about himself,  as opposed to her Australian husband, who gives her a lot of space to heal, but never tells her how much it’s costing him, her Kashmiri grandmother, Ammi, rooted in tradition,but welcomes an Australian daughter-in-law with open arms and even teaches her Indian cooking…

The story flows so lucidly, touching lives across continents. We glimpse the lanes of Delhi, dusty roads of Jaipur, a Melbourne super market and even the inside of a psychic’s studio.

Each chapter blends seamlessly with the other and takes us on her journey back to being herself and makes peace with her parents.

Here’s a small taste.

“…the way salt is used is an indicator of the nature of our faith. Mum’s was soft, Ammi’s piercing. Dad’s, strident. And mine? I’m still figuring it out.”

How poetic is that! I have never read anything so beautiful about how someone’s personality shines through their usage of salt in their cooking! How every dish we cook has a little of ourselves in it.

After reading it, I felt very different about cooking! Every dish I cook has a piece of my soul… And that’s something to chew on!

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Diabetic diaries.

“MY doctor said when he graduated in 1940, normal sugar levels were 190 and Hb1ac was 12. But American Association of Diabetes changed the values to 140 and 5.6. Overnight, half the world population became diabetics. It’s the biggest fraud by the pharma companies”

“Doctors have been cheating us by saying fruits are bad for diabetes. In fact, sucrose brings down our sugar levels.”

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Saffron Pistachio and Coconut Rice Pudding

As a budding diabetic, I’m assailed by such pearls from well-meaning friends and relatives everyday.

Especially in this era of information and misinformation at your fingertips, the advice I get on a daily basis is staggering.

Six years ago, when I was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension, (Should I say mis-diagnosed, since I discovered with a second opinion that I did not indeed have it then!) I sat cheerfully in the doctor’s cabin after an exhilarating zumba session. She looked at me and said, ‘Chin up! Don’t be depressed! This is not the end of the world for you! Start taking these tablets, exercise an hour every day & follow my diet plan. And you’ll be just fine.”

Do I look depressed to you? I wanted to yell. Later on I realized this must be her standard dialogue to all her first time patients so they can put her on a pedestal as the god who saved them from damnation.

Anyway, another doctor who is a friend first, totally ruled out diabetes since it was based on just one reading and that too with 75 grams of glucose I was fed instead of the standard 50 grams.

It did catch up with me a few years later, but at least I was not on unnecessary medication that would have indeed made me drug-dependent in no time and the only people benefitted from that would have been the drug company and the doctor.

For the last two years, my doctor has been trying to manage my diabetes with a minimal dose of medication and a safe diet.

A few months ago, a friend dragged me to an alternative medicine practitioner.

He gave me along lecture on how diabetes and hypertension are not diseases, but our bodies’ response to a situation at a particular time. And how we eat at the wrong time, wrong food and wrong way that most of our food stays in the system undigested and becomes sugar in our blood stream.

The first step he suggested was an enema, which will detox me. I literally ran out of the door. But my friend had my hand in a firm grip. Seeing my reluctance, he said we’ll get to that later, but I can start with reflexology and a diet plan.

The diet plan consisted of eating uncooked breakfast. Fruits and nuts basically. And to avoid white rice, white sugar and all dairy products at all other times . The tablets I have been having are also supposedly causing a lot of congestion in my body.

And by feeling the soles of my feet he diagnosed me with Vitamin D deficiency, poor sleeping pattern and a liver congestion.

I was shocked since he was bang on.

Of course how anyone can diagnose maladies from feeling the soles of one’s feet is up on a heated debate in my rational group of friends.

After a month of following his diet (almost!) and painful weekly sessions of reflexology, my sugar levels had reached an all time high.

And I broke a crown chewing on almonds and walnuts.

So I said my good byes to him, despite my friend saying I was so wrong in not believing in him and going back to allopathy.

The problem with me is that I have no control when it comes to food. Rice is my staple and my sweet tooth has no conscience when someone offers me a jangiri.

Just when I thought I had everything under control, I go on a holiday where the desserts are the most memorable part of my trip.

Imagine my joy when a well-known nutritionist hailed rice as a super food! I read the book eagerly and discovered I can eat rice at night. I can have cane sugar with my tea. They’ve been our staple for centuries and just because the west maligned them, why are we spurning them now?

It’s those packaged food like biscuits and chips that are loaded with hidden sugars that spike our blood sugars. And fruits are so good for you in so many ways that even mangoes are good for diabetics.

So rice was back in my dinner plate and I enjoyed mangoes last summer.

Of course, my sugar levels spiked again.

A good friend told me about this keto diet for diabetics.

For the uninitiated, it’s a low carb diet with no rice, wheat, millets or dal. But fat is totally allowed. My friend who recommended this was gushing about it’s benefits not only on her sugar levels, but on her thyroid too. And she had lost 8 kgs in the first week.

I checked it with my doctor who was all for it. “Give it a try,” she said. “Another patient of mine with levels much higher levels than you have totally reversed it with her low-carb diet”.

“But I cannot live without rice!” I whined. “Can I have rice only for lunch?” I begged.

“Sure”, she agreed, “Since your levels have never been alarmingly high, try it for the next 3 months”.

My god of nutrition asks her readers to follow a sustainable diet. Something we can follow our whole lives. So I was happy to give this a try since I can still have my fill of rice once a day. I had nuts and whole milk for breakfast and salad and buttermilk for dinner. But for a vegetarian like me who has eggs only in cakes, it was a tough act to follow.

I did lose some weight and was happy with it. But looking at my husband’s and son’s plates in the dinner table, I felt like an under-privileged kid staring through a 5 star hotel restaurant window every night.

Plus I stared getting frequent headaches. Or wake up hungry in the middle of the night.

So I had some carbs once in a while.

Last week, I met my doctor socially for breakfast with a gang of friends. My plate was loaded with Masala Dosa and vada. She sweetly promised me to look the other way, saying it’s okay once in a while.

“Hey, I hate this dieting!” I whined to her. Why don’t you up my tablets instead?”

“God! You’re impossible! Some people just can’t see sense!” She said, in exasperation.

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Actually, it’s all very confusing.

What Allopathy says is refuted by Ayurveda.

What Ayurveda propagates is refuted by Naturopathy.

What Naturopathy recommends is refuted by Homeopathy.

All this conflicting information is constantly thrown at us through the social media gurus.

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Now I try to maintain a balance. If I crave rice, I serve myself some. I try to eat a filling dinner with or without carbs by 7.30 pm.

I downloaded this wonderful app for meditation on my phone and diligently meditate at least 5 days a week.

I go to my Yoga class regularly.

My 3 months is almost up. Let me see what the verdict is.

 

A complete Italian experience

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When a friend suggested an Italian holiday this summer, I was thrilled.

The birth place of renaissance great masters, Michaelangelo’s David, Pieta, the Sistine Chapel ceiling…

I used to dream of seeing all this and more since my under-grad days of art classes.

And Italy did not fail. The vatican museum was breath-taking. Corridors and corridors of brilliant art. And Pieta..

And what is with the Italian skies? Cerulean blue with puffy white clouds, the sky looked like an enormous, ever-changing painting I could look at all day.

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In Florence, which was the last leg of the trip, we had booked an apartment on a busy street.

We were two families of six, including two kids. The owner of the apartment, who was barely 17, opened the front door on the said busy street and led us in.

We trailed behind him, up a narrow staircase, while one of us stood on the pavement guarding the luggage. A man who was standing beside us, as if we had been blocking his way, got into the open apartment. My friend who was guarding the luggage assumed he was a fellow guest.

He went up and stood by the door, just behind us, again giving us the impression that he was part of the apartment.

The owner had assumed he was part of our group.

We entered the apartment, set our bags on an ornate bench outside the kitchen and followed the owner who showed us around the place. When we got back in less than two minutes, my husband’s camera bag with his phone was gone.

Though he noticed it immediately, he wrongly assumed that the owner had simply kept it inside one of the rooms.

It took us a while to make the owner understand what we were looking for. But by the time we realised all of us had been tricked by the artful stranger, it was too late.

And the whole thing happened in under 5 minutes.

What a clever planning that must have been. I’m sure there was more than just the stranger whom we saw. It must have involved a few accomplices waiting outside.

My husband, along with the owner rushed to the police station to lodge a complaint.

It was disheartening to see there were so many people like us waiting to lodge complaints and most of them were senior citizens.

The police were friendly, took our complaint and bid us good bye. No cop came to the crime scene like in India, no cop wanted to check the security cameras on the pub downstairs and no assurances were given.

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But life goes on. Still a bit rattled, we walked to Uffizi Gallery for our appointment to stand in a mile long queue which resembled the crowds in Thirumala or any other religious hotspots in India. The fabulous art from renaissance was well worth it.

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And to the Academia the next day. I had goosebumps when I saw David. His sheer presence was truly a magical.

The Duomo was magnificent.

Cobbled streets dotted with cafes were a joy to walk through.

Though we thoroughly enjoyed Florence, the aftertaste of the theft was always in the back of our minds.

Even my 14 year old jumped up in his sleep that night asking “Does he have a gun?” before muttering something incomprehensible and going back to sleep.

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When we narrated the story to a friend on our return, he said after a few choice word for the crook, “So, now you’ve had the complete Italian experience! I guess getting robbed is one of the must-have experiences in Italy. It’s so common place”.

It is.

We hear of pickpockets in Rome, bag snatching and even mugging all across hot tourist spots in Italy.

Just underneath the beautiful exterior, the grand structures and high art, there runs a parallel network of artful and deft band of prowlers and swindlers.

If tourism is indeed their main income, shouldn’t tourists be their most preferred clients?

Then why do they shrug off thefts? Why aren’t they equipped to protect innocent tourists from miscreants who are brave enough to steal in broad daylight?

I guess for the fantastic, life affirming experience one gets looking at all the art & architecture carefully preserved over centuries, a camera here and a mobile phone there is a small price to pay.

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Ministry of utmost happiness – Review

04SMministryjpgThe latest book book by Arundathi Roy is not what I expected at all. Though I enjoyed her previous novel ‘God of small things’ for the brilliant play of words and superb portrayal of the characters, I was bitterly disappointed by the bizarre ending. I thought that was a very forced and desperate attempt to get attention.

So I braced myself for a similar disappointment when I started ‘The ministry of utmost happiness’.

But thankfully, the ending was a good one.

The book is a dark one, though.

It tells us the stories of the neglected and the marginalized.

The novel opens with a middle aged transexual taking up residence in a grave yard. How she came to live there is her riveting story.

This is the story of Anjum – the hijra, Saddam Hussein, Tilo – a rebel south Indian woman, Musa – Tilo’s Kashmiri militant lover, Naga – a diplomat’s journalist son, Garson Hobart – the diplomat and many more people who live in a parallel universe that we, the regular people look right through everyday.

The story seamlessly travels through the by lanes of old Delhi to affluent South Delhi enclaves to the beautiful Kashmir Valley where death, blood and gore are part of daily lives of people. It takes us briefly to Gujarat when the massacre happenes, to Kerala where Tilo’s mother dies and to rural Andhra rife with naxals.

The prose is beautiful and spell binding, but Arundathi Roy does not shirk from telling the brutal, bitter lives of these people.

This is an account of the misfits. The story exposes the atrocities committed by the government on innocent people and the unnecessary lives lost in the process.

This is a grim book, each tale sadder than the other, and each character with a heartbreaking sorrow.

But underneath all the gloom, I could sense a deep anger at the present government. She openly criticizes the ‘orange parakeets’ and ‘lalla of Gujarat’ in many a paragraph.

She does paint a very bleak picture of the future in India, hinting we’re about to self-destruct.

A haunting book, but a bit excessive in the political flavouring.

Lessons in history

“Social activities in the Neolithic age included FaceBook, Whatsapp & Google Plus.” 

“A mummy is a dead body covered with toilet tissue paper and more toilet tissue paper to preserve it.”

  

I was baffled with the answers in my son’s history class work notebook he had got on the last day of school.

My son goes to a school that encourages freethinking and does not believe in pressurizing kids with exams. While its fabulous news for his creative side, my son takes total advantage of the system when it comes to serious studying. His main objective to go to school is to meet friends and play football. Oh and the studies just happen on the side.

This point was brought home strongly when we got his year-end report.

All the teachers had just one thing to say. He’s not attentive in class and does the barest minimum work needed and runs out to play.

Though it was pretty much the same report we’ve been getting since he started school, it’s no longer cute when he’s almost a teenager.

So this summer holidays, I decided take charge of his academia. No more easy-going mom who lets him get away with vegetating in front of the television the whole day.

I decided to start with rewriting history. Going through what he had done his notebook all year either sent me into a fit of rage or rolling on the floor laughing. He just did not have a clue.

In an ideal world, we would probably sit together companionably, go through the books with his full cooperation and my son would be an ace in history in two weeks.

But since we live in a world where a PS4 and football are the reigning gods, the television full of fabulous programs, we start off the morning bickering about setting the time for the lessons. And at the agreed time, he flies into a rage because I’m causing him to lose a virtual football game.

When I try meekly after an hour, I’m met with the same resistance. By then it’s time for lunch.

When I check with him after lunch, it’s the same tantrum. I’m at my wits end now and go into my momster mode. Then he swiftly changes his tune and with a woebegone face, starts on how he hates summer holidays and how I torture him with studies.

After all this we manage half an hour of sitting sullenly with each other and go through the books. But instead of focusing on the core of the lesson, we get sidetracked with so many unimportant details. Why isn’t the statue of the dancing girl in Harappan Civilization standing like a fashion model and not at all like a dancer?

Or he comes up with the profoundest of questions like “At what age do you reckon I’ll get married?” To which I replied scathingly, “It all depends on how good you study. If you’re going to goof off like this, you’ll never graduate and you’ll never get a job to support a wife and family!”

Stung, his bonhomie changes to open hostility and we continue the rest of the lessons with barely masked anger.

Of course most days are interspersed with me running behind deadlines, him busy with play-dates and we don’t even touch the books on those days.

It has taken us almost a month to cover 3 chapters. And there are still math & science books to open.

Oh how I long for those far away summer holidays of my childhood where clocks did not exist!

But, despite the tantrums, despite my working hours going crazy, something tells me I’m not going to like the strangely quiet, neat and tidy house, once the school reopens.

A wise man once told me, “There’s no quality time or quantity time when it comes to children. There’s only time.”

 

 

 

 

 

The iron butterfly

How easy is it to be me…

When I start my day with my morning cuppa, the most pressing thing on my mind is planning my schedule for the day – juggling school/football pick ups, deadlines, meetings and of course, the day’s menu.

A tough day for me, is a clash in my schedule or a tantrum-filled day with my tween.

But however tough a day is, a spontaneous hug from my little one or a kind word from my spouse will be all the pick-me-up I need.

I’ve also been lucky in having a father who lived to 75, providing with solid emotional support and a mother who was and always will be my conscience.

Still, I’m on edge most of the days, juggling schedules, handling irate maids, unresponsive customer-care, annoying telemarketes and so on. So many times in a day, I wish for some peace so I can just curl up with a good book.

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I have no political affiliations whatsoever, but in the last few days, during the wait and watch game on TV, which was followed by mourning of the iron butterfly, I couldn’t help feeling ashamed of all the cribbing I’ve done about my everyday life.

Here lies a lady who faced only trials and tribulations throughout her lifetime. Insults, injuries, court cases, imprisonments, were all part of a single day for her.

People ranted against her, enemies plotted against her, others waited eagerly for her to stumble and fall, but she held her ground through it all.

Without a family to support her.

Lost her father at 2, her mother in her twenties, no husband, no child to warm her heart.

She faced tough challenges on her own. And not just faced, but fought back with courage and determination.

Her only emotional support probably was the adoration by the masses.

Now, I don’t know, nor do I care, if she died of natural causes or was slow-poisoned by her trusted aides. But whatever it was, she’ll always be an inspiration to me and many other women of this city.

I suppose till now, we, the educated & supposedly worldly-wise women have been openly jeering her autocracy and winning elections with freebies.

But we did have a grudging admiration for her grit.

The same men who pulled at her sari and tried to shame her in public years ago were prostrating at her feet now.

The same arrogant men who threw her out of the cortege all those years ago were now reverentially carrying her body in one.

The feminist inside each one of us cheered. She won us all in the end.

I saw the sea of people milling about, tearfully seeing her off on her final journey,waving two fingers that symbolises ‘victory to the two leaves.’

But on this solemn occasion, I felt it was more like they were saying “Victory to you, Amma! In death, you conquered all!”

Rest in peace.

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Dec. 1st 2016.

 

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Today marks a year since the incessant rains in Chennai that lasted days and led to the unforgettable flooding that caused many to flee their homes in the wee hours of the night.

Personally, it was an unforgettable night for me too – waiting seemed to be the order of the night and most of next day.

I waited restlessly for a train to reach Chennai…

Then I waited for the rains to stop, so a loved one can reach us safely from the railway station.

And when it did stop, I waited breathlessly for my husband to return after picking her up.

Soon after their almost-safe return, the flooding started.

Then I waited for the water to rise.

Early morning saw us waiting for the boat.

Once my son and I reached safe ground, it was a harrowingly long wait for my husband to reach our side.

 

At the end of that day, I said a silent prayer of thanks that after all that trauma, we were all together again. Safe and sound. And that’s all that mattered.

 

Within a few months, all of us bounced back to normalcy. We returned to our homes, got new cars, repainted the houses, bought new furniture, went back to work again…

The nightmarish morning soon became a distant memory.

But today, just thinking about the date opens a floodgate of memories. Not just the panic, but also the kindness I experienced from the people around me.

I remember the kind people who stood by us throughout that fateful experience with so much compassion…

My kind neighbor who served us all a hot cuppa that chaotic morning…

The gang of coast guards who risked their lives so many times tirelessly to enter into our street on a rickety motor boat, braving the strong river current to rescue scores of people…

The police officers who systematically controlled the evacuation with amazing organizing skills…

The kind man who opened his gate and welcomed us all to use his garage when we landed on dry land to wait for the rest of our families…

A kind friend who called me hundred times to say he’s booked a hotel room for my family and if we needed transport to get there…

The people on the adjoining dry streets who jumped on to the boats without a thought for their own safety, just to help us…

And after a few days, stories of selflessness and bravery started pouring in.

Hundreds of youngsters distributing food and clothes to the new homeless…

Kind people cooking tonnes of food in their kitchen to distribute to the people who were trapped inside their own homes…

People saving stray dogs from drowning…

Samaritans from all over the country and even abroad sending whatever they could…

The generosity and resilience of the human spirit shone brilliantly through this calamity.

 

As for me, the traumatic experience taught many unforgettable lessons.

First, the world is full of great people with large hearts.

Secondly, it is so much easier to handle a situation however bad, if you keep your cool. My street was full of cheerful camaraderie that morning. It made a difference.

And finally, all we need is each other.

Anything else can be bought.

Happy Diwali!

 

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For some strange reasons, I became very introspective this Diwali. Probably because for three continuous nights, I was out for festival dinners with family and friends. All 3 days were with a different group, with different sets of people.

A ritualistic pre-Diwali dinner that’s been going on for 15 years, an impromptu dinner with cousins, aunts & uncles and a relatively new tradition of Diwali dinner at another friend’s place.

All 3 were great fun. I caught up with some friends after ages, I chatted with my best friends for a while and I oohed & aahed over a new-born nephew.

Of course, there were a few absentees in all the groups.

Some who had other commitments, some who were ill and some because of ego issues with someone in the group.

I got thinking about the shared warmth, bestowed love  and conspicuous absences.

I suddenly remembered one of my role models in life.

An octogenarian who lives in another city, who never fails to amaze me every time he visits.

He still works full time. He has a huge circle of friends and he keeps in touch with every single relative of his.

He regularly organises family get togethers, movie nights with friends and he’s the first person to arrive for any wedding or a funeral anywhere in the country.

He’s so cheerful, hits it off with 3 year old with the same gusto as he does with a 75 year old.

He loves to travel across the globe and regales us with stories of his trips across decades.

He makes no bones about being in love with his wife too. Not in a soppy, filmy way, but he’s always fun & caring towards her. Never fails to call her every morning when he’s away from home to check if she took her pills and gives her his agenda for the day. And he calls her every night to give her a brief account of his day & asks her about hers.

As I was mulling over the last three days of festival cheer, I suddenly felt I want to be like him when I turn 80. (If I make it that far!)

Not that I want to be the main anchor for every group I’m in, but I want to look back at my life that is peppered with good feelings from my family and circle of friends.

I don’t want my friendships and relationships bruised by fragile egos, one-upmanships and possessiveness.

These things start small, but slowly gather momentum in our minds, split people up, turn friends into rivals (or worse, foes) and leave a bad taste that lingers long. They spread negativity all around. I know people who haven’t been on talking terms for 30 years.

Marriages sour, children are forced to take sides, factions form within groups, friends are torn between two people, dinner conversations suddenly turn awkward at the mention of someone …

… the list is endless.

So my prayer this festive season would be, when I look back at my life at 80, I should still remain best friends with my husband, be an important person in my son’s life and still retain the same love and warmth I share with all my family and friends for so many years.

So this Diwali, instead of crackers, let’s burn hatred, ill-will, pointless competitions and inflated egos.

And light the lamp of togetherness and true friendships.

Happy Diwali!

 

 

May I come in?

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I answered the doorbell.

Two young women, probably in their early twenties, smiled brightly at me and said, “Good Morning Ma’m! Can we speak to you for a few minutes?”

They were decently clothed, each carrying a backpack and looked like any office-going girls we see on the road.

“May we come in?” They asked sweetly, totally ignoring my perplexed expression.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I could let them in.

I was home alone and I’ve read stories of thefts and scams by women like this.

They came in anyway, took their seats and started a sales pitch about caring for cancer patients.

They had been trained well. But despite their eager, hard-selling faces I was frantically looking for excuses to pack them off as politely as I can without parting with any money.

Sure enough, they took out a bunch of receipts & cheques to show me the transparency of their system. None of the cheques were made for anything less than Rs. 8500.

I gently told them I’ll have to check with my husband and will get back to them through their website. They were reluctant and tried to appeal to my compassionate side, but I didn’t give in.

They left after having a glass of water.

My sigh of relief was short-lived. I suddenly realised that while the girls were genuinely a part of a legitimate organisation, didn’t they put themselves in danger by entering the drawing rooms of so many strangers’ homes each day?

There are so many repressed, lecherous men waiting for a chance like this.

And two isn’t an ideal number for safety.

There is a report of rape in the papers every single day.

What exactly is the point of companies that use these women to canvas for their cause like this?

We, as parents teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to accept money or any other gift from strangers. Then when they’re barely out of their teens, we send them off to total strangers’ homes to do the very opposite.

On the other hand, crooks and cons use the guise of the same vulnerable sales force to gain entry into households for thefts.

My mother-in-law had a surprise visit one Sunday night from two women posing as officials from the gas agency to check the cylinder. They demanded Rs. 2000 to fix an alleged leak in the tubes. They left only after a belligerent neighbor from the next apartment stepped in and ordered them out.

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When I was in grade 8, there was this drive to collect money for an NGO for senior citizens in my school. A lady from the organisation addressed us during the morning assembly to enlighten us on the plight of the neglected elderly and how we can help them.

Each of us were given a form with our names on top with 20 blank lines below to fill with the donors’ names and the amount.

We were urged to ask our family, neighbours and friends for donations. We were also given a minimum individual target.

That evening, I approached 2 of my neighbours. One literally shut the door on my face and another reluctantly parted with Rs. 10.

Feeling very humiliated, I stormed back home and banned my younger brother from trying to get donations even before he began.

Once my father came back home from work, I related the incident to him and demanded he pay our minimum target to save us from further embarrassment. He readily agreed and offered to meet  my principal the following day to give him a piece of his mind. He reluctantly let it go, after I begged him not to.

Imagine our shock a few days later, my brother’s classmate dropped in home for a game of table tennis (on our dining table) with his pocket jingling with coins.

When we asked him how come he had so many coins & he replied it was his collection of the day for the drive. He said the teacher said he can ask strangers too, so he’s been asking people waiting in the bus stops on his way to school and everywhere.

We were horrified. We told him off and asked him to stop it at once. He was a very well-off boy, who lived in a posh house with his parents and brother. And he was so naive he didn’t even think people mistook him for a beggar! At age 10, he was just following his teacher’s instructions.

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Really! Aren’t there any other means to raise funds for a cause without using kids and young women like this?

True, there are certain smart kids who are confident and capable enough to collect money, but what about kids like me, my brother and his friend?

I’m sure this marketing system was a successful business model once, but what is the point of hard-selling door-to-door, when SMS marketing and phone marketing have taken over?

Please, please let’s not support a system that puts so many children and young adults in danger. And help conmen misuse it so.

 

 

 

 

 

Second mothers

My mother was one of nine siblings. As a child, I watched her maternal home in a tiny village in South India,  play host to many, including me. Though the permanent residents were only my grand mother and my youngest uncle, the house was always full of floating population. Cousins posted nearby who used the house as base during week days, daughters who dropped in for short visits, sons and grandsons stopping by on their way to somewhere… and my own mother who used to shuttle between her government job in her hometown and Chennai till she got the much-awaited transfer.

So my brother and I used to stay there for months on end sometimes. Till my mother finally got her transfer when I was about 10.

During my stays, I spent a lot of time with a cousin. Though she’s technically my cousin, she’s only a few years younger than my mom, so she was more like an aunt. She has a bubbly personality, her kohl-rimmed eyes sparkling with mirth all the time. Being a school teacher, she was on to my tricks even before my own mother realised what I was up to. She was my hero. Thanks to her influence early on, I still cannot step out of home without drawing kohl in my eyes.

Once we settled down in Chennai, our meetings were reduced to occasional weddings. She too got married and was soon busy with the throes of raising her children while holding on to a full time job.

After a few more years even I stopped going for weddings due to the pressures of  academia and later, a career. I met her sporadically, may be once in 2 or 3 years.

I met her after a long gap of 8 years at a wedding, a few days ago. And the years just fell away. Except for the fact that she is a grand mother now and looks so frail and old, thanks to her illness, her eyes hold the same sparkle even now. We chatted away as much as we could and reminisced about my childhood and her youth.

Soon, it was time to go & I bid her good bye with a sudden lump in my throat.

On my way home I wondered, ‘Will my son ever have bonds like these?’

As a kid, I had so many mother figures in my life. My grandmothers, aunts, older cousins or sometimes even neighbours. I’ve spent days with and weeks with these women, stayed in their homes, eaten their food, confided in them and worried them to no end with my antics.

Of course, mostly it was because my own mother was so busy working full time & keeping house, she hardly had the luxury of a leisurely chat with me. Though my mother was a rock solid influence in shaping my health, conscience and general happiness, my emotional growth was pretty much dependant on these women who always lent a ear to my make-up queries and troubled teenage woes.

But apart from me and my mother-in-law, my son absolutely has no one else as a mother figure in his life.

True, he has his aunts and my best friends. But he sees them all with me around and only for short periods of time. He can never be close enough to go to them with his problems.

On the other hand, unlike my mother, I’m always around, ready to comfort him and offer him advice 24/7.

So I consoled myself that he does not really have the need for that kind of bonds in his life.

But after nine long years of my mother’s passing, it sure felt nice to look up to someone who cared for you as a child, feel safe and protected and not be the adult for once.

 

 

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