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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Image courtesy:google

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

Magane Manogara!

I sit in a sofa looking around listlessly. A little away from me, sitting at the head of her dining table, the Tamil teacher presides over a small group of 10 year olds. There are two girls reciting Thirukkural loudly and a boy who is copying down answers from his open text book.

And there’s my son, sitting there bewildered..

The girls voices raise in competing with each other. The boy stops writing to check something with the teacher. Suddenly the teacher’s grandson who has been playing in the drawing room screams. Before anybody could react, one of the Thirukkural girls runs towards him and picks him up. “Auntie! He has done su-su!” She wrinkles up her nose. The teacher immediately gathers the boy from her and heads to the restroom, shouting instructions to the children over her shoulder.

Oblivious to all this, the teacher’s mother-in-law sits near me in another sofa, her head thrown backwards and is snoring softly.

The teachers comes back to her seat, settling her grandson on her lap and continues her lessons with my son.

“What day is it today? How do you say this in Tamil?’  She asks him.

My son stares at his toes. “Come on! Tell me!” She prompts him. He sinks lower in his chair. “Take a guess.” She cajoles him. “I’ll not mind even if you give me the wrong answer. Don’t feel shy!” She laughs. My son cringes some more.

Indru enna kizhamai!” She booms the answer. “You repeat what I just said!” He mumbles something inaudible. “Come on! Louder!” She encourages him.

Then she looks at me across the room. “Ennamma idhu? (What’s this?) Your son has no comprehension of the language. And he’s born and brought up in Chennai!” She clucks.

tlc051014bwevNow it’s my turn to cringe.

Before you judge me, let me assure you that I’m certainly not one of those hoity-toity moms who thinks it’s uncool to let her child learn his mother tongue.

But as Murphy’s law would have it, especially when it comes to children, you end up doing the exact opposite of what you had planned.

Before I had my son, I always looked at parents of misbehaving kids with diasdain.  ‘How could they let their kids get away with such behaviour?’ I used to wonder. ‘I’ll never be like that when I have my own!’ I used to resolve to myself, in my blissful ignorance.

Of course, once my son was born, I just had to add pepper & salt to my words and gobble them all up.

Tantrums in the mall, check. Screaming in the theatres, check. Making another child cry in a restaurant, Check.

By the time he turned 5, I’d been there and done all that and more.

Anyway,  I swore to myself that my son will never be one of those snooty kids who spoke only in English and think it’s infra dig to talk in their own language. I spoke to him only in Tamil and urged the father to do the same in Telugu. Though he played along most of the time, my husband invariably reverted to English after the first sentence.

But I plodded on. A friend still remembers when my son  was around two, I got palpitations when I heard her talk to him in English, . “How you yelled at me!” She recalls even now. “Like I slapped him or something!”

And I was very happy his baby-talk was all in Tamil.

Amma! Menaam!” He used to scream when he didn’t want something.

Inniyum’ meant another. “Biyam’ meant he was scared.

Our initial ecstacy over his utterences soon turned to worry when we realised he hadn’t graduated beyond his one word sentences at three, when my friend’s son who was a few months younger was belting out full sentences like an adult.

I panicked as usual. He had just started play-school and there were so many more to compare him to.

One friend suggested it was because we were confusing him with too many languages. “He just doesn’t know which one to communicate with. Just stick to one language and see the difference. I’ve seen the same thing happen to so many kids”.

It made sense to us and that was the end of Tamil & Telugu for him. We conversed with him only in English and lo and behold, he was talking nineteen to a dozen in a month.

Cut to present.

At ten, my son has made me eat my words all over again with a lot more pepper & salt. Since English is the only language he uses for communication and thanks to the All-American entertainment he gets from Disney channel, he is snooty and refuses to talk in Tamil.

And when he utterly has to, he sounds exactly like M.R.R. Vasu in an old Tamil film playing a Marwari money-lender.

I still would have shamelessly shrugged, blamed it on TV and went on with life. But trouble brewed when I had to choose Tamil for his second language. Only other choice was Hindi and my knowledge of that language ends with the sporadic bollywood movies I watch.

Last year I realised the gap between his textbook and his actual understanding of Tamil was greater than the widest of oceans.

So I now sit in this drawing room three days a week amidst a cacaphony of voices which strangely reminds me of a 80s Bhagyaraj film set and giggle shamelessly at my son saying things like “naan en amma veedu ponaan” (Which is supposed to mean I went home with my mother.)

When I asked him why I should wait there instead of running some errands he replied, “Because it’s all your fault Amma! You did the crime, so you do the time!”

Serves me right.

Boys vs Girls

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I was in the car with my husband and son a few days before Diwali.

“Guys! Both of you need new clothes for Diwali.” I said, hoping we can stop somewhere enroute.

“No!” both father and son cried out in unison. “We don’t need new clothes & that’s final!” said my son.

“But it’s Diwali!” I protested. “We need to keep new clothes in the puja that morning!”

“Just because you have some lame rituals, it doesn’t mean you can drag me to a clothes store! When I want new clothes, I’ll ask for it!”

“Exactly!” chimed in my husband.

“How come you insist on a Christmas tree every year? And insists on gifts under it, even after you figured out that I was the Santa all along?” I countered.

“Christmas is fun Amma. Diwali is nothing but crackers. I hate getting out of the house. Can we just move to another peaceful country till Diwali is over?”

I saw red. He managed to get my goat on festive spirit and patriotism at one shot.

But reining my irk I plodded on. “Diwali is a beautiful festival. I have fond memories of  waking up early in the morning, ganga snanam, yummy sweets, lighting up diyas… ” I reminisced.

“Not interested…” My son muttered.

… drawing kolams, and visiting my grand mom in new clothes…” I continued, as if I hadn’t heard him.

“I’ll pass..” he said.

“Can you help me decorate the house this time?” I asked him.

“Nope!” was the reply.

Then I totally lost it. “What’s wrong with you?” I bellowed. “Indian festivals are designed to bring families together. The fun is in enjoying each others’ company and bask in the warmth of family”

“And you know what? I just realised we never do anything fun as a family.” I said.

“Like what?” asked my son, fingers still clicking on his gaming device.

“Even when all 3 of us are in one place, each of us are busy with our own gadgets. There’s no sharing, no talking, no bonding… We always go for holidays only with friends. We rarely go out for a meal or a movie … Why cannot we do stuff together like a regular family?”

“Because Amma, we’re not a regular family! We’re special! So don’t make us a regular family by suggesting these things!” he grinned.

My husband laughed out loud, proud of his son’s wit.

“Fine.” I said. “This Diwali, I’m going to adopt a baby girl! Girls are so much fun to have. They get excited about new clothes, love to decorate and are so warm and loving”

“Fine.” said my son with barely masked anger. “I’ll find somewhere else to live. You obviously don’t want me around.”

“I did not mean that.” I said, very annoyed. “Just because I want one more person in the house, doesn’t mean I want you to get out.”

“I’d much rather you adopt a dog!” he replied hopefully.

“So I get to clean after one more person? No thanks!” I said sullenly.

I maintained a tight-lipped silence till we reached home, all the while wondering how the male species is so different and how jealously they guard their personal spaces and how they avoid any kind of obvious bonding with their families.

If my son had his PSP, my husband has his phone and facebook.

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On a saturday, a few days after Diwali, we were out with friends for dinner. My son’s best friend, (whom he fondly calls his weekend bro) came back home with us for a sleepover. My husband had just landed home from the airport and called me to say there was no power at home.

My phone’s battery was really low. So I culdn’t call the Electricity Board.

Once we reached home, we found my tired husband snoring away in the bedroom, with a fan on, thanks to the invertor.

We cautiously switched on one light in the drawing room and sat around cursing our fate. It was past 11 and both the boys were very tired after playing football all evening.

“Why don’t both of you go sleep with Appa on the big bed?” I suggested.

“What about you?” Asked my son.

“I’m charging my phone on the comp, so I’ll wait for a while. If the power is not back, I’ll drag a quilt and sleep on the floor.” I told him.

“No, Amma! You will not! You wake me up. I’ll sleep on the floor.”

Surprised by his sudden burst of chivalry, I laughed and said “No need! I can sleep on the floor..”

“No way!” he said, very angry now. “You have to wake me up.”

“Okay,” I said placatingly.

Soon the boys had brushed their teeth and went to sleep near my husband.

I picked up a book and lay down on the drawing room sofa to while away the time till my phone charged.

A few minutes later, my son wandered back to me.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“I can’t sleep.” he said.

“Rubbish! Just look at your eyes! Go to sleep baby!”

“No, Amma.. I cannot sleep…” he insisted.

“What about your friend?” I asked him.

“He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. He was super tired.”

“So are you..” I said.

But he refused to go to sleep and sat around very sullenly.

A few minutes later, the power was back.

“Yay!!” we shouted together.

“Now what?” asked my son.

“You go back to sleep with Appa & S,” I instructed him. “We cannot wake up your friend to change rooms now.”

“And you?” he asked.

“I’ll sleep in your room. See? Now the power is back, I don’t need to sleep on the floor. I can happily sleep in your nice bed.”

After a moment of thought he replied, “Okay. I’ll sleep in my room too”

“Why?”

“Because you’re scared to sleep alone!”

I was touched he remembered this from what I’d told him in passing a year ago.

“That was long ago…” I placated. “I’m braver now. You don’t worry. I’ll be fine. And your friend has not come for a sleepover with your father!”

He insisted his friend was fast asleep anyway and will not mind.

“I’m just concerned about you, okay?” he said and that was final.

Refusing to listen to any of my protests, he retrieved his spiderman toy from my bedroom, curled up next to me and was soon fast asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow…

As I too drifted off to sleep I thought to myself, “Sons are not so bad after all!”

The Mother in law – Book review

 

4THE MOTHER IN LAW Web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I picked up this book from the ‘New Arrivals’ section of a popular book store, thinking it’s a tongue-in-cheek account of various anecdotes gathered from interviewing daughters-in-law across the country.

The synopsis at he back of the book proclaims it  a ‘witty, acute and often painfully funny book…’

The introduction is a brief account of the author’s personal experience with her own mom-in-law, followed by an inkling of what to expect from the chapters ahead.

Contrary to my expectations, the book turns out to be a lot more serious. Each chapter deals with a story of a daughter-in-law, who meets up with the author in coffee shops, hotels, taxis and various places to recount their horror stiries.

Horror stories they are. Undoubtedly.

Of course any true-blue Indian will know the Indian mom-in-law is quite different from her counterpart in other countries and cultures. That a desire to wield control over the daughter-in-law is a given. But these 12 stories take that ‘control’ to totally another level.

According to Venugopal, every Indian mom starts planning her son’s wedding,  right from the day he is born. As he grows up, she guilt-trips him with stories of her various sacrifices and how he will break her heart once he gets his wife, thus ensuring his support continues even after he’s out of the nest.

The stories in this book range from a mom-in-law hand picking her daughter-in-law, charming her way into her heart with gifts, movies, etc even before her son comes into the picture. To mom-in-laws who were so affronted that the son chose a bride himself, that she makes it impossible for the girl to find any happiness with him after her marriage.

There’s Rachna, whose mom-in-law courted her for months before introducing her son. Literally taking over her life and grooming her to be the exact daughter-in-law she wants her to be…

Carla, an European bride having to put up with her conservative  ‘Mummyji’, who initially refused to accept her, but when there was no choice, accepts her grudgingly and treats her like an unpaid maid…

Payal, who manages to break away from her domineering ‘Mummyji’ by creating a separate kitchen for herself while still staying in the same joint family…

Keisha, who not only put sup with a nightmare of a mother in law, but also an abusive husband…

Each story tells us the ugly , hidden face of the Indian families without mincing words.

Of course one constantly hears about the power-struggles between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and various petty fights over the years, but I haven’t heard of such nasty stories since the 80s…

Even then, as a child, I never personally knew the vile mothers-in-law, whose stories I eavesdropped during family gatherings… It is shocking such people still exist, fueling the TRP rates of soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi…

Veena Venugopal goes to an extent of saying her campaign is to save the Indian daughters-in-law from this mother-in-law menace, which is rampant in this country.

Once I started reading the book, I just could not put it down till I finished the last page…

Though it really saddens me to read these heart-rending stories, I cannot help remembering sad stories of meek mothers-in-law who are really a rare breed.

I’ve come across a few who cook, clean and take care of the grand children while the ‘modern’ daughters-in-law is always traveling and skypes them with hundred instructions on everyday chores. These are the moms-in-law who meticulously organise the daughters-in-law’ wardrobe for her next trip, sit outside play schools to pick up their grandchild while running the household successfully.

Of course, like I said earlier, these are a very rare breed.

Most of them, I guess are the ones in this book – The mother in law – The other woman in your marriage…

 

Cool Pool

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Ever since our son was born, my husband has this phobia of him growing up to be a sissy, mama’s boy.

And like all Murphy’s laws, this fear too has been close to coming true many times. Though physically he is my husband’s replica, I can see a lot of not-so-wanted traits of mine in him.

Fear being the first in the list.

I remember driving my mom up the wall with my ridiculous fears. I would not sleep alone in a room till I turned 25. I can never go into any room alone in the dark even now. My brother used to enjoy switching off the bathroom light from the outside and hear me scream.
Though I was never scared of reptiles & other insects, I used to get scared of lots of other things. Injections, beggars who used to come to my ancestral home dressed up as some mythological heroes, an old wrinkly servant in my grand mother’s house … the list was just endless!

My son is terrified of lizards and frogs. He wanted me to call the cops once, when I couldn’t chase a lizard away.

Anyway, this post is about a totally different fear. When my son was two, my husband wanted him to learn swimming. And  my son loved playing in the water. Like all kids, he had a small inflatable pool at home which he used to the fullest & used to love to splash in the shallow side of any pool we took him to.

Trouble started when I enrolled him in a summer coaching class when he was five. The first lesson was to dunk his head fully in the water. My son totally panicked. “NO!” he screamed. I tried to encourage him from the sidelines. It didn’t work. The coach, after trying to reason with him for a while, decided he’d had enough. He just picked up my son & dunked him in the water forcefully. When my son came out sputtering, he said, “See? That was not so bad!”

My son immediately made a run for the edge of a pool. The coach coaxed him again. Then when he had forgotten about it, he dunked him again in the water. This time my son screamed his head off & started sobbing. I was watching the whole thing, horrified. I cleared my throat & called out to the coach. “Sir, can you not do that again, please? I don’t want him to get a phobia..” I said as politely as I could.

He looked at me if I’d grown a horn suddenly. “But Ma’m, that’s the only way he’ll learn swimming. This is a 10 day camp & he’ll never learn if he doesn’t know the basics.”

“It’s okay.” I informed him. “Please don’t scare him off swimming forever. I have no problems if he does not learn swimming by the end of the camp.” I assured him.

He swam away, I’m sure, muttering something about over-protective mothers.

The next day, my son refused to get ready for his swimming class. Whatever me or my husband said will not change his mind. So I told him that I’ll enrol myself too. This time he agreed half-heartedly. We both splashed in the pool for a few days without learning any swimming. Then both of us came down with a severe viral fever. I had a sneaking suspicion on the waters of the pool.That was end of swimming for both of us.

Now after years, my husband put his foot down. “He’s eight!” he thundered. “How long are you going to mollycoddle him like this? I’m telling you he’s turning out exactly like you, full of phobias!”

So he went ahead and booked my son for swimming lessons this summer. And all these intervening years, he’s been spending a lot of time with my son in various pools in all the holidays we’ve been to and successfully allayed his fears of the head dunking. He even taught him to float a bit.

So this time I had my hopes high. The first few days were a breeze. I sat on collapsible chairs along with other parents/grandparents/aunts and watched the kids bob in the water. They had to dunk their heads in the water & kick their legs while holding on to the edge of the pool.  And in a few more days, I saw most of them (including my son) swim across the short side of the pool holding on to a rectangular foam. I was thrilled to bits.

Of course my bubble didn’t last long. A week later the coach asked them all to get out of the pool. Led them to the deep end, which was about 12 feet. He jumped in & then asked the kids to jump in one by one. They actually did well. Most kids, once they came up gasping to the surface, swam well towards the ladder & got out. Those who were reluctant were either goaded or threatened by the coach. I watched as my son slunk further & further away. The coach called out to him. He pretended not to hear him. So the coach heaved himself up, walked towards him. My brave son broke into a run. He soon caught him by the wrist. “NO!!!!” my son screamed. “Come on! Why are you so scared?” he cajoled encouragingly. “Come, I’ll jump in with you”.

Saying this, he grasped my son by his hand, swung their hands to & fro. On the count of three, he pushed my son in the water, waited for him to surface then jumped in himself.

Predictably, my son refused to come back for his lessons the next day. But my husband will not hear of it. He gave him a stern lecture & said if he ever bunked swimming, he’ll make sure he takes him to a strict & rude coach next time.

So I had to put up with my son’s groaning & moaning every morning till we reached the class at 2.30 pm… If it’s nausea once, it’ll be a stomachache another day, why, he even told me he was having a heart attack once!

But I dragged him resolutely. This deep water continued for a while. While all the other kids took to it like, well, fish to water, my son kicked and screamed and once called me closer to tell me he just couldn’t breathe.. So again, I intervened & told the coach, not to take him to the deep waters & keep him to the shallow end. After all there were only 2 days left for the camp to end & I just didn’t see my son become a champion overnight…

So the last day my son was his enthusiastic best & was in high spirits on the way home.

Now he insists I take him swimming every sunday to my brother’s apartment complex where they have a 5 feet pool. He jumps into water, splashes around, swims short laps & enjoys himself.

The only flip side to this is, he’s taken it upon himself to avenge me for his swimming lessons. He insists I get into the pool too & spends half his swimming time commanding me to dunk my head in the water & start kicking my legs & float. I hiss & tell him quietly & politely to leave me alone & I’ll learn swimming in my own time. But he will not! Just like his coach, he will badger & even sometimes rough handles me to learn.. And while his father, the master brain behind his swimming lessons,  enjoys a lazy Sunday reading the papers & watching TV..

We mothers never have it easy, do we?

What I want to be when I grow up…

This post has been brewing  for a really long time, but somehow the act of  putting it all together cohesively kept eluding me.

We all have role models. There are on-screen personas, leaders, writers and so many heroes inspiring our thoughts and actions everyday.

But apart from these, there are are also heroes we meet everyday who do the same thing for us, but without much fanfare…

I’d like to talk about three such heroes who have been and will be my inspiration on growing old…

Yes, it is a long way off and we hardly talk about it, but I’m sure I’ll get there one day and want to remember the lessons I’ve learnt from these fantastic people.

All three of them are seventy plus, riddled with all the ailments faced by people their age, but to me they are shining examples of humanity.

One thing all three have common is, they never retired.

They have cut down their time at work to accommodate an afternoon nap here, outing with a grandchild there, but they’re still in the thick of their careers.

The reason – their work is their passion.

If I compare them to all the other people I know in the same age group, I find a stark difference.

Others, long retired, seem to thrive on pastimes like how-to-drive-daughter/son-in-law-up-the-wall, watch all the soaps back to back everyday (and pick up useful tips for the afore mentioned pastime!), complain endlessly about their health issues, lecture grand children on how life used be so meaningful during their times, call/video chat with their peers to complain about how they’re treated by their families, etc, etc.

After observing hordes of them, I came to a logical conclusion.

All these people are reasonably energetic, mentally alert but have no purpose to their days. There are no deadlines to work for, no jobs to finish by the end of the day and since they’re reasonably well off, they don’t have to earn their daily bread.

So their days are pretty aimless. Just imagine. We relish our holidays and vacations for their utter joblessness only because they’re contrasted by our jam-packed schedules on a normal working day.

I took a sabbatical for a year from work. My son wasn’t even thought of then, so I had endless hours all to myself once my husband left for work.  And this was before I had a mobile phone and was connected to the world wide web.

I loved it in the beginning. I could really appreciate the lull after those hectic years in advertising with absolutely no personal life. But after a month or so, I started getting restless.

To get over it, I started painting again, enrolled myself in a pottery class twice a week, threw elaborate lunches for my friends, watched lot of TV, but I just couldn’t shake off the restlessness. My self esteem was hitting an all-time low and my fuse was getting shorter by the day. Things worsened after a year, when we moved in with my in laws. Now I had no household responsibility whatsoever and not much of cooking since my mother-in-law is phenomenal in the kitchen. So I ended up doing nothing but eat and sleep away most of my days.

Then one fine day, thanks to my husband’s insistence I took up a chance offer by a friend in a just-started ad agency and I was back in action after almost 2 years. The adrenaline flowed once more in my blood and I was suddenly oh-so-busy even to have a proper meal during the day.

In hind sight, a lot of things became clear. By going back to work, I was connecting with lot of like-minded people on an everyday basis. And during those 2 years, I had been kind of isolated. Sure, I caught up with lots of friends and family, but it felt so different to have purposeful interactions with people. Exchange of ideas, working as a team towards a common gaol, why even bitching about an irritating colleague to a friend during a break made me so alive. I guess we need a healthy dose of both professional and personal interactions to have a meaningful day.

Now let’s get back to those retired senior citizens. They’re facing what I faced for 2 years for the rest of their lives!

But sadly, some of them have never had a profession. And most of them looked at their professions as just a means to earn and never had a passion for their work. They seldom had friends. Most lost touch with their classmates after marriage and didn’t bother to make new friends. They met their siblings, cousins, etc only during a wedding or any other family function. They preferred to spend on their children and neglected themselves. They never connected with their kids like we do these days. They were more the authority figures than friends.

So once the children flew off the nests, they were lost. Hell, I’ve seen couples who could hardly relate to each other after their kids moved out!

So they turn into bitter, insecure individuals who feel the need to assert themselves in someway. Either to assert their dwindling dominance or sheer usefulness in some cases they resort to all the pastimes I referred to earlier.

In contrast, the three heroes I worship are so full of life, they have no time to indulge in petty politics. One still works full time and is so full of energy. On a regular day, he injects his daily dose of insulin, goes to work, catches up with friends and family over  some fabulous dinner parties he throws often &  chats with his grandchildren in various locales around the world regularly. A few years ago, he single handedly brought together a warring couple who were on the verge of a separation by meeting them often, ordered them to talk to each other everyday and he’d call both of them every night just to make sure they did. His commitment to his profession and family only seem to grow with his age!

The other gentleman just turned 80. He’s passionate about the environment and is still consulted or many projects. He’s involved with NGOs dealing with environmental issues and meets them regularly. Oh,and he joined facebook recently and keeps in touch with all of us too.

The third is a lovely lady in her seventies who is a design consultant. She is very creative, an avid reader, globe-trotter, keeps an impeccable house with all her art collections from around the world and can talk for hours on any subject with great clarity. And I love the way she dresses. I have seen a lot of women who so violently refuse to grow old gracefully, but this lady has done so with so much panache. She pins up her snowy hair with a gypsy pin, wears such lovely sarees, co-ordinates them with various simple, but breath-taking jewelry that I find it so hard not to gape at her every time I meet her.

They have all have had their fair share of struggles and heart breaks in their lives. But they’re always ready with a smile only because they found themselves through the passion in their lives. No experience have left traces of insecurity or bitterness in the evening of their lives. They’re basically very content with themselves and welcome each day with a lot of enthusiasm.

So if you ever see me when I’m in my seventies griping about my life, hit me on the head with this post!

Oh, My God!

I’m not a very religious person. I do believe in God. I pray, talk to God and look for signs when I’m in trouble to guide me, etc., but I don’t exactly have a routine. I feel my relationship with my maker is a personal one. And I don’t go to temples regularly.

But when I was a kid, I was taken around to lot of temples & was fed lot of stories where ‘God will blind you if you’re evil’ was always the moral. And I was encouraged to pray for things I wanted.

But as my rational thinking grew, I began to adopt the philosophy mentioned in the first paragraph.

Now, my seven year old son has a lot of questions about God. Since my husband is a thorough rationalist, its totally up to me to shape his mind in these matters.

Do I blindly follow my parents & teach him the ‘Saami kannai kutthidum’ philosophy or explain things a bit more rationally?

Thanks to Cartoon Network, he already has his basics covered on the different Gods & their Avataars. And thanks to school, he already knows there are a lot of religions in this world.

So I just answer his questions, as & when they arise, as best as I can.

1st of  September was Vinayaka Chathurthi. I love that festival only for the yummy kozhukkattais… 

Last year my husband wanted to give him a taste of his own childhood & took him shopping for a clay Ganesha, in a typical market place.

This year, he flatly refused to go along. “The streets are yucky! I will not walk in all that muck!” He begged off. My husband went alone and picked up a clay Ganesha sprayed with fine gold dust.

But  I wanted to make up for the lack of fun, so I woke up early, made the kozhukkattais and called my son for the puja.

Of course, it was just the two of us, since my husband was still snoring.

Both of us sat in front of the decked-up Ganesha, did the puja and I explained to him that Kozhukattais are Ganesha’s favourite sweet & all the fruits were for him.

Then I asked him to sing a small Ganesha song. He did that dutifully.

In a while, it was breakfast time. While he had a bowl full of his favourite cereal, I sat in front of him, with a bowl of kozhukkattais, waiting to dig in.

“No!” my son screamed suddenly. “You cannot have them! Its Ganesha’s!”

Peeved to be deprived of my favourite sweet, I held on tight to the bowl while he tried to pry it from my hand.

“He just blessed it, baby!” I explained patiently. “Now we can eat them.”

“No way! You said you made them especially for him!” He argued.”You cannot take it from him!”

“Thousands of homes make the kozhukkatais today.” I reasoned. “He cannot eat each and every one of them! So he blesses them and gives it back to us…”

But he’ll have none of it.

Since it was time for school, we wrapped up and left.

That evening he came running to me while I was pounding away at my comp. “Amma! Ganesha has eaten all the kozhukkatais in the plate!” He said joyfully. I noticed his bare upper body had a bit of gold dust.

“What happened?” I asked, pointing to the gold.

“I gave Ganesha a big hug!” he admitted sheepishly.

Next morning I needed a banana for my cereal. So I plucked  one  from the puja plate & proceeded to peel it.

“Don’t!” he screamed. “You’re stealing Ganesha’s share!”

“What?! I told you he only blesses the food we offer!”

“He ate the kozhukkatais yesterday, remember?” He asked me. “So, don’t touch!”

And of course by the time he got back from school that day, the fruits had to vanish too.

This is even worse than Santa story, I thought. He’s been insisting that we have a Christmas tree every year for three years now. Since it is all in good cheer, I gladly bought one and decorate it every year. But I’m so not prepared for his letter to Santa.

Last year it was the Beyblades and they were not in stock in the entire universe.

Frantic, I clutched at every lead I got and found some fake Beys from Parrys Corner. Of course he didn’t want them.

Thankfully it was not with the Santa loot.

And later I kept forgetting the Santa bit. When I spoke to him about a toy, I started slipping. “Remember the Spy Game I got you?” I would start. “NO!” He’d say vehemently. “Santa got me that!”

“Oops! I’m sorry!” I’d apologise.

Last week, he wanted me to take to the Toy Shop to get him something. I had no such intentions. “Pray to Ganesha & ask him if I should really take you.” I told him.

“Buy I don’t know how to talk to God!” he wailed.

“Then it’s high time you learnt. ” I told him sternly. “Just stand in front of God and close your eyes and ask him. If you’re silent enough you can hear his answer in your mind.”

So he obediently stood with folded hands, closed his eyes.

After five minutes he came to me. looking very upset. “I just cannot get any answer, Amma! You do it!”

So I stood in front of the puja, closed my eyes & folded my hands in reverence.

Two minutes later, I opened my eyes to see his eager face next to mine. “What did God say, Amma?”

“He is soooo angry with me!” I informed him. “He just told me ‘there are so many poor children in this world with no food and you want to get more and more toys for your son! Ask him not to be so greedy!’ ”

Crest-fallen, my son walked away. Soon it was time to go somewhere. We passed by the Toy shop and a small voice from the back seat spoke.

“I wish God didn’t exist. Then I can do what I want..”

Now I’m more confused than ever…

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