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!

 

 

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Best wishes…

All my childhood years, attending a wedding meant tagging behind my mom, behaving myself in front of strangers who were actually related, eating lots of laddus & jangiris & occasionally playing hide and seek with long-lost cousins from distant lands.

But after K’s sister got married, this meaning changed for me. Having just stepped into college, we were all still getting used to being treated like grown-ups.

Now it was all girly fun, where we could all dress up in our mothers’ fineries and prance around, inventing jobs for ourselves or just hang out together, gossip & look around coyly for good-looking boys.

Oh , and it gave us a legit reason to stay out late.

So when K’s cousin’s wedding rolled around a year later, I was all set to have fun. I went across to H’s house the previous day to check out what she was wearing. But she wasn’t attending.

“Why?”

“K did not invite me properly..”

“What? Didn’t she come over to give you an  invite?”

“Yeah, but I felt she did it for formality’s sake. Didn’t say I have to come or anything. After all, we hardly know her cousin.”

“But H! K is sooo close to us! Remember the fun we had at her sister’s wedding? We chatted with this cousin for hours!”

Nothing I said moved her. Now I was in a dilemma. Should I be the patch-up friend here and call K and tell her about this? Or should I just ignore it and go for the wedding with N & B? Or should I call them too and find out if they felt the same? Weren’t we a little too young for such grown up ego-tantrums?

But then, what if K was not very keen on me going too?

To end all the endless questions, I dialed K’s number. When I told her, she was horrified.

“I went over to her place & invited her with a kumkum dabba!” she wailed. “Please explain what she means by ‘inviting properly’?  And hey! I invited you over the phone. Are you also going to ditch saying that was not enough? What will I tell my aunt & uncle? They are so keen to see you all at the wedding!”

I assured her I’ll make it with the other 2 and in fact had a great time at the wedding.

I’m sure this is a unique problem we face only in India.

Anywhere else, either you’re invited or you’re not!

No ‘inviting properly’ or any other hidden power-play at work!

But with us, the inviting and the attending has so many subtle nuances. I suppose it’s because, we’re totally caught between the age-old customs and the evolving westernised concept of giving people their ‘space’.

There were times when we used to land up at a friends’ or reatives’ homes unannounced and never doubt for a minute if you’ll not be welcomed with open arms.

Now we have to call beforehand to check if they’re home and if they’re free to receive you. Heck! even I wouldn’t like it if someone lands up with family for a meal while I’m planning on catching a movie or have anther dinner scheduled!

At the other end, we have the custom of ‘visiting’ an ailing person.

When do you know its the best time to visit someone who’s recuperating/has had a baby/has had a surgery/is in the intensive care?

We hear horror stories of someone who’d underwent a minor surgery, but expired because he’d caught an infection from a visiting relative.

Or about a newborn who had to fight for his life for weeks in the neonatal care, because some visiting relative had forced a pinch of sugar into his mouth which had some bacteria?

When one of my own family members was in the ICU, even we, the immediate family, were given only 5 minutes to visit her, twice a day. Reason: she’s recovering from a serious infection and she does not need any fresh ones. And since she was stable and would require a few more days of intensive care, we were asked to go home at other times. “What’s the point in you guys hanging out in the crowded lobby?” we were asked. “She’s doing well and if there’s an emergency, we’ll call you. You’re fifteen minutes away, anyway.” Reasoned the doctor.

So we trooped back home and hoped for the best. But we kept getting calls every evening from relatives who called us from the hospital lobby, demanding to see her. And were horrified by the family’s absence!

One of them said, “Can one of you be in the hospital, so we can at least see you?” It was like marking their attendance. It only got worse after she was shifted to a room. Every evening we were swarmed by visitors and the patient just wanted to sleep!

Ditto when I delivered my son. I was still getting used to the lack of sleep and all the other discomforts only a new-born can give you, and every evening, I had to grit my teeth and be nice to the hoards that wanted to ooh & ahh the baby…

But when I did refrain from visiting a sick person, fearing infection, I was gently reprimanded for not showing my solidarity to a fellow human being!

God! its all sooo confusing!

The line between giving someone their space and giving your moral support when a person needs your presence has been so smudged that we don’t know when we’re wanted and when we’re not.

After my experiences on both sides for years, now I’ve made rules (at least for me) to follow.

When I need to be on my own, like when I’m ill or taking care of someone, I tell people not to bother visiting. I personally find making small talk when ill is all the more draining.

Sometimes its very irritating when people gape at you as you’re lying in bed, trying to memorise every detail, so they can compare notes with a fellow visitor. And don’t even get me started on the ones who just want to cross you off their list of visits that day!

And I never visit a new-born till they’re back home & well-settled. (except for very sensitive folks who keep a tab!)

But best of all, I like this uncle of a friend, who held his son’s upanayanam at home with just him, his wife & son and later sent a card to all relatives & friends which said,

“My son’s Upananyanam ceremony was held at home on ——. I know you’ll want to be informed and your blessings will always be with him”

It really requires lot of guts to something like that. I’m sure none of his relatives forgave him for depriving them their share of elai sappad and all the gossip they’d have caught up on!

Smile!

I had all my four wisdom teeth removed before I turned 20. ( Don’t know if I had too much wisdom or I’ve lost all of it after that!)

But it was rather a quick and painless procedure, by a kind & young dentist, who was referred to me by my friend K, after he did away with a tooth of her own. But it had not been not so easy for her…

“He’s so cute & charming!” she’d gushed.

When I did meet him for the first time, I was impressed with his soft-spoken demeanor, which put me at ease immediately and made me forget the usual dread associated with dental dramas.

In the next five years, I had two root-canals, of course, the afore mentioned 4 wisdom teeth removals and some fillings. (which doesn’t talk much of my oral health!)

K too had had her own share of fillings and such.

He  watched us both growing from gawky college students to young professionals.

K had some trouble with a wisdom tooth, but the drama queen that she was, totally resisted pulling it out. The kind dentist tried his level best to convince her. But her painful experience with the removal of the first one prevented her from even thinking about it.

After a few years, she couldn’t take the pain and agreed to it.

I got a call from her late one night. I could barely hear her.

“I finally did it.” she said in a  hoarse voice.

“Did what?” I asked.

“Pulled my wisdom tooth out!”

“Wow! Congrats!” I said. “But how did it go? Were you ok? Why didn’t you call me?”

“I was so stupid. Thought I could handle it alone. But you have no idea how painful it was!”

“Oh, you poor thing!” I sympathised.

“I started crying and became totally hysterical…”

“God! ” I said, picturing the Dentist’s horrified face. He was such a gentle & kind young man. He must have been totally traumatised. “What did the dentist do?” I asked.

“He kept saying, ‘Its alright, Don’t cry’ over and over. And when I didn’t stop, he leaned over and kissed my forehead. I was so shocked that I shut up immediately.”

“What??????!!!!!” I shrieked. “He kissed you???!!”

“On my forehead! Don’t make a big issue out of it. ” she hissed. “He was so flustered, he didn’t know what he was doing. We know him for too long to jump into any conclusions. And if you dare breathe a word of this to anyone, you’re dead meat, okay?” She warned.

“Okay,” I said and hung up. But I was brimming with mirth when my fiance who was also a colleague, called me five minutes later. “Guess what?” I asked him. “K got kissed by her dentist, when she was crying! But its top secret and don’t tell anyone!”

I thought we’d put it all behind after a few weeks of ragging poor K.

Not to be. I  got a call from K at work one morning.

“How dare you?!” She spat at me. “I am coming there right now and giving it off to you !” She screamed.

Apparently she’d gone for this ooh-la-la office party and was thoroughly enjoying herself, when the Vice-Presiden’s wife spotted her. After a cheerful greeting and some air-kissing, she asked K, “So, how’s your Dentist?” and gave her a knowing wink!

“I’ve told only you!! How did the wife of my Vice President get to know of the dentist episode?!”

I guiltily confessed that I’d told my fiance.

After grilling him, he confessed he had shared this with a senior colleague. Who happens to be K’s Vice President’s wife!

********

We soon lost touch with the dentist after both of us moved out after marriage.

After years, a visiting cousin wanted to consult a dentist.

Imagine my shock, when I suggested my old friend, she immediately said, “The Kissing Dentist? No way!”

I was gobsmacked.

I could have (maybe, by a teeny weeny  mistake) told my sis-in-law years ago….

Or my then-fiance and now-husband may have told more than one person…

I really don’t know how the word had spread and I cringe each time I pass by the poor guy’s clinic.

He’s really excellent and efficient in his chosen profession, people. Take it from me…

Why mothers are women?

“I think motherhood is sooo over-rated,” I told a friend who’d dropped in for an impromptu dinner.

“No way,” said the father of two. “I certainly don’t think so.” His wife looked up with interest.  My husband was too busy fiddling with the music system to hear what we were saying. The kids in the other room were playing noisily, charged after a meal of pizza and fizzy drinks.

“Hmm.. let me put it this way.” I said. “Both men and women  have nurturing sides to them. What I mean is whoever is left to care for an infant 24×7, develop a natural bond with the baby. Haven’t you seen single fathers taking such good care of their kids?”

“That’s in extreme cases,” pointed out my friend. “When there are totally no other options. Even then, there’s always his mother or some other female lending moral support.”

“Let me tell you this. The bond I share with my son is only because I took care of him from day one, all the time. If someone now tells me, ‘Hey, there was a mix up in the hospital. This is not the baby you carried to term. Here’s the original.’ I certainly will not have the same feeling towards that baby. I’m more tuned to my son. That baby will be a total stranger, inspite of me carrying him to full term.”

“Your point is?” asked my husband, totally uncomfortable with the thought that someone could say the child is not ours.

“My point is, me being a female is only incidental. A man can easily develop a bond with a baby as strong as any woman. A man just has to start caring for a baby and he’ll discover he has a maternal instinct too”

“Listen,” said my friend. “You gave up a full time career to stay home and take care of your baby. No man would ever do that, even if he has all the money in the world.”

“Forget giving up a career,” said his wife sharply. “Last week I had to go off air abruptly to rush to school to pick up my daughter who was ill. He could not even reschedule his meeting.”

“Excuse me… that was a meeting with my chairman” He said, defensively.

“And I was on air, live, doing my show,” she hissed.

“Look. We men are just not wired for that, ok?” he told me. “When was the last time your husband took off from work when you or the kid was ill?”

I thought hard. I could not recall a single time. Last time I was down with a viral, my husband faithfully went to work after dropping the kid off at his parents, while I was in bed all alone. And my father had brought me food everyday.

“Never.” I said. 

“See?” said my friend.

“But wait. All I ‘m saying is you men can do it too. Its not like motherhood and sacrifices belong only to women.”

“Let me repeat. We’re not wired for it,” he siad his voice raising a bit.

“Rubbish!” I screamed. “Its because you guys never try”

“We’ve tired,” butted in my husband. “But we cannot do the thing you women can do”

“Why?” we women shrieked. “If we can do it, so can you. Don’t give us the BS about women being more selfless and more nurturing by birth.”

“You are!” said both the men in one voice.

“Really? Before I got married, I used to wake up only at 8.45 am, never did any housework, went for all the movies, hung out with my friends and was so focussed in my career. Now that I’m married I’m stuck at home, hang out with friends with kids, house keep and take care of a million things. Tell me if anything has changed for you men? You still have your beer evenings, still focussed in work and to top it all have the gall to yell at us women if any of your needs are not met!” I fumed.

“Like we told you, we’re just not made for adjusting or adapting ourselves to any situation like you women!” chimed my husband.

“You mean you don’t want to!” I screamed.

“Hmmm.. yes…” they said, smirking at each other.

“You mean all men are basically selfish  a******s?” I sputtered.

“Absolutely!” they chorused.

Then they both collapsed, laughing. 

“What was all the heated arguement about, man?!” as they back-slapped each other. “We were in total agreement with her from the beginning! Men are selfish!! Women!!” They dissolved into another fit off giggles.

My husband looked at me kindly. “Now be a good girl and see about dinner. Run along!” he patted me patronisingly.

At that moment my son screamed from his room, “Amma! Can you get us all some dessert?”

I stormed out showing all of them my finger.

Lessons in motherhood-I

A  Saturday not so long ago, I started for the grocery store with my four year old in tow. He dawdled behind, stopping at the landing window to watch a plane.

“Hurry up!” I urged as I raced past him down the stairs.

“Amma! Look!” He screamed from the landing. I stopped half way. He pointed to the railing beside me.

Expecting to see a lizard or something that caught his fancy, I turned to look.

About six inches from my face, perched on the railing,  was a baby crow.

Before I could stop myself, I ran down screaming on top of my voice.

My son screamed too and promptly burst into tears.

Even his fear-stricken, tearful face did not propel me back to his side past the squeaking
bird.

Thankfully, my neighbor heard our screams, ran towards him and scooped him up before handing him over to me.

After the security guard was summoned to return the baby bird to the safety of its nest, after we were safely in the car,I started to feel really silly.

“Your father’s going to laugh at me!” I told my son, as I drove out of our gate.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I actually got scared of a baby bird!. Its a baby! What harm can it do?”

I was desperately trying to undo the damage I’d done. What if he grows up getting scared of birds?

“He’s going to laugh!” I laughed too, a bit nervously.

He was very silent.

I took my eyes off the road momentarily too look at him.

He was deep in thought.

“Hey! What are you thinking about?’

“…..”

“Are you still thinking about it?”

“…..”

“Are you still scared?”

“……”

“Hello! I’m talking to you!”

“…..”

“Tell me what you’re thinking!” I bellowed.

“Just dive!” He mumbled, almost inaudibly.

“What did you say?!!” Is he asking me to jump off the car? I wondered.

This time he looked me squarely in the eye.

“Amma, Just dive the car, okay?”

……….

Thinking she’ll find it hilarious, I narrated this to my good friend, a mother of two.

“You did what?!” She thundered.

“As a mother, you have no right to show your true emotions to your child”, she wagged a finger at me.

“What? ….” I stammered.

“You’re supposed to swallow your fear, anger whatever negative emotion you have and put up a brave front for him”

“hmmm… I was actually…”

“Listen to me!” She almost shook me by my sholulder.

“Your son looks up at you. You’re his role model. You’re his protector from all the bad things in his life. You cannot abandon him and run away from something and tell you’re scared of it too. Get it?”

“Promise me you’ll never do this again,”

“Okay,” I agreed sheepishly.

………………………

That night I tried to share this incident with my husband, hoping he’ll symphathise with me.

“You did what?!” He thundered. “You’re turning my son into a pip-squeak! It was a baby bird, for heaven’s sake!”

“Then you can bring him up yourself!” I screamed.

“I’m looking for a full-time job tomorrow!”

“Fine”

“Fine”

I walked out of the room and shut the door taking care not to bang it.

……………….

God! I wish there was a handbook on motherhood.

A wedding to remember – A flashback

“Hey, guess what?’ K’s voice screamed in my ear.

Rudely awakened by the phone, I was far from enthusiastic.

“What?” I asked groggily.

“B is getting married!”

That woke me up more effectively than a strong cup of tea.

“Really? What? When? Where? Whom?” I stammered.

Last we heard, she had just completed her course in Fashion Design in one of the leading fashion schools in the country and was all set to hit the fashion world, being the star of her class in the finals.

Why would she give it all up for matrimony?

K & me had just finished graduation and were enjoying one last lazy summer before working on a career for ourselves.

Of course not everyone wanted the same thing.

N and H were all gearing up to be married and keep home from when we were in class 10, giving graduation a total miss.

M was planning on post grad to buy her more time before she succumbed to joining her dad in his business.

Anyway, this being the first wedding in our group and all that, we’d worked up tremendous enthusiasm by the time it came around.

B coming back to town just to invite us was a major push to persuade our parents to send us to another state to attend the wedding.

This was going to be the first trip we’d take as young adults without supervision of either parents or teachers. So they were apprehensive.

With great gusto, all of us assembled at K’s place the previous night so we can catch the train early next morning.

The artistic and beautiful N was drawing mehendi in all our palms.

Everyone was going over everyone’s clothes and accessories.

Finally at around midnight, K’s older sis poked her head in and ordered us to bed, so we can get a goodnight’s sleep.

We reluctantly switched off the lights and settled into bed. N hadn’t finished with most of us.

“Never mind,” she said. “We’ll have a lot of time to kill in the train. I’ll continue then”

********

The next morning K’s dad drove us to the station, deposited us and the luggage in the appropriate seats and took his leave.

“Yippee! The fun has begun” We screamed with delight.

After a few small fights with fellow passengers for making too much noise, we settled around N for the promised mehendi.

The train stopped in a major station for 15 minutes. K was getting her mehendi done. The rest of us strolled out to stretch our legs, had chai and climbed back in. By the time we were back, K had made friends with a beggar who also seemed a little challenged. He’d been watching the process of Mehendi from the platform outside the window. She grinned at him periodically and showed her palm to reveal the design which was taking shape.

N saw me and rolled her eyes heavenward. Why does K get friendly with all the wrong people? This is the question we’ve been asking her for a long time. She befriends shop keepers, Bus Conductors… Anyone who smiles at her becomes her friend.

“They’ll probably think you’re looking for a lay” B used to tell her bluntly.

“Just shut up, you snobs!” K used to fume. ‘You guys are so stuck-up!”

The train started to move. K put both her palms up towards the window and asked ‘Nice?” to the beggar.

He smiled broadly nodding his assent.

Then he looked at her squarely as the train picked up speed, winked and made an obscene gesture with his hand.

We quickly brought the shutters down.

****

“Hi guys! Welcome! Let me introduce you to my Fiancé”

A six foot, handsome man with a rakish smile waited for us at the end of the corridor.

‘Hello!” he said in a deep voice.

Flustered, all of us muttered our quick hellos.

Back in the room, we collapsed in a fit of giggles.

“My god!” K gasped. “What a hulk!” “So handsome!” M sighed. ‘When my turn comes, I’m sure may dad’ll get me married to a fat, pan-chewing guy with yellow T-shirt and jeans saying ‘Disco Disco!’ She moaned.

She was undoubtedly the hippest of us, who wore designer clothes even to bed.

N & H looked most envious. A, who was relatively new to the group who’d joined us in the last year of school looked a bit uncertain.

“Who’s talking about the groom?” K snapped. “I meant the driver who picked us up from the station.”

“What!!” We gasped.

“Yup!” She said dreamily. “Did you check out his aquiline nose? His piercing eyes?”

All of us were upon her like a bunch of hungry dogs on a bone.

***

That holiday, if you may call it that, was a revelation to me. There was a big surprise waiting for me the second day.

H called me for a walk after lunch. I hopped along, marveling at the lush greenery around us.

“I have something to tell you.” She began. “Don’t be shocked”

She then proceeded to undo the top button of her shirt.

“Hey! What are you doing?” I screamed.

Impatiently she pulled a frayed yellow thread, which magically appeared around her neck. She had artfully hidden in it her bra all the while.

I stared at her blankly.

“I’m married.” She stated.

“When?” I gasped.

She’d been seeing this guy for sometime now. I knew they faced a little resistance from his side, but marrying him secretly like that?!

“Everyone in our group knows” she explained. “Except A.” So you better not open your mouth to her.”

With that stiff warning, she strode off not waiting to hear the lecture I was planning.

“What the…..?” I asked K when I reached the room. “How come you never told me?”

“Ah! Like you’ll approve!” She scoffed. “Who wants another lecture on morality from an uptight a** like you?”

Suddenly A emerged from a corner.

“I have something to confess.” She said meekly.

“I couldn’t help hearing what you were saying. Actually, even I got married last month.”

“What?!” Both of us gasped.

She was apparently in love with a boy in her neighborhood. Her mom was dead against it and was arranging a marriage as soon as possible. Hence the quiet wedding on the sly. “Nobody knows at both our homes. So please don’t tell anyone.” She pleaded.

I collapsed in the bed with the weight of those secrets.

“Maybe I’ll elope with the driver dude too..” Whispered K conspiratorially. “You handle my parents!”

I threw a pillow at her.

****

I couldn’t sleep that night.

Two of my friends had been married for months now and I didn’t even know? And here we were celebrating the so-called first wedding in our group.

K seemed to have problems sleeping too.

I could just about see her suppressing a giggle in the dark.

“What?” I whispered.

She pointed to the corner of the room where the rest had managed to tie a rope from one end to another to hang their laundry. Under garments, to be precise.

Straining my eyes, I found the reason for her mirth.

A huge, over-sized panty was hanging smack in the middle. Its elastic worn out, the owner had fastened it with a safety pin.

For some strange reason, it tickled us both to no end.

“It has to be H’s” stated K. “She’s the fattest of us all” She said unkindly.

After wiping my eyes, I suggested, “Maybe it’s A’s. She’s the one who’s so fashion-challenged,” We dissolved in a fit of giggles again.

Slowly almost all of us were giggling on the sly trying to guess the owner.

Suddenly the lights came on.

M strode up purposefully towards the offensive garment.

Her face burning, she said, ‘its mine, ok? If it hurts your eyes so much, I shall remove it!”

A stony silence ensued until all of us screamed with laughter.

****

We couldn’t take our eyes off the groom during the ceremony. God! He was really handsome.

The best part is he knew it and was checking us all out in a sidelong glance, once in a while.

We could almost feel the bride’s piercing eyes on us.

I was freshening up after breakfast when K dragged me off to a corner window. Not minding my protest, she pointed to the bride’s room where H & A were set about stringing some black beads.

“Ask B’s mom what’s it for,” urged K. “Why?” “Just do it!” She grinned mischievously.

“Oh that!” aunty told me when I did ask. “We need two unmarried kanya girls to string the beads for the mangal sutra dear,” she explained before she was called on to the stage again.

When K & I peeped in the room again with mocking grins, they looked away guiltily.

That was the last memory I have of that memorable wedding.

And did I tell you that was the last we saw of the bride?!