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.

 

 

Morning rides

A pink hat with white dots.

A black cap shading the eyes.

A bare head under the sun.

Another head with a fancy flower.

 

Mums riding fast

to reach the schools on time.

Sometimes it’s the dads,

or occassionally a grandpa with a frown.

 

Scooters, scooters, scooters.

Zipping, zapping, zooming.

With their precious packages

standing tall in front of the seat.

 

Dreaming of their day in school

or dreading the lunch they’ll have to eat

or simply hoping and praying

their teachers would keep their cool.

 

Speeding lorries, faster bikes,

angry drivers tooting horns.

Slow down, pipe down.

Have a thought.

 

For these little flowers,

Smiling, laughing, waving,

blooming on your way.

Every morning, everyday.

 

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The driver who ditched.

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I must have been in the 12th grade. I was cramming for an exam late one night (it was past 10.00 pm which was really late by those days’ standards!)

I was plonked on the drawing room sofa with all my books around me. My father was at the dining table, having a smoke after dinner and listening to some old hindi songs. My mother and brother had retired for the night.

The door bell rang.

Our driver was standing outside looking very tearful.

My ears perked up while my eyes were fixed on the book in my lap.

The driver told my father that his child was suddenly ill and in hospital. He needed money for some important procedure if the child was to be saved.

Immediately my father gave him the money and also the car keys.

“Take the car.” he said generously. “You never know if you’ll need transport late at night.”

“Aiyyah!” the driver sobbed and fell at my father’s feet. “You’re my god! I’ll never forget this for the rest of my life! May you live long and help others like this”

Deeply embarassed, my father shushed him and sent him on his way, after asking him to update him on the child’s condition.

By this time I had forgotten all about my books and was gaping open-mouthed.

Needless to say, I hardly manage to retain anything I studied after that.

********

Early next morning the ringing phone woke me up. Still asleep and curled up in bed, I sleepily heard my father on the phone very somberly and my mother rushing from the kitchen…

Fearing the worst, I too scrambled to my feet and rushed out.

My father hung up and looked at our worried faces.

“That was a call from the police.” He said.

We gasped. “What happened?”

“Our car was found in a ditch in the early hours of this morning. The cops traced the number plate to my phone and called me. Thankfully the driver and his passanger escaped with minor injuries.”

“But you drove the car and was home early yesterday!” my mom said, totally unaware of the driver drama that happened after she went to bed.

She was quickly updated on that front. From what my father muttered to my mom out of my earshot, I gathered that the passenger the driver had was a woman of ill repute. And both were inebriated.

“I am 16, please!’ I wanted to tell them.

My mother was furious. “That means his child was never ill.” She concluded. “I can understand you falling for his story and giving him the money. But what was the need for you to give him the car?” She raved and ranted till my father  screamed her down.

My father then spoke to the cops he knew and left to sort out this mess and rescue his car from the ditch.

In school, I was shocked to hear my friends speak of the car they had seen in a ditch enroute and how big cranes were trying to haul it out.

I sheepishly told my close friends that it was my father’s car and the story behind it. And basked in the limelight for two minutes.

*********

Growing up and having my own share of such frauds like this and this and this, I still haven’t learnt my lesson. I suddenly remebered this driver incident from my teenage years and now convinced that I’m genetically designed to be the sitting duck!

It’s a wonder how I still manage to have faith in humanity after all this!

 

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…

 

Rumour has it….

PendingThis happened a few years ago.

K, a friend, called me at work. She wasted no time in niceties… She got to the point directly.

“Did you hear about M’s dad?” She asked.

“No.” I replied. We had lost touch with M years ago after she changed jobs & relocated from the city. I have met her dad briefly when I had to drop her home late one night after work. Now she’s married with a kid in another city and her parents live here.  Her sister lives a few kilometers away. M & me had shared a lovely rapport at work and she had been a great friend.

“Oh, you have to listen to this! I wish I could’ve been there to see your face when you hear this!”

“Why?!” I asked her, not sure I was going to like what she was going to say..

“Did you know M’s parents are now separated?”

“What????!! ” I was truly shocked. While separation amongst younger couples are far too common these days, I just couldn’t understand why people in their 70s would want to separate. If they could stay together for 40 plus years, what can make them go their separate ways when they need a companion the most?

“Her mom has moved in with her sister, and get this… Her dad is living with a much younger woman now…”

“No way!” I said vehemently. At the one brief encounter I had with him, he had come across as a typical, seedha-saadha, god-fearing tambrahm man.. In fact, M has told us so much about his strict adherence to morals & ethics.

“Who told you all this rubbish?” I asked my friend.

“Someone very reliable.. You know my aunt just moved in to the apartment bang opposite M’s parents ‘. She says her maid told her that an elderly gentleman stays there with a younger woman & that his wife has moved away…”

It totally left me disoriented for the rest of the day. I just couldn’t get my head around this. How could he? I kept thinking. I guess the male species are really a selfish, evil lot…

K & me spoke again that afternoon while she was frothing in the mouth about the male mentality, infidelity  and whether we should try & trace M to talk to her.. But we decided against it… It’s not exactly a pleasant subject and it’s totally not our business. If at all she wants to touch base with us, there’s always Facebook..

So we left it at that and like all other earth-shattering scandals, it got easily forgotten after a few weeks.

A few months later, I got a call from M herself. The hot gossip I’d heard about her dad came flooding back to me. And M was not sounding her usual chirpy self.

“Hi… ” She said in a small voice.

“Hi, M!” I greeted her enthusiastically. “So lovely to hear your voice after so many years… How have you been?” I gushed.

“Okay.. ” she replied. “I’m in the city for 2 weeks  & thought I’ll touch base with you.”

“Great! ” I said. “Shall we do lunch? Or do you want to meet up at home? I’d love to see your son!” I rambled on…

“No yaar, not this time…” She said. “I’m here because I lost my mother. I’m staying at my sister’s place and there are lot of pujas & stuff till next week. Then it’ll be time for me to go back home..”

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I felt so terrible. I knew she was very close to her mom. “What happened?”

“She was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago. Around the same time, my father had a stroke and was partially paralysed…”

“Oh, my god!” Poor things, I thought.

“I had just delivered my son and I was not in any shape to come and help out. So my sister took my mother into her place. She  was really weak after her chemo sessions. And we appointed a live-in nurse to take care of my father at his place.”

“My sister used to look him up everyday. It really helped that she was staying pretty close.”

“Oh I’m so sorry..” I said, feeling terrible. “If only I’d known… It wouldn’t have been easy for your sister…”

“Yeah, she’s lost a lot of weight… I feel so guilty..” said my friend.

“Don’t beat yourself up.. Both of you did your best… Please call me whenever you want to talk. If it’s ok with you, K & me will drop in to see you at your sister’s at your convenience”.

After chatting for a bit more we hung up, promising each other to be in touch.

Now I have to call K to restore her faith in men…

**********

Though this really happened, I’ve changed minor details to protect privacies.

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?

A toast – to good health!

A while ago, my father complained of numbness on his right side. I took him for a check-up. The doctor panicked after checking his blood pressure. Said it was too high and he needed immediate admission and a CT scan of the brain to check for clots.

“He’ll need to be here for about two days” He told us.

My father, at 73, is a very active man, who’s never suffered from anything more than a fever over the years. So when they sent us off in an ambulance for the scan, he refused to lie down. So we sped around sitting side by side in the long bench reserved for the attendant, while the patient’s bed was empty.

We got back an hour later and he was whisked away to intensive care. While my brother and I sat in the reception, biting our nails, my father was having a roaring time inside. He’d expected the doctor to check him, prescribe some tablets and send him home. It was a rude shock to find himself in the ICU, with beepers attached to him and glimpses of other patients in various stages of sedation all around him. Plus he was hungrier than ever since it was well past his lunch time and he had been advised to report on an empty stomach that morning.

We were allowed ten minutes to see him that evening. We went in very nervously only to find him sitting upright on his bed with a scowl on his face. “The food here is terrible!” he griped to us. “I couldn’t even eat half of it! Now I’m so hungry!  Can you ask them to get me something?”

I spoke to a nurse.

She peeped in after a few minutes. “Sir, your coffee & bread on the way!” She announced cheerfully.

“Bread?” My father barked. ” Can’t you get me something like a bajji or bonda?”

“Do you know your cholestrol levels?” She countered. “The doctor will sack me if I give you anything deep-fried”.

My father’s scowl intensified. We made our way out quickly before his famous temper erupted.

The next day’s visit was worse. He was even fiercer and nurses and ward-boys gaped at him, open-mouthed as he sat there and cursed everyone in the hospital and their families.

To placate him, I told him to be patient till evening. “They’ll shift you to a room.” I soothed. “They’re just waiting to finish another course of intravenous medicines ..”

“A room, my foot!” he spat out. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going home!”

“Where’s my wallet & glasses?” He asked my brother.

“I have it.” He replied. ” You’re not allowed to have those inside the ICU” He informed my father sternly.

“Well, I need them. And what happened to my clothes?”

“I have them.” I told him.

Before he flew off the handle, I spoke to a nurse and got permission to hand him his reading glasses and the day’s newspaper.

When we were ready to leave, he instructed me to have a word with the doctor.

“Tell him I’ll really end up a patient if I stay here any longer. I just need to go home”

But sadly he got shifted to a room only the next evening. But thankfully by then he’d resigned himself to his fate and was a bit more cooperative.

First day in the room was restive. He looked a bit weak, thanks to all the semi-starvation and the sedation he’d received. But the next day he was back to his restless ways.

He tried walking around his bed while the intravenous drug was still attached to his hand. Had a big argument with the junior doctor on the rounds.

After a while, I gave up getting worked up and just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

During a lull between the nurses fussing over him with either medicines or taking his blood sample, a young woman in a doctors coat came in and introduced herself as a physiotherapist.

“Take a deep breath.” She told my father. He complied. “Now wiggle your toes…” He wiggled. She noted something in her book.

“Thank you sir’ She said and went away.

Five minutes later a young man in a doctor’s coat walked in. Introduced himself as a physiotherapist. Asked my father the same set of questions. Noted something in his book and went away.

Fifteen minutes passed in silence with me going back to my book and my father dozing off.

Another knock. Another young thing in a white coat. Introduced herself as a physio.

“There were 2 physios who just examined him in the last half hour,” I informed her pleasantly.

“Oh! ” She stuttered a bit. “They’ve covered this room?”

“Yes!” my father & me chorused.

She beat a hasty retreat.

Then it was time for the evening rounds.

A pleasant young man came in with a retinue of nurses who briefed him on my father’s parameters. He nodded sagely and looked at the patient.

“Sir! how are you today?” He boomed.

“I’m perfectly okay.” replied my father. “And I’ll be even better, if I can go home now.”

“But sir, You still need  another four days of intravenous medication. Just bear with us.” He said placatingly.

“What??” erupted my father. “Four more days? No way! You people promised me only 2 days of admission. This is already day 3! You cannot go back on your word!”

The doctor was now sweating a little. “But sir..” he began.

“No but!” interrupted my father. Then went on to extol the virtues of a calm mind to heal oneself. On how he’ll be instantly better the minute he’s home in a familiar surrounding and with his dogs.

Whenever the doctor tried to get a word edgeways, he started full throttle on something else.

‘Just give it up! Agree to whatever he says & just go!’ I told the doctor in my mind.

After about twenty minutes the doctor did just that. With a promise to speak to his superiors about his discharge, the doctor took off, wiping his sweaty brow.

“Che!” my father cursed after he left. “Kallulimangan! My throat is parched after all the talking, but he didn’t buy any of my stories!” he muttered under his breath.

Another two eventful days passed by, filled with my father’s theories of insurance scams and the underhandedness of doctors and a very scary ambulance ride for another CT scan. SInce there was no emergency, we just drove around  normally, till we reached a signal. When the driver saw it was still red, he turned on the siren and stepped on the accelerator with so much gusto, I was having palpitations with all the near-death experiences by the time we reached the scanning centre!

When we got back, we were  finally informed that he’ll be discharged the next day.

The young doc who had made himself scarce for the past two days, surfaced again.

“Good evening sir!” he boomed. “How are you?’

“Perfect” replied my father.

“Happy? I just saw your release papers being signed.”

“They could have easily discharged me four days ago.” said his father.

The doctor had not learn his lesson. He actually disagreed with my father. “Sir, I’d already explained to you,” he began.

“This was all with your best interest in mind. And once you go home, please stick to the prescribed diet, have your medicines on time and surely, no smoking!”

Now this was one thing the doctor didn’t know about my dad. He’s from a generation which thinks smoking is disrespectful & has to be done only behind closed doors. To this day, he never smokes in front of his mother or his siblings. (But smoking in front of his wife & kids are not disrespectful, I really don’t understand why!) And will never admit to smoking to anyone who’s not immediate family.

Here he had to admit not only to the doctors, but also to the nurses, ayahs & the ward boys standing around his bed!

He now looked the doctor squarely in the eye. ‘Oh my god! Why are you such a glutton for punishment?’ I sent another telepathic message to the doctor.

“You say smoking is harmful to me”

“Yes, sir. It is a well-known fact.”

“But doctor, smoking will kill me in about ten or twenty years. But have you heard of carbon monoxide poisoning?”

“Of course,” said the good doctor not knowing where this was going.

“If I walk on this busy road outside, the carbon monoxide from the exhaust of about hundred cars will kill me in half an hour. So, do I stop walking on the road?” he demanded.

Stony silence from the doctor.

“If  I take your advice, have all the pills, eat horrible food without salt, avoid sugar and quit smoking, how many more years will it add to my life? ten, twenty?”

The doctor shrugged.

“But if I continue living like always – eat tasty food, smoke and live happily I’ll probably live for another two years?

The doctor started to say something.

But again my father’s voice drowned his.

“I’d rather live for two years enjoying my life rather than live for twenty years like a sanyasi!”

After a teeny tiny pause, the doctor found his voice again. “But sir, I agree with you. But what if you get another clot and end up with paralytic stroke? Then you’ll not have a life at all! You’ll be bed-ridden & lose all your independence!”

‘Don’t you ever learn? Just agree with him & get going! He’s just using you to amuse himself!’ I wanted to scream.

My father glared at him. “Courage.. is what I have. If you think you can scare me with such stories, you’re mistaken. You’re looking at a man at one time had lost so much money in his business and never even gave it another thought and went on with his life the next day” He announced. “And I’m not going to sit in a corner in fear what will happen next.”

“But sir, I maybe too young to give you philosophical advice but Shree Krishna has told in Bhagavad Gita….”

‘OH MY GOD!’ I screamed inwardly. ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???’

But as soon as he began he caught himself on time and said, “You know what’s best for you sir! All the very best to you!” WIth that he shook hands with my father and left.

Finally!

The next day after waiting anxiously for his release, my father paced the corridor, sat in the chair for a while, fidgetted with all the gadgets in the room and finally when he couldn’t take it anymore, started tormenting the accounts department about his discharge.

Then, while I was lying down in the attendant’s bed and reading a book, he went down to the second floor, paid up, collected the paperwork, came back to the fifth, handed it to the nurses, came into the room, picked up his bags and we were ready to go.

I felt like I was the patient and he was the attendant!

On the brighter side, now he’s so terrified of getting admitted again, he’s very regular with his medicines!

But to quote my husband, we don’t really have to worry about that. Because if there’s a next time, the hospital staff by now will definitely have standing instructions to stop all other cases to check him up as fast as possible and send him home with prescription at the earliest!

Its raining, its pouring…

My father used to be paranoid about sending us to school when it rained. My brother was very happy with this arrangement and would proceed to spend the day with gay abandon, but I’d usually start to fret. To me, going to school used to be the sole purpose of my day. If  you take that away from me, I just wouldn’t know what to do. There was always some friend to whom I’d promised something or a test which had to be written or a teacher waiting for an assignment.

Once,  I must have been in class 6. My grandparents were visiting. As usual, my grandmother took over the kitchen and went about cooking all our favourite foods and griped about how we never get to eat properly, thanks to the working mother we had.

Since the school I went to was about three streets away, I decided to come home for lunch.

And by the time I set off to school again, lo and behold, it started pouring cats and dogs. Since my father was also expected to come home for lunch, I hurriedly put on my long Duckback raincoat, ensured my school bag was protected against the downpour and stepped into the pouring rain amidst loud protests from my grandparents.

We’s just moved back into town, so the school we went to was a transit one, while waiting for admissions from a bigger school.

It was actually a small house converted into a school, with hardly ten students per class. And since we were only four of us in class 6, we were seated in a long bench with a long desk in the verandah. The teacher normally walked to & fro or perched on the broad parapet  while teaching.

I had hardly settled into my corner of the bench after removing my raincoat and set my bag beside me, when I heard a screech of brakes. There was my father, as angry as ever, driving right into the open gates of the school and stopped right in front of my class, the verandah. He lowered the window and barked at me, “Get in!”

Totally  taken aback, I looked at the teacher’s face. Equally shocked, she gestured me to ‘just go’.

We rode back home with me sniffing into my hanky at the humiliation and my dad listing all kinds of mishaps that could have finished off my life enroute to school. (Open manholes, falling trees, to name a few).

I was surprised to learn none of my friends’ parents shared this strange paranoia. Most of them ensured their kids never used the rain as an excuse to bunk school.

Later, being in a bigger school never discouraged my father to keep us home during a shower.

In grade 10,  I had to write a model exam. (A preliminary internal exam before the actual board exam). I woke up with a raging fever and it was raining. I begged and pleaded with my father to let me go to school for just an hour. Of course he didn’t let me.

“This is not an IAS exam, you know. ” He told me sternly. After giving me a grossly exaggerated account of what would happen if I risk stepping out even for a minute in the rain, (“There’s this nerve in your brain which will explode when you go in the rain with fever. Instant death!”) he ordered me to go back to bed.

Even now I’m queasy to step out in the rain. But I never shy away from driving my son to school when it pours. We both kind of enjoy the drive, except for splashing water on an unsuspecting pedastrian on a cyclist. (I always mouth an apology)

Now my father calls me when it is raining, ” So, you’ve dropped him off at school in the pouring rain?” He asks accusingly.

“Yes, and he’ll not melt you know..” I retort cheekily.

But last week, I made an exception. My son was just recovering from a viral fever. He was all set to go to school after two days of driving me crazy with all his unspent energy (yes, even with his raging fever and lack-lustre eyes, he had to be up and about), when I noticed it was raining heavily. Old fears reared their ugly heads back . “You cannot go to school in this rain,” I told him. “What if you get your fever again?”

My husband raised an eyebrow. “Stop making him a sissy!” He growled.

“He’s not exactly studying for the IAS, you know. Its only class 1” I informed him. “And I’m the one who stays with him when he has fever. ”

My husband shrugged and went back to his newspaper.

My son has been watching our exchange with great excitement. He looked at me questioningly.

“You go to bed, baby!” I told him.

“Yippee!” he did a jig and ran back to bed to sleep some more. Fortunately or unfortunately, he takes after my brother in such issues. Didn’t fret a bit like me.

My father was extremely pleased with me when he called later.

I know creatures like my father and I are slowly getting extinct in this rat-race, but once in a while, it’s nice to take a break when it rains and chill with a hot cuppa and pakodas and just watch the rain from the window…

I swear it…

Coming from a true-blue Tambrahm family, I grew up with cuss words as part of  the language at home.

My grandmother called most people (including her own sons & grandsons) endearingly, “Yei, kattela poravane!”

My dad almost always started a conversation with “erumma madu!”

My aunts addressed most of us as “saniyane!”

And almost everybody at home were given to a fiery temper. And when that happened, cuss words flew around us like pigeons in flight in a Manirathnam movie!

But these words  are not to be confused with the obscenities you hear on the streets. Oh we’re very decent people, you see. We never abuse the parentage or any other sensitive areas of a person.

It is just that we enjoy getting things off our chests with a good show down. And peace follows almost immediately.

On an everyday basis, we like calling each other more names than our given ones. And most of us have to talk in ear-shattering decibels.

My mother was a total exception to this as she had the softest of voices and a very diplomatic nature.

But the majority of others had another rule too. Always agree to disagree.

Right from deciding on the menu for the day to planning a trip with family, each situation met with oh so many opinions and criticisms. In my younger days my brother and me spent our holidays placing bets on the outcome of everyday battles.

I dreaded the days when my father dropped me off at school. Because he’d invariably stop the car, roll down his window and scream at a passing biker or another car or anybody on the road with the choicest of  cuss words, while I cowered in my seat praying none of my friends would see me.

But once I grew up, I noticed something.

My mother had to deal with hypertension in her forties and my  grandmother at ninety, still is free of  such maladies.

The rest of my clan is also relatively free of hyper tension. (My aunt at seventy did have it for a while, but on her doctor’s advice, she’d stopped watching the soaps in the regional channels and she was healed without medication)

Does it mean all of us have this angry energy swirling inside us and needs an outlet regularly?

Do softer people bottle up everything and it ruins their health in the later years?

I’ve read health capsules which advices you to write the nastiest of letters to some one who’s wronged you and then tear it up to bits. It gets the whole negative emotion out of the system, they say.

Or lock yourself in a sound-proof room and scream your head off till your anger melts and vanishes.

Me? I prefer screaming at my object of ire ‘yei! ariuvketta kazhudhai!’ any day!!

Saves a lot of effort! I’m working on my voice too.

PS: I only feel sad my son is having  too peaceful an upbringing. Once my father told him “Stop staring at the TV and eat the saniyan in your hand,” in true Tambrahm tenor and the child promptly burst into tears!

Bed Time Stories…

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When my brother and I were children, bed-time stories were a must-have ritual every night. During school days, we used to fall asleep listening to our father’s voice droning in the dark about Rama, The Pandavas or Alibaba.. 

And during the holidays, my grandfather used to read Brer Rabbit from an Enid Blyton book, when we fell asleep on a cot out-doors, staring at the starry sky.

Apart from this teeny bit of English stories, all others were home-grown. Tales from Rmayana, Mahabharata or some other mythologies were regulars and sometimes peppered with local stories of a greedy mother in law, or a shy, but gluttonous son-in-law, and such.

Now of course the stories I read to my son are stright from glossy books we find in upmarket book stores – Bob the builder, Mickey Mouse, Franklin the turtle, Thomas the Tank Engine, to name a few.

I was horrified last week, when he told me that Prince Ram from Raamaayaan – The Legend of  Prince Raam,  Phhawan Phuthrrr Haanuman are all American boys. (Thanks to Cartoon Network) He refused to believe they had their origins in India.

Mortified, I vowed to set it right. Maybe I’ll recount the stories of my childhood. 

That night he was all excited that I was going to tell him the story of Ramayan. I started off with King Dasaratha pining for a child and he got four sons…

But then, even the tamest of our epics is full of blood and gore…

Lakshmana cutting off Surpananka’s nose, Ravana slayiing Jatayu, Rama killing Vali with his bow & arrow and the finale, the bloody battle itself…

All the stuff which are  normally taboo for him on TV was all rolled in one story.

Mahabharatha is equally violent. 

So I tried some of the home grown stories. Each one was more violent than the other.

Here’s an example.

A mother-in-law tries to kill her daughter-in-law by asking her son to bundle her up in a sack and set fire on her… Why? Because the Daughter-in-law had eaten all of her favourite ennai kathrikka (an eggplant dish) The clever daughter-in-law escapes and replaces the sack with firewood. And when the sticks start to explode, the Mother-in-Law rubs her hands in glee that her Daughter-in-Law’s bones are breaking.

The younger woman escapes into the forests and gets on a tree for the night. She hears some dacoits dividing their loot under the same tree. She jumps on them. They run for their lives misaking her for a ghost and she happily gathers all the gold and comes back home. Her mother-in-law is shocked to see her alive. The daughter-in-law convinces her that she went to heaven and her father in law is rolling in money and gold and gave her just a bit. So the mother-in-law orders her son to set fire on her so she can join her husband and his riches in heaven. He obliges and the young couple live happily ever after…

How am I supposed to narrate this to my soon-to-be five year old?! What morals does it teach him? That killing someone for petty reason is ok? Living off stolen money is commendable? Its even worse than all the violent good Vs evil stories he watches on TV.

More importantly how did my own father and his kith and kin tell us this story when we were about the same age?

Actually speaking, it didn’t do us any damage emotionally. Both me and my brother were never aggressive as kids.

Am I over-analysing the effects of stories on young minds?

But still I hate it when my son’s favourite pastime is slaying imaginary enemies with a Ben 10 sword. Now most of his sentences are peppered wih the word ‘kill’.

Only yesterday, we had a power-cut which lasted about ten minutes (thanks to the upcoming elections!)

He was so annoyed and afterwards told me, “Amma, a bad god came and took the electricity away. Then a good god came, killed the bad god and gave me the electricity.”

Deivame!!

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