2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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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!

 

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.

***************

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!”

Cheers to the Bar Maid!

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This post is about yet another help of mine. The top-work this time.

She is a small-made, 4 foot nothing, mother of two grown children. But her diminutive frame belies a super-efficient, powerful worker who gets my house spic and span in no time.

Once she realised I was not interested in small talk and needed my peace to work, she left me alone. And most importantly, she is very trust-worthy. My wallet, watches and other loosely lying around valuables have never tempted her.

it’s been more than a year since she joined my house-hold and the only grouse I have against her is her frequent leaves of absence without notice. After many stern warnings, she now calls me or lets me know the previous day about the various events in her personal life or sudden illnesses that keep her away from work. (though I’ve heard from people that she was seen dressed in her finest with a gang of women the same afternoon she had called in sick)

Anyway, she is only human and I am quite okay with all that.

But what happened a few weeks ago shook me up.

I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but that particular day, I felt she was definitely acting very strange. First she told me to go lie down since she has finished cleaning my room. I never take a nap at 11 am, so I shook my head and continued to stare at my comp.

A little later, she burst into my bedroom when I was sitting right there,  stared at me blankly and said, “I forgot to switch off the fan here”

“Hello! What’s wrong with you?” I laughed. “I’m still in this room and I need the fan!”

“Sorry, Amma!” She said and went back to the drawing room.

Later, I plonked myself in front of the TV, bone tired after the morning’s work-out.

When I finally dragged myself to get my lunch, I saw a movement in the corner of my eyes. I turned back to see her hastily going back into my son’s room.

I didn’t think much of it and carried my plate to eat in front of the TV.

An hour later, it was time for her to go. She came to me and asked for the keys to my neighbor’s place where she cleans regularly after finishing at my place. Since the house belongs to a working couple, I have their spare key which she uses and returns.

There was definitely something odd in her demeanor. She stared at me vacantly and looked very disoriented.

‘Is she pulling a fast one on me about being sick?’ I wondered to myself. “Can you take it, please? I’m in the middle of something” I said, typing furiously.

“I cannot find it, Amma.” She reported, after a few seconds.

Rolling my eyes, I walked to the shelf and there it was. Right in front.

“Hey, it’s right here!” I said as I turned to hand her the keys.

But she was sitting on the floor, looking dazed.

She looked up at me blankly again, heaved herself off the floor and took the keys. When she reached the door, I realised she had forgotten her basket with the food I give her everyday. She came back for it after I reminded her.

Half an hour later, I left to fetch my son from school. I locked my doors and was half way down the stairs when I heard my neighbor’s door open and shut immediately.

Was she spying on me? What was happening? I couldn’t take it any longer. I bounded back up the stairs and rang my neighbor’s door bell.

To my surprise, my neighbor’s mother opened the door. “Is V here, aunty”? I enquired politely. “I need to tell her something.”

“Oh, I sent her away. She was in no condition to work. I think she was ill or something” said the good-natured lady.

“But her bag and slippers are still outside!” I said.

Puzzled, we bid each other good bye and I left for school.

I was sure all this was some prelude to either a few days’ leave or a loan.

But to my immense surprise she was bright & early to work the next day. No trace at all of the previous day’s puzzling events.

But the mystery was soon solved when my husband opened his liquor cabinet the following weekend. “Hey! My Black Label is almost gone!” He screamed. Both of us were puzzled at the sudden decrease in levels.

Then it dawned on us. Was she inebriated the other day? I was shocked! We lost the keys to that cabinet long ago and we never had a need to lock it. Until now.

That evening I went over to my neighbor’s and asked my friend if her liquor cabinet is locked. Negative. I then asked her if she heard about the help’s strange behavior in the last few days.

“Of course!” she said. “My mom told me she was definitely inebriated! Her bag and slippers were still outside our door at 9 pm, but had vanished when I checked again the next morning. Oh my god! Does that mean she’s been taking from my place too?”

“So what?” Her husband asked, walking in. “She slogs her butt off in both our houses and I personally see no harm in her helping herself to my liquor” He said.

But we women couldn’t bring ourselves to agree. “But it’s a breach of trust!” I exclaimed.” And how can she drink during working hours? Especially when I’m sitting right there?!”

“I know!” agreed his wife.

A few days later, I heard that  she had actually passed out that day in the terrace of my building after throwing up. The watchman just couldn’t rouse her from her stupor.  She had come back to her senses and left only after 9 pm. That explained her basket and slippers disappearing after 9 that day!

Also heard she regularly sleeps in the terrace and goes home only after 6 pm.

My friends had a good laugh when I narrated this to them. “What strange problems you have!”  They exclaimed.

The same topic got me a long lecture on the socio-economic conditions of people in our city and women empowerment from my husband.

But it’s finally me, who is home alone with her and plagued with trust issues. Do I replace her? What if I get someone who is not trust worthy? Or inefficient? Or a psycho like my previous cook?

After breaking my head over all these questions, I finally decided to keep her. Of course I tactfully told her that booze has been frequently missing from home and she should watch out next time a handyman/watchman comes inside for any repair work even when I’m home. To which she tched tched and said, “you’re too trusting Amma! You should never leave these men unsupervised. See what they can do!”

Now the cabinet is locked and I never leave her home alone. It’s been a week and there hasn’t been a repeat performance, but hey, you never know what i’ll have to see next!

The Mother in law – Book review

 

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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…

 

The crazy cook!

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I grew up hating the way my mom treated hired help. She was always suspicious of them and was very frugal. When I visited my grand mom during the holidays, I was aghast at the way she treated them too. I vowed I would never, ever be like them.

In all the years of running my own home, many a  unique character has tested that resolve.

But none to equal this really crazy lady!

On a November afternoon, two years ago, I answered the doorbell to find a woman grinning at me.

“You’d asked for someone for top-work, Amma?” She enquired enthusiastically.

‘Yes,” I replied.

She literally pushed past me and surveyed my house.  And declared she can start that very minute.

She agreed to all my terms concerning timings & salary.

I was thrilled. I had fired my previous hired help 3 weeks ago. After 6 years, I’d realised that she had been siphoning off my valuables very slowly… Had to let her go after my new gold bangles & a gold chain vanished within weeks of each other.

I had been struggling with all the chores from then on.  I couldn’t remember a time when I had relaxed with a nice cup of tea.

On her first day, the new help fished out a wallet and showed me passport pictures of three surly young men.

“My sons!” she announced. “I know, I look too young to be a mother of 3 grown boys, but what to do, they got me married at 14 and I had my first one at 16. Now he’s 21…” She paused, perhaps, waiting for me to calculate her age. I nodded and got on with my cooking.

After a couple of days, I found the new help wanting in every area of housework. Dishes weren’t all that clean, the floor was still dusty & I had to literally follow her around to point out dusty surfaces.

To top it all she kept up non-stop chatter on how she has to get away from her mentally ill husband everyday since it depresses her and all the events taking place in her extended family and neighbors. If she was not doing that, she was on her mobile phone, complaining about her life to god knows whom.

On the third day I told her I was just not happy with her services.

She was very apologetic and admitted to never having done housework before. ‘I was a cook for 13 years, Amma.. But I’ll buck up and learn. I have lots of financial trouble… please don’t sack me…”

I gave in. Having starved of his non-vegetarian diet all these days with my tambrahm cooking, my husband asked if we should check out her culinary skills.

He was blown over by her cooking that we paid her extra to come again in the evening to cook our dinner.

After three days of cooking us sumptuous meals, she asked me if she can finish both cleaning & cooking at one shot. “My sons are complaining that I’m not home in the evenings Amma,  ” she said.

I agreed. But after a week, I noticed a perceptible change. She walked in at 10 am, finished her cooking & proceeded to do a whirlwind cleaning & was out by 2 pm. After a month of pleading with her to do justice to her cleaning, I put my foot down & asked her to do only the cooking. A friend sent someone for top work.

That opened another can of worms. She was so miffed by this and regarded the new top-work as her mortal enemy. After a week of listening to her scream at the poor unsuspecting woman & refusing to give her a cup of tea when she asked, I gave her a piece of mind. I told her if she is going to be nasty & unpleasant, she could just leave.

She created a big scene, accusing me of favouritism & being rude to her.

I was at the end of my tether and announced to my husband that I’ll have to let her go. Horrified that he’ll miss out on all his fish & chicken, he would not hear of it. “Learn to handle her,” He admonished. “How many cooks & maids will you fire just because you get irritated with them? “

So I gritted my teeth and put up with it for a year. I dreaded her time at my home, listening to her narrating one domestic drama or another to who ever was in the kitchen. In a loud voice, with occasional wailing. Once I stormed in and asked her to put a lid on it. The wailing stopped, but her tales continued. Even I could make out that none of it was true, from whatever little bit I heard. Her husband was now a drunkard who beat her up everyday and refused to give her any money for the upkeep of her kids. One day she’d talk about her eldest son who was an undergrad student aspiring to do an MBA. After a few weeks she’ll seek counsel with the top work if she should get him married since he’s been at home for the past 2 years doing nothing.

Soon, she was a proud owner of a scooter and was zipping by to and from work. She’d upgraded her mobile phone and stories of TV soaps started dominating her monologues.

Despite being so irritated with her, I was quite glad to see the improvements in her life.

Her second son was suddenly in the hospital for an emergency appendix surgery. Feeling very sorry for her, I asked her to take time off as long as he was in the hospital. After 2 weeks, she came back to work and said he’d been discharged the previous day. All was well for a couple of days. Out of the blue, she was wailing again that blood is sprouting non-stop from her son’s surgery site. Shocked, I asked her what the doctor said. “We’re yet to take him,” she replied. Outraged at her carelessness, I packed her off that minute to take him to the hospital. She was off for the next few days. She came back to tell me he was admitted again for a corrective procedure. I asked her to take care of him and not to come to work till he was discharged.  A few weeks later she was back to work. I asked to see the discharge report just to check what had gone wrong.

But the report only said that he had been admitted for an emergency appendix surgery and was discharged after full recovery. Puzzled, I told her the report did not speak about any second admission or a corrective procedure.

Pat came her reply. “I know, Amma.. I asked a nurse living next door the same thing and she says in government hospitals, they never keep record of their mistakes…”

Another year went by punctuated with various dramas like her son falling ill with jaundice, her sister losing her husband, her husband losing his sister, etc… Of course all of them demanded her presence so she had to take leave from work.

One fine day, I ticked her off for some thing. She huffed up and said, “you can look out for another cook. I’m quitting by the 1st of next month”.

I was immensely relieved! I sent a silent thank you to God Almighty for sparing me the unpleasant business of firing her.

The following week, I asked her if I’d heard the date correctly. Because the cook downstairs was bringing his friend to see if we wanted to try him out. And I’d asked him to start next month.

“No!” she wailed. “I changed my mind. I’m not leaving you. I’ll work for you forever!”

Forever?! Alarm bells started ringing furiously in my head.

“Excuse me! If I remember right, you were the one who wanted to quit & even gave me a date! I’ve asked someone else to take your place and that’s that!”

“But Amma! Where will I go? I have 3 children and a blind husband to support…”

I was flabberghasted. When she started working, her hubby was supposedly mentally ill. A few months later he was a drunkard. Now he’s blind?

Did she think I was really that stupid?

We were traveling for the next few days and I’d asked her to come back the following week. “But there’s really nothing I can do. My husband has asked someone to start work from the first and he’ll be very angry with me!” I said, using my husband’s name to wriggle out of another scene.

She came back the following week, finished her cooking and meekly stood before me when I was frantically finishing up some pending work at my comp.

“Amma, did you check with Sir if I can continue here?” she asked in a sugary tone.

“Yes, I did. “ I replied solemnly. “He says the other person is starting tomorrow.”

Her sugary tone vanished in a second and in a harsh voice she screamed, “How could you do this to me? You know very well I have a blind husband and 3 children to take care of.. I cannot work anywhere else. Your place is the only place I feel comfortable…”

I calmly told her to cut the drama and reminded her it was her decision and she had had a lot of time to look for another job.

“I know you’re talking like this because of that wretch, the top work! She’s been feeding you with rubbish about me! She hates me and wants to get rid of me!”

I assured her nobody had anything to do with this. And it was she who wanted to quit and gave her the last salary and showed her the door.

I was dreading her landing up to create another scene the next morning. Till 11 am there was no sign of her. After almost 2 years, my house was so peaceful!

I was humming to myself when my phone rang. A very distraught friend called to inform me that the crazy cook had paid her a visit just then. She had sat in her living room and wailed for an hour, accusing my friend of ruining her life..

“What?????” I sputtered. “Why would she blame you? “

“Apparently she found out that it was me who had sent you the top-work. So she cried and screamed ‘how can you send someone when I was working there? Now she’s poisoned madam’s mind and I’m on the streets!’ She left only after I assured her that I’ll speak to you.”

Both of just couldn’t figure out how she connected her to the top work and more importantly how she traced her home.

It got really scary. ‘What a psycho!” said my husband when I told him.

I ignored her constant calls and they stopped after a few days. My friend alerted her security and so did I. Between us we warned other friends and relatives too. And that was that.

My top work reported that she met her in a shop a few weeks later, looking as cheerful as ever but came to her & bellowed, ‘You! You cost me my job and don’t think you’ll get away with that!” and flounced off.

Now I have a man coming in to do the cooking. He’s a focused, silent presence in my kitchen for 2 hours every morning and whips up meal after fantastic meal.

And without the drama.

I drive

I’m a woman. I drive.

Why is this so hard for some men drivers to take?

While driving, my eyes are focused on the road, but I also notice a mother on a scooter with her kid.

I notice an old man trying to cross the road.

I notice a vendor trying to hard-sell his feather dusters, running erratically between cars at a signal.

I also notice the hooligans on bikes who zoom 100 km/hr hooting & screaming, trying to race each other playfully.

And the morons driving cars like they’re on race tracks and above all traffic rules.

After years of driving with a baby on board, I drive very carefully. I never speed, always go easy on speed breakers & pot holes and wait at signals when it’s red, even when other cars don’t care what color it is, as long as they can squeeze through. (Much to the disgust of the baby, which has grown up quite a bit)

I’ve been driving on the roads of Chennai for the past 14 years. And every day, there’s at least one angry male driver who is either intent on overtaking me or somehow bully me off the road.

The other day, a maniac honked away behind me and was so upset that I did not let him pass. After about 5-8 minutes of blaring his horn at my car &  baring his fangs at me, he got his chance. I had to stop at a signal. He changed lanes & zoomed away triumphantly, way above any speed limit.

Instead of feeling defeated, I could only laugh.

What’s your hurry? I wanted to ask him.

Why is it so important to overtake a woman driving? Is it an insult to your masculinity if you don’t? Unlike you, my dear stone age man, I drive to serve a purpose, instead of feeling powerful.

I drive my kid to school, to various after-school classes, for medical checks, my parents to the temple, aunts to shopping, my driving-challenged friends to the movies, drive myself to do some grocery shopping, so on and so forth.

And while I’m doing that, my focus is to get there in one piece. More than me, I feel responsible towards those traveling with me and want to make sure I get them safely home.

So I’m not interested in power-struggles on the road with men like you.

I don’t care if I win or lose these imaginary races you have with me.

If you’re so inclined to prove your masculinity with your wild & dangerous driving, remember this.

You only come across as a boorish bully, who’s a threat to those on the road.

I’m a woman. I drive.

Get used to it.

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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?

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