Friday, 3 December 2010

The Big Inning

We've finally begun the school hunt for Adiv. Though we are happy with the school he goes to, they only have classes till UKG. If we waited to shift him after that, we were warned we'd have trouble finding a good school that would take him in then. So it made sense to shift him while he was in nursery or LKG.
Ro and I got busy, and made a list of schools we were interested in. The first few schools we checked out, proved to be way too expensive. Then there were some that only wanted rank holders, and we definitely didn't want a school that was only interested in academics. Neither did we want a school that took in only rich kids (we'd be going to Kerala while his classmates went to Italy during the holidays). We wanted a fun place that would understand that every child was unique and talented, and make learning fun for them. We were wary of schools that had large classes, because we didn't want Adiv to disappear in a crowd. We also didn't want a school that expected every child to conform to a specific standard. We wanted a place that would encourage him to think for himself, and not tell him how to think. After much internal debate, we finally decided to visit a school that was recommended very highly.

After making an appointment, we got to the school on time. The admissions officer, a short haired lady with a made-up face rushed us into her office saying, "I've only got 10 minutes." She offered us seats, ruffled through some papers on her table, and began talking. She was so busy, she barely looked at us or Adiv, who was waving his hands in the air to get her attention. Of the ten minutes she spent with us, she used the first 5 minutes to throw us a lot of jargon. Confused, I turned to Ro, who seemed to be paying a lot of attention. After this memorized speech, she went on to tell us about the school.
After a dramatic pause, she said, "We prepare the child for 1st standard."
"Hmm", I said, not quite sure as to what that meant.
"So, we begin with Maths, English, and Environmental Studies in Nursery", she added.
Now I was amused. Nonetheless, I decided to listen in on what else she'd have to say.
She went on about the languages he'd have to learn by the time he got to 1st standard, and the report cards that would come to us. Then, she suddenly shifted gears to talk about their extra curricular activities.
"We're not only about studies", she said with a triumphant smile. "To the regular time table, different activities are plugged in, on a weekly basis. We have swimming, Taekwondo, tennis, dramatics, art.." Contrary to being impressed, we found all of this ridiculous. Though we were in favor of extra curricular activities, we weren't in favor of forcing our child into activities that he wasn't interested in. So if Adiv didn't want to swim, I didn't see why he had to. I would have been happier if she'd spoken about finding out where a child's interests lay, before steering him towards these activities.
She also stressed on the importance of reading. Being an avid reader, I couldn't agree more. I didn't however agree with their need to force the habit of reading.
"Once a week the kids will spend an entire day in the library", she said.
Though I wanted Adiv to read, and i'd tried to inculcate these habit by reading to him, I didn't quite picture him sitting quietly in a library for an entire day.
Finally, she began talking about their air conditioned buses and their breakfasts and lunches. "Since he will be in nursery, you only need to pay for his breakfast", she added. "Lunch will begin only from class 1.
Then it was time for the fee structure. She hurridly brought out a sheet of paper, to show us the figures. "If you give us 50K now, we'll block a seat now", she said before rushing out the door.
"If you want a tour, i'll get someone to show you the place."
Then she vanished. As we stood around waiting, a bored office boy guided us to the nursery section. We peeked into all three classes and by then the office boy had vanished as well.
"So I guess we don't get to see the celebrated pools and tennis courts", I told Ro.
We laughed and walked out. We knew instantly that a place that was indifferent to our child wasn't the place for him.
From this school, we drove to another that had asked us to come in before 4 o'clock. Despite being asked to come, we weren't allowed past the main gate. "Apply, and if we call you, you can come check out the place", said someone on the phone, at the security desk. Slightly annoyed, we left. During the drive back, we decided we'd let Adiv continue in his current school. While he finished nursery, we'd hopefully find the right school for him. We just needed to do more research. We weren't floored by the sprawling grounds, the pools, the horse riding, and the fancy lunches. We only wanted a school with good teachers who'd make learning fun. A good teacher was all one needed, because she'd encourage thinking, understand differences, and celebrate individual talents. So now we're searching for a school that focuses on the child, and not on the facilities, the 5-star meals, and the nike shoes.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

One Difficult Question

The curious toddler has now grown into a thinking young man. From the time he wakes up, to the the time he falls asleep, Adiv has questions. "What? Why? How? When?" Despite ocassionally feigning irritation, I'm mostly fascinated by how his mind works. He now wonders about the clouds and who filled them with water, if Elmo was born without teeth (ahem...and a peepee), if some dogs can talk, how batteries work, if he can flatten dough with tongs, if the plant really cries when he plucks a flower etc etc. The questions are neverending, and I try as patiently as I can, to answer all of them, even if it means I have to read up on the sharks and dinosaurs, among other things.
Nonetheless, every now and then, you encounter a question that you need to answer cautiously. Luckily he never asked me how babies were born. I guess Ice Age 3 took care of that. With rapt attention he watched the mammoth Ellie strain, scream, and push out her baby. He then declared that babies came from legs, in a tone that suggested no doubt. However, the trip to Hyderabad a week ago, brought along questions that were more difficult to answer; questions about death.
It was Rohit's dad's first death anniversary, and the family gathered for a small, but beautiful prayer meeting. Rohit took the week off, and we stayed in his house in Hyderabad, where Adiv had a blast with his cousins. From the time we got there, he began calling out to Rohit's dad. "Big Dada, where are you?" He knew we were going to Big Dada's house, but he was confused about why we had the keys to the house. "Where is everyone", he asked me, wearing a puzzled expression on his face.
I explained Rohit's mom and sister would arrive the next day, and that Big Dada was now with Jesus. He seemed temporarily satisfied, and the old cars on the shelf served as a distraction. When Rohit's sister's children arrived, he was ecstatic. He explained to them that Big Dada was with Jesus now, and then went on to show them his toys.
Then on the day of the anniversary, we went to pay our respects at the cemetry. The kids were given bouquets to place over the tombstone, when one of the older kids asked if this is where her grandfather was buried. Adiv who was listening, seemed unnerved when Rohit's mom said "Yes."
"What place is this", he asked me.
I didn't know what to say. "Big Dada is resting here and then his soul went to be with Jesus", I said sounding rather lame. I knew he didn't understand "soul", and I hoped he'd stop thinking about it. He didn't. He stood beside the grave and said, "Big Dada, get up and come here". The other kids began distracting him and soon they were chasing after a puppy, and running from a row of beggars who called out loudly for our attention. The priest was late, and soon the kids were bored and hot. Luckily, I'd come armed with water. Then one of the kids began reading from the other tombstones. She read out verses, names, ages, and began telling us about them. I walked with them, slightly unnerved by those graves that had pictures of the people who'd died. I looked respectfully at faces that stared back at me, and followed Adiv who'd begun to understand perhaps that he was in a place where lots of people lay beneath tombstones. He was getting cranky, and he insisted he wanted to leave. "We'll go", I assured him, hoping the priest would arrive quickly. Luckily, the priest arrived, and after a small prayer, we were ready to leave.
As we were leaving, we encountered a group of mourners who'd come to bury a loved one. Ro steered Adiv away from the crowd, and got him outside.
Adiv never mentioned that trip to the graveyard again. The rest of that week was filled with memorable games with his cousins, rides on the scooter, trips to the terrace where he drew faces on the floor with chalk, and several dance performances to the tunes of popular Bollywood songs.
I'm relieved for now, but I bracing myself for more questions. Even though I believe he is too young to be told about death, I know I'll have to handle the question when it comes again!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Mister Friendly

If you know Adiv, you know how friendly he can get. As a parent, I wish he'd be more wary of strangers, but he is relentless in his attempts at befriending strangers. He begins with a smile, and then begins mimicking Iron Man. He puts on his invisible Iron Man suit, takes on a serious expression, and stomps forward. Then he aims his hand at the stranger who is either immersed in an interesting book or engaged in serious conversation. A few grunts, big smiles and "I am Iron Man" later, he has succeeded in making a friend.

The return trip from Chennai was no less eventful. I hoped he'd sleep, after which Ro and I would fish out our books from my bulging bag. However, he was excited about what the "food man" would bring. After drinking some juice, he noticed a man on another seat watch a movie on his laptop.

He jumped off my lap and said, "I am going to see a movie."

He slowly inched his way forward, smiled, said Hi. Soon he was on that man's lap watching Three Idiots. The friendly man was even forced to give him his headphones. So when the songs began, Adiv sang along loudly. The man responded by clapping. "You sing really well", he said. During the course of the movie, they even played boxing. Adiv eventually got tired and came back to us after announcing that he'd been boxing with the "scary man." I was horrified.

Adiv is just as friendly with people who visit the house; the vegetable vendor, the security guard with a notice, the gas man, the store man who brings groceries, and the occasional bank representative. The man from a bank who made an dishevelled appearance this afternoon, didn't seem particularly keen on chatting with a two-year-old. He merely wanted us to be done with the signatures, so he could finish his work and head home. Adiv smiled, spoke loudly, and sang a few songs, but he got no smiles. Finally, as a last resort he took him a small eclaire and said, "Want a small piece? We share?" That brought a smile on the man's tired face. Adiv ofcourse didn't wait for a response, and the eclaire was in his mouth in a second. Nonetheless, the man seemed to be in a better mood after that.

The bank representatives in Chennai (while we were visiting my parents) were more forthcoming. One of them even sat down on the carpet, so Adiv could show him his cars. They played for a bit, drank juice (after saying "Cheers"), spoke (the man got quite emotional when he told us he'd never been given toys like this to play with when he was a child) and left amidst elaborate goodbyes. An older man who arrived much later was less friendly, but when my Dad left the room to get a cheque, Adiv pretended he was a ferocious dinosaur. He growled and crawled to the amused man. When he smiled, Adiv asked him what his name was, and if he could sit with him.

Though i like it that Adiv is friendly and has no inhibitions, I'm sometimes uncomfortable. It doesn't help my paranoia, when I see him bond with a strangers who offer him chocolates and attempt to carry him. So now i've begun giving him the talk. No taking anything from strangers. No going with strangers. I'd like to protect him from the bad world, I need him to be safe and not so trusting.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Fighting the Flab

I'm no fitness freak, though I begin each month with the decision to diet and exercise. Then we'd either get invited to a meal somewhere, or we'd try out a new restaurant in the vicinity. Sometimes even the weather plays fiend, when it rains, making my morning walks impossible. Nonetheless, I tried for a while. Ro was instructed to wake me up in the morning (rudely if required) and pay no heed to my protests. I'd eventually wake up, put on my shoes, hook myself onto the walkman, and walk around the building. When this routine got boring, I ventured out. I was welcomed to the sight of cows grazing illegally on a vacant plot, and tea shops bustling with activity. Little grocery shops were ministering to a tiny trickle of customers, while the only barber shop on that road, pulled up its shutters. IT professionals drove past or walked towards the bus stop, while I walked by enjoying the sights. However, after a while, even this proved to be monotonous. And, with the onset of the rains, I had another excuse to stay home.

Then, when Adiv began school I suddenly found myself free for two hours. I dropped him off at school and waited in the car with two crossword puzzles, a book, my breakfast, and a phone. I enjoyed this alone time, but I also began nursing the possibility using this time to go exercise. I just needed to find a gym close to the school.

I took along Ro and Adiv to a gym I'd seen not too far away from school. The board that read "Fitness Studio", pointed to an old dilapidated building. Hesitantly, we walked up the narrow staircase that was caked with layers of dust and the remnants of notices that had once been plastered along its side. Careful not to touch the railing, we continued walking, ignoring the paan marks, the hand prints, and the handwritten proclamations of love on the wall. Eventually, two flights later, we got to the gym that was filled with equipment that looked unused and abandoned. On one side, two muscle men got up and give us their chairs.

"Please sit", said one, while rummaging through the contents of a drawer. Eventually he fished out a worn on price list.

One Month: 1000 Rs

Three Months: 2500 Rs


I feigned some enthusiasm, while Ro asked a few questions. Then we left. This wasn't the place for me. By then we'd spotted another gym on one of the bylanes. So we decided to try that out. Conviniently located beside a sweet stall, the staircase to this gym was a lot cleaner. On either side were pictures of very fit people exercising. Notices about the next kickboxing class, the aerobics class, and the dance classes filled the walls. Right on top, we were welcomed to the sight of a spacious, airy gym. A few women who'd just finished their workout were leaving, while we got in. A few still ran tirelessly on threadmills, while a few men lifted weights and stood around chatting. A friendly instructor came forward, this time bringing me a fancier price list. Deciding I like this place better, I paid up immediately and promised to return the following Monday.

Then I rushed out, bought some appropriate gym wear, and indulged in some calories. Afterall, I was going to begin gyming from Monday.
My first day was eventful. I walked in happily, after fighting the sweet odours emnating from the sweet shop next door. After warming up, I was led to a treadmill that I walked on cautiously, gradually increasing the speed. This was followed by ten minutes on the stepper, and another ten on the cycle. I was largely oblivious to the people around me, paying full attention to my reflection. I was going to shed some weight at get clothes. Perhaps I could work on shedding some weight before the next gettogether. Could I work on the treadmill and also go for walks? As I sweated, my weight loss ambitions grew bigger.
After a month in this gym, I noticed a nicer gym that had opened up right next to Adiv's school. If I got a membership there, I'd just have to drop Adiv and walk to the gym. So without wasting any time, I went to check out the place. This time, I was welcomed to the sight of newly bought equipment and 5 eager trainers. I was one of the first few people to get a membership and they were excited. They filled me in on their plans.
"We're going to start aerobics."
"We'll give everyone personalized training."
Excitement of this kind is often contagious. So I paid up immediately, and promised to return the next morning.
The next morning, I was led to the treadmill, where I walked for a few minutes before the trainer urged me to run. I did, only to stop few minutes later, huffing and panting. Then I was led into another room to carry weights, and do various exercises for the belly and feet. The enthusiastic trainer who needed to be reminded that it was time for me to to pick up Adiv, also urged me to diet and cut out the junk. I promised to try.
It's been a month in this place now, and I quite like it. Now I run comfortably on the treadmill and enjoy the strenuous exercises. I haven't been the most regular, but I look forward to staying fit and healthy. Since I began, more people have joined the fitness center, and I've even made a new friend in the process.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Teachers; a trip down memory lane

This teacher's day, I drove Adiv to several florists, before finding flowers that he liked. He gathered them in his arms (one for each teacher) and marched into school wearing a very pleased smile. The teachers gave him encouraging yelps of surprise, thereby doubling his pleasure. "Happy Teacher Day", he said carefully. Two minutes earlier, he'd said, "Happy Birthday Teacher day?"! However, this time he got it right.
I have distant memories of my first teacher, who tirelessly taught us rhymes in the most comical fashion. My father had been transferred to a little district in Assam, Cachar, where we endured several terrifying cyclones, and acquired numerous friends. There were few schools in the vicinity, and the only one that showed any promise had a very enthusiastic teacher who multi-tasked. She sang her rhymes loudly and clearly, while spelling every letter in the song.
"H-I-C-K, Hick, O-R-Y, Hickory...D-I-C-K, Dick, O-R-Y, Dickory....."
While I sat by the window, looking for any sign of my mom, this teacher sang to a class full of toddlers who would begin to spell before they began to talk.
After a four-year long stint in Assam, we moved to a dusty and dry township in Tamil Nadu. After the hills of Assam, the rains that ravaged rooftops, and the gardens that often had sightings of wild animals, Neyveli was a drastic change. This peaceful little township with the ageing bunglows and the barren gardens, had one popular CBSE school. It was run by a principal who was greatly feared. His morning assemblies notoriously went on for hours, when he would read out marks and humiliate students who hadn't done as well. He even had a special team of teachers who made sudden appearances in homes to check on students who were in their 12th. We were given tons of homework, that we finished, for fear of being dragged out in assembly. From that era, I only remember a teacher who taught Social studies (very well) with a pronounced tamilian accent, and a sullen Math teacher who scribbled furiously on the board and let it be known that she hated Christians.
A year in Kerala after Neyveli was a wonderful change. My new school was friendlier, and less intimidating. I found my voice and joined the choir. I even took small parts in an Independance Day play where I only had to drop dead. I made several friends, and began enjoying myself. Here again, it was my History teacher that I loved the most. She brought every character to life, making every war exciting. I joined the music class, and made futile attempts at stitching embroidery at the Arts and Craft class. After this year, I moved to the southern tip of India. Nagercoil (close to Kanyakumari) was what I needed to rejuvenate my soul. Despite rebelling about the frequent transfers, I loved it here. The only CBSE school there was run by a dreamer who wanted to make huge changes. He encouraged Shakespeare, music, drama, inter-school competitions, and a whole lot of fun. For classrooms we had little hut like buildings. For teachers, who had people who shared the principal's vision of how he wanted to bring change. Many of us thrived in this environment. It was here that I was encouraged to sing, attempt bigger parts in plays, read, and learn. Sadly, by the end of the year, my Dad had to move again.
This time we were moving to a bigger city. Chennai was bustling and crowded after quaint, peaceful Nagercoil where everyone knew almost everyone else. Nonetheless, I took to this city almost immediately. I liked the pace with which it moved, and I still had access to music teachers and libraries. School however was another nightmare. As we were always on the move, looked for CBSE schools. The one we joined did wonders for my brother, but did quite the opposite for me. From enjoying music and literature, I was suddenly thrust in an enviroment that was fiercely competitive. The class was divided into two sections. You were either working towards finding a seat in IIT or a university in the US, or you were well aquainted with the latest trends and fashions. As I fit into neither, I remained the outsider till I finished school. Here, the kids used their play time to finish up homework. Sadistic Math teachers gave up to 400 problems a day as homework. I struggled with homework, the frequent tests, the pressure. Students walked around saying they wanted to be brain surgeons and cardiologists, while I merely wanted to write and read. However, in the midst of that nightmare I found my silver lining. She was my classteacher and a strict one at that. She tolerated no nonsense, and had at some point made us all cry. Nonetheless, she transformed into a completely different being, when she explained poetry. If she seemed heartless and tough normally, she was mellow, gentle, and full of empathy, where she discussed poetry. It was then that I began to understand that her tough exterior was probably just a facade. Beneath the layers lived a gentle soul, who was never going to let her guard down. Thanks to her, I realized i wanted to study literature. I enjoyed it, and that was all that mattered.
In college, I finally met the teacher who'd teach me the biggest lesson of all. She insisted it was okay to be different, and not fit in. She encouraged us to read, make our own interpretations, and be brave enough to voice them. Then there was another, who taught us feminist literature. She repeatedly told us that we didn't need to fit into socially accepted, stereotypical moulds. She insisted we could lead complete, wholesome, successful lives, even without a man. We just had to be independant, strong, and confident.
While several teachers had given us the skills required to get to college, only these two had imparted life skills. They didn't feign interest in the sciences and seem apologetic about their fondness for literature. They didn't measure success by the the amount of money one would make, or colleges people went to. If you were happy doing what you did, you were just as successful. With that knowledge came a certain confidence that has stayed on for years after that.
Now that Adiv has started school, I'm pleased he has a nice trio of teachers who are kind, gentle, and funny. They seem to understand that every child is difference, and that difference is what is celebrated with the opportunities that are given to the kids. Nonetheless, as there is a long road ahead, I can only hope Adiv will have teachers who will be positive influences, imparting the life skills that he will require to a successful human being, and not just a successful professional.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

The House Guest

This weekend we had a very special guest. I'd met him briefly a few days ago, on the day he'd landed from the US. Jet lagged and exhausted from all the travel, he went straight to the diwan, curled up and slept. When it was time to leave, he was prompted to say Hi.
"Hi", he said.
I had to refrain from going forward and touching him, as I'd normally have done with any child. Nonetheless, I knew autistic children were particular about having people in their space. So I was going to wait till he allowed me in.

A few days later, when he came to stay with his mother, I was apprehensive. His mother was going to leave him with us for a day, while she went out shopping. Also, I wasn't sure if he'd take to Adiv who is relentlessly demonstrative and chatty. I wasn't sure of how we'd console him if he missed his mother. He didn't play with toys, so we wouldn't be able to distract him with anything. He only listened to a DVD of the Wiggles, an aussie band. I didn't have to worry so much about food, as his mom would bring along his stash of comfort foods; some organic jelly beans and gluten free cereal and rice cakes.

When he finally arrived, he flashed us his winning smile, and charged right in. He ran from room to room, exploring. He touched everything that came along the way. He felt the water can, Adiv's toy horse, the walls, and the cushions. He even felt Adiv's hair and smelt it. Adiv stayed close, saying Hi repeatedly and smiling. He got on his horse and called out to him.
"Sit with me", said Adiv.
The 8-year-old got on behind him. A few seconds later, he lost interest. He ran around, followed by his mother who made sure he didn't drop or throw anything. After some running around, he climbed on to the bed, and snuggled up between the sheet and the mattress. Adiv was ecstatic. Why hadn't he thought of that before? Then they both jumped on the diwan like two happy kids. However, Adiv was in his space for a bit too long, and he responded by pushing him off the diwan. My heart skipped a beat, but luckily Adiv landed on a pile of cushions. "Keep Adiv away. He doesn't understand that Adiv is a baby", explained the mother apologetically.
"Adiv is fine", we assured her. We understood it wasn't his fault, but we had to be careful.
By the time I woke up the next morning, our little guest was at the table eating his cereal. With some prompting, he turned to me and said Hi. After breakfast, he came close and held my hand.
"Hi there", I said gently. He pulled to the kitchen. He was curious about the pressure cooker, and all the activity in the kitchen. We put on his DVD for him, while he ran around feeling things, smelling hair, and poking cushions. I attempted to distract him with one of Adiv's videos, but he was bored. So the Wiggles were1 back on. Even though he'd seen it thousands of times, he loved it, chuckling happily on his mother's lap.
When she left for her outting, we were worried, but he seemed fine. If he sensed she'd left, he didn't seem upset. We watched him and Adiv in turns, before he was fed lunch. He enjoyed his broccoli, and ate up some rice with a teaspoon of dal and veggies. After lunch, he was given a pill to calm him down. As he was already getting comfortable with Rohit, he was able to rock him to sleep. Adiv wasn't very pleased though. Adiv insisted that Rohit carry him. And when Rohit was feeding him broccoli, Adiv emphatically declared, "I like cauliflowers also." While I attempted to entertain Adiv, he said angrily, "This is my house. Tell him to go."
In the evening we were all intending to go out to dinner. The little boy hadn't yet woken up, and we were beginning to wonder if we should wake him up for a meal. He hadn't eaten in 7 hours, and was sure to be hungry. When he refused to wake up, we employed other tactics like switching on the light (he'd burrow himself further beneath the comforter) and putting a grain of rice on his lip. We weren't sure if he knew he was hungry, and hoped a taste of the food would get him to wake up. He didn't, and that's when we discovered he was running a temperature. Then we made more desperate attempts to wake him up. We knew he didn't like liquid medicines, but we only had liquid Tylenol. So while Rohit held him, I poured in a teaspoon of Tylenol little by little. He didnt' seem to mind it. By the time his diaper and clothes were changed and he was fed, his mother came back. He flashed her a happy, bright smile and climbed onto her lap. They were leaving in a bit, and his mother got busy packing. Meanwhile Adiv was lying around pretending to be very ill. In a medicine cup, I poured him some juice and coaxed him to drink it as we'd done with the older fellow. Adiv wrapped himself in a blanket and said loudly, "I also very sick."
Adiv was happy to see the 8-year-old leave. He now had his mother and father to himself. However, Rohit and I missed the little fellow. We hadn't spent a lot of time with him, but we'd grown used to him. In his own way he'd begun displaying affection. He would casually climb onto Rohit's lap, or pull me along to show me something. Though we were strangers, he had warmed up to us. When it was time to leave, he surprised me with a hug, a smile, and eye-contact.
In a week's time they'd leave for the US again. I wondered when we'd see him again.
"When we go to the US, we will go see him", said Rohit.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Magical Birthdays

Yesterday I welcomed another birthday in, amidst much singing (Adiv), presents (Rohit), and phone calls (friends and family). Adiv and I were equally excited, posing for pictures, blowing candles, and finally cutting a cake. Adiv wasn't so excited about my presents though.
"No car?", he asked sympathetically!
Birthdays have always been big in my house. As children, my brother and I always got parties. We'd wake up to presents, and then find our mother baking. Our parents would then work on the cake together, icing it, decorating it, and then sliding it into the fridge. We would hurry to school with chocolates for our friends, and gush about the party later in the evening. A small group of close friends were always invited back home for a movie, food, and ofcourse cake. We'd play games and dance to popular tunes. After the guests left, we'd then excitedly open up presents. We'd then go to sleep, dreaming about the wonderful day we'd had.
This went on for many years, till I actually left home. My first birthday away from home, I missed my mother's cake, but my roomies made up for the absence of family. In our modest kitchen, they made me a huge omelet with a generous helping of cheese, onions, and tomatoes. At night, we got dressed up and went out to dinner. The pictures from that night still bring a smile to my face.
After college, when I was working in Chennai, my mother began baking again. However, I didn't have friends over. Instead, I took them out. One year, my friends pretended they hadn't remembered my birthday. They put together a bouquet apologetically, and gave me generous hugs. Just when I'd stopped pretending that I didn't care, the surprises followed.

Post marriage, Rohit has been doing a great job of surprising me on my birthday. The first year, I got presents all day long (as I did yesterday. Grin). He always got me what I wanted, and gave them when I was least expecting them. This year I also had Adiv who sang excitedly for me.
"Happy Birthday Mimi. Happy Birthday Kuttu", he added happily. Before going to school, he made me promise that I'd bake a cake.
"Put sprinkles on top", he added, before he said bye.
Luckily for him, in addition to the cake I baked, Rohit's little nieces brought another cake. So Adiv cut that one as well, pointing out portions of the cake that he wanted to eat.
I want that "A".
"B now."
"What is that", he exclaimed pointing to a piece of fruit on the cake.
"Guava", said Rohit. "You want it?"
"I don't like."
"Give me pink piece."
At night, when we went to bed, Adiv wanted to know when he'd have his next birthday.
"January", I said.
"Hmm", he responded, with a smile on his face.
While he dozed off, I began thinking about my gym instructor. I'd need to work really hard, to get rid of the calories I'd gained on my birthday alone.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Play Time

Two weeks ago, we saw Toy Story 3 in a theatre. We hoped Adiv would sit through the movie, because he loves Woody, Buzz Light Year, and Jesse. As added incentives, we got him some popcorn and a glass of the forbidden, "Fizzy Fanta"! When the movie began, he was ecstatic.
"Woody and Buzz in BEEEEEEEG TV", he said excitedly. "What's that? Who is that?", he continued during the course of the movie. But as the theatre was filled with noisy kids, we had little to be embarassed about. In the movie we saw toys who were trying to escape the cruelties of toddlers. These toddlers ran in, threw toys around, dunked them in paint, licked them, and threw them in the air. Adiv was not very different. As he seemed to enjoy the movie, I hoped he would now be gentler with his toys.
"Toys are scared of kids like you", I told him. "Be gentle"!
He responded by flinging Elmo in the air and speeding off in his car.
Adiv is a curious toddler who enjoys dismantling (read destroying) his toys. He opens up tiny cars to check who is driving. He destroyed a rather fancy bus, just so he could put two of the little people inside it together. He said he'd torn off the top of another car, just so he could make place for himself in it. Despite all this destruction, he has his quieter moments when he sits with his hot wheels collection, or sings to baby Pooh and Elmo. He has a name for all his stuffed toys, and often props them on the bed beside himself, when he watches "The Dark Knight" (his favorite flick).
Luckily for him it is Christmas all year long. With grandparents, aunts and uncles, showering him with presents, we don't really have to shop for toys. However, recently when he began giving me make believe coffee and sambar in his building blocks, I decided to get him a cookery set.
Rohit and I don't believe in stereotyping toys as boy toys and girl toys. Adiv loves his cars and guns, as much as he enjoys making us tea or chicken curry in his cooking set. Rohit's side of the family has men who enjoy cooking all kinds of exotic cuisine. Rohit is quite the accomplished cook himself (Errr..Chef I mean). So we happily thought he was probably showing the beginnings of an interesting culinary journey. In his little plastic plates he served chicken curry, rice, and fried fish one afternoon. Then he made me lime juice that was served with ice.
"Yummy", I responded.
"Want some more?"
"I'm full", I said patting my belly.
He then put away his utensils and got back to his cars.
"Unkoo bring 20 cars for Kuttu", he said.
"Only if you stop destroying them."
"No breaking. No throwing", he promised.

Then a few days later, when we were shopping for a niece, he began asking for a Barbie doll. He'd seen Barbie in the Toy Story movies, and a few others (in various states of undress) with his girl cousins. "I want Barbie", he said.
Someone who heard said, "No, dolls are for girls. Not for boys."
"Why not", I thought, but I was very curious about what games he would play with his barbie.
"He'll pull her hair out and break her legs", warned Rohit.
"Maybe he'll be gentle. He is very gentle with the babies in the play area", i reasoned.
I had vague memories of a little boy who bent his Barbie and used her like a gun. Nonetheless I was curious about whether the need to shoot and fight were inborn boy traits. Were little girls born with a maternal trait that led to them singing songs to their dolls and combing their hair? Did we as parents make kids the way they were, by giving them what was traditionally a boy toy or a girl toy? Could I only blame stores that kept gender specific toys and ensured that girl clothes had pink? Why didn't we ever see boys play with dolls in advertisements? Did I want Adiv to think he was less of a boy just because he wanted to play with a doll? I didn't. However, i wasn't sure I wanted him to break her limbs and paint her orange.
So I decided to ask Adiv what games he wanted Barbie to play. He said he merely wanted to take her for a ride on his bike. Sounds peaceful enough, I thought.
"I'll give him my old Barbie", I told Rohit. "I have it somewhere at home."
"Only if you are okay with her being ruined", warned Rohit.
"Adiv want Barbie", said Adiv loudly, as a reminder.
"Okay", I said. If he was good with the Barbie, i'd probably give him a favorite old imported doll that sang songs.
For now he is throwing baby bear in the air to see if the bear will land on the fan.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I want to go there

Mommy's Little Wild Child (Adiv) and I love the camera. I attribute his fondness to the fact that I've spent a lot of time hovering around him, capturing every mood and every event. So, like any seasoned celeb, he has now learnt to pose, even flashing special smiles reserved for the camera.
Since Adiv's birth , I always made sure the batteries to my camera were charged and ready. So by default, all family events and outings were also documented. I got every wedding, gettogether, outing, and holiday we were at. Everywhere I went, I carried my camera, capturing fun moments. Later, I'd show Adiv these pictures, and tell him about the people who featured in them.
"Remember A-mach? That was taken when he came to stay?"
"That is the appacha we met him in Kerala."
"That is the aunty who gave you that little Santa."
He'd smile and nod.
Both Rohit and I have family scattered all over the world. So if we wanted Adiv to know all the people who were important to us, we showed him their pictures. However, his two-year-old narcissistic mind was understandably more interested in himself.
"Kuttu wearing party hat."
"Kuttu riding horsey. So funny."
"Kuttu touching deer."
He was however very excited to see the people he knew.
"There. Look. Pappa and Ammama", he said pointing to my parents in a picture.
"I want to go there".
"Okay, when you have holidays, we'll get tickets and go to Chennai", I promise.
"Mimi, where is Unkoo", he said, suddenly remembering the uncle (my brother Ash) who made yearly appearances, but had confirmed his place in Adiv's memory with several toys and a big dose of pampering.
"He is in America. Remember he went by plane?"
"I want to see Unkoo picture."
I found a picture of Unkoo and Adiv, that brought a smile on his face. Then he said, "I want to go there."
Adiv said that about most pictures and videos that he saw of himself. He'd laugh at the picture of himself with his cousins singing by the pool and say, "I want to go there."He'd smile at a picture from his birthday party and say, "I want to go there." He'd point to a picture of himself on a cart ride with his cousin and say, "I want to go there." He even wanted to relive the games he played with cousins, by his grandaunt's stair case, and eat cake that was made on his birthday. "I want to go there", he said stubbornly.
"You can't", I smile. "But you will have more birthdays, more trips to Chennai, and more fun sessions with the cousins" I offer.
"No. Now"
I then resorted to distracting him.
"Where is that horsey of yours?"
"There", he said happily, jump off my lap and climb on to the horse.
This conversation with Adiv, got me thinking about a cousin's son. On his 6th birthday, he'd announced that it was the best day of his life. His amused father then told him that his life had just begun and he'd have many more wonderful days in the future. Likewise, I thought of how Adiv would have more birthdays, more outings with family, and more games with his cousins in the future. Those fun moments would eventually become fond memories like the ones in these pictures, making way for more fun times in the future. Feeling rather optimistic, I decided to document this moment with a picture. However, Adiv was busy watching a video of himself. In the video he spotted a toy from a year ago and said, "I want to go there and take that."

Monday, 7 June 2010

Mimi's Day Out (in School)

We were guided into a teeny room furnished with teeny, colorful tables and chairs. The walls were covered paintings, and a string of colorful cutouts ran across the center of the room. The shelves were arranged with picture books and workbooks. A blackboard at the corner bore today's date, and a few alphabets. A thin wall separated this room from the next one, where all the play group kids were having their hour-long session. We heard lots of screaming from all directions. Many of the children cried for their mothers, while teachers made futile attempts at distracting them with toys and songs. Few of us let out sighs of relief, because we hadn't yet heard our children crying. I wasn't apprehensive in the least bit, because I knew that if Adiv was upset he'd be screaming now. I smiled sweetly at an aayah who walked past. When she walked past again, I asked if she'd peek in and check on Adiv.
"He is playing with a car", she said when she returned.
"You are lucky he is okay", came a voice from the room I was in. A mother who could hear her son weeping piteously, came forward for assurances from me.
"They'll be fine in a few days, right", she asked. She seemed close to tears, but was holding on. "They will be fine", I assured her. "The teacher is very good." Another mother walked out. "I can't listen to this anymore", she said and settled down outside the gate.
"Why don't you mothers leave and return after an hour", offered the center head gently. "You won't feel so terrible if you are away."
"No", came a collective response.
I stood around with my book. I muttered a small prayer. I hoped Adiv would continue to enjoy school. I'd put him in a dinosaur teeshirt, that he wanted to show his teacher. I had also explained to him that I'd be waiting outside.
"No. Mimi come inside", he had said emphatically.
"No I can't. The chairs in your class are small. I'll wait outside on a bigger chair".
That seemed to satisfy him. He went in with a smile, but ran out twice crying for me.
"I'm still waiting here", I assured him. "I'll still be here when you're done playing", I explained while he cried.
Five minutes later, he'd settled down. Meanwhile I sent Ro several SMSes with updates.
"No crying anymore."
"Running out"
"Playing with a car"
Meanwhile, the mothers and I bonded outside. We spoke about our kids, and comforted eachother. "They'll be fine. Once they make friends, they'll begin enjoying themselves."
Amidst all the crying, we heard some singing. I was glad the teachers were singing. Adiv loved music and he was sure to calm down.
"Your son is calm. He is playing", said a mother who'd decided to peek in on her child.
"Phew", I said. "What about your daughter?"
"She is still crying", she said.
Minutes later, two of the mothers were called in. Their kids who were crying uncontrollably had thrown up. The rest of us mothers watched the flurry of activity from the classroom to the bathroom and back. I said another little prayer.
"Oh God, please let Adiv be okay."
As the longest hour finally came to an end, the kids slowly walked out with their bags.
"Hi there", I said enthusiastically to Adiv, who responded with a big smile.
"Oh Ho, jacket inside", he said and went back to get his denim jacket. Waving goodbyes to everyone we then left.
Now i'm getting ready for another day.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Playing Khan

A few weeks ago we saw "My Name is Khan". The DVD came neatly packed in a case, and we settled to watch it immediately. I was most curious because of the hype. Even people who didn't like Shahrukh Khan was professing love for the man after this film. Some said he was better than Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump". Some said this was Karan Johar's best. Sadly, I was very disappointed. Like all Karan Johar films, this one was made only for it's protagonist. It didn't matter than the script was bad, or that the numerous other characters weren't well-rounded and complete. Nonetheless, this post isn't a review. It is about Adiv, and how he gave the film it's own happy ending.
When we watched the movie, he sat on the bed between us with his cars. He played quietly, only jumping up to dance during the song sequences. However certain scenes got his attention. He sat glued to the screen when Mandira's son was attacked by the bullies in his school. He is kicked and beaten up. The football that is kicked onto his body finally kills him. The first time we saw that scene, Adiv was upset. He told me he was very sad. I assured him that the achacha was fine. We then saw the boy being wheeled into emergency, where doctors attempt to revive him. He doesn't make it. The time of his death is announced, and his mother screams and weeps over his young body. After the movie, I played the happy scenes again, to assure Adiv that the achacha was now better and busy celebrating his birthday. "Where is achacha", he asked every two minutes.
The next few days, we continued to watch a song from the movie, where the boy is seen enjoying a surprise birthday party. "Achacha fine", said Adiv happily. Soon enough, when "The Hangover" arrived in another neat package, the tiger in that movie got his attention. The Achacha from "My Name is Khan" was forgotten. So now he was watching "The Hangover" in mute (too much of the F word). He'd watch only the scenes with the tiger, and then ask for Barney or Batman. I was relieved.
Then last week, he began a new game. He brought him his ball and said, "throw ball". I assumed he wanted to play catch. However, instead of attempting to catch the ball, he'd fall to the ground very dramatically. "Achacha in pain", he explained.
"Mimi doctor make achacha alright", he said emphatically.
Then I realized he was enacting the scene from "My Name is Khan". I picked him up, put him on my lap, massaged his belly a few times during which he thrust his body forward. Then I'd tickle him and say, "achacha alright."
"Yaaay, achacha alright", he'd repeat happily and we'd do a jig.
We enacted this scene over and over again, till he was very satisfied. We even gave Rohit a demo when he returned from school.
Fortunately now that school has begun, the Khan phase is slowly being replaced by the school phase. Now our little man is more interested in Barney and Baby Bop's pretend school.
"Where is Barney", he asked his teacher yesterday.
"Baby Bop bringing Mac and Cheese?", he enquired when his classmate's mother brought out some biscuits.
So for now I think he is fine, but we've got to be verrrrrrrrry careful about what we watch on TV while he is around.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Like Mother, Like Child

Mother's Day was fun! My mother was in town, and the family was still celebrating a cousin's wedding. After lunch with the extended families on both sides (bride and groom), we got together with cups of tea, a guitar, lots of laughter, and some very contagious excitement. A few songs later, the living room had transformed into the dancing floor, and everyone was on it, doing their own version of the twist. Cameras clicked furiously, while we laughed, clapped, danced, and sang along. What fun!
All the mothers got hand drawn, personalized cards from Rohit's niece, and a group of us mothers and daughters indulged in a group hug. "It is fantastic being a daughter and a mother", chanted the leader of the troop.
Despite all the excitement, I couldn't but help wonder about how motherhood had changed me. I was less selfish, and everything I did revolved around Adiv. I wanted to be a better person because I was directly responsible for making Adiv the person that he would become. Interestingly, I was also aware of I was becoming more and more like my mother.
Growing up, I never understood why my mother had extended conversations with the help, the driver, the vegetable vendor, the ironing man, and the shopping assistants in stores. My life revolved around my family, friends, and my work, and I never felt the need for these bonding exercies. I barely even spoke to neighbours I couldn't relate to. I smiled politely and didn't feign the slightest interest in them. I teased my mother because she knew about the property feud in the driver's family, the maid's mother-in-law problems, and the ironing lady's issues with conception. She even visited our conservative brahmin neighbours during their festivals, and asked interested questions.
"Why do you care", I'd ask.
"They talk and I listen", she replied. It made them feel good because she didn't act superior or indifferent.

All my life I saw my parents attend all major events in the homes of our maids, drivers and watchmen. I even remember visiting a driver in his modest home. His family collected chairs from elsewhere so we could sit, and gave us plates filled with sweets. My brother and I were taught to give respect. We weren't allowed to think we were better than others who weren't as lucky as we were with our circumstances. I took much of this upbringing for granted till I became a parent myself.

Like my parents, Rohit and I insisted that Adiv respect anyone who was older, irrespective of how they lived. So while the help is called aunty, the driver and ironing man are both uncles. He is encouraged to share with them every time a packet of sweets is opened, and he isn't allowed to scream at them or hit them.
I've changed quite a bit as well. If I was disinterested earlier, I now engage in conversation like my mother does. I enquire about the ironing man's health, and applaud the maid's daughter's accomplishments in school. I even talk to the delivery man from the store nearby. Now that I run my own household, I realize that we can take noone for granted, and all these people who make our lives easier deserve respect and warmth. I try to be fair and considerate, though I can be quite the task master. I hope they are happy working for me, and I weep buckets (just like my mom) when they leave without notice.
"You are becoming me", jokes my mother.
I even run my home like she does, though I'd once have sworn that I'd do things differently. I even deal with people like she does; making an effort with those who seem so different from me. Like her, I try and give everyone a chance, and cover up any embarassment with incessant chatter. Every time I gulp down glasses of water when I'm nervous, I think about how she'd have done the exact same thing. Like her I cry when I'm angry, and confront those who are annoyed with us, with apologies and explanations. We both make few allowances for petty behaviour, and always reciprocate to the slightest hint of friendship. We are both fiercely protective mothers with a strong sense of what is right and wrong. We hate it when we are lied to, but we soften considerably when we hear a sob story.
As I wonder about all that I share with my mother, I hope Adiv will consciously and unconsciously pick from me all that is positive and right. I hope from me he picks the loyalty and not the temper, the sensitivity to people and not the sensitivity to seemingly harsh comments, the willingness to give everyone a chance and not the tendency to sometimes give up after that chance, the funny bone and not the inhibitions, and the willingness to try out everything on the buffet table, as opposed to sticking to the tried and tested.
Happy Mother's Day girls. Here's to becoming better mothers every day. I know we all try.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Fight the Odds

Years ago when I was going through a bad spell, a favorite cousin gave me a copy of the book "When bad things happen to good people." I was (still am) a fiction reader, and quite suspicious of anything that came in the guise of a "self-help" book. So it took me a while to read it. During the course of that read, the bad spell that had lingered on for a bit, died a sudden, miraculous death. By the time I'd read the last page, my faith in humanity and God had been restored.
The author, a rabbi had simply put together anecdotes to explain the work of God in our lives. He explained that when things went wrong, it wasn't God's doing. It wasn't your karma, or some sort of punishment for your deeds. So when a huriccane dislodged millions from their homes, and left them bankrupt, it wasn't God's wrath. However, when those people found the strength to pick themselves up, and rebuild their lives, it was God's work.
That idea was instrumental in encouraging me to bounce back. If the man who'd lost a lifetime's savings in a fire, and the lady who had lost family to a destructive Tsunami could do it, so could I. My problems paled in comparison, so I'd definitely find it easier. I had a strong support system consisting of friends and family, who gave me their continous support.

For inspiration I looked to people in the family. My dad had lost his sister and family to the Kanishka crash, my mom had lost her sister to cancer, and cousins had lost their mother to cancer when they were very young. Life hadn't been fair to those who'd survived, and yet they'd found the courage to wake up each morning, smile, and live. That had to be God's work.

Around me, I saw more tales of inspiration. A colleague-turned-friend had escaped years of physical and mental abuse by finally finding the strength to divorce her sadistic husband. If she was mild, young, and so hurt, she soon became stronger, independant, ambitious, and ready for love again. That had to be God's work.

During the course of those many years, I heard several stories about people who had fought the odds. I heard about the man who'd missed two air crashes. He'd lost his wife and daughters in the first one. He'd somehow managed to live past that tragedy. I saw Tsunami victims rebuild their lives with renewed faith in God and mankind. I heard about road accidents, that snuffed the life out of exuberant youngsters who left behind grieving families. Those families had lived to see another day. I felt the sorrow of all those who lost loved ones to meaningless terrorist attacks allover the world. The excrutiating pain of these people seems so terrifying. Was it enough for them to give up on people? Was it enough for them to end their lives and never hope for a happy future? It wasn't, and I often wondered how they found the strength. That had to be God's work.

I once asked a cousin how she was able to pray each day. She'd lost her son to a fatal asthmatic attack when he was only 6. Her eyes welled up, but she managed a smile. She said, "I think he was lucky. He died an innocent, missed all the cruelty in the world, and went straight to be with God. I miss him though. Now I focus on making sure my other child lives a good life, so we are all united eventually." It was that faith that urged her to wake up each morning, and live as God intended her to live. Many years later, the pain of losing a child lingers on, but she has found many reasons to live, celebrate, and look to the future with hope. That is God's work.

I'm in awe of all these amazing people (there are many many more), who continue to rise above their sorrows every day. This is probably why I have little sympathy for those who take the other route. They are disgruntled, unhappy people who nurture grudges, and give up completely on people. They aren't open to friendly gestures and rarely ever reciprocate. They live in self-created islands with a few people they love. They miss out on vital relationships because of their stubborness. Luckily for us, it isnt the end for them, and hopefully some day we'll see God's work in their lives.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Teething Trouble

I began this weekend with a nerve-wracking, heart-thumping drive to the dentist's office. Luckily I didn't have to wait too long. I'd flipped two pages of a magazine, when I was called in. In followed the dentist in a daze. Minutes earlier, I'd just told Ro a story. During the Japanese invasion of Malaya, a Japanese soldier made a group of people (chinese and indian) dig a pit. The group was then ordered to stand in a line. One by one they were shot, and everytime someone was shot they fell into the pit they'd dug up themselves. I told Ro, waiting for the dentist made me feel like someone in that line, awaiting her turn.
Fortunately, I was just being dramatic. What followed was an annoying stiffness of the jaw, as I had my mouth open for two hours. Otherwise, the rootcanal and the filling were painless.
My escapades with dentists began when I was quite little. I have terrifying memories of screaming in fear and pain, when a not so sympathetic dentist knocked a painful tooth with one of his scary dental gadgets. I didn't open up again after that, and so I spent the rest the my evening whimpering into my mother's lap. A little later, when I was feeling brave, we visited a well-known dentist in Cochin, who did some work, showed off my smile to his team, and left me with root canal gone wrong, and a bloody mouth.
I was luckier in Chennai, when a friendly dentist looked into my mouth and began his treatment amidst kind words and gentle assurances.
"Let me know if it hurts."
"It will be over soon."
That sealed the deal, and I vowed my allegience to the man. The next many years, I visited him for all kinds of dental work. I waited my turn in his modest clinic, oblivious to the paint peeling off the walls. I flipped through the pages of outdated magazines, while I waited for his voice.
"Come in Roopa."
Over time, with every visit, as my teeth got better, his clinic began undergoing a slow, but steady makeover. He got himself another dental chair, an assistant, a bigger clinic with freshly painted walls, a receptionist who now booked all appointments, and recent editions of all magazines. The man even got himself a new wardrobe, and graduated from a motorbike to a fancy car. I was definitely his favorite patient; his eternal patient; his loyal patient. I even flew down from Pune, to get a painful tooth checked. I always needed work to be done; fillings, root canals, bridges....! By now he was even giving me offers.
"One root canal, one filling free."
Privately we joked about how he'd built a fortune on my mouth. However, since I was too scared to try out anyone else, I continued to go to him. No questions were asked.
Then there was a long break in our relationship. I was married and away. I was apprehensive about what I'd do if I needed to see a dentist elsewhere.
"What if I was forced to see someone else?"
"What if this man died. Who would I see then?"
Anyway, when I was pregnant and in need of more dental work, I waited till I got to Chennai. Happily, I booked my appointment and got there on time. He was visibly pleased to see me, and he welcomed me into his newly resurrected clinic. The waiting room was bigger and boasted of air conditioning. The walls were adorned with paintings he'd done himself. A stack of magazines lay in a rack, and beside the rack sat his receptionist on her important looking desk with a new phone and a notepad.
Inside, he'd divided his work area into cubicles. Each cubicle had a theme color. He now had five dental chairs with all the latest gadgetry. Two assistants hovered around him, as he moved from cubicle to cubicle on his sliding chair. As I lay with my mouth open, I stared at his version of the famous discourse between Arjuna and Krishna. The colors were a tad bit too bright, and not quite right against the pink walls. He spoke about how he'd been expecting to see me again.
"Tut tut. More fillings", he said happily.
However now I was older and not so blinded. "Why doctor? After all the work that has been done, and all the care I take, why do I continue to have bad teeth?"
"Perhaps it's the genes", he explained, satisfying me.
So then, I gave up on my own teeth and began praying my baby would have a strong set of healthy teeth (courtsey: Ro).
Ro joked about getting my dentures. However, he also urged me to get a second opinion. So after much postponing, I finally (after 2 years) fixed an appointment with a dentist in Bangalore. A lot of the family who went to him, assured me that he was good. So I eventually found the courage and the will, to try out another dentist. Ro and Adiv came for moral support. I waited a while, before I was called up a winding staircase. I explained my case, and eventually gave him a peek into my mouth. A tooth had cracked the previous week, and that needed immediate attention. So he promised to give me a dental plan, and finish up all the required work over a short period of time. I could only do weekends, as Ro was needed to babysit Adiv. I assured him I'd be back, after 6-weeks as Ro would be away travelling and I'd be in Chennai. He agreed and we decided to meet when we got back.
I came away pleased, but once I was in Chennai, I had to fight the urge to go back to the dentist I trusted. By now everyone was doubtful about whether he'd spoilt my teeth, over several years. He was also very expensive, and obviously not very effective. So after some debating internally and externally, I decided to stick to the new dentist in Bangalore.
So now post a root canal that didn't hurt, I'm glad I didn't go back to my previous dentist. Life is good, and the new dentist no promises a close-to-perfect set of teeth!:)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

My Dream

(Image Courtesy: Suzanna Kurian)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Just a Mimi

In the world of promotions, EMIs, and day care centers, I'm a rare species; the unemployed, stay-at-home mom. A few years ago, I'd have vehementally denied the possibility of ending up as "just" someone's mimi. I was ambitious, and the jobs I jumped were proof of that. I was reasonably good at my job, or atleast that's what my bosses led me to believe. My marksheet from college held proof of a rank I got for Feminist Literature. I definitely wasn't going to give up a job, for a household and a baby. I lived in a world of equals.

Fortunately for me, I married someone who saw me as an equal. However, as chance would have it, my priorities changed. My son was born, and I knew I didn't want to leave him even for a second. I took refuge in the horror stories that I read about careless nannies renting out babies to beggars. I couldn't possibly take that risk with my baby. I attempted working from home, but that was just as difficult. I was more annoyed at the nanny who'd sincerely taken charge. She changed his diaper, fed him his meals, and sang him to sleep. She was taking on a role that was only mine. Also, how could I churn out storyboard after storyboard, when I was more apprehensive about whether the fruit was washed properly, and if the nanny was taking Adiv to the kitchen to gossip with the other maid. After a month, I found I had little time with him. So I indulged in some internal debating, and politely sent her off. Then I resigned.

Life has been wonderful ever since, though not the easiest. I knew I couldn't juggle several roles tirelessly and do them all well. I knew I couldn't spend quality time with Adiv, and meet deadlines, and ensure I had a clean, nicelooking home, and cook for a family potluck dinner, and read a page a day of my current book, and write.....! So I had to quit. Ofcourse I was fortunate enough to be able to afford it (Thank you Ro).

Now I only had to deal with friends and family who threw well-meaning yet condescending comments my way.
"I never had the time to notice my baby's responses to music. I was working."
"What? After playing journo, you're now sitting at home? Do you atleast wander the streets of Bangalore to find stories that you can send to newspapers?"
"You're so lucky. You can sleep if you want to." (Huh? Like housewives spend their mornings sleeping.)

Like many women before me, this post is an attempt to answer those questions. Life isn't easier now. I don't work because I chose not to (the empowered woman speaks). I'm up by 7 and I plan the menu for the day, put out the ingredients for the cook, make sure Adiv's breakfast is ready, and then wake him up. Feeding him takes a lot of patience. I climb the window grill, attempt new steps from MTV, make stories about the green turtle, read books, show videos on youtube, and play hide-and-seek before Adiv finishes his breakfast. Then there is lunch and dinner. Luckily, the Mass Communication classes helped hon my creative skills for this day. In addition to feeding, there's bath time, ABC time, and time(all day long) to make sure he doesn't do the forbidden. Despite keeping one eye on him at all times, he still continues to give me a fright from time to time (like when he drank up a bottle of cough syrup, or atleast led me to believe he had). Covering himself in peanut butter and later poop, also require special mention. Otherwise, we've managed pretty well. I bake him banana bread and cookies, and teach him about the world he lives in. I also read to him about Dada bear, Mimi bear, Adi bear, and Goldilocks, and encourage every little sign of talent. I clap the loudest when he dances, and tell the world when he speaks a new word. I punish him when he is naughty, but I never run short of those bear hugs and kisses.
Even this long monologue is met with incredulous looks of disbelief. You quit so you can have fun with Adiv? Perhaps if I had to cook and clean as well, I'd have received more sympathy.

"Don't you miss making your own money?"
"Don't you miss doing something for yourself?"
"Don't you miss working outside the house?"

I respond with my ready answers. I'd miss making my own money, if Ro didn't buy me my books and movies. I have no aspirations of owning that dream house with a fountain and spacious garden. Luckily my needs are simple, and since I have no green fingers, the thought of having a garden doesn't arise (except for a few pots in the balcony perhaps)!
I don't miss doing anything specific, because I make the time to do it all. I read, I write, I listen to music, I watch movies, and most importantly, I'm there for my child. I'm never too tired or too preoccupied. I'm there to plan his birthday parties and bake his cakes. I'm there to drive him to school and the play area. I'm even around when he wakes up crying because he has just dreamt about an angry doggie.
However, despite all of this, I do miss working outside the house. I miss meeting an impractical deadline, attending a pretentious meeting in a conference room, and gossiping over a cup of coffee in the pantry. Most importantly, I miss the thrill of receiving appreciation in the form of a good word or a promotion. Before you empathize, I haven't given up on those aspirations atall. I've merely postponed them for later.
For now, I'm happily just Adiv's Mimi. We fight when he fusses over a meal, we dance to "Wake up Sid", we sing every song on Sesame street, we color newspaper and our hands with non toxic paint, we play pretend games with his cars and action figures, we sing our ABCs and 123s, we make paper boats with forgotten newspapers, we dress up and go on drives, we share bars of chocolate, we read together;our thoughtful heads together on a pillow, we cream our faces at the end of a day....
I'm not apologetic about being a stay-at-home mom. I'm one, because I chose to be one, and I love it. Having said all this, I mean no disrespect to those mommies who juggle both roles with ease. But then, this post isn't about you. It is about me!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Last Turn

Their friendship, if you could call it that, began over a game of scrabble. K began with "Voted", and responded with "AgentiVe". She got 75 points for it.

"Wow. Good one."

"Just got lucky."

And that started a friendship that lasted only one game.

K and M were scrabble enthusiasts, who now played much of it online. Despite being reasonably net savvy, they didn't belong to the current crop of chatroom dwellers. They took comfort in relationships that were "real". K imagined only kids and stalkers took to chatrooms. M's views were more conservative. "Why talk to someone you've never met?" She preferred her scrabble, where often no conversation was expected. Ocassionally you'd say "Hi" and wish them luck. If you got curious you'd even ask them where they were from. That was all. To the rest who came seeking conversation, she was firm but polite. "I am only here to play." However, despite these reservations, separated by decades and continents, K and M had befriended eachother.

After that first bingo, K initiated conversation by asking M where she was from. M who was usually more cautious, stared at the friendly user picture for a moment or two, before deciding it was safe to reply.

"India. How about you?"


Their game was a one-day game, where each player had the option of taking their turn within a 24 hours. If you missed taking your turn within that time frame, the other player could force you to forfeit your game. K was busy planning a summer wedding, and M was busy with a grandson who was visiting. So playing these one-day games seemed like a better option than the two-minute/five-minute games.

This particular game was fun for them, because they were both equally good. Between bingos and triple word scores, they soon began talking. K told M about her husband-to-be and college. M reciprocated with tales of her precocious grandson. Neither was curious about the other, so few questions were asked. They logged on, played their turn, made some small talk, and logged off.

Then one day, M got the option of forcing K to forfeit her game. K hadn't logged on that day to take her turn. Assuming she was busy, M proceeded to play her other games. She didn't usually force defeat, when she knew the other player. However, when K failed to take her turn after 5 days, M decided she'd probably abandoned the game. She waited another day, before deciding to force forfeit. Just then, K's message appeared on screen.

"M, are you online now?"

"Yes. Where have you been? I was just about to force forfeit and get myself a few extra points", joked M.

"I am not well", came K's reply.

"Is it the flu?", asked M, not expecting anything more serious.

"Bladder cancer", came K's immediate response.


M spent the longest next second thinking of an appropriate response. Should she empathize with her, or attempt cheering her up? Having lost loved ones to cancer, she didn't feel particularly optimistic. Bladder cancer sounded fatal.

She looked at K's user picture once more. A cheerful face smiled back at her. The twinkle in her eyes suggested mischief, excitement about the future, and youth. K even seemed like a decent person. If she succumbed to the cancer, it would be a tragedy.

"Do you pray", asked K, interrupting M's trail of thought. M still hadn't responded to her announcement.

"Yes", replied M, her fingers continuing to search for the right keys to comfort the younger woman.

"I'll pray", typed M. She knew it sounded rather lame, but K didn't seem to notice. She went on to talk about Chemo, and how optimistic the doctors seemed. Her parents hadn't taken it too well though. Now her house was filled with an air of forced, uncomfortable cheer. Her mother was baking again, as if to make up for all the birthdays she'd miss. Her fiance was taking her out a lot more, and friends were constantly throwing her surprise parties. K didn't enjoy any of it. She needed some time to understand the changes her body was going through. She needed to understand the cancer and fight it.

M listened sadly. She felt for this young girl, who had so much to look forward to. It just wasn't her time to die as yet.

For the next few days, neither of them played their turns. However, they logged on to their game every day, so they could talk. K gave M updates about her treatment, and how depressed she got after every chemo session. M listened with maternal concern even researching the net for alternate methods of treatment. She cheered K with success stories she pulled off the net, and assured her that her prayers would work.

Ocassionally they'd play their game as well. K said playing made her life seem normal. So between visits to the hospital, harrowing chemo sessions that left her tired, nauseous, and depressed, she logged on to play her turn. She also looked forward to her conversations with M. With M, she didn't need to make any pretenses. She told her she was scared, and M understood. Also, the illness wasn't all they spoke about. They exchanged notes on the lives they led. India was a world K knew little about. She promised to visit once she got better, though that seemed like a distant dream at times.

M was good for K. She cheered her with funny anecdotes, and stories from India. K had even begun reading some recommended Indian literature. M told her about the large scale weddings in India, and K was amazed at how different her own wedding would be. K told her that they were planning a smaller wedding in her house, with just immediate family and close friends.

"We invite the world", joked M.

"Who cooks for them", asked K. Her mother and sister were cooking her wedding feast. She didn't see how they'd have managed cooking for 1000 people.

"Caterers", said M amused.


Both K and M continued to talk, using their letters sparingly. They both held on to their game, fearing it would end. So they kept their game alive, with a lot of conversation and delayed turns. They had 2 letters left, and M decided they'd started another game once they were done. K wasn't as optimistic though. She was getting weak, and she didn't think she'd log on as often anymore. She promised she'd log on once she got better, and get in touch. M assured her that she'd be fine, and that she'd continue to pray for her. After some elaborate-yet-cheerful goodbyes, they logged off. They both hoped they'd talk again, under happier circumstances.


They never did finish that game. M didn't put her final bingo and win the game. She played other games, winning some and losing some. Her grandson came to visit from time to time, and she got busy with life. However, she continued to look for K online. She was strangely optimistic about K. She knew she was okay, because she had one more turn before their game ended.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Walking to the beach

The walk to the beach is eventful. I pass revered cows wearing garlands and bells, groups of gossiping walkers (an ocassional lonesome walker mutters mantras and walks ahead with undisturbed discipline), and busy bikers. A few smiles of recognition come my way, as I steer away from puddles of urine along the sides of a wall. I also make sure I don't step onto freshly drawn kollams in front of homes. I change the music on my walkman to one with a beat, and walk ahead briskly.
To get to the beach, I have to walk past the outskirts of a slum. Kids in various states of undress, stand around brushing their teeth, while their mothers collect water from a pump. An old man and his wife are putting up a teeny stall of drumsticks. Groups of men gather in front of a busy tea stall, and their chatter is drowned by the deafening music from a nearby temple. Even I have to stop my music as I hurry past. The temple music doesn't go too well with Dido. Competing with this temple on Sundays, is a church that plays loud devotional music. Beyond the temple, is a small time gym that is luring customers with a big discount. It's here that I turn to a residential area.
I see vendors making their rounds from building to building. Drivers wash cars, ocassionally stopping to chat with maids drawing kollams outside impressive gates. Old men and women walk toward the end of the road wearing shoes, carrying little purses to buy flowers from an old lady at the end of the road. Women stand arguing with vegetable vendors over skyrocketting prices. As I walk by, I smell freshly brewed coffee, and hear the suprabatham from one of the balconies. People sit around in balconies reading the newspaper. Outside I see sleepy kids in uniforms, waiting for their buses. I don't remember if I went to school that early.
As I get close to the Velankanni church, I see more tea shops brimming with activity. Hawkers are displaying cheap toys and other knick knacks on sheets. I think to myself that if Adiv was around, he'd beg for an auto or pistol. A resident begger is lying on a mat, by the side of a popular restaurant, while his overweight wife ambles across the street to buy them tea that she brings back in a discarded bisleri bottle.
At the beach, I see groups of men and women going their walks. I enjoy the fresh breeze that hits my face for a few moments. The french bakery by the beach is closed. The skating rink lies vacant. A fancy gym has a steady stream of people walking in and out. The tired few who are done with their workout, walk toward the paper and magazine stall. Another small group gathers in front of the stall, discussing an ongoing political story. I catch a glimpse of the headlines, and walk past them. I walk past office goers waiting patiently for their vans and cars. The flower stall I'd passed earlier is now filled with customers. Flowers are bought for puja, and strings of jasmine for the women in the house. I pass dogs engaged in a playful roll in the sand.
By now the traffic has gradually increased. Yellow school buses are on the move, and vans bring in fresh vegetables to stores. I take the familiar route again, watching for traffic, and covering my nose and mouth when crossing overflowing bins that are just being cleared. I take the same short cut back home. I'm tired, but satisfied. I check my phone for missed calls and messages, switch off my walkman, and walk in. As I walk in, I see the other residents of the building return from the walks. They prefer the serene, uneventful confines of a popular dance and music school. Despite the traffic, and the stinky bins, I prefer my route; one that's more fun, more eventful and less boring.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

New Friend

Today the help ("maid" is politically incorrect I'm told) brought her 11-year-old daughter with her. Adiv was ecstatic. He welcomed her with a big grin, called her chechi (didi) and introduced her to all his toys. First the cars, then his Santa, Pooh bear, Elmo, and Lion. And when she sat down with her mother for lunch, Adiv stood by her, watching and talking. He told her about the pigeons outside the balcony, unkoo's picture on the fridge, his scooter, and his Dada (he proudly showed her Ro's picture). Once she was done, he pulled her out of the kitchen. He wanted to show her a video, but she offered to push him on his scooter. He agreed immediately. After kicking his ball for a bit, and playing on his scooter, he then lined up all his stuffed toys on the sofa. He sat beside them, and then waited for her to do the same. She was hesitant, but he urged her to sit.
"Sit Chechi", he said emphatically, pointing to the empty space beside him. When she did, he filled her arms with his toys and gave her his favorite book. She was visibly pleased, and soon they were playing some very interesting games. She was more comfortable by then, and had begun flaunting her english skills. "Sit straight", she told Adiv, while she pushed him on his scooter. Then it was her turn. "Read book", he told her, showing her the monkeys in his book. Then he gave her other little knick knacks to look at.
A very easy, uncomplicated friendship had developed between them.
I began wishing Adiv wouldn't change as he grew up. Like all children, he was oblivious to class distinction and prejudices. He saw the little girl as potential playmate. They'd played some interesting games together, and nothing else mattered. She was very young, but quite aware of the differences between our families. However, once she understood we weren't going to insult her or make her feel like less of a person, she got more comfortable. She sat on the sofa comfortably, and began enjoying herself.
The games continued, till her mother was ready to leave. Adiv wept when she left, and had to be distracted with a candle on some bread pudding. We sang "Happy Birthday" to him, after which he cut us slices and then went to sleep. Just before nodding off, he asked me if chechi would come.
"I'll tell aunty to bring her again", I promised.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Return of the Bearded Giant

It began like any other evening. All of us were busy with mundane activities, when the door bell rang. Mummy who was on the phone, motioned me to open the door. I looked out of the door-eye-viewer and ran into my bedroom immediately. Surprised I hadn't opened the door, Mummy got up and politely let in our guest; the parish priest.
Meanwhile, I was in my room putting on a tshirt for Adiv. Before the priest rang the bell, he'd been lounging around in a pair of shorts, and I didn't want the man to see him like that. I had memories of his previous visit (long time ago), when he'd lectured me on the evils of diapers. He left after he made me promise that I'd stop being lazy and throw out the diaper. I couldn't let the man know that Adiv was still in a diaper.

Excited about all the commotion, Adiv who was now wearing a tshirt that hid all signs of a diaper, ran out to greet the new guest. We imagined he'd be scared, but he seemed happy to see the priest. He merely looked up at the bearded man who towered above him and smiled. The man merely smiled at Adiv, offering no hand in friendship. A serious, strict man with definite views on what was right and wrong, he usually made an appearance only when the church needed money. He didn't mind your absence in church, as long as your money made it on time. So we assumed this visit was about money as well, and not about the people in this household.

If you know Adiv, you know he is a friendly child who loves people. He has little trouble befriending strangers, and is almost offended when they give him no attention. Last week it was the HDFC man who fell prey to his charms. What started as a discourse on the merits of an NRI account, soon became a game. Mummy had just handed around glasses of juice (Adiv also got one), when Adiv ran forward saying, "cheers". Slowly he brought out his toys and gave them to the agent who was by then quite emotional. "As a child I never got such toys", he explained. Soon he was playing with Adiv's cars and action figures. Adiv hoped the priest would be just as willing.

He began talking to the priest, to which the man who wasn't particularly amused said in malayalam, "he speaks no malayalam?"
"No. Only English", explained Pappa.
The man gave Adiv a disapproving glance.
"Oh no, that's going to be today's lecture", I feared and hid in the dining room.
Luckily, he seemed intimidated by the english-speaking two-year-old.
"OKay. Come here", he said hesitantly.
Adiv took that as a sign of friendship and told him about the phone he'd broken earlier in the evening.
"Endha?", he asked Pappa.
"Just being friendly", said Pappa, who was quite amused.
Adiv was now telling the priest, "Mimi, very naughty", and that had me in splits. Luckily, the priest still hadn't noticed me in the background.
A very interesting conversation followed.
Adiv: Adi break phone. Mimi fix phone.
Priest: Oh ok. Come on.
Adiv: Adi hand time. (pointing to a watch that had been drawn on his wrist)
Priest: (turns to Pappa to tell him about the Holy land tour)
Adiv: Adi has specs.
Priest: Okay.
Then suddenly Adiv left the room. The priest seemed relieved. However, almost immediately Adiv returned with a little bag filled with his cars. He wanted the priest to see his cars.
"Okay okay", said the priest and got up.
"Let's pray", he said.
We stood up immediately, urging Adiv to close his eyes and fold his hands. He stood up reverentially, and listened to the prayer. Once the prayer was over, the priest sprinted to the door with hurried goodbyes. Adiv who seemed surprised, began insisting on going with him. An embarassing tantrum followed, but the priest was far too nervous to even bother lecturing me. Without waiting for the lift, he hurried down the stairs. We laughed for a while!
An hour later, he called sheepishly. He'd forgotten his cap at our place, and he wanted to come collect it. Adiv who'd just finished his bath, seemed excited about seeing the priest again.
"How come he is friendly with that serious priest", asked Mummy.
"Can I try on his cap before he comes", I asked.
"No. Better not", said Mummy.
"Can I wear it and take a picture", I asked.
"Adi wear cap", urged Adiv from the background.
"Blasphemy", said Mummy and put the cap away.
Nevertheless, the day ended with the cap being returned to the man who'd accompanied the priest, and he forgot (I assume) to ask for money!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Adiv turned 2

On the 19th of Jan, Adiv turned 2. He got two parties, two cakes, numerous presents, and a week long exercise of blowing candles and cutting the same cake over and over again. Rohit was leaving the following week on a 6-week long assignment in the US, so we decided to give Adiv an early party. We didn't want an elaborate party, so we had only some of our family over. Ro's mother, sister, her family, Ro's cousin who was visiting from Hyderabad, and Ro's uncle (and Adiv's favorite grand uncle) and family were the only invitees. The day before the party, Adiv's cousins (4 girls between the ages of 17 and 5) came for a sleepover. So we began Adiv's birthday with a trip to the bowling alley. The kids had fun. While the lil ones rolled their balls and prayed nervously, Adiv merely threw his ball and pranced around excitedly, oblivious to the outcome. After two rounds each, we drove around looking for a place to eat. Mc Donalds had their shutters half open, so Rohit hurried in and came out with burgers for everyone. By the time we got home, it was late. The kids got into their night clothes, and got comfortable. The lil ones played with Adiv who was screaming excitedly. The oldest read quietly, while her sister gave me a fill of the Hyderabad gossip.
We slept late, and woke up only when the maid came in. Still sleepy, I made myself and Rohit some coffee, and milk for the kids. Breakfast was pancakes with pancake syrup, after which the kids were ready for some fun and games. While the oldest continued reading a book, her sister went with Ro pick up some rackets. The 7-yr-old encouraged Adiv to chew his breakfast, and her younger sister dealt with the eternal question that plagues all girls; "What do I wear?".
By the time everyone was fed and ready, it was 11. We went to the badminton court, where we played in pairs. In turns we even ran behind Adiv who was more keen on exploring. Ocassionally we took breaks to drink juice that I'd brought down for everyone. After some very competitive gaming, I got the kids to wash their feet. Then they were allowed to put wet their feet in the pool. Getting them home after that was quite the task. Lunch followed, and then the little ones were all tucked in bed for a nap. The older two experimented in the kitchen and made some delicious cake that we ate later. Ro and I lazed around and ordered the food for the evening. The cuisine was Tibetan, and we ordered generous portions of momos, noodles, rice, and chicken for everyone.
The kids were woken up a little later, for a trip to a nearby farm. Excited, they sang on their way to the farm. The most requested song on that trip was "We're on the way..We're on the way..on the way to Granpa's farm" (Raffi). Soon we were welcomed to the farm by its friendly, excitable, bouncy, inhabitant, a gorgeous beauty, an Irish Setter. Ro fell in love! The kids sat huddled in the car, agreeing to come out only when the dog was put in its kennel. *sigh*
Then we explored. We reminded the kids that no teasing would be tolerated. They promised to refrain from any kind of teasing and enjoyed the rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, and donkeys. The star of the evening was Nimbles, a friendly, jumpy little goat. The kids gathered some courage eventually and began feeding the animals. This outting would have lasted longer, if not for an accident. One of the girls twisted her ankle, and so we decided to head back. We got back in time for Rohit to go pick up dinner. Adiv and one of the girls went with him, while I got the others in front of the TV and began cleaning up. The table was set, the cutlery and crockery spread out, the beds re-made, and towels placed in both bathrooms. The cake had arrived a little earlier.
As the evening progressed, the guests arrived. Ro returned with the food, and Adiv got busy with his presents. The car is what got his attention. So he spent the rest of the evening driving it, while we enjoyed the drinks that Ro passed around with some crisps. Just before dinner, Adiv got to cut his cake, which he did quite happily, enjoying all the singing (and the attention). The cake was promptly removed, and returned to the table only with the dessert. With birthday 1 coming to an end, we went to sleep tired and exhausted. We spent all of Sunday sleeping as well. Adiv's grand aunt, her daughter and family came in the evening with more presents. Adiv had begun thinking life was about presents. Ro who'd developed a bad cold by then, had to postpone his trip by a few days. This meant he'd be around for Adiv's actual birthday.
On 18th night, my parents and brother (who'd just reached that morning from the US) arrived. They came in late at night with more toys for the little one. He played with his cars, wore his helmet proudly (part of a fireman's costume Ash got him), and played till late at night. Rohit was leaving on 19th night, so we decided to let Adiv miss school. He woke up to a lot of singing. He got numerous calls, to which he responded with a well practiced, "thank you"! I got busy with some baking. I made Ro some banana bread to take, and I made Adiv two simple cakes that I put together with three layers of icing. Ro and I had fun experimenting with the icing. Did we want an A or a design? We tried different designs, before settling for one. Though it didn't seem particularly neat, it was delicious. Adiv cut his second cake, and fed us all in turns. He even sang to himself, "Happy to Adi budday"

That evening Ro left, and a week later, we got to Chennai. For now, the party still hasn't ended for Adiv, as he is with grandparents who are always getting him little surprises from time to time. Life sure is good at 2.