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 I flipped through the pages of outdated magazines, while I waited for his voice.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.