Déjà vu

Every once in a while history repeats itself and takes us by surprise. Few days ago, my kid and I got into a fight, which led to her announcing that she will go camping by herself. It was equivalent of saying, she will leave the house and go away. It upset me tremendously, but drew a chuckle from my husband. Needless to say I was not amused by his reaction and demanded an explanation. He remembered this anecdote my parents told him about me….

Many years ago, when I was around the same age as my kid, I had an argument with my mother and grandmother. I am not sure, but it could be related to some serious issues such as having a slightly more desirable menu for lunch or enforcing television rights. Anyways as always, the women held their ground and were unwilling to negotiate. So in my anger, I threatened to leave home at that instance. Big words from a tiny human! I thought my loaded sentence would bring them to their knees. Instead, both my mother and grandmother guffawed . This was definitely not the reaction I expected. I was infuriated with this insult. I repeated the sentence, a little louder, slower and slightly more emphatically. My mother and grandmother decided to call my bluff and told me to go ahead.

I did not think I would have to act on my threat. But now it became a matter of pride. After all I was a person of my word. If my own family didn’t take me seriously, how could I expect Micki, Pinky, Ruku and the rest of the group to elect me as the leader of the gang. I was left with no choice. I grabbed my school bag (it was the only bag I had, and I had watched enough movies to know that every time you stage a walk out, you must always carry a bag). My mother and grandmother sniggered some more.

Main sach mein jaa rahi hoon” (I am really going to leave).

Haan haan, jaao; dhyaan se jaana” (Yes yes, go ahead; go carefully).

I stomped my foot and headed towards the door. I noticed the door was locked, I was short and the latch was high. Maybe I could wriggle out of this…

My mother noticed the same and probably thought like me. She unlocked the door for me and asked me to carry on. Dammit! There was no turning back now. I was in it too deep. So I walked down the long flight of stairs, wondering how this was not playing out as shown in those Bollywood movies. I swear, every one of those scenes had the family members running after the upset party, begging and pleading them to change their mind and stay back. What the hell was wrong here?

While I was contemplating my next steps, my grandmother and mother went to the balcony and noticed a waste collector, sorting out some trash. My grandmother called out to him and requested him to look out for a little girl, who was about to step out of the building and yell at her as loudly as possible. The man was extremely thrilled to be part of this wicked character building plan.

As I stepped out of my building, I saw this burly middle aged man looking in my direction and yelling at me at the top of his lungs, while my grandmother and mother watched from the balcony above.

“YEH CHHOTA BACCHA AKELE KYU GHOOM RAHA HAIN? BHAAGO YAHAN SE, CHUPCHAP GHAR JAO!!! (Why is this little kid roaming around on her own? Get back to your house right now!!!)”

I froze for 5 seconds, gulped some air and then turned around immediately. I ran back home, bawling inconsolably. All adults exchanged thumbs up. My mother and grandmother waited at the door with open arms. I let them know I had decided to stay.

Years passed, I never heard the end of it. I even questioned their parenting skills –

What if that man or someone else kidnapped me?

We were quite sure, you would not have reached too far or anyone would have bothered to kidnap you. Besides we were willing to take the risk!”.

Well, what can I say, I never ever tried leaving home again, even in jest.

Coming back to our fight in present times, after I made my husband tighten the window frames. I suggested my daughter camp out in our backyard by herself.

You can go camping in the backyard, just watch out for the deer poop and spiders“.

Wait a minute, there are spiders outside in the wild?

Yes.

And deer poop?

Yes.

Aren’t you scared a deer may take me away?

We are willing to take that risk!

Uhh, yeah.. no.. I changed my mind about camping. I ‘d rather stay home.”

Perfect.

Be my Quarantine..

Guess who’s back.. back again? The prodigal daughter returns after a not so brief hiatus. I apologize for my absence my dear followers, all six of you! But here we are in the middle of a pandemic, introspecting and hopefully back on track.

A lot has happened in the past one year. I got back to school to study something new, changed my career stream, got a handle on my cooking and now I drive beyond my 2-mile radius. Back to college appears to be my favorite accomplishment. One of my former supervisors had told me, there is a big difference to the approach of studying when one pays for their own education versus when parents pay your fees. Truer words have not been spoken. I had never sat in the first bench throughout my academic life, until this year. I have to do full paisa vasool! I enjoy the new subjects, newer environment and younger company. It reminds me of the fun times I had with my friends when we were in our 20s. With the progress in technology, classes all over the country became remote effortlessly, thanks to Corona.

Speaking of Corona, looks like people all over the world have been sent to their rooms for their terrible behavior. One would think Earth is like a harrowed mother, who has had it with her terrible kids. Rotten children who have no regard for mom’s sanity and welfare and no amount of gentle prodding and good sense seems to drive the message home. You would think the wildfires and earthquakes would get them to pay attention, but no.. not the dheet humans. Hence, the drastic situation we are in – quarantine, social distancing, self isolation.

I have to admit though, quarantine and staying at home, is growing on me. I am getting used to sleeping in, lolling around in my pajamas, showering at ungodly hours and enjoying the comfort of my home with my family. Appreciating home-cooked food everyday, sitting down and eating as a family, no wastage of food or other resources, watching movies, keeping ourselves engaged with what we have, connecting with friends and family more regularly, and being more mindful of our actions. I’m beginning to get concerned on how will we function when things get back to normal? I mean this has got to be the easiest way for most of us to stay safe and contribute. Those who are on the front line and also providing us with essential services don’t have that luxury. The least, we can do is not be a nuisance to someone else who is working selflessly for someone else. Gardening can wait (it was snowing yesterday, who in their right mind wants to grow plants in this weather), holidaying can wait, barbecue parties can wait and behen, make up is not an essential item (all the more you should stay at home and let only family admire your natural beauty). My husband is having his own version of Simon Snoot’s Whiskers situation going on, but do you hear me complaining?

We have only hit a pause button; enjoy the break before the hustle bustle resumes. Stay safe friends, take delight in the time spent with your loved ones and appreciate all the small blessings in life.

 

When stars align..

“Arranged marriage? No way! That’s not my scene. So regressive. I cannot get hitched to someone who I don’t know from before. Modern women like us don’t subscribe to such practices. The whole process of getting introduced by family to someone and deciding to go ahead after a brief engagement period, seems too old fashioned?”

So many of us turned our noses at this arrangement. As luck would have it, so many of us ended up in the exact same arrangement. A lot of people who are not familiar with how the arranged marriages work in urban India are of the opinion that it is forced on women where they don’t have a say or a choice. While that may be true for some, it is not necessarily the case all the time. A marriage is like a gamble and no one knows what to expect, until you take that leap of faith. I am sharing the experiences of my friends, family and myself.

I remember those tedious matrimonial searches. At that time it was annoying, like the constant headache you could not get rid of. But later on those episodes made entertaining stories, which us girlfriends would laugh at. Us single girls lamenting at the fact we never encountered any interesting single men on our own like they show in the movies and the type of people our families would introduce us to never seemed to fit the profile we had in our minds. Like the time my friend was going to meet a guy for the first time for an arranged date at a popular coffee shop and the man ended up at the Coffee Board instead. This was at a time, when neither of them carried cell phones and therefore waited for each other at completely different venues for almost an hour. Needless to say, my friend was furious. She did not intend to meet him another time, because to her, if a man could not even get the venue of the date correctly, there was no point in even considering a future with him. Who goes to the Coffee Board to meet a potential partner?!!

Closer home, just as we had started enjoying the joys of internet, there was another generation that jumped on board to use the powerful medium for other important tasks. Online matrimonial search. With all the peer pressure around her, my mother realized that with a non-cooperative child and a not so enthusiastic husband, she had to take matters in her own hands. And that’s how the family computer got hijacked. She would spend hours poring over the options out there for her beloved princess. Vett each profile carefully, look for hidden cues, understand the background etc. Unfortunately, she still needed me to carry out mundane tasks such as uploading pictures or downloading documents. On the pretext of doing those chores I used to sometimes sneakily reject some alliances on my own or delete the saved searches. Poor mother would be left bewildered why another parent stopped communicating so suddenly, till she caught on to me. There was hell to pay for undermining all her hard work. This exercise definitely made her more tech savvy. You are welcome, Mom.

Although she knew I didn’t share the same zeal as her for my partner search, she would once in a while share some funny anecdotes with me. This one is my favorite.

She had been communicating with another lady, whose son was being considered. They decided to speak over the phone to get to know each other better. Keep in mind we were unable to view his pics, as they were password protected. His mother wanted to protect his privacy and gave my mother a short tutorial on online identity theft and privacy. That phone call went on for 45 minutes. My mother spoke for 5 minutes in total, when she introduced herself at the beginning and while hanging up. I pretended to not care, but with the TV on mute and a conversation going on for 45 minutes, my curiosity was piqued. Once she hung up, she narrated the conversation to me verbatim. Here is a small sample with no embellishments  – “my son is such a great boy. I truly believe that any girl who marries him, will be the luckiest girl alive on earth. He is the best guy you can find in the country. All the neighborhood aunties keep saying that I am so lucky to have such a wonderful son. He is literally God’s gift, I really believe it. He has studied at IIT and IIM. It’s so rare to find boys who have studied at both the premiere institutes… blah.. blah”. My mother could have spoken of Chetan Bhagat, but she never got a chance to speak. Also, I have two masters in life sciences and a scientific publication, but she could never put that tiny detail out as well. She did manage to get the password for the son’s secure photographs and promised to never share the password with anyone else or use for any other purpose than what it was meant for. We saw the pics of an unkept man, in torn pants (not even the stylish ripped jeans), hawai chappals and dirty stained shirt, an unshaven boor! He was supposed to be the God’s gift some woman should have felt proud to be associated with! My mother and I laughed our heads off. She turned to me and asked me why could I not find a good eligible partner on my own instead of making her do so much hard work. My response is borrowed from another girlfriend who was in a similar situation back then, and was asked the same question by her mom. When it was our age to hang out with boys, you put down so many curfews and strict rules and told us to focus on our studies and career. Now when we have gotten older and less charming and all the good guys have been taken you say this! Please continue with your pastime of groom search.

This went on for quite sometime. Mother doing her thing keeping herself busy. Me busy with my work. Sometimes we would share and compare notes with our respective friends. And then one day, my mother-in-law came into the picture. My mother in law was equally new to all this. In fact the only reason she got involved into the matrimonial affair was because a lot of her friends and other distant relatives would pester her and ask her to be more involved. Peer pressure affects all ages. She contacted my mother and they started talking. From there started a very unusual and remarkable friendship. At first it was the polite pleasant conversation revolving around the kids. Slowly the nature of conversations transitioned to their own experiences, their lives and other random things. A lot of times they would call each other and discuss movies or recipes or shopping or common acquaintances. They could talk for hours and laugh at the silliest of jokes. Both mothers interacted with each other for weeks before the rest of us communicated. At that point all the key players happened to be residing in different cities. Finally, at our mothers’ insistence, we met and decided to continue to meet. The first meeting didn’t go so bad, so we decided why not another one and so on. Both my husband and I did not want to rush into a commitment and decided we’ll continue to get to know each other and maybe let our parents know after taking our time. We could always plan for marriage after about a year’s time. This time-frame did not seem ideal to our folks, but when one deals with resistant progeny, you just agree to play along. My mother-in-law mentioned to my mother, that even if their kids don’t get together, they should continue to be friends and catch up regularly. My mother was most pleased by the suggestion. Meanwhile, we took much less time to decide we wanted to be together.

My husband often asks me what was it about him that made me say yes to him. Me thinks, these type of questions are always a ploy to fish for compliments. I give him  different silly answers all the time. I tell him it was his mother who impressed my matriarch the most. We wanted her in our lives and so I agreed to marry him. Or that I had just watched Tanu weds Manu, and he was the closest to the dreamy Madhavan. As you can imagine he rolls his eyes at all my nonsensical answers. In reality, it was his honest attitude. Always sincere, caring and genuine. His calmness complements my volatile nature, like a tempestuous wave and a big tranquil rock. I knew I could always depend upon him and be myself and he would love me with all my flaws. We have shared an incredible journey of seven years so far and I cannot imagine anyone else I would want to continue to share my life experiences with. Strangely, when people ask us how we met, a lot of people are surprised to find out that we had an arranged marriage and it was our mothers who got us together!

 

 

Celebrate

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I love the festive season. The dressing up, friends meeting up, food, dance, colors.. everything! Just the reason to celebrate life. Luckily for us, with so many Gods and Goddesses to bless and revere, we find multiple festivals to celebrate. My little one  looks forward to the festivals too. It started with the excitement of Ganesh Chaturthi, which we celebrated for the first time at home. She was unhappy to say goodbye to her Ganesha, but got over it eventually. As we moved into October, we were already in the throes of the next set of festivals, one of my favorite – Durga Puja or Dusshera, which will be followed by Diwali in the subsequent month. I enjoy the entire affair; we plan for weeks our dresses and our accessories. Our social calendars are full and all other activities are scheduled around the festival event dates (including flu vaccinations and other doctor visits). Not to forget ensuring ample memory storage in the phone to allow videos and photographs. The only thing missing in this merry making, are our families and extended family. But we try and make an effort to still go out by ourselves and enjoy and celebrate. We owe this to our kid.

My daughter shares the same enthusiasm as me in these matters. She tells her friends and teachers at school about all the festivities and about us dolling up and dancing at the temple. I was telling my daughter’s teacher about Dusshera and Diwali and informed her how it was the equivalent of Christmas for us. As I was explaining the religious significance of the festivals, I realized the same festival is celebrated in different ways  and for different reasons across India. The festival remains the same, although it may be known by different names and often stories and the people involved seemed different too. For example, Diwali in north India, signifies celebration of homecoming of Sita, Ram and Laxman from their exile after defeating Ravana, whereas in the south, it marked the defeat of the demon Narakasura by Krishna. Both Ram and Krishna happened to be the manifestations of the same diety, i.e. Vishnu. The underlying beliefs and principles in both the narratives are same. Diwali is also associated with Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, who happens to be the wife of Vishnu.

I am not an expert on religion. Neither do I know all the customs and rituals thoroughly. Most of my information is what I had assimilated since childhood, through stories often narrated by my grand moms, conversations during festivals and popular literature. While growing up, I used to get confused with the various versions (of festivals and Gods) available and when I raised questions, my parents told me all versions were correct and the main point of these festivals was to remember that good triumphed over evil and we celebrate the goodness around us and spread joy. To my simple mind, this answer seemed the most accurate. My daughter has slowly started showing interest in Hindu mythology and culture and while we introduce her to our culture, we are trying to keep her open minded and receptive to all cultures around us. It’s a fine balance to be proud of one’s heritage and also be respectful towards others’ cultures.

Last night on our way back home from all the dancing at the temple in our fancy lehengas, my daughter was looking at all the yard decorations for Halloween and commented we needed more decorations in our yard and need to up our game. October is a busy month, after all the garba and dandiya and dhunuchi naach, we have to get ready for Halloween and our Minnie Mouse will go out and celebrate that too with the same gusto!

 

Stage

Someone recently told me that all the women in my family had very strong personalities. That person meant the women on my maternal side. However, in this post I will talk about my paternal grandmother, my Thamma. She was Thamma to all my friends and also the other youngsters in my neighborhood.

Thamma was a powerful character. For the era she belonged to, she was way ahead of her times. She was a proud working woman, progressive, spoke couple of languages, a go-getter and someone who did as she pleased with a devil-may-care attitude. She was also exceptionally beautiful, with a natural flair for fashion. When she wore her sunglasses with her saree, she could give the current crop of stars a run for their money. She was not your typical sweet old grandma who molly-cuddled her kids/grandkids and fed them handmade snacks regularly. On the contrary, she never enjoyed house chores or cooking too much. Her interests lay in travel, socializing, enjoying good times with friends and family, pets and theater. In fact she was almost a part of a movie, but had to drop those plans, when she realized she was pregnant with my father and uncle. She had her flaws, but like I mentioned earlier, she didn’t care, she lived her life on her own terms. Like the time she adopted a pup from the streets, wrapped it in her coat while sitting on a bus and got her home and announced the newest member of the family. No questions, no discussion. Obviously, my grandfather was not too happy about this addition to the family, especially since he was not even consulted once. But that was how it was and he learnt to accept Tipsy. As graceful as she was, she was also a little patakha when she flared up. We were all a little scared of her temper. My dad and uncle till today swear by the punishments and often the whacks that came their way every time they acted up. There was a rule in their house, and that was, if a complaint came home regarding any of the boys to their mother, they would suffer the consequences. Having said that the rule to the outside world was – if you have a problem with my boys, you bring it to me and I will address it, if you lay a finger on my boys, you will suffer the consequences! Often because of her outbursts, my uncle and father would tease her and say it’s the Jat gene in her that reveals itself (She was half Bengali and half Haryanvi). That joke continues till today, whenever my daughter takes a passionate stand and doesn’t back down, resulting in her dad exclaiming its the famous gene expressing itself.

Coming back to Thamma; although the movie plans didn’t materialize, she did pursue theater in her spare time and the entire family supported her. She would participate in small plays and community events and my grandfather always encouraged her and cheered her on. Then one day the twins, who were still small kids, decided to grace with their presence and accompanied their father to watch their mother perform on stage. This is an anecdote that every member of my family is familiar with, because it had been recounted that many times by my grandmother. And it goes like this… in the scene, another actor had to yell at the main protagonist (Thamma) and after shedding some tears, she had to break into a monologue. Alas, the scene and her moment didn’t go as planned. You see, as soon as the first actor said his piece, my valiant father, who was probably five or six at that time, jumped out of his seat and started shouting back at the actor who dared to yell at his mother in front of her family. To his young mind, this slight was unbearable and the dutiful son needed to stand up for his mother. This egged his brother on, who decided two loud voices were better than one, to drive the point home. My poor grandfather scrambled and tried his best to get the situation under control. All this while Thamma had to show much restraint from reacting to the ruckus being created in the front row. She always ended the story by saying that night was a very embarrassing night and how her kids were not allowed to come and watch her plays for a very long time. Sometimes she would also emphasize rather dramatically to us that maybe she could have been a very famous actress and then glare at my father before all of us would burst out laughing. I know that although every time she narrated this story and accused my father for being so unruly, she was secretly thrilled at the idea that her little boy didn’t think twice before standing up to someone bigger or worry about the consequences, just for his mother. And that feeling of pride and joy trumped any small embarrassments of that day.

I realized that feeling too. My little one is a very rambunctious kid herself. Few weeks back, I participated in a cultural dance. I am not a trained dancer myself, although I do enjoy dancing. I got on the stage after a long time and a bunch of us amateurs performed. Unfortunately for us, there was a mix-up with the music and the wrong tape got played and a small chaos ensued. While most of us made few mistakes, mine appeared to be the most glaring and visible. I just stood frozen for what seemed like an eternity. I was mortified. At the same time, my boisterous little one was getting louder and more difficult to manage for my husband. She didn’t want to stay with the audience and wanted to dance on stage with her Mamma. Although the audience was polite, and my husband cheered and applauded, it was still such an embarrassing evening, far from what I had imagined. Until bedtime, when my little one came and gave me a tight hug and told me excitedly that I looked so beautiful, my dress looked amazing and she loved the way I danced on stage and it was such a great evening. She insisted that next time I take her along too. I was delighted and felt so proud as if I had climbed the Everest. Only children can make you feel like this. As I mentioned earlier, that feeling of pride and joy trumps all small embarrassments of the day.

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