Welcome 2016 – The year of imperfection

The daily grind has this ability to stealthily wean you off the core attributes that define you. Your inner calling. Some of us have just about enough silence to hear the faint inner voices. The rest of us create a din in which the inner voice slowly dwindles away.

There was a time when I relished solitude and every single opportunity for solitude that I stumbled upon. I would rush to seize a book and read as much of it as possible, even though I may have a read it a bazillion times in all the years gone by.

I saw some of the subtle changes coming and I missed seeing some. My library membership going unused for months. My diminishing usage of flavorful words in conversations :). I started finding a spare hour unsettling as there was so much to be done. The spare hour fuelled a need to prioritize long pending work tasks or home chores, and thereby to friction. Tussle. Working mother guilt added lot more layers to this – my urge to spend every waking hour outside work with S. It depleted the person in me. The days became longer and the nights became shorter. I was with S, but I was not. While she was wholly with me. There were other signs. The signals my body gave. Tantrums of me and my loved ones.

And then the numerous thoughts of quitting. Conflicting with dreams built up over the years. The determination, the sweat. The feeling of void in the stomach when I had decided to move out of my career. These made it difficult to jump to either side and I kept sitting on top of the fence.

The real call came when I started running out of stories for S. I embarked on a month off to slip into nothingness. To experience the sound of silence, just as I had, three years ago during my sabbatical. To make amends with my oldest paperback friends once again. To just experience the passing by of a day, in all its hues. The simple charm of routine. The comfort that nothing (other than S) can wreck havoc on your unhurried schedule. Rambling meals. The heaviness of a 9 hour drugged sleep without the shrill of an alarm waking you up. Meandering books. Offbeat movies. Stumbling conversations. Art exhibitions. Puppet shows. The month was planned across a Srilankan visit, Bangalore laziness in all its glory at parents’ place and the final stint at home – comforting Pune sunshine in the biting cold.

It takes time to mend old ways. So I started my break with a to-do list which went like this –
1. Bring back health on track
2. Write
3. Read
4. Plan terrace garden
5. Complete art projects
6. Catch up on ‘movie to watch’ pile
7. Organize photos repository
8. Give away old clothes and toys of S

At the end of the month which is today, I am glad to say that I didn’t do any of the above except walk everyday and just spending time with S, K and my parents. The days just slipped through the cracks. Which is exactly how I realized I had wanted it. Yes time was peppered by a couple of books and movies here and there, but nothing concerted and planned. Nothing to break the monotony. No SOS calls or a problem dying to be solved. Nothing on rush mode. Yes there were distractions. Social media. Yet it co-existed in an unobtrusive manner. A companion when I needed it. Though I may not have wanted to resort to it as much.

That is probably what this year is going to be all about. Of imperfections and of the raw beauty hidden in it. More vulnerable moments. Allowing myself to open up more before I ones I care for. Going with the flow, but not hesitating to break into a slow rivulet rather than moving with the speedy current. More respect for the body. More early mornings. More aimless long walks. More awkward silences. Not wanting to be the best in every single thing, every single time. It requires numerous inner demons to be conquered and its definitely not easy to erode years of mental conditioning. More unknown answers to questions asked by S. And more struggle to find the same. More often than not, she and I are not looking for answers; we are just trying to hold simple moments together with some meaning. More attempt in some ways to create a sense of differentiation between the individual, parent, spouse and the worker. To bottle up and seal off work sometime during the day. So that you are eagerly waiting to open and lap it up the next day. More distinguishing lines between days and nights. More moon gazing. More random recipes that appear ridiculous to all but me and S. She surrenders completely and unconsciously for things I have loved all my life. Raw Maggi and sago vadaam maavu. Fried Mor Molaga stems. More train journeys and lesser flights. And to regain the ability to sleep on a train. More Tamil music. More books finished cover to cover in a single sitting.

Such resolutions have been made umpteen times. However there is a difference now. All the above without pressure or compulsion to achieve the same. A resolution, if only, to be imperfect. Sounds like a mirage but we shall see. That will be another post at the end of 2016 🙂

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The Sabbatical Story

S is the only person in my lifetime with whom I have spent every waking minute for a year and a half. Waking minute may be an understatement here, we probably dream about each other as well. I had not planned for this long a break away from work, but so it happened. Overall, its been a great journey, though we have had our share of pitfalls, frustrations and disappointments. Its been a great journey because I got a chance to re-live my long forgotten childhood. Things I either wasn’t exposed to, or which I didn’t have the time to explore and enjoy. Most of my life, was spent busy studying and building a good career. As the offspring of a conservative Tam-Brahm family with no much fortunes to speak of as inheritance, you could probably take a blind guess on how programmed my life would’ve been. Thanks to S, I rediscovered bubbles, butterflies, and fairy tales. Eating to your heart’s content, the magic of morning garden time, and waking up free and bright on a Monday morning. I found my art for making funny faces which made the baby laugh uncontrollably. I found the amazing ability of a good ginger-lemon grass tea to break the stupor of a drugged afternoon nap. I found the art of healing my headaches on my own, without taking a pill. And the art of figuring of why the headache came in the first place (I have not yet developed an ability to prevent headaches, so let’s leave my spiritual quest there). I learnt to bake and realized that no matter how many cakes I baked, the excitement while opening the oven door to get the first glimpse of the cake did not wane. I am not saying I am a pro, but the cakes I bake are nice and tasty and enough to excite me and the kid. She devours them, even the wheat based ones (if you still didn’t get it, I am now gloating about my capability to bake maida-free cakes. Sorry!). I cherished reading every single day, whenever baby napped. I stumbled upon the amazing ritual of having coffee in my balcony. Such an irony that though we made sure we bought a flat with a balcony, we never ever found the time to have a relaxed cuppa, in all these years. The evening caffeine kick was at the office for sustaining our sleepy nerves and the mornings were too much of a rush.

                       

I had certain epiphanies and made some stubborn choices. Like I would stay at home for a couple of years before getting back into the (big bad) corporate world. I would not raise my hand on the baby, ever (although a number of my family members are waiting with bated breath for the day when I will lose my temper, just to prove me wrong). I would not wallow in self-pity for choosing to stay at home while others seamlessly pursued their career choices. I would not compare my spouse or kid with others. In the time I choose to spend with S, I would not just ‘appear’ to be available, armed with a smart phone or laptop. I would be available to my kid well enough to have a conversation with good eye contact. I would not push my kid into learning from a tender age (read educational toys, educational books, and all things educational). Kids are anyway naturally hyper-inquisitive, and have the ability to pick up a tremendous amount of skills themselves, which is one thing that amazes me till date.

                       

If I am going to rant on like this, saying that stay-at-home mommies’ lives are all about rainbows and bubble baths, then I am just overly romanticized and been wearing pink tinted glasses all along. Saying that I have absolutely enjoyed every single minute and every single day of my sabbatical would be like someone saying their favourite writer is Chetan Bhagat. A naïve, constricted view. I have realized that no matter how much ad films and magazine covers glamourize the mom and baby combo, its not entirely the truth. Those glossy pictures you see are a Kodak moment. There are other moments before and after that. I wonder why we relentlessly target the seven year itch for married couples while we still do not exhibit complete frankness about the roller-coaster relationship that one shares with children. One reason I can think of is that children, at least till the age of five, are beyond human weaknesses, and love you unconditionally, no matter what. Something like pets. The only difference being is that the amount of care and attention children demand are way way higher than your furry companions would.

                       

There are times of the day where S and I are inseparables, cuddling away to glory. There are also times on the same day, where we have got so tired of each other that we mutually agree to get on with our own separate activities. The third slot is the toughest – one of us has got tired of the other one. The other one is still eager to get along. No brownies here for guessing who’s who. Just picturize a killer client who keeps you on your toes 24/7. Calls you at the weirdest possible hours. Doesn’t let you eat your food in peace. Forget food, you probably even miss drinking enough water and postpone loo-trips. That’s the pressure full time baby-raising can put on you. The only big difference is that the baby will give you a joyous gurgle at the end of the day, that has the effect of Ctrl-Z. Your lunches have to be planned well so as to attract minimum disruption. At least for the first six to eight months, you are reeking of baby food, Dettol and J&J. You feel like going to the mall to distract yourself and the baby, but the baby is too small. After few months, the baby is too cranky. After that, the baby is quite mobile and insists on running the length and breadth of the mall, making you appear like a joke to people around.

There are days when I yearn for the office goers look. A look practiced over the years, of posh Fabindia kurtas, unruffled silk dupattas, and printed salwars, with not a single nail chipped, eyebrows trimmed well at all times, coordinated earrings, footwear, bags, and ensemble completed with a smudgy kohl and an everyday lipcolour. Aaah, the simple things I wanted from life. Of course, sitting through office was by no means a la-la ride. We had to work our bums off. Pester clients, talk sensible stuff all the time, manage projects impeccably, hold attention spans, create favourable perceptions everywhere. Have an updated Linked in account, network well at corporate get togethers and be uptodate with the day’s business headline. Act as if you are born to handle crisis, at all levels, between your subordinates, superiors, clients, whoever. Move around with a Zen-like smile till you reach that place called home. Where the Zen in you crumbles, and all rules break. You are once again human, a daughter, a wife, a mother. You make up for all the calmness in daytime by unleashing the real ‘yours truly’ at home. Strangely, a part of me even today longs to return to this lifestyle. The lifestyle I used to crib about every weekend while I was working. The lifestyle I so badly wanted a break from. The lifestyle I had decided never to recommend to anyone. We humans are a fickle minded lot. We unconsciously adapt ourselves even to unfavourable environments, so much so that we even manage to create a comfort zone within it. We nevertheless keep cribbing about the negative conditions as that gives us some form of catharsis. Finally, when pushed out of the comfort zone, we miss those trying times badly.

During this break, I did try hard at times to don the avatar of a supercool mum and wife. Efficient, never clumsy, who knows her plain olive oil from extra virgin olive oil. Who rattles off clever tricks and tips to solve any household trouble. Who appears glamorous even while shes cooking. Harmonious and blended, with the ease and grace of a geisha. Who can switch fluidly between discussing money market instruments and idli batter recipe in a jiffy. Who makes lovely cakes without a spot in her apron. Who can say intelligible things like ‘The roasting and browning of the pumpkin is key for giving this soup its special taste’…and so on. But I was miserably unsuccessful. Though I did learn some survival tricks at the kitchen and the art of churning out my own dosa batter, I still have a long way to go towards being the queen of the hearth.

Despite all odds, when I look back at the motherhood experience that has been so different from the rest of my life, I am surprised that the only aftertaste I have is contentment. Of having invested time to bring up S in my way. I know some of this might get eroded but at least I gave it a good enough shot. Babies, though extremely demanding, come with inbuilt stress busters. Like a beautiful smile thrown at you. An unexpected peck on the cheek. An trusting finger curling around yours for security. Making you feel so so important in their scheme of things by wailing for you when you are away. Makes me forget, at least temporarily all the good nights’ sleep that I have missed. The innumerable diaper changes. And every other hardship. Maybe that’s why mothers generally develop short term memory loss. Makes life that much more beautiful.

I am now harbouring thoughts of slowly getting back to work. There are obviously mixed feelings. Thank you S, for having entertained me. And for giving me another chance to grow up once again. Only, this time around, I will take my own sweet time to grow up.

Gharonda

It’s been a really long hiatus from blogging this time. As clichéd as it may sound, I have been ultra busy with something, and that something is very predictably going to be the topic of this post.

The husband and I have started our house hunting yet again for the third time in the last four years. Now don’t give me that look. We are not into house hoarding. We bought a couple of houses in the past, which we had to sell due to totally different reasons. So this time around, I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping this purchase will last longer than the earlier ones. Long enough for the walls to bear the stubborn pencil marks tracing the height of the growing child. Long enough for the rooms to be weighed down with the echoes of laughter and joy, of love and hope, of arguments and anguish. Basically, long enough for the house to become a home.

House-hunting, I feel, is akin to spouse-hunting in a number of ways. You feel the vibes, positive or negative, within the first ten seconds. You start fantasising. You start comparing the current one with the ones seen till then. You become anxious if you very badly want it.  You become touchy if nothing works out for a long time. You wait with bated breath for the right one to come riding one fine morning. Just like that. Unannounced, sweeping you off your feet.

Though I never had the fortune (or misfortune) of checking out multiple grooms before settling on Mr Right, the house hunting left me with much more on my hands than I could handle. Further, the tiring and stressful process of house hunting with a toddler in tow was made infinitely amusing, intriguing and frustrating, all at the same time, by the broker fraternity. They are, no doubt, an interesting lot. I understood certain tenets about the broker community. Their’s is a tough life in a highly competitive, disorganized sector, where transparency and work ethics are extremely rare. The brokers struggle to swim their way through turbulent waters, the bigger sharks gobbling up the smaller ninnies along the journey. As a result, many of them resort to umpteen tricks of trade to keep their hearths running warm.

Some excerpts of our routine albeit amusing conversation with brokers:

Scene one:

We were ushered into a seedy looking house with chrome lights and all, filled with empty beer bottles in every possible nook. The floor was strewn with cigarette stubs. So as not to appear extremely rude, we gave the place a cursory glance before hurriedly stepping out.

Broker (very smugly): Kaisa laga sir?

Hubby: Arre ghar dikhao, bar nahi

Broker: Saab yeh sab to common hai na. Bachelars toh gande hi rehte hai. Ye to phir bhi thik hai. Last week group of working girls key aha party leke gaya. Shorts me ek ladki ne cigarette ke saath door khola. Jain party toh udhar se hi laut gaya! Aaj kal ki ladkiyan tej hai na!!

Well well.

Scene two:

Me: Gym hai?

Broker: Pata lagatu hu

Hubby: Kabhi bataoge?

Broker: Ek do din me

Hubby and me: Huh???

Scene three:

Broker: Maam, yeh dekho. Proper 3 BHK hai.

Me: Proper matlab?

Broker: Arey madam, yaane ki accha 3bhk hai.

Me: Oh. Okay…Par yeh toh top floor hai. Aapne bola nahi mujhe phone pe!

Broker: Higher floor bola tha na madam…

Me: Uhmm…Higher floor…

Scene four:

Hubby: Arey kya mast flat hai.

Me: Wait, pehle compass nikalo (experience had taught me that the best flats were invariably south facing)

Hubby: Kya yaar, yeh bhi south facing hai!!

Broker: Par aapne bataya nahi vaastu compliant chahiye.

Hubby: Hmmm. Toh suno hamare requirements:

Vaastu, feng shui or jo bhi sab hai uske saath compliant hona chahiye

Bada balcony chahiye. Madam ko papad sukhana hai (winks at me)

Top floor or ground floor nahi chahiye.

Shaam ko 630 baje tak ghar me light aana chahiye

Aajoo Bajoo me kahi bhi road nahi hona chahiye

Khidkiyon se greenery dikhna chahiye

Aur haan, hamare budget me fit hona chahiye. Bas. Hubby turns to me, ‘Anything else’?

Me: (Now a bit unsure of the way the conversation was progressing) Hmmm…Balcony se sun aur moon dikhe to accha hoga…

Broker: (Visibly frustrated). Saab, main line up karke call karta hu.

Obviously, he never called back.

Scene five:

Me: Yeh ghar nahi jamega. Hame bada balcony chahiye.

Broker: But maam, log to aajkal chhota balcony maangte hai. Dengue bahut hai na.

Me: Kya???

Some of the other amusing events included the fact that the door of a house was wide open when we went to see it. Apparently some broker in a tearing hurry who had shown the flat before us had forgotten to lock it (!). We also got a lot of leads from quasi-brokers, typically housewives who leveraged contacts at kitty parties and bhajan mandlis to generate that ‘little but not-so-little’ side income.

Okay, for the record, we have, till date, seen only about 46 houses. If ever there is an award for accomplishing this with a very hyper toddler, you now know whom to nominate.

Seeing my crestfallen face, my resourceful maid who is socially very active mentioned that a house is available in our own society. ‘Didi main kal flat number laati hu, tension nako…’.

Hmmm…Tomorrow the 47th house then!!! Woohoooo

Feed it back!

In the corporate world that has now taken a sabbatical from me, feedback was always the ever-important term. I also give it credit for making me go weak in the knees every time I came into any kind of contact with it. No, I am NOT a weakling (Really, you know, am not). The special thing about feedback is that it’s one of the very few things that can be treated as both art and science. As they say, a giver of feedback should know –

When to give, Who to give, What to give, How to give and such others.

The recipient of feedback (yeah, the victim) should know –

How to listen,

What to listen to (Very very important – separating the rice from the chaff types),

What to say (well, the clever thing to say after the session. You get the drift, right?)

How to put ‘feedback into action’ (tough one, eh?)

Now amidst all this mayhem, the feedback Cupid (and I am sure there’s one) plays his role to determine if ‘what you intended to communicate’ was exactly ‘what the recipient understood’. Or  misunderstood.  Totally. Or partially. Whew!

As I sometimes do, in a pocket of time that I suddenly find to be ONLY mine, I started mulling over how much I was missing the feedback session of my corporate avatar. It did yield results, I thought. For all the hard work by everyone.

Suddenly, I rubbed my hands in glee. I would apply the feedback in my day-to-day life. Well, who says it’s meant only for the office. For all you know, it may better my life. (Not all by-products of free time should be given wings, was something I didn’t realize then).

My maid cum cook was the first target. I was all armed. I gave her one of my most beatific smiles and asked her to first sit down before starting her work. We need to have a discussion, I said. With a million worry lines on her forehead, Vandana Maushi prepared to sit on the floor. ‘No, no! Idhar’, I said, pointing to the dining table chair. We made a strange pair on the dining table, she, with her frown laden face, as if I was going to ask her about a missing golden bangle, or about the dead fly in the lunch she had made.

Me: Maushi, aap hamare liye ek saal se kaam karte ho. Aapko kaisa lag raha hai? (Forgive the ‘Aaj Tak’ punch line)

She: Pauses interminably before asking ‘Kyun, mujhe teremnate karnewale ho kya?’ (Are you going to terminate me?)

Me: (trying to put the merits of feedback in the ‘layman’est of terms) ‘Nahi Maushi, mujhe jaanna tha aapko kaam me kya achha laga, kya accha nahi laga, kuch badalna hai kya, woh sab. Tumhala samajhla na?’ (literally translated from Marathi as ‘you understood, right?’)

She: Worry lines reduced somewhat. Hmmm, everything is fine Didi….. (Now don’t ask me why ‘Maushi’ calls me ‘Didi’. It has worked for our excellent chemistry so far, you see)

Me: ‘To kuch badalna nahi hai kya?’

She: ‘Manjhe?’ (means?)

Me: ‘Kuch bhi, kaam karvane ka dang, kitne bartan daalti hu, kitney chutti deti hun. Kuch hai to bolo maushi!’

She: ‘Chutti to accha deti ho. Magajmaari bhi nahi karti. Bartan kabhi jyaada hai to kabhi kum. Chalega didi, sab theek hai.’

Me: (Now a little exasperated that the session is just not yielding any improvement point) ‘Ok, to kuch bhi change nahin karna?’ I add a final twist. ‘Kuch hai to bol do maushi, nahi to agle mahine ko hi bol paoge.’

She: ‘Haan didi, yaad aaya. Ek chhoti si baat hai.’

Me, happy that its finally going somewhere. ‘Bolo na!’

She: ‘Bas woh 801 wale ko mera pagaar mat batana. Har ek kaam ka unse jyaada paisa leti hu didi. Kya karu, kaam bahut hai udhar, aur who aurat kitna jhikjhik karti hai, maahit?’

I almost want to bang my head against the nearest wall.

The husband comes home. I greet him with a very very unusual smile. Usually its a curt ‘hi’ which means a lot of things –

You’ve had a good day out working, look at me, dealing with diapers and nappies all day. You better take care of the baby now.

Don’t ask me to make tea now, I really need to put my feet up, have been running all day! Etc. And etc.

He: ‘Hey! Seem to be in a good mood today eh?’

I: ‘Yeah…kind of.. do you want me to make some tea?’

He: ‘uhmmmm..ok…thanks for asking.’

I: ‘Anytime! Hey, by the way, need to have a discussion with you.’

The husband’s high drops a bit. ‘Yeah?’

‘Lets talk over tea. Nothing to worry, just a casual chat.’

We start chatting. Luckily the baby is asleep.

I: ‘I was thinking, you know, that we should have a feedback session’

He: ‘About?’

I: ‘Well, about what went right during the month, what didn’t, you get it – just like our corporate ones?’

He: ‘Hmmm…Why do you want to do it?’

I: ‘Well, you know, the benefits of feedback n blah blahs. I have a feeling such regular sessions will help us to be better partners in the long run.’

He: ‘Ok, if you really think so. When do we start?’

I: Cocking my eyes slyly, ‘What’s a better time than now?’

He: ‘Fine. So let me start. Things that I didn’t quite like in you in the previous month –‘

  1.  ‘You cut your hair. Real short. Without even telling me.’ (hey come on now, it wasn’t that short to really pre-warn you. And remember, your sister streaked her hair red, and you didn’t even notice?)
  2. ‘You bought yet another truckload of bed linen which you will definitely not use in the near future as we can’t leave the baby on it for all the right reasons.’ (Hello, but it was on sale!)
  3. ‘You didn’t act cheerful enough in front of my friend who visited last Friday’ (now whatever that means? Well, how cheerful can one get when someone is invading your only TGIF evening of the week)
  4. ‘You never take good photos of me.’ (Like model, like photo)

At this point, I have to time-out the husband to warn him that he is getting too micro. He shushes me, and goes on, this time attempting to be more macro, and macho.

  1. ‘You never cook for me.’ (Typical MCP point)
  2. ‘You don’t offer me tea.’ (Still thinking of an appropriate retort to this one)
  3. ‘You don’t call my dad very frequently.’ (But even you don’t call him twice a week, baby)
  4. ‘I have learnt Tamil to an extent, you are not even making an effort to learn Gujarati. How will the baby learn the mother-tongue’ (Hmmm, but I thought it was the mother’s tongue)
  5. You didn’t encourage me for my bullet trip to Himalayas (Encourage? Hey, you just went on a backpacking trip to Sikkim with your friends)

At this point, I almost want to wail like a banshee and curse my hormones for bringing this feedback thingie up and out in the open.

‘OK OK!!’ I scream. ‘Enough! I haven’t heard so many complaints in all the four years of married life. And it’s all about negatives. Where are the positives?’

He pauses just for a moment before retorting that he needs some time to think and get back. ‘Yeah, right’, I yell, at my sarcastic best, ‘You never thought even for a millisecond before you spat out all the complaints. It was as if they were sitting neatly wrapped, right below your tongue, ready to be released anytime’. And, phew, there goes my evening.

Next day, my deal is with the baby.

‘S, don’t step on the book. It’s ‘Jay-Jay’ (meaning ‘God’ in Gujarati baby-talk).

S gives me an understanding nod, and feeds puffed rice to the book, all the time standing over it.

It’s on my nerves now. Feed it back to the corporate world, pleaseeee!!

An era bygone…

Come summer and grandma’s in-house production factory would kick off with alacrity. The supplies from her factory, namely pickles, a host of vadaams*, karudaams*, vatthals and a lot more goodies would start rolling out in geometric progressions (*For those not familiar with these items, these are typical ‘Tam Brahm’ preparations meticulously crafted from rice flour/ sago in myriad compoundings, dried under the blistering Tamil Nadu sun, and tucked away carefully for frying and having as an accompaniment with the banal sambar and rasam rice). My mind goes back to the mouth-watering dishes which grandma dolled out with apparent ease and simplicity. As children, we took these for granted whenever we went to visit our grandparents’ house during the summer holidays. We would list down in our little heads amongst childish banter, the various dishes which our ‘Paati’ (Tamil for ‘Grandmother’) would make for us and rant on about the favorites of each cousin.

Grandpa, for his part was no less. He used to exuberate in clandestinely getting us delicacies from outside, strictly prohibited at home by our pious grandma. These included the hottest ever chilli bajjis, abundantly spiced raw mangoes and peanuts and the likes. He was our guru in philately and numismatics, at a time when we didn’t even understand the relevance of stamp and coin collection as hobbies. A number of fond altercations took place in the house on delights which were prohibited by one party, which the counterparty willingly allowed. A very vivid example of this is my grandpa taking us all to the Elliot’s beach in Madras every evening, while grandma lamented the mammoth effort of cleaning the sand from the ‘sand-bathed’ kids which somehow conveniently managed to get into every nook and crevice in the house!

Such were our carefree summer holidays spent, with both grandparents trying to pamper the grandchildren and thereby vying to be the chosen one. When a parent went against you, the sole and best redress was a grandparent. Their love was boundless, you could wiggle your way out with them, they could convince any harsh parent and the warmth of their hug comforted every little tear-stained cheek. Childlike reasoning somehow appealed to them and they understood those fears, likes and dislikes which parents couldn’t ever manage to fathom. Their elaborate story telling sessions well-knit with mythological tales on long, dark nights touched the rock bottom of our tiny hearts and managed to create a stubbornly permanent space therein.

Their word was the final verdict in the family. They epitomized the values, tradition and culture of a long-lost, innocent and righteous world, where truth prevailed in the end, no matter what. In that long-lost world, freedom fighters were worshipped as gods and idolized, corruption was quite rare and well-despised, long distance relatives and even neighbors were hospitable and closely knit, and there was an underlying sense of goodness in every person.

Such timeless memories of the best phase of one’s life are well-cherished. The biggest thought which haunts me at times is ‘Will the young generation enjoy the delectable pampering and love of grandparents?’ Sadly, I find the answer to this, more often than not in negative.

In today’s urban lifestyle, most of us are working hard, running behind the crafty mirage called ‘MONEY’, with packed days and schedules, ever so busy, tensed, stressed, worked out, tired…Yes, we do have a five day week, and on each of the five days, we look forward to ‘THE WEEKEND’!! But, weekend is a bigger deceit in itself, because it is a two day holiday in disguise for doing things pending from all the other days! Weekend is for sorting out household affairs, settling pending bills, going to the bank, arranging and tidying up, shopping, washing, ironing and on and on and on…The stress is compounded for working mothers, whose lives ricochet between the demands of home, work and self. In order to combat this, what arrived was the age of the ‘INSTANT STUFF’; of anything that is magically easy and quick to make. ‘Instant’ became the in-vogue word which made any product look immediately attractive.

Right from noodles to Bank Loans, fast and quick is what everyone wants. Because this is just not the place for the slow soul. The clock just keeps ticking… Our days, events and lives are micro-programmed to an unimaginable extent and any substantial change to these schedules, albeit for a short period, seems to throw life out of gear! There is no time to chat relentlessly with family members, to camp incessantly at relatives’ places, to cook and eat slowly and elaborately, to waste time in plain nothingness and to deliberately pull the plug and throw life out of gear for a while…

Unconsciously, as an outcome of this ‘New York Minute’ lifestyle, our culture, age-old practices and traditions are getting eroded. People don’t feel the need to conduct rituals and festivities as elaborately. Our traditional preparations are seldom remembered and made, since they demand patience, hard work, meticulous preparation, devotion and most importantly the ‘TIME’.

As extension of the above, I often end up thinking of my own busy lifestyle and how much time I have for disposal of my loved ones. Caught in the career groove, most of us, at one time or the other, end up shelving our heart-felt desires, hobbies and passions for tomorrow, when we shall retire…which effectively means that we have booked our retired life also well in advance!

Will we then have time for our grandchildren? What will we teach them? Will we have any traditions and culture left on us worthy enough of passing on to them? What shall make them effortlessly conclude that their grandparents are the most loving beings on this planet, passing on unadulterated love and values to their lineage? What will give the children of today, the hope of regaining and relishing their lost innocence in the midst of their grandparents? Today, I know that if I forget a bit of my favorite mythological story, I can still go back to my grandparents and recall the bits. Will today’s children have that option? I try and picturize the modern, young adults of today in the autumn of their lives and they somehow don’t seem to fit the ‘grandparents’ bill. They may be affluent, smart, suave, loving and sensitive; but can they offer the luxury of their time to their lineage??? Although they may, in their late years, fall short of the contemporary modernity of their grandchildren, there will still be a void, an irreplaceable piece of ‘the conventional grandparent’ which they may never be able to fill.

And so shall we age and retire, our grandchildren being smarter, cleverer, more suave and alert than we ever were.. But if we don’t have the time to share with those little ones and a good handful of our roots to lovingly pass on to them, then the essence of a grandparent is lost. It is probably unfair to deny our generations the rich moments and joys that we have cherished, probably selfish to permit such innocent lifestyles to become the characteristic of an era bygone…

The signs of fathereadiness

 

You can know when the husband is desperate to be a father. Those small signals that silently scream ‘I am READY for dadhood!!’ Well, obviously this is not a fool-proof scientific theory so please don’t be mad at me if it doesn’t work in your case.

So here it goes, in no specific order.

Kids love him. He loves kids. Consistently pats heads of babies who walk past by. Holds random conversations with random kids. E.g. ‘mujhe cycle pe ek ride dena??’, only to have the poor scared boy scramble away faster, throwing a surreptitious backward glance at the supposed abductor in the neighbourhood his mom warned him about.

Sudden and unexplained shift of concern from distressed darlings (ahem!) to kids! E.g. ‘Poor thing, she’s been waiting for a rick from a long time. Do you think we should give her a lift?’ to ‘How could she make the baby wait in the sun for a rick?’. I mean, first time around, the atmosphere didn’t even seem to contain the baby. Now it does.

Casual (but intended) lingering around baby toys, clothes and shoes sections of malls.

Often veering conversations towards colleagues and friends who are long parents, new parents or would-be parents.

Not reaching out for the TV remote at every chance available and not-so-available. Trying to go for walks instead. (shhh…they say you need to develop a healthy lifestyle six months before you try conceiving…)

Absurd remarks like ‘Don’t you think we have too much time these days on weekends etc???’ C’mon, time was never enough until few months back.

Gets home a parenting magazine from the library instead of the usual Autocar.

Reduces pub culture subtly, and reduces beer intake so subtly so as not to give the slightest hint….(hee hee, all that jazz about alcohol and sperm count)

Is extra good to in-laws and parents…more considerate, more sensitive and the blah blahs.

Accommodates happily, without a snort or a crib, the decision to dine out at wife’s favourite cuisine spot..without any argument whatsoever! (At this point, I almost started to doubt if there was an ‘other lady’ somewhere on the radar).

Updates status in FB to ‘married’ (finally! Whew!!!)

And the clincher of all….comes home armed with a pink dustbin!!

Well, I had ignored all the above mentioned symptoms till the husband chose the colour pink for the dustbin he had been asked to buy for the house. He wanted a girl, you see.

Yes, I have a cook

I don’t find cooking very interesting. Well there’s nothing in this to pop your eyeballs out, is there? Not really, but things do change slightly if you are married to a Gujarati. It matters now. And matters a lot. It did help that the husband is uber supportive, although, given a choice, he would always opt for my cooking. But frankly I didn’t give him much of a choice. Since we both were consulting galley slaves with hardly any compartmentalisation of work and life, we chose to have a cook who would redeem us, rather me, from this mundane chore. And I dreamt of waking up to an aroma filled home. Hot breakfast and lunch ready on the table. Freshly cooked dinner after a stressful day…mmmm what joy.

After a couple of trial and errors we did manage to find the right cook who would go on to help us for over two years. Not the best of cooks, though, but didn’t give us much to complain either. So there we were, trying not to give in to the whims of eating out, despite an extremely stressful job. Priding ourselves on getting our own dabbas to office. Despite being newly married, and just having settled into a nuclear setup in a new city. But what I had not braced myself for, was the animosity I would face on this ‘cook’ topic. And that the animosity would come from so many mutually exclusive quarters. All of whom were women. Let me start with the one closest to my heart.

My mother, a devout Tam-Brahm, for whom a house help entering through the main door itself causes a slight upheaval, who wouldn’t dream of someone else entering her sacred abode. My idea of a cook was met with mixed reaction. Mixed because she couldn’t accept the idea of a stranger cooking in her daughter’s kitchen. But she couldn’t let her beloved daughter down either. This was the easiest nut to crack.

Scene 2

We used to do occasional trips to Mumbai, where my father in law stayed. It was there that I, the new Madrasi bride, was subjected to intense scrutiny by some of the female and elderly (a lethal combination) Gujarati relatives.

“So what time you have to go to work?”

“I have to leave around 830 aunty”

“And K (the husband)?”

“We leave around the same time”

“And what time do you get back home?”

“Cant say, there’s usually lot of work, so depends..” (there is no question of when K gets back, as that is totally irrelevant you see)

“Aur dabba? Do you cook before leaving?”

(Now I can’t hide it any longer) “No we have a cook.”

“You mean just for lunch?”

“No for breakfast and dinner as well.”

Uncomfortable silence.

“Does she cook well?”

Now if you have ever tasted authentic homemade Gujarati food, you would rather not answer this in an affirmative tone. Reason being, Gujaratis just love their food. Men love their wives for cooking them great food. And the wives love their husbands for giving them a chance to cook great food. And so it goes…their standards of good food, cooking etc are way way above that of lesser mortals like me who can churn out the banal food just enough to keep one’s vital stats unaffected.

So I meekly say “yes, quite decent food”

“Decentttttt bole che!!!!”, guffaws a particulary loud woman who has been eyeing me suspiciously from the very start of this conversation. And they all have a hearty laugh. And I am almost the college girl being ragged there by a bunch of irate seniors. I pretend to look at my mobile and attend a non-existent call.

Scene 3

Visiting my cousin’s wife, again a Tam-Brahm, but yes, she’s from my generation, and so I was off- guard.

“Hey, so you have a cook?”, she asks.

“Yes, luckily. How else to manage man?”

Pause. “Even he told me to keep a cook yaar. But I refused.”

The same story then. Quickly collecting myself, I ask, “So you manage all the cooking before leaving to work?”

“Yeah, luckily I have a habit of getting up early you know so I can finish off all the stuff before heading to work.”

“Oh…he also helps you maybe? “(I have already made up my mind to berate the husband for not helping me in the kitchen only and only because of which we have to resort to a cook)

“No no…He can’t even boil water” (giggles like a schoolgirl)

I am stuck between my feminist sentiments and the cook saga. While I am still wondering what to say next, she pips in, “I dont like anyone else entering my kitchen yaar, that’s why. I only have a lady for making chapattis. She comes every morning and night.”

Huh??

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The above post is my entry to the ‘Just married, please excuse’ contest, around the release of Yashodhara Lal’s new book (http://www.yashodharalal.com/2012/08/the-just-married-please-excuse-contest.html)