Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Feeling nostalgic today. Had the opportunity to relax and listen to old Tamil movie songs of the 60 and 70s. Songs that I would listen to on my transistor while finishing my record work while Vividh Bharati, Radio Ceylon and listeners' choice from AIR, Tiruchy played my favourite songs. These were songs we would be treated to for an hour after dinner before the Silence Hour in our hostel. How much we would nag the seniors in charge of selecting records to play our favourite numbers!

How I wish that I had never grown up and continued to lead that carefree life for ever.

How I wish I never had to learn the bitter truth and harsh realities that are part of life.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spread the language of love

Spreading the language of love

Four years back we had the the pleasure of celebrating our granddaughters’ birthdays at Jamshedpur. Megha was turning six and Annika two. We combined their birthday celebrations and arranged for a small party for sixty people including 12 to 15 children. The kids had a blast and my granddaughters must have taken back pleasant memories of their two months stay in India Then came the task of sorting out gifts. There were a number of Cadbury's chocolate gift packs, stuffed toys, dolls and other items. I put away the chocolates telling them that they could have them over the next couple of weeks. My six year old granddaughter then surprised me with her words  -
“Amma” she said, “I want to give away the chocolates to children who do not get to eat them. We keep getting chocolates all the time and do not need more of them”.
Enjoying a game at Bridge School
I felt proud of my little girl and took the two of them to a bridge school run by Anjalidi and they not only shared chocolates and snacks with the 35 girls in the school but spent the whole evening playing with them. On their return to America Megha continued to remember them and once asked me to distribute cold drinks and snacks to her Bridge School friends on her behalf. I gladly obliged. My co sister Geeta heard about the bridge school and gave them a trunk load of utensils and household items that belonged to her mother to be used by them.
Yummy snacks??
A similar sentiment is expressed in the “Share the Language of Love” campaign jointly hosted by Johnson’s Baby in collaboration with Goonj – an NGO that echoes similar sentiments. The objective of the campaign is to motivate parents to donate their children’s utilized articles with children from underprivileged families so that they too may experience the joys of childhood. This in turn would help children to appreciate the privileges that they enjoy and also realize that children that are not as privileged as them also deserve to enjoy the experience of owning items that that their parents cannot get for them.

The idea of sharing and caring not only does wonders to the donor as well as the receiver – I say it from experience – but also sends positive vibes to society in general. The organizers of the campaign have collection centers where the items may be deposited. Those who are interested may just give a missed call to 1800 267 6767/1800 267 2222 and they will be guided to the nearest collection center where they can give away stuff that were purchased with great care for their own children who have now grown up and/or have no use for them. If a small gesture like this can bring a smile on a child’s face why not we join hands and support the campaign.

I am no very much into blogging these days with a research project demanding my time and attention. But the idea behind the campaign was appealing and I could not help remembering that Megha echoed the very same sentiments four years back! I hope she remains so always.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

This mother’s day I wish to pay my heartfelt tribute to all those women including my mother who have shaped my life.  I have already written about my mother in earlier posts but whatever I write seems inadequate. She has had a very strong and positive role in my life and I have no hesitation in tracing every little success that came my way and each one leads me to her. From the time she taught me to read and write till occasions that left me depressed her presence alone instilled a confidence that was difficult to explain. Never verbose or vocal, she led by example and one could never compromise on morals and ethics – neither when she was alive nor after her death. She taught me to accept the ups and downs in my life with equanimity and under her guiding influence I learnt valuable lessons – the most important one being that good and bad times are a part of life and neither last forever.

My mother’s sisters also mothered me in their own way. Following my father’s death they would invite us children for vacations and treat us to movies and exhibitions the way my dad would have. Her older sister had no children of her own but how can I forget the kindness and concern she showed when she came to assist me when my son was born. I was in hospital following my delivery and in a foul mood because my husband was taking a long time to come. He was to come straight from his office so I did not expect my aunt to turn up. But she did. She did not know the route and could manage just a few words of Hindi. A flask of coffee in one hand and idlis in the other she took the town bus, got down at the blood bank as per my father in law’s direction, followed the crowd that was proceeding to the hospital, asked for the maternity ward and was by my bed even before my husband. All because she knew that I would be hungry and that she did not want me to eat the hotel food that my husband may get since he was coming straight from his workplace.

Kamakshi mami, my maternal aunt by marriage about whom I have written in this post was also a second mother to me. She taught me the virtue of being selfless again leading by example. Her own children were around the same age as my brothers. I cannot recall a single incident where she subjected us to indifference or showed any preferential treatment for her own children. It was her influence that helped me overcome minor irritants and hiccups as a young bride in Jamshedpur.

My mother in law also made me feel at home in my acquired family and would tell me so much about her people that I learnt to love them even before I had met them. She also did not differentiate between daughter and daughter in law and thanks to her, today I can proudly claim that I equally love both my sister and sister in law.
Finally, my mother in law’s friend Thailam mami, who was a pillar of strength when my mother in law was sick and I was at a loss not knowing how to deal with her mood swings and hunger pangs. I could walk into her house at six in the morning and return with a bowl of rasam or sambhar for my mother in law who was normally a picky eater but screamed for food like a six month old on account of her diabetic condition. Thailam mami not only assured me that I could feel free to approach her anytime and would come over during her free time and reassure my mother in law that she would be well very soon. But for her support and guidance l could not have coped with my responsibilities well enough.           

  Motherhood is not about raising children it is more about teaching them valuable lessons of sharing and caring. This is done, not by preaching from a pedestal but by showering love and affection on those around us.

A very happy mother’s day to all mothers!   

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Being taken for a ride???

I have been out of sorts lately. I don't seem to be my usual self. Reason? I have suddenly realised that however generous one would like to be, pressure tactics employed by people are annoying. I don't know if I am right or wrong. But recent experiences have made me lose faith in those around me. Am I being used? I ask myself. I think I am. When this thought crosses my mind I do not feel like being considerate or kind to those in need. What then am I supposed to do? I tried being mean but ended up hurting myself more than the person I wished to hurt. It just does not work in my case. Let me explain.

I was always sympathetic towards my servants and my ex-maid Rajamma was no exception. She rang me up saying that her granddaughter was getting married and I gave her Rupees 10,000/- and asked her to get something for the granddaughter and keep the rest for her personal expenses. I normally give her some 500/- to 1000/- rupees when she goes out of town. She left for the south to attend the marriage. As luck would have it, she  fractured her hip bone and had to spend around 80,000/- for an operation and expected me to help. I had my own needs to take care of. My house had to be repaired, my grandchildren were visiting me and I had to go without pay for two of the four months that I had spent in America since I was short of paid leave. My own brother in law was in hospital in Chennai and needed financial help for a major operation. I  politely refused. 

That started it. Unknown people claiming to be her son in law, nephew and what not started calling me explaining her predicament and my reply remained the same. 'Sorry'. She then sent a woman known to her, along with a granddaughter living in Jamshedpur asking for money. Teary eyed, the granddaughter pleaded that I give at least 20,000/- rupees as loan and she would ask her father to repay it. By now, my husband had become adamant saying that we were not moneylenders and if we had been in a position to help we would have done it after the first phone call. 'No' meant 'NO'. The girl left, disappointed. 

That very night Rajamma called me asking me to ask one or the other of my friends to lend her money saying that her daughter had spent the money set aside for her daughter's marriage for her treatment and  with the marriage scheduled in December there was little time to arrange for money at short notice.

I was in a dilemma. There was truth in what she was saying but with a daughter in law working in a Nationalised bank why could she not arrange for loan? I began to wonder if I was doing the wrong thing by refusing to help. I also realised that if I gave in there would be future occasions when I would be thus pressurised. I did give in and hand over 15,000/- rupees to her son who was attending the wedding and informed Rajamma about it but I haven't yet heard from Rajamma as to whether he gave it or not although 2 weeks have gone by. There were umpteen phone calls made before I gave the money not one after receiving it. 

A day after I gave the money I told my husband about it and he had predicted that I would hear no more from her and how right he was! Tell me now if I am wrong in feeling upset and annoyed. This is just one incident. There are more. But I leave them for a later post.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Of this and that

My vacation is almost over and in less than a fortnight I'll be back in India. It has been a pleasant stay - interacting with grandchildren, getting to know them better and generally relaxing. The only sore area was the fact that we were dependent on others to be taken around. Except for a fortnight spent before my second daughter shifted to her own house, we had no shopping areas near the places we stayed and were pretty much on house arrest during the week and if it weren't for two sets of grandchildren who were having their summer vacations we would have had nothing to do. 

We got to spend around three weeks with my son after a gap of more than 10 years. His visits to India just for two weeks including travel time and on his last visit he had spent just four days at home since he had to finalize the purchase of an apartment in Bangalore. On earlier visits to the US he was either studying or we had a lot of baby sitting to do so we visited him during a weekend and rushed back. It was a pleasure to relive the time when he was in India and also to see that he had not changed in the years gone by. I have given an account of an imaginary conversation with him in this post. This should explain why I miss the lively conversations and light - hearted banter that I used to enjoy with my children before they flew the nest.

Returning to my niche is something I look forward to. But I am also going to sorely miss my children and grandchildren. I sometimes wish we could return to the time when they were small, school goers and I did not have to worry about my blood pressure and arthritis. I remember my mother saying something to this effect during one of her visits to Jamshedpur. I had not understood her words then. I do now. And this makes me long for the days when I was my mother's daughter. She was a person I could turn to in my moments of distress and trust on her to give an unbiased advice and assure me that all would be well.

 'Bad times don't last forever' was her famous refrain. 

Unfortunately good times too do not last forever. So perhaps the best thing to do would be to enjoy the moment without worrying about the past and future.

Returning to a house that had been locked for more than 4 months and setting it in order is bad enough. I have to deal with some repair work too. The day we were leaving, around 4:30 in the morning, a part of the bathroom terrace (about 2 meters in diameter) fell off - plaster, concrete, cement - and we had no time to attend to it. In the process it had crashed into the washbasin and shattered it. We are lucky that it did not crash on our heads. I keep wondering if there has been further damage and now that we have to return I keep worrying about how it may be fixed. I hear that it has been raining heavily in Jamshedpur  which means that the seepage in the wall might have increased and repair work may not be immediately possible. 

So as you see though I know that I need to enjoy the moment I cannot help worrying about these little and not so little problems. Selfish I may sound but I cannot help wanting to return to my childhood when I had the older generation to take care of such things.

Be it as it may, let me enjoy the remaining week of my stay in America and enjoy Deepavali with my children and grandchildren which is again a pleasure that I hope to get after 13 years.

A happy Deepavali to all of you.

@ Dipali: Sorry for stealing your blog name.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Remembering the golden past.............

Navarathri has gone by and cut off from everything Indian and holed up in Pittsburgh, USA, I feel inclined to recall the Navarathi celebrations in the past.

Navarathri and Golu! My childhood memories combine the two as being inseparable. It seems we had a distant aunt (actually my mother's aunt) living next door who would not drink a drop of water before feeding a ' kanya ' during the nine days of Navarathri and at the age of three I had standing instructions to make myself available at their place to have an early lunch. The story goes that I would be ready to go to their place from the moment I got up and my mother had a tough time convincing me that I was not expected to turn up at dawn. This is just hearsay but since it was oft repeated by my no nonsensical mother it must be true.

There is another account given by my maternal aunt that my older brother would refuse to escort me to people's houses for 'golu' partly because only girls were invited and also because I would ask for 'sundal' the moment I entered a house without waiting for the lady of he house to give it to me. I was apparently eager to visit the next house.

Then I have memories of my younger brothers and male cousins setting out on their own for 'golu' in defiance of the rule that only girls were supposed to go visiting during navarathri. They too came back with a bag full of sundal and bananas and felt included. Those were carefree childhood days and I truly miss them now.

My dad had a transferable job and my mother would limit her navarathri celebration to the preparation of mouth watering 'vadai and payasam' on the 9 days and distributing haldi/kumkum and sundal  to ladies in our neighborhood on the 9th day. I remember loving the last day of navrathri because we would dutifully arrange our books in front of the deities in the puja room and offer prayers to Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of learning. This was a day when we were forbidden to study. New clothes would be reverentially placed on a silver plate and would be given to us to wear on the following day. My mother would not even let us try them out for fitting and possible alteration and consequently our eagerness to wear new clothes would be such that we could not wait for the final day ie. Vijayadasami to dawn when we would wear them after a bath and dutifully write a full  page of Sri Rama Jayam before being allowed to read books. We were however invited to households that organized a golu. 

Post marriage ours was a household in which the tradition of the south was carefully followed and my mother in law had a trunk full of dolls and statuettes carefully wrapped in old newspapers. These would be dusted on Mahalaya day and arranged on shelves in the drawing room. Since it was a one bedroom, hall and kitchen unit that we lived in, we could not arrange them on steps but to her credit I must admit that my mother in law did a good job of it. We invited ladies from our neighborhood for haldi/kumkum and the atmosphere was one of socializing. This tradition continued for fifteen years and my daughters too enjoyed navarathri the way I did. 

It was then that things changed. I registered for Ph.D and the crop I took up as my research tool was seasonal and the Durga Puja / Navarathri vacations were used up for my research and 'golu' took a back seat. When my research work was done (after seven long years), daughters had left for college and the world around me had changed. Old friends had left, we had moved to our own apartment and we replaced golu at home with a visit to Durga puja pandals in our neighborhood and to houses of  neighbors who had bhajan sessions during Navarathri. I haven't given away my golu dolls but do not have the heart to start the tradition because it does not feel the same with daughters and grand daughters staying far away in a foreign country. Somehow, I prefer to donate the money for a social cause.   

My grand daughter Megha expressed her disappointment over the fact that her mommy did not have a 'golu' in their house and I thought of the time when I had looked forward to it. When I was growing up Navarathri was a time for ladies to socialize and give expression to their creativity by coming up with beautiful rangolis and decorations. Perhaps Megha too wants it for similar reasons. 

While I was brooding over the lack of festivities in America, my son suggested that we go to a temple in his area. The visit to the temple cheered my heart and I felt that I was in India again. Coincidentally it was the 9th day of Navarathri and also a Sunday. I got to see ladies in Kancheepuram silks and girls in paavadai and it did wonders to my spirits.

 I must add that there are places in America where they celebrate our festivals with a lot of fanfare and it is only by chance that I opted to spend this lap of my stay with my son. If after a gap of ten years I get to spend three continuous weeks with him, I feel that it is as good as having celebrated Navarathri!


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

On Societal Dynamics............

This is a post about my changed perspective about life in America. From ever since I could think for myself I had been under the impression that we Indians value the wisdom of our elders and are pretty much family oriented.

I thought that in the West - particularly the US - children branch off (read break off) from their parents and families early in life and neither parents nor children intrude into each  others domain. Children take responsibility for the choices they make, struggle through college, are burdened with loans and mortgages even before they start earning and as a result they do not feel inclined to be part of their parent's lives in their twilight years.

On the contrary in India and other Asian countries (in Italy also according to a book I read) parents worry themselves sick about the well being of their adult children who may well be employed and married. Children never really branch off and are very much part of their parent's lives till they die. As a result life for the elderly is less lonely in India.

A book that I am now reading - Another Country by Dr. Mary Pipher - has changed my perception. So has my interaction with my son's friend Curtis.

Curtis came over for lunch last Friday. My son had warned me to be prepared for his heavily accented American English and his preference for the Republicans. I expected to meet a formal, tight lipped American and wondered what his reaction would be to our Indian set up. Curtis was no fan of vegetarian food, I was told. But since I am a vegetarian he would have to bear with me, I thought.

When Curtis arrived he did not appear to have grown horns and seemed very much like my own son. He shook hands with me and sat on the cushion beside a low center table that double up for a dining table. When food (roti, dal, vegetable pulao, cauliflower sabzi and cucumber raita) was served he politely asked my son how the items on the plate had to be mixed and matched. Initially he tried combining dal and roti, pulao and raita but later placed the pulao and veggies on the roti, rolled it up and made it into some kind of Mexican burrito and consumed it with practiced ease. My husband who does not like eating with a spoon and ate his food using his hand felt relieved. The atmosphere was informal and relaxed.

We spoke on a variety of subjects including the family life of an average American and his interactions with his parents and children. He spoke of the emphasis given by his parents to his education and how they were careful about the facilities they gave him while he was at college. He spoke of having saved his pocket money to buy his first mobile phone while in college and rued the fact that school going children these days preferred to be picked up and dropped at school and parents being scared of denying them expensive electronic gadgets like i Pad and smart phones.  He felt that parents gave in to their demands because they had themselves been denied a lot when they were growing up. This in turn was making a whole generation irresponsible and demanding. 

 His parents lived close by and though he had an establishment of his own he dined with them at least four times a week. He fondly called his dad a smart man who drew a pension from two sources and joked about the tricks employed by his mother to make him eat mushrooms and the way he amost always outsmarted her. By the time he left he became comfortable enough to give me an affectionate hug and embrace my husband the way my son would have. I was left wondering if there was any difference between the Indian and American cultures if Curtis had an upbringing similar to that of my son and if the way children are being pampered by indulgent parents in the Indian sub-continent is the same as in USA?  

Mary Pipher's book talks of the problems that affect the elders in America. She quotes umpteen examples of children caring for their parents in the best possible manner and of the unfortunate shift from a communal culture to an individualistic set up. I have not finished the book but from the examples quoted I see that it is not as if the older generation is abandoned by their children. Job opportunities and better transportation and communication facilities have sent them to far away places and increased the Geographical distance between parents and children. Children alternate between their responsibility towards their job and children and a sense of guilt and helplessness for being unable to do their best for their parents. At times, parents too do not wish to be intrusive and prefer to suffer in silence. I was surprised that the older generation in India too face a similar predicament as mentioned in this post with more and more children opting to take up careers in foreign countries.

I think we like to paint our culture as being the best but it is not  superior or different to any other. We also face predicaments and dilemmas like any other race. We too have children who are caring and others who are self centered. Similarly,  we too have parents who have sacrificed their life for their families and others who have squandered money and brought their families to the streets.  The equation in families have also changed because a man is no longer the sole provider nor is his wife solely a home maker. When such shifts take place in societies is it not natural that the family structure also get altered?

Mary Pipher predicts a return of a community based set up in the near future. The importance of having grandparents to monitor the welfare of grandchildren is already being felt and there is a gradual realization that no amount of money spent on child care can substitute it. A few of my cousins talk of forming colonies where like minded people can live in an apartment complex so that they can be there for each other and their children can lead their lives in peace. 

So let us not lose hope. Human beings are the same world over and one need not fret that times have changed. Changes in society, like fashion, is cyclic not linear.