Thursday, July 28, 2016

Old age Blues......

An elderly relative passed away today. She was 92 years old and had lived a full life. She was lucky to have all her children living in Chennai. She’d take turns to stay with them for a few months in a year. Her grandchildren are married and she has been blessed with 8 great grandchildren. She lived hassle free life with her children taking proper care of her. However, her death raised a question in my mind. How many of us are lucky to have at least one child nearby to come rushing when we need them? I am afraid - thanks to technology - that with the world getting smaller, the gap between parents and their children has hopelessly widened.

A look around me tells me a different story from that of the aforementioned lady. Elderly couple lead lonely lives waiting for weekly calls from their children. Very often the weekly calls become monthly ones. Reason?? Well, in foreign shores weekends are busier than weekdays with everything from stocking the refrigerator to washing clothes is squeezed into the available 48 hours. Children have their dance/music/karate/swimming classes and while one parent takes care of the shopping the other escorts the children to one or the other of these classes. Apart from this they organize birthday/Deepavali/Christmas parties as well as play dates for their children. Who can blame them if calls to their parents are postponed?

I am not blaming anyone. When my children were growing up I just wanted them to have good education. Good education gave them good opportunities and helped them spread their wings. I could not deny them a bright and prosperous future that awaited them. Visits to their homes have been eye openers. Their life is as much a struggle as mine was forty years back. Luckily for me, I had my job and a select group of friends who doubled up for family. So I have learned to lead my life in a productive manner. I cannot bring myself to complain having seen their busy schedule. 

Most of the time I am okay. I accept that this was what I had wanted. There are however times when I feel depressed. Like when my husband fell ill or when I had to deal with my arthritis. Waiting for my Kerala style massage at Arogya bhavan I could not help remembering the time when our house was full of people and I was attending to five sick people in our one bedroom flat. Here, I was driving myself to the clinic from college and driving home once the massage was over. There seemed no point disturbing my husband and asking him to wait at the reception area for an hour although he would have gladly come over if I had wanted him to.

 Who is responsible for this situation? Was it wrong to educate our children? Or was it wrong to want them to reach for the skies? I see that I am not alone. I have several friends and relatives who go globe trotting to spend time with their children. But they almost always wish to return to their niche. They don’t feel inclined to stay anywhere else for longer than necessary. 

Adjustment problems tend to crop up in spite the best effort from both groups. Children exposed to an alien culture are unable to bond the way we did when we visited our grandparents. And with gadgets replacing story times the next best option is to get computer/internet savvy and focus one’s attention on a gadget of our own instead of poking one’s nose into their lives. 

I don’t know if I am being pessimistic or cynical. Maybe a bit of both. The best thing to do would be to get involved in some activity and keeping one’s self busy. We have in our township two ladies - nearing eighty years of age - who head NGOs and find no time to brood. I am in awe of their enthusiasm and plan to assist them in whatever way I am able to. After all happiness is just a state of mind. 

While I think can manage my old age and the loneliness that is bound to follow by blogging and interacting wth virtual as well as actual friends I worry myself sick when I think of my husband who is a loner and depends solely on me for company. He is not into the social media and TV shows make up for social interaction. He watches a few Tamil serials and very often on returning home from college I can hear him talking while I climb up to my 3rd floor apartment. If you think he’s entertaining friends you are mistaken. He is so involved in the TV program that he is literally in conversation with the characters in the serial and very often seems to know what would be said next!

I have no problem with that except that he doesn’t know a single phone number except mine and when in distress and I am unavailable he cannot call a single person to help. What if I fall ill and need medical aid? We have a doctor in the complex but my husband won’t know to look for his number in my cell phone! He is so laid back and is happy to let me handle things like drawing money from the ATM or booking tickets online. In America I don’t get to use my i Pad because he uses it to watch his favorite shows and read the newspaper. So it is evident that he can become net savvy when he wants to. But apart from that he couldn’t care less. 

My friend has a different take in the matter. She says that her husband would take care of things while she took it easy just like my husband. When her husband died an untimely death she had to learn things the hard way. May be she is right. Why should I imagine that I am indispensable and he would not be able to manage without me? Maybe he would when it came to that.


But my question is does it have to happen only if and when tragedy strikes? Why not before?

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Life in America - 2

I am in Atlanta right now. At my son's place. He has done his best to make us comfortable by stocking his kitchen with grocery and his fridge with vegetables, milk, fruits and of course 'desi' yoghurt. My husband cannot gulp down a single meal without 'dahi'. I remember the time we landed in Patna on a hot evening in May. After a refreshing bath we went around looking for rice and curd - typical of the Tambrahm couple we were. Little did we expect that procuring plain curd and rice would be such a difficult (nearly impossible) task in the capital of Bihar. 

Plain rice at night? Curd? People looked at us as if were aliens from another planet. All that a few places could offer was sweetened curd and fried rice. We managed without curd that night. My husband put on a 'sour' look that seemed to say that it was my fault not to have brought curd with me from Jamshedpur. 

I digress. Coming back to life in America...........

With all good intentions my son had purchased a food processor. I wish he hadn't. Or that my husband hadn't noticed it. 

"Why don't we prepare idlis"? he asked eyes lighting up at the thought of idlis as an alternative to multi-grained bread that I gave him for breakfast. Now, please don't get me wrong. I have made enough idlis in my forty three years of marriage and was really looking forward to an idli-free vacation in America. I have written about my experiences with a manual grinder here.  

"I don't think it is sturdy enough to grind rice" I said. I was happy to put the fear of God into his head.
"If it gets spoilt, fixing it will be more expensive than buying a new one. We don't have Munna here". 

Munna was the electrician who repaired our 35 year old Sumeet mixer in Jamshedpur. My husband is so full of praise for him that he doesn't let my friends throw off their old superannuated mixers offering to get them repaired by Munna.

But as God would will it, my better half spotted a packet of idli rava in the Indian store and picked it up right away giving me no time to think of a new excuse. 

"Now you only have to grind dal". He was elated and went looking for dal and found it in no time.

"We are here just for two months" I tried to dissuade him. "What will R do with all this after we leave"? My protest fell on deaf ears. Son was smiling to himself understanding my ploy but refusing to take sides.

The very next day the idli project began.

"Did you soak dal for idli"?

The man is after my blood. I decided to mess up the proportion and make really horrible idli and blame it on idli rava. I am glad to say that I almost succeeded. The idli came out really hard and the project was a disaster. 

But I have married a scientist who worked in a research lab. He doesn't give up easily. The next time he asked me to try a different proportion, stood by my side while I soaked dal monitored my efficiency in using the food processor saying 'stop' and 'start' at the appropriate moments advising me on when to add water.............

To cut a looooong story short, Idli came out perfect and he is bent on buying another packet of idli rawa before we leave. To add to my sorrow he is hinting at trying out 'adai' and 'vadai' offering to guide me if required. 

I almost hear you ask -

''What is the connection between life in America and preparation of idli''?

Idli is easy on the stomach but a lot of preparation goes into serving this health friendly breakfast item. I truly wish that one didn't find a mini India in every corner of America and would have loved to live on milk, cereal and bread rather than using the delicate food processor that I have here. It has a single jar made of brittle plastic and cannot be left in the sink like the metal jar we have back home.  

 My domestic help Baby would have taken care of washing the jar in Jamshedpur. Out here I am a new incarnation of Baby and till I wash, wipe and put away the jar and mixer I remain tensed. I really wonder if idlis are worth the trouble. Of course juicers, mixers and grinders suited to the pounding, crushing and grating techniques employed in Tambrahm cuisine are available here. But I truly don't want to burden my son with gadgets that he may not use and to see them gather dust after we leave would be equally wasteful.  

Do I really want to put my better half on cereal and bread for the entire period that we stay here?

Of course not. I was just joking. He also adjusts a lot and has no complaints against the food I serve him.

I had earlier written that I feigned to be deaf. That was in an different era - eighteen years ago to be precise. Now I am half deaf and so is my husband. We keep saying "What? Eh? Oh?" to each other all the time. But with all my selective and actual deafness the truth is that I cannot deny him the food of his preference once in a while. Our 'nok jhoks' have reduced drastically and a realization that we only have each other, with whom to share our joy and sorrow, in this alien territory has set in. Please don't imagine that we are absolute angels. Once we reach familiar territory the 'spice of life' will automatically be added. 

And of course we have Eddie to fuss over. He has been adopted from a rescue home by my son and is an absolute delight. My husband runs miles from canines but Eddie is an exception. He loves to stroke Eddies' back and for his part Eddie puts out his paw to indicate that he wants he wants to be stroked more. He takes turns to approach us merrily wagging his tail.

Yes life in America is different. It has its merits and demerits. The internet access is definitely better here and the online library facility helps me read books on my i Pad something that I have come to appreciate and makes me want the same facility in India. Exercising (read walking) on the treadmill in the gym is something I will miss when I return. I must look out for a gym near my house and monitor my exercise routine when I go back. Walking in the crowded park near our house tends to make me cautious and reduces my speed. Moreover, one tends to meet known people and with a 'hello' and 'namaste' thrown in morning walks turn into social interaction. I do miss it here but walking for health benefits is also important.

I wrote two papers after I came here on the 'Role of Multimedia in Higher Education' and 'Improving the Quality of Higher Education in India' and felt good about it. So life here is not just about idli and vada or pulling husband's leg for his food preference. Life in America is about spending some quality time with our children and understanding about their life in foreign shores. 


  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

I am in Atlanta this Mother's Day. Celebrated the day with my son and his friends. We had Mother’s Day lunch at an Indian restaurant. The food was good and so was the company. It was almost when we were leaving that my son’s friend asked me as to how we celebrated Mother’s Day in India. No, this friend was not an American but an Indian who had, like my own children, taken up a job in the US of A and had been here for several years. I don’t remember what exactly was my response to his question. I said something to the effect that Mother’s Day was a western concept and is now catching up in India too. I also mentioned that with the joint family system breaking up and children relocating to foreign shores it was perhaps natural to set aside a day exclusively for parents. 

His question however had me thinking. When I was growing up we did not have a day set apart for our mothers or fathers. Women fasted and prayed for their husbands and sons. The girl child was honored during Navaratri. Brothers were accorded due importance during Rakhi and Kartik poornima. Shrardh was performed for dead ancestors. But children were never encouraged to pray for the well being of parents when alive. Neither mother nor father. But why?

It looks as if an entire society took it for granted that parents would always remain pillars of strength and their well being did not require  divine intervention. It also perhaps understood that children would automatically take responsibility for aging parents treat them with dignity and consider them as part of their family. 

Praying for the well being of sons and honoring the girl child was perhaps due to the fact that sons were expected to take care of parents in their old age and daughters were meant to be treated not as burdens but as special guests when they visited. It also indicates that the custom of celebrating certain festivals to strengthen the bond between brother and sister was a way of ensuring that they remained in touch even after their parents passed on. But parents required no such special occasions to bond with their children.

I think times have changed and so has society. Parents value their independence and want their personal space. Children too lead a busy life and much as they want to, are unable to spare time for their parents. Schools are encouraging their students to celebrate ‘grandparent’s day’ to appreciate their role in society. To keep pace with a changing society it may not be inappropriate to set apart a day in the year for one’s aging parents.

Treat them to dinner at a fancy restaurant - they may never muster courage to enter it on their own.

Order sugar free cakes for them and make them feel special.

Or……….

Spend a quiet evening with them talking about old times, relishing traditional home food and listening to golden oldies.

And……

Tell them how much you value their presence in your lives.

Let them tell your children about all the crazy things you did when you were a kid. They would love to hear them over and over again!

Finally the celebration must include both your parents and parents in law. Your in laws are entitled to your company as much as your own parents.

Happy Mother’s Day! 







Thursday, May 05, 2016

Just my thoughts........

I hear a lot of talk about the Hindu religion being at the risk of being maligned and degraded by those affiliated to other religions. It is being said that efforts are on to convert ours to an Islamic or Christian nation. I do not subscribe to this view. Ours is a secular country. The Indian society is a multilingual and multicultural one that is respectful of views that may or may not be in concurrence with its own. It is an inclusive one that has been successively ruled by Moghul and  British rulers. But that has not impacted our religious beliefs or cultural heritage in a big way. The Hindu way of life has prevailed despite the effort by several intolerant rulers to suppress it.  Our society has demonstrated to the world that freedom could be availed by non violent means.  Why then is insecurity seeping into our lives? Why do we feel threatened and/or feel the need to protect our religion? I find it strange to call Hinduism a religion. It is a way of life. It is flexible enough to accommodate a person who is deeply religious as much as one who folds his/her hands to ask God a favor when in distress. It advocates the conservation of nature and compassion to animals. Yoga and pranayam have become universally recognized health promoting techniques. More than anything else it advises us to do our duty without expecting rewards. Could a religion of this stature be threatened by external factors? No way! On the contrary I believe that more and more people would take to the Hindu way of life whatever their religious affiliation. 

Why then are we being told that the world is ganging up against us? Or that our media is the mouthpiece of the group that wants to systematically destroy our religion? If there was even an iota of truth in this claim, it does not speak well of our journalists and news channels. I do agree that Hindus belonging to the so called lower strata of the caste system opted for conversion to other religions hoping for a better quality of life as well as social acceptance. Unfortunately we have to admit that the caste system has successfully divided our society into divisions that are difficult to bridge and ought to take responsibility for creating an emotional distance between different groups by failing to recognize the dignity of labor and considering one group as being superior or inferior to another. But the caste system was the creation of society and our religion had nothing to do with it. 

Coming to the point raised earlier - is it wrong if those at the receiving end of social discrimination opt to embrace a faith that they believe to be equal in its treatment of all human beings? Why not put ourselves in their shoe and see how it feels? Moreover, I am sure that caste discrimination prevails in all of the Indian society cutting across religious affiliations and social standing of individuals. Hindus may openly express it but it is there in other religions as well in a more subtle way. I can see it getting reduced to a very great extent but it will take some time more and a whole generation or two before it is completely erased. 

I digress. Could an ancient religion like Hinduism to be decimated by a few fanatics and a bunch of  irresponsible journalists and media persons? I do not think so. I see a good number of Westerners taking to the Hindu way of life by practicing pranayam, yoga and meditation, switching to vegetarian or vegan food and trying to research on the health benefits of  herbal medicine. Let us then get over this insecurity and promote our culture not by pointing fingers at imaginary sources of threat but by leading by example. Let us try to analyze our rituals and attribute scientific reasons to our religious practices. Above all let the world make a choice and understand/appreciate the Hindu way of life and the logic behind it. Tending to plants that are of medicinal and cosmetic value and according divine status to rivers are means of supporting life on earth and need to be understood as universal requirements without being brushed off as Hindu rituals. Whether it is using plantain leaves as plates or brushing our teeth with margosa (neem) stalks each of our practice has been tried and tested for centuries and if we learn to respect them, the world will follow. The threat to our religion is not from external sources but from our own doubting minds that consider them as baseless, old fashioned and superstitious. Let us weed out suspicion and negativity from our minds and pledge to conserve natural resources, to be compassionate towards animals, be kind to fellow human beings and respectful to followers of religions other than our own. In doing so we would be serving mankind and promoting humanism as much as Hinduism.  


These are just my thoughts. Let us first learn to understand our religion and culture before expecting the world to do so.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Gobi Chronicles - 2


Between the time I wrote my last piece and now I have lost my maternal uncle “Mama” as he is fondly called. When I met him in February I had not realized that his end was near or that I would not get to meet him again. He had then asked me to read a few pages of handwritten accounts of his life. The writing was somewhat illegible and I had to ask for clarification many a time but one thing was clear. Mama wanted the younger generation of grand and great grandchildren to know about “Vembathy House”. I promised to come again at leisure and sit by his side with a laptop and type out what he had written. He then asked me to pen down whatever I remembered about life in Gobi and gave me - as reference - xerox copies of the accounts given by his brothers and nephews in law about life in my mami’s maternal home. How I wish mama could have lived a little longer and read about the affection we have for him. To put it the other way I wish I had come up with this piece early enough for him to read it. But what is life without its lapses? We never seem to think - even in our wildest dreams - ever that our loved ones would leave us. The regret is mine to be.

Krishnamurthy Mama was my mother’s youngest sibling and only brother. The story goes that my grandparents had lost two sons earlier and the family was naturally fiercely protective of the health of the only surviving son. My own mother would tell me often that she would give him a thorough ‘oil bath’ on Wednesdays and Saturdays and if he skipped a day for some reason she’d worry herself to tears imagining that he would fall sick on account of that. All five sisters pampered him as much as they could.

My earliest memory of mama - apart from a hazy mental picture of his wedding - is the trip we made to Bombay by car. My dad had been transferred to Bombay and we had to wait for a month to be allotted accommodation before joining him. Mama, accompanied by a driver, drove us to Bombay from Gobi.

One thing we all remember about mama is his amazing sense of humor without malice. My sister and me would have fights and his famous question would be “Are you both fighting or biting each other”? He’d often be late and would have to rush to board a bus or train and a worried mami would be anxiously waiting for him at the gate.  All he would say to her would be “Be calm. Can you make the train move faster by walking to and fro inside the compartment”? He would diffuse all tension in a minute. I cannot recall a single incident when he’d raise his voice to discipline us as children. Vembathy house would, in those days, be teeming with grandchildren. There would be quarrels among the children. Grandkids would run wild in its premises. Friends would join and together we’d have a few perched on the guava tree and others hiding under my grandfather’s table. Thatha was a practicing advocate and his clients would add to the melee. Mama normally returned from his farmland in the evening to a noisy house with his father raising his voice a pitch higher than the children to address his clients but he would never ask the children to stop playing or direct their friends to return home. Vembathy House was an inclusive one - tolerance and patience were qualities one imbibed naturally from its ambience.

My own father died when my younger brothers were 3 and 5 years of age and my mother relocated to her maternal home. My brothers have no memories of my father but mama adequately compensated for a father figure in their lives. It was a common sight to see them perch on his shoulders or roll over his tummy. Mama normally brought home deep fried items from a famous Sheshaiyyar’s hotel in town and my brothers would open the packet even before his own children could but I don’t remember mama or mami bearing a grudge or admonishing them for it. The same tolerant behavior was carried forward by his children and one never heard them complain about or grudge our presence in the house. To be fair I must add that my mother’s sisters were equally kind and no one questioned my thatha’s decision to support our family. What struck out was that even after his father’s death mama continued to support us and my mother continued to depend on him till the youngest of my brothers took up a job in Bombay.

I got married and relocated to Jamshedpur. Mama came to drop me off at Jamshedpur after the birth of my first born daughter who was just three months old. My daughter being the first grandchild, my husband and in laws had wanted me to come earlier and were upset with me for taking longer than the two months stipulated by them to return with the child. The atmosphere in the house was charged. It was one occasion when I heard my mama talk tough.

“ She is young and inexperienced” he said to my mother in law, “but we aren’t. Aren’t we supposed to take charge of the situation and deal with it appropriately? It is the duty of elders in a joint family to diffuse tension between the young couple instead of blowing it up to disproportionate levels. The child is just three months old and is always going to be part of your family. How does it matter if she took a couple of weeks longer to return? There ought to be do no more discussion regarding this matter. It is pointless”.

His words had a magical effect and I realized that he had doubled up for a father whom I had lost ten years back. I also realized that while mama was kind hearted and gentle he could also take charge of the situation and act tough without damaging the cause. He later told me in jest that he had the experience of dealing with five brothers in law - each one with a different temperament - so he was well trained early in life!

Above other things Mama stands tall due to his interaction with his wife and children. He had often faced financial crises when crops failed and management farming became more and more difficult. But he never let on that times were difficult and even the genuine demands of his family were hard to fulfill. Nor did we ever hear how he managed to tide over the lean patches in his life. He never vented his frustration by taking it out on his family. He looked after his ailing wife for seventeen long years without a frown on his face which is way beyond the capability of any human being.

Mama loved carnatic music. It was not unusual for him to pick up the day’s newspaper and relax with his favorite numbers playing in the background at ten in the night. Very often he would fall asleep but the moment someone switched off the tape recorder or transistor he’d wake up and put it on again. He was a great fan of the legendary R. K. Narayan and had a collection of books written by him. He’d encourage me to read his books at a time when I was in the Mills and Boon stage and had not learned to appreciate R. K. Narayan’s writing. Art Buchwald was another favorite.

Wherever he went Mama would do a survey of the local market. He picked items, that I didn’t even know were available, from Jamshedpur market.  He would have loved to travel around the world and make a trip to the moon too if it were possible.

This piece can go on and on without an end. After all however much I try to end it I seem to have more to add. We were twenty one grandchildren in Vembathy House. Four were his own and the rest were nieces and nephews. I cannot recall an instance when Mama and mami treated any of us differently. The same affection was extended to our spouses and children. My cousin recently put on a recorded version of my daughters singing as pre teenagers during one of their visits to his place. Having heard that I planned to visit them Mama had asked his daughter to look for the audio tape and keep it ready for me. I was moved to tears. After all how much affection can a person have. He had his own grandchildren on whom he could shower his affection and yet he had more to spare for our children too. It is this selfless love that links us to Mama and his family. There is something genuine and honest in our relationship with him. Words fail to adequately describe the emotions and affection that we have for him.

They say that one can choose friends not family. I was lucky to have been brought up among good people and to carry forward a part of the family’s gene pool. I was lucky to have an uncle who was an adorable human being with a great sense of humor, who wanted to live life like a king but was also one who accepted life’s blows with grace. Patience and perseverance, love, kindness and tolerance, these were valuable lessons we learnt from him. He may have had his shortcomings but they did not impact others in any way. There were times when I felt that future visits to Gobi  will not be the same without Mama to welcome us. But I also feel that I would feel connected and sense his presence in Vembathy House even without him being there. The last time I visited Gobi I took the keys from my cousin and spent about 15 minutes in the empty house that I grew up in. The house in which I got married and left for Jamshedpur. I felt a sense of comfort - a connection to my childhood - that is hard to describe. The years that have gone by did not seem important. The vibes that I received were positive. So deep in my heart I wish to hold on to that connection and carry forward the culture that I was lucky to inherit.

I have written this piece from my perspective. I am sure others have more to share. Like my older brother fondly remembers the time when Mama escorted him to St. Josephs’s College, Tiruchy for admission or a cousin who recalled the time when Mama quietly reimbursed the mess bill amount and added a little extra as pocket money when he approached him saying that the amount had been stolen. Each of us have fond memories that link us to mama and I am sure we all would agree that he was a pampered and beloved brother, a wonderful father, a loving uncle, a compatible life partner to his wife and a great human being.




Sunday, February 28, 2016

Gobi Chronicles - 1

“Gobi”! 



The very name brings a smile to the faces of the descendants of the Vembathi clan.  The years spent as children in our grandfather Vembathi Subramaniya Iyer’s house remain as cherished memories in our minds. My mother and her sisters would come together during vacations and all of us cousins would run wild in its premises. The very atmosphere in the house was one of affection, inclusion, generosity and kindness. This is felt not only by those who share thatha’s gene pool but also by those who are associated with the family by marriage. My own husband may drive me nuts on a number of issues but is in total agreement on my opinion of the ‘unique’ family that the Vembathi clan happens to be. Sons and daughters in law of three generations have become an integral part of our family and that speaks well of the interpersonal relationships that we share. This was possible not only because of the great human being that thatha was and also because of my maternal uncle Krishnamurthy mama and his wife Kamakshi Mami who carried forward the legacy of a rich culture that he left behind. Could Krishnamurthy mama's children have been different? They are as dear to us as their parents and welcome us with the same warm affection that their mother exuded sixty years back. Is it any wonder that I look forward to a visit to Gobi like a daughter visiting her maternal home or that my eyes well up when I leave the place? Yes, I may be a grandmother now but till date I cannot prostrate at my uncle’s feet without experiencing a lump in my throat. 

The following is the first of my posts on life in Vembathi House and I dedicate it to my Mami’s memory.


I remember very few details of my mama’s wedding that took place in June 1956. I remember playing in the sand in front of a huge ‘pandal’ as a five year old and also being admonished for calling Kamakshi Mami by name. Since mama was the youngest sibling, everyone called his wife by name. I must have thought that I could do so too. But my earliest memory of Kamakshi Mami is of a kind faced lady who welcomed us with a smile whenever we visited them. I don’t remember her talking directly to my father or other male members in those early years. But her body language was such that one felt at home immediately. Her interactions with my mother and her sisters (5 of them) was always balanced. They were much older than her. In fact my oldest aunt was 20 years older than her and she once confided to me that she had mistaken my aunt to be her mother in law and it was only after marriage that she realized that she was the oldest sister in law. I don’t remember a single instance when she got into a controversy or trouble with them. She might have had her opinion on family matters but she never openly voiced them always choosing to remain neutral. That was perhaps the best way to maintain a cordial relationship with five older sisters in law. My grandfather loved her like a daughter and she absolutely deserved his affection. 



If Kamakshi Mami had no mother in law to domineer over her, our maid Moopachi doubled up for one. She had a loud voice and having worked for our family for several years she could up pull up the cook for his lack of culinary skills and complain about his coffee that tasted like ‘gutter water’. She would scream at her grandchildren, who would come along to help her, if their work was shoddy. She could shout at anyone of us if she felt that we were not doing our bit. She considered the house as her own and exercised her authority on all of us. It seems that in the early years of her marriage Mami would remain in her room till Moopachi left, for fear of being admonished, although Moopachi was nice to her.

Those were days when daughters left their older children with their parents and Vembathi House was no exception. So when Mami arrived on the scene four or five of my cousins in their primary and middle schools were already studying in Gobi. The children would quarrel and fight. She took care of their needs without a frown on her face and remained so even when years later my widowed mother relocated to Gobi with five children and continued to stay on even after my grandfather’s death. 

Mami had a good voice that was trained to sing Carnatic music. I can almost hear her sing 
"Pralaya payodhijale"...... an Ashtapadhi that she learnt a little before my marriage in 1973. She was deeply religious and even when she went through patches of bad periods in her life she would never blame God. I used to often hear her say that her devotion to God was perhaps not adequate enough and she might have unknowingly displeased Him. One activity that she enjoyed doing was to decorate the puja mandapam and to fix beads and beautify the silver image of Goddess Lakshmi. She would prefer to read Shankara Kripa or other religious literature rather than Tamil magazines and her social circle included groups that enrolled themselves to learn Abhirami andhadi or slokams.

My father would ask her to sing ‘Ranga pura vihara’ or 'Entharo Mahanubhava' for him when he visited. She would oblige and I remember her sitting behind a half closed door out of respect for my father and singing in a soft voice. Mami once told me that she would find it boring to start music lessons soon after school but her music teacher would be waiting for her when she returned home from school. On one occasion she could not help saying “ ஐயோ பாட்டு வாத்தியாரா?” ( Oh no! Is it the music teacher?). And the teacher heard her. So thereafter he would tease her saying “ஐயோ பாட்டு வாத்தியார் வந்துட்டேன்”. ( oh no! Music teacher has come). 



In the initial years of my marriage, like everyone else, I too had trouble bonding with my acquired family. Mami felt bad that I had been living so far from my maternal ( actually my mother’s ) home and had to deal with my problems on my own. She suggested that mama or someone else should find reasons to visit me more often to offer moral support till I felt more comfortable in my husband’s place. It was not practically possible but I was grateful to her for the suggestion.

It was perhaps the care she gave us that made her dependent on the care of others for the last seventeen years of her life. I so wish it hadn’t been that way. I wish I could have given back at least something of what she had given me. The only thing that I can now do is to pass on the kindness I received from her to others around me. 






Monday, December 07, 2015

What happened to Mehr?

Dear Son,
I feel lost without you to pester me and wish you never had to leave for college. I knew all along that I would have to set you free to carve your future but I feel sad all the same. For all I know you may never be the same person again. You will grow. You will have new friends who will influence your life and your decisions. My head tells me that you will make the right choices and stand tall among your peers but my heart sinks at the possibility of your being vulnerable to the pressures exerted by them. Without us, your parents, to monitor your activities you may feel tempted to think that it is a fashion statement to harass girls even if it is ‘just for fun’. Be warned my child. Your mindless activity may have a very serious outcome as Mehr’s story will indicate.

You know Mehr don’t you? May be you don't. She was my colleague’s only daughter and hadn’t started school when I joined college. In a way I had practically watched her grow. I rejoiced with her mother when she got admission in a prestigious school in our town and regularly followed her progress. I was invited to her ‘Navjot’ party and I remember gifting her a story book because I always felt that books were the most precious of gifts that could be given to a nine year old. 

I don’t know if you have the information that Mehr passed away last night. Her death was caused by three mindless teenage boys who hounded her on the way to school. 

The day dawned like any other day. The chirpy thirteen year old got ready for school, fussed over breakfast and was coaxed to eat by her grandma - this was a routine that the two of them enjoyed - and after wishing her mom and grandma a hasty goodbye left for school on her bicycle. The school was about half a kilometre from home and she expected to reach it well before time. And then trouble began….

The road was lonely and three boys started following her. One of them overtook her and stopped right in front of her while the other two laughed at her predicament from behind. She managed to stop in time and started off once again when another boy took it on himself to whistle and sing a vulgar song while the other two crossed her path from either side. The girl panicked and tried to pick up speed. The school was now in sight and she wanted to reach there fast. There were parents on the other side of the road and it would only take a couple of minutes to reach them. Unfortunately she noticed a rambler at the turning a little too late and slipped while trying to apply brakes. Her head hit the rambler and she lost consciousness.

The rest is history. She suffered a head injury, went into a coma and never recovered. Her mother is in a state of shock and her grandma refuses to believe that her beloved granddaughter is no more. All this happened within minutes of her leaving home and she is unable to come to terms with the tragedy that has befallen them. 

My son, stalking or hounding girls is not funny. Boys may feel powerful and relish the distress that girls are being subjected to. Girls on the contrary go through hell when they face sexual harassment. 

Mehr is no more. Her mother laments that she has nothing to look forward to. Her father seems to have lost his voice and the vacant look in his face speaks volumes of his mental state. All this could have been averted if only the culprits had been sensitized and trained to treat women with respect and I for one believe that values imparted by one’s parents play an important role in shaping one’s conduct. Values like charity begin at home.

I have tried my best to treat you and your sister equally. I have never encouraged you to imagine that you are superior because you are a boy. I expect you to treat all the girls in your class as equals. They need to feel safe and comfortable in your presence and consider you as a dependable friend. I know you will not let me down because I am sure that you too would want not want a repeat of Mehr’s story. All young girls need to feel safe and secure.

I want you to share Mehr's story with your friends. I want you to understand that girls are your friends and need to be treated as cherished companions. I trust you son and I know that you will not let me down.

With lots of love,
Yours affectionately,
Mom.