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.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Every one has a reason to pray

'Cycle Pure Agarbathies' and the Lakshmi Puja Pack along with Ripple Links have announced a contest about why Every one has a reason to pray and I have been tempted to write about it. Details of the contest can be got here. The past three months have been hectic and blogging has taken a back seat. However the topic is interesting and has set me thinking. Why does one pray? When did I start praying in the real sense? How does praying to an Almighty God influence me? Let me think..........

As a child I would watch my mother observe strict rules of a kind of self imposed quarantine even while going about her chores and would not even drink water till she finished reciting her slokas and offered food to God. However, to be fair to her, she did not impose a regular prayer schedule or routine on us children and we were pretty much allowed to decide for ourselves about our mode of addressing God. 

My earliest memories of praying dates back to the time when I heard the story of a shepherd boy who had no friends and Lord Krishna would come and play with him. I sincerely hoped that if I prayed hard enough He would perhaps appear before me.I could then boast and brag about it in school. I was just around five years old then.  As a child I would pray for anything starting from a prayer that I may not be punished for not doing my homework to not getting caught for sneaking snacks to our dormitory to feast at night.

When my dad was terminally ill, I remember praying that I may be allowed to die in his place since the family needed his presence more than mine. I had learned in my History class that the Moghul Emperor Babur had thus  prayed for his son Humayun's health and God answered his prayers. Humayun recovered and Babur died in his stead. Deep in my heart I believed that God would grant one's sincere wishes if the motive was selfless.

It took me a while to understand that all prayers are not granted whatever be the motive. Prayers are meant to lift one's spirit and give moral and mental strength in adverse situations. Meditating on cosmic energy one derives peace of mind through prayer. Nature worshipers are criticized for praying to God's creations like rivers and trees rather than to God - the creator. But I, for one, feel that our natural wealth has been conserved to a great extent due to the reverence man has shown towards nature. 

As far as I understand prayer does not necessarily have religious affiliations. Sending and connecting to positive vibes, combined with a heartfelt desire for universal brotherhood can also be interpreted as prayer.While there are those, like my mother, who prayed on a daily basis and on a regular routine there are others who pray when things spin out of control and feel the need for divine intervention. Then we have a few who use their prayers as bargaining tools saying that they need this or that benefit and offer to do something for the temple/church or society in return if and when their purpose is realized. Some pray out of fear of an almighty God while others pray for self realization.

But all said and done there can be no doubt regarding the fact that a sincere and heartfelt prayer does wonders to one's mental and emotional health.As for me, it does give me inner strength and a firm belief that there is some powerful cosmic energy that helps me sail through adverse conditions and watches over me at all times.
These are reasons as to why I pray and how I plan to use  'Cycle Pure Agarbathies' and Lashmi Puja pack this festive season...........

Well, I pray because I feel inclined to pray and also because it helps me accept the good and evil aspects of life with equanimity.  

With all my children in distant shores I pray for their well being as well as that of their families. More so because I may not be able to reach them at moment's notice.

I pray that my husband and me remain healthy enough to allow my children lead their lives in peace. I also pray for similar blessings to my siblings, cousins in laws and friends who belong to my generation.

I pray that I may be able to do my bit for those in need in my own little way.

I pray that I may always remain true to myself and those around me.

Finally I pray that my country's leadership is such that will bring out the best in its people.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Imagining things..............And why not?

I happened to read a comment left by a reader on a post in Women's web and decided to analyze what  my reaction would have been if we had been allowed to have an honest discussion before marriage. If I had been as honest as in this post my marriage would not have taken place at all. It might have been something like this. I call myself PV and my husband KNR. I have written about my life before marriage here . This should give you an idea about the kind of person I was.

KNR: Do you know to speak Hindi?

PV: (To herself) How unromantic. How does it matter?Is he looking for an excuse to reject me?      (Aloud) I can understand. I am out of touch now. But why do you ask?

KNR: Just like that.

PV: I will pick up soon.

KNR: Good. Do you want to know anything about me or my family?

PV: Do you have a library near your house? I would want to become a member. By the way do you read books? Have you read Nevil Shute? He is awesome.

KNR: I must ask my mother. She is the decision maker in my family.

(To himself) Is the library my family? And why doesn't she marry Nevil Shute? Awesome... my foot.

PV: (to herself) No library means no marriage. How can I not read books?

(Aloud) I need to keep myself occupied. Moreover I cannot get sleep unless I read a few pages each night. I am sure your mother will understand. By the way, do you get The Hindu in your place? I don't like any other newspaper. I regularly read Art Buchwald. He is so funny.

KNR: You will have a lot of house work to do. That should keep you occupied. We get The Hindu two days late so we buy The Statesman that is published in Calcutta.

PV: (To herself) Don't they have servants? I would not mind reading The Hindu that is two days late. (Aloud) I need to do something in my free time. Maybe I could teach slum kids to read and write.

KNR:  (To himself) Good God! There is no way amma would let her do it.  Having slum kids in the house is ridiculous. And she is not going to let her go out on her own in the initial months. Neighbors may start gossiping.

(Aloud) My mother makes awesome sweets and savories. You could pick up recipes from her.

PV:  (To herself) Am I marrying his mother? Why does he bring her in all the time? And I have no    interest in trying out recipes.

(Aloud) You seem to be very fond of your mother.

KNR: Everyone in our family goes by her decision. She knows what is best for us. 

PV: (To herself) What a pest of a woman. (Aloud) You work in a lab don't you?

KNR: (To himself) At last she asks something about me. All this while she was worried about membership in the local library. Doesn't she want to know about life in our town?

(Aloud)Yes, we do steel melting. (Explains the process in detail and half of it does not even register in PV's mind).

PV: You have relatives in the south. Do you visit often?
(To herself) If this is so I too can come home every year.

KNR: My parents come when there is a wedding or death in the family. My younger sister stays back   to cook for me and my brother.

PV: (Horrified) What? She is only twenty years old and is in college I hear.
 And she is left behind tocook for her brothers? I find this ridiculous.

KNR: What is so ridiculous about it?She has been learning to cook from the age of thirteen. She can cook for fifty people.

PV: Fifty people? I cannot cook for five?

KNR: What? You haven't learned to cook? How come your mother let you off so easily? My mother was very particular about teaching my sister housekeeping.

PV: My mother says that cooking is something a woman does all her life. She needs to relax and learn things at her own pace. I cook only if and when I feel like it. I read, write letters to friends, watch movies in the theater, play board games like chess with my brothers.For me cooking is not a priority. In our family daughters in law are gradually initiated into the household.

KNR: It is the exact opposite in our family. Daughters in laws take charge as soon as they arrive.

PV: (To herself)  Good Lord what am I getting myself into? Must talk to mummy. We're nothing alike!.
 KNR: (To himself) What kind of person is she? Wants to play board games and read the newspaper but has no inclination to run the house. I must talk to amma.We seem to be exact opposites!

I agree that my marriage took place forty years ago and times were different. But it is equally amazing how two entirely different persons bonded over time. Even if I had actually had this imaginary conversation my mother would have rubbished my fears and would have known that with time I would learn that marriage was not a fairy tale and expectations rarely tally with reality

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Techno-savvy children and bewildered parents.

A father of  seven year old twin boys remarked that kids were over stimulated thanks to technology and class room teaching no longer appealed to them. With access to video games and supermen they needed to be engaged all the while which in turn was affecting parents at home and teachers in school with neither group equipped to keep pace with their demands. Gone are the days when kids could be left to play on their own while parents relaxed. The kids had to be constantly engaged. As a result they go to soccer camps, music class, learn yoga and karate. True, over stimulated minds are difficult to handle. This is certainly a topic for balanced debate.

The conversation then shifted to the plight of senior school teachers who had to make interesting power point presentations and throw in cartoon characters even to teach subjects like Chemistry and Mathematics. I could understand children in their preteens getting easily distracted but do senior school children need stimulants to understand the basics of a subject? I remembered an essay that we had to write in our 11th standard - "Is Technology a Boon or Bane to Society"? So even before Television had entered our homes and mobile telephones were unheard of, our elders had been worried of the changes taking place in our lives due to technological advancement. I was myself of the opinion that mobile phones were a luxury and school going children were better off without them. Or that two wheelers that were motorized were not meant for children in high school and they would benefit more if they cycled to school. My mother had advised me against sending more than the required amount for my daughter's hostel expense when she joined college saying that she would waste it. I would send her a draft each month. But five years later I got my son an ATM card partly because I wanted to be spared the trouble of making a draft and sending it by registered post.It was also because I had realized that he may face unforeseen situations and require money at short notice.   Internet banking skills were acquired much later and I now seem to have forgotten the days when one actually stood in a queue to purchase railway tickets.  

I see myself reaping the benefits of advanced technology and have to admit that life has become a lot easier on account of it. Why then am I worried that over exposure to technology may harm my children and grandchildren? Even while I write this post my 9 year old granddaughter is baking a cake all on her own. Her dad has gifted her a mini oven with a timer. Her mom has bought her cake mixes with proper directions. With a little help from me (to measure vegetable oil and to remove the finished cake from the oven) the child has managed to bake a cake and now she has started on the preparation of cookies. Mini ovens and cake mixes were not available when my children were growing up but that is beside the point. Technology, when put to proper use, is never harmful. Educating children on the proper use of the tools available to them and encouraging them to understand that life is not just speeding up but also slowing down to savor the beauty of nature and to give a thought to the less privileged ones among them would perhaps balance the hyperactivity that they are constantly subjected to. For this attitude to develop socially productive activities ought to be encouraged. For instance why don't we have parents teaching their wards to manage a kitchen garden? Why not train them to fold clothes and arrange their closet or vacuum their rooms? Isn't it true at least to some extent that parents too want to relax and prefer to latch their kids on to a video game or a TV program even if it only to keep them off their backs? Are we not proud that a child in our family not yet two years of age is able to plug an earphone to his ear, hit the right button and listen to music from an i Pad? I know that I feel puffed up when my grand kids do it.  

I am sorry to say that the onus is on parents and grandparents. The child can and should be given direction and elders ought to strike a balance regarding the activity their wards indulge in. Not easy I admit,but no harm trying.