Saturday, October 28, 2006

My version of KANK

Though Though this piece is written in first person it is based on events that took place in two different families. I write in first person to save my own skin as also because the combination of events has given rise to an entirely different story that cannot be solely attributed to either one or the other family.

“I plan to marry Pammi,” Announced my twenty five year old son Manu. “We plan to have a civil marriage next week.”

May we know who Pammi happens to be?” I asked speaking for my husband as well. “ I don’t think I’ve met her.”

“Pammi is a colleague of mine. She joined our company last week.” My son was kind enough to inform me. But this piece of enlightenment was a little too much for me to handle.

“ Don’t you think you’re rushing things.” I ventured to ask in as mild a tone as possible for fear of annoying him. “I mean you hardly know each other. Moreover, I thought you were interested in Vidya.”

“I still am but her mom does not approve of me.” Said Manu “ I want to show her that Vidya isn’t the only girl in the world. I therefore proposed to Pamela Singh, Pammi for short. Moreover you too hardly knew daddy before marriage. If your marriage worked so will ours.”

“But how can you be interested in Vidya and marry Pammi? And why doesn’t Vidya’s mom approve of you?” I was confused.

“ How does Vidya feel about it?”

Manu was beginning to get impatient.

“The problem with your generation is that you ask too many questions. If Vidya’s mom doesn’t approve of me that’s her problem not mine. As for Vidya, she does not have a problem with my marrying Pammi. She was rather nice about it. In fact the very idea was hers. Leave it mummy you won’t understand. After marriage we’ll be moving into a flat of our own. It is closer to our office. It is getting late so let me go. I can’t stand and talk to you all day. By the way I won’t be repeating all this to daddy. Pass on the information to him.”

My head started reeling. My son seemed to be speaking an alien language. In our times people had arranged marriages and the entire family including a whole lot of uncles and aunts joined together to make the function a success. Grandparents supervised the arrangements and one dared not go against their suggestions. Of course there were a few who married a person of their choice but these marriages were not well received.

Later there came a time when children chose their partners and parents got them married, grudgingly or otherwise. Unlike love marriages of the previous generation these were calculated ventures where the head ruled over the heart. I could not categorize my son’s marriage to a girl whom he hardly knew. If it was not arranged by either set of parents, it was also not a marriage that could be called love marriage. My son wanted to settle scores with his girl friend’s mother and the girl was also game to it. I wondered how my son’s fiancĂ©e felt about it. I was kind of sure that she would back out on hearing about Vidya’s interest in Manu. I decided to talk to her.

“Oh yes aunty.” Pammi seemed to be quite at ease on being told about Vidya. “ I know about Vidya and Manish. He also knows about Peter and me.”

“Peter!” I could take no more of it “ Now who is this Peter?”

“ My ex husband” replied the girl “ We’re divorced now”

I tried to be patient.
“Listen child, I have no problem with your divorce.” I said in as sweet a voice as I could manage. “ But don’t you think that both of you are rushing things. Where is the need to marry within a week?”

“ Manish may have forgotten to tell you but let me clarify.” She said. “ Vidya is marrying Diwakar in a fortnight. We want to marry before that.”

“I presume Diwakar has been properly briefed and hopefully plans to attend your wedding along with Vidya.” I was glad to be able to understand the mindset of the next generation. Better late than never!

“I’m glad you get the point. Now if you don’t mind I have to leave for a meeting. Bye! See you at our wedding.” The girl waved a hasty goodbye and sped off in her car.

I went home and conveyed the information to my parents in law. They were somehow able to take the news in their stride.

“ We hear of children living together before marriage,” said my mother in law “ Manu at least plans to marry the girl. All we can do is to put on a brave front and wish them well.”
‘Very practical.’ I thought ‘ Will it work?’ I wondered.

To be frank it didn’t.

The problem was not the usual mother in law/daughter in law struggle to prove their monopoly or adjustment hurdles in a joint family. In fact Pammi got on rather well not only with us but also with a host of relatives including my parents in law. She’d take my father in law to the doctor and drop my mother in law at the temple and they were all praise for her. She visited us regularly and was warm and affectionate. In fact I regretted my earlier error in judgment. Two years had gone by and their marriage seemed to work well enough or so I thought.
One fine day Pammi walked out of our lives very much the way she walked in! Again it was Manu who broke the news.

“ Pammi has left for Mumbai” he announced, “ We are applying for a divorce.”

“But why?” I asked, “You both seemed so happy. What went wrong?”

“Nothing went wrong mummy,” explained my son. “It’s only that we are both very busy and have no time for each other. Though in the same office we hardly meet. Our schedule is erratic and weekends hectic. Rather than live as strangers in the same house we decided to part ways. She’s getting a transfer with promotion and I decided to let go. No ill feelings at all.”

Suddenly the telephone rang and I picked it up. It was Pammi calling from Mumbai.
“Sorry aunty I had to join immediately. So I could not say goodbye in person. Could you please ask Manish to arrange for a nurse to attend to my mother? She is not keeping well and I don’t want her to stay alone. Also ask him to call on her whenever possible. I am rather worried.”

Manu took the phone from me.

“ Hi Pammi! Settling down in Bombay?” he did not sound upset in the least. “ Don’t worry about your mom. I’ll be visiting her as often as possible and as for the nurse I’ve spoken to an agent and he’ll arrange for one. I’ll let you know in a day or two. Take care and be in touch.”

I stood by his side staring into his face with a Zombie like expression.

‘What went wrong?’ I wondered aloud.

“Nothing went wrong,” said my husband who had been listening to our conversation from his room, “ its time we retired gracefully from our duties as parents and let our children lead their lives. They’re under immense pressure and are better off without our interference. They have problems but are equipped to handle them. Have you not heard of Vanaprasthashram mentioned in our scriptures? It is now time to let go.”

And of course he was right!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Golden Retirement

A Warning: Iwould advise my male reders to refrain from reading this "Women Only" post if they are unable to accept a little leg pulling from me. This was an article published in the August 2nd 2004 edition Newsweek. I enjoyed the article immensely and took the magazine back with me to India. It remained in the suitcase and popped up when I was arranging my belongings in preparation for my return journey. It was as enjoyable as it was 2 years back and made me realize with amusement that human beings are the same everywhere.It was written by Jan Zeh and if I had her e mail ID I'd have written to her myself on her wonderful sense of humor. Please go ahead and enjoy reading the article as 'mirth that hath no bitter spring'

The ‘Golden Years’ are beginning to tarnish
by Jan Zeh

After 45 years and one son, I thought the best was yet to come. Then my husband retired.

My worst nightmare has become reality. My husband retired. As the CEO of his own software company, he used to make important decisions daily. Now he decides when to take a nap and for how long. He does not play golf, tennis or bridge, which means that he is at home for what it seems like 48 hours a day. That’s a lot of togetherness.

Much has changed since he stopped working. My husband now defines sleeping in as staying in bed until 6 a.m. He often walks in the morning for exercise but says he can’t walk if he gets up late.Late is 5:30. His morning routine is to take out the dog, plug in the coffee and await the morning newspaper. (And it better not be late!) When the paper finally arrives, his favorite section is the obits. He reads each and every one – often aloud – and becomes angry if the deceased’s age is not listed. I’d like to work on my crossword puzzle in peace. When I bring this to his attention, he stops briefly – but soon finds another article that must be shared.

Some retirement couple enjoy this time of life together. Usually these are couple who are not dependent on their spouses for their happiness and well – being. My husband is not one of these individuals. Many wives I’ve spoken to, identify with my experience and are happy to know that they’re not alone. One friend told me that when her husband retired, he grew a strip of Velcro on his side and attached himself to her. They were married 43 years and she hinted that they may not make it to 44. Another woman said that her husband not only takes her to the beauty shop, but goes inside and waits! Another said her husband follows her everywhere but to the bathroom…..and that’s only because she locks the bathroom door.

When I leave the house my husband asks:” Where are you going?” followed by “When will you be back?” Even when I’m at home he needs to know where I am every moment. “Where is Jan?” he asks the dog. This is bad enough but atleast he hasn’t velcroed himself to me - yet.

I often see retired people shopping together in the grocery store. Usually they are arguing. I hate it when my husband goes shopping with me. He takes charge of the cart and disappears. With my arms full of cans, I have to search the aisles until I locate the cart, which is now loaded with strange smelling cheeses, high fat snacks and greasy sausages none of which were on the shopping list.

Putting up with annoying habits is easier when the hubby is at work all day and at home only in the evenings and weekends. But little annoying habits become BIG annoying habits when done on a daily basis. Hearing my husband yell and curse at the TV during the evening news was bad enough when he was working and it was just once a day. Now he has all day to get riled up watching Fox News. Sometimes leaving the houseisn’t even a satisfying reprieve. When I went out of town for a week and put him in charge of the house and animals, I returned to have my parrot greet me with a mouth full of expletives and deep bellied belches. It wasn’t hard to figure out what had been going on in my absence.

Not that my husband has any problems acting out while I am around. He recently noticed that our cat had been climbing the palm trees, causing their leaves to bend. His solution? Buy a huge roll of barbed wire and wrap the trunks. After wrapping 10 palms he looked like he had been in a fight with the tiger and the house took on the appearance of a high security prison. Neighbors stopped mid-stride while on their daily walks to stare. I stayed out of sight. In the mean time, the cat learnt to negotiate the barbed wires and climbed the palms anyway.

It is now another hot, dry summer, and the leaves on our trees are starting to fall. Yesterday my husband decided to take the dog out for some fresh air. They stood in the driveway while he counted the leaves falling from the ash tree. Aloud. Another meaningful retirement activity.

I Think my husband enjoys being at home with me. I am the one with the problem. I am the person who wants a lot of “alone time” and I get crazy when someone is following me around or wanting to know my every move. My husband is full of questions and comments when I am on the phone, working on my computer or taking time out to read.It is his way of telling me that he wants to be included, wanted and needed. I love that he cares – but he still drives me up the wall.

I receive a lot of catalogs. In one there is an advertisement that says GROW OLD WITH ME. THE BEST IS YET TO BE. Another catalog has a different pillow. It reads SCREW THE GOLDEN YEARS. Right now it is a toss up as to which pillow will best describe out retirement years together. Just don’t ask me while I am working on my crossword puzzle.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Happy Diwali!!

Deepavali is approaching and I take this opportunity to wish all of you a ‘HAPPY DIWALI AND A PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR’.

I was reminded of the time when we lived in company quarters some 20 years back. I would celebrate Deepavali the traditional Tamilian way and we would bathe and wear new clothes before daybreak. There were about 6 tamilian families in the immediate neighborhood and we’d compete to see who burst the first cracker. Exchange of sweets would start around six in the morning and the first door to knock would be that of the Sinhas who lived just below our flat.

Mrs. Sinha would invariably grumble about the ruckus we created and found our Deepavali celebration very odd.

“Deepavali is a festival of lamps and is to be celebrated in the evening. You Tamilians seem to be opposite to us in so many ways”, she’d say.

Not knowing how best to defend myself, I’d stay quiet or say that we found it odd to wait till evening to burst crackers. I’d also add that since I finished celebrating Diwali in the morning I was free to prepare laddoos for her in the afternoon. Yes, on Diwali day, I had the enthusiasm to prepare laddoos for her too. Her family looked forward to the treat with a lot of eagerness.

Many years later, after they moved to another area and we were not able to meet regularly during Diwali and Holi, I stumbled upon an explanation for the difference in the time of Deepavali celebration of in the south as compared to the northern India. A friend of mine explained to me that Lord Ram after conquering Ravan crossed Tamilnadu at daybreak and reached Ayodhya in the evening and this is the reason why Tamilians celebrate Diwali in the morning and people in the north wait till evening to do the same. Well, Deepavali is celebrated to mark the victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura in Tamilnadu and Lord Rama doesn’t actually come into the picture as far as I know. However my friend’s explanation seemed acceptable enough. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to offer the explanation to Mrs. Sinha and since she is no more I never will be able to pull her legs about it.

Whether it was Lord Ram’s victory or Lord Krishna’s is not an important issue. What is important is that we all have a Ram and a Ravan residing right within us and let us try to conquer the evil forces in our minds and in society by using the good side of our nature to crush evil beyond recognition and celebrate our success with carefree abandon by spreading the message of universal brotherhood. Happy Diwali once again!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tag of heights...

I took a long time to do this tag because I could not decide whether I should write about old people or small kids. Finally I decided to write about my own grand daughters – Megha who is two and a half years old and five month old Aarya. I hope I’ve done a good job of it. They belong to two sets of parents.

Height of cruelty- Putting the light out for the child to sleep, when all she wants to do is to laugh and play, saying ‘enough it is bed time now’. Parenting rule I suppose.

Height of reward- Megha comes running to me when her mom gets angry with her acknowledging me as an important person in her life.

Height of challenge- To keep a serious face when grandkids smile at you after being naughty, fearing a ‘Don’t spoil her’ from the parent.

Height of vigilance- Keeping a watch on what the five month old Aarya will put into her mouth.

Height of dieting - Megha having blueberries for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Height of desperation- My brother in law’s 3 year old son taking to the feeding bottle once again when his little brother arrived, much to his mom’s desperation.

Height of competition- Megha expects to be served the exact spicy food that I serve her grandpa.

Height of comparison – Megha comparing her mini sized bindi with my bigger one.

Height of rivalry- Megha expects to be carried in preference to Aarya and that too by Aarya’s dad.

Height of anger- Aarya yelling when we place a pillow on the way to prevent her from rolling over.

Height of table manners- Though given a separate plate Meghu insists on eating from her grandpa’s plate.

Height of fitness- Aarya’s toes being permanently thrust into her mouth looking like Balakrishna on a peepal leaf.

Height of choice- Five month old Aarya preferring a particular song that her mom learnt when she was in her tummy. She hates car seats. When tied up in it she starts crying. The minute the song is sung she stops crying and the moment she switches to another she starts yelling again.

Height of choosiness- Meghu insisting on wearing summer clothes in peak winter. Aarya preferring one toy to the rest.

Height of dadagiri- Aarya insisting on being carried vertically when she was just 2 months old,yelling when I sit down and she wants me to walk around. Meghu insisting that I carry her upstairs and refusing to let my husband to do it. Megha insisting that my husband watch Cartoon channels and objecting to his switching to football during the world cup series.

Height of frustration- Aarya trying to get to a toy placed in front of her. Tries to get there by rolling instead of crawling.

Height of provocation – Can’t think of any.

Grandkids add joy to our lives even when they twist us around on their finger tips!<

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Do we love our Women?

Friends, this may be my last serious post before I leave for India in a fortnight. I have a lot of pending work to finish and I also wish to spend as much time as possible with Aarya, my little grand daughter, whom I am going to really and truly miss. I already miss not having spent enough time with my other grand daughter Megha. Hopefully there will be another visit when I’ll get to spend an equal amount of time with both of them. I dedicate this post to their bright future.

I begin by acknowledging that I’ve been influenced a great deal by what I understood from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has said in his book ‘ Hating Women’. He discusses in detail the degradation of women in the name of feminism with reference to the status of women in America. It is a book I’d recommend for every thinking adult of the world and Indian parents with teen aged children would do well to read it for two reasons. Firstly, what is happening in America today is bound to happen in India tomorrow. Secondly, with the world growing smaller they are not going to escape being exposed to it even before it reaches India. Rabbi Boteach speaks as a father with genuine concern for his daughters who will soon occupy their rightful place in the American society. I have two grand daughters who are likely to grow in America and my concern extends to them too. I cannot reproduce the whole book but these are some points that caught my attention.

1. Fall of the feminist Dream:
The feminist movement aimed at raising the status of women by encouraging them to take up careers, involve themselves in decision making at the political, official and domestic levels. To day reality shows portray women as shallow brainless creatures who’d fall to any level just for money and celebrity status. No woman seems to object. On the other hand the popularity of the shows seem to indicate that women seem to consider this as harmless fun. Translate this into the Indian scenario. Our TV serials show women as schemers and plotters, an illegitimate son or daughter pops up out of the blue and every hero has an extra marital affair. And we watch these serials instead of boycotting them.

2. Courting has been replaced by dating:
Earlier men would court women. These days, dating, often initiated by women, is the rule. Courting required the men to prove themselves worthy of the ladies' attention let alone affection. They had to work towards being approved by her parents. Dating on the other hand seems to need no such criteria and girls barely thirteen and fifteen years of age go out on dates with equally young boys. All that parents seem to do is to mumble a word of caution-“ Don’t be too late”. According to Rabbi Boteach girls should not be allowed to date before the age of nineteen or twenty which is approximately the age that they could be expected to have attained physical and mental maturity. The culture they’re exposed to at home should be one in which enables them to carry themselves with a dignity so that their date would not dare to make undue demands of them. I don’t need to add that this applies to all countries and cultures.

3. Women are Nature’s system of checks and balances:
Women have a sobering effect on man. Women are catalysts that unearth masculine virtue. Even the most aggressive of men tones down when he faces a dignified woman. Unfortunately, society is becoming more and more desensitized towards feminine attributes like modesty, sanctity and the mystique of femininity. We have our pop culture to thank for this situation. Due to this harshness will triumph over subtlety and ruthlessness over ethics. Society should never lose its reverence for women and if it does one is not too far from doom. One needs to look at the degradation of women in the west, by portraying them as mindless and vulgar in the visual medium and the oppression of woman in certain Islamic states of the east, to get an idea of what he means. I quote from the book -

“Rabbi IsaacLuria, the greatest Kabbalist of our times predicted that the world would be redeemed by women, and women would teach men how to bring forth their more nurturing, harmonious energy. Women would help men create a messianic era based on peace and prosperity by teaching men to see all beings as brothers instead of competitors, teaching them how to love rather than conquer.” In these days of terrorist attacks and suicide bombers is this not the requirement of the day?

There is a lot more in the book but unfortunately I cannot touch every thing that is mentioned. But here are a few things we can do-

1. Let us teach our boys the necessity to treat house hold chores as dignified work and encourage them to help out in whatever way they can. While a mother asks a girl child to clear the table or fold her clothes they seldom make the boy to do it. He grows up thinking that he can watch TV after a hard day’s work while his wife is supposed to do the cooking and cleaning. A little effort in this direction can save a lot of frustration.

2. Let our children understand that they would be hurting us very badly if they misuse the trust we place on them. In response to my earlier post Monika Manchanda had mentioned that she did not agree to my point on physical strength of females and that the strength displayed by a woman at child - birth was an example. I think that nothing in the world can equal a woman’s role as the bearer of her child. Nature has made her much superior to man in equipping her thus. She senses the child within her from day 1 but her husband waits for nine months to do so. But to be worthy of the supremacy accorded to her by nature isn’t it equally important that a woman exercises a sense of responsibility and caution? This is what I meant in the post.

3. Equal opportunities in the job front is a popular demand. I agree 100%. But one should be thankful to the Indian Government that it shows consideration to its women employees while considering transfers. I know of a government doctor in Jamshedpur who traveled for nearly 4 hours each day to reach his workplace. He’d take 3 different modes of transport, reaching the bus stand by car, travel for two hours by bus, walk 1 kilometer before taking a boat to cross a river and finally be taken to the government dispensary by his compounder on a motorcycle. He’d spend the night there and return the next evening commuting in reverse order. His female colleagues who draw the same salary are never posted to such remote areas and I’ve never heard him complain. I am also an employee of a government college and I am indeed grateful for the consideration shown by our policy makers. I don’t know whether I am eligible to be called a feminist but I definitely call our government’s approach as humanistic. Can we deny that equal rights means equal responsibility as well?

I have tried to address some questions raised by readers of my earlier post. I still believe that we should all strive to make the world a better place to live in and women should feel free to walk on the street at mid night. As of now I dare not let my daughters do it. I have given my children education and good values and that was something that i could do. I cannot protect them from all that is evil. I can only hope. I end with the concluding words of Rabbi Boteach –

Together, men and women working can usher in a golden age of feminine awe and magic. Together, we can create a softer, gentler and brighter world illuminated with the light and warmth of the nurturer.”

This, I feel, will be the true achievement of feminism if it ever happens.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Real masterpiece!

When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Dundee, Scotland, it was believed that she had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through her meager possessions, they found this poem.
Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Ireland.
The old lady's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health.

A slide presentation has also been made based on her simple, but eloquent, poem.
And this little old Scottish lady, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this "anonymous" poem winging across the Internet:

Crabby Old Woman

What do you see, nurses ........ What do you see?
What are you thinking ...........When you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman ..............Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, .............With faraway eyes?
Who dribbles her food .......................... And makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice, .. "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice ........ The things that you do,
And forever is losing ........... A stocking or shoe?

Who, resisting or not, ..........Lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, .......The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? ...Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, .....You're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am ..........As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, ........As I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten ........With a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters ............Who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen .........With wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now ......... A lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty, ........ My heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows ............That I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now, .............I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide ............And a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, ..............My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other .............With ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons .........Have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me ......... To see I don't mourn
At fifty once more, ............Babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, .........My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, ..........My husband is dead,
I look at the future, ...........I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing ....Young of their own,
And I think of the years ........And the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman.............And nature is cruel;
Tis jest to make old age ........Look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, ..........Grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone ............Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass .....A young girl still dwells,
And now and again, ..............My battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, ............I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living .......Life over again.

I think of the years ............All too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact .......That nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, ......Open and see,
Not a crabby old woman; .........Look closer....see, ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within...
we will all, one day, be there, too!