Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LIVING FOSSIL

Young working mothers please don't take offence.Just having fun at your expense.I wrote this 2 years back and though written in the first person not all the instances apply to me.For instance my daughters live in America where domestic help is unthinkable. So those of you who have the facility go ahead and enjoy the pleasure. However, I did undertake to teach a little girl and she stopped coming to me and I heard that the mother 'didn't mind paying any amount of fees' as long as the teacher wrote out her daughter's answers.


I like to call myself a living fossil. I seem to be such a major misfit in today’s world that I decided to take stock of areas that seem totally out of tune to what I perceive as normal. Take for instance my grandson’s upbringing. He is just 2 years old and he is being sent to 3 different places to “study”.

I assure you that I attended school. My dad had a transferable job and those were days when transfers did not coincide with our academic session. My father just barged into a school of his choice filled out a form and before we knew it we were enrolled in the appropriate class. We took care not to fail an exam and that was it. We studied on our own and were praised or punished according to our understanding of the subject. We played every kind of outdoor game, read a whole lot of storybooks, got in and out of trouble and studied just before bed-time often nodding off to sleep without even finishing our home work assignments.

My children had to face slightly more competition and the onus of preparing them for an admission interview in a reputed school fell on me. I trained them as best as I could without compromising on their playtime. I spoke to them in English and made them aware some general information like ‘we see with our eyes and breathe through the nose’. I designed the syllabus myself and we went through the routine twice a day. I must have overstepped my limits because my son decided that it was our milkman and not the cow that gave us milk and my daughter declared that the color of her hair was green at their respective interviews! Nevertheless they managed to get admission in the only school that I had applied. Once admitted we led our lives in peaceful co existence, with my children agreeing to sit with their books at a particular time of the day while I believed that they were studying.

Twenty-five years have gone by and my daughter is tensed about her son’s school admission. The child can barely make himself understood and throws a tantrum when he is woken up and sent to a playschool in the neighborhood. I fail to understand why a child should be sent to school to play. I may sound old fashioned but I was brought up to believe that children went to school to study and played with other kids free of cost in neighboring parks or wherever it suited them. We are six years into the 21st century and perhaps Internet parenting suggested that in order to make children socially acceptable they had to be sent to the most expensive play school to ‘interact’ with other children. I secretly wondered if it was the parent who was in need of social acceptance. In our times we lived in isolated bungalows and jumped over walls and ran across roads to meet our friends. My daughter lives in an apartment complex which houses 118 families and a bunch of kids are always available for interaction at the park in the complex at any given time. We have security guards at the gate to ensure that the children stay within the premises. Yet my daughter pays a tidy sum to avail the right kind of interaction. Luckily the duration of the school is only an hour so what if it starts at 7 in the morning! It is quite another matter that the child’s name was registered for admission to this school even before his first birthday. I tried to reason with my daughter but continued to be silenced by the famous one liner ‘ your times were different’. Unable to witness the child’s trauma I go for a morning walk at 6 o’ clock and return after he leaves for his playschool. Apart from this play school he goes to be coached by a retired Anglo Indian schoolteacher to pick up the “right accent”. She charges a fortune to teach him nursery rhymes that I could have taught him in my free time. But as my daughter says ‘times have changed’ and perhaps my accent that was good enough for the mother was below the standard stipulated for children of the 21st century!

I had waited for around 10 years after marriage to buy an electrified food processor and perhaps another 5 years before getting myself a washing machine. Till then I was happy to ‘process food’ manually and to be frank once the mixer arrived it took me a month to get used to it. I’d switch it on only when my husband was around and unplug it the minute I finished using it. I then decided that my daughter would have all the available kitchen gadgets from the day she set up a home and so she did. She has a food processor, washing machine, a microwave, a vacuum cleaner dish washer and what not! You name it and she has it. But if you think that having them also means that she’s using them you are wrong. She has a maid who took up the job after ensuring that all the above facilities were available and the servant is paid a cool fifteen hundred for her services which include heating up food in the microwave apart from putting these gadgets to good use! My daughter also stocks up all kinds of instant mixes, readymade ginger and garlic paste, pickles, packaged rotis, precooked dals and vegetables. I tried asking her why the servant could not render manual services and with the available gadgets doing their job and a well trained maid to handle them where was the need to stock instant food? There seemed no logic in it. I was silenced by a look that said it all! ‘Who has the time?’ True no one seems to have time. Not even the two-year-old! I had enough of it so I looked around to see if other families were better off.

A young girl in the neighborhood about the same age as my daughter came home the other day to find out if there was an art’s school near by where her school going children could learn to draw and paint on Sunday mornings.

‘Why Sunday mornings?’ I wondered. I did not have to wait for long to be enlightened. The children already went for karate and swimming classes on Saturdays and Sunday evenings were taken up by their music teacher. Bal - Vihar classes were also squeezed in to familiarize them with Hindu mythology and scriptures. In short the kids were busier during the weekends than on schooldays. I felt like asking them to rebel against parental ambition.

“ When do your children play?” I asked.

“ They attend cricket coaching after school three days a week and practice yoga in the mornings.” She replied.

‘ What happened to hop scotch and hide and seek games we played as children?’ I wondered. Those games had become redundant; as had the word building, ghost stories and riddles we took up when there was a power-cut in the locality. Our times were different and our games like us had perhaps become living fossils!
I tried to look for something to do in my free time and decided to teach a few school-going children free of cost in the evenings. Word got around and a mother sent her daughter to be tutored. The child wanted help in English and mathematics and I was glad to have found a student. I made her read the lesson in her English reader explained it to her as best as I could and asked her to answer a few questions based on the lesson.

“But these questions are not given at the end of the chapter.” Protested the child.

“I am asking you these questions to judge whether you have understood the lesson. They will encourage you to think for yourself.” I tried to reason with her. “You may write the answers at home but try to answer in your own words.”

I also asked her to look up the meaning of difficult words using a dictionary.

The next day it was the mother and not the daughter who came to me. I wondered if the child was ill. The mother told me that the little girl was unable to find time to look up meanings of difficult words and frame answers to questions. She wanted to know if I could please write out the answers to the questions given at the end of the chapter and underline difficult words, which she would look up, and note down for the child.

“But” I protested, “Why don’t you let the child work on her own? If we’re going to do her home work for her how will she learn?”

“She has to complete her History project by tomorrow. Her father is helping her to do it ” Said the lady.

I could not understand the logic behind the assignment of a project that the child could not work on without outside help. I wanted to ask her if the child was over worked and was missing out on simple pleasures that one derived by working on one’s own and the joy one felt when original work was appreciated. I felt outdated and unwanted. The world around me had changed beyond recognition, as had the rules of parenting. I felt a misfit in my surroundings.

Suddenly I seemed to remember something. Not long ago when I wanted to admit my daughter to a famous but expensive technical school my mother had made her displeasure known in all possible ways.

“ Why do you want to spend so much money on a daughter’s education?” she had said.
“She will not be supporting you after marriage. You may as well invest in some gold jewelry. After all, even with all that money you spend on her education, you still have to get her married. And you better teach her some housekeeping. As for your son, well his room is a mess at any given time of the day. And the kind of music they listen to is enough to drive one crazy.”

“Your times were different” I had replied. “Whether I buy gold or not I definitely am going to educate her. She will take up a job and invest in gold or diamonds as per her wish. That’s up to her. As for housekeeping she’ll pick it up when the time comes. Why worry now?”

I am sure my mother had then felt like a living fossil then very much the way I do now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tag Repeated !

I’ve tried to apply the parameters of an earlier tag to grandparents particularly grandfathers based on what I observed in my own father in law. I hope I’ve done justice to him.


Height of cruelty- Parents troubling a two year old grandson to learn the letters of alphabet and subjecting him to a rigorous routine of preparation for admission to a reputed playschool.

Height of reward- The child throwing a tantrum when the mother comes with a glass of milk but drinks it up like a lamb when grandma/grandpa give it to him. If the mom is the DIL so much the better.

Height of challenge- Answering the seemingly innocent question of grandkid with a straight face and without provoking a stern look of disapproval from the parent.

Height of vigilance-Checking the pockets of sleeping grandkids to make sure that they have no sharp or pointed objects in them such as pen knives and razor blades.

Height of dieting – Eating paani puri from a road side vendor when no one is around/ watching.

Height of desperation-Waiting for the office going son/DIL and school going grandchildren to finish using the bathroom before putting it to personal use. Worse when one’s spouse points out ‘Where is the hurry? Why can’t you wait?’ One tends to remember his/her hey days with despair.

Height of competition- Competing with grandkids for newspaper and magazines.

Height of comparison-Comparing the present times with the 1940s and saying ‘We would walk 6 miles to go to school’ or ‘ I would chop a whole lot of firewood on Sundays.’

Height of rivalry- Wanting to listen to Carnatic music at the very moment the grandson wants to listen to pop music. So what if the son/DIL are unable to settle the dispute!!

Height of anger- Angry with the wife for refusing to serve coconut chutney with idlis considering your soaring cholesterol level and throwing a tantrum knowing well that she alone would put up with it.

Height of table manners-Eating up grandchildren’s left over food to save them from their mom’s admonition.

Height of fitness-Getting up at five o’clock in the morning and going for a morning walk expecting the wife to get up just to lock the front door.

Height of choosiness- Choosing to advice one’s grandchildren’s friends on the merits of the earlier system ignoring the signal emitting from their eyes.

Height of dadagiri- Expecting each family member to report all their activities to you and seek your advice thereby respecting your capacity as the oldest family member.

Height of frustration- the grandchild wants to listen to a story just when you decide to take your afternoon nap. Turn to see if your wife can take over and find her already asleep.

Height of provocation – The grandchild hiding your spectacles or walking stick just when you decide to go to the park to meet other senior citizens and catch up on the latest news.


Friends my computer has developed some problem and is threatening to crash any time. I am unable to open my own blog or mail when I want to. I am at the mercy of this technical 'monster' and I still don't know if this post will be published. I deserve this for getting addicted to my blog world. I managed to open this after 3 days of trying. Please bear with me.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Your opinion please!!

This is a rough translation of a story I read in a Tamil magazine and I’ve tried to stick to the story as far as possible. Since I did not have a copy of the story, I may have missed a few points. This story impressed a colleague so much that she asked for a translation to circulate among members of a mahila samity to set them thinking about it. I too tried to ask myself the question raised by my friend. Do children make one forget one’s duty towards parents or do our priorities change? Is it a natural phenomenon? Well, I must admit that I did not like the answers my ‘head’ gave me and found solace in the excuses offered by my heart. I leave the onus on my readers and request them to give me their true opinion.

Gayatri had just finished her work and was about to sit down with a book when the telephone rang.
‘Could it be Mayura?’ she wondered. The very next moment she remembered that it must be around midnight in America and Mayura wouldn’t be calling her at that time. Mayura was her daughter married and living with her husband and children in the United States. The phone call was from a friend of hers asking whether she was free to accompany her to the market. She was in no mood to go and politely refused citing an imaginary headache as an excuse.
Continuing to remember her daughter, Gayatri recalled the initial years that followed Mayura’s marriage. Phone calls were regular and letters had been frequent. Letters had now almost stopped except for the occasional e-mail and e-greetings. She remembered how she had pestered her husband to teach her to use the computer to be able to access her mail. The phone calls were more regular but this time it appeared as if it was it was unusually long since Mayura had called.
‘When was it that Mayura had last called?’ Gayatri wondered. ‘ Oh, yes’ she recalled. ‘ It was on Diwali day. Nearly a month ago. Twenty eight days to be precise.’ She normally rang up once a week or at least once in ten days. While the children kept her busy, her husband was worse than a child and depended on Mayura for every little thing. ‘The poor girl is over worked.’ She thought.
She wondered if the children were okay. It was wintertime and they were prone to cold and throat infection. She remembered that her son in law had plans to go to Germany on an official trip after Diwali. Mayura might be managing every thing on her own. However hard she tried Gayatri could not get Mayura off her mind. She continued to worry about her daughter when she spotted the postman at the gate thrusting something into the letterbox.
‘ Might be an invitation or greeting card’ She thought. ‘Who bothers to write these days?’
She nevertheless went to get the letter. It was from her seventy five year old mother written on a postcard.
‘ Dear Gayatri,’ the letter said, ‘ long since you wrote. I hope all is well with you. I keep worrying about your welfare. I hope Mayura is fine. When is she coming to India? How is your husband?’ and so the letter went on.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Changing Times

Rajni was worried about her granddaughter Riya’s marriage. Riya was her son Raghu’s daughter. Unfortunately Raghu and his wife Uma had met with a fatal accident and Riya who was then a mere toddler became her responsibility. She was now professionally qualified and ran a consultancy service of her own. Marriage negotiations were tedious and eligible bachelors had a price tag to their names. The more they earned, the greater was their demand! It did not matter if the girl had a career of her own, professional or otherwise. Girls were not to be left behind. Compromises and adjustments were considered outdated concepts. The very suggestion appalled the Gen X kids. Difficult it was but as her guardians they had to do whatever it was in her best interest. Her husband Rajan was in touch with a suitable family and wanted to invite them to ‘see’ his granddaughter.

“NO WAY!” protested Riya, “ I’m NOT a cow to be inspected by strangers! At best the boy and I could meet at a restaurant for coffee and get to know each other with no commitments from my side. I reserve the right to reject him if I don’t take to him. Is that clear?”

Rajni sighed. Times had changed and education had made girls vocal and bold. Yet there was something missing. Her mind raced back to the time when Rajan had come to ‘see’ her from Bangalore. The memory brought a smile to her face. How very different was her own experience! The episode flashed back as she thought of the D-day….


Rajni was hardly able to suppress a smile. The ‘boy’ looked so serious. He had accompanied his parents to ‘see’ her. His mother seemed okay. She had a kind face and gentle eyes. She seemed to be of a friendly disposition. The father hardly spoke. Rajni was thirteen years of age and the oldest among five sisters. Her father had negotiated with a magistrate in far off Bangalore and had invited him over along with his wife and son to approve of his daughter. Rajan was a civil engineer about thirteen years her senior and had a government job. Those were days when dowry was neither offered nor accepted. A family’s status was determined according to the recommendations of friends and well wishers rather than their bank balance and a girl was ‘shown’ and ‘seen’ only after careful consideration by both families and rejection of the girl was very rare.

The ‘girl seeing’ ritual was carefully planned and she was given appropriate instructions.
“Don’t look up straight into the boy’s eyes,” her mother said, “elders will do the talking. You may answer questions but only to the point.”

They may ask you to sing,” her grand mother added “practice singing a few bhajans and don’t you start off on your own. Wait for your father to grant you permission.”

You may be asked to serve tea and snacks,” said her aunt “ that would be their way of judging your housekeeping skills. Be careful not to make a mess of it. Of course I’ll be there to assist you but it should appear as if you are used to doing it.”

“ If you are asked about your culinary skills tell them that you are in the learning process and assure them that you would willingly pick up their methods after marriage”

There had been so many instructions that Rajni got confused. She wanted the whole process to get over as soon as possible. The D-day finally arrived and the groom accompanied by his parents knocked at their door a whole week before the scheduled time! It was Rajni who had opened the door. Her father, accompanied by her siblings had gone to attend a marriage ceremony in a neighboring village. She had to stay back due to a cold and her mother had remained with her. The visiting trio introduced themselves and asked for her father.

Her mother came rushing out and invited them inside. She hurriedly sent for her aunt and directed her to get Rajni ready. She sent a boy from the neighborhood to inform her father.

“Please do not panic” the boy’s mother said “ and no formalities please. We came for wedding in these parts and suddenly decided to come over to your place. It was not possible for my son to avail leave next week. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all” her mother said “please make yourself comfortable”

“Ma’am” said the boy “ Do I have your permission to speak to your daughter?”

Now this was unexpected and her mother did not know how to respond. She turned to her mother in law who was quick to intervene.

“We normally don’t allow our girls to talk to the groom before marriage. Such things may be okay in Bangalore but we belong to a more conservative society. Moreover you have not yet conveyed your approval of the match.”

The boy’s father spoke for the first time.

“We would not have come all the way from Bangalore unless we were pleased with your proposal,” he said “With your permission my son would like to talk to your grand daughter right here in the presence of elders.”

“ In that case it seems alright.” Grandma grudgingly agreed, “Though I don’t understand what he would want to ask her. She is only a child and may not be able to respond. Let him ask me and I will clarify his doubts.”

“I will get to you later grandma” laughed Rajan, “ let me talk to my future wife first”

Without bothering to wait for the old lady’s response he directed his question to Rajni.

“Do you go to school?” he asked.
‘How unromantic’ thought Rajni ‘hardly like the hero in a movie she had watched a few months ago.’

She looked up straight into his eyes but remembering her mother’s instruction stared into a wall clock right above his head.

“I used to go to school but I dropped out last year” she replied.

“Why? Did you fail your exams?” Rajan meant to tease her. But Rajni felt insulted.

“Of course not. I was among the toppers in my class. There was this silly boy in my class who gave me a letter……..” she stopped in the middle of the sentence on seeing her mother’s expression of disapproval.

Rajan’s father laughed heartily while his mother tried to suppress a smile.

“Did you read the letter?” Rajan was beginning to enjoy himself.

“Oh! No!” Rajni was quick to reply, “I gave it to my class teacher who sent the boy to be caned by the principal.”

“How sad!” said Rajan in a tone of mock sympathy, “didn’t you feel sorry for him? Tell me what do you do at home all day?”

“I read story books and play indoor games like chess and ludo. I’m pretty good at these two games.”

Rajni’s grandmother started to get worried. This smart boy was cornering her grand daughter with all kinds of questions and this silly girl was talking a little too much. Her mother started serving coffee and snacks in an effort to distract them.

“Don’t tease the poor girl son” the boy’s mother who wanted to put the worried grandmother at ease, “do not worry about him child. Tell me, would you like to study further when you come over to Bangalore?”

“I’d love to if I’m allowed” Rajni jumped at the suggestion. “I love reading books!”

“I’ll arrange for a private tutor to teach you English and Maths” said the magistrate “my daughters could teach you to read and write Kannada.”

“And my mother would teach you to cook and keep the house” said Rajan “I will perhaps have nothing to do!”

“You will be going to your office so when will you have time?” said his mother. Then turning to his father she indicated her approval.

Everything had been so simple then. Girls got married at a tender age and easily adapted to the ways of their new homes. They were willing learners and the transition from bubbly teenagers to responsible homemakers was smooth. She could only hope that her granddaughter would settle down soon. Riya had set so many conditions that she was getting apprehensive. Just then the telephone rang.

“May I speak to Mrs. Rajan?” a voice enquired.

“Yes it is Rajni here” said Rajni “may I know who is calling?”

“Rajniji this is Preeta here. I’m Ravi’s mom. Does the name suggest anything?”

Of course it did! Ravi was the boy they had in mind for Riya. Why on earth was the lady calling her?

“How do you do Preetaji? I was looking forward to meeting you. I hope everything is fine with you” Rajni tried to remain calm.

“Would it be alright if my son met your daughter over coffee tomorrow?” Preeta almost sounded apologetic. “ Let them approve of each other first. We could perhaps meet later.”

“Times have changed” Preeta continued “ my daughter Shoba refused to subject herself to the ritual of ‘girl seeing’ and I don’t expect Riya to be different. Our children are mature enough to decide for themselves. I do hope they take to each other.”

“Of course it is fine with us. Negotiations are held directly between the children these days. We cannot do much about it” said Rajni.

“Our children live in more competitive times so their dealings are different.” Said Preeta “Let us remain relaxed. They are both quite capable of arriving at an appropriate decision. We can sit back and enjoy the day and if our children decide to marry all we have to do is to bless them and wish them well.”

“We have the best of both worlds. Our parents took care of our marriage arrangements while our children deal with theirs. Aren’t we lucky?” the two women laughed heartily.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hi Friends!!

Hi Friends,
I'm stuck with a faulty phone line and cannot access my blog as much as I'd like to.India being India the telephone services aren't prompt.It is 3 days since I've complained and no one has turned up to check it yet.I'll get back soon.In the mean time I'll get used to life here and make the best out of it.My college has reopened and a new building was inaugurated yesterday.More abt. it later.I see Passerby is back after her sabbatical.How did you enjoy your break?I'll be back ASAP.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Let us contribute

Reporters Without Borders / Internet Freedom desk

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS URGES INTERNET USERS TO JOIN
IN 24-HOUR ONLINE DEMO AGAINST INTERNET CENSORSHIP
Where: www.rsf.org
When : 11 A.M. on 7 November to 11 A.M. on 8 November

No one should ever be prevented from posting news
online or writing a blog, but they are in the 13
countries singled out by Reporters Without Borders for
a 24-hour online protest against Internet censorship.
Worldwide, 61 people are currently in prison for
posting "subversive" content on a blog or website.
Reporters Without Borders is compiling a list of 13
countries whose governments are "Internet enemies"
because they censor and block online content that
criticises them. The Internet scares. Censors of every
kind exploit its flaws and attack those who pin their
hopes on it. Multinationals such as Yahoo! cooperate
with the Chinese government in filtering the Internet
and tracking down cyber-dissidents.

The defence of online free expression and the fate of
bloggers in repressive countries concern everyone. So
Reporters Without Borders is offering Internet users
tools to campaign against Internet predators and is
calling on them to participate in an INTERNATIONAL
CYBER-DEMO.

Everyone is invited to support this struggle by
connecting to the Reporters Without Borders website
(www.rsf.org) between 11 a.m. (Paris time) on Tuesday,
7 November, and 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 November.
Each click will help to change the "Internet Black
Holes" map and help to combat censorship. As many
people as possible must participate so that this
operation
Can be a success and have an impact on those
governments that try to seal off what is meant to be a
space where people can express themselves freely.

Protests will also be staged by Reporters Without
Borders bureaux around the world to condemn Internet
censorship and ethical misconduct of the Internet
giants when operating in one of these countries.

Reporters Without Borders will publish the list of the
13 Internet enemies on 7 November and at the same time
will launch its blog platform, rsfblog, and an
Arabic-language version of its press freedom website.

The agency Saatchi & Saatchi has created an Internet
ad calling on the entire Internet community to take
part in the 24-hour campaign. All media, websites and
blogs that want to support this large-scale protest
are invited to get in touch with C├ędric Gervet at
+331 4483-8474.