Monday, December 31, 2007

Going back in time - Happy New year all the same!

With everyone looking forward to Year 2008 I plan to take you back in time to my grandfather’s place some 45 years back. Yes, to life in a Tambram household that seems so different to the life I lead now.

“Mmmmmaaaaaa……….” Lakshmi the cow calls out almost simultaneously with the milkman’s call from the gate. It is nearing 5 o’clock in the morning and Lakshmi has sensed his presence.


My mami or mother would open the gate for him and the day has just begun.

As a child I’d try to keep off all sounds from my ears to catch a few more minutes of sleep. No way. The entire neighborhood has woken up and one has no option but to do in Rome as the Romans do. With sleepy eyes we look for the ‘Nanjangud’ tooth powder with a slightly sweet and refreshing taste and proceed to the inner courtyard or ‘mitham’ where a specific corner is marked out for the purpose. A huge brass vessel called ‘jodothavalai’ has already been properly cleaned with tamarind pulp and filled with water from the well. Till date I wonder how the ladies of the house, so methodical in their regular duties, could start the day with such energy. Between you and me, I need the coffee provided by my husband to even think of what has to be done on a particular day. I secretly hope that he sleeps an hour longer but no, the man is up at 5 in the morning and starts waking me up as if I am a school going kid who needs to get ready by 6:30 A.M. But I’ll keep that for a later post.

So, where was I?? Oh yes we were brushing our teeth with Nanjangud tooth powder and coffee is already ready. Mama would buy coffee powder, freshly ground in 250 gram packs, every alternate day so as to have fresh coffee in the morning. School going children would be given milk and my mother would begin calling out to my brothers who needed no wake up call. They would have had a bath by now and with a broad band of vibhuti smeared across their forehead have already started memorizing their tables.

“The boiler is on. Will the next one go for a bath? The water will turn cold. Don’t forget to pour a bucketful of cold water for the next person. And shove in some dried palm leaves to keep it burning.” calls my mother who has already had a bath and with a wet sari wrapped around her frail body she has started the tedious process of filling water for cooking and drinking purposes.

The motor is on, Moopachi the servant maid has arrived with her brood of school going grandchildren to assist her and our cook Narayana mama has started cooking on the firewood hearth. It is just around six in the morning and the day’s news paper has just arrived. My grandfather and the older cousins who shared his room on the first floor have arrived on the scene.

With around ten school going grandchildren vying for their slot in the bathroom my grandfather opts to bathe by the well. He washes his clothes himself. Moopachi would monitor the activities of her grandchildren treating them to a slap or two as occasion demanded. They would clean up the cowshed gathering cow dung in a bamboo basket to be made into cakes for use as fuel. They would then soak the vessels in water after having emptied the left over food in vessels of their own and take care of the sweeping and swabbing of the house. Moopachi would wash the portico and the pathway leading to the gate and finally sprinkle a generous mixture of dung and water at the gateway and finally call out to one of us to adorn it with a massive rangoli to welcome goddess Lakshmi into the house. We dared not disobey her or delay our response. She had as much authority over us as with her grandkids.

“Which mother in law is going to put up with your lazy ways?” she’d demand. “A little house work will not harm you.”

Since I’d be there on a vacation from school or college I’d be regularly treated to a piece of her mind. She would expect me to help her with washing clothes and send me to supervise the granddaughter who swept the rooms in the first floor. I felt that my brothers and the other boys had an easy time at her hands for they were never assigned chores. She’d wash vessels and spread them out in the sun, brass vessels sparkling like gold and steel ware would appear as though they were up for sale. Clothes would be dried out without a crease and her grandchildren would breakfast on left over food before leaving for school. Such was her loyalty and managerial skills that she’d never put up with shoddy work and would make them do the work all over again if it was not done to her satisfaction.

Finally the war of words between the cook and Moopachi would begin.

“You call this coffee?? Worse than gutter water. How does he expect the children to eat this food? No taste at all. I wonder how the master manages to eat this kind of food?”

The cook would rush out ladle in hand.

“Do you think I am being paid to cook for your grandchildren? Who asks you to bring them any way? The entire family feeds on our left over food and look at their cheek. They have the audacity to criticize my culinary skills. I’ll see to it that you are thrown out.”

“We’ve been serving this family for more than forty years and you new comer ……….pooh! what would you know about our loyalty? Try filling the master’s head against me and you’d be thrown out before you know it.”

“I’ll deal with you later after the master leaves for court.” Narayan mama would finally give in.

In the meanwhile the ladies of the house would divide work among themselves. The one who bathed early would help in the kitchen and the others would get the children ready for school. The girls would line up to have their hair oiled, combed and plaited tight. The mother or aunt who sat down with oil and comb would run her fingers across the forehead of each child as a sign of blessing so it was customary for us to turn around and let them do it before getting up. Breakfast would be curd rice and pickle usually tender mangoes in salt water. I remember the principal of our school attributing the intelligence of Tambrams to the curd rice they consumed for breakfast.

Vessels washed by the servant would never be stacked without being rinsed with water filled by the lady of the house after having bathed. Her sanctity was complete only if she wore clothes hung out of reach on a wire tied to nails or hooks that almost touched the ceiling. A bamboo pole was used to dry out and/or remove clothes from their aerial position. As children we’d feel depressed at not being allowed to touch our mothers till she had recited her slokas and offered food to the Gods. This self imposed quarantine was called ‘Madi’ and my mother being a strict follower of rules would confine herself to the kitchen and pooja room till she had her food.

“May I touch you?” I’d ask even as a sixteen year old as if I wanted to sleep on her lap.

Children’s clothes washed by the servant could be dried out by her but she’d leave my mother’s clothes as well as that of my mami to be rinsed again in sanctified water and dried out by them. Initially we had to ask for water to drink because we’d never be sure as to which vessel contained water that had been used for cooking. We could not drink out of it before food had been duly offered to god. Later my mother would fill a brass pot with water and leave it in the dining area with strict instructions not to immerse spittled glasses unwashed hands into it. We older ones were expected to take care of these things. In my enthusiasm to learn to cook I sometimes offered to relieve my mother or mami of duties in the kitchen after Narayan Mama passed away and the family decided not to replace him. I wasn’t easy to remain confined to the kitchen for hours and I kept forgetting that even if I entered the drawing room or bedroom I was not supposed to sit on the sofa or touch bed linen.

Meals would be served at ten in the morning and tiffin at two or three in the afternoon. School going children would come home for lunch and be treated to a filling evening meal on their return. In a way there seemed to be a continuous routine being followed one merging into the other. Modern gadgets were not available and grinding, cleaning etc were done in the afternoons. Yet there was no indication that the women were over worked. Division of labor was such that they took turns to relax. They would do embroidery work, prepare papad/vadams pickles and still have time for an occasional social visit. Lessons of adjustment and peaceful co existence were easily imbibed and the journey to an independent existence had already begun albeit in an insignificant manner.

True, demands of society vary with time and all this may not make sense in the 21st century but a glimpse into my past has rekindled fond memories and makes me wish to go back in time. If only that were possible……..

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Defending the indefensible??

A lot has been said about the use of cell phones in colleges and how far a teacher is supposed to go with her role as a disciplinarian etc. Who gets to decide these things? A teacher? Then students are bound to cry foul. Students? Then teachers would say that the students were too immature to decide. Parents perhaps? But then the late adolescence is a rebellious one and parent/children communication is at its nadir. Someone has to bear the brunt. 'Bell the cat' as one would say. So let me be the bad person who stifles the freedom of the student community. The old woman who ought to ought to opt for early retirement. Remember that I have already surrendered by calling myself a 'Living Fossil' here.

Kurrodu says-

"It is also important that teachers maintain a good rapport with the students. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough.

The lack of a healthy relationship between a parent and the kid gives room to these bad influences. A teacher is of great help to such kids."

Very true. I am sorry to say that I seem to be defending the indefensible and there are sadly several teachers who for reasons of their own vent their frustration on innocent children and do irreparable damage to their soaring spirits. The reasons are many but none strong enough to justify their attitude. But a sensitive management can do wonders and no teacher would want to lose his/her job. The government should also have a system in place that monitors aspects such as student/teacher ratio, the number of periods allotted etc. and affiliation of private schools and colleges ought to be withdrawn if teachers are found to be over exploited. If in spite of being given the best facility a teacher is found to be temperamentally unsuited, his/her probation period may be extended and in ultimate cases services may be terminated.

The kid says:- "Even in this case, you made some sweeping assumptions on why the student was charging the cell phone. Which could be true or false, but they were assumptions nevertheless.

There is a zero tolerance, unjust and automatic assumption of guilt, and arbitrary prosecution of students by the teachers."

I agree that these were assumptions but they were not entirely baseless. And our fears are not unfounded. Parents in India continue to worry about their married children who have kids of their own. I know that I do. There are teachers who consider their students similarly and automatically feel responsible for their safety. Let us pamper you while we can. Why grudge us the pleasure? I am sure students can differentiate between genuine concern and a power monger’s display of might.

Vishesh says-

“the funny thing is the purpose of imposing discipline is so that we pass it on...but the fact is there are people who hold other virtues, Well my question is does our society have the capacity for holding so many different views?”

I think he means other views. I feel our society is a fairly tolerant one and one person’s definition of discipline may be different to another’s. Within limits no one minds. But broadly speaking I feel that a student’s mind is very impressionable and needs to be given direction. This can be done by involving them in creative and productive activities and more importantly appreciating their efforts when their pursuits yield the desired results and by giving them a second or third chance if they falter or fail. A judgmental attitude will not help. We have to accept that they are dealing with much more competition and need to prepare themselves accordingly. If a student senses good intentions and has faith in you he/she will not mind an occasional dressing down and these are the very people who will see to it that others follow rules. I have shared my experience here and I have seen it when we take students out on study tours.

If we say “you can go out on your own but return by 8 in the evening”, chances are that they will return before the stipulated time to live up to the faith you place on them. But they have to be convinced that you mean well.

Preethi says-

“i mean society as in parents, teachers the whole rigamole) can’t teach responsibility and caution at what 18-19? will they ever learn?? I doubt it unless they are burnt?? After all college going students are adults!!”

Quite right. College students are almost adults at the undergrad level. They must be allowed to learn from their mistakes. But burns can be of varying degrees. A singe or a mild scald is okay. But what if chances are that it may result in a third degree burn that may take years to heal and cause a permanent scar? Would it not be wiser to impose rules or issue stern warnings than to allow them to walk into danger zones and trust them to retreat at the appropriate time? I am sure this argument is going to evoke strong responses from my young readers but I’d still risk it.

Finally NSK says-

“This is convincing, but don't we have too much of distractions in today’s environment that boundaries are easily broken?”

This was exactly the purpose of my writing this post and the previous one. Too many distractions is all the more reason why youth energy needs to be given proper outlet and direction. The girl mentioned in the post is a smart and intelligent girl who could be an asset to her family and society provided her energy is channelized. She is not a Science student but even without have interacted much with her I could make out that we were dealing with a very smart girl. Could we afford to let her think that it was okay to be manipulative or that being smart and devious were the same?

There have been times when I have scolded students for being late. Pooja was one such girl who walked in when the practical class was almost over. When reprimanded she was very rude in her response.

“You come by car ma’am. How would you understand what it means to wait for hours to board a bus?”

She was almost in tears.

“You have to leave home sufficiently early. This excuse will not hold” I said.

She sat sulking for half an hour. Realizing her mistake she came again to ask if I’d explain the practical to her and I did as if nothing had transpired. From that day I could sense a positive change in her attitude towards me. It was the same with another girl Jyoti and there have been more cases when a mild rebuke has actually strengthened the bond between me and my students. As I’ve said before they have to be convinced that one means well. And dealing with bright children has never been easy.

A merry X'mas and a Happy New year to all of you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hi all,
I meant to highlight the fact that youth energy needs to be channelized by narrating the incident. Unfortunately importance is being given to use of cell phones in the college premises. Now that the question has cropped up let me clarify.

Our college bans USE of cell phones not bringing them. In the college they can always use it with permission in case of emergency and once out of campus no one goes checking whether they are using or misusing it. Most of our students belong to middle class homes and students cannot afford to spend money on unnecessary phone calls and we trust them to use it prudently. I agree that just because of a few over smart ones all students are being punished but can it be helped? Doesn't it always happen that way?

We are aware that girls like S.....N.... are quite capable of looking after themselves. We are more worried about the innocent ones who may be influenced by their peers who may mislead them. I do not have any conclusive evidence to prove my point but in a recent program conducted for teachers on World AIDS day it was pointed out that college girls clad in burkhas regardless of their religious affiliation regularly met boys at a crossroad near the YMCA office and sped off in two wheelers to a nearby park. They are doing this during college hours and one need not be a Perry Mason to understand that their families are unaware of their activities. The use of electricity to charge their phones is not as objectionable as the fact that they seem to own cell phones unknown to their parents. If it were not so why would they charge the phone as soon as they arrived? The next question is who is providing them with mobile phones and why? Are the smarter ones being used to trap other vulnerable girls? These are concerns that bother me as a teacher. I quote the kid who says

The teachers/lecturers are threatened by the cell phone usage, be it the rapid advancement that the teachers are not able to keep up or the wealth associated with it.

He further adds-

What exactly do you achieve by banning these things? a sense of superiority?It is neither. It is just a genuine concern for those innocent girls in their teens or early twenties who have been a part of my working life.

A certain amount of discipline needs to be imposed on students in our effort to prepare them for life. Schools do not allow boys to sport a beard or grow their hair. Girls are expected to plait their hair or tie it up. They are made to wear uniforms so that the poorer ones may not feel inferior just because they don’t wear designer wear. A boy or girl does not become more or less intelligent on account of his hairstyle. But rules are laid down and no one objects. An undergrad is only a year or two older. He/she needs to be gradually initiated into adulthood and a little discipline will not harm them and teachers are not their enemies. On the day of the interview I stayed back with the placement in charge till 7 in the evening and we left only after the last girl left college. We arranged for them to go in groups and requested the few guardians who had come over to escort the girls who lived in their neighborhood. We were accountable for all 22 of them. They are likely to take up jobs in a year or two but we still felt responsible for their safety. Yet Pratap says that

Teachers in India cannot handle the responsibility.’

When my son was young the rule was that he had to come home by seven in the evening. If he did not turn up I went downstairs to fetch him home. He hated it then but I went all the same. He appreciates it now.

When my daughters were young it was understood that they could not stay out after dark but when later when my older daughter got a job in a metro I trusted her to look after herself. Once values are imbibed and boundaries are drawn our duty is done and they can decide and discriminate be they children or students. Till then we have to keep a watch on them however unpopular our stand. After all is that not part of life?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Teaching Experience-4

When I started out on my previous post I meant to write about a lighter side of my teaching experience. However, my anguish took over and I lamented the changing values of society and the lack of motivation that seems to prevent talented youngsters from taking up the teaching profession at the school and undergrad levels. I had written a related post some time back here.

As for college teachers, there seems to be two categories. Those that work as ad hoc teachers in the innumerable private colleges where they are paid on a per class basis and terminated before the vacations and others who receive UGC benefits. In my own college we have a good number of ad hoc teachers who are not paid anything at all and depend on tuitions for their survival. Is it any wonder that they have marked out their areas and students throng their classes for the notes they provide? There seems to be a symbiotic understanding and both groups benefit. Our college being in the heart of the city a number of coaching centers thrive in the neighborhood and students are given notes keeping in mind the questions that are likely to be asked in the examination. Reference work in the college library?? Who has the time? The students are busy preparing for entrance exams and job interviews and a teacher who gives concise notes is the one that is most sought after. I am sorry to be cribbing and the only way to get over my foul mood is to harp on the lighter side of my teaching experience. What cannot be cured may as well be endured.

On the day we had our placement interview the teacher in charge of the placement cell was asked by the visiting team to allot a hall where one of their team mates would conduct the first round of interview. She stepped into a lecture hall and found two students charging their cell phones while simultaneously talking to someone over the phone. They were so engrossed in their conversation that they did not see her enter.

Our college does not permit the use of cell phone in the college. The reasons need to be dealt with in a separate post so I shall not elaborate. Our honors students carry cell phones but keep it either switched off or in the vibration mode. In case of an emergent call they check the number and talk with our permission for a minute or two. Even when they go on study tour they abide by our instruction and talk only once a day to their parents just to inform them that they are fine. These girls were not only breaking the rule but were endangering their lives by talking while their phone was being charged. That they were using the electricity for which the college was paying did not seem to concern them at all. The placement officer confiscated the phone and asked them to meet her with their parents the following day. One of the girls realized the futility of trying to coax the teacher to return the cell phone. Not so the other girl.

At first she claimed that the mobile phone was not hers and it belonged to a friend who had asked her to receive an important call on her behalf. The friend was waiting outside the room but refused to come in when called. After sometime she corrected herself and said that the phone was her own and pleaded that it be returned to her promising never to use it in college.

“Ask your parents to meet me. I will return the phone to them.” said my colleague.

“My parents would think that I’ve lent it to someone or lost it.”

“Give them my cell number. I’ll confirm the fact that I have the phone.”

Not knowing how to respond the girl went away. In the meantime there were frantic calls from a particular number that my colleague ignored. We later came to know that within minutes of confiscating the phone our Principal got a call from the Student Union leader of a boy’s college briefing her of the situation and asking her to advise the concerned teacher to return the phone.

The girl returned in about half an hour’s time along with an elderly gentleman and a young man who appeared to be in his early twenties. She introduced them as her uncle and brother.

“I did not ask you to bring them. I am busy today and I will only meet your parents and that too tomorrow” said the teacher.

“I am her brother ma’am” said the boy.

“Will you both please stay out of the room?” said the placement in charge. “I will have nothing to do with you. I will talk to her parents if and when they come.”

“Ma’am, my father in Saudi Arabia and cannot come. My mother is not a very confident person. She avoids talking to strangers. I have brought my uncle. Why don’t you talk to him?”

“Did your father leave for Arabia after I seized your phone? I will have none of this nonsense. Either your parents come to meet me or you forego your cell phone. The choice is yours.”

During the entire conversation the elderly gentleman remained silent but on seeing that the teacher was unrelenting he started saying that since his brother was in Arabia it was not possible for him to come in person. My colleague interrupted him mid sentence.

“Sir, I am not her enemy. Please let me deal with her the way I deem fit”.

In the meantime the Principal was under pressure from different quarters to ask her placement in charge to return the phone. Finally the girl approached her but she refused to intervene saying that it was a busy day and she could not disturb the placement committee. While the girl was talking to her the man who had posed as the girl’s uncle asked to meet the principal regarding his daughter’s admission.

“It is already December. All admissions are closed.” She said. Around this time our bursar who had been with us when the girl brought him in as her uncle, walked into the Principal’s chamber.

“Aren’t you S…….. N……’s uncle?” she asked.

The Principal who had his application in hand looked confused.

“This is Mr. T…….. and how could he be S……. N…..’s uncle?”

It so happened that the girl was a muslim and this gentleman was clearly a Hindu. The man muttered something and hastened out of the room. The boy was also not her real brother but an actor playing his role in the drama.

The girl was not going to give up that soon. After college hours when the Principal came to see how our girls were faring in the interview, the girl approached the placement in charge once again in the presence of the Principal. She now brought her friend who actually owned the cell phone. The friend cried as if some irreparable damage had been done to her. For whatever reason, she did not want to involve her parents. She kept apologizing and promised never to repeat the mistake. Finally at the behest of the Principal the Placement in charge returned the cell phone after a severe warning.

We could make out that these girls were rather intelligent. Who else could think of convincing strangers to pose as her uncle and brother? Right or wrong, the student union is also quick to defend them. All I wish is that this immense potential is channelized to purposeful activities.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Enjoy this

these were beautiful pictures sent by my cousin.too good to miss.

some more here for you to enjoy

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Teaching Experience-3

We recently had IBM visit our campus to recruit candidates for their call centre. We were glad that 22 of our students were selected. It also underscored the fact that regular course study was taking a beating and aptitude /logical reasoning and basic intelligence is the requirement of the day. The next big question is whether we are going to find good teachers to train young minds or are we going to make do with those who were left behind and could not land good job? At least 13 of the selected candidates were science students 8 from the Biology stream and 5 from the Maths group. The choice was unmistakably fair and these were the best the college had to offer. It was not as if the company settled for the best among the bad lot. Some of these girls had made it to Wipro also and the company did not select a single candidate from another college in town. Some of our students are doing their masters from another local college and the best among them were also selected. This brings up the next question. If young minds are going to be lured into taking lucrative jobs in multinationals where the course they’ve studied is not being put to use is it not time we revised and restructured the course?

I remember a batch we had 2 years back. The final year students would attend classes only on the days they had practicals. After the practical class was over they would excuse themselves to go to the canteen and vanish from there. We had a kind of counseling session with them but at the end of it was they who counseled us in their own way. They were all either attending coaching classes for MBA admission or taking lessons in Computer centres. They saw no future in our outdated syllabus and they took admission in our college since a degree was the minimum requirement for an IT job, a bank PO’s post or for admission to an MBA program. I felt certain that their results would suffer and tried to reason that some companies did not even let second divisioners apply for a job.

“We can manage madam” was the reply. “this is only a repetition of what we learnt in 12th standard and we have no intention of doing our masters or going in for research.”

The fact that struck me odd was that the girls who were vocal were also the most focused and they all managed to get a first class. They are pursuing their studies in reputed institutes outside the state where campus selection ensures that they land good jobs.

My friend and colleague Dr. K. Shukla made a very pertinent observation. She went to attend a pre registration seminar in the PG department of Botany with a candidate who wanted to do research under her. The Post Graduate students seemed to be a disinterested lot with no quest for knowledge and seemed to be there just because they had no better option. She remembered her own days as student in the same department and rued the fact that lack of motivation had perhaps led to such a situation.

My experience as a novice was very encouraging. We did not have an honors course then but pass course students showed a keen interest that delighted us. Their depth of knowledge was amazing. One could not misinform them and get away with it. We’d have animated discussions about the evolutionary trends of living organisms and try to find the affiliations among different groups. I did my masters around that time and I was greatly helped by my interaction with these students since teaching was the best way to learn. Our first Honors batch produced excellent results with 7 out of 8 students securing a first division. I don’t remember them ever missing a class. Many of them got married and their daughters and nieces are now our students. The priorities of the present generation have changed in keeping with times. My only regret is that we already have a dearth of good teachers in Physics and Mathematics. Soon good Biology teachers may also disappear from the scene and when it happens what is going to be the future of the teaching profession? I am not in a position to comment on Arts and Commerce students but I guess it is the same there too.Or am I perhaps over reacting?

My next post will deal with a lighter side of my teaching experience. Do forgive this rather serious post. Couldn't help it.

One with Nature.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The years gone by.........

This is part II of the tag by Dipali. A list of 10 things that I miss from the years gone by. Well the very thought makes me nostalgic-

I miss the quiet confidence that my mother exhibited when we were growing up. A frail women with failing eyes but sharp intelligence, she was a wonderful combination of polite manners and a steely heart. Her advice when heeded always fetched the desired result. I haven’t met anyone quite like her. She never demanded respect, she got it without asking. In short she commanded it.

I miss my mother in law who taught me to respect the woman in me. She’d defend me against my husband and shoo him off in matters that she strongly felt were best dealt with by women. She was the one who taught me that one had to speak out to be heard unlike my mother who believed that her silence said much more than her words. I am indeed lucky to have been groomed by two wonderful women.

I really and truly miss the jasmine flowers that were a part of me during my college days. I’d buy flowers every evening wear it after freshening up, remove it and carefully place them in a wet handkerchief and wear them to college the next day. The stuff that passes off for jasmines in Jampot has no fragrance and I don’t wear them at all.

I miss the days in my grandfather’s house when we cousins would gather during vacations and live like one big family. We did not have any of the modern means of entertainment yet we had a fulfilling time.

I miss the time when my children were in their primary school and trusted me to solve their little problems. The attitude was ‘if mom is around things would be okay.’ Now that they’ve realize that mommy is not the super woman they thought she was, I feel a wee bit unwanted and under utilized. I guess this is natural but I miss it all the same.

I miss not having my daughters around to pitch in and help where ever possible. I have this habit of starting something, remembering something else and finally feeling frustrated with a number of chores in hand, all half done. I’ve always had them taking over and relieving me of the monotony of house keeping. Nowadays I make do with things that are absolutely essential since I know that no one is going to take over from where I left.

Strangely I miss the time when money was short and every little pleasure was a luxury. We then had something to look forward to and we appreciated the value of every penny spent. Today my affordability has increased but the pleasure is gone. With limited money we’d think of the needs of each member of our family first and place ourselves last. But we never felt deprived or wanting. I cannot understand this paradoxical turn that my life has taken.

I miss the mountains; I mean the Nilgiri hills where I spent 4 years of my life in a boarding school. Those were the formative years that made me what I am today. I had led a very protected life till then but it was there that I learnt the meaning of ‘survival of the fittest’ and peaceful co existence. A stint in the hostel taught me more than what I could have ever learnt at home.

As a child we’d sleep outdoors on hot summer nights and awaken to the chirps and cooing of innumerable birds. Strangely I seem to miss their melodious sounds when I go for my morning walk. Where have all the birds gone/ And what have we done to our environment? The ecological balance, I am afraid, has been badly disturbed And the consequences are not going to be good.

Since this is part II of an earlier tag I ask the same group to carry it forward.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On being sixty..........

I’ve been tagged by Dipali to reveal ten things I want to do before I turn sixty. She also wants me to enlist ten things I miss from the years that have gone by. I’ll do it in two parts and here’s Part I about things I want to do in the next three years. Oh my God! I seem to be running out of time. Thanks Dipali for bringing it to my notice.

I want to learn web trading about which the whole world seems so excited. I hear that housewives in Bihar start their day checking out details of their investment and performance of their stocks and there are tutorials where the ‘trick of the trade’ is taught. I feel a misfit with a capital M so I’ve decided to know what it is all about. If it is not interesting by my standards, then I can always return to blogging.

My son recently sprang a surprise by paying a visit unannounced. He came around 10 in the evening (night perhaps?) and as usual the shock of suddenly seeing him in flesh and blood caused a kind of mental block and I did not know how to react. If he had expected me to shed copious tears of joy and hug him in true bollywood style, I am sorry to have disappointed him. I stood staring at him and finally asked him if he wanted to have coffee or prefer to have dinner straight away as if he had returned after an evening out with friends. He was visiting me after a year and 9 months and had come all the way from the US of A. I AM going to get rid of this stupid habit of saying things out of context. I was indeed delighted to see him and may as well learn to say it in words. He is my son and would probably understand but if he brings home a wife, she’s bound to consider me nuts.

I am really and truly going to learn to use both hands while typing. I use only one finger and to be frank I am in awe of school going kids type as if they learnt to use computers while in their mommy’s tummy.

Like Dipali I too want to get rid of hundreds of things that clutter my house. We have so much of unwanted stuff that could be given to others who could put them to good use. But my husband has an inborn affection for all things that were ‘bought with great difficulty’ and refuses to part with anything that was bought by his parents or himself. He also won’t let me throw off things that my mother gave me because she also must have given them to me under ‘very difficult’ circumstances. How do I explain to him that before the IT boom we all led difficult lives and while I appreciate his concern I need to give away things from time to time? It has a kind of soothing effect on my troubled nerves and helps control my soaring blood pressure? Any suggestion to the effect would make him file a divorce suit since he would consider me unworthy of his affection. I cannot think of a better soul mate. So before I turn 60 I plan to learn to treat every unwanted item with the affection it deserves. This includes the blunt knife with a red handle which he uses to cut coconut.

On a serious note I want to start a lending library for the children in our complex. The reading habit is perhaps missing among many of those kids. I want them to enjoy reading good books very much the way I did as a child.

I want to get more involved with the projects undertaken by Adarsh Seva Sansthan an NGO group operating in Jamshedpur. They are concentrating on creating awareness against female feticide. I want to spare some more time for them.

I want to set aside some money towards enabling a deserving child from the economically underprivileged class to buy brand new books and other study material at the beginning of the academic year.

I think I’ll pamper myself with a Kerala style massage and a steam bath in a spa before I turn 60. I hear that it does wonders to one’s health.

I am indeed going to spoil my grand children sick by being the indulgent grand mother and together we’d irritate their mothers who would not be able to do a thing about it. Wow! The very thought is so fulfilling.

And finally I am going to try and get my papers filed and put in order. It is going to be difficult but has to be done nonetheless. I have a good agent who deals with all the paper work rather well but I too need to do my bit.

I think I’ll tag Usha, hillg’mom, madhumita and altoid to reveal what they plan to do before they step into the next decade of their lives. Anyone else who wants to take it up is welcome to do so.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The wicked 'me'!

There have been incidents when I’ve been deliberately wicked. How did Itching to write ever come to know of it? The sixth sense at work perhaps? She’s tagged me to reveal the evil ‘me’ so here I go.

My husband once blasted me for not being able to find a comb to comb his receding hair or whatever was left of it. All the while the comb was lying right in front of him. I decided then that he should go without a comb for the rest of his life. I hid every comb in the house including the pocket combs that I got for Navaratri. The poor man cannot ‘see’ things that are right in front of him. From where would he find a hidden comb? He’d find my hair combed and tied up but could not bring himself to ask for one. He simply ran his fingers through his hair and looked around to see if by some magic a comb would fall into his hand from nowhere. I was certainly not relenting. This went on for 3 days when unknown to me he noticed me extracting a comb from my purse. The next day I saw his hair in place and realized that he had indeed outsmarted me. I still wonder why he didn’t go to a nearby shop and buy himself a comb? Wouldn’t it have been better than pulling a long face as if the whole world had turned against him. I would have done that if I had been in his place. Another gender rule I suppose. ‘Do what you want all your life, when things go wrong blame your wife.’

The former Principal of our college once withdrew the facility of using the telephone from her office even in emergency situations. We finally agreed to pay and use it. She kept a small ‘hundi’ near her table and staff members would drop two rupees into it before using it. Many self respecting staff members preferred to go to a pay phone booth to using the telephone in her office. Those were days before mobile phones had become popular. I’d deliberately go to her office, dial up a non existent number or insert a 25 or 50 paise coin and talk for at least 10 minutes.

When I first learnt to drive a car I used to get nervous when people overtook me without a warning.So when I gained confidence I’d make it a point not to give a pass to any one who wanted to overtake without indicating. ‘If you want to overtake, you better take my permission.’ I’ve gotten over that phase now.

When my brother in law visited us he’d listen to loud music of his choice on the internet till about two in the night. I deliberately disabled the connection and the poor man did not even suspect foul play. I felt lousy for being mean and enabled it after two days. That is also a problem with me. I start feeling bad for the target of my wickedness and end up relenting.

There have been other occasions when on an after thought I’ve felt that I should have retaliated in this or that manner when I was at the receiving end of atrocious behavior. But I never really have been able to do so. An acquaintance of mine often cites the following example-

A dominating relative of his would often visit them, have her way in everything, act mean to the entire family and leave everyone depressed by the end of her visit. The moment she left there would be a buzzing sound in the house. People would form groups and the conversation would be something like this-

“It would take me a minute to give her a fitting reply. I just controlled myself.”

“I almost said ‘this’ or ‘that’ but I kept quiet. Then what would be the difference between me and her?”

The truth is that most of us are happy being good. It is so much easier. We take the liberty of being wicked with those who are either very close to us or those who don’t matter at all. On the occasions mentioned above I did get a sadistic pleasure at least temporarily. It was like being someone else. Have I told you that I liked Ravan’s acting better than Ram’s in Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan? I do hope the real Ram was not like Arun Govil’s lifeless depiction of the character. Remember, our mythological character was not only a good and just king but also a valiant soldier. And with his plastic smile Arun Govil hardly looked either of them!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

To write or not to write??

Eve's lung tagged me to write about things I wanted to write about but could not get to actually doing it.Here I go-

I wanted to write about the young girl in Gawahati who was stripped and molested by those opposing a protest rally by students. I could not bring myself to express in words the agony I felt.This was an instance where words truly failed me.I hang my head in shame that this happens in a country where women are worshiped as Devis.

I wanted to write about a tyrant of a Principal who would treat her employees as if they were her bonded laborers to the extent of holding back their salaries to show how powerful she was.But then I decided that she was not worth a mention let alone a post.I prefer to write about those poor people who stood up to her against all odds.

I wanted to write about my colleagues who were given their full salary after 14 long years.Here again I found myself groping for words unable to express their joy in the right words.But I felt elated that the powers that be finally relented.Ihad written about them here

I wanted to write beautiful poems like Vishesh. But unfortunately they don't sound right.So I leave it to him to delight us with his pieces.

I wanted to write a piece on life in a typical Tambram home some 40 years back.I haven't done it out of sheer laziness.May be I'll do it one day.

I wanted to write about arranged marriages from a parent's perspective.I dare not do so for fear of alienating a good number of my readers.So I keep my views to myself.You my readers are too precious to lose.

I hope I have done justice to the tag.I invite anyone interested to carry it forward.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Adoption laws??

Adoption of children by a childless couple has been happening since time immemorial. There are contradictory opinions about whether the adopted child should be told about his/her adopted status or not. If yes then when is the right time to divulge the information? The reactions of the human mind are strange and unpredictable and there is no guarantee that the child is going to react positively to the news if and when it is disclosed. They say blood is thicker than water. But is it really so? Don’t the years of nurture put in by the adopted parents count? I have the example of a few cases that make me conclude that the adopted parents are lucky if their wards take the news well but it would be better to be prepared for the worst.

I do not know their names so I have decided to give them names of my choice. On second thoughts I feel that naming them is not that important. This could happen to any of us whether our child is adopted or not.

I met the mother and daughter some 12 years back when I went to a friend’s place on invitation during Navaratri. They were visitor's at my friend's place having come there on a short vacation from New Delhi. The child was about 5 years old and unless otherwise mentioned one would not realize that she was adopted. Unfortunately the father had died soon after the child’s first birthday but the child was a source of joy and the mother worked hard as an assistant in a reputed institution in Delhi to give her the very best in life. I am a regular invitee to their house during Navaratri and I’d make it a point to enquire after the child’s progress when ever I visited. But the report I got this year was alarming. The girl was now a school drop out and is probably into bad company. She remains out with friends for days together makes atrocious demands for cash sometimes at gun point. She regularly steals money from her mother’s purse has removed the adoption papers from the locker of her mother’s almirah. The slightest rebuke makes her violent and she challenges her mother to ‘throw her back into the gutter’ from which she picked her. She claims to be working in a call center thereby justifying her absence at night. Her mother is now emotionally dependent on her and the girl is well aware of the fact. My conclusion is that the girl is into drugs and since she is the nominee to all her mother’s assets there may be others involved in encouraging her to threaten her mother and terrorize her to submitting to her unfair demands. In these days of HIV/AIDS spreading like wildfire I wonder if the mother is equipped to deal with the girl as well as those behind her. Any way that is beside the point.

The mother feels guilty about not having disclosed her adopted status at the appropriate time and feels that the shock of having found it out by herself perhaps led her to revolt. She tries to convince herself that drug abuse is not involved. I did not have the opportunity to meet the mother and I report the story from what I learnt through her sister who is in Jamshedpur. I personally feel that this could have happened even if the daughter was her own and not adopted. But then this is one of those issues that have no answer or solution. Blinded by her affection for the adopted daughter the mother refuses to take her for counseling or to find out what her problem happens to be and whether she is indeed working for a BPO. After all who’d hire a school drop out who has failed her 9th standard? Her main fear is that of losing the daughter for ever. And the sixteen year old is well aware of this. In this case the girl accidentally found out about her being an adopted child. I don’t have detailed information about adoption laws but there appears to be a condition making it necessary for parents to inform the child of his/her status at an appropriate time.

The world and its whimsical ways are strange. If the child turns out to be normal no credit is given to the parents whether adopted or natural. The moment things go wrong every one starts giving their expert opinion. Those that sympathize with the child accuse parents of over indulgence or indifference and if they are on the parent’s side they blame the child’s lineage laying the blame on bad blood. Neither of this really helps. Any child can fall into bad company and adolescent crisis is not unique to a particular group. Drug peddlers are on the look out for victims and a child who is confused is an easy prey. As parents one need to recognize signs and deal with it accordingly. Blaming one’s fate is not going to help nor would be helpful to indulge in self pity. No one wants a child to go astray but should the worst happen let it be faced and rectified before it is too late even if it is at the risk of losing the child's affection. Children are sharp and will understand your good intention pretty soon. One needs to remain patient. And in case the misunderstanding persists but the child's behavior is corrected, one can atlest watch his/her growth from a distance and it would be better than witnessing their downfall and not being able to do anything about it. It is the responsibility of the parent to deal with the situation in an appropriate manner and for adopted parents it is like walking on tight rope.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tag of weirdness

Seven weird things about me-

Preethi has tagged me to reveal 7 weird things about me and to further tag seven people to continue the tag. Having done a similar tag earlier, let me try. Though I have to think of a new list of weird attributes to do justice to the tag.

I have the tendency to think of something funny and giggle or smile. I mostly do it in the privacy of my home but sometimes I giggle to myself while traveling in a bus or in a boring situation. I quickly check if others have noticed it and regain my composure.

I normally see people dress up for the evening and look tidy and trim when I drop in. Evenings are my time to relax and I wear soft and soothing clothes and dress up only if I have to go out. This may be due to the fact that I’ve spent the entire day in a starched sari duly pinned up and am happy wearing dangly stuff that pass off for clothes at home.

I forget where I’ve kept my stuff and tend to look for them in the wrong cupboard though I seem to easily locate my husband’s misplaced belongings. Things have improved a bit these days with pass books in one folder and certificates and things in another. When my husband was working he was worse than me but since retirement he does a good job of organizing things. The only problem is that his lectures are non stop.

I used to sob my heart out while watching melodramatic masala movies till about 10 years back. These days I laugh at the very same situations. I cannot explain the change of heart. May be the actors overacted or I over reacted. Whatever the reason, my children would stop watching the movie and check out if I had started shedding tears. I remember my friends in college hushing me up.

In really tensed up situations I tend to say something out of context. Like when my daughter needed to get admitted for her delivery I asked her if I should grind the soaked dal for vada. I am sure my son in law must have thought that I was crazy. I can’t help it. I get muddled and unable to think straight, I tend to say or do something silly.

I cannot bear parting. I’ve cried for each of my teachers who left school to get married. On one occasion a co - passenger asked me if I was related to my Geography teacher noticing the way I cried when we went to the station to see her off. I’d cry when I left home for the hostel and cry again when I left the hostel to return home. When my younger brother got married I cried along with his wife and my daughter almost disowned me for it. But strangely the tears seem to have dried up these days and I make do with quivering lips and a crooked mouth.

I love reading portions of an impressive book over and over again. I sometimes re-issue library books for the purpose. When I am out of sorts I take up a really funny book and read the funny parts to overcome my bad mood.

Now the difficult part of tagging seven others- I think I’ll ask Sunita, serendipity, dotm, rajk, tys on ice, prats and nz to take up the tag if they wish to.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gup shap.

I feel that there is some basic difference between men and women. Whether it is in their genes or cultural tuning I wouldn’t know but I do feel that men-or at least those that belong to my generation suffer from a blindness that has no name. We’ve heard of color blindness and night blindness. But how do you classify when men look at things without actually seeing them. My husband for instance needs me in the house all the time. It used to be-
“Where is the gas lighter?” at five o’clock in the morning. This question would annoy me. I certainly don’t hide it under my pillow. Earlier I’d get up and give it to him and come back to get on with my dreams. These days I close my eyes tight and continue to dream. He must have learnt to locate it or perhaps uses matchsticks but he has stopped asking me. The next question would be
“Where is the milk?”
Why they don't try to locate even medium or large sized objects is something I don’t understand. Even while I write this post my husband is asking for the TV remote. He is the actual ‘controller’ of the remote and it is invariably found on the sofa. I don’t even touch it with my little finger but the question is always popped at me. As if I go about hiding everything. I personally feel that they shoot the question even before looking for a particular item. A gent’s towel is not the size of a lady’s handkerchief to be folded and kept in my purse nor do spanners and screw drivers attract me. But it is always ‘where is this or that.’

One evening when I came back from work every edible item had been left open. The cooker with cooked rice in it, dal, and sabzi lay open on the kitchen slab. Curd and pickle on the dining table. Lids of all sizes lay strewn all over the place and this was at least two hours after he had his afternoon meal.

I woke him up from his afternoon nap and demanded to know why he hadn’t bothered to keep the curd and dal in the fridge and why each and every item had been left open. He had no answer except that he was watching an interesting match on TV and forgot about it. He did not even see the curd and pickle lying open.

“Oh! Stop it will you?” was his retort. “It doesn’t take place everyday!” Thank God it doesn’t. It would cause my blood pressure to soar. Honestly I don’t see a woman doing this however interesting a program on TV may be.

The second problem area is the selective deafness he seems to suffer from.

“The dal is in the fridge.” I’d tell him. “Heat it up in the microwave just before lunch.”

I’d come back and see that he has not taken out the dal at all. He had mixed rice with sabzi and eaten it up.

“But the dal was in the fridge” I’d protest.

"Oh was it? I did not know”

“I told you and you nodded your head as if you understood.”

“Did I? I don’t remember you telling me anything.”

The truth was that engrossed in his paper he had not heard a word of what I said nor seen me leave the house.

“Appa was better than you.” I’d say referring to my father in law.

And it was true. My father in law managed a lot for me. After I left at 7 in the morning and the children and husband followed me, he’d go around the house not only putting out lights and checking on the gas regulator but he’d keep track of dhobi account, servant’s salary and newspaper bill. He’d take care of the children’s home work and tell them bed time stories.

“Last month we did not get the news paper on the 3rd since 2nd October was a holiday” he’d announce. Or “The dhobi has lost a towel. I’ve asked him to look for it. I am not paying him unless he gets it.”

It was such a relief to have an elderly person attending to minor details of house keeping. My husband may ultimately do the same for the children but right now all he does is to irritate me.

Having said this I remembered a piece of advise my mother in law gave me long ago.

I was upset at something that my husband said and was about to retaliate when she shut me up much to my irritation.

“Wait till you reach my age” she said. “You can get then away with saying anything you want and he won’t even bother to listen to what you say. The bonding will be such he will not mind it even if he heard you. But not now my child. You need to grow old together before the privilege is yours.”

I now realize that she was speaking from experience and I tease my husband saying that I have his mother’s permission to boss over him once he retires!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Deepavali is the festival of lights and is celebrated all over India with a great deal of enthusiasm. In fact it is a week long celebration starting from Dhantheras to Bhai Dooj with an extra day on either side. The Bengali community worships the Goddess Kali on Diwali day, Marwari and Gujrathis worship the Goddess Lakshmi and the residents of the Gangetic plain celebrate the home coming of Lord Rama from exile. We Tamilians celebrate Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. Stories abound with each community finding its own reason to celebrate the day. To my mind, the festival is indicative of the ultimate victory of justice and righteousness, whatever the obstacle. It is also a way of reminding oneself that we need to dispel the dark side of our society and replace it with light. So let us all celebrate Diwali by-

Remembering that there are several needy people out in the open without a shelter over their heads. We may not be able to build them homes but let us not shatter their hope of a better tomorrow.We seem to have a lot of things but no time to relax and enjoy the fruit of our labor. Let us take time out to spend time with our near and dear ones.

Let us surprise a long lost friend by either visiting him or with at least a phone call. I know that I need to visit one such person whom I remember quite often but never find time to meet. How would she know that she is very much in my thoughts? Social visits are almost non existent but isn’t Deepavali an appropriate time to say ‘I care for you’?

Finally let us remember that we may be among the fortunate few but the wheels of fortune keep turning and in our short span of purposeful life let us make ourselves useful to society so that the world remembers us, not by the amount of wealth we’ve amassed but by the good will we’ve managed to earn. We need not go about conquering an external enemy let us begin with a self introspection and decide how best one may light up the lives of others in whatever small and insignificant manner. After all don’t little drops of water make a mighty ocean?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On being rich...

I have been rather lucky with domestic helps who have been not only loyal to me but have recommended me to others before quitting my services under some compulsion. Except for one servant who worked for me for a very short time they have all been very honest and trustworthy. I sometimes wonder if the law of averages will soon catch up and I’d be stuck with a real troublesome servant in my old age? But then let me make hay while the sun shines. I have a very sweet girl working for me right now. She is in her early twenties and is likely to get married in a year or two. I do hope her replacement is equally good. It would be difficult for me to monitor their work at my age when I’ve never done it before. I’ve been wanting to devote a few posts to these wonderful people who became an integral part of my family and have made life so much easier for me. I realize that they belong to an underpaid and over worked group. I may not be able to do much but I do try to treat them with the dignity they deserve because they do a job that I find difficult to handle continuously for more than a week.

So let me start from Rajamma.

Rajamma was perhaps in her early thirties when she started working for us. In fact she was my senior by 4 months having taken up the job a little before my marriage. She was hard working and for lunch, her family depended on the left over food that her employers gave. She would only cook at night. Always well dressed, she carried herself with a quiet dignity and picked up culinary skills from her employers as bonus. She learnt to make rangoli designs and a fair amount of Knitting, crochet and embroidery. She worked part time in 5 households and the poor woman wanted to educate her children so that they would never have to work as servants. She worked for me for 22 long years and till date she remains in touch with me. She comes to me with her problems and trusts me to handle her bank account which she manages to maintain without the knowledge of her family. Unfortunately her children did not study well though her sons manage well enough as ‘dosawallahs’ and daughters are married off. She sends her grandchildren to English medium schools, sending them to private tutors for extra coaching. Her grand daughter had not performed well in the 1st terminal examination and was being scolded by her when my daughter paid them a brief visit.

“Don’t worry,” laughed my daughter “your grand mother is a real Hitler. We have all been scolded by her at some point of time.”

She is well off now but has not forgotten her days of hardship. The amount of sweets that she distributes for Deepavali would put us to shame. Such is her generosity. Destiny had her washing soiled clothes and spittled vessels but I had always felt that she was a class apart. And I was right. Her parents were well off and led a fairly secure life in Burma. During the Second World War they had to abandon everything and come to India as refugees. Being uneducated she had to work as housemaid to earn a living. But it did not dampen her spirits and she continues to aspire high for her grandchildren in very much the same way that she did for her children.

Then there was Kamala who worked for four years when Rajamma left our services due to an arthritic knee and found it difficult to climb stairs. Kamala was good at her job and also very honest. However, she had a problem. She would talk almost non stop. She had teen aged sons of the same age as my son and the teen trouble faced by me did not escape her either. She would spend an hour after her arrival giving an elaborate account of the way her boys troubled her or how irresponsible her husband was.

“Kamala it is getting dark. Why don’t you start work?” I’d say.

“It’s okay didi, I’ll go by the main road. Nothing to fear. There are lots of people on the road even at 10 in the night.”

My husband would return from office to be greeted by Kamala with a broom or a swab cloth in hand, in animated conversation with me.

“She should be paying you for listening to her sob stories.” He would grumble. Why don’t you ask her to finish work before I return?”

Though rather annoying I let her work for me because she was not only honest but also very self respecting. She also worked for another family in the neighborhood. The poor woman trusted them with 25,000 rupees of hard earned money that they offered to fix in the bank on her behalf, because the tedious paper work involved baffled her and opening an account in her name appeared rather difficult. In her innumerable gossip sessions she would tell me about the falling rate of interest and express her relief about having fixed the amount for 5 years at a higher interest rate.

Time flew and the stipulated 5 years also passed by. However there was no talk of renewing the fixed deposit or returning the money. Kamala turned to me for help but there was no proof of her having given the money and I could not interfere.25, 000 rupees plus interest was a lot of money for a poor person like her. But her reaction set me thinking.

“Tell me didi, will they become rich by robbing me of my hard earned money?” she asked, “Will it last for ever? Never mind the money. I’ll always remember that babu (meaning our neighbor) helped me when my son met with an accident and today he is earning more than 10,000 per month. He’s got a new lease of life and God willing he will earn much more than what I’ve managed to save in all my life. I’ll consider the amount as donated to some charitable cause.”

I had no answer.

I sometimes wonder what the word poor stands for. Are Rajamma and Kamala poor? I have seen propertied people with chauffeur driven cars pounce on calculators to calculate the amount they stand to benefit when the government announces a 5% increase in DA as if their lives depended on it. And here we have a woman like Kamala, willing to forgive a person who had swindled her of a life time savings. Having money does not automatically make one rich. I end with an oft repeated story that seems to have some relevance to Kamala’s story.

The sage Narada once complained to Lord Vishnu that here he was repeating his name a thousand times per day and the Lord was appreciating a devotee who hardly found time to remember him. The Lord asked Narada to hold a bowlful of oil and go around the temple premises once. Narada dutifully did so. Around the same time a woodcutter came, set his load on the temple floor, folded his hands in devotion and thanked God for giving him good health to work hard and support his family and prayed that God should continue to bless him in the same manner. Narada looked down upon the devotee who found time to remember God only once a day. The Lord asked Narada how many times he remembered him while going around the temple premises with a bowlful of oil. Narada admitted that he was concentrating on the one job assigned to him and found no time to remember God and the woodcutter’s devotion was indeed superior since he worked hard to make ends meet yet he did not ask for material comforts but thanked God for enabling him to work for the well being of his family. Does it not automatically indicate who was the richer person?


Saturday, October 27, 2007

My type of brain!

Your Brain is Blue

Of all the brain types, yours is the most mellow.
You tend to be in a meditative state most of the time. You don't try to think away your troubles.
Your thoughts are realistic, fresh, and honest. You truly see things as how they are.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about your friends, your surroundings, and your life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Engagement Tag

I have been tagged by ITW and this time it is an engagement story tag and that too my own. Well, be prepared for a disappointing account-no thrills here just the routine ‘girl seeing’ story. It was however made a little interesting by my uncle who negotiated on my mother’s behalf.

The story begins with a rejection of our proposal by a gentleman in Kumbakonam. He was a diamond merchant from Sri Lanka whose son was employed in Jalpaiguri. He corresponded with my uncle to the extent of writing that his son would abide by his decision and there was no need to have a formal girl seeing session. He offered to drop in casually for a peep at the girl and if all went well the wedding could be held between the 1st and 15thof June of the same year because that was the only time that his son could avail leave. My uncle insisted on seeing the boy and refused to entertain his request to have a casual ‘peep’ at me. Finally the gentleman backed out for some silly reason but his rejection made my uncle adamant that he would see to it that I got engaged if not married by the 15th of June and he started negotiations on a war footing!

Likewise my husband’s family had negotiated with quite a few families in Calcutta and Jamshedpur and when nothing materialized my mother in law sent my father in law to Chennai to stay there and ‘look’ for a suitable girl. He thus landed in Chennai with the sole intention of hunting for a bride for his son. My uncle advertised and my father in law responded with suitable references of people, some of whom were known to our family. I later came to know that other aspects being satisfactory, neither of them matched horoscopes thinking that the other person would do it. Finally my uncle invited the family to come over to see me.

Since my uncle lived in another town in Tamilnadu, I was blissfully unaware of these developments and had applied for admission to a B. Ed. As well as B. Lib. Course and was awaiting an admission offer from either of the colleges or both. So when a telegram announced that a family from Jamshedpur was expected to arrive to 'see' me, I was totally unprepared. It so happened that I got an admission offer on the very day these people decided to come over and I was hoping that even if I was engaged the family would let me do my B. Ed. For me, more than the career prospects, the thought of being allowed to continue at my mother’s place was reassuring.

The actual ‘girl seeing’ formality was neither exciting nor an eventful occasion to recall or remember. I remember feeling hot and waited for permission to change into some casual attire hoping that the trio would go away soon. But that was not to be. My uncle had guessed that my father in law would have short-listed more than one girl to see before asking his wife and son to come over from Jamshedpur. He was certainly not going to let them off easily. It was already June 10th and he had a point to prove. He requested my husband’s parents to convey their opinion immediately. My father in law was also not prepared for this. They had plans to visit another family and decide on the better of the two. However, this could not be disclosed. He started giving some excuse and from an inner room I was trying to figure out what was going on. My mother looked equally confused and I was beginning to enjoy the situation. My younger brothers, brats that they were, came in to give me a minute by minute account of the developments.

“The boy and his parents have been shifted to grandfather’s office.” They’d announce. Peeping from behind a half closed window they tried to get a first hand view of my future husband’s expression.

“The boy’s mother is trying to convince the father to say that they needed time to decide but the father seems unimpressed.” Was the next report.

“What about the boy?” I whispered. In my excitement about my uncle having cornered the boy’s family, it did not even strike me that no one bothered to ask me anything.

“The boy hardly talks” said my brother. “It is his parents who seem to be arguing.”

Finally in about half an hour the trio emerged and my future mother in law expressed her approval and came in to give me a warm hug. There was one more formality to be fulfilled. A formal engagement! The family priest was called and a suitable date around 3 weeks after the ‘girl seeing’ was decided upon and a small engagement ceremony took place within 2 hours of their arrival.

I could believe what had happened. I ought to have felt thrilled but I was more into a shock mood. My brothers had marked my husband’s height on the wall and made me stand by the side to see how short I was in comparison. Every one was excited but me. I tried to recall the face of my future husband but try as much as I might I could not. All I could think of was that I would be leaving my carefree life and going off to an unknown place among unknown faces. I had hoped that I’d be allowed to stay back and finish my B. Ed. I desperately prayed that my marriage be put off till January. “But why?” my mother asked. In 6 months time you will still have to leave. We don’t have a reason to give them." Marriage is a big gamble and in my case as in most cases, it paid off.

Sorry about getting sentimental. It was not my intention. Today we are a happy couple with a good rapport and it hardly matters whether horoscope matched or not. My husband teases me saying that the height mentioned in the advertisement was wrong by 2 inches and that he ought to have taken my measurement before saying yes. I try asking him what transpired between his parents and him in my grandfather’s office. He says that he could have escaped in tact only by saying ‘yes’ so there was no question of saying NO. It was a type of house arrest!

I recently crossed Jalpaiguri on my way to Darjeeling. I remembered the man whose refusal enabled me to marry the man in my life and realized that perhaps all things work together for good.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My dreams??

Sue asked me to write about my dreams and pass it on the tag to others. I wonder if Sunayana knew me in a previous birth?? How did she come to know that I love dreams. There have been times when this irritating husband of mine wakes me up in the middle of a dream and I’ve tried to go to sleep hoping that my dream session would continue. Well those are dreams in a literal sense. I think Sue wants me to talk of my dreams in a figurative sense. So here I go-

As a teenager I’d dream about owning a bungalow in a small township with an open terrace adjoining a well furnished bedroom and soft music playing till well past midnight. I had read a novel by Indumathi and was totally impressed! I later settled down in a small township and was glad that at least that part of my dream came true. No I have no regrets and feel glad that I can still dream of owning a cute little bungalow. With domestic help becoming scarce, I’d prefer to let my dream remain that way. Its maintenance would exhaust me and I’d sleep off without listening to soft music. So let me DREAM about it for ever.

As a young mother I dreamed of seeing my children settle down to a decent, morally sound life. Life was a struggle back then but since my husband also shared my dream we were able to fulfill our dream to a reasonable extent. I am glad that my children are not only sensible but sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate and are always a step ahead of us in doing their bit for society. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. My sons in law also complement the role of their respective spouses and if and when a daughter in law arrives on the scene I do hope she is also the same. Till then I’d continue to dream of a daughter in law who’d be friends with me.

I have dreams for my country. I dream that in some 20 years from now India will attract talent and brains from the west and we will dictate terms and others would abide by them. But unless we improve our infrastructure and offer basic civic amenities my dream may never be realized. Let us then work together to transform my dream into a reality. I dream that the teaching profession may someday regain its lost position and when a child is asked what he/she would like to become, he/she would proudly announce that she’d want to become a teacher. This cannot happen unless teachers become role models for children to look up to. Already I see a dearth of good teachers in the primary section of prestigious schools and if this trend continues our children will lack motivation and a whole generation will suffer. Let thinking citizens of our country come up with means to rectify the situation before it is too late.

On a lighter note I dream of a day when I don’t have to light the gas and prepare food. I don’t mind drinking cold coffee and eating fruits and salads. I dream that our township has theatres with advance booking facilities and also dream of vehicles that run on rechargeable batteries become the rule rather than an exception, so that our atmosphere would be less polluted.

Finally, I dream of authoring an international best seller but unfortunately I can’t think of a suitable topic. So could any one give me a topic to write on, so that this ambitious dream of mine comes true?

It is long since I pestered Srijith Unni and Starry nights.So I pass on this tag to them and to any one else who may want to take it up.Would srijith and lalitha oblige please?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lost opportunities...

'For opportunity might knock twice
But age knocks only once.'

I flicked these lines from Joy’s blog. Of course with her permission. I found them beautiful. They seemed to reflect my own experience when on numerous occasions I missed the boat once, got a second chance but it was never the same.

I came to Jamshedpur as a young 22 year old with no great ambition or aim except perhaps to lead a happy go lucky life sans responsibilities. Eight years later I took up my present job. I was a graduate and joined as a Lab in charge which was a non teaching post, created after the abolition of the post of a demonstrator. The nature of work was the same. But promotion benefits were withdrawn. I loved my job and my department. Ours was a college with a difference. I improved my qualification started taking classes but promotion was a NO! NO! I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had joined as soon as I reached Jamshedpur. I’d have joined as a demonstrator and by now I might have become a Reader since I would have been eligible for promotions. There is a time and age for every thing a late starter is as good as a non starter.

I did not give up easily. I qualified an eligibility test for lectureship and applied as a fresh candidate. My Ph.D. advisor tried his best to arrange for my viva before my interview. My thesis had been submitted but I could be awarded the degree only after the thesis had been evaluated and the viva-voce conducted. Nothing works the way we want it to. Not having a Ph. D. at the time of the interview was quoted as one among other reasons for my not getting the post.

Today I seem to see light at the end of the tunnel. It is a long story but to cut it short, many others like me joined hands a prepared a file and have managed to get it passed by the cabinet making us eligible to apply for a lecturer’s post. I have only 3 years of service left. Past experience tells me that notifications take a long time to get implemented. So when it ever gets implemented I may have retired proving once again that -

'For opportunity might knock twice
But age knocks only once.'

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Teaching Experience -2

As a teacher there have been times when I have lost patience and reprimanded my students for their mistakes. Normally they take my outbursts in their stride because they know that I have their welfare in mind. There have been a few times when I have been answered back and I too have been able to understand that the particular student has been under some stress and has thus vented out her frustration. Luckily such occasions have been rare and usually after such an outburst the student becomes more motivated and makes an effort to show a remarkable improvement in her performance. I am particular that students do not copy diagrams from the book but try to draw scientific diagrams of what they actually see and this frustrates them a lot. They have no way out and I do not usually give in. Similarly I do not dictate notes or give them a list of important questions nor do I encourage them to take tuitions. Agreed, I am an outdated teacher – a living fossil - but at least I have enabled a few of my students to think. In the three years they spend with us a fondness sets in and in the final year we are almost friends and in their lighter moments they do share with us information about the nick names they’ve given us and what they find funny about us. The thought that I have to leave all this behind in about 3 years time weighs heavy in my mind. But isn’t it true that good times like bad ones do not last for ever? It is strange that all of us in the department are like minded and the kindred spirit that we share has been passed on to our students too. The job has been a fulfilling one in many ways, though frustrating in a few areas - thanks to the government or rather the lack of it. We do not get bright sparks for students but most are sincere and it definitely pays to be sincere and dedicated. When average students pass out in flying colors we do not need any monetary incentives.

The current batch final year students are a good bunch. So I was surprised that a good many turned up late for a practical class. Even after coming they did not start work and their indifference put me off. I scolded them for being late and said that I’d be taking a viva-voce at the end of the period before giving them their attendance. They worked silently, no smile, no consultations, no doubts….

I wondered if I had over reacted. The entire group was behaving like a set of robots. Finally I got up to ask questions based on the practical. I thought I saw tears in the eyes of a particularly bright student.

“Is anything wrong?” I asked.

“No, ma’am” was the reply.

I then saw that a few others also had tears in their eyes. I felt guilty for having scolded them. These were a group of sincere students and I had scolded them for their first mistake instead of giving them a chance.

“Are you girls upset that I scolded you?” I asked. By now 50% of the class was crying. This was an unexpected reaction. My HOD was watching everything with concern in her eyes.

Finally their story came out in bits and pieces. They had obtained their Part II mark sheets and many had scored less than what they had got in Part I. They were very disappointed and had been upset when they came to class. They were late on account of having to stand in a queue to get their mark sheets and my outburst had only added fuel to fire.

My heart went out to them. I told them that it was better that their Part II results were not as expected. They had a whole year to work hard and improve their scores. A high score may have made them over confident. My HOD added that they needed to be strong and learn to face adverse situations since life was full of surprises. I granted them permission to stop me mid sentence if ever I scolded them and they had a valid explanation to offer. The class then dispersed with their mood sobered and a determination to put in their best in the coming year.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Does candor pay?

Sometimes I wonder if it is okay to let people know that one is hurt or would it be better to let it be. What if the act was unintentional but hurting all the same? Take the case of my good friend Rekha for instance. She seems to have a problem accepting gifts that are of not much use to her. On two earlier occasions she returned gifts given by me saying that it would be better if I gave it to someone who could put it to good use. But when she repeated it a third time I had to tell her as politely as possible that it hurt me to take back gifts carefully chosen for her and suggested that she could pass it on to someone else of her choice. I gently pointed out that she had done so on earlier occasions though I could understand her predicament, it hurt all the same. Her response set me thinking. She felt that it was not fair that she should pass off my gift to someone of her choice and that it was only because I was close to her that she could feel free to return it. After all hadn’t she gladly accepted things that were useful to her? I was left wondering whether it was necessary for me to have brought up the topic at all. If intentions were good perhaps the best thing would be to swallow a little hurt.

As for myself, I prefer a little less candor. I’ve had a friend who pointed out that I was the worst looking in my family and toned down the statement y saying that she hoped that I did not mind her saying it. I pointed out that she could well have said that my sister and my mother, who were the targets of comparison, were better looking than me. After all isn’t a glass that is half empty also one that is half full? When my children were young and my weight was some 20 kgs less than what it is now, they looked chubby and cute while I appeared to have been starved to death with sunken cheeks and popping eyes. People would point out that they didn’t look like my children at all and I did not seem to mind. I’d smile as if I was the one who selected the right genes for them. I suppose one’s reaction changes according to circumstances.

There is no rule that applies to all people at all time and a person’s reaction also varies depending on his/her mood. There is truth in the saying that one is the master of the unspoken word and once spoken we become responsible for the reaction it provokes. Discretion in the expression of an opinion has never been my strength but I do try to word my criticism carefully so that if it must hurt, let it be at a minimal level. I wonder if I am right or are those who are known to be free with their choice of expression at the risk of upsetting their audience?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It is a tag world out here!

I was tagged by hillg’mom and I enjoyed doing it. Here I go!!
There are 3 rules.
Rule 1. The rules must be mentioned in the beginning of the tag.
Rule 2 You must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.
Rule 3. At the end of your blog post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
I don’t have a middle name. So I gave myself one—Lata

L—Love & Laughter – What would do if these two wonderful qualities did not enrich my life. I have experienced so much love from so many people that I may never ever be able to give as much as I received. And as for laughter I enjoy a good laugh and need an excuse to giggle away. I sometimes laugh aloud while reading a book and look up to see if others have noticed it and get on with my book.

A—Admiration – I find admirable qualities in almost all people I meet. More of it in those from the lower strata of society. We have Ajay who supplies tea in our college who is hunch backed and shorter than most men though not dwarfish. I am yet to find a more cheerful person. He feels so bad that I refuse tea with sugar and the sugar free one turns cold before he can bring it to my lab. I feel surprised that he should bother about me. He does not run the canteen and it should not worry him at all whether I drink or refuse tea. There is so much goodness in him that one can feel the vibes when he is around. There are more like him who would put many of us to shame by their good natured behavior.

T --- Tolerance – I am glad that I have plenty of it. And I want it to abound in our universe. Tolerance would solve most of the malaises that have made their way into our lives. The terrorist acts can be traced back to religious intolerance as also riots and strikes to political intolerance. If one is more tolerant it may be easier to understand the other person’s point of view and judge the situation without a prejudiced and pre-decided outlook.

A— Adaptability – As a teacher of Biology I emphasize the fact that organisms that are adaptable survive and those that don’t adapt perish. Look around and check out on all life forms and you will find that the environment sustains only those that adapt. Just a look at the branching in trees would show how well the same light source has been used by different plants. Some thrive in direct sunlight while others are satisfied with diffused light. Some have adapted to shady conditions and some have learnt to droop down when it is too hot. Is there not a lesson to be learnt from the plat kingdom that teaches us life’s lessons without actually lecturing to us from the dais? Adapt to the environment and you are sure to succeed.

So that’s it. Now I have to tag 4 people. Maybe just like that, whatsinaname, altoid and serendipity would like to take it up. Others are welcome if they feel inclined.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is being good bad?

I always looked upon people in control of their emotions with respect. My mother was one of them. As children we never ever could answer her back or get away with saying anything under the sun. She was mild mannered, soft spoken and never encouraged us to judge people. Not only my mother but her sisters and brother were a nice lot so we grew up without actually witnessing ugly scenes and heated arguments. How such a mild mannered person could discipline us without raising her voice is something I wonder about to this day. I do feel tempted to pat myself on the back and claim that it was possible only because we were obedient children. But though 21 of us share a common gene pool (or at least 50% of it) as cousins, the permutation and combinations could not be identical. So I wonder, how then are we all the same when it comes to core issues?

My children however have a different take on the matter.

“How very boring it must have for you as a child! What a dull existence. See the spice I added to your life as a teenager. Your mom never had the pleasure.” Says my son.

“It is difficult to deal with an overdose of goodness. It seems so abnormal. Imagine being well behaved all the time!”

“Your home must have been like an extended hostel! No wonder you adjusted well to hostel life.”

I am not so sure about that. We too had our share of simple pleasures without having threatened to slit each others throats and my mother may not have encouraged arguments but we did voice contradictory opinions when required. I must admit that I could not discipline my children with silence as my mother had done. They felt free to quarrel and patch up, to listen to loud music and to play as much as they wanted as long as their school reports were decent enough and there were no physical injuries.

I often wonder whether my children were right in saying that being too good is bad. Whether in this world where might is right, a little aggression actually helps one deal with the competitive world that awaits them? Have the rules changed or was the world always a random assortment of different kinds of people, some aggressive and others mild but most just moderate?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Back with a bang!

Hi folks,
Nice of you guys to wish me a happy time with my kid and g'kid.It took me some time to get back to blogging 'cos one doesn't feel good after such a short visit.They stayed with us for just 12 days and oh my God!Time just flew past and they were gone.We meet to part and part to meet.But then why are meetings short and partings long?Why couldn't my children just be the kids they were some 20 years back.I think I know why.I was destined to have two cute little grand daughters!!More later.This is just to say that I am back to blogging.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Taking a break

I am taking a break of about 20 days from the blogworld.My daughter is visiting along with her daughter and husband and I need to spare every minute available for them. I'll be inundating my site with news about them later. Till then 'Sayo Nara'!i'll read your posts as and when i find time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Teen troubles-2

Mothers of teenage boys beware!! Do not be carried away by those innocent eyes and try to defend them unless you are absolutely sure. Oh yes, I agree. He is your son and right from the days of Lord Krishna mothers tend to believe that their sons are okay and it is these ‘others’ that are trouble makers and lay the blame on your poor innocent child. Isn’t it aptly described in the famous ‘Main Nahin makhan khayo’ song. Poor Krishna, the gopikas would smear his lips with butter and blame him of stealing it from their homes! I learnt my lesson when my son was in his XII standard. And remember I was a teacher myself.

I was getting ready for college when my son said that his computer Science teacher wanted to meet me.

“Me?” I asked, Why?”

“She is refusing to accept my record work and is threatening to give me a zero in my practical exams.”

Now my son has or rather had the habit of dropping bombshells at the most inappropriate moments. Like when I am giving finishing touches to my cooking or the exact moment I put on my slippers to leave home or any time when I hop from the kitchen to the bedroom and am frantically looking for my keys. Those are the precise moments when my mind is kind of confused and I pay minimum attention. My conversation is conveniently restricted to monosyllables or ‘oh’s and ‘I see’s. We talk of understanding child psychology and these brats are experts in analyzing parent psychology.

“Listen son” I said “I’ll talk to you in the evening. When does she want to meet me?”

He was also getting ready for school.

“Today” was his reply.

And you tell me now?” I was beginning to lose my temper.

“I forgot” he said. “ I remembered only when I was arranging my bag.”

“Why is she refusing to accept your record?”

“”I had to submit it on Friday. Father Principal sent me along with M… on Friday to invite the Principals of different schools for our annual day. I was late in coming back. There was a traffic jam in the Adityapur bridge. You can ask M….’s mom if you want to.”

M…..’s mother was my colleague so the facts could be verified.

“Did you explain this to your teacher?”

“I did, ,but she refuses to see reason.”

“What about M…?”

“He is in the Commerce section. I wish I had taken Commerce. It would have been so much better. Those guys have such fun.”

I agreed to come to his school in the afternoon and sped off to college. I took out time to find out from M…’s mother whether the boys had indeed gone around distributing invitation cards and she confirmed my son’s version including the traffic jam. My heart filled with pride at the thought of my son being entrusted with responsibility and that too by the Principal himself. How could his teacher be so insensitive, I wondered? After all my son was given a job by the Principal. I then thought that perhaps the teacher did not know that it was the Principal who had sent him. Rahul ought to have explained. She’d have surely understood if he had excused himself before leaving school.

It was with a biased mind that I went to meet the teacher. She sent word for my son who came looking like a lamb being led to the slaughter house.

“ Ma’am,” I began “I hear that you refused to accept his record work……’

She interrupted me mid sentence.

“He had to submit it on Friday., did he tell you that?”

“Oh yes ma’am” I was certain that I was on firm ground. “But he was sent to distribute cards by the Principal. On his way back there was a traffic jam in Adityapur and they were late on account of that. The bridge is narrow and a jam in the area takes hours to clear. I agree that he should have excused himself before leaving….”

I was again interrupted by the teacher. This time her question was directed to my son.

“Did you tell Father Principal that you had a practical class in the afternoon?”

“No, ma’am”

Turning to me she said, “Mrs. R………. let me complete the story for you. He went along with M……. because he wanted to have some fun. The school was providing them with a van and in his place I too would have liked to go about distributing invitation cards instead of attending my practical class. More so if my assignment was incomplete. Yes I strongly suspect that he hadn’t completed his assignment and offered his services the moment Father Principal started looking for someone to take the responsibility. Had he told him that he had a practical class, the Principal would have sent someone else. There were many others who could have done the job. If his assignment had been complete he could have guiven hit to someone to submit it on his behalf.”

I did not know where to hide my face. I was myself very particular about my students finishing their record work on time and I was stupid enough to get carried away by my son. I don’t even remember what I mumbled as response to the teacher’s claim. I remember asking my son to apologize and hurrying off from the place resolving never to take his side before hearing the other side of the story.