Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dealing with good people.

Dealing with good people can be frustrating. At least that is what my experience tells me. You yell at the son and daughter and they yell back at you. Scores settled and peace prevails. But gently rebuke them or better still don’t say anything at all. Pick up the wet towel and put it to wash. Smile at them and say “Anything else to be washed son”? It simply unnerves them and there won’t be a wet towel to pick up next time.

Priya was told that she was lucky to have Mrs. Kapoor for mother in law. Mrs. Kapoor was mild mannered and soft spoken. She would never interfere in her life. And she didn’t. But having no complaint against her mother in law was Priya’s only complaint. It was very difficult to get past her mother in law. There was a talk of hiring a cook when Priya’s husband Nitesh was hospitalized. Her mother in law pitched in.

“Why hire a cook my child. I have nothing to do. I’ll take care of the kitchen. You can attend to Nitesh.”

Priya would return from hospital at 8 in the evening. The evening meal would not be ready.

Her mom in law would smile sweetly and say –

“I was just about to start. However, I could not decide whether to prepare bitter gourd or pumpkin. Which do the children prefer? And would it be okay to prepare rotis before hand? I thought the children would want to have fresh rotis.”

“Anything would do mummy”. Priya would reply. “I have some packaged, pre-cooked vegetables. If you’ve kneaded the flour I’ll prepare rotis immediately. The children should be hungry and will be asking for food anytime now”.

“Oh my God, I just forgot. Why don’t you freshen up? I’ll knead the flour. By the way how many cups of wheat flour do we take?”

“Never mind mummy. I’ll toast some bread for them. I’ll check for left over food in the fridge. Or else I’ll make some upma for the two of us.”

And as an aside she would add ‘Please get right out of my kitchen. I may just eat you up for dinner’.

It was a frustrating situation. To top it the MIL would appear so very considerate when neighbors and relatives dropped in.

Poor child, she has to do the running around since I cannot manage outside work. So I’ve asked her not to worry about home and children. After all what am I here for”?

Bhavana too had been blessed with a good mother in law. She was however not as indecisive as Priya’s mom in law. She was smart and very much in control. Bhavana wanted to take up a job. The children had grown up and she had some spare time. She wanted to take up a part time job.

She over heard her mother in law telling her husband-

Bhavana wants to take up a job. And why not? She is qualified and capable. I’ve offered to manage the house. My arthritis causes problem but I’ll manage somehow. I’ll finish work and give myself a massage once I am done. Appa can fetch the children from the bus stop. It will be very hot when they come back. He’ll have to carry an umbrella. It will be a little difficult for him to manage the children with an umbrella in one hand. He’ll manage somehow. Hire a servant to fetch them? Servants are so unreliable. You pay them a huge amount and end up doing all the work yourself. Never mind son, don’t worry. We’ll manage somehow”.

Bhavana was at wit’s end not knowing how she was supposed to deal with such a sacrificing mother in law. It would have been easier to deal with one who refused to help out.

Pranati’s mother in law was in hospital. She would visit her every evening with a flask of coffee and some snacks. For the rest of the day she had hired a private attendant and was paying her an amount that was quite beyond her means. In order to save money she would take a bus to the hospital and would invariably be late. She would wait for the milkman at a neighbor’s place since he came there earlier, prepare coffee at their place, leave her two year old daughter with them and rush to board the bus. On one occasion she saw her cousin and his wife going towards the hospital in a two wheeler while she was herself in the bus. Had she spotted them before boarding the bus she’d have asked them to take her mother in law’s coffee along. When she reached the hospital ward her mother in law was very cross with her for being late. It so happened that her cousin’s wife had innocently remarked that had she known that Pranati would be late she would have brought the ailing woman some coffee herself. Well meant words but they triggered off unnecessary resentment between the mother in law/daughter in law duo. Under the circumstances it would have been better to keep one’s opinion guarded. Getting coffee on an odd day was not the same as doing it on a daily basis. And there could be umpteen reasons for the delay.

In my opinion good will alone is not sufficient. It has to be peppered with smart thinking. As the saying goes ‘an intelligent enemy is easier to deal with than a foolish friend’. Think about it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The writer in me.

I was wondering what to write and Dr. Antony gives me an idea through his latest post. Thanks doc. I think I want to take off where you left. Why do I write?? This is a question that often comes to my mind. Am I a good writer? May be not a good one but an okay kind perhaps? But I keep writing not so much for others but for myself. You see, I am a talkative person and I seem to want to say so much. My girls are busy with their children and the son keeps asking me to come to the point and I take a long time getting to it. They just won’t listen. My husband and I talk different languages. Not literally of course. He loves discussing politics and treats me to a generous dose of it each day. I don’t have to listen to the same news in 10 news channels to understand that politicians are what they are. I watch programs on discussions about the education system instead and try to figure out the reason why not a single student has taken up Botany honors this year. I mean I am granted an extension of two years and my subject has no takers? Husband couldn’t care less for the next generation’s lack of interest in my subject. He firmly believes that all the scamsters are really going to be exposed and the money launderers are definitely going to be punished. In fact each day of his retired life is spent on betting that this or that person is soon to be declared a political outcaste. I am yet to see it happening. So after 38 years of togetherness we talk of issues that have no relevance to the other person.

Now you get my point. I write because I want to share my anguish and joy with people who I cannot see.

I was just joking.

Let me then analyze how I stand to benefit by writing.

I feel important: The name hip grandma has been coined by my daughter. It gives the impression of a wise old woman ready with tips on making life a bed of roses. To tell you the truth I haven’t found answers to my own questions on life and living. But it does not harm one to feel wanted and important does it?

I can postpone housework: There are days when I feel inclined to defer work. The blog offers me the perfect alibi for being absent from where I ought to be. The creative me does not dwell on trivialities like folding clothes and stacking dishes. So I can safely forgive myself for removing laundry from the washing machine a full hour after it has been washed. No mother in law to question me, a doting husband who would never disturb me when I am typing something (he actually enjoys his moments of peace but I like to believe that he is proud of my writing skills) and no children/grandchildren to attend to. So I scold myself for procrastinating and excuse myself for doing it.

I can afford to change the order of things: Like I can comb my hair at nine in the evening. I hear writers are allowed quirky habits. It was Dr. Antony who said it, not me, but I feel relieved at the thought. I haven’t actually washed and combed at the specified time. But should someone point out to queer mannerisms and quirky habits I can ignore their observations. I can mutter to myself-‘ What do they know about writers? Eh? Can’t write a full sentence and see how they talk………’

I can imagine things: Why not? As a writer I am free to imagine that I was a blood relative of the legendary R. K. Narayan in an earlier birth. Or that I have actually written a book that goes on to become a best seller. Ram Gopal Verma offers to buy my story and I give it to him for free. Please don’t imagine that I don’t need money. It is just that excess of it baffles me and RGV will not demean himself by offering a paltry sum would he? We Botanists declare anything beyond 10 as infinity while describing a flower. So, in case he offers me an amount with more than 3 zeros following it I would get confused. May as well be magnanimous. What do you say?

To top it: I can sleep in till seven in the morning when it suits me. My husband starts waking me up from around five in the morning. I can mumble something like ‘I was working on my post till late last night. Please let me sleep a little more’. He cannot verify the actual time because he is asleep long before me. Ha, ha!

Monday, July 18, 2011

De - Cluttering..........

I really want to de-clutter my house and put it in order. For that I need your help. Please give me some idea as to how I may deal with hip grandpa as some of you fondly call my husband. He is a hoarder with a capital H and to throw things off I need to get him to turn a blind eye to my cleaning spree. The cleaning bug rarely strikes me but when it does, the sting is strong enough to depress me for days on end.

The first thing I would like to give away is a 45 year old Sumeet Mixer. It doesn’t even belong to me. Mine is just 30 years old but needs to be thrown out all the same. The story of how I managed to acquire a 45 year old mixer - as if I did not have enough to deal with – needs to be told for you to understand my predicament.

The archaic piece actually belongs to my friend who had repaired it at least 10 times before getting herself a new one. We had gone to her place for lunch. I saw a shiny new mixer in her kitchen and asked her if the brand was good since I wanted to buy one for myself. I would give away my old one I said. My husband who was reading the newspaper was shocked that I should even think of it.

“Do you know that Sumeet mixers are the best? The motor is so sturdy that it will last for 30 more years.”

My friend took my side and said that the company did not manufacture mixers any more and it was difficult to get blades and other spare parts. Spurious blades made by local units were not good enough. She went on to say that her own Sumeet mixie was lying idle since it was beyond repair.

Give it to me.” My husband said. “I’ll get it repaired. I know a person who does a good job of it.”

I’ve got a new one.” My friend said. “Please don’t bother”.

There are times when my husband becomes deaf and blind at the same time. He just did not want to listen to my friend’s protests and insisted on getting it repaired.

“He won’t charge much” he went on to explain. “He is very reasonable.”

My friend insisted that she was not interested in getting it repaired and my husband insisted that his electrician would repair it for a reasonable cost and she finally bundled the mixer in a bag and gave it to him saying that she did not want it back. He could give it to a needy person if it could be put to use.

I tried glaring and staring at him. He could not read the message conveyed by my eyes and I wanted to get his eyes tested. I was left with no option but to cart the mixer to my already cluttered house. It is another story that my husband spent some 200 rupees to fix it but it does not work. The motor is in good condition but the alignment with the jar is faulty. As a result when the jar is attached the blade does not budge. He is as possessive of the mixer as if it belonged to my mother in law. These are times when I truly miss her presence. She would have thrown the thing away and drilled some sense into her son’s head. I tried giving it in exchange for a new mixer. The shop was offering a 20% discount on the price of a new mixer of my choice.

It is not ours” bellowed my husband.

“S will not mind” I wailed.

The net result is that although I have now purchased a new mixer I have two old ones adorning my store room. When a mixer that is not working, that does not belong to us and has been abandoned by its owner cannot be given away you can imagine how possessive he would be of all the ‘hard earned’ purchases made by him. The new mixer is to be used sparingly he insists. The old one is sturdier he claims. I’ve given up.

This is just about one thing that I want to give (read- throw) away and there are plenty of other stuff that need to be treated the same way. My mother in law’s cot for instance. Its ply board needs to be changed. It is standing erect in the spare bedroom. I want it to be repaired and put to use or given away. At least 50% of the stuff we have could be given away but the very mention is enough to start a quarrel. To be fair my husband is equally possessive of things given by my mother. The trunk that my mother gave at the time of my wedding, the wooden chest with my father’s name written on it -- well the list is long. Ideas anyone?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unhappily married??

We hear a lot more of men and women opting out of marriage these days than when we were growing up or during the time when I was a young mother trying hard to adjust in an alien set up. Hill grandmom has raised a valid point about friends with benefit in her post and I too would like to know what the current generation of young and eligible brides and grooms think of the situation. R's mom too feels that there is nothing negative about being divorced. Society is changing and I can see it happening. Divorces are no longer considered indicative of a person's inability to make the marriage work. Divorces are being considered an amicable alternative to end a relationship that for some reason failed to grow and develop. I know of a divorced couple who still care for each other like any friend would. They have both remarried and there is no bitterness in them for losing out on a relationship that never was. They did not have children but even if children were involved I am sure they would have handled the situation equally well and seen to it that their children remained unaffected. I have written a short piece here about the change perceived in society with regards to divorce. In my opinion this is a welcome change. Women's web has an interesting post on life after divorce by Kalpana Misra. I think it is time we started thinking of ways to deal with the situation instead of preaching from a pedastal on the merits of being 'unhappily married'.

Suranga, R's mom why have you blocked me out? Your site does not allow me to comment. Too bad!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Looking Back

Our children huddled together in a room that doubled up as a bedroom by night and study by day,
We laughed a lot, fought a lot, slept on a mat and sat on the floor remaining cheerful all the time.
We had our meals together, enjoyed light music, shared housework and struggled to make ends meet.
We longed for little pleasures but were still happy with what we had,
And we thought that our life was the best since we knew none other.
We now have everything that wealth can buy – a room of our own, a car to roam around, enough to eat but no appetite for food,
Our children have flown the nest and we long for the time when life was a struggle but was worth the trouble,
When every little success made us achievers and every set back strengthened our bond.
Strange that we have what we longed for but we now long for what we had!
Our life then was best and now that we’ve seen both we know better!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Culturally sound.

During my recent visit to Chennai a remark made by an acquaintance set me thinking. She felt that my long stay in North India had alienated me from my Tamil culture and I had acquired a mixed (read muddled) view of Indian culture as practiced in the south. I wondered what she meant. I did not try to defend myself for the simple reason that I could not understand what she meant. Correct me if I am wrong but it is my opinion that there is no such thing as Tamil or south Indian culture. Having lived in a multi-lingual/cultural township for the past 38 years I find that human beings are pretty much the same – never mind their linguistic/cultural background. I get put off when people assign certain behavioral patterns to a particular community. There is nothing typical to a community. We see good and bad people everywhere. Again good and bad as I have pointed out in earlier posts are relative to circumstance. A person who controls his/her emotions and allows the world to see the pleasant side of one’s nature is called good. But like ‘the man in black’ there are several others with a golden heart but a short temper. They need to be understood –that’s all. Then we are all ambitious. It is just the level that varies. Were it not so society would never progress. There are those that trample upon others to reach their goal and others who take slow and steady steps to get there. Ambition is not restricted to just one or the other community. So when there is so much in common to all human beings why do people talk of their own community as being culturally rich and more superior to other communities?

I tried doing a little introspection and making a list of how and where I differed from my south Indian roots. If one calls insisting on a dress code for my children as being culturally sound I may not fit into the Tamilian mould. However, the dress code keeps changing. Ever since my arthritic leg started giving me trouble I started wearing salwar/ kameez for my morning walk to avoid tripping on the road. I find it so comfortable that I have started wearing it at home and while traveling. Does it make me less Tamilian in any way? I should think not. In pretty much the same way I think that my daughters too ought to be allowed to choose to wear a dress that is comfortable and culture/tradition has nothing to do with it.

I agree that the Tambrahms would be shocked to know that I finish cooking and have a bath later unless it is a day of religious significance. It is easier that way because I do not find time to bathe twice in the morning. I need to bathe before leaving for college so the ritual of bathing before cooking the morning meal had to be shelved. I can almost hear my relatives ask how I could do that. Is it not our custom to offer food to God before consuming it? Food prepared without bathing cannot be given to crows let alone Gods………

Shocking?? Well, when I take out rice for cooking I set aside a handful of uncooked rice in a container and when a decent amount is collected I give it away to a needy person. I feel that this is an equally good alternative and feel no pangs of guilt for not being able to offer food to God on a daily basis. I do not think that this has anything to do with culture. Or does it??

A good number of my relatives accuse me of not talking to my children in my mother tongue. To be frank I mix English and Hindi and throw in a few words of Tamil in my verbal communication with them. They do the same. It is a language unique to us. I spek to my husband in Tamil but we do mix a little Hindi here and there. There are times when I grope for Tamil words. Like the word Maali in Hindi means gardner. The Tamil word is thottakkaran. Laundrer is dhobi in Hindi and vannan in Tamil. I rarely use the Tamil equivalent of the words and unknowingly insert the Hindi term in my conversation. I wonder if it makes me a cultural misfit in my own community? Is it not sufficient that I try to be a well adjusted individual in society to be called culturally sound?

A final word. The Wikipedia defines culture as “An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning”. In my opinion the basic human requirement is peaceful co-existence. If this is achieved through social learning a person can be called cultured and this is certainly not the monopoly of any community or country.

Having thus defended myself, I think I can safely go to bed.