A Merry Mess

“Though our house is in a mess, please come…”

I don’t remember the rest of what that hanging said; it hung in the doorway of a relative’s house. I remember feeling very amused by it even though I was quite young at the time. Truth is that the house in question was always, and I mean ALWAYS, as neat as a pin! I had never seen it in disarray, and my mom too had many tales of how that aunty kept her house spic and span.

I try to keep my house tidy and I fail miserably. Friends who stop by always feel I’m exaggerating. One trick I’ve managed to implement is to have everything behind closed doors. Out of sight is out of mind, right? However, that does not stop me from being painfully aware of just how messy my house is and how I would love to straighten it all out. Only that would take a lot, for the force (of inertia) is pretty strong with me! πŸ™‚

It’s funny how other people’s houses always appear so much more organized and neater than my own. I always end up admiring how neatly the cups are lined up, and how perfectly dust-free the coffee table is, and how the beds look so immaculately made. My house isn’t exactly a mess all the time; I do like to put things in their place at least once a day, but it seldom stays that way. The internal dialog that keeps running through my mind reminds me so much of Calvin and Hobbes – why clean when it’s going to get dirty again?!

The flip side also has many redeeming arguments. A messy place is a place that’s lived in, put the living before the cleaning, and so on. I have visited several houses which were terrible messes, but the hospitality was so warm and generous that you soon forgot all about the clutter. I conveniently take refuge in these comforting theories when I have not cleaned in a while and convince myself that there are more important things to do in life, like reading a book or aimlessly surfing the net.

Personally, I’ve realized that I can’t think too well when I have too much clutter around me. I need to put it all away, and maybe put the chair against the cupboard door to prevent it all from falling out! πŸ˜‰

Right now, sequins lie scattered around, accompanied by rolls of tape and newspaper and glittering wrapping paper and scissors and books and keys and bags and piles of folded clothes… It’s certainly given me something to write about, but I must go and put away things now before I can do anything else!

P.S.: And so, on this messy note, the blogathon experiment ends. Successfully, I might add. Thanks for reading. πŸ™‚

The Project Project

What an exhausting day it has been!

Normally, it is pretty quiet and my day’s schedule runs smoothly. Today however, was Lil D’s day off. And she had a school project to complete. And she decided to get her classmates over so that they could work on the project together. That resulted in quite a packed day, which went off smoothly in the end because of all the mad juggling between DH and myself. The girls went home with both their projects completed and their quota of fun fulfilled.

It reminded me of the time I had to submit a host of items for an exhibition at school that was part of our curriculum. It was called SUPW for Socially Useful Productive Work, aka Some Useful Period Wasted. The items I had to submit included:

a. a pin and thread work
b. six rubber mats punched with designs
c. a sweater (or something knitted, I can’t remember exactly)
d. a piece of embroidery

and God knows what else!

Not being very handicrafty (good word, no? πŸ˜€ :D), I had all the pieces in a half-done or not-even-started state. Not only did I have to source the materials, but also complete the work. And if I remember right, I discovered this on the weekend just before the submissions!

All hell broke loose. My mother, resourceful as ever, wasted no time in recruiting all and sundry. My father hammered away at the nails for the pin and thread work. Then he did the rubber mats which were really painful, because, in a fit of lunacy, I had cut out really fancy designs on the first mat and we had to do all the other five to match the first one, and we couldn’t get replacements because the mats had been supplied by the school (or something).

My mom took control of the embroidery. Again, in a fanciful mood, I had taken up a rather intricate design and she bore the brunt of my flight of fancy.

My neighbour, an expert at knitting, was given the task of completing the half-knit garment. She had a list of endless questions, and finally, my mom told her to just do whatever she wanted!

I ran around like a headless chicken, giving useless inputs and hindering everyone, and getting my thread all knotted up in the pin and thread work, and messing up the cutting of the edges of the rubber mats.

Finally, I think I just gave up and crashed. The next morning, a neat pile of all the submissions greeted me and I was suitably chastised by my mother for my utter lack of planning, and the trouble I had caused. However, I think my relief overshadowed her rebukes. I think I got a decent grade overall.

So, I can quite understand the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. I’d make that at least two villages — one for the project work, and the other for the other stuff! Don’t you agree?

Yours Gratefully

Sometimes, at a completely odd moment, I get swept away by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It could be while I am just walking down the road, or working, or talking to someone. I suddenly become aware of just how perilous life can be, and how miraculous it is that I was not born into abject poverty, did not grow up in a war-torn state, or have a life under constant threat by some menacing disease. My heart just pauses for a minute, laden with gratitude for whatever it is that has given me this life.

I am not religious or ritualistic in the least bit. I do not believe in the traditional views about God. At the same time, there is so much we don’t know, and so much that we don’t even know that we don’t know, so there’s a lot of room for contemplation. I don’t think too much about these things, but when I feel this sense of gratitude overflowing from within me, I feel moved by things that are inexplicable. Sometimes, just standing in my balcony in the sunshine moves me to tears.

It is hard to explain why I feel so grateful or to whom or what I extend this gratitude to. If I want to be rather dramatic about it, I can describe it as some sort of longing, some sort of reaching out to become one with the universe. I feel connected to everything in a strange way when I feel grateful.

It is interesting that gratitude, according to Wikipedia, is associated with well-being. It is true that I feel particularly grateful when things are going well. However, of late, gratitude catches me unawares more frequently, and suddenly, without warning, I am all moist eyes and shaky knees.

I’m not complaining though; it is a good feeling, and hey, if gratitude is what gets poured into the glass to make it half full, what the heck, I’ll have a glass.

Sound of Music

Most middle-class kids in India will have heard of The Sound of Music, if not learnt a few songs from that famous movie. Do-re-me was a favorite of music teachers, and who can resist Raindrops and Roses? My favorite was How d’you solve a problem like Maria? In my sister’s class, there was a girl named Maria, so it was used quite a few times on her, I’m sure. πŸ™‚

Interestingly enough, while I was growing up, the movie and the songs were not very prominent in my mind. My interest was really sparked when I found, amongst a pile of old books given to us by my uncle, this little gem. To my young imagination, it was so incredible and fantastic. I loved the adventures the von Trapp family had, the way they were so hilariously awkward on the American stage and how they finally grew comfortable in this new and strange land. Their travails in setting up their place in Vermont was so fascinating, I felt like rolling up my sleeves to pitching in and help them! I read the book so many times and I enjoyed it so much.

The passing away of Maria von Trapp (the daughter) triggered those memories again. I remember the details of the book only vaguely now, and I feel like reading it all over again.

I began to watch the movie only with Lil D. She loves the movie so much that she can watch endless reruns. When she was about four, I think, she used to get very upset in the So long, farewell song, where the little girl sings “The sun has gone to bed and so must I”. She used to creep into my lap and hug me, weeping all the while. I had to console her and reassure her that the children would come back.

A single family’s story has touched so many millions of people all over the world. Amazing, isn’t it?

Body Guard

I don’t remember where I got this message from, but it tells you how to talk to your daughter about her body. Basically, the message is — don’t πŸ™‚

I get where this message is coming from. In a culture that worships bodies and will encourage people, especially impressionable young women, to do absolutely anything to attain that perfect body, it makes a lot of sense.

Growing up, we never had any illusions about what a perfect body should look like, or expectations that we were supposed to attain that. Compliments were not thrown around like loose change, you had to really earn them. And most of the time, it was brilliance at something that earned you the respect. Whether it was singing or dancing or maths or studies, if you did something extraordinarily well, you could get a “Bhesh” (pat on the back) at best.

The only physical things that were complimented on, as far as I remember, were colour (as in, Volle colour; meaning good colour, mostly meaning fair), and hair (Udha kudlu; meaning long hair).

I began complimenting people on their physical attributes rather late in life. At the beginning of my career, I remember telling one of my colleagues, a middle-aged woman with thinning hair that she had the most beautiful eyelashes I had ever seen.

Similarly, I love Lil D’s hair and her shoulders. And I don’t hesitate to tell her that. I love her smile too, and love to pinch her cheeks when she smiles. I tell her to take care of her body because it is the only body she will ever have, and it is in her own interest to keep that body in good condition.

So, I’m a bit confused by this message about “Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.” If I like something about her body, why shouldn’t I say it? I can understand that the message is not to focus on the body alone, but surely a more balanced approach can be used rather than studiously not mention the body at all. Isn’t it rather unnatural, swinging all the way to the other side?

For me, balance is the key. If my daughter feels happy playing dress up or wearing make-up, I need not glorify it, but I need not avoid it as a topic altogether. A beautiful body need not be swept under the carpet like a shameful secret. There are so many people who work hard at having a healthy body rather than a beautiful one, and appreciating that is not glorifying the body but the hard work of the person.

So, though I agree with the underlying message, especially given the context I am assuming it is referring to, I find it a bit too much to never mention the body. A thing of beauty is a joy, forever or not.

PS: One of the comments had this insight: As a father and psychologist I can attest to the fact that even casual comments about body size and shape tend to stay with people long after they are fully grown.

PPS: This is really a cheat post. I wrote it on another day but then published another post. Today I’m doing rather poorly, so have just edited it and published it. Since it was written in February itself, I think it can be counted towards the blogathon, right? πŸ™‚

Reading Aloud

One of the most appealing things about having a kid was this picture of me reading aloud and the kid listening in rapt attention. There is something so beautiful about reading aloud to a kid, something which tugs at my heart-strings.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Lil D hated me reading aloud to her. She was so restless, grabbing the book, biting it if possible, standing up, rocking, being everything but that ideal kid in the picture! There were some books that she did enjoy, but most of her reading as she grew older was done by herself, or me listening to her. I tried to share some of my favourite books with her by reading aloud, but she would soon fall asleep. So my dream remained unfulfilled.

However, about a week ago, when I went to the library, I took my friend’s litte son along with me. I hadn’t been with a three-year old in a long time, so it was quite the relearning experience for me. I had to walk slowly, look around, look at things that I would have otherwise missed, and in general, it was lovely. When we reached the library, he began to wander around and ended up picking a Noddy book. He waved it so excitedly that I was delighted. When we reached his home, I asked him if he wanted me to read the story for him. He nodded, and I began. He was the absolute darling audience ever! He listened to the story, looked at the pictures, asked me what he was doing and she was doing, laughed at all the right places, and all in all, enjoyed the story to the hilt. I was so overjoyed by this experience that I made an on-the-spot offer to my friend to read to her son every day!

Today too, we read a story together. He sat on my lap as we read, asking so sweetly: And then? And then? That picture in my head came true and it fills my heart with so much joy. Happiness is indeed reading aloud to a little kid! πŸ™‚

Time And Again

Today, when I read this article, one sentence jumped out at me.

What I really struggle to understand is how making somebody work for 20 hours per day is β€œtime-effective”.

This is something that has always bothered me. Our work culture is such that we appear to encourage the 20-hour day as a norm rather than as an exception. If someone leaves the office before sun-down, it’s seen as a breach of protocol rather than normal and sensible.

Sometimes I felt it was because of the fact that the average age of the employees is very less. Single folk (forgive the generalization) don’t mind spending a lot of time in office. For starters, they are at the beginning of their career, and the enthusiasm is still there. Another factor that contributes to this in my opinion is that most of these folks are away from home. They would far rather stay in the air-conditioned comfort of an office where you get good stuff to eat in the cafetaria, friends to hang out with, and (depending on the organization) access to the internet. Why go back to a dingy little room you are sharing with two other people and all its discomforts? Of course, I am tarring young employees with a rather broad brush, and I assure you that no offence is intended.

The other thing that contributes, in my opinion, to 20-hour days is the Indian style of project management. For some reason, Indian project managers (and I have been guilty of the same error) are a breed that brim with optimism. We apparently believe that we have superheroes at our disposal, so our estimates are often so optimistic that perhaps even superheroes would balk at them! Things which could easily take a week to implement are squeezed within two-three days, and two-three days are reduced to one day. The motives for doing this could be many, such as client pressure or low budgets. But obviously these unrealistic estimates result in 20-hour days. It takes time to do a good job, and there really can be no short cuts.

In case you feel I am against Indian project managers, let me assure you that it is not the case. I have worked with some really brilliant and effective project managers and learnt a whole lot from them. I’m talking more of a tendency here for us (and I’m including myself) to squeeze the estimate.

I haven’t worked in the corporate world for nearly ten years now. I am not familiar with current project management practices or how things are nowadays in most offices. Since I am an individual contributor, I have a fair say on my estimates. So I’m hoping that the 20-hour day due to project management is a thing of the past, or at least greatly reduced, and people work the 20-hour day because it is something that excites them. Now that would be an ideal world, wouldn’t it? πŸ™‚

The Old Order Changeth?

On the one hand, we have such clowns in our governing bodies. Topless protests, mayhem in assemblies, stalled parliaments…we’ve more or less given up, I think, on the entire system. If you look at the scenario, you would think that we are quickly sliding into complete chaos. And perhaps you would not be completely wrong, because it does seem that systems are failing, nay, crumbling all around us. What can we do, we shrug helplessly, what can we do?

Yet, on the other hand, there are citizens all around fighting tirelessly against this downslide. Committed citizens, who are doing everything they can in their power to clear up the mess. I’ve already written about our RWA. They’ve done wonderful work, and this video should give you an idea of the lengths they go to make our neighbourhood a model one.

And then this news that was shared with us. I think this is just marvelous! Another successful attempt by concerned citizens to stem the rot. Hats off to them! These are the things that give me hope that all is not lost in this country. To paraphrase that famous quote: They make me want to be a better citizen.

Here’s hoping the old order really changes, yielding place to a much better new one.

Beauty And The Beast

Going to the parlour is something I really don’t look forward to. However, I have realized that if the visit doesn’t materialize, I begin to get a bit depressed and pessimistic. I suppose I equate it to cleansing of some sort. I’ve had that internal struggle about whether this constituted indulging myself, whether it was all about vanity, and whether it was trying to satisfy society’s notions of beauty and stuff. Ultimately I realized that it just makes me feel better, like how cleaning out my wardrobe or polishing up the kitchen makes me feel. So, nowadays, I procrastinate as much as I can and then end up squeezing it into a really busy day! I guess I work well under pressure πŸ™‚

I normally keep my mouth shut and do not indulge in any kind of gossip or idle chatter. I guess the girls at my regular place have also realized this, for they too don’t talk much to me. But this time, my attendant began talking and soon was asking me questions of a rather personal nature. Not prepared for this inquest, and not skilled at social lying, I blurted out the truth and then bit my tongue. How I wish I’d learned the fine art of distraction!

Then she began to do some talking of her own. She spoke of how her daughter was studying in the ninth grade, and how she had to stay back for tuitions, but the school did not provide the school bus for such students, so she had to take a private bus home. The school was not that far from home, but the way was lined with wine shops and other male hazards. She spoke of how a 10-year old girl was brutally raped in the neighbourhood by some two or three 13 or 14 year old boys, who were let off by the police since they were juveniles, but the girl died. She spoke of how scared she was everyday as she waited for the call from her daughter saying that she had reached home safely from school.

I sat there, trying to think of something to say. Nothing I said would lessen her fear, her constant dread, her firm belief that girls were a burden. It seemed so empty in the face of her fear to talk about bringing up strong, fearless girls. That is what I should have been doing. And yet, I could not bring myself to utter a word. I just nodded sympathetically. I could empathize with the worries of a mother, if not anything else.

The rest of the service was without further conversation, but the disquiet was something I carried home. It bugged me that I didn’t know how to make a difference where it matters. My heart went out to that budding teenager trying to find a place in this world.

When I left, I said: Best of luck to your daughter, hope she does well. I meant it in more ways than one.

Parenting – The Right Way

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my stint at parenthood, it’s that there is NO “ONE RIGHT WAY”. Popular books and blogs and articles can dole out all the advice they want, and they are all right, in their own way.

However, the best way to parent, according to me, is to LISTEN to your child. Especially during the early years, if you are intimately involved with your child, you will learn what your child needs and doesn’t. Just like you learn to recognize when the baby is hungry or wet, similarly you learn to recognize signs from your child. It is really upto you to come up with the solution then. There are no hard and fast rules, and there is no answer book.

So a lot really depends on the kind of parent you are. If you look upon your child like a time-bound project (and I know so many parents who do that, perhaps unconsciously), I can guarantee you failure. A child is definitely not something you can wrap up and forget about, it’s an ongoing project and what makes it so interesting and complex is that the child is also changing all the time. So the feedback loop is ever active and you must constantly monitor the system, so to speak.

To give you some examples of what I did with Lil D, I put her into a small playschool within the apartment complex when she was just 1.5 years old. To some parents, this will appear downright criminal! That child ought to be indulging in free play instead of being cooped up in a room, they might think. However, the reason was simply this. Lil D was a very social child right from the time she turned one year. She loved company, she was thrilled going to new places, and she sought new stimuli constantly. She was showing signs of boredom both at home and in the playground. She had explored and satisfied her curiosity in every nook and corner, and was now craving for something more. I found this cosy little playschool the ideal place for her. She got to make new friends, she loved doing various activities with the aunty there, and hated to leave the place.

Similarly, when she was between three and five, I enrolled her into various courses, most of which were high-energy ones involving a lot of physical activity. I did this because she had a tremendous amount of energy which was simply not getting exhausted by the trips to the playground. She was still not into playing with friends, for kids her age were more into parallel play. She would begin to get cranky after some time. The classes were a good way for her to have fun as well as expend some of that energy (which I would have gladly accepted, had she been able to transfer it to me! :D)

Once she was old enough to play with her friends, I removed her from all courses, except the ones she was really interested in. And I’m glad to say that she’s stuck to those ones and still continues to go to them voluntarily. I feel she learnt far more about life by playing with friends rather than by going to the innumerable courses that others her age were attending.

Later on, I moved her from a Montessori school to a regular school. This was not for academic reasons as one might think. In a Montessori school, kids are generally given a free run. This boosts their confidence and independent thinking and works wonders for shy kids. However, Lil D had more than her fair share of confidence and independent thinking! πŸ™‚ What I realized was that she needed a sense of discipline too.

Discipline (self-imposed, that is) is an essential life-skill if one wants to achieve something. In the do-whatever-you-want atmosphere of the Montessori school, this was not going to be easily assimilated. I know a lot depends on the Montessori school and this one was a good school, but I preferred a school that gave her exposure to the “system”, so to speak. We were, after all, not going to move out of India, so I preferred that she learnt to handle the existing system in a good way, rather than be thrust into it suddenly later. So we moved her to a regular school, and I have not regretted that decision one bit.

Even today, she is learning invaluable lessons on prioritization, time management, and stress management. We teach her how to balance out her activities and how to make time for the things she likes and how to complete things she doesn’t like. And I must say she is proving excellent at them. For example, last year, during the Ganesha celebrations in our complex, she had to study for her tests as well. So she says: Mamma, Ganesha comes just once a year whereas the tests come every now and then. So shouldn’t Ganesha get higher priority? Lesson well learnt, right? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

I don’t know about the path not taken, obviously. I can’t say I’ve done everything right and this is the way to go about it. But what I do know is that every time we have stopped to LISTEN to her needs, we have come up with the right answers (or at least the right one in our opinion). And that is probably my only rule for parenting.