How Do You Break Up?

I’ve just finished a massive clean-up of my wardrobe. OK, not exactly massive, given the size of my wardrobe; perhaps the word I’m looking for is thorough.

It’s amazing what a good cleansing can do not just for the skin, but for the soul. I feel so much better with the clothes all neatly arranged — all the clothes that I actually wear. All the others have gone straight to the donation pile. Some I’ve just worn once, some have seen a good bit of wear. But they are banished now, and are out of my life (as soon as that bundle goes out of the house, that is — that will probably take its own sweet time!).

And yet, there are some garments that simply refuse to give up so easily. There’s one pretty pink and beige set that has lovely gold work on it. Lil D wants me to get it altered for her. There’s the other green and white set with little white beads — a perfect summery dress for Lil D, if only I get around to altering it. And then there’s a beautiful red and black set that was a gift, but was ruined during the tailoring. I just can’t bring myself to toss it out.

I put these at the back, giving myself some more time to do the needful, to harden my heart and throw it all out ruthlessly.

These are the ones that make breaking up with them so hard. You still cling on in hope that they can be redeemed, that you can somehow make it work. Only time will tell if your decision was right.

Na Jaane Queue

[Rant]

I sincerely wish that schools covered basic social etiquette. I am so fed up of the awful public behaviour of people in general that sometimes I have violent fantasies of bashing sense into their heads.

Take for instance the simple mechanism of a queue. You join the end of the queue when you arrive. You stand one behind the other. You await your turn. Your issue gets addressed. You exit. This is not rocket science. This is as keep-it-simple-stupid as possible.

Yet, we have such a way of making this an absolute nightmare. Every single rule is violated at every step.

You join the end of the queue when you arrive: Even if there are just three people in the queue, one simply has to try and break in. Sometimes, I have seen people completely ignore the queue and go straight to the counter (or whatever), oblivious to the looks-that-could-kill directed at them. If someone admonishes them, they either turn belligerent or feign ignorance. Oh, how I dearly wish to punch their faces at this juncture!

You stand one behind the other: Of course not! One must stand next to the other person, one must create parallel queues, one must spread out such that the queue resembles a fat, hungry caterpillar instead! I honestly feel like screaming at them sometimes. Is it so difficult, dammit?!

You await your turn: One’s turn is always just after the person at the counter, irrespective of the position in the queue. There has to be jostling, elbowing, pushing and shoving, crowding around the counter, basically anything but waiting.

Perhaps I should see the glass half-full instead of half-empty. Perhaps there is a business opportunity here. Perhaps I should start a course on Queue Management and Survival!

Honestly, it angers, saddens and depresses me that such a simple mechanism for maintaining order is so unnatural for the majority to follow. It shows clearly where our values lie and that is not at all encouraging.

My Old Man

His earliest memory is that of his father dying. He remembers the way the cot was placed in the room, he remembers the warm water his mother untiringly served both her ailing husband and her sick five-year old son. The son survived, the father died.

They look like such a lovely couple in their black and white portraits: his handsome eyes are gentle, she looks luminous and shy. Who knows what might have happened had he survived: a family larger than just their elder son and younger daughter, a life filled with laughter and gentleness, a good education, a comfortable job…all in the realm of imagination.

The harsh truth was that his mother was now widowed, at the tender age of nineteen. Having nowhere to go, she returned to her maternal home. There, in keeping with eons of tradition, she lived the secret life of a widow, confined to the kitchen and to chores, catering to the demands of the large joint family that lived on a rather meager salary (if he remembers right).

His eyes, once a sun-kissed golden brown but now a bit vacant, well up at the memories of what his mother (and he and his sister) had to endure. The hardships are chiselled into his head, too many to recount, so hard to bear even after so many years have passed. The past has caught up with him now, and sometimes, he can taste the same desperation, the same helplessness he felt when he was a boy with no rights, no means, and no voice.

At that time, he did the only thing he could to preserve his sanity. Movies. Back-to-back shows throughout the day, repeats and reruns, languages no bar — anything to keep his mind off the brutal life out there. At least in the theater, he could unburden the sorrows of his heart and be redeemed at the end. The bad guys got their comeuppance, the good guys walked into the sunset with a song on their lips. Here was happiness, however ephemeral.

In time, however, the wheel turned. Life became much kinder, much gentler. He earned his diploma without even books to study from. He landed a job that provided him the much needed financial security. He married a woman who was strong and forceful and smart, who fought for him as much as she did for herself, and together, they forged a new life. They built and feathered their little nest carefully and with pride. They brought three little girls into this world, and then nurtured them with both strictness and kindness.

His hunger for what he had not got while he was growing up was ferocious. He swore he would give them the best education he could afford. He enrolled them into a ‘convent’, spent every last penny on whatever their education needs were, and saw to it that his daughters accomplished what he had not been able to do. Amidst the tight budgets and penny-pinching, he introduced his family to his passion. Soon, movies became a family affair and regular outings provided much happiness, music, and laughter. Yet, the end of the day saw him meticulously writing down his accounts in his diary, and balancing to the very last paisa.

He, who was so careful with his money, counting and recounting every rupee, has now just given up on his financial affairs. He has no idea how much he has, how much has been spent. Sometimes, he asks the cost of things, but just cannot get a handle on how expensive everything has become.

Ah! His meticulousness! Even today, he folds his clothes with such precision that they look as if they have just been ironed. Memory fails him now; earlier, the story was that even in the dark, he could retrieve anything you asked for from his belongings. He had an eagle eye then, and even a slight displacement of a book or a bottle could never go undetected. In his younger days, he was dressed in crisp white clothes, and was fussy about the way his lunch was laid. Now, he is still fussy, but it is about the food he does not want to eat. He, who once had an appetite like Bhima himself, now eats like a bird, and the quantities grow less and less.

In his younger days, he was as strong as an ox, carrying two buckets of water at a time or hacking away at firewood in one stroke. His muscles were taut and he gritted his teeth whenever he did something heavy-duty. Now, he walks frail and gaunt, with small steps and a hesitant gait. He still hasn’t learnt how to use the walking stick correctly. He used to walk and cycle miles in his youth, and that benefits him now, for he is more or less independent. However, he still misses the outings sorely, and he wishes every now and then that he can just take off to wherever his heart desires.

It’s almost surreal — the way his memories are so clear and strong, yet he can’t remember recent events and people very well. In a way, his past has caught up with his present, and he lives in that world now, with occasional forays into the actual world. Still, he surprises sometimes with his mental sharpness. He still laughs in his cute, shy way. He still is meticulous about the way he completes his Word Search (he must have been through more than a dozen Word Search books now), marking each word carefully with a stub of a pencil, and asking his wife to review it once he is done. He doesn’t watch movies as much, and he still passionately hates politicians.

The long and sometime arduous journey he has successfully made has lasted for a full 90 years. In his own way, he has taught his children how to survive, how to carry on, and how to live an honest life despite everything. Many indeed are the lessons his life offers.

We are so very proud of you, Dad!

HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY!

Execute Them!

The horror of Nirbhaya has given way to the horror of Gudiya. Iron rods, bottles, candles…the absolutely barbaric brutality and savagery…it literally wakes me up at night. I cringe at the awful thoughts that pass through my head, and the most macabre scenes bloody my imagination. A blind rage engulfs me when I think of Lil D and the kind of world she is slowly emerging into from the cocoon of our protection. A world where anything can happen and nothing will deter it.

According to this article (yes, I seem to get all my news from Yahoo!), there was chaos in parliament over the incident.

“Though parliament has recently passed tougher legislation to prevent rapes, the evil has not abated and such incidents are still on the rise throughout the country,” House Speaker Meira Kumar said before the house was adjourned.

Legislation to prevent rapes? OK, I agree, there are many ancient and irrelevant laws that definitely need to be redrafted, but how on earth will passing more and more laws make the “evil abate”? The need of the hour is to actually implement these laws, to actually execute them in the right spirit. That is what we are sorely lacking. If a cop gives hush-money to the family of a rape victim instead of accepting the complaint, will more laws really help?

What we really, really need is for cops to be like this one, for whom the law is truly above anyone, rich or poor.

The report continued, “Mrs. Witherspoon asked, ‘Do you know my name?’ I answered, ‘No, I don’t need to know your name.’ I then added, ‘right now.’ Mrs. Witherspoon stated, ‘You’re about to find out who I am.’ I stated, ‘I am not worried about you ma’am.'”

Can easily imagine how things would work out if this involved a Bollywood celebrity. They would put it down to being human, I suppose! ;|

Big Problems

Recently, I went shopping at several (and I really mean SEVERAL!) well-known stores for a couple of casual trousers and shirts. It was an exercise in futility. The reason? None of the stores stocked sizes big enough for me. Apparently, all of them assumed that ladies would stop at a particular size and never grow bigger than that. Unfortunately, I’m taller than the average Indian woman and my body is proportionately large.

Now, this is not something new to me. From the time I was a teen, I’ve been plagued with size issues. I remember the amount of time my parents and I hopped in and out of shoe stores to obtain the requisite pair of shoes mandated by my school in my size. In fact, my feet are actually a bit out of shape because I spent quite a few of my formative years stuffing my feet into shoes too small for me. Even today, a pair of good footwear is like the elusive blue moon. Once, when I found my size at a shoe store and was overtly ecstatic about it, the shoe salesman urged me to buy a few more pairs because — abhi abhi aapka size aaya hai, phir nahin milega! (just now your size has come and you won’t get it again!). You can imagine my desperation, for I actually succumbed to this salespitch and switfly picked up three pairs! πŸ™‚

Till we got our clothes tailored, I didn’t really have problems with dress sizes. Even with Indian clothes, I didn’t (and still don’t) have a real issue because we do get pretty large sizes. Funnily enough, in the US, I had quite the reverse problem, since I kept picking up large sizes and they turned out too large for me! πŸ™‚

However, I was quite taken aback this time when confronted with this strange size limitation for western clothes. All the patterns I liked, all the trousers that looked and felt the most comfortable were available only in tiny, tinier and tiniest sizes! In fact, in one store, I exclaimed helplessly like Lil D — It’s not fair! 😦

I finally managed to get a couple that just about fit me right.

I went back to the Indian section with a huge sigh of relief. At least the Indian dresses recognized that large women do exist! No more “western” stuff for me. Mera Bharat Mahaan! πŸ˜€

Moments Like These

Everywhere you turn, there’s so much pressure to live your life king-size. Every ad you see urges you to make the most of every moment, every mail that is forwarded stresses on the fact that you are losing out on every precious moment, every article you read emphasizes that if you are not doing x or y or z, your life is just not worth living!

In the middle of all this relentless pushing towards making every moment in your life COUNT, we seem to forget that much of our lives are not momentous events that need to be captured live and broadcast in high definition. Much of our lives is doing the mundane, attending to the basic needs and necessities, oiling the wheels of our lives if you will.

Of course it’s boring, unattractive, and the complete opposite of spectacular. There is little cause to celebrate Each and Every little moment. Yet, the way things are presented nowadays, we are complete failures if every meal is not a gourmet meal, relished slowly over a chilled glass of wine, if we are not driven by high passion every minute at work, if we don’t particularly enjoy the company of our children sometimes, or if we are not leaping off planes or climbing rocks or opening restaurants.

I know I must be sounding like a complete grouch. But it annoys me sometimes, this tendency to put everything and anything on a pedestal and to worship it as if it were God’s gift to mankind!

Yes, there are many times when I marvel at the sheer wonders that man and nature achieve, the fantastic achievements that are sometimes too good to be believed, the passion that drives people to excel and achieve spectacular success. I do absolutely acknowledge and admire both nature’s and mankind’s bounty.

However, I am so tired of this breathless hyperbole that appears to have become the norm rather than the exception. Perhaps we are living in exceptional times!

Honestly though, I’d like a break.

Elder Care

I’ve read an awful lot about how elder care can always be “arranged”, can always be “provided for”, and there is no need to be physically present. This is specific to India, btw.

I’m not sure how many of the writers have actually dealt with elder care. They seem to be assuming a whole lot of things about elder care, and it strikes me that their view is rather narrow.

True, when elders are physically fit, we need not be present all the time. In fact, most of the senior citizens I have known and seen actually prefer to stay independently.

However, the real challenge in elder care arises when the elders are not physically fit. The kinds of issues they can have are so wide-ranging that one shoe simply cannot fit all. The kind of care also needs to be tailored to the kind of problems they are facing.

In India, what facilities do we have for elder care? Correct me if I am wrong, but the answer is close to zero!

Old age homes, for all their noble intentions and sincere effort, are a far cry from being satisfactory. The kinds of problems they grapple with are not simple ones. I’m not even talking about the ones set up as money-making machines. I’ve seen at least three old age homes up close and personal while taking care of my uncle. They can just provide the basic framework. Personalized care comes rather low on the agenda, even for the good ones.

For example, in one of the old age homes, my uncle, who had almost lost his vision, was convinced that his mug had been taken away and replaced with another. It was his word against the old age home. This became a huge issue for him, so much so that he just upped and left. It might look like a trivial issue, but to him, it was a matter of his privacy and his property being threatened. Personalized care would have comforted him, reassured him that the mug had not been replaced, and ensured that he felt secure. Would this be possible in any old age home? I sincerely doubt it, though I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. There’s only so much they can do. So much of the caring is emotional, not just material, which they simply cannot provide.

What other option is left? An attender at home? Any idea how much of a pain it is to get an attender who is at least regular? And on top of that, it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack to get the right kind of attender. I’ve experimented with a couple of home attenders and with nurses who come in daily. There’s no easy way about it. Even if you’re prepared to throw away a fortune to hire the right person, you might as well be searching for Cinderella with her lost shoe!

The only other option is doing it yourself. True, it frees you from the headaches of waiting for the attender to show up. But the time and effort you have to put in is not meagre. Your entire life changes; the center of your life is now the caregiving, and everything else is adjusted around that.

If you really don’t give two hoots about the elder in question, then sure, you can put down a bundle of cash, dump them in an old age home, and forget about the problem.

However, if your intention is to give the best possible elder care, then make no mistake about it. Whichever option you choose, be it an old age home or attenders or yourself, your physical presence and involvement is a given. It will take up a huge chunk of your life, whether you like it or not.

If you want to really find out what it’s like to take care of an elder, then I’d suggest you do some reading, such as this blog, which can really open your eyes to the many challenges of elder care.

At the end of the day, it is heartbreaking indeed that elders need so little during their sunset years, but providing that itself can be hugely draining.

I’ve heard many people say that just because the parents brought up the children, it doesn’t mean that the children have to look after them in their old age. Children have their own lives to lead.

While I appreciate the argument in this, and agree with it also to the extent that parents cannot and should not “expect” their children to look after them, I beg to differ.

My personal opinion is that there is nothing wrong with gratitude. It doesn’t make me a smaller person if I am grateful to my parents for bringing me up the way they did, sacrificing quite a bit of their lives so that I could grow into the person I am today. Yes, I do have my own life to lead, but my parents are also part of my life, aren’t they? To look after them the way they need to be looked after brings me great joy. Helping anyone gives me great joy, for that matter.

I sincerely wish there was a more educated and open outlook to discussing elder care, with more focus on solutions (I don’t have any myself!) rather than just the financial and why-we-need-not-do-it aspects from the young and the thriving.

Wrap Up

Kanchenjunga

So yet another year draws to a close, and this is the third year I take stock on my blog.

It’s been a really peaceful year, with no major ups or downs. Life continued at its steady pace, chewed up and digested in little bites of quotidian details.

Personally, I “improved” on two fronts, which was entirely unplanned.

The first was my cooking. Thanks to the constant appreciation by Lil D, I’ve begun to cook beyond the basics. My first foray into baking a cake from scratch was met with success and that definitely buoyed me. I began trying out many more recipes, and with the stray disaster here and there, did pretty well on the whole. I must offer a 100 coconuts to Google-amma though! πŸ™‚ I can’t count the number of times I googled a random recipe and ended up making it, completely edible and mostly delicious. Hats off to those innumerable cooking sites, whose authors have been so kind and patient enough to put up step-by-step instructions and pretty pictures for dummies like me!

The second was my “studying”. Joining Coursera was the best thing I did! Two courses later, with 2 “certificates” under my belt, one for Science Fiction and one for Greek and Roman mythology, I am pretty sure that Coursera will be part of my life for some time to come.

I am also happy that I am now more comfortable reading non-fiction. This year tops the maximum number of non-fiction books I have read in my life. I am beginning to find myself a little impatient with present-day fiction actually, and I keep returning to the classics. The highlight of the year was undoubtedly The Odyssey by Homer, which was an eye-opener in many ways.

I have done little or no writing this year, except for keeping this blog alive. I don’t feel the kind of despair that attacked me a couple of years ago when I couldn’t write. I guess letting go is getting easier.

My Lil D has shown the biggest change. She’s mellowed so much, such a contrast from her high-spirited young self. She’s so responsible and mature, yet never hesitates to throw her arms around me in a really tight hug every time she sees me. I think we’re on the cusp of the mother-daughter relationship turning into a more beautiful, deeper friendship.

So, in a nutshell, all is well in my little cocoon as it tosses around on the stormy seas of life. Let’s hope the next year too continues at this sedate pace.

Happy Holidays and may your New Year be splendid too!

Twelve

Last year, I did an Eleven.

This year, considering that the world is about to end soon (:D), I thought I should dedicate this lovely day to memories.

Painful and sad memories can be summoned so easily to drown us in their darkness. Happy memories are like flitting butterflies, so much more elusive, so much harder to pin down.

So here goes, in no particular order, twelve memories that are dear to me.

1. The one time I let my hair down at an office party and danced like there was no tomorrow. I really could have danced all night.

2. The first time I met Lil D, she stared at me with those beautiful, beautiful eyes. Her little hand curled around my chain, and I fell totally in love.

3. The day we decided spontaneously to go for the movie Satte Pe Satta. It was the best family outing ever.

4. A concert by Hari Prasad Chaurasia in college, where everyone, immersed in the mellifluous strains of his flute recital, had bent their heads like a field of crops bowing to the breeze, and one could gaze straight at Lord Krishna himself.

5. The trip back from Kodai, when DH held me with so much care all the way. It made me feel so special.

6. The absolutely hilarious time we three friends had at the movies when we sneaked in and out of auditoriums! I almost died laughing that day.

7. The night I found out I won. I could not believe it.

8. The utter joy when I heard that the EnAble India candidate whom I had coached in just an hour landed the job of his dreams. I felt on top of the world.

9. The complete awesomeness of snorkelling. It was like entering a different universe.

10. The time when I, as a young girl, went up to a complete stranger and offered to help carry her things. The elderly woman was so happy!

11. The high I experienced when, at work, I cracked a long-standing and particularly knotty issue that wasn’t really in my domain, through sheer perseverance. It did wonders for my self-esteem.

12. The very first cake Lil D and I baked together (yes, it was my first cake too), which came out so perfectly that I was in a state of disbelief for a whole week.

Awww, I’ve got to stop now? Just when I was on a roll? That’s just too bad. πŸ™‚

Memory has a funny way of distorting pictures, sharpening some lines, rendering fuzzy some others. Things we believe we will never forget soon fade away, and forgotten incidents sometimes return with a surprising sharpness. Memory is unreliable, yet it is who we are, the stuff we are made of. Take away our memories, and we are nothing. The journey of life does need some baggage, and that includes the pictures in our wallets.

Happy 12/12/12!

Think Again!

I have been witnessing several very good debates on a few online forums. The topics range from religious texts to the relevance of myths, from freedom to restraint and repression, and many other topics, too numerous to mention here.

What I love about the principal debaters is their uncanny ability to zoom into the heart of the matter, pick out the relevant points, and then take them apart with impeccable logic. Unlike many online discussions that rapidly degenerate into mud-slinging and awful personal attacks, these erudite debates are such an absolute delight!

On one of these forums, someone made a remark: Debates aren’t necessarily about changing beliefs but about awareness of ideas.

What a lovely way of putting it. I have learned much from these learned exchanges, and that has prompted me to sign up for yet another Coursera course! Yes, you guessed it right; it is Think Again: How to Reason and Argue. πŸ˜€

As the blurb for the course goes, I will at least learn “Nasty names (equivocator!) to call people who try to fool you with bad arguments.” πŸ™‚