Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I cut them so sue me

What was I supposed to do? Stand back and watch them wreck havoc? I was left with no choice and simply did what I had to. As always, the innate sense of fairness in me (stop rolling your eyes, will you?) made me put myself through the same ordeal too. But did anyone appreciate me for that? Oh no, of course not. Anyway, thank your lucky stars that you weren’t a witness to that scene in my house on Monday morning. It wasn’t pretty but I was armed and up to the task.

I cut everyone’s nails on Monday. Get in line if you want to sue me. My kids are heading the long list.

You would have thought that we just lost our major European modeling contract as a result of my heinous act if you had heard the big ruckus at the scene. All the wailing and sobbing would have led you to believe that we frequented a Spa at least once a week for manicures and I butchered a few sets of French nails this week. You would have been totally wrong. Sure they were long and sharp like Cindy Crawford but there endeth the similarity. Ours were uniquely chewed up on the corners with spiked cuticles left for proof and overall stood out with a nice unhealthy yellow glaze. This is one time I can say with certainty that ours were truly one of a kind.

If you knew the real reason why I was armed with a nail cutter this week, you would take my side in a heartbeat, I am sure of it. Sure, those nails looked ugly as sin but that wasn’t why I snipped them off. Sure, we were walking around looking like a pack of tigers with our claws out to pounce on the nearest living thing but that wasn’t why I cut them. Believe it or not, I did it to safeguard our house.

Last Friday was the last day of school for this year. Christmas break was upon us again. As the school doors were opened wide for the last time on Friday afternoon, my kids rushed out like war prisoners who were freed from an isolation box after 6 months of imprisonment. Backpacks were tossed to a dusty corner with as much disdain as revenge. Sheer ecstasy of not having to do homework made my children glow like energy efficient white bulbs. Relationship between protons and neutrons, line graphs, Renaissance period literature, grammar assignments and more were decidedly swept under the memory rug and vengefully stomped upon.

Gazillion plans were made to milk the two weeks to the maximum. And they included hitting the movie theaters, game stores and restaurants. But a wicked snow storm blew its way in to our area on Friday evening like the big bad wolf and bared its fangs with glee. By Saturday morning, the snow had piled up so high that I saw my dog stare in dismay trying to find a place when nature called. With every snow flake that drifted down, my kids watched their vacation plans disintegrate.

But since our family is as resilient as they come, we decided to make the most of it. Board games were brought out and instruction sheets were read out loud. Card games kept us sane for a few hours. We decided to improvise and had a writing contest. Endless hours of movies followed endless plates of snacks. By Sunday morning we were ready to tear each others’ throats out and sing in a monotone just to kill boredom. As I watched Sunday drag along with no hope of the snow melting or the roads getting cleared, I knew I had to do it. Monday morning, I got out the nail clippers much my kids’ horror and cut everyone’ nails. I had to save our home before insanity pushed everyone over the brink to go scratching at the walls. Trust me, it was only a matter of time.

Now anytime my kids get an itch and they are forced to go looking for a sharp kitchen utensil to scratch it, they are going to turn hostile eyes towards me. (Big sigh…………….) I do hope that one day they will realize that I did it to protect our home.

-Meena Sankaran

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pride and prejudice

Jane Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' is my all-time favorite novel but this post has nothing to do with that classic masterpiece. Just wanted to get that disclaimer out in case some gray-haired publisher from England decides to sue me for copyright infringement violations.

It is with a lot of pride that I am posting a short story here that my daughter wrote today. She took all of ten minutes to write this story.

Short story, she claims, is not her cup of tea but I beg to differ. It is a tough genre, I agree. Much more difficult to grasp and master than a novel even since the author does not have the luxury of time and length to carve out his/her characters, plot and so on but I think my kid has done an awesome job of it. If you think I am prejudiced, so be it. I think I am entitled.

Here you go. Hope you enjoy it!

Coming Home

He stared at the candle. A sudden blast of cold wind shot through the window and threatened to blow the light out, but he blocked the cold with his hand.

Four years. Four years since he had seen light. The blasts of bombs, and the yelling and screaming and shooting, the harsh barks of commanders issuing hurried orders to their men. His unit had been stationed in the mountains of Afghanistan for two years now. Huddled in a corner of the rickety one- roomed cabin, he stared at the candle.
One of the men who had been playing cards in the table got up and walked over to him.

“Sorry ‘bout your loss, Ben,” he said softly, laying a rough hand on his shoulder. “Jack didn’t deserve to die.”

“No one does.” Ben’s throat croaked from lack of use.

The man looked like he might stay, but then changed his mind and left his comrade alone to get back to the card game.

Ben’s eyes had not left the candle. In its light he suddenly perceived a mirror through which he could see his own gaze; the gaze of a young man stripped of family and feeling. There was a crazed look in his eyes, the look of a man who had given everything, including his memories, to go through hell.

His commander’s last words to him echoed in his brain. “Ben, there’s still light. Remember that. There’s always light.” Jack had placed the candle in his hand and squeezed his shoulder before turning to make a poor soldier’s life miserable.

Now, staring at the candle, he was plagued by memories. His wife weeping as he left to join the service; his three- year old daughter clasping his neck as though her life depended on it. He could not even remember their names anymore.

“Come back soon,” they’d both called to him from the doorway. “Come back soon.”

At first, Ben had replied to every letter they sent as soon as he could. Now he did not even bother to open them. He knew that all he would find would be pleas for his return, pleas that he had no answer to. He no longer controlled his fate; war did. War decided when he ate, slept, fought, and died. Around him he could dimly hear the insane laughter of his comrades at the table beside him, as if from far off.

They’ve done it, he said in his mind. They’ve gone and taken us and everything we had. We’re not human anymore. We’re machines. That’s all we’ll ever be. Soon we’ll all flicker and die just like this candle will, and they’ll just get someone else to replace us and keep the war going.

A jolt went through him. For the first time in four years, Ben was thinking. His mind, before moving mechanically to the orders of his commanding officers, now awoke as if from a long and deep slumber. With his thoughts the memories flooded back into him.

My name is Ben Towski. I was born in Austin, Texas. My wife… Ashley! He leapt to his feet, almost knocking the candle over.

The men at the table stared at him. “You alright, Ben?”

Ben stared at them. Though he had known these people for four years, they seemed like strangers to him; he turned away from their dead, insane gazes.

“I’m fine,” he told them roughly. They shrugged and went back to their game.

Ben picked up the candle and stared at it wonderingly before slipping it into the large pockets of his coat. He grabbed a pack of matches and headed towards the cabin door.

“I’m going to get a smoke,” he told his comrades. They ignored him, so he opened the door and walked out, pulling the hood over him to block the wind. He coolly made his way through the soldiers who were scuttling in and out of the cabins. No one paid attention to him as he walked away from them.

At last, a sentry saw him through the blizzard. “Where are you headed, soldier?” he called out.

Ben turned back to him. “I’m going home.” For a moment something like realization passed through the sentry’s face, and Ben took that moment to turn and run. He ran through the blizzard, ignoring the warning shouts of the men. He did not feel the wind chilling his face.

I’m coming home, he said. Ashley, I’m coming home.

He would leave these deserted mountains, and walk till he found a village. He’d fly to America again, even if he had to hitch a ride amongst the cargo. He would find a way.

There was a knock on the door. The woman wearily walked towards it. In the first year she had run to the door, keeping that hope that she would open it and find her husband there. Now it was a nightmare to do so.

She swung the door open and froze.

Ben smiled at her. His face was haggard, there were scars all over him, and his clothes were barely more than rags, but his smile seemed godly.

“Sorry I’m late.”

-Aarthi Sankaran
9th grader
Godwin High School


-Meena Sankaran

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Misfit is the name of the game

I have no proof to back it up. No notarized documents to substantiate my claim. I can’t even quote the source as an eavesdropped private conversation where folks tend to whisper such dark secrets. Nothing dramatic of that sort really. It is simply a hunch, a gut feeling that I have.

About 30 years ago, in a fairly large city in southern India, a male child must have been switched at birth. Don’t ask me who committed this dastardly act because I don’t know. But I know that the switch happened as surely as I know that a plate of deep fried onion fritters is the best reason to think favorably of a dark rainy day.

Before you write me off as a lunatic, let me explain the logic behind my supposition. The alleged ‘switched baby’ happens to be my cousin from my mother’s side. He is a misfit in our family and I say it in the nicest way possible. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. If he is Einstein, we are the Brady bunch.

2. If he is Marie Curie, we are the nosy neighbors of Mary Poppins.

3. Philosophy is to him as popcorn and a movie are to us.

4. While we restrict our reading list strictly to milk cartons and horoscopes, he has written and published a book on Computer programming. I am sure that the word ’embedded’ plays a crucial role in his book but I somehow doubt that he was talking about quilting.

5. While the rest of us were wasting away our childhoods with pillow fights and the like, he spent many joyful hours staring at the World Atlas, committing to memory the landscape of the world.

6. While we consider it a victory to just be able to recite our own names without getting our tongues twisted into a knot, he can not only recite the Vedas and the Upanishads but can take on even the wisest of men in an engaging religious discussion.

7. While we don’t attempt any addition or subtraction over 2 digits without a calculator, he can make a TI-85 hang its head in shame.

8. While we have all happily settled in to a rut that we call life, he quit his successful job recently to open up his own software business to pursue a dream of pioneering in the technology field, to “go where no man has ever been”.

9. Mathematics does to him what a bowl of cold Banana fudge sundae does to us on a hot tropical night.

10. Generosity, kindness and humility are next only to Physics, Math and technology on his list of accomplishments while we are all still scrambling to put together something that resembles a list.

Do you still doubt my claim that he was switched at birth? I am sure that the rest of the family will agree with me when I say this to the culprit who switched him to our cradle - We owe you big time man!

-Meena Sankaran

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are your children cherished?

Clothes carelessly scattered over the floor of my children’ rooms are usually enough to get my blood pressure shooting up to lethal levels warranting a visit to the ER.

Every pair of smelly socks that I unearth from under a sofa is a cue to open curtains on the most explosive show of fireworks ever displayed. One that would shame even the best July 4th celebrations in the country.

The occasional ‘B’ among several ‘A’s on a child’s report card has been instrumental in me experiencing a few fairytale-like fainting spells giving me a chance to test the strength of the smelling salts that I once bought over eBay.

Feel free to pull up a chair because I can go on forever about all that my kids do or not do to push me to the brink of a cardiac arrest on any normal day.

I am a perfectionist. Not by desire or design. I simply am one. Or I was until yesterday.

A 15 year old child from our community took her last breath two days ago. Yesterday was her funeral.

She was a beautiful girl, so full of promises. She had sung like a dream. She had played tennis with the grace and ease afforded by youth. She had brought home her share of good grades and had laughed wildly with the abandon of a teenager. She would have sulked, rebelled and cried too. She could have been mine or yours. Today she is just a statistic. One more life snapped off before its time by the cruel claws of Leukemia.

What wouldn’t her parents do to see her clothes lying messily in her room today? What wouldn’t they give to see her walk through the front door one more time with a report card? Where would they not go to retrieve her sweat drenched dirty socks?

With a heavy heart, I realize today that I have lost the desire to raise flawless children. I don’t want to see them grow up to be perfect angels. I want to see them grow up. It only took the death of a child to make me understand a simple truth - our children are precious gifts that we quite so often forget to cherish and enjoy.

I am going to have to control myself into not giving big hugs when my children next come home with a few ‘less than perfect’ grades. After all, I don’t want to confuse them.

My heartfelt condolences to the family. May God give them the strength to survive this grief and find meaning in life.

-Meena Sankaran

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

PTCs are not for amateurs. Seriously!

I got out of bed this morning feeling quite confident. I could do this. After all, I had prepared sufficiently for this day.

Mentally running through the checklist once again only proved that I was right.

New running shoes. Check. Water bottle. Check. Whistle on a long chain. Check. Paper bags for hyper ventilation. Check. Facility maps. Check. Schedule for the day. Check. Warm-up exercises. Done. Breathing exercises. Done. Squatting exercises to strengthen upper thigh muscles. Done.

My most recent trial run was 2 days ago and I clocked it just under 5 minutes. All in all, I felt up to the challenge.

“Mom, are you sure you can do this?” Hearing the hitch in my daughter’s voice, I held one of my spare paper bags in front of her face to help with her hyper ventilation. “Have a little faith, will you? Step aside and wish me luck. I will be fine.”

Armed with a well-stocked knapsack, I marched out to face the challenge of yet another parent teacher conference. Just to spice up my otherwise boring life, my morning was scheduled to start off at my freshman’s high school with no block system and end at my third grader’s elementary school.

If you have no knowledge of a block system, take a minute now to give thanks to the Almighty. Not knowing the difference between a 4 period and a 7 period day gives you away as the parent of an elementary child or a preschooler. Life may be predictable even a little boring for you at this stage but at least your heart is sure to be free of excessive palpitations. After all, how much excitement can you expect out of a 15 minute meeting with one teacher? And all those 15 minutes spent in only one room!

When I pulled in to the pathway leading to the high school, it was crowded alright. After cruising around the lot for about 20 minutes I finally crammed my van in a spot meant for bicycles (don’t try this unless you have a good third party auto insurance coverage) and strode in through the main entrance.

This was it. This was the moment that I had prepared for all these weeks. And I was ready. Lips pursed, shoulders squared, eyes slightly narrowed with focus, I whipped out the schedule that my kid had painstakingly hand-written for me even while I flipped open the school map with the other hand. A quick glance at the schedule showed me that my first meeting was with Mrs. R, the social studies teacher in room# 94 in exactly 6 minutes.

If you were a seasoned parent like me, you would know that on a parent teacher conference day, the dozens of long, winding hallways of a high school are more crowded than the busiest highways of an industrial town.

Estimating the time I was going to need to get around the many parents circling the hallways, I mapped the shortest route to the 90s hall mentally and started off on an easy rhythmic jog. 2 more minutes left to my destination, I faced my first major hurdle. Closing in on the intersection of the 60s and 70s hall just beyond the library, I noticed a group of parents huddling around a map looking confused and lost. Amateurs! They were clearly blocking my way. I had 2 options there. I could stop near the crowd and politely tell them to get the hell out of my way or, ta da, I could blow hard on the whistle hanging around my neck to startle the crowd into giving me way. Take a wild guess as to what I chose. It was certainly a stroke of genius to bring the whistle along for the day.

After making a quick stop outside room# 94 to gulp down from my water bottle, I stepped in to greet Mrs. R with one minute to spare. The conversation that followed went like this.

“Mrs. R, how are you?”

“Very well, thank you Mrs. S. Please take a seat.”

“Don’t mind if I do. How is A doing in class?”

“Oh, fine. She is a conscientious….oops, your time is up Mrs. S. Oh my, how time flies when you are having a riveting conversation! It has been a pleasure to meet with you Mrs. S. See you in nine weeks again.”

That was certainly a productive meeting. I couldn’t help but like Mrs. R. She was awfully nice. I left the room reassured that my daughter was in good hands.

I now had 5 minutes to get to the 500s hall to meet with Mrs. M, the Math teacher in room# 505. After that I had 5 minutes to come back to the 50s hall to meet with Mrs. B, the English teacher in room #56 followed by more such meaningful meetings with the Science, Band and PE teachers – all of whom were spread across the sprawling campus.

The $120.00 that I paid for my new Nike running shoes was well worth the money. I was going to get great mileage out of it in just one day.

By the time, I got out of my last meeting at the high school, I was soaked in sweat and just a little breathless. When I got into the van at last to drive to my last (thank god!) meeting of the day at the elementary school with my 3rd grader’s teacher, I made a mental note to add some Gatorade and vitamin tablets to the next parent teacher conference preparation checklist.

As the wise say, live and learn.

-Meena Sankaran

Friday, October 2, 2009

Could we get some help down here PLEASE?

Today I am pondering about ways to meet God.

Before you trip over your keyboard looking to bolt out of this place, let me tell you quickly that this is not the beginning of a long philosophical discussion. In fact I have as much chance of saying something intelligent about philosophy as I have about Science. Shameful but true.

My husband once bought a book called ‘Self Unfoldment’ and urged me to use it to start my spiritual journey. I got lost within the first 100 yards of my journey and ended up tucking the book safe behind my dozen recipe books in the Kitchen. I showed it with pride to a friend the other day as the only book in my cabinet that has no finger smudges or rips or pencil marks.

I have a couple of questions that I want to ask God. How do I find Him first? If I stand on one leg and meditate, will he show himself to me? Considering the success that the sages from Indian mythology had with this method, it might be my best bet. In that case, I better make a quick stop at a local drugstore to pick up some Bengay first. You see, I get cramps in my legs if I stand too long on two legs. Imagine my problems if I stand on just one leg!

On the other hand, it might be smarter to simply text God. “OMG, SH.YS. HV FW QK QSTS 4 U” should do it. If you can’t read it as ‘Oh my God, show yourself as I have a few quick questions for you’, consider yourself a little behind current times, my friend.

Okay, okay…...before you go scratching the wall, here are my questions to the Almighty.

If the purpose of my existence on this Universe is to wash dirty dishes, do laundry, tie shoelaces and drive my kids around town:

1. What was the big idea giving me only one pair of hands?
2. Where is my superpower – the ability to beam in and out of places? (Now you see me, now you don’t)

At the risk of inviting a fierce black bolt of lightning to strike me, I will have to say this. Big flaw in your design, my Lord!

Your design specification list for a Mom should have started out with 3 pairs of hands to effectively multitask - the first pair on the shoulders {as in the existing design} to wash dishes, the second pair on the waist to fold and iron clothes and the third pair on the ankles to help tie shoe laces for kids. Considering the fact that we also cook, shop, network and volunteer to sell popcorn for the PTA, we could ideally use a couple more pairs of hands but hey, I will settle for 3 if you can manage it.

When we were watching Star Trek the other day and Jim and Spock pressed a button on their shoulders and said ‘Beam me out Scotty’, I almost jumped out of my skin with excitement. Here is the solution to one of my problems. Here is how I can avoid entailing my estate to the County. Here is how I can pick up both my kids at 5.00 pm sharp from their swimming and tennis lessons respectively from the opposite ends of town without accumulating a dozen speeding tickets in the process. In the next few days I risked alienating my children by pressing an imaginary button on my shoulder often and declaring ‘Beam me out God’. Guess you weren’t listening.

As a time-starved Mom who is forever on the verge of a breakdown trying to be at 2 places at the same time (thereby breaking all known traffic laws of the State), I probably speak for all moms when I say ‘I WANT THAT’.

If you are listening up there, could we get some help down here PLEASE? Hello…..?

-Meena Sankaran

Monday, September 21, 2009

A hairy solution

I was waiting at a hair salon the other day when conversation broke around me. Two gentlemen began what was, at first, a friendly discussion on current political news. The conversation then gradually progressed to a heated debate on the pros and cons of Capital punishment. Oops, I thought. Here I go again caught in the middle of yet another conversation that was completely beyond the scope of my ‘world’.

Sandwiched between the two men, I did what I had practiced to do in such situations. I put on a face that dripped with intelligence and belied my ignorance on such issues. It is actually not that hard. You can try this too. Bring your eyebrows together very gently to create a slight furrow just above your nose. This tells an onlooker that you are deep in thoughts. Now tuck both lips inside your mouth to indicate that you are deliberately restraining yourself from jumping into the conversation and nod your head this way and that way every few minutes in agreement or disagreement. Hah, here is an absolute must that is sure to help you fit in. Be sure that you massage the back of your neck and rotate your shoulders often in a show to relieve some of the non-existent stress. People can’t help but admire such intelligent looks, such restraint and passive participation. If nothing, it sure beats sitting clueless among strangers with eyes rolled upwards in a prayer to be let out of a scene from what resembles a historical wartime drama.

As I was playing back the scene in my mind on the way back home, I suddenly realized that I had missed a golden opportunity to contribute positively to a discussion. For, I happen to have a solution to the controversial social debate on death penalty. I happen to know a ruthless form of punishment that could easily replace death penalty and have heartless criminals wet their beds in fear. I, an average housewife from the suburbs of Virginia, happen to know an alternative method of justice to the death penalty that will have murderers begging for the electric chair and the victims’ families applauding the simplicity of the solution. I am talking about some serious pain here. I am talking about a torture that is more heinous than any criminal act that warrants such a justice.

If you haven’t tuned in yet, I am talking about an inhuman act called waxing. I will bet you my right ear that any woman or girl who has ever waxed a leg at least once in her life will agree with me that there is no torture/punishment worse than that. (He he he, I am counting on the fact that my right ear is of no use to anyone…just in case the bet goes awry and I need to pay up).

You got a murderer or a rapist? Bring him on and sit him up on a chair. Stir up the hot wax and pour it on his legs, arms and back. Ignore the blood-curdling screams and spread the wax. Press a strip of muslin cloth on the wax and rip it off his skin. If this doesn’t qualify to top capital punishment, I don’t know what does. With every yank, watch the evil drain out of a man as the pain ripples through him. With every yank, discourage another one that is planning to step on the wrong side of the law. Why spend thousands of taxpayers’ money on implementing capital punishment when you can mete out something equally terrible for just over $10.00? If the Supreme Court embraces my suggestion and replaces death penalty with waxing, the Federal treasury is sure to heave a sigh of relief.

I have only one request to make of any man who thinks women are weak and powerless. Try getting your legs waxed just once before you call a woman weak. Please!

-Meena Sankaran

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are you constipated?

After years of denial, I woke up one day not too long ago and reluctantly admitted to myself that I was constipated.

Wow….hold your horses! Tear off that prescription for laxatives, my friends. My intestines are in perfect harmony, thank you very much. I am talking about emotional constipation, a rarely talked about illness in people that when left untreated can cause irreparable damage.

If you are unsure about what I am talking about, here is how you can recognize the symptoms. You are emotionally constipated if:

  • Hugs and kisses come as natural to you as they did to Adolf Hitler.
  • You consider breaking down and crying in front of someone to be the worst cardinal sin ever.
  • Admitting an error on your part costs so much more to you than a gram of gold (which is saying a lot considering the gold price in today’s market).
  • After yelling at your kids for something you know to be totally trivial and facing the aftermath of sobs, pouts and accusing glances, you still find yourself unable to give a hug and soothe away the hurt.
  • When your husband comes home brimming with excitement about a new promotion at work, all you can say is ‘nice’ and pat him once on the hand in an awkward show of appreciation before turning back to the stove to continue stirring the pot of water.
  • Even when your heart is filled with love for …………… (fill up this space), the phrase ‘I love you’ gets stuck somewhere to the south of your throat and refuses to be spit out.

If you recognize any of the symptoms above, do not despair. All is not lost yet. When I first diagnosed myself to being afflicted with this illness, it stole my breath away. Me? Emotionally constipated? Afraid to be emotionally expressive? How could that be? How could one who prided herself to be friendly be such a coward? After a lot of soul-searching, I figured out something very curious. The closer I feel to a person, the more constipated I become. Go figure! Anyway, the good news is 'emotional constipation' is fully curable though it takes a bit of ingenuity in shuffling around your genes that dictate your behavior and relearn certain reflexive responses.

For example, if you think you may be afflicted with the same illness, the next time your child comes up to you and declares “Guess what mom/dad! I got an ‘A’ in my Vocabulary quiz today” and looks expectantly at you, resist the urge to give a stoic pat on the head accompanied by ‘good good’ before walking away to attend to the million mundane chores that always seem to await you. Difficult as it may be, stretch your lips wide in a smile, give a squishy hug and say ‘I am proud of you’. And watch utter joy wash over the little face like you have never seen before. That is just one example of 'relearning a reflexive response'.

If you are trying to quit before you even started telling yourself 'I can't change my ways. It is too hard', know that there is another soul on the planet who is trying to do the same and slowly getting the hang of it. Bad habits are there just begging to be broken. As one who is genuinely attempting to recover from this illness, take my advice and practice these phrases at home every day.

I love you.

I miss you.

I am proud of you.

I am afraid of ............

They will come in handy and go a long way to help speed up your recovery. Hope you feel better soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009


If I had a nickel for every time someone said 'Oops' in my family, I could have easily joined Bill Gates on the list for the top 10 wealthiest people in America by now.

'Oops' now heads the list of commonly used words and phrases in our day to day life such as 'No', 'OMG', 'I am hungry', 'Can I have a snack?', 'Do I have to?', 'Are we there yet?' and 'Stop bugging me'. The reason is very simple. We believe in cutting to the chase and 'Oops' allows us to do just that.

To my question ‘Why didn’t you switch off the stove 5 minutes after I left like I told you to?’, instead of a long winded explanation like ’Are you sure you told me mom? Coz I didn’t hear you at all. May be I had the MP3 on. Next time make sure I don’t have my earplugs on before you leave me with a responsibility like this. Gosh mom, all you have to do is tap me on the shoulder before talking to me. That would have saved you the saucepan’, my eldest daughter now simply says 'Oops'. What brevity in expression! Smart girl!

Before the advent of the word 'Oops', English language was elaborate, descriptive and tiresome. It took an eternity to say anything. For example, BO(before oops) if you had wandered into your dining room at 7.00 am one Saturday morning with eyes still half closed, dressed in your worn out pajamas, scratching your legs and the drool not yet dried around your mouth, only to discover all your neighbors sitting around your kitchen table staring at you because you forgot that it was your turn to host the monthly neighborhood watch meeting, you would have had to say something along the lines of "Hi...............what are you...I..........I just.........I didn't...I mean........." and run out screaming. But now voila, simply say 'Oops' and walk away for that says it all. For such a seemingly small and simple word, it sure packs a lot of meaning.

It is a shame that Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Shelley were deprived of this miracle word during their time. How the history of literature would have changed! If I tried a bit, I could almost hear the wistful sighs floating from their graves. Let us take a look at Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

Act I

Romeo has come disguised with a mask to a party at the House of Capulets, the sworn enemy of his family, the Montagues. Juliet sees him and wants to know his identity and sends her Nurse to find out some information about him. When the Nurse comes back, the conversation goes like this:

His name is Romeo, and a Montague;
The only son of your great enemy.

My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
That I must love a loathed enemy.

Come on! All the girl had to do was say 'Oops' and move on. Why all the big words that no one can understand? Shakespeare could have saved himself barrels of ink and lots of wear on the feather. Poor guy!

Coming back from the 16th century, let me tell you why I think ‘Oops’ is an indispensable word for our family. Our vocal chords have been resting easy ever since we stumbled upon this tiny miracle. Reading below, you will see the wisdom of speaking less and saying a lot.

Me: Did you remember to wear your eyeglasses at school?

Daughter: Oops

Me: Did you mail the tax payment to the IRS?

Husband: Oops

Daughter: Where is the binder for my Math class? Did you forget to buy it at Wal-Mart this morning?

Me: Oops

Husband: How long are you going to be blogging? Is lunch ready?

Me: Oops

Hold on, folks! I am getting a call on my cell phone. Will be back to blog in a second………………………

‘Hi sweetie. What? Are you waiting for me to pick you up at school? Oops.’

Run run run run run………………………….

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the company of greatness

It is August. You know what that means, don’t you? It is the time when parents of school age kids across the US, in frenzy, plot their first criminal offense of robbing a bank. How else can they stay afloat after buying the foot long supplies’ lists from their kids’ schools? I sympathized with every one of those moms and dads as I walked the aisles of Staples and Office Depot armed with my kids’ back-to-school supplies lists and a cart that looked like a grasshopper colony went overboard with its pre-winter ritual of stocking up food.

In addition to the familiar items on my yearly list of 10 large glue sticks, 6 pack index cards, 6 composition books, 2 pack loose-leaf college-ruled paper(not wide-ruled, mind you), folders with 2 pockets on the sides, 3 2” binders and a dozen #2 HB pencils, I had a new challenge this year.

My high school freshman’s list had a calculator. Not any drugstore calculator. A scientific calculator. The TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. My daughter uttered the name with such reverence that I, in turn, marched to the store and whispered it ever so softly to the store clerk who pleaded stomach flu and ran inside the doors that read ‘FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY’. Realizing that he wasn’t coming out anytime soon, I managed to locate it myself in an aisle filled with even more fantastic gadgets. This calculator, according to the flyer in the aisle, is the next best thing to sharing Albert Einstein’s gene pool as it could handle Trigonometry, Pre-calculus, Geometry, graphing and something else (the name of which eludes me now) that rhymes with suitability. I hope my daughter realizes how lucky she is. She can breeze through her high school years with absolutely no risk of a receding hairline.

Isn’t it just my luck that I had to be born in a decade when such technological advantages were unheard of in schools? While I sat cross-eyed with the strain of squeezing my poor little brain to manually calculate the sin of an angle of 72 degrees two decades ago, the kids in school today can simply punch up a function in this calculator and spit out the answer 0.9510565163 in under a second. Where is fairness, I ask you.

When I finished reading the box I was in awe. The TI-84 Plus sounded smart enough to sit for the SAT exams all by itself and ace them with a 5.0 GPA. Don’t quote me on this, but I think NASA used this palm-sized miracle to calculate Apollo 13’s return to a free return trajectory after the unfortunate accident in space all those years ago.

As I stood there in the aisle holding this calculator in my hand, it struck me. I was in the company of greatness. I held in my hand the century’s most phenomenal invention - a tiny box that held within itself the answers to all the science and math problems that had baffled the toughest minds of my time.

Placing the calculator in the shopping cart with a gentleness usually shown only by a first time dad holding his newborn baby, I joined the long row of parents at the cash counter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can the brain drain with an overdose of mega serials?

It has been over a week since I touched down in singara Chennai. Several things have changed in this city since my last visit here. One can get pretty much everything here for the right price. But the most outstanding change of all is the effect of the television ‘mega serials’ on our society.

Mega serials have revolutionized the social behavior of our society. It is truly an amazing phenomenon. Staying glued to those intensely melodramatic serials with a total disinterest and disregard to the world around it defines the society of today. Take any household in Chennai. Between 6 and 10 pm, you can’t pry anyone from the TV screen with a 2 feet crowbar if your life depended on it. If the Great God Ganapathy ever chooses to make an appearance before a devotee to grant a boon, I hope he can squeeze in sometime between the ‘Kolangal’ and ‘Enge brahmanan’ to do it or else he would be in for a rude shock.

Take, for example, the other day when I called up my aunt around 7.00 pm to chitchat. It wasn’t a conversation but a monologue. I talked while she watched TV barely hearing a word that I said. I could have announced that a volcano just erupted around the block leading to the entire neighborhood evacuating and she would have mindlessly said “yes yes good Meena”. After a long monologue, I got tired of hearing my own voice and hung up. I also heard a true story where someone left a restaurant and his family in it without quite finishing his dinner in a hurry to catch up with ‘Abhi’ in Kolangal who was returning on that day’s episode from abroad.

Watching the world fall madly in love with those serials, I decided to look for myself what the allure was. It was mind-boggling. If there was a clearly defined plot in any of them, I couldn’t find it. Most are family dramas highlighting predominantly dysfunctional families. Abortions, murder conspiracies, jealous lovers/husbands, adopted kids seeking their birth parents, damsels in distress waiting for their knights in shining armor are the distant mirages of plot in these Indian soap operas. That is not all. The same actors are cast across all the serials making it impossible to remember their many different character names and their roles in the various dramas. The actors are often overly made up with very little talent for acting and would do better with a modeling contract to showcase the recent fashions in clothing and jewelry than an acting one. Yet millions of people stay tuned day after day to follow the lives of these characters in hope of experiencing a few vicarious thrills through their lives. What is this magnetism? What draws our society to this brain-damaging mediocrity of an entertainment is the curious answer-defying question of this era.

Despite all this, there is one unshakable truth. No single thing in this world holds as much power over its inhabitants or brings them together as a unified identifiable group as this ‘mega serial’ phenomenon. Go figure!

-Meena Sankaran

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Knock Knock. Who is there?

Usually people have different reasons to buy houses in a certain neighborhood. While choosing a new home, some look for a safe neighborhood, some look to see if the home has easy access to schools, shops etc., some insist on a cul-de-sac so the kids can bike without the worries of traffic.

Me? I had a unique list of priorities while choosing mine. Topping my list was a critical one. I was looking for neighbors who wouldn’t call the cops when they find me knocking on their door at 6.00 in the morning to borrow some sugar for coffee. Or when I go to borrow some cilantro for a pot of lentil soup, 2 AA batteries for a new toy, a needle and a thread to sew a button on my kid’s band shirt, a glue stick for a school project or 1 egg for a cake recipe that calls for it. With gas prices soaring, you don’t really expect me to get in the car and head to the store every time I need a little thing, do you?

When it finally dawned on me that my utility closet, kitchen pantry and refrigerator will never sag under the weight of being fully stocked I figured my next best bet was to have neighbors to whom overstocking was a religion. Somewhere in the Bhagavat Gita, there must be a line that reads ‘Treat thy neighbor’s supplies, food or otherwise, as your own’ or else I am toast. You can hardly blame me for this attitude because I grew up watching the best borrow/buy/sell/ trade transactions ever conducted over a wire fence in our backyard. My mom and our backdoor neighbor served as each other’s ‘7 Eleven’ store when I was growing up. Ran out of flour to make rotis? No problem. Shout over the fence and thou shall get it and vice versa. I learnt it early in my life that if you can’t count on your neighbor for a pinch of salt and a cup of yogurt every now and then, you can’t count on anything in life. Embarking on a journey to buy a home, it made solid sense to first look for good ‘stocked up’ neighbors.

With this plan etched in my mind, I set out to look for properties with my realtor. The neighbors were scrutinized more thoroughly than any house shown by the realtor and points were mentally awarded for friendliness, accessibility, a second fridge in the garage (anyone with a second fridge would definitely be big on stocking from Costco or Sam’s Club) etc. Many potentially good houses were turned down for lack of qualified neighbors. When I was ready to throw in the towel and accept that I was not going to get lucky like my mom, fate smiled on me and showed me a neighbor who raked in a perfect score of 100% on all my tests. Don’t quote me on this but I have a feeling that my neighbor was born with a smile on her face and her guarding angel put a spell to freeze it there. She is ever so friendly and best of all, she believes in buying 2 of everything when she shops. Lucky for me, huh?

I go to bed every night thanking my lucky stars for this neighbor who makes it easy for me to carry on a family tradition. My mom would be proud of me.

-Meena Sankaran

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What is India?

If you are looking for the regular dose of humor to lighten your day, I am very sorry to disappoint you. There isn’t an ounce of wit in this post. This article is a result of some deep thinking, folks. Come now, you don’t have to look so stunned. I can think deep thoughts, if only occasionally. Read on to travel through the deep recesses of my mind that would afford you a glance at all those deep thoughts. :-) (Ha ha ha…) That is as much humor as I can muster up today. Now on to the post.

Learning of our upcoming trip to India this summer, my husband’s colleague, an American, requested if we could bring back some ‘curry’ for her. I was completely intrigued by this request. What is ‘curry’? What it represents for her may not be the same for me. In fact I am sure of it. Made me wonder about what ‘India’ represents to the world on the other side of the picket fence. After all that deep thinking, this is what I figured.

To many, like my husband’s friend, India is synonymous to a rich and aromatic blend of spices that tease the senses to explore beyond the realm of imagination.

To some, India is beautiful tanned women clad in yards of silk and dresses fashioned on mind-blowing color palettes and materials.

To some, India is hand-woven Kashmir rugs that can be bought at high-end retail stores for an arm and a leg.

To some, India is over-achieving children and their ever-worried parents crowding their neighborhood schools, Kumon centers and spelling bees.

To some, India is sandal incense sticks and small wooden elephants found at the World Market.

To some, India is the unruly person that buys a fan in May at Wal-Mart, uses it through the summer and returns it to the store in August without batting an eyelid for a full refund.

To some, India is heavily accented and overly polite customer-service people answering tech-support calls in call centers from the remote towns and villages of India.

To some, India is elderly couples walking the streets of their town in traditional Indian clothing throughout the year pushing strollers or holding the tiny fingers of their grandchildren.

To some, India is the population that stole their jobs, the country that lit the firecracker leading to the unpardonable ‘outsourcing’ explosion that chopped off their paychecks.

To some more, India remains a distant dot on their planet that has no relevance in their everyday lives.

To me, India is home. With its power outages, ever-increasing traffic, no-end-in-sight corruption and bureaucracy to its fabulous colorful billboards, sensational shopping alleys, mouth-watering food and most important of all, the extended large family that I left behind, it is the home that is beckoning to me now.

I will be home next week. Yay, yay, yay......

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The countdown has begun

With less than 2 weeks to go, we have started the countdown to our India trip.

'X' marks the spot on the calendar every morning while we make a big production of counting the days left for our trip and ‘marking the calendar’ ritual is accompanied by joyous shouts and a quick nostalgic trip down memory lane to revisit some of the boisterous family reunions of our past trips.

Plans to hit the movie theaters and the best restaurants in Chennai are made to the loud approval of the children. My request to stop at ‘Saravana Bhavan’ on the way home from the airport is met with utter disbelief and is turned down to my disappointment. Oh well, so what if we are landing at 3.00 am?

Suggestions from us to make a pilgrimage to a few holy temples are unanimously voted down and discarded by the children.

Bath and Body Works’ semi-annual sale in June is duly noted and the store is agreed to as the best place to buy gifts for the trillion family members back home. Costco’s inventory, we all acknowledged, is about to take a big dent when our family finishes carting the oats, Splenda, chocolates, cereal, Ziploc bags, almonds and whatnot from the Store to our suitcases. Wal-Mart won the vote as the suitable store to buy Pam spray, Bounty paper towels and Scotch-Brite.

Promises are made, yet again, to not fill up suitcases till they rip on the way to the airport. The 3 page shopping list (not my idea, folks) makes it clear that some promises are made just to be broken.

Reminders are made to all family members to dig up all the wrinkled formal clothes in the closet and pack them to avail the services of the ‘Dhobi wala’ in India. Thank you God!

Daydreaming of eating sumptuous wedding type meals on a plantain leaf is accepted as a normal precursor to the upcoming trip. Having already secured two invitations to attend a wedding and an upanayanam during our stay in Chennai, we acknowledge with satisfied smiles, that these dreams are about to come true soon.

Kids’ concerns about the heat, cockroaches, mosquitoes and lizards are patiently addressed and soothing ‘all will be well’ statements repeatedly handed out.

In response to feedback (I prefer the term to ‘complaint’) about my incessant ‘all-consuming’ urge to blog, I acknowledge, with a sinking heart, the need to ease back a little. At least enough to finish packing in time to board the flight.

Sweet Chennai, here we come!