Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The nine yard nightmare!

By some cruel and sadistic fate, I have been steadily growing rounder with each passing day.  If you were to stand on a hilltop watching me climb the curved road below, it may seem to you that a perfectly circular roller is fighting gravity tooth and nail to roll upwards laboriously.  But hey, I am not here to groan and moan about my weight loss woes again but to let you know of a prodigious idea that I have had.  I have decided to cash in my plump karma chips at last and go trick or treating on Halloween this year with my kids as ‘a perfect mathematical circle’.  I will get to enjoy a sack full of candy without spending an obscene amount of money on a weird costume.  Beat that, hah! 

I amaze myself sometimes with brilliant ideas like these.  Last summer, I had another such one.  It all started with a traditional family religious ritual that required me to wear a nine yard saaree and serve food to women sitting cross legged on the floor in front of a plantain leaf.  If you think serving food wearing a nine yard saaree was hard for me, you should have seen me sitting on the floor a little later trying to eat out of the leaf myself. 

First of all, which sadist designed this saaree, I want to know.  I bet you all the gold on Wall Street that it was a man because there is no way a woman would have asked me to wrap 9 yards of material around me without at least throwing a lifeline in the form of an in-skirt to hold it all together.  I refuse to believe that a woman could do that to another.  So I have just a few questions to ask the guy who came up with this nine yard madisar design. 

Are you out of your scrambled mind?  How do you expect me to hold the folds at my waist AND bend to loop the tail of the saaree through my legs?  And if I fall on my poor head while bending, what happens to those folds?  Do you seriously expect me start over until I crack my head again?  More importantly, given the fact that I have 9 yards of cloth to cover myself, why are my legs playing peek-a-boo with the world? 

Anyway, I gave it my best shot last summer.  I took step-by-step lessons from my sister who makes the household goddess Martha Stewart seem like a clumsy gypsy.  In spite of her showing me precisely how to tie the saaree, I bungled it and managed to tangle myself up in a knot.  Sisterly love saved the day as she helped untangle me before begging me never to ask her for help in tying this saaree.  Next I watched some how-to-wear-a-nine-yard-saaree videos on youtube but that was no roaring success either.  Finally I threw my inhibitions to the wind and let an elderly woman in the family tie it for me.  I assumed the pose of the Christ on the Cross and stood resigned through the whole ordeal. 

Finally it was done.  I was at last wearing a madisar saaree.  I looked totally weird but never mind that as I was used to it.  I had important duties waiting for me.  There were 9 hungry women sitting cross-legged on the floor in the other room looking expectantly at the plantain leaf in front of them.  I would not let them down.  I had to go serve them food.  I squared my shoulders and started to march towards the kitchen to fetch the food. 

Wow!  ‘Not so fast, my dear’ said my legs.  With a look of horror, the cook caught me just in time before I crashed into her kettle of payasam.  Since I was a quick study, I quickly learned the trick to walk without tripping – to walk like a penguin.  I have mastered this penguin walk so much so that if I were to get stranded on North Pole someday, some penguin family may just adopt me.

There I was standing over the first plantain leaf with a bucket of payasam and 9 pairs of eyes turned and looked hungrily at me.  I looked down and the leaf seemed frighteningly far away.  How was I going to get the payasam all the way down there?   Praying to all the supreme powers of this world to help me to not fall on the leaf while bending, I planted my feet apart and gingerly bent down and scooped a cup of payasam on one side of the leaf.  By the time, I crossed leaf# 4, I was giddy with pride.  If you are a newcomer to the world of nine yard saarees, the trick is in planting your feet wide before bending.  Just remember that.  Yes, you will look like a cricket batsman taking his stance but it beats tumbling down on the laps of the hungry folks on the floor.

The nine yard saga continued with my turn coming up next to sit on the floor cross-legged and eat the sumptuous meal.  Have you ever seen a penguin sit cross-legged on the floor?  Neither have I and hence I had no one to take pointers from.  After a few minutes of trying to elegantly sit down like all those other women in the room, I gave up and simply plopped down like a sack of flour on the floor.  Okay, now I was in business.  The 12 course meal was served and looked enticing on the shiny plantain leaf and I eagerly reached my hand out to taste the sweet pachdi only to find my arm stop a bit short of the destination.  Come on….you have got to be kidding me.  I knew just then how the squirrel in the ‘Ice Age’ movie felt about the elusive acorn. 

I may not be ‘accomplished’ in the Jane Austen sense of the word but what I am is resourceful.  If I couldn’t bend down to reach the food on the other side of the plantain leaf, I decided to get the food closer to me.  It was really quite easy.  I glared menacingly and intimidated the women serving into lining up the food items closer to my reach.  My glare, I am told, can scare the life out of the Lord himself.  There was hardly any choice for me.  Really!  Either that or like a fool, I had to look helplessly at the food and drool over the sight of it the whole time and I will have you know that I am no fool. 

Anyway, that was when the idea bulb went on once again in my head and I found a tailor who took my nine-yard saaree and tailored it for me.  Hallelujah!  No more ‘Christ on the Cross’ pose for me.  No more walking around like a penguin.  No more fear of looking like a mummy.  All I had to do was to slip in, tie the pant, wrap the cloth once around and voila, I would have myself a madisar saaree. 

Well, the reality did not quite go like that.  Two weeks ago on my current trip to India, history repeated itself and I found myself practicing my penguin walk once again. 

I figure some ideas of mine are just more brilliant than the others.  

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Science for Dummies - Part II

“Just think about it Meena.  14 billion years ago, we were all inside a hydrogen atom.  You, me and this entire Universe” my husband told me yesterday in one of his I am-getting-goose bumps-over-science moments.  Try as I might, I simply can’t get goose bumps over hydrogen atoms.  Or even over carbon atoms or hydrocarbons or intermolecular bonds.  I am so ashamed.

We had just come back from watching a movie and were engaged in some light post-movie conversation.  ‘Don’t you think that the popcorn was too salty?’, ‘Theater drinks are harsh on my bladder, you know?’, ‘Did you see that woman with a week old baby sitting in the front row? -  that kind of light post-movie conversation.  One topic led to another and somehow I found myself yet again in the middle of an atomic subject.  

“Oh Sankar, you know that I think of nothing else on most days.  Explosion of that hydrogen atom on that fateful day billion years ago is the only thought that keeps me breathing” I replied with a solemn face.  I don’t know why I waste my sarcasm on him because he flicked it off as usual with a smile and continued “Just imagine Meena…if that atom hadn’t exploded, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.”  

Grave thought indeed!  If I believed for an instant that I could redeem myself for all these years of pleading ignorance in science, I would petition the UN this minute to build a Shrine in honor of that hydrogen atom.  Do you think it is too much?  A little over the top, may be?  With respect, I disagree.  

If Kollywood  actress Kushbu merits a temple in South India, why can’t this tiny hydrogen atom get a Shrine someplace where people like my husband can go on a personal Mecca each year and prostrate in gratitude?  But as I didn’t see redemption on the cards for me, I didn’t bother with the petition and only said “Not a single day goes by when I don’t offer my thanks to Great God Ganapathy for getting that atom to explode Sankar.”   Of course I meant it.  

As soon as our kids grew up enough to start walking (more like dawdling) on their own chubby little feet, my husband decided that it was time to introduce them to the fascinating world of Science.  He got us renewable annual family membership to a Science Museum and Planetarium in the city.  This place later became a second home to us.  

Every Saturday we would get in the car and go to this Science Museum.  The minute we entered the Museum, I would, by an unwritten rule of the land, assume charge of strollers, diaper bags, picnic lunch bags etc. while my husband would take charge of holding the chubby hands of the kids and walking them from exhibit to exhibit all the while explaining some scientific mumbo jumbo to them with great enthusiasm.  I have crystal clear memories of pushing a stroller full of bulging bags around the many pathways of that Museum making quick, mental notes of emergency exits and restroom locations.  If you think stroller pushing is easy, you should try navigating it inside their atom sized restrooms.  Then, you’ll know.  

Like clockwork, every half hour I would whine about him making me walk too much and we would all wander into an auditorium to sit and watch educational movies on scientific topics.  I clearly remember a show about a bunch of funny-looking carbon atoms that hang out with their buddies, nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, and do some gymnastic stuff together to form long chains.  It was totally weird but looking at the ecstasy on my husband’s face, you wouldn’t think so.

I can’t be 100% sure about it as my memory is not as good as it used to be (???!!!), but my firstborn’s first words in this world could very well have included ‘atom’ and ‘matter’.  But I am positive that she said ‘amma’ first.   At least I think she did.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Need help catching Cupid's eye?

‘Love is in the air’ someone said the other day and I promptly looked at the calendar to find myself in the middle of February once again.  

Every time I hear this phrase, by reflex, I tilt my head up and sniff at the air like a hound on a scent only to wipe the drool pooled by the spicy aroma wafting in from my neighbor’s kitchen.  Love, I guess, requires specially designed noses.

My mother was telling me recently over one of our informative phone conversations how very difficult it is these days to find a bride for a boy in India.  According to her, girls in India are now plowing through the field of marriageable boys, harvesting only the best of them after ruthless scrutiny.  Her blessed heart was fretting over the fate of those poor boys that don’t ever make the cut.

And that got me thinking:  Is it time to reveal my secret?   Do I have the right to sit on this anymore when it could potentially change lives?  Knowing that I have the power to make it happen, can I really live with myself if I don’t lend a helping hand to those boys who yearn for their turn to be struck by Cupid’s arrow?  Will the crest-fallen faces of those bearded youth haunt my sleep forever?  

After a whole minute of thinking, I decided to come clean and tell the world about it if only to get back to my dreamless sleep. 

Coming from a conservative South Indian family, my sisters and I owe our timely marriages at the tender age of early twenties to two things.  
1.  Good luck – Never underestimate the power of luck in a South-Indian wedding.  How else can you get the kind astrologer to declare your horoscopes ‘MATCHED’?  No matching, no wedding so if the astrologer turns his nose down at your horoscope, you may be Rajinikanth for all the good that will do you.  A conservative South-Indian father would still boot you from here to Amjikkarai.  

So is it any wonder that my sisters and I feel such gratitude for the powers above for lining up the dominoes correctly on our horoscopes?  If the ‘Guru’ on our horoscopes hadn’t winked at his brothers on our spouses’ horoscopes just at the right moment, where would we be today?  God’s grace is bountiful indeed! 
2.     Apsaras Photo Studio – This is the secret that I have been safe-guarding all these years.  Second to luck, I owe my ‘mangal sutra’ to this Studio and the time has come for me to reveal it to this world so all mankind can benefit from it.

Want to get married?  Go to Apsaras Studio today and get your photo taken.  I guarantee that proposals will start flowing your way before you can sneeze and say’ bless you’.

But WAIT!  This photo is not for the eyes of your prospective girl.  Oh dear lord, no!   Not if you want a fighting chance with the girl.  Pose for the photo, pay for it, then quietly tuck it away like I did because an Apsaras Studio photo is never flattering to the subject and that is God’s honest truth.  

Say, for example, you have a few pimples artfully spread on your face.  Little pomegranate seeds just sprinkled here and there like cilantro in a bowl of ‘Chole’.  Left alone, no one will be the wiser for they don’t attract too much attention other than lending sweetness to that young face, right?  Wrong!  Once Apsaras’s photographer is done with you, each one of those pimples will stand tall as a solder on a battlefield.   

Got small pores on your face?  ‘Yes, but they are hardly noticeable’, you may say.   Wrong again, my friend.  The Apsaras photographer will diligently adjust his lighting and make it his life’s mission to highlight each one of your pores to ensure that ‘posterity will not willingly let them die’.  

I have always wondered about the camera equipment they use.  How special it must really be to be able to zoom in on a standing subject from the bottom to give the subject a very unique ‘bloated’ effect!  Man, was I awestruck when I got my photo back from Apsaras all those years ago!  It reminded me of those Telugu movies on TV about Gods where NT Rama Rao will grow in height and weight by magical proportions to give his devotees a viswaroopa dharisanam.  I looked just like that in the photo.  

Be that as it may, that photo was my ticket to marriage.  Till then, Ragu and his friends residing on my horoscope were most disinterested in cooperating.  Once I subjected myself to a photo session at Apsaras, as if from a trance, dear Guru woke up and winked promptly at the astrologer and the rest, as they say, is history.
Happy February to one and all!  May Apsaras Studio continue to be the miracle that will stop all those youngsters in India flocking to a monastery!

PS:  Contact me privately for more details on Apsaras.  Serious inquiries only.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Desi Mom!

“You are SUCH a Desi Mom”.  At her wits’ end one day over one of our daily routine arguments, my daughter hurled the words at me in exasperation and stomped off upstairs to sulk in the sanctuary of her restroom.  

What??  Hold it right there buster.  Was that supposed to be an insult?  Tsk, tsk, tsk…. you poor baby!

I have had better punch in a fizzled-out coke.  As I happen to be a Mom with so many deep roots in India as to shame a Banyan Tree into drooping its branches, I naturally fall under the proud race that is commonly referred to as Desis.  Given this fact, I hope you’ll understand why I clucked my tongue at my daughter’s receding back with pity.   As exits go, it wasn’t her best.  Poor child!

To my surprise, subsequent conversations with fellow Desi moms brought to light an interesting fact. Apparently all our children have been drawing from the same well of insults all these years, pitiful as it is.  After one of our recent ‘sob and tell’ parenting woes sessions, we discovered that we had all, at some point, been at the receiving end of some form or the other of the following accusation. 

  1. ·        Why do you have to be SUCH A MOM? (a cry of agony)
  2. ·        YOU DESIS! (in utter disgust)
  3. ·        God!  You are such a Desi. (also uttered in extreme disgust)
  4. ·        God!  You are such a Mom. (???)

In keeping with the spirit of the theme, they also use ‘You Asians’ every now and then.

Lately, I find myself pondering a lot about what it is about a Desi Mom/parent that brings out such eye-rolling exasperation in our kids.  Why do we push our kids into tearing out their poor, unoiled hair roots so much?  Here are a few reasons from the top of my head.

  • A Desi Mom loses more than her sleep over a ‘B’ grade on her child’s report card.  At times she loses control over her bowels too.
  • A Desi Mom believes in regularly checking with her fellow Desi moms about all the academic and after-school pursuits of their offsprings.  After all, she does not want her child to be deprived of any such advantages.
  • A Desi Mom manages to find time every day to fit at least 3 lectures to her children about the importance of Studies, especially science and math, in one’s life. 
  • A Desi Mom will silently thank her stars when the US public school system offers to take responsibility for talking about puberty and other unmentionable subjects to her kids in school.  She also breaks out a sweat when her child gets home and wants to discuss those unmentionable subjects to her.
  • A Desi Mom is a stickler for organization.  Her children never are. 
  • A Desi Mom hates the word ‘boyfriend’ as fiercely as she does ‘dating’, ‘drugs’, ‘alcohol’ and ‘cigarettes’.   She will not hesitate to give her life to protect her children from these evil ‘boyfriends’.
  • A Desi Mom loves to play dress-up whether her child wants to play or not.  She will hound her daughter every single busy school morning until she picks a shirt that reveals no more than her upper collarbone for this world to see.
  • A Desi Mom is inquisitive by nature.  She insists on knowing the background of every human that interacts with her child.  She doesn’t understand why her child thinks it is insulting.
  • A Desi Mom strongly feels her children do not know the value of money.  She worries about their materialistic attitude even as she showers them regularly with unnecessary games and gifts.  ‘Money does not grow on trees’ is a phrase that all Desi children are familiar with.
  • A Desi Mom expects no less than complete obedience/respect from her children even when she packs them off to a school that encourages them to ask questions.  ‘Because I say so’ is a phrase she uses often at home.   
Well!  That is just from the top of my head. 

While I believe a lot of the characteristics that I have listed here may belong to an unlabeled, regular 'Mom" as well, I believe we Desis are blessed with just a little bit more irritable traits than others to earn the very unique 'Desi Mom' title from our children.  Here, at the end of this very weird essay, I am proud to raise my cup of rasam in a salute to all my fellow 'Desi' moms. :-)  

Go Desis!