Sunday, December 6, 2015
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
As the official navigator of our trip, she told me that I needed move to the right lane but I had 4 miles to do it. The minute her lips closed, I put on the indicator and started begging the motorists on the other lane for a little space prompting my niece to assure me that there was no need to hurry. So now I had to explain how it is better to do things ahead of time 'just in case'. I quoted eloquently from the life of my Dad who made us all go to the railway station and wait in the platform several hours before the train would come on each of our vacations. And he always said 'Just in case' too. I even remember helping the janitor sweep the platform sometimes.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Friday, July 3, 2015
Take last night, for example. I was caught once again in the middle of a Physics Jeopardy camouflaged as a family discussion. The relativity of time and space was the hot topic of the night as we had just come back from watching the movie Terminator 5. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s creepy full-toothed smile at the end of the movie was too funny but did anyone want to talk about it? No! It was all “Time is not constant,” “Traveling near the speed of light can warp time and space,” and some such nonsense. It was a trying time for me as usual. Pretending to be intelligent for a whole half hour is no easy task and honestly, I was getting tired of it. I decided that I was going to have my share of the conversation and racked my brains looking for an interesting scientific topic.
Hah! Yes, I got it. Excited, I stood up and blurted, “I know what plants require to stay alive”. There was a general look of confusion in the room. Happy to have everyone’s attention at last, I declared with a beaming smile that all plants needed sunlight, water and chloroform to survive. When roaring laughter erupted around me, it was my turn to look confused. It was when my daughter asked me ‘Are you planning to kidnap a plant Amma?’ that I realized that I had mixed up chlorophyll and chloroform. Oops! Still, I thought it was an overkill trying to literally roll on the floor like that. Anyway, after a bit of well-deserved sulking, I had to admit that I had goofed up once again.
Now, coming to the other kind, I react very strangely to the news of an impending birth of a baby in a family. Naturally, I am happy for the parents-to-be and wish them both tons of fun changing diapers in the wee hours of the night. After putting the goodwill aside though, the news of a pregnancy causes very abnormal gastrointestinal problems for me.
For example, say you are pregnant and you share the happy news with me. After hurriedly offering you the customary congratulations and wishes, I’ll rush home and immediately start my regime of medications. When you start your pre-natal vitamins, I will break open a bottle of Tums. When you pop a folic acid supplement, I will pop a calcium one. Why? Because at the end of your first trimester, I generally have full blown heartburn; at the end of your second trimester, my heartburn will move up the ladder to acid reflux and when you are ready to push that baby out on that hospital table, I will almost positively graduate to an Ulcer. I have concluded this to be the result of acute stress – the pressure of making it to see a baby within a few days of its birth.
You see, historically speaking, I have never been known to visit a baby in its baby state. Usually the baby grows up and walks on its two legs and comes over to meet me. This is not for lack of trying on my part, I will have you know. I go to the store well ahead of the birth and buy cute little baby gifts and have them ready in gift bags. Then I wait for the call. After I had successfully chewed off all my nails, the call usually comes announcing the baby’s birth. This is the make-it or break-it moment. The moment that could change my soiled record. But then, it all begins.
My car falls apart; a ligament around my knee tears like a soggy papad; my shoulder hangs out of the socket; I start talking funny delirious with fever; an allergy specialist declares that I am allergic to the world around me and orders me to live in a sterile bubble. After I win the war with all these elements one by one and at last pick up those gift bags in exhaustion, my dogs start throwing up. Just about this time, I tend to give up and halt all attempts to try and go see the baby. There is a greater power at work here and who am I to question it? Now the wait begins for the baby to grow up and pay me a visit. When they do come around to finally seeing me, I make it a point to pull out their pending gifts and show them the little baby boots, the plush blanket and the tiny little newborn dress that I had bought for them. Children are much more forgiving than the parents, I tell you.
Luckily I have borrowed an ingenious method from a cousin of mine that very effectively deflates the anger of those annoyed parents. For that matter, this works like a charm on anyone. Every time I see a hostile person, I offer them a profuse apology. I am never stingy with my apologies, you see. I simply walk up to them with a sheepish smile and say ‘I am soooooo sorry’. Just like that. Sometimes they are confused because at that point in time, I had not committed my mistakes yet. In confusion, when they ask for a reason, I tell them ‘Just put it in my account and keep track of it. I am sure you will need it at some point.’
I believe strongly that this is the solution for all relationship problems. All one has to do is walk around saying sorry randomly and remind folks to put it in their account. They can pull one up and use it the next time you goof up. In my humble opinion, one can never apologize too much. We never know when we will need them, do we?
On that note, I want to say how very sorry I am. If I haven't offended you already, I do hope that you will credit this to my account for future use to be used against any mistake I have yet to make. Because I do believe that a willingness to bow and concede to the opponent is the key to any and all successful relationships!
Here is another one (just in case) to cement our relationship! Very SORRY! I am feeling very relieved now. I think I have enough apologies lying around in my account to cover a couple of hundred mistakes. Whew!
Monday, May 25, 2015
To my 'Can't this wait? I have Sambar on the stove and it's not ready yet', my husband gave an indulgent smile and said no. Of course not! Switching off the stove I walked behind him looking back only to make sure X and Y were following. The next challenge was gathering around the toilet bowl in the pea-sized bathroom which was the venue of our current meeting. If you haven't seen our family recently, you probably cannot understand the mammoth (pun intended) difficulty of fitting the four of us around the said bowl but after a bit of creative maneuvering, we all took our rightful place and waited for the meeting to commence. As my husband cleared his throat to begin, I realized I had once again forgotten the notepad. Darn it!
'As you all know, this toilet has been leaking for a while now' he stopped and looked at us for confirmation. Promptly we all nodded and he continued 'so I have come up with a plan to prevent water getting wasted so much'. X, Y and I gazed at him with undiluted awe. He deserves a halo behind his head, I thought reverently, as he got ready to share another one of his many master plans with us.
Bending down to point at the knob below, he said 'Remember to turn this counter clockwise every time before you use this bathroom'. He paused to see if we were following and we did what we always do best. We nodded vigorously anxious to relieve his mind of all doubts. How could we not follow him? He even demonstrated 'counter clockwise'. That is how good he is to us. I can't believe how fortunate we are to have his guidance in complicated matters like these. Satisfied that we got it, he proceeded 'After you flush the toilet, wait for 20 seconds and then turn it clockwise until you can turn no more'.
Uh oh! Oh God, please no! Not Math! Not at a time like that. I could see myself in the bathroom reciting 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand………………….I looked at X and Y in despair but they are made of sterner stuff than me. They were looking at my husband with a look that seemed to say 'Is that all you got'? Unfazed by that, of course, my husband continued to patiently demonstrate the knob-turning technique until he was sure the process was etched in our little brains. Such was his training that I found myself practicing the turn unconsciously in the air while watching TV last night.
'But appa' Y interrupted his training session and asked 'What about when we have guests at home?' Thrilled and thoroughly pleased by this intelligent question of Y, my husband beamed a smiled at her and proceeded to solve this new problem. His ability to instantly provide solutions to problems is spooky, I tell you. Give him a problem and he will give you a solution right away but if you are the kind that needs some hand holding with implementation, I suggest you knock on a different door with your problems. How much can one person do? He can't both think and act now, can he?
'This is what you do' he laid out the plan for us. 'Make a document that gives step by step instructions on how to turn the knob and how long they are supposed to wait before turning it again. Be sure to take a picture of the toilet bowl and put an arrow in red (he really pays attention to details, doesn't he?) to indicate the position of the knob. X, you are good at drawing, right? I want you to draw examples of clockwise and anti-clockwise motions and put it under the bullet points. After all, we want to make it easy for our guests to enjoy our bathroom' he finished.
I blinked the tears of pride that were welling up in my eyes. Such thoughtful and thorough documentation instructions are worthy of a Fortune 500 company's IT department. And here is my husband, brimming with the milk of human kindness, using his skills so you can pee in peace (using the instruction sheet that is soon to go on the wall over the toilet) if you ever plan to stay over in our home.
Is it any wonder that we adore him? J
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Honestly, I was the worst child ever. How my Mom put up with me when I was growing up is beyond my understanding. If I had been her, I would have disowned me in a heartbeat.
It is no exaggeration when I say that I was brash, demanding and outright obnoxious. Without considering how I will be leaving my Mom to face the fire-breathing dragons of our Land (my Dad and Uncle in righteous anger) for my adventures, I would happily hop off to play cricket and kabadi with the boys on the street. Knowing very well that playing board games or putting kolam/rangoli might have fetched my Mom some brownie points for good child-rearing over summer vacation, I had thoughtlessly opted to borrow (or steal, if you want to be technical about it) my Uncle's 2 wheeler to take a joy ride around the neighborhood. One time, I overheard my Dad's sister giving helpful pointers to my Mom as to what she could do to make me better. J
That's not all. When I felt the first pangs of hunger, I needed food right that second. I mean, right that ticking second. The fact that I woke up hungry most days and went through the day in a constant state of hunger is a whole different matter. And, it is not like I would eat anything my Mom cooked. No way! The Meena's 'approved' list of dishes was, yes, pathetic but definitely non-negotiable. Naturally everything I liked had a direct or indirect connection to potatoes therefore making them 'oh no' items for all the adults in the family.
My mother would wake up at 4 am most days and claim her Kitchen kingdom with the enthusiasm of a 5 star hotel chef on his first day of work. When people talk of multi-tasking, I snicker. Discreetly of course because hey, I know it is wrong. My mother was the true mistress of multi-tasking. A quick peep in the Kitchen window would show her starting her day at the stove by putting water and milk pot side by side for the morning coffee ritual. From then on, it was a whirlwind of action getting breakfast and lunch boxes ready for my Uncle and my Dad who would step out of the house by 7 am.
When I say lunch boxes, it is the nothing like the totally pitiful ones that I pack for my daughter to school here. No sandwiches and yogurt cups then. Sambar rice, yogurt rice, one healthy veg, one koottu or keerai (palak), papads all packed nicely in 2 steel carriers by 7 AM. A well-played first innings indeed. After a short 2 minute tea break, the second innings would begin with my sisters and I creating a tornado in the house to leave for school at 8 am. Off she would go to whip up a spicy tomato rice for me, onion sambar and a plantain roast for my elder sister, rasam and a beans curry for my younger sister. As we rush out of the house without so much as a 'thank you amma', she would wave us off with a smile and enter the Kitchen for the last and final innings of the morning. It is now time to cook 'pathiya' food for my aunt who was bed ridden with a painful rheumatic arthritis.
You may think, sure a lot of mothers those days cooked and cared like this for their families. You would be right but what makes my mom special to me is that after almost 5 hours of cooking, she would find the time to sit by my aunt's bed side and talk to her about the morning activities and ask for her advice about next day's menu and simply keep her company. Who does that, you tell me. God must have had a bad 'Math' day when he put a dozen people's quota of goodness into my mother alone.
My mother lived her life as an example to us. What little I have learned about helping others, I learned watching her. There was an old man in our neighborhood when I was growing up. We had nicknamed him 'Tuesday begger' as he always came to our door on Tuesday mornings alone. He had principles too, you know. He would beg only once a week in each neighborhood. Politicians should have his scruples. He would come in the morning before we would leave for school. In all that morning madness, she would take a plantain leaf, place it on a plate, serve hot rice with sambar, vegetable, a glass of buttermilk, one banana and feed him. She would wait for him to finish his meal and pour cool water for him to wash his hands and send him off his way with a one rupee coin. Who does that, I ask again.
Today, my mother is just weeks shy of 80 and is recovering from a knee surgery. She is the most loving, generous and compassionate person that I know and I consider myself blessed to be her daughter.
Happy Mother's Day Amma! I hope to be at least half as good a mom to my kids as you were to all of us. Thank you for putting up with all my nonsense all these years. J
Friday, April 24, 2015
'Mom, call me… need to talk to you ASAP', my daughter had sent me a message few weeks ago. Between the time I saw the mail and managed to get to a phone, my mind had assumed its favorite 'Sivaji ganesan' role and overacted as usual. Even as I dialed with shaky hands, I imagined her lying helpless and pale in bed at her college dorm burning up in fever yearning for her mom to be at her side.
Like I said, my mind over(e)acts at times. Being the only active part of my body, I think it tries to balance the scales every now and then by going in to overdrive. When my daughter picked up the phone at the first ring, I pounced with 'A, are you okay? Are you in pain? Don't worry, Appa and I will come and get you soon. Take a couple of advil and lie down until we get there.' Next to seedless green grapes, Advil is the most popped/prescribed item in my diet.
While I stopped to gulp air, A interjected with a puzzled 'Amma, who said I was sick?' Apparently, all she wanted was to discuss her course selection for the next semester with me. Really A?? You couldn't say that in your email?? How many more grey hairs would you have me 'henna-rinse' each month? As it is, the petition to increase my beautician budget from 3 months ago is still pending with her Dad. Anyway, I was glad she was okay.
Also, she was not completely without worries. Driven by a goal to finish her degree early, she has been cramming her semesters with tons of gruesome science courses and has been juggling her time between her classes, labs, homework and volunteering. I have never seen anyone with such clarity of mind in setting goals but knowing where you have to go doesn't automatically make your path easier, I guess.
Sometimes I wonder how the kids of this generation handle so much pressure without falling apart. If I have to live their lives for a day, I will take up my Dad's offer from childhood without blinking where he had often offered to buy me 4 cows and 4 sheep to shepherd as an alternative to going to school. Cattle will stomp on Chemistry any day, if you go by Sheldon Cooper's 'Rock, paper, scissors, lizard and spock' logic. What puzzles me most is how these kids dress up. How come they all wear their underwear inside their pants and not outside like Superman? Then how will this world recognize them for what they truly are? You would think all their fancy education would tell them how to dress the part. Duh!
I cannot recall a single day from my childhood when I had worried about life after college, about paying off college loans, landing internships or finding part-time jobs to fund further education. Life was much simpler for us. We were the 21st century version of Jane Austen's Bennett family.
My sisters and I were raised lovingly by a large joint family whose collective aspiration was to get us all married as soon we graduated. My mother aka Mrs. Bennett's visits to the local temples fetched her not only divine blessings but also information about families with eligible bachelors in the 20 mile radius. I don't recall her stepping out of our house without our horoscopes in her purse. Next to the 'sundal' prasadam, our horoscopes were the most popular item distributed in the temples those days.
In anticipation of someone knocking on our door to check on our availability in the marriage mart, my Dad and Uncle were forever in a 'ready' state to prostrate at their feet for that favor. My Uncle loved us as his own so much so that he handwrote our 'assets' painstakingly on the back of our horoscopes before they were distributed around town – 'Fair complexion, docile (a small lie never hurts anyone, he believed), sings well, can put 'kolam'/rangoli and excellent cook'. His love for us knew no bounds really.
Coming back to our stress-free childhood, my wise sister attributes it to a 'lack of expectation' from us. All we had to do was graduate and get ready to pick our wedding clothes. I am happy to say that my sisters and I rose to the occasion and completed the task set for us with flying colors. We, the Bennetts, lived happily ever after and never had occasion to wear our underwear on top of our pants.
How about you?