Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Driving with Meena!

I took a short road trip with a favorite niece of mine yesterday.  In her early twenties, she is everything that I am not.  Young, hip-hop and adventurous, she is also ridiculously smart.  She munches on Math for a snack and sips on Science for a drink.  Poor child…she has problems that way but all her brain power turned to unrecognizable mush yesterday after 3 hours in a car with me.

I am an excellent driver.  No one can say otherwise.  Safety is the name of the game when I am behind the wheels.  If your self-worth is somehow tied to your ability to beat others, get in your car and drive by my side.  There are days when you can get off your car and walk on the road and still be faster than me. 

Seeing the gap between our car and the one in front of us, my niece turned baffled eyes at me yesterday and said “Chithi (aunt), do you realize that there is enough gap here to fit an entire continent?” to which I smiled proudly and nodded.   Unsure of the next move, she asked gingerly “How do you feel about stepping on the gas Chithi?”

I have a feeling that this particular moment will be etched in her memory forever.  In fact, I bet she is lying in a bed somewhere this very minute wondering what bad karma put those words in her mouth that opened the floodgates of my unsolicited wisdom. 

And she won’t be lying in a bed with her eyes closed, I guarantee you.  She will be staring up at the ceiling in a trance-like state.  How can I be so sure?  Because this is a genetic gift from my Dad to all of us.  Whenever we put on our thinking caps, we tilt our heads upwards towards the ceiling and just stare.  It is as though we are imploring the powers above for some divine assistance.   The truth is none of us have mastered this art of staring at the ‘mOttu’ like my Dad.  We try but we just don’t seem to have his dignity.

Rambling back to my niece’s question "How do you feel about stepping on the gas?" I opened my mouth and let the wisdom of my age spew at her.  I am not kidding when I say spew.  It was like empty-your-guts kind of puking.  I left her in no doubt about how important a human life is and how much I value mine in particular.  I even quoted from Swami Chinmayananda thanks to listening to my husband's many glorious "Hurray! I got THE call; now let me help you get ready for yours" spiritual discourses.  Hope I did him proud when I continued asking my niece questions like “Where do we have to go in such a hurry?”, “Will the world stop revolving if we are late by a few minutes?” not to mention, the quintessential ‘Will it be worth it”? What little wisdom my 4 molar teeth gave to me, I wanted to imbibe in her.

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.  

With her ears profusely bleeding from my ‘thou shall not drive faster’ and 'thou shall prepare ahead ,just in case' lectures, she was exhausted and put her seat back, closed her eyes and quietly slipped in to a painless sleep.  That left me and my restless mind all alone on the I-95 corridor behind a wheel. So I did what I usually do to entertain myself while driving.  I started singing but I decided to give my niece a break at last.  After all, I recognize pain when I see it.  Switching from my usual boisterous aka obnoxious voice, I went to a softer rendering of a krithi in Varali ragam.  I really didn’t mean to put talam while singing but one thing led to another and before you know it, my voice had risen to dangerous levels and my niece woke up to find me waving my hands in all directions and singing at ear drum-piercing decimals.  When she looked around, she found that other motorists, after one look at me, were slinking away from us clearing the road ahead for our journey. 

All except one.  This guy was behind me for a while, I think.  When I woke up from the coma of singing, I realized that he was tailgating me.  Seriously? Tailgating me?  I decided that I shall deal with it swiftly and with a vengeance.  My niece was afraid now as I am notorious for my temper.  ‘Chithi, what are going to do?” she asked in fear.  My face contorted in fury, I looked at her and said “No one tailgates me and gets away with it.  No one. (I have always wanted to say that.) This is how we deal with it.  Watch and learn M”.  And then I changed lanes and gave way to the other guy.  

Yeah, that is how you deal with it.  Now let me see how he tailgates me.  That should teach him to not mess with the likes of me.  Hah! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Deepavali - an introspection!

A typical abcd (American born confused desi), my daughter asked me yesterday ‘Amma, what is Deepavali?’  The first answer that popped into my mind, of course, was that it is the day that Indians all over the world make lots of deep-fried savories and sweets and indulge themselves in to gluttony.  When my kid put her hands on her waist and glared at me, I realized that I had inadvertantly voiced my thoughts.  Chastising myself, I quickly scanned through my mental pages for that story of the death of the demon Naragaasura that led to the celebration of Deepavali and explained to her that the day symbolizes sweeping away the dark and bringing the light into our homes.  When she nodded and walked away, I patted myself on the shoulders (because my back is wayyyyy in the back) for that grown-up like answer. 

Still, that question lingered on my mind throughout the day.  Yet another Deepavali has come by and as always, I have been focusing too much on the frills of the festival ordering sweets and snacks, buying new clothes, making plans to celebrate with firecrackers and getting together with friends and family to party.  Where in all this is the sweeping away of the dark and the evil? 

This question left a very distinct uneasiness in my mind yesterday.  I went through the day taking comfort in the routine of washing dishes, doing laundry, making pav bhaji and taking classes all the while knowing that I must face the question eventually.  I even made it to bed last night successfully feigning happiness.  The churning of the stomach as I woke up today told me that it was time to deal with it and take stock of all the dark that hides in me. 

Ego, I fear, is the worst dark in me.  This little monster has had a free run in my life for way too long.  This Deepavali, I will try to sweep it out and brave this world without that protective cloak.  My inspiration to lead life with a willingness to humiliate myself actually comes from an unlikely source – my dog Leia.   

There is truly no dog in this world that she cannot be friends with.  She can browbeat every aggressive dog out there just by being passive.  You growl, she will bring her best toy and share with you.  You kick at her, she will come and lick your face and wag her tail.  You intimidate her by any hostile behavior, she will completely ignore that and call you to play.   What can one do in the face of such passiveness except offer a hand in friendship?  There must be some truth to Gandhiji’s strategy of winning a war through non-violence.  This Deepavali, I take an oath to emulate Leia and follow her strategy of meeting all hostility with friendship. 

Ego is just the beginning of a long list of dark in me.  Impatience, a tendency to procrastinate, a temper hot enough to sting those around me, a fear of breaking conventional boundaries, a fear of confrontations, an almost impossible set of expectations from my children, a loving husband that I constantly take for granted, my family by birth and marriage that I love very much but never take any initiative to keep in regular touch…….my mile-long flaws glare at me from the mirror. 

If you expect me to conquer all of them in one Deepavali, you are the uncrowned leader of the LaLa land.  J I doubt if my heart can take annual introspections like this so I am happy that after ego, I still have enough evil lined up to cover a decade of  Deepavali festivals.

Wishing all my family and friends a joyful Deepavali.  May peace reign in our hearts this day and forever.