Dec 13, 2009

Healthy Birthday, Ma

today she turned 70... and when i called early morning over a cup of steaming tea, her landline was busy. guess who called? my Dad's brother with whose family and another aunt (again my Dad's sister) she is going for her next holiday to the Andamans, end of the year.

she takes two holidays a year, mostly with a new-found group of friends... and this is what i have forced her to do. she had always been fond of travelling, but was married to someone who, leaving aside his Civil Service postings, did not derive any joy out of travel. so the latent desire to see places was always there inside. so this time, it is with her extended family, all from her late husband's family.

and this is what i find very intriguing. Ma was 21 when she got married in 1960. and i, the elder of her two children, came in seven years later. possibly because of that or possibly because of the fact that she always had one or the other of her brother(s)/sister(s) in law staying in with her, she has an indescribable closeness with them and this despite that Dad has passed away 11 years back. there is reciprocity, to begin with. all my uncles and aunts make the effort to keep connected with Ma, less now by dropping in, but regularly on phone. they do not miss her birthday, or to visit an ailing elder brother of their Boudi (Bengali for bhabi, or elder sister in law). they consult her on all their problems or make it point to share their joy with her, whether it is a child doing well or the arrival of a new grandchild.

on her part, Ma too calls them, is present on any occasions at their places and keeps up with their children's lives too. so when bro or i show unwillingness to participate with her in her "connection spree", she is visibly upset. and all this while she clearly knows that neither of us are really social in the way she is. we would rather be home, jabbering amongst ourselves along with our spouses. but she has her way in a uncanny way... since we still do not speak up to her, though we do show our reservations towards the gentle nudge that she keeps giving, suggesting a desired course of action.

and today when i said, "Healthy Birthday, Ma," she said, "Thank you and this is exactly what S (the uncle she was talking to) was saying just now... afterall, they are your folks, so you think alike." just her way of suggesting that it is about time i call them and talk...

this hint i will not take, Ma... i leave the connection bit to you...

Nov 25, 2009

Happy 14th Birthday

Dear R,

Today is your 14th birthday. I have been reliving this entire week in my mind... what i did, when, how, with whom, who said what, why, what were my reactions and so on... it is a long long list... and you were still inside me and every minute I was saying to you, "Do you hear that, little girl?"(no we had not tested to know the sex of our child, but I was convinced that you would be you, a girl).

To cut it short, have a healthy, satisfying and happy life ahead. Try to make others happy... that is not the priority for many of us, but you should keep that in mind because when others are happy, so are you. This is something I see very strongly in your Dad. He tries his best to make others happy... and deep down somewhere, there is a slight pain, since your Dadubhai (my Dad) had the same streak. Possibly, unconsciously we girls look out for something of our Dads in our partners... hopefully you will do the same when your day and time comes.

We have tried to give you a very simple life, without much frills. It has been a life of constant movement, across cities, countries, jobs, and in the process we have tried to attend to you, to the best of our abilities. Yes, we have left you with the baby-sitter when you were barely 9 months old. And that did send guilt pangs deep down inside me, but you possibly understood that I needed the job at that point and you stood beside us very well. In fact, had you not, I would have had to quit my job and take care of you. That was Mumbai. Down to Kolkata too, you had an adjusting phase with successive nannies, despite the fact that for a period, we did stay with your grand-parents. And adjust you did. Come Delhi and the same story continued. It was only beginning our stay at Muscat that you started staying alone while I was at work and it is only now that I do not feel daunted by your vacations any more, knowing well that you and I will manage together and manage well.

I do not know how you will turn out as an adult. The only thing I will ask of you is responsibility. You need to be able to take responsibility for your actions, your words and stand by what you feel and do. Never be afraid of taking a stand, even if it means you are against the others. If deep within, you feel you are right, you are. Go by that.

We have tried to give you some basic values, since we have lived by them. You have seen our lives, rather openly and know what we have stood for. Nothing high falutin, but values that should help you lead your life on a straight path. Ideally, we would want you to live by the values we have given you, but beyond a point, rest assured, we will not pry to check what you are doing, though if ever I see that you cannot look eye to eye with your Mummy, I would deduce that you have goofed up somewhere. Never allow that to happen.

We value privacy very highly. But privacy should always come with a sense of responsibility. Keep that in mind.

You do not have to be the first student of your grade. You just have to do your best, in whatever you do. Thus, even for your dance rehersals, I was being very particular about the timings. You need to realise the value of time and commitments that you make.

Even if I sould like having given a lecture, bear with me. These are things which I have to tell you while you are growing. They may become redundant once you are fully grown.

Yes, I need to tell you this too... I LOVE YOU A LOT.


Nov 22, 2009

she does not have to be a dancer

is what i think, but not B of R and that was the provocation for the last fight that we had... nothing new, we keep having it every now and then, especially weekends.

of late, R has started taking interest in extra-curricular activites. when she was tiny, i did try to get her into music (which did not interest her) and later, into violin. she was not interested by this either... i quit thinking that she is another lazy lady like her mother, but when she actively took interest in public speaking, we enrolled her into Gavel's Club (the junior wing of Toastmasters)... i was not surpised by this. someone who reads and reads should be able to speak well as well.

what did surprise me was the latest interest -- dance. so in the latest Bengali Parishad function, she herself went and got her name in for the forthcoming dance recital, coming Friday. so for the past three weekends, life has revolved around dropping and picking her up from her dance rehersals. this week, it has and is going to be extra hectic because of in-between week practice sessions.

last weekend when we had dropped her and were leaving, the lady who is guiding the practice, came up to us and said, "your daughter is not able to pick up the steps well, despite my showing it to her. since this is an important function and will be telecast on Star Ananda, i will see how she does today and then decide whether she will participate or not," all this while i knew that the tailor had been called to take the costume measurements.

i told the lady, "she has never danced on stage. so if she is stiff, she has to put in more practice now... see how she is today..." while B maintained a stony silence and an equally stony face, with the jaws hardening. my heart broke and i kept remembering R's anxious face as she was dancing.

"Not enough said or protested, because she did not tell this to us earlier. on the penultimate day, how can she say this. i am going to pick her up right now and register my protest that this is an unprofessional way of doing things, that there should have been an audition and elimination," B stormed at me.

we left from there, went to pick up a gift for a birthday party that evening and were constantly arguing over why i did not tell the lady what B felt. in fact, B's colleague who saw us at the store said later, "K (his wife) and i did not call you because you were so engrossed in talking (read fighting)."

B kept calling R and she kept saying she is practising. then B mentioned, "the lady said you could be out if you do not do well, and you still want to do?" R replied, "yes, i will." we wre not sure whther she knew she could be dropped.

we went back to pick her up and on the way, i said, "dancing is no priority, if she is out, she is." "NO, there has to be a method and though we know R is not a trained dancer, it is her participation that counts. i will talk to the lady but you will not only be with me, you will say exactly what should be said," B was forceful and this was the parent in him talking, not my partner, i realised.

i followed him in (for a change) and saw the girls practising engrossed. B walked in straight and i told the lady, "in case you are dropping her, do that today, now. and imagine what will go on in the child's mind to know that she is being dropped now."

"she is doing much better than she was and with practice in front of the mirror, she will know exactly where to improve." she did not sound unprofessional in the least.

so little miss R is dancing all day in front of the mirror, but i keep having a nagging doubt in my mind: am i ok as a parent? or do i need to be more socially protective of her? with my poor social skills, possibly R misses out on these small things which will make her happier.... so here i am running around in the evenings, picking up and dropping children for unofficial practice sessions at my place and at others'... this has made me wonder how vulnerable are we as parents and how little things matter when it comes to the child.

Wish R luck for her performance...

Nov 8, 2009

why are so many marriages going wrong?

this is something i wonder way too often... the number of dysfunctional families have just leap-frogged, marriages are going wrong left, right and centre.

over the years, in all of my working life, i have had friends who may have been colleagues to start with, but became really good friends, later on, either as we have moved out of the city, moved jobs or just moved on. and while B used to joke saying, "you have so many divorced friends", i never took it seriously, though i did have friends who were women and men, but a lot many were single, post marriage.

and let me tell you, almost none of my these single friends were very modern... the reason why i am saying this is: many a times, we tend to equate being forward in life comes with being modern. a couple of my friends, in fact, two to be precise, one man and the other a lady, came from very ordinary, middle-class homes. the lady went through a messy divorce in her 50s. was she dumb? no, she wasn't... she just thought things would get better, waited for the child to settle a little and moved out to eke out her own life at 45+. she now has a grandchild, ex-husband has re-married, but she is single, whether happily so, i do not know.
the other friend, the man, allowed his ex-wife to walk out on him, gave the divorce, was single for a time and has now settled into not-so-happy a marriage, but has become wiser as his words seem to suggest, "i have learnt to live with what i cannot change."

there have been others who have, i mean still have, not really great marriages, but have withstood the social pressures of making it work -- parents, children, this, that and the other -- and have just continued being as social entities, though hardly as partners. and i mean by partners, people who bond, who have opinions of their own, air those opinions but have learnt to respect each other (and the stands they take as individuals). that is the ideal situation which should prevail in this life-long relationship... in fact, we spend more time with our respective spouse than any other human being -- parents, siblings or children. each of these stay with us for a period and recedes to the background when another comes in...

what i have felt clearly over these years is: the crux to making a marriage tick is a fair dose of self respect and mutual respect. if these two are there, most partnerships last and happily so...

i feel sad for many people i know who are going through a messy life just because they have to... at the end of a harrowing experience, i have seen their faces change... they wear a weathered expression, with a smile that has lost the vibrancy. and it is then that i realise that many of us who have not the greatest marriage on Earth, but at least one which gives us enough air to breathe, have opinions, air them with little doubt and move on, without too much baggage, are indeed lucky.

Nov 1, 2009

letter from a daughter to her father...

May 2008 is when i had written the letter below and today when i received a similar letter from a friend to her father, i thought, i could share this with you... in that other letter, it is a similar tale of growing up, of growing away from where she began, the path she has traversed and how insecure she is without her dad... and this post is dedicated to that friend of mine...

Dear Dad,
Ten years on, rather six months less than ten years, I am writing again. Looking through those earlier writings, I decided it is time I wrote again, just to tell you how far I have been able to follow what you had told me way back in 1980… “be guided by your head, not heart.” What you did not tell me -- possibly left it unsaid for me to learn myself, was the tool I had to apply, the method I had to adopt, to get on with this business of living and life – detachment.
Today, at 42, I would not say, I know how perfectly to negotiate life. It seems too tall a claim. But I certainly can tell you that I have become more seasoned, more mature, and more confident, more focused, less clumsy, less emotional. I am able to decide with firmness. I rarely break down if at all. I rarely feel that lump inside the throat, or those burning eyes, trying to fight back tears when things go wrong.
And things do go wrong even now – at home, at work, with my child, sometimes with friends and even my spouse. But I have learnt to deal, tackle, manage and move on, putting those instances aside, not letting them interfere with the process of everyday life. Yes, what I do very often, and here again, in my mind, it is one image of yours that keeps popping up… your pacing up and down at home, with a heavy look on your face. What I do is also similar… nope, I do not pace up and down, with a heavy face, you know I am lazy… but while I am alone (and very often I am, while I drive back and forth the whole city for work, for running domestic errands or for dropping the child to her classes), I am in constant dialogue with myself… the mind races with those things that went wrong, going over and over again at the particular instance that is troubling me, trying to assess what was my responsibility in the whole affair. And, when the heaviness in the heart ceases, I know I have addressed the issue, dealt with it. Not a soul comes to know how, but I know I have and it gives a great feeling within that I have succeeded once again. Should I call it independence? I do not know but one thing I certainly know, I will tell my daughter how to try living from the day go. In fact, this is one thing I told you then too… that I would rear her well. She is grown now, does most of her things by herself – but I still have to tell her about the art of detachment. I will not leave her to discover it herself – while that discovery might give her an edge, it certainly will corrode the freshness of her face, the lilt in her smile and the look of her eyes.
Yes, all of these are no longer there in me…while I am more at ease with life in general, there is no freshness in the face, no lilt in my smile and no innocence in the eyes. I have come of age. And that I hope to fight in my child.
I can almost see you smile…and I know the reason. You are trying to ask me: How will so attached a mother teach her daughter detachment? But as I said, I am more prepared now… ten years back, I would have been stumped with this question, leaving you to laugh condescendingly at my inexperience… but not any more… I am armed with a logic now: I will at least tell her, it is up to her to understand, learn and practise it in life.
Let’s agree to differ if the logic does not appeal to you. But at least I have told you what it is that you did not tell me, while holding my hand and teaching me how to walk, you left unsaid that the road of life is so difficult, and more so, without a loving hand.
And here, I better be honest -- I still remain that child of yours who is, by now, struggling to fight back tears since it is only a Dad who would listen to so much of complaints after so many years.

Oct 25, 2009

teaching 'life' in 5 minutes flat

what a contradiction in terms... can anyone teach about life? or is it life that goes about, in its own inimitable way, teaching one and all?

both, i feel are true... yes, life is the best teacher, but i saw no harm in teaching a little wisdom to my little girl (actually not so little any more) when she came back from school in tears.

my first response was: are you ok?

she said, with a sulk, "yes i am ok and not ok."

me: why? what happened?

she: "the teachers have selected students for public speaking and as comperes fortheAnnual Day and they have selected all their pets."

Gosh, there are too many issues and i just have 5 flat minutes to address all of them, lest i be late for my post-lunch meeting.

almost thinking on my feet, i told her: "are you happy with what you have done, as in the speech that you had prepared for the audition?", half-knowing the answer that she would give me, since i had heard her rehearse and had suggested some changes in her delivery mode and expressions.

she said: "yes, Ma, i am happy with what i had prepared and had taken care to do all that you had told me. and i am sure that my speech was way better than the rest of the guys and gals. but they are the pets and i am not...", her throat wavered a little, in anger partly, in pain, partly at not being selected.

now the number of issues had not reduced though two minutes of my balance time had, but one thing i was sure of -- she was confident of herself.

i said: "if you are happy with what you have done, don't bother about the end result. that is not the result of your credit/discredit. there will be many such other instances in life when you will feel that you were better, but somebody else made it. the way out is to try to do even better, next time on. your feeling may be partly true; it could also be the result of a preconceived notion that you have about the selectors."

her face showed a couple of expressions, one after the other. first, she did not get my message about not bothering about the end result... and i do not blame her since she is not yet 14. but i purposely gave her this to mull over. second, that others may not be as good but will still make it... she partly got, must be through her tiny experience in life. she disagreed with the third, to do better next time on, saying, "there is no use in doing better next time... i would rather opt for dance where the selection is easier." this was a new issue hurled at me, that of changing track midway, giving up and not doing her best... but i decided to let go of it for the time being, though i will not let go of her in case she does not give me a convincing enough logic to opt for dance or mimicry (whatever it is), next time on. the fourth message, she partly got about preconceived notion, i could make out from her eyes...opinionated child, a genetic trait she has got...

my five minutes were up and i had to go, and when i left her, i heard sobs from her room... i dragged myself out, pretending not have heard the sobs, not because i was getting late, but because she has to learn to cope with life and such failures alone. time will come when we will not be around to hug and kiss her pain away...

let me be confident that she can, though i can hold her hand, if need be...

Oct 20, 2009

is there motivation tonic?

if there is, i need a tub of it... right now, here.

of late, i have just been feeling tired, for no rhyme or reason. when the alarm rings in the morning, i feel like sleeping... and i cannot, because R has to be sent to school... it is not as if B will not send her to school but he will not do it my way... i like to be around when she leaves home and we steal a stare, me at the door, she inside the lift. if the going is really good, she even throws in a kiss as the lift door closes... i cannot miss all this and be in bed, trying to sleep.

i am a very morning person. i like the mornings quiet and alone sipping my hot cup of tea, watching over R's paltry breakfast of a bowl of cereal, with BBC World for background music.

i try to retire early at night so that i get adequate rest, even if sleep eludes me... and i have my books for company. none of this seems to be working and the mornings are bad...

and for me, if the start is not good, the whole day seems a bit of a slow-down... if i sleep till late, i have to skip a bath and a little session of meditation in the morning, which means i am not fresh and that drags on the whole day...

i just need to pull myself to be out of this... i hate this lazy feeling, i hate to be slow...