Monday, November 27, 2006

The new life

In response to, I ask you write 12.

Mohan had told her not to wear Indian outfits when she took her afternoon walk to the supermarket near their town home. “There are very few immigrants in this area, so until we move just try to blend in, Charu. Wear jeans and none of those ornaments or bindhi” he had told her the first day he left for work leaving her alone in her new surroundings. A bold red bindhi on her forehead, kumkum on the parting of her hair, long braid dancing along with the pallu of her saree, bright yellow mangalsutra, dazzling diamond ear rings, she spelt newly wed even from a distance. She had fallen in love with her husband and loved to think of him during her afternoon walk, admiring the snow covered mountains she could see in the distance.
He was a tall white man who looked like a decent person but had sprung out of nowhere. She didn’t know when he started walking close to her. He offered to help her carry the milk cartons she was lugging back home. She refused politely but he had insisted. As they walked the two blocks to her home, the silence had been unnerving. She thought of running but she knew it would be pointless considering the snow mounds everywhere and the heavy jacket and saree she was in. “I have to go to the front office to get something. Thank you for helping” she lied to him, grabbed the bags and hurried to the front office in her housing complex. She had recited slokas all along her walk back and thanked god a million times for getting her home safely. She called Mohan from the pay phone and told him to hurry home that evening. She was dying of thirst and felt weak and hungry after she hung up the phone. “I am probably being overly paranoid” she told herself. “Wonder if I locked the yard door when I left” she thought to herself fearfully as she walked towards her home. She unlocked the front door, entered her home and bolted the door. She felt the loud silence and wished Mohan had been home already. He had asked her to wait for a couple of hours in the front office until he got home. "Don't go home if you are nervous. I told you not to look so conspicuous! I will try to get home early ok. Don't panic" he had told her sweetly as she melted all over again thinking of her lovely husband. The office was about to close for the holiday weekend and she had felt uncomfortable to linger around for no reason. She missed home. She had never ever walked into an empty home before this she realized. Her mother and patti were always home when she got back from college. Suddenly the excitement of the new life and the beauty of the snow morphed into a feeling of loneliness and isolation.
Exhausted she sat on the couch and put her head back and controlled her tears. She reached for the remote control and turned on the TV. “America’s most wanted” was playing at that moment. The talk show host showed a picture of the man as drawn by the sketch artist. It looked just like him. She screamed in utter fear and instinctively ran to the door by the staircase. Just that instant she saw the latch move to the right. She screamed even louder and headed for the kitchen to escape through the garage door. Mohan walked in to see her ashen face. “I cannot live here anymore” she sobbed into her shaking hands.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The moment...


Ananthan worshipped his father. “Sangeedham’naa anandan appa’va minja mudiyuma?! Epperpatta vidwan avar!” - he often heard his neighbor Kanakavalli mami tell her son. Ananthan’s father fondly called his son “Aanandha” and would teasingly lapse into “Aanandha anandhamdha dhanamdha” while calling him to come and play for him. It was strange to see a light sense of humor in the interactions with his son considering he was otherwise a straight faced and serious musician. Ananthan was initiated into playing the Mridangam at the age of four by his guru, the legendary Mudumbai Krishnamachari, his beloved father. Both his mother and father saw natural talent and a great sense of rhythm in the child and got him started at an early age. His father was a musical genius and could play both Mridangam and Veena even though he was famous as a vocalist.
Ananthan was passionate about his music. His mother often recalled how as a child he would mumble “kidathaka tham” in his sleep. He would keep beat with his feet even when he was half asleep if he heard a song playing on the radio. Every morning at 5.00 am when his father would do his “Sadakam”, Ananthan would wake up on his own and keenly observe and learn. He did not know mathematics at that young age but he intuitively grasped the complex patterns of swarams that his father would spontaneously break into while singing. His father was “Swara Chakravarthi” after all. When his father rendered the kalpanaswara, Ananthan would sit mesmerized in front of him. His father’s genius came through in not just the complexity of the patterns but in the grace and flow the swaras carried along. The accompanying artist had to be mature and confident in his skills to keep up with his father during such renditions. Ananthan attained fame as a child artist and soon enough accompanied many stalwarts at various concerts. Yet, he could not get himself to accompany his father on stage. He had refused to even when he was 10 years old. He did not measure up to his own expectations as the son of this music genius. Yet the challenge gnawed at him for years. He went on to become a successful engineer while keeping up with his music but he was not a single-minded musician like his father. His life felt incomplete for not having faced his own fears.
Four years after Ananthan’s marriage, his wife Lakshmi announced to him that she was pregnant. Everyone in the family was elated by the news. It was a turning point for him. It was then that he decided that he would in fact accompany his father on stage at the opening concert for the December season. He could not explain what prompted him to take that decision himself. He had wanted to do it all along but could not muster the courage to do so. The majestic image of his father, his resounding voice, the reverent audience, the rapt attention when he worked through complex patterns while singing swarams all left him weak with admiration in front of a giant. He could not understand his own reservation or fear. Yet it was perceptible in his mind. The fear of missing a beat…of letting down his father. He could not bear the thought. Yet he decided the time had come – he had to put himself through the ultimate test of his talent and confidence.
The crowds thronged through the gates at the opening concert. Women in dazzling silks fresh jasmines and fine jewellery, middle aged men in kurtas and thathas in crisp white jarigai veshti and shirt. Mothers held their children by hand and brought them in eager to have them listen to the legendary musician about to perform. There was an added sizzle to this year’s concert since father and son were on stage together for the firs time. The sabha chairman reveled in the moment and gave a lengthy speech on music and introduced the artists. The curtains were drawn. His father sat center stage chest forward, head held high, his thiruman bold on his forehead, his hair in a close crop and his angavastram adding a tinge of color to the white of his veshti and shirt. His father was a giant whose talent spoke for him but the man himself was most unassuming and the accolades barely touched him. In his father’s mind, music was his god and he served god through his industry and dedication to music. His face was radiant with the peace that comes with such dedication and there were no signs of any anxiety in him. The accompanying violinist who had played many concerts with his father looked at Ananthan kindly as if to assure him that all was going to be well. His father started off the concert with the Ata thala varnam “Viriboni”. Ananthan played along with his father. He felt at that moment that he was born all over again. He was there in front of the world in silent admiration of the colossus that was his father and yet at that moment performing with him as an artiste worthy of being there. At that moment he knew without a doubt that he would match his father’s vidwat and keep pace with him. He felt a surge of pride and elation and bowed to the creator in his mind and thanked him for the gift of music. It was at that moment that he felt he had become an adult. Worthy of becoming a father himself. They had finished the varnam to loud applause from the excited crowd. He thought to himself “Yentharo Mahanu Bhavulu Anthariki Vandhanamu (I salute all the Mahanubhava or noble souls)”.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Live and let live

Of late I have begun to notice the kinds of remarks people – in my position as a mom I notice this more – moms make to each other. Quite often it ends up being advice that is either patronizing or irritating or remarks that are purely thoughtless and insensitive. I wonder if people think before or after they make such remarks to other mothers.

- Woman with two children telling another who has been trying for a child and going through IVF wanting her own child “You know, you can adopt, why don’t you think about that?”.

- Woman with two chubby kids telling another who has a child who is naturally not the weight gaining type “ My god, the child has not grown at all since the last time I saw him five months back!”

- Stay at home mom telling a working mother without having any clue as to why she may have chosen to keep her job “ You know I would never allow anyone else to take care of my baby”

- A friend telling another breast feeding mother “You mean you are still breast feeding your daughter?! She is probably not even getting enough milk from you!”

- A working mother to another one who stopped pumping milk after 3 or 4 months: “Oh, I pumped and pumped for a long time. I just would not allow even a drop of formula for my baby!”

- A working mom with an older child to one about to deliver and has taken a break from work to have children (because her job involves field work) and is very nervous about labor pains: “Well, you know I was very active and working at my job till the day of delivery – so I did not have any problems with labor (this is a software analyst who always sat at her desk and often worked from home).

- One mom to another who’s child doesn’t like to eat Indian food often “ Oh, my children – at school they can have pasta or pizza, but at home, I insist, only rice and dal”

- Mother of a rambunctious toddler telling the mother of a rather mild mannered one “My child is very active and energetic. You saw how in one second he broke that candy bowl”

- One mom who took epidural during delivery telling another who didn’t “Oh, that’s a no-brainer – you should have taken it!”

- One mother telling another mother of a rather picky eater “I trained my kids from when they were young to eat all kinds of food”

Examples of this nature abound. I too was guilty of making a judgemental remark just a couple of days ago while talking to my good friend. She told me about her colleague who sent her second child to her parents place in India for a little while. I told my friend immediately “God, why do people have kids and then send them away with grandparents, why bother?!”. My friend then told me that her friend’s husband was extremely controlling with money and she was afraid to lose her job trying to manage two kids and become completely dependent on him. Now it is easy to say walk out in that case, but such decisions are personal and not simple. I realized that I was quick to judge and felt bad about it. I wish we could all give each other space and know that especially when it comes to children, every mom tries her best. And even if not, it is really not our business unless it is a case of abuse. Many of these remarks either annoyed the person at the receiving end or really hurt the person and made them feel guilty needlessly. There is no need to feel one up by taking jabs at the other person. To each her own…

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My mother-in-law

I was away in India for the last couple of weeks for a very sad reason – my mother-in-law passed away suddenly at age 65. She had a congenital heart defect that had not been diagnosed when she was born or for that matter until she was 50 or so. She had been so energetic and had given birth to two children, had done a lot of physical work while raising them and her heart had coped so well through it all. Even in the last couple of months the doctors at the teaching college in Bangalore used to call her as a subject to show students how there are people with heart defects who almost beat it and keep active.

Since her diagnosis 12 years back she has been on several medications, diet restrictions and worst of all restriction in the amount of water she could drink per day. If I think about that it really breaks my heart. She was very disciplined about it and did everything in her capacity to fight her limitation and live on. She took art of living courses and never failed to do her breathing exercises each day. I have never seen a patient who was on so many medications and diet restrictions be so patient and calm and never show any irritation or anger from having to go through it all. She never complained – she silently just fought it. Had she been educated she would have scaled great heights for she was very sharp and was in with the times and could grasp things quickly. Even when I explained some scientific concept to her she grasped it immediately and responded with understanding and left me amazed.

While there may have been minor irritations natural in such a relationship, I really respected her as a person and we shared a friendly relationship. She was not openly warm and fuzzy but she would show that she cared in many other ways. If I asked her for a particular kind of kurta, she would go out of her way to get exactly that for me. At her funeral ceremony an older relative told me that she had mentioned things in praise of me to her – I never knew she ever thought those things of me.

She was a great mother to her two children – she used to celebrate their every victory but would never brag about it to anyone. She had religiously saved all my husband’s prize books, certificates and any mention of him in newspapers and gave it to me after our wedding. In all those little ways she showed them how much she celebrated their achievements. She used to call us from Bangalore and leave us messages for our birthdays and anniversary. She loved hearing every detail about any interesting thing our son did. She knew no fear so much so her cousins fondly referred to her as “Captain”.

She lost her mother when she was barely eight and grew up in a large joint family with Aunts and Uncles as caretakers. After growing up in a liberal family, she married into a rather conservative one. But she adjusted to her new surroundings and coped with any challenges that came her way. She did not have a maid for housework because she felt she could do it herself. Only after her diagnosis she hired a maid to help out. She was a fantastic cook, could sew all kinds of clothes and was skilled at handicrafts. She would not miss any wedding or function she was invited to on principle. She loved people and was extremely hospitable. She loved sports and used to stay up nights watching cricket, tennis or soccer matches with her son. My husband now recalls so many little incidents and all the things his mother did for him. In the four and half years that I have known her, I too have become quite fond of her. We will miss her terribly. We have a few more spoons of the “Avakai” pickle she made for us this year – we don’t have the heart to finish it. She was a courageous and patient woman who lived her life to the fullest. Death is final and leaves you wishing you had said this or done that but there are no second chances. It only leaves you with one thing to hold on to – memories.