Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Circle of Life

At the MTC church that I attend, there is a large tamarind tree on the right side of the church. The tree was planted when the church was first built in 1964. It's quite likely that none of the founding members of this church are alive.

The tree has grown - towering as high as the church, its beautiful gnarled branches covered with sometimes-bright sometimes-dark green leaves providing shade to that side of the church compound. MTC still follows segregated seating for men & women. This tree is on the women's side - it is possible that the person who planted the tree wisely knew that it would be women who'd need its presence. Providing shade to many a young mother who wished to attend church along with their baby but had to move outside because their babies got restless, this tamarind tree has seen the coming & going of generations of families - baptisms, weddings, funerals. The tree has seen the babies that were calmed under its shade grow into young children often running around it playing a game to "run & catch" or "hide & seek". It has seen them all traipse off groups, in the middle of the church service (as is tradition) to the Sunday school at the Parish Hall on the opposite side of the same compound. That included me and my friends. As children we searched for the tamarind that the tree dropped in summer each year. Ripe tamarind - sometimes with the shell intact, sometimes slightly broken resulting in mildly mud-covered sticky brown tamarind. We often wiped off the mud and put the fruit into our mouth. Oh the pleasure of eating something so sour! Sometimes boys came over to the tree from their side to help knock down fruit for us with stones.

The tree watched as we grew into teenagers, listening quietly to our whispers of crushes, taking in our rebelliousness when we protested our parents' severity. When crushes turned to romance, romance into love - this tree participated in our weddings too, watching as we made our vows inside the same church, to have and hold forever. And later on provided shade for our babies when we brought them to church as young mothers. As harried mothers, it's under this tree that we sat exchanging our trials of new-found motherhood (sometimes when the church service was going on, other times when there was an occasion at church), it's pleasures, it's impact on our lives & personalities. Our children run around the tree now & pick it's brown fruit. And so it goes on. A veritable circle of life right under its protective shade. 

This tree has stood the test of time and people. A few years ago the church  underwent expansion. From a single storey building, the church grew to a double storey one. The church also grew in width & length taking up much more of the compound. But thankfully the tree remained untouched. 

The tamarind tree for me comes closest in description to how I imagine the Faraway Tree to be from Enid Blyton's books by the same name. It is wide and big and comforting. 

What a wise tree it must be having observed and absorbed so much over the years. If only it could talk! It could teach a lot of our Parish members to be more Christian; less unforgiving; less selfish - things Christ intended for His Church to be. It could teach us young girls the perils of fledgling romances -broken hearts, broken minds. It could show us that it was love driving our parents' severity. It could show spouses that marriage is a lot about patience, that love is not the same as romance - that it needs working on. It could show us harried young mothers how truly short the years are when our children demand so much from us; how blessed we are to have them - maybe then we'd lament less that we have seemingly lost ourselves when we found Motherhood. It could show a lot of us what we'd be like as old people - cranky, dependent, insecure - but still loving our children just as before. Maybe then we'd be more understanding, loving & kind to our aging parents for whom we "no longer have any use". 

I hope one day my daughter too can find shade for her babies under this tree. I hope she will learn from it's wisdom as I have been privileged to.  

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Auto Rani stories

I have been travelling in Bangalore for the last 6 years by auto. Everyday they ferry me to work and back. On weekends they sometimes even ferry me to my daughter's choir class and back, to church and back. Car rides are reserved for when my husband is around to drive it - must to his consternation!

Anyone who's lived in Bangalore has definitely heard of its 'aaatos'. The drivers are rude, they cheat you by tampering with the meter (and make it move faster than it should), they seemingly refuse to ply in any direction you want them to - be it to the center of the city or to some corner of it etc. And yet they are growing in this city by the hordes. Take an aerial view of the traffic-choked city and the autos will resemble large oddly colored beetles moving amongst the cars and two wheelers - hence the term horde aptly describes them.

I have met auto drivers of every shape and size over the years as you can imagine. Short, tall, fat, thin, rude, polite, zippy fast movers, slow as death crawlers, talkers, snarlers, smilers, lechers..... you get the picture.

I started using an auto to work and back when my daughter was born. Sleepless nights and work-filled days ended my days of using a two wheeler. I was just too tired to focus during my 26km ride to work and back. Autos thus offered me the delicious prospect of doing absolutely nothing during the ride to work and back - a much welcome relief as any mother of a young child will tell you; of being able to read a book in relative peace and quiet - Bangalore traffic is barely quiet but at least it didn't demand my attention like my baby would and most importantly it offered me a chance to snooze because those were the years my average sleep per night must have been 4 hours!

But with all these delightful advantages came several thorns - refusal to ply to my destination and cheating via "fixed up" meters! My blood boiled, I have screamed and shouted, cursed. but soon I simply tired of fighting with a new driver everyday. So I devised a ploy - as soon as I figured their meter was tampered, I'd stop where I knew other autos were likely to come by and get into another one.

As my daughter started school, we found a regular bunch of autos that waited outside our apartment. I struck a deal with some of them - take me via her school so that I can drop her off and then take me to office and I give them Rs. 15 extra over the standard rate. As my wise Mother explained, much cheaper than resorting to using a car & driver. My daughter now 7, uses the school bus, but I continue to use the regulars outside our apartment complex to this day. Some of them are my friends & I want you to meet a few of them.

There's a Rowdy Ranga: the first time I went in his auto, a biker hit (if you ask me, lightly tapped) his auto from behind. Rowdy Ranga got out of his auto in the middle of an absolutely choc-a-two-kilometer-long-bloc traffic jam and started an argument with the biker. The biker was a young man from North India who didn't think the "tap" was such a big deal and retorted. That was it. Our Rowdy Ranga hit the biker on his face (helmet and all) and spat into face - right where the biker had opened the helmet's vizer. I was shocked & embarrassed by Rowdy Ranga and swore never to get into his auto. Call it famous last words, but now I travel in his auto at least once a week. He's a lot more quiet and I haven't seen him spit since! He's terribly curious though - asks me many questions about my daughter, her school & what not. I usually busy myself by burying my nose into a book or pasting my phone onto my ear! It's worked well.

Then there's Seemingly Sweet Fella: his chocolate boy looks make you feel like he's heading Honesty Inc. I first met him when he owned a bright pink wind cheater and recognized him thereon because of it. Very unassuming in the beginning, he soon knew how to get extra money out of me, have erratic mood swings - sometimes kindly, sometimes sulky. But overall I have a pleasant ride in his auto.

Next there's Lazy Ladoo: tall, a bit overweight, shy but lazy. I have seen him play cards many a time with his auto colleagues - he seems to thrive at that. I've also seen him play tag with them (not a pretty sight I tell you, seeing these grown men running about trying to "catch" each other). But when he did deign to take me in his auto, he was quiet & polite. My daughter loved his auto cause the foot mats had square prints on it. On the days Lazy Ladoo said no to giving us a ride, my daughter would often be upset. How to explain to a 3-year old that autos are "like that only"?

My favorite however is the even tempered Neat Natesan (not his real name). He was the first one of this coterie whom I struck a deal with about paying a little extra. Middle aged, light eyed, wearing a white skull cap, white gleaming teeth, neatly trimmed beard, clean nails and a spankingly clean auto no matter what the weather. His face and his eyes are kind. This is an auto driver I trust and he really does head Honesty Inc. Once, thanks to the wonderfully unplanned manners of our BBMP a main road was shut for repair work thus forcing commuters to find alternate routes. Neat Natesan who was ferrying me that day thus had to take a circuitous route to my destination. I paid him a fair extra that day given the longer route. The next day too I took his auto. This time, aware of the "BBMP works", we used a shorter route. I half expected him to ask me the previous day's rate - but he said just give me 'Rs. X' which was way below the previous day's fare. I appreciate his innate honesty. He's truly someone I would quite invite to say, a wedding in my family - he's that nice.

I sometimes see my "regulars" in other parts of town - many times when I am with my family. I always wave a hello and grin at them. They in turn respond in kind - most of them very surprised that any customer (& that too a female one) would bother to greet them in a setting other than in their own auto. But I sort of think it cool - they are after all my acquaintances.

Then there are some memorable auto drivers. Not my regulars - but these are chance-encounter autos. The ones I have plyed in but once - the flagged down variety.

There's one that mid way refused to go any further because of traffic & rain. I don't know how he imagined that at the peak traffic hour of 7pm in the monsoon season, what else there could be but heavy traffic and rain! I said I wouldn't budge cause the deal was for the whole way home. In a fit of fury he made me get down and in response to my stating that I wouldn't give him a pie, he whizzed off! As per the meter I was to give him Rs. 85/-. No small sum that, to lose to anger.

Then there was another young chappie. As I got into the auto, I could see him experiment with a mobile. A little later he turned, showed me the mobile (it was a Samsung) and asked if it was a "good" one? A while later I heard him talk to his friend on the phone - apparently his earlier customer has left it behind in the auto. The idea that he could perhaps call the last dialed number on the mobile and make an attempt to return it didn't seem to strike him. I pushed my own mobile further into my handbag. Goodness knows if this fellow would want to swipe my even-better-than-Samsung-phone and then proceeded to view him suspiciously till the end of my journey! I laugh now at my reaction.

I know most Bangaloreans curse all autos and their drivers. That includes me. But I have the chance to observe a lot of them - not all are obnoxious - some are nice even. And I realize that in return for all the harassment they bring into my life, they also bring me easier-than-driving-myself rides home and more importantly, much amusement. Jai Auto!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

When Moonshine bid me come

Moonshine has succeeded in breaking my silence here. Whose heart wouldn't melt if they were tagged in a friend's blog, twice in two weeks? How clearer a plea can that be for me to write?

Not that anyone asked, but for the sake of being open & clear I'd like to explain why I was missing. A combination of 1st Std exams to face (my daughter D's), a busy (yet prayerful) time at Easter & several weekends spent trying to clear the backlog of household chores. In between that 'mildly obsessive' need to keep the house clean, I also took a very short break (48 hours) with the family.I am back & my intent is to write regularly. But no promises - sadly I do not write with the discipline that Bertrand Russell prescibes. My writing takes place when heart, body & mind come together - more easily interpreted as writing when I am calm, when I have time & the words come to me.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Refreshingly tired

Couple of months ago I had the privilege of travelling on work for a day, alone (yes you read that right, privilege!). I did a day trip to Delhi and back. While it tired me out by the end of it, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

So what'd I do on this trip that was so enjoyable? I left early morning (6.30 a.m.) to get to the airport, reached Delhi, travelled to Gurgaon by car, ate lunch, met my aunt twice, attended two client meetings, zoomed back to Delhi, waited at the airport and then flew back to Bangalore and then traversed right through this city to finally reach home past midnight. There wasn't any shopping, no meeting friends, there wasn't any partying - why there was barely any point in the day when I could sit back and not look at the clock to make sure I kept my next appointment!

So it was an ordinary, reasonably hectic and certainly tiring trip. I asked myself why I enjoyed it so much. Here are my reasons. I travel rarely, so this trip still held a high degree of novelty for me. But the bigger reason is the time I got for myself. Where's the time for yourself, you will ask. After all, I was travelling on work.

Back home, I have a house to run, a family to take care of, office to get to. But when you travel you are freed from many of the responsibilities that you have back home. My husband got my daughter ready for school and took care of packing her lunch that day. Later in the evening, he helped her with her homework and studying, bathed her, got her dinner ready and put her to bed. So essentially I didn't have to do a thing around the house that day, neither did I have my family to take care of (save the phone calls I made to check that everything was all right).

Next, work. Since I didn't have much access to email that day (I could read the emails on the iPhone, but that format isn't very friendly for replying to too many emails) I knew that I couldn't do much about any work that came in that day. Plus my out of office response had indicated that I was travelling and hence not connected. So I didn't have much to get done at work either.

With two aspects of the routine of my everyday life removed for the day, I was doing something different that day. I went to new places (yes the airport can be new too when you haven't seen it for 6 months!), visited a new city, talked to people in a new city, observed them. Can be fascinating! For instance the office had organised for a cab and driver. I was so new to the place that even if the driver took me in the direction opposite to my destination, I would not realise for a very long time. Plus I was on my own, had to watch my back and didn't have anyone to talk to. Which meant that when I wasn't absorbed in watching the outside world, I had time to introspect, to think.

Between the way to and the way back I would have had 2.5 or more hours of waiting at the airport. It didn't get me impatient (something I'd have definitely been some years ago) and it didn't make me restless. I took the rare rare gift of Time and enjoyed it. I bought myself some coffee, something to eat. I surfed on my phone, I looked at everything going on around me - I understood that this was a my-time freebie thrown in when I took on a work-trip. And boy was I glad I recognised it for what it was and welcomed it! Then there were almost 6 hours of flying time. Phone was off - no one could reach me. On the way to Delhi I used the time to read and do some preparatory work for the meetings I was to attend. Because I had no email or internet or phone to distract me, I understood quickly and completely whatever I was going through. On the way back, I used to time to read my book, watch some inflight television while I ate dinner and used the remaining time to sleep quite soundly.

Oh and because I was so positive and happy about my solo trip, my meetings went off rather well. I came back home tired, but refreshed.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

At grandmum's knee

I grew up in a household where my parents stayed with my paternal grandparents. I was the first grandchild on both sides - and suitably pampered therefore. But by virtue of staying with my paternal grandparents, I naturally was closer to them than the other set. My grandfather was a gentle, soft-spoken and kind-hearted man who always bought me little gifts in the form of rarely available cookies and ginger-bread men. But this post isn't about him - it's about my formidable grandmother and her influence on my life.

"Ammachi" as I used to call her, was neither gentle nor soft-spoken. She stated her mind loud and clear and was quite clearly the boss of the house. Ammachi was short, stout and had a fierce look about her. She was as strong physically as she was mentally. Her house was always spotless, her meat-safe always full and the dining table always laden with delicious food. In those days eatables were rarely bought; often homemade. Ammachi took great pains to make one-of-a-kind murrukkus, diamond cuts, perfect rose-cookies, appams and payasams. Christmas and Easter seasons meant oodles of this stuff being made in her reasonably rustic kitchen with the help of my grandad "Appachen". These eatables were then served to family that visited during the Season and to be sent to neighbours, most of who were Muslims.

Ammachi's daily cooking is noteworthy too. She would painstakingingly cut vegetable such that all the pieces were the exact same size. I kid you not - but to the naked eye, each piece would appear identical to the next. Try cutting yam, beans, carrots to that perfection. Or try chopping green papaya into the tiniest pieces ever - she believed that unless it were cut that fine, mixing it with coconut and steaming it to make a "thoran" would not result in that perfect dish she was used to. Her meen- vevichathu (the renowned red Kerala fish curry) had everyone in the family begging her to teach them how to make it. It was just so good. My mother (her daughter in law) perfected the recipe from her after decades of training. Till Ammachi passed away, my mother used to take out all the spices for grinding and get Ammachi's approval on their relative proportions, before proceeding to make the dish.

Fierce she was. But if she loved you she was also fiercely loyal. I hear from the rest of the family that inspite of living in very small quarters with her husband and 3 children, her home was always open to her nieces and nephews that needed taking in because they had come to this city to study in or whose families were going through a rough patch. Money in those days was limited. Her daughters have told me of times when the guests in the home would be well-fed, but many a time Ammachi’s children would have to do with a little less. She had 5 brothers and was staunchly loyal to all of them. They could never do any wrong in her eyes.

But these are just aspects of her that others remember very well. I remember her most for other reasons. As a child and teenager, I shared a room with my grandparents and later on after Appachen passed on, shared it with Ammachi. Ammachi and I were together a great deal when I was a child. Though she was still running the kitchen then (my mother was still second in command in the kitchen till some years later), she found a lot of time to talk to me and tell me about her childhood (a sack-full of coconuts for 25 paise, pencils being such a rare and precious commodity that no matter how small the pencil, it would never get discarded – instead they’d find ways of artificially elongating it and using it till the lead was completely gone, being married at age 14 and so on). She also taught me a lot of songs and stories – all in Malayalam, the only language she ever knew. She was the one who taught me a “kadha prasanggam” – a long story spoken entirely in song. I took to her lessons very well and as all children do, by-hearted these songs quickly. Ammachi and Appachen also taught me the part Malayalam – part Syrianic litany (worship/litany) used in the Syrian Christian weddings. When I visited my maternal grandparents, the larger family there soon discovered that I knew all these songs and stories and I obediently prattled it all out for them, again and again.

When I later joined school, my teachers realized that I had an ability to sing/be on stage and very soon I was a part of every occasion in which my class had to be on stage. Stage-fright never worried me and it’s a gift that I have even now. I believe that the early initiation by Ammachi into singing and story-telling and the resultant occasions (amongst family, friends and school) that I got to “perform” is the only reason why I carry so much confidence when it comes to any form of public speaking.

Ammachi might not have been the traditional white-haired, plump and huggable grandmother. Infact I don’t ever remember her kissing me even once. But I was her first grandchild and I knew I was special to her. When my brother came along, her belief in carrying on the “family name” took over her loyalties and he became her favourite. But I believe that I was the one who had the privilege of knowing her best as a grandmother and had the privilege of spending the greatest amount of time with her. Neither my brother nor any of her other grandchildren ever learnt a single song or story from her.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Lost and Found

As the years pass I believe I will get older, wider, wiser and calmer. Older - check, wider - check, wiser - hmm, yes I believe I am getting there on getting wise.... so check. Finally, calmer... now there's an adjective that flummoxes me.

So here's the thing. All the way from being a child to a young adult I was never described as "calm". Neither did I think of myself as "calm". I revolted, reacted, responded... and never once calmly. But come 30 and motherhood, I began to lose the will to do any of these with energy. Perhaps its was the double-whammy of being a 'Working Mother with a Small Baby': that meant no sleeping either in the day or most of the night. So bit by bit, many a thing that stirred up my passions, ceased to bother me. Take for instance my reaction to changes within the workplace - getting a new Boss for example, or a crappy raise. Where once it would've cause panic and a voluble discussion with my colleagues and family about the "impending doom" [it would seem!], I now merely thought about the implications of the change [Calm1]; slept over it [Calm2] and then spoke about it if need be with my superiors [Calm3]! I even recommended sleeping over any reaction to my friends and colleagues. To my other similarly sleep-deprived 'Young Mother' friends I would say "Who has the energy to react!". Oh sorry, make that "Who has the energy to react. (period, cause an exclamation takes energy)". I knew I had "crossed over" when my younger colleague remarked one day "You are always so calm and composed." Yeah right!

Young Baby grew up and that brought it the beautiful gift of more sleep for me. But I didn't go back to being "uncalmly". I read more recently that hormonal changes in a woman in her 30s cause her to become more calm, more brave. But here's the strangest thing. I have received the blessing of calmness. Now macro events [changes in workplace included - and these are still going on] no longer prickle my emotions leading to outbursts. But suddenly absolutely teeny weeny events bug me. Like when the maid goes on leave for a long period - the fact that dust will collect on the various pieces of our furniture worries me. That our new, reasonably priced carpet might get stained with tea/coffee/footprints, or that our new (non-fancy-wood) but wooden table might get marked with liquids/finger prints worries me or seeing clutter worries me. All this creates a sort of panic within me... a flutter of the heart almost. I keep telling myself "Calm Down!" cause its not like anyone died from dust-lined furniture, a dirty carpet or finger-printed table.

Perhaps all these things had worried me 10 years ago as well. But getting older seems to have made me lose my courage to face daily life. But age has given me the strength to face true hardships - like loss of a job, an ill child/parents - these I couldn't have faced with as much fortitude as I now can. I have lost courage in a sense but found it where I really need it. And that is my silver lining!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

When family is friend

Recently my brother in law was with us for a couple of days. And he mentioned that he felt one must always be around "friends" at every life-stage. At that my husband remarked that in my case, I always stuck to my family. I then told them that for me, my family members are my friends. Not so in my husband's case - evidently.

Mine is a large family they say. We've been in Bangalore since the 1950s when my grandparents moved to this beautiful city. And we've always frequented one of the Malayali Syrian Christian churches [MSCC]. My grandmother's several siblings and cousins also frequented the same church in Bangalore with their families. With time, the 'C' family grew ['C' representing the family name from my grandmother's side]. I hear from my parents and other relatives that it was customary that after church service every Sunday, the entire "synyam" ["crowd" in Malayalam] went to one of the family homes for Sunday lunch. Organising family weddings combined with the barely-in-existence Bangalore public transport in the 1970s meant several days, if not weeks, of all the families staying together at the wedding home - planning, talking, cooking, eating and sleeping together.

I thus grew up in a household where family was always visiting. And this in the true Indian sense of the word "visit" which meant "impromptu/unannounced visits". My parents stayed with my grandparents and therefore there was always a visitor at home either from within Bangalore or many a time - cousins, uncles, aunts, somebody's somebody from outside of Bangalore, who knew no one else during their visit to this city and hence stayed with us. Staying in a hotel in those days - unheard of! Money was little, space even lesser, but (surprisingly) happiness abounded in the home.

My first-ever friend is my second cousin - she remains my best friend to this day. If it weren't for our tightly bonded families, she and I would have never been able to meet as much as we did as children, for after all we weren't sisters or even kids of siblings. We were grandkids of siblings. Yet the MSC Church that she and I attended and all those extended Sunday lunches and family visits helped grow such a strong tie of friendship between us that she ended up being the one to even introduce me to my future husband!

Just like our home had visitors, we in turn visited our relatives in Bangalore - some more often, some less frequently. As teenagers my brother and I resented being dragged to the lesser-known relatives' homes. So boring, we'd think (and say). But my parents would have none of that and didn't give us a choice. Today we are much better people for that. Those relatives are now our "friends". Their kids (our cousins) are grown up now and they help us personally and professionally. When my husband and I bought a home, we consulted my lawyer-cousin if the papers of the house were in order. In fact he helped us right through the process until the owner handed us the keys. Who better could we trust than our own family, in this matter?

Christmas in our family did not mean exchange of gifts. It did not even mean buying of new clothes or toys. But it did mean making lots of goodies for the family and a big-fat-family-lunch on Christmas day! The same at Easter. Just last Christmas we attended the customary family lunch at Mum's. Then dinner with more family - and we even partly missed a friends' get-together-dinner as we had to attend the family dinner. My colleague asked me, why not skip the family-dinner and go straight to the friends' get-together? I couldn't see the difference in being a part of either - after all, I would be amongst friends anyway.