Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saree Woes

Diwali 2009 is the time when I made my millionth Sari Vow. Okay, it's crazy but the truth is I love wearing sarees. I've got an amazing collection of exquisite kancheevarams in my wardrobe. I treasure each one of them.

Here's my confession: The art of wearing a saree and most importantly, walking gracefully in it doesn't come to me. I admire generations of Indian women who have and continue to do this almost effortlessly. In typical South Indian mode, I make my woes clear below:

On the day of my marriage, I wore the saree and walked like a clumsy duck. I cringe every time I see the video. It embarrasses me that I can't carry it off gracefully. My god, lakhs of Indian women do it with such grace and why, oh why, God had to do this to me, is what I'm simply asking!

For my Std 12th Social, all the girls dressed up in their finest sarees. I think they all looked as if they had stepped out of an ad because they looked so beautiful. And well, i hate remembering, but since confessions are all about remembering. Those years, I was the original tomboy of sorts, mentally. I hated anything girlish, especially those feminine lehengas, salwar kameezes with flowing dupattas. I hated being caged into such clothes that made me feel when I look into the mirror: Who's that? Not me! Puhleez!

I wore an ugly, dull, henna green salwar kameez that was several sizes too big and loose for me. I think I looked like the female version of Shrek! Oh, just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. The worst part was when the supercool, beautiful beauties cooed, "Oh, poor you, what happened? Why are you dressed like this?"

I spared them my story. Who wanted to hear it anyway that I am not interested in getting doled up? I smiled and that didnt convince anybody so they reached a conclusion that I must be from a very poor family background and so I couldnt afford to buy a saree or even borrow! Its nearly funny, when you think of it, the change over the years, I mean.

My sister is younger to me by six years. Right from her primary school, she knew how to drape the saree beautifully. She does it in less than five minutes while I struggle and end up in all kinds of crazy, horribly draped layers with bits of the saree falling out from here and there!

I've stopped working on my saree draping plan, so many beauty parlors are willing to do it as there are more and more terrible saree drapers like me, as if that can be any consolation! Everytime I want to wear a saree, I think about the draping mess and the walking difficulty and just give up by wearing the usual.

This weekend, a very close friend had come over. She wore a lovely black saree. It looked very traditional. The print had flowers on it, the type that belongs to another era and looks simple yet very classy. I loved it. For three hours, I had this discussion with her about my saree vow. I want to wear all my sarees but I've lost the confidence.
She really is a great friend. She pepped me up, told me it was the same for her but she kept trying, trying and then, one fine day, got really good with it. Now, she doesn't need any help and can drape her saree in like three minutes! Well, its ambitious for me to hope to do that anytime soon but I've vowed to get started. Let me start, fail, learn from it and try again.
Any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Parents are Love"

A few days of color, love and pampering, that's what October 2009 has been for me. In this city where dreams die and lose color, my parents brought all of it back. Seeing life through their eyes brings joy because they are so full of love and wisdom. All their life, they have believed in the goodness of people and that feeling of God and goodness have come more powerfully into my life again. Sometimes, you need those very solid ties to remind you of your dreams and focus again on making them come true. We hardly value the time we had with our parents or the sacrifices they have made for us when we live with them. At that time, we are so keen to break the rules and rebel or just lead our life to the brink of adventure, danger or rebellion, that power to say 'No' but now when we become independent, all we want to do is go back and be with them.




I had a wonderful time with my parents. We had endless conversations about everything under the sun. We ate at home and went outdoors too. The colorful pic below was taken at Raj Dhani, a very well known restaurant that is famous for traditional Gujarati dishes. Located in the very busy, happening mall called the Great India Place, Noida, this is the fantastic spread we helped ourselves to.





People say, "God is Love" and I agree. I just want to add to that by saying, "Parents are LOVE."

Those of you who love their parents, do visit Mrs.A and share a word of solace and strength with her. As a daughter who feels torn by her mother's condition, Mrs. A needs our prayers and good thoughts to make her feel better. 

Today is a good day to do something compassionate for not just our parents but all parents in the world who've made their mark of love stand out through their children. We could offer something as simple yet invaluable like a word of love, a kind thought and much more. What matters is to carry forward what our parents have always given us from their lives: LOVE

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diwali 2009

When I first came to Delhi, I was frightened by the Diwali celebrations that I saw. Fire crackers are not something I enjoy. I think it pollutes the environment. I have seen documentaries on how fire crackers are made in India. Truly, it is shocking how this popular festival product is actually the result of thankless hours of work and terrible living conditions suffered by child laborers in different parts of the country. Every time I see the crowds that hover around stalls that sell fire crackers, I feel something inside my heart burst with pain.

Anyway, let me come back to my story. Diwali, as I understood initially, is celebrated with lights. I found the festival a little too loud because where I was working at the time, it was more of a corporate affair. You had lots of gifts that had to be planned, bought and packed. It was about showing off who could give what, at times. In case you didn't have money to pay more to your domestic help, you can bet that your neighbors would know about it and let you know in a very mocking way that they know about it. Why should they be concerned is a question I will not ask as curiosity about neighbors and what they are upto is a virtue in India with a lot of people.

Over the years, I have become used to Diwali. In fact, I have learned to appreciate the good things associated with the festival. It is a season when people, despite crazy work schedules, find a way to meet their relatives and loved ones and gift them with sweets and things.

During my first Diwali in Delhi, I remember going to many shops, yearning to buy something with my hard earned money for my husband. Nothing seemed good enough because I was so overwhelmed to be married and working, a combination that had seemed rare when I first began my life's new journey. In its own way, Diwali is that time of the year when you want some light in your life, literally, before the bleak days of winter make its presence felt.

Looking back, I realize that only my first Diwali experience was a little dampening because it was a culture shock and the firecrackers really scared me. The following years, I had enjoyed Diwali. In 2005, I celebrated Diwali in Shirdi. It was one of my most unforgettable trips. It happened a day after a series of bomb blasts had taken place in Delhi. Everyone advised us not to travel by train from Delhi as there was so much panic about national security and safety of the public. At the time, I was six months pregnant with Adi. That morning, the railway station was deserted. Except for the two of us and some vendors, there was no one at the station that morning. I am mentioning this because it is typically one of the most crowded railway stations on normal days!

Our trip to Shirdi was so wonderful. We talked about everything under the sun for hours and hours. My hubby showed me around Shirdi. The hotels were all booked, the place itself was so crowded that we gave up hope of finding somewhere to stay in.

We found a place that was away from the huge crowds, very peaceful and had ambience too. We spent most of our time in the Shirdi Samadhi mandir and Dwarkamai, the mosque. What I loved was praying in the mosque. I saw people, Hindus and Muslims, offering their prayers in that mosque. On Diwali, despite the terrible rush around the place, I sat on the floor for hours, pressed between many devotees, yet totally at peace as I sat in the mosque and ate Prasad and prayed for my baby. I felt tears gather in my eyes as I saw people light diyas around the mosque and the temple. I felt so fortunate to be there in Shirdi. Everywhere we moved, there was light, not just in the diyas but in the eyes and hearts of those who were gathered there.

This year, Diwali 2009 as I am calling it, turned out to be very special. Early morning, God gave me an opportunity to do a pooja and light the lamp of love in the hearts of others. That is the best thing I have done in a long, long time.
Also, after a gap of three long years, my parents came to spend Diwali with me. Words fail me because the memory of lighting diyas with them, watching them shop for lights and decorate my home with it, and gift me with so much besides their love, it is all so hard to describe.

Just a few days back, I bumped into one of my neighbors. Stylish mom, a little bit of a show off but definitely an attractive one, she told me that she decided to spend her Diwali with her parents as she felt they were alone and it didn’t seem fair that she always spent Diwali with her in-laws. What struck me was her words, “For a change, I want to make my parents feel loved.” It touched me that for a change, she was not boasting about her latest watch or jeans or about a new country she had sailed to but about something that meant the whole world to her because I could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. Sometimes, it takes a festival of lights to bring alive that sparkle and fervor in each of us.

I think that is what makes Diwali truly special for a lot of families in India. It is when a lot of parents feel loved by their children and relatives. It is when a lot of children think about pampering their parents. It is about looking back and not forgetting the roots that brought you where you are now.

I wish you a very Happy, Prosperous and Love Filled Diwali.

Before you leave, tell me about your favorite Diwali and why.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sorry Tales of Housework

While growing up, I shirked house work because I knew Mummy would do it. The only hard work I did is to eat whatever she made. Mummy would wake up early in the morning, bathe, do the pooja, make breakfast and lunch and then of course, my task was to eat it away as if nothing else matters. 

Of course, she would ask me to help her out and learn some basics but do you think I listened? Not seriously, I simply didn't. I used to tell her not to worry so much. I always felt there would be a magical Alladin's Lamp that would manifest and take care of everything when it was my turn to take care of a home. Her wise words "Start early, or else later you will find it difficult to manage simple chores in your home" always fell on my deaf and dumb ears. Those were the years I wish I could turn back time....(sigh, dreaming, dreaming!)


Marriage, Introspection and the Pressure Cooker

Suddenly, I found myself married. Unlike most girls who were mentally conditioned for this official 'lifetime' position, I lived in a dream world created by Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, you get the drift. 'M' which means MARRIAGE it transforms even the laziest girls into hardworking 'ants,' to scurry alone from dawn to dusk, unfailing carrying out tasks. You know what I mean, right?


So I learned:
  • how to make tea without burning the milk
  • how to get kitchen chores done
  • how to survive on different variations of Maggi during a working week
  • how to make curd rice without the curd curdling
  • how to make upma without uppu (don't strangle me, but it happened!)
  • how many teaspoons of sugar makes it okay to drink so that your better half doesn't drown in diabetic sweetness. 
Through this sea change in life, I found myself learning a lot of things like discovering the new world of culinary wonders like the pressure cooker, which is a lifesaver of sorts.

I grew up seeing the 'Prestige' pressure cooker ad for housewives and wondered a lot of times why a couple's marital happiness seems so dependant on that cooker. 

Once I began my disastrous experiments in the kitchen, I got a fairly good idea of how critical a cooker's role is. The guy who created that ad is a genius, must say!


Well, after many trial and error sessions and self humiliation by burning most stuff that made it inedible, there were days when I would simply sit and cry because well, cooking was rocket science to me.

I found myself learning to make rice/Maggi variations/upma without all of it sticking like glue on the teeth. I learned to remember to add salt and not too much of it, little things like that got me going and growing. I began to understand that when some women friends try to help you with their suggestions, they are either laughing at your inefficiency at the next kitty party or just eager to prove that ultimately, your competence as a home maker boils down to 'being a woman stuck in the kitchen.'


Ms Intellectual Waits for Hubby to Cook
In Delhi, I've understood from scraps of social conversation with women in my building, a lot of your ability or interest in cooking or doing housework is attributed to the region you come from. I don't agree with the perspective because I think it depends on the kind of lifestyle you've led, the family background and your own inclination to it.


Lets call Ms. Intellectual. She has a literary bent but she is a housewife who is devoted to her family. I know her personally and see how much effort she takes in looking after her family. 

An interesting thing she told me is that there are three things the women in her family have never done for three generations unless it was some kind of a life threatening situation:

1. Wash dirty dishes.
2. Wash laundry.
3. Cook.


My first thought was: wow, I wish I belonged to that three generation of women because the snippet of information came at a time when my routine, besides a crazy, hectic job at the time, involved doing all three! And I don't feel any admiration about the fact that her husband who worked very long hours would come home and then cook the dinner for the family. Of course, they are helping each other and that's none of my business.


When Ms Intellectual's Mother came to stay, I was sure that maybe she would cook, bend the generation rule a little but I was wrong. The mother and daughter would wait till the hubby came home and cooked for them all.


I am not sharing this to be mean or critical because in today's world, marital life is all about sharing everything. However, I wouldn't like to follow Ms. Intellectual's style because I don't like the thought of making my spouse do all the hard work every evening after he's had a very exhausting day. My feeling is more to do with not burdening a loved one when he is already wrapped up his day and ready to just unwind after a day's hard work.


Ms Liberated Will Marry Only Hubby Cooks
I also knew some girls who were very independent and not married at the time when I met them. They used to tell me they would marry only if they met men who would do all the cooking and home chores.

And my thought: Yea, right! Wait till you are married, gal!

In Kerala, when a girl is about to get married, the first question that is asked is, "Do you know how to cook?" Since my marriage was a love marriage, I could happily skip the question and face reality directly. Ouch!

In Delhi, I've heard a majority of mothers say that their daughters don't want to marry because they aren't interested in cooking and cleaning for men. And yet I have also heard a close friend of mine who taught her 4 year old son to make his own milk and rotis on a proper stove on his own because she is working and returns late. And now the little boy makes sabji for himself and makes tea for her when she comes back home with a headache. Her explanation is this, "It is my gift of love to my daughter in law, the best gift one woman can give to help another."

Wow!

Perhaps this debate will go on. The new generation may change things for the better so that tasks and chores are shared equally. Perhaps there may come a time that men can become socially acceptable home makers.

I don't know whether there is a perfect answer to this. It differs from family to family, person to person. How about you? What do you think?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Looking at Relationships

Having wonderful friends who stand by you, listen to you crib about life and soothe you so that when you've calmed down, you are ready to face the music - nothing beats that, right?  They are the people we can turn to when we really need to crib, get advice or just pour out whatever is bugging us. I do that all the time with my friends and they do the same with me. Still, i have to be honest, all relationships are dynamic because change happens all the time, sometimes there is little we can do to fight it.


I remember a friend, whom I became very close to on the first day we met. The next day she said, "My mother told me that I should learn to balance it out because friendships, even the best ones, change faster than the speed of lightning. It's important to keep that perspective in place."


At the time, I felt a little hurt and even wondered why her mother had conveyed such a message to her but now I think it makes sense because we can't make everything stay still. All relationships are subject to change, whether we like it or not. It's important to safeguard your privacy and personal details so that you don't make the mistake of trusting the wrong person and repenting it later.



Many years ago, my  uncle told me, "Whatever you discuss with your friends, never discuss about your immediate family members with anyone. Talk about career, learning, hobbies, films, travel and books but don't talk about things that are close to your heart. If some day, your relationship with that person becomes bad, you should not have regrets about what you revealed about your loved ones."


I am not sure I agreed with him but I have seen women, once friends and later when they have issues with each other, using those very 'confidential' details to hurt the other. I do not know why women do this but it is a fact that they do. These were my exact thoughts when I read the gripping novel 'Looking Back' by Belva Plain about  three best friends:


Amanda: who loves expensive things and feels ashamed of her family who struggle to make ends meet in their dilapidated home that is bursting with kids and very little space. She decides to marry Larry whom she finds it difficult to even like but the choice gives her the freedom to buy whatever she wants, without his knowledge, of course.


Norma: who is very intelligent, compassionate, judgmental and the daughter of a very rich businessman, but because of her large, trunk like abnormal legs, she is an eternal wallflower who feels insecure and has to dance with Larry, her loving brother at every social dance or event.

Cecile: who is amazing because she is classy, beautiful, simple, passionate, wealthy, sensitive, caring and kind and she finds her match in Peter, who is just so perfect for her yet very strong and independent that he would not accept her wealth or money in anyway.



Doesn't it seem like these three women will never cease to be best friends? Isn't that how we too begin our friendships? We like to believe that the friendship will be forever and that the word 'parting' never comes. Very few relationships, even the best of friendships, endure the test of time as most of us already know. 
The friendship of these three amazing women comes a long way. What makes this book a must-read is the detailing in each character - the choices they make and the lives they eventually lead - are so well defined and etched out that you want to cry for them when their relationships turn so ugly, irrevocably so because it all begins with one betraying the trust of another.


A scene where Peter and Cecile have their first marital quarrel and she says that till then they had always agreed about everything, Peter asks, " Did you think we were going to go through life like a reflection of each other?..."



And then Belva Plain's narratve of Cecile's perspective is so beautifully framed:  

She wanted to tell him that all of a sudden a window had opened before her, that she was looking out upon the vast plain of life, seeing the long road on which two small creatures, would travel and, bound to each other as they were, would sometimes hurt each other and be sorry.

Anita Davison, wrote a post titled 'Story Arcs in Historical Fiction' where she briefly stated that 'conflict is the essence of drama.' She also states in the post, 'Without conflict, you don't have a novel.'

When I think about the best books I've read, I agree with Anita because it is the element of conflict that forms the main ingredient in a good novel that keeps a reader glued to every page. In the same context, I think our most important relationships in life with parents, spouse, and children are tested time and again through conflicts that arise and the solutions we find to tackle those conflicts.


Think about the conflicts you've had in your relationships and how you learned better ways of tackling it. It could be with your parents, friends, employers or in-laws. I've had teachers telling me about how some parents just meet to attack and accuse them rather than listen or understand. I've seen some colleagues experiencing conflicts with each other, some choose to take the negative stance and feeling worse about themselves while others take it as a learning curve and do something about it rather than deepen the conflict. We have different ways of dealing with conflict because its the salt that keeps life moving on to higher learning curves.


If you have made terrible mistakes and messed up things to worsen your conflicts, you would have learned from that and moved on to make better, informed decisions, right? Think about conflicts in a positive way than as something you want to forget. Think about what you've learned from it. And then, perhaps, you'll realize that you've come a long, wonderful way. To begin with, just think about it.


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India is my Country & my Pride