Friday, October 2, 2009

Afternoon Tea

I thought our afternoon tea experience last weekend was a good one to attempt a Zagat-esq review for.

It is this cute little French creperie in the Chicago suburbs called Suzette's Creperie. We have always liked their food and desserts so far but afternoon tea that afternoon was, well, close to a disaster, for me anyway who likes every meal to be a celebration.

Yes I am picky, sue me.

Now this restaurant has a bakery section, charming area with a couple tables and a display case of baked goodies. Separated by a foyer is the main dining area, lot more formal.

For some reason or another (mostly that they are tres tres busy all the time), we have almost always been seated in the bakery section on our visits there. This suits us fine for we eat there with our four year old who, though a veteran of restaurants of varying star levels in four countries, is still, well, a four year old.

So to my slight chagrin (since I had made my booking for tea over two weeks ago) we were seated in the bakery section again. Wouldn't have been a big problem if it was one of their tables by the window but this time the restaurant was a trifle too ambitious. They had an extra table squeezed right next to the display cases, kissing distance from the cases actually so we spent the hour or so we were there aglow in its tube-lit glory.

Again I wouldn't have minded quite so much (I am nothing if not flexible) but the restroom was few feet away from our table and the way it was positioned, a visitor to the restroom would have to really squeeze themselves beside us to get there. And they did. This started as a mild irritation and soon became intolerable since now and again, an apologetic restaurant patron (I don't blame them at all) would come by our table and squeeze themselves in the two inches that remained between our table and a cupboard nearby in order to get to the restroom. Shaking table each time of people going back and forth, feeling like one is in a railway station waiting room. Not pleasant. And certainly not conducive to a relaxing afternoon tea.

Perhaps because of the undesirability of our location I had to ask the waitress leaning across their display cases each time, to please re-fill my tea--something they are supposed to do at regular basis at an afternoon tea. Also flabbergasting was that we had a choice of two teas. Earl Grey and some Lavender Herbal number. Two teas!!? I expected a menu of gourmet teas, each one more exotic and desirable than the next. It is afternoon TEA, remember people? Oh yes, and all this for a whopping 30$ per person. Not worth it at all. To be fair the sandwiches were nice, the desserts too. The highlight were the scones course which made the trip sort of worthwhile.

Needless to say we won't be frequenting Suzette's again for afternoon tea. At the risk of sounding like a food snob (which I regrettably am), I think we shall stick to regular afternoon teas in India where it is an age old tradition.

Or in say, Orangerie, opposite Kensington Palace in London where the clotted cream alone sells the whole experience and the teas are to die for. And of course in that place I consider pastry heaven, Laduree, in Paris where the pastries and teas are so sublime that one doesn't mind the snooty servers or having to yell monsieur, monsieur, until one is blue in the face in order to get someone's attention.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boy oh Boy

I've always wanted a daughter. Ever since I was a teenager I've known I'd want a baby girl someday--to dress, be my live doll.

To just be all mine.

I got married, I got pregnant and I ached for a girl--ached at the sight of the dresses, buttons and bows, the shoes, all that make having a baby girl so much fun. Never had I even imagined having a boy although funnily enough I am in absolute love with Calvin of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes. The idea that I might like having a precocious, darling, supremely imaginative boy of my own just like Calvin was a fantasy I nursed but in the far recesses of my heart and mind.

During my first pregnancy I'd decided not to find out the gender of the baby since I was too afraid of finding out that it wouldn't be a girl. The twenty week sonogram happened and the doctor conducting the exam had a funny grin on his face. I blurted out, "Tell me just tell me. I want a girl so just tell me what it is!"

All he said with a smile was, "If this one's a girl, I want you to call me."

Boy oh boy.

Our son was born.

And I fell in love. I had got my Calvin, dimpled, curly haired and all. Precocious, imaginative, darling and yes, all boy.

Second round. It's got to be a girl. My husband and I even spoke of the baby as she this, she that. The twenty week sonogram happened and this time I was firm. "Don't tell me," I said. "But I might change my mind about knowing so write the "finding" on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope for me to look at later with my husband."

I returned home clutching the envelope, went to my husband's upstairs office and asked him to open it. "I'm way too nervous," I said.

He opened it. Inside was a sonogram print out covered with a post it.

A blank 'post it'.

"Its blank," my husband said. My heart sank. I wanted to cry. That could only mean one thing. He peeled off the 'post it' and on the print out was an arrow pointing to the identifying part and a line below that said.

'It's a boy!'

I lay down on the floor and felt my throat tighten. I didn't feel excitement, no joy. Only a sinking sadness. A selfish sadness I know. But in that moment, the realization that in my lifetime I'd never know what it was like to buy a baby girl frock, or a pretty hair band or a flouncy skirt. Not for my child anyway. I let the tears sting my eyes but I didn't let my husband see them.

He laughed after a moment. " get to remain queen," he said. "Always."

I tried to laugh with him. He lay down beside me and put an arm around me. "You love our son. This one will be a barrel of laughs and loves too."

"Yes," I said, not convinved, thinking only about the moments I would now miss of daughter and mom shopping trips, followed by coffee and cake somewhere, giggling gossiping sessions on the telephone, the kind I have with my mum. The tiny frilly bikinis, the--I was close to bawling so I stopped letting my mind wander. I felt my new son kick. But I ignored him, didn't touch him back as I had always done so far.

"Its almost time to pick up baby number one from school," I said, got up and made for the door.

"It'll be fun," my husband said. "Really."

I drove to school in a daze.

I tried to make small talk with the other parents. Some of the mums there knew I had had my sonogram that day and asked me if I was willing to tell them what I'd found out. "Its a boy," I tried to say cheerily. "The good news and bad news is I don't have to buy anything new since I have all my son's old stuff. Now I can just spoil myself with jewelry and shoes and bags."

The moment passed and it was time for the kids to come out. First out came this little Steve McQueen look alike. His ultra glamorous mum and big brother were waiting for him. As soon as the boy came out, his brother bent down and put long skinny arms around his little brother. I felt my heart lurch. As the trio started to leave I approached the mother and introduced myself. Asked her what it was like having the two boys. She looked at her kids with twinkling eyes and told me how it was. Small talk, no earth shattering wisdom, just everyday stuff. But I saw how her older son had his arm around his kid brother who was still looking a bit shell shocked after his first day of school. And I felt slightly better. I thanked her, picked up my son who had his arms around my leg and we went home chatting about his day.

I spent the late afternoon playing with my son, trying to wrap my head around dealing with two boys--their boisterousness, their noise, their games, two heads that would smell like a damp puppy dog, all that stuff little boys are made of.

Earlier that day I had gotten in the mail a box full of creams and scrubs I had ordered for myself. I hadn't had a chance to open the box all day and had a meeting in the evening so when I returned home later that night, I was surprised to find the box opened and overturned, the contents gone, the wrapping scattered. I went upstairs to my bedroom and found all the creams arranged neatly on my dressing table along with my other creams. The scrubs, however, were missing. I called the company to say they had forgotten to pack the scrubs. But they were closed. I'd have to call the next day.

Then I asked hubby how come he had opened the box...he usually didn't do that sort of thing if a package had my name on it.

He told me it hadn't been him. Perhaps our son had done it. A wave of tenderness rose within me . I went to my baby who was fast asleep and kissed his face. Then a thought occurred to me. I wasn't kidding when I had said my son was precocious. He's also a very thoughtful and super observant child.

Hmm...I thought and checked inside the bathroom. Sure enough, tucked away inside my storage closet for beauty products sat my body scrubs. The right place for them. They didn't belong on the dresser...they were a bath product. And so my baby had put them there for me to find.

Fresh tears sprang to my eyes. What a horrible person I was to have wasted my day worrying about having two boys. If our second was half as darling as our first, I'd be on top of the world. My son will never wear a baby skirt or go shopping with me but he'll always be my baby, my very own--he'll always be someone I can talk to, someone who tells me how nice I look when I am dressed up, someone who admires my earrings with tenderly placed fingers. This time I ran to my son and smothered his sleeping face with kisses. He didn't stir, just shifted a little in his sleep, puckered his mouth and sighed.

All felt right at that moment.

Yes, all would be just fine. My husband was right. My son was a doll. An absolute doll who gave me all the hugs and kisses I asked of him, whose dimpled smile could light up my day. Why would a second son not add to that joy. Knowing this was all the consolation I needed.

I shall walk down the street with my three men--my two sons dressed in crisp dress shirts and khaki pants with leather belts and matching peacoats. My husband and I'll strut beside them with head held high.

And finally now that I have no berets and fancy dresses to buy for a little one anymore, I shall gladly do that strutting in a new pair of Manolos or Jimmy Choos, with a Prada bag slung carelessly over my shoulder.

I close my eyes and imagine the picture. Oh yes, that surely is consolation enough ;-)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Morbid Musings

I think I know now what it might feel like to be debilitated, an invalid.

Truth is all I am is pregnant. It's the all natural first trimester nonsense women all over put up with, seemingly cheerfully, smiling through vomity days and horrendously nauseating hours.

Food tastes like crap. My mind has stopped working. The only solace for me these days is sleep. How horrid is it to want to escape into sleep. To wake up thinking the best part of the day is over. Perhaps this must be how it feels like when life becomes passe', tiresome, when a person says, I am exhausted. Let me sleep and never wake up.

I know it is morbid but I am so out of it these days, surviving only. Hating every single minute of wasted hours spent staring at my computer. Work is impossible, creativity even more so. What a waste, I think, of a summer, of long sunny days, of possibilities that are passing me by.

Why can't I feel the joy of life forming in my womb? It doesn't feel real yet. Its still theory. Right now, what's real is this day long sickness. This must be how it is when horrible disease ravages a body, reduces one to a mass of instincts, shreds us of all that makes us human.

What a nasty feeling wishing away the day so night will bring peace. What a horrible feeling not being able to take my son for long bike rides because all I want to do right now is stare at the walls and feel sorry for myself. How irritating when an hour long workout doesn't invigorate but instead sends the body and mind into complete meltdown.

And this is all natural, wonderful!! Yeah right.

What then, I think, when this happens in a form that isn't natural, isn't going to be followed by happiness, isn't going to end in some months. I am glad to have this experience for it may well be the future. I make a note to call my lawyer and make a living will. I shall refuse treatment for my cancer should it strike. I have learned I don't have the stomach for this kind of living, these fruitless days of waiting, hoping. I just don't have the guts. I am such a chicken.

I know, I know I am being horrific. I am not dying. I just having morning sickness. Grow up! I want to tell myself.

And yet I want to smack the women who have smiled through this for centuries, rubbing their bellies gleefully, dreaming about the future. Goddamn it woman, you're miserable, at least act it! I want to scream.

Why can't I be like those millions of women who sail through these few months with grace, some even without complaint? I am a spoilt brat, I know but why don't I have an ounce of that wisdom so many seem to possess?

Its week 14 now. With any luck I shall be better soon. I wanted to write this before the feeling passed, before life became a whorl of activity again, the abnormality of these days soon forgotten. I want to remember this feeling, morbid as it might be, for it will help me appreciate the days I will have, the good ones. For some years, many years if I am lucky, after which....well, there's always my living will, I suppose.

Or better still....I'd better pack and move to the Netherlands soon.

P.S: I have to say this or I might hurt some. I mean no offense whatsoever to people who are truly ill and fighting disease. I just feel Like I have a glimpse into a different world these days.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beauty and Brains

I admire beauty, the sheer perfect specimens of creation one sometimes chances to see around be it a man, woman, child, animal, flower, tree, whatever.

It is funny how I sometimes admire women when I'm walking down a and my husband looks askance at me accusing me of having"tendencies."

But the way I look at it is how can one help but admire what a great job nature has done on some creatures. Have you seen a baby donkey? With their soft bangs. They are such cuties, or a child with those curls in the back of their head, the wispy, whorls that only kids can have? Or men and women with perfect features and Greek god and goddess bodies and a sort of radiance that seems to emanate from them.

One thing I have learned is not to dole out compliments to strangers for with women they just look frightened and leave the place--I might be a serial killer. And with men, God knows what they'll think. I mean beauty is no guarantee for good character.

I admire beautiful men too. The super large rounded muscle in a tight tee turns me off since without exception that kind of man has this desperate look on his face. "Please look at me," he seems to be saying, "I have just left my gym where I have been working out for the past three hours and have been skipping dessert for the past twenty years." Nah. that kind of beauty is off-putting. Especially if its accompanied by no gray matter whatsoever.

Which brings me to what is most attractive to me in a person. His brain. I am one of those people like in that Intel ad about having different heroes. They probably have more but the one I have seen has this geeky looking guy walking across the office floor running his fingers through his hair, politely refusing to give his fans autographs and having women gush all over him. I later learned that he is the inventor of the USB and I too thought that was way too cool. The USB, for God's sake!

Cannot mention being attracted to men without talking about my sweetheart of course. I set eyes on him for the first time when he was 17. I was 18. First semester of college. The boys (its engineering and so boys are the majority) are planning a play. They come to me asking if I want to play Sita (Hindu mythological character). "Sure," I say. "Who's Ram?" (Sita's husband). "Him," they say and point to this slender, man-child walking across the classroom. Honest to God, I haven't seen such a grown up cherub before. The flawless complexion, auburn curls, limpid eyes, slender to the point of breaking. Now I come from a family of rough and tumble men. Nut brown, rough hands, gruff manners, all the stereotypical guy features. And at the time I had a crush on a similar sort. A family friend's son who is growing browner by the day playing tennis in the sun, jet-setting all over the globe winning prizes. That he doesn't acknowledge my existence is a different matter altogether.

Anyhow I look at this boy who is sliding across the class and smile. I suggest to the person wanting to cast me that he might want to get someone who might be a better match for "that." Look at me, I say. I could snap that boy in half like a twig. "yes," they plead, "but in this class, only you know how to dance!"

Fine. Obviously, I didn't fall for him like a ton of bricks. How could any self-respecting girl fall for such a pearly faced boy when her own face was so splotchy (from years of skin problems)! Anyway he just wasn't my type.

But then something happened. I slowly starting finding out how positively brilliant this overgrown cherub was. I mean truly. And how supremely forthcoming with his knowledge. And I was floored. The following year, when he sprouted a mustache that resembled a soup stain on his upper lip (not my words, PG Wodehouse's) and giant oozing pimples, I began to reconsider. Then my man went on to give a lecture in front of the class about graphic user interfaces or something and made it so lucid even for me to understand when I thought...well...pimples do dry up. Maybe I should buy him some anti-blemish cream. This could work out.

We're together so obviously it all worked out. I did end up playing Sita. He did play Ram. The play, a musical was supremely funny.

Anyway, I continue to admire beauty. I try not to gush too much at strangers' babies these days or stare for too long at men and women on the street. No I admire people from a distance, marvel at a cheekbone or gorgeous head of hair or brilliant smile.

But I am glad I admire the beauty of the brain best. For once the skin has withered, the chiseled jaw slakened into jowls, the taut muscles turned fleshy, the one thing that can last the longest are the brains and those truly are the loveliest creation of nature.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cutural Blindness

I am pissed.

For maybe the first time I have been made to feel like an outsider, marginalized. And its especially upsetting when I feel like I am truly part of the community I live in. I mean I can't walk ten paces without seeing someone I have at least a nodding acquaintance with. Then this happens and I begin to question the validity of my supposed assimilation in the town I live in.

This happened last week which is why I am not strewing this blog with expletives.

Okay here goes. I am working in our yard doing what some might consider "man's" work, tying up large pieces of old fence to be taken away by the garbage people. My darling son is helping me in my effort.

So up walks my neighbor to me and says with a shake of his head that he and his wife feel bad that in our culture we have to do all this work while my brother and husband don't lift a finger. Warning bells start to go off in my head. Strangely I am not angry though. My correct reaction should have been WTF! But I am polite, tell him that I like to work like this etc. He proceeds then to tell me not to bring up my son the same way. Again the correct reaction on my part should have been an even more resounding WTF. But I continue to be polite and laugh away the whole thing yet telling him there is nothing cultural about my doing the heavy physical labor in our house. I LIKE IT.

Then I go home and relate the incident to my husband who is mad for a moment but wise as he says says he doesn't value the opinion of the moron who offered it.

I on the other hand have started to simmer. Now I am offended beyond belief. The !@#$ made me out to be some kind of victim, did he? This is what I should have told him. This is the reply I have since rehearsed in my head (don't you wish there was time in real life to rehearse juicy rejoinders to foolish questions and comments!!)

"Mr. X," I'd have liked to say, "I have a graduate degree in business and have run businesses in the past, have been a business consultant and if I choose to work in my yard, its bloody well, my own business. My father has a PhD, my mother is a doctor. Her mother was a doctor, for Pete's sake, at a time when your women hadn't yet figured out how to even burn their bras! People like you, sir, work for people like us."

Of course statements like these rarely come out when you need them and so I simmered and stewed this whole week.

Now if I was just another white chick working in the yard he wouldn't have said this would he? What if I decided my next business venture was in construction, would he put down the work I would then have to do to cultural norms!!

For the first time, I had a glimmer of what it feels like to be made to seem different. To be marginalized. To be made to feel small and inadequate, a victim solely on account of the fact that I do not look the mainstream and am originally from another country. I cannot even begin to imagine how it might have felt to have been a person of color in this country or a Jewish person decades ago but I got a small taste of it that day. And it was a bitter, sad one.

And its not just these people. Ignoramuses flourish everywhere.

My friend of Chinese origin visited a former Soviet country and was pointed at by people in the street crying, "Look, its Jackie Chan!"

My brother was in Portland recently and was pointed to by a young girl, okay fine child, who cried, "Look mom, its our doctor!"

My dad was pointed to in Germany again by a kid who cried, "Look mom, a negro!"

There are people in Montana who haven't set eyes on a person of color and are completely flummoxed by the idea of our current President.

To the uneducated, village folk, kids in these examples, I'll grant you leave to say inane things (some) but not to a supposedly educated couple who lives twenty minutes away from Chicago, a major, dare I say, "colorful", culturally vibrant city.

In these times it is foolish, nay, dangerous to live in petri dishes of ignorance about the world at large, I think.

A wise person might say, Lord forgive them for they know now what they say." I say that too but to that I add."Lord, would you please go ahead and toss a thick book or two at them for it might serve two purposes. First it will knock them senseless for a minute or two and then when they come to, they can pick up said books, crack open a page or two and maybe learn something for a change.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The key to happiness

Is to look outside yourself. Enough with the me-fest. It's better to give than to receive.

I realized this when I was twenty. And I tried my hand at it. And failed. Miserably.

I started by volunteering at a literacy non-profit in India, teaching street kids to read and write. These were slum kids who were the brightest sparks you can possibly imagine, the happiest souls possible. I did it for a while and had some truly funny sad moments when predictably, I got lazy. I had to take a bus for an hour and a half just to get to this railway station platform where the teaching was imparted. I was getting sun headaches every time I went. And so, I did what any sane person would do, I ashamedly admit. I quit.

The bug struck again in business school. In college I satisfied my social consciousness by taking home everyone's garbage, garbage that they would otherwise have been thrown on the streets and littered the city. Anyhoo, at business school, I signed up to work with Habitat for Humanity. Wonderful cause, team builder, lots of physical work which I love. I really do! Only thing, my lazy butt couldn't get up at the necessary 5:30 on Sundays in order to start working. And so, again, I quit. I tried being a mentor to an inner city kid, through a program at b-school. It seemed, however, more self-serving to us students, visiting the schools once a week, making small talk. It didn't seem we were of any real help to the kids. I quit.

I know, I know what you're thinking, you lazy commitment-phobe sh%! you! And I would agree. I had no excuse. I was a spoilt, lazy pig.

Some years ago, when the bee in my bonnet wouldn't go away, I tried googling "volunteer" and guess what, it's sort of like opening a kitchen cabinet filled with water. It just gushes at you, overwhelms you. What cause would you like to adopt--kids, cancer, women, literacy, hunger, poverty, animals, eyeglasses arrgh, stop!! I quickly close all the pages and try to recover normal breathing again. I shall give them money. That's what I'll do. That way I can support more than one thing for there is so much need out there, how much can one puny person do! This is when I started writing checks.

In my defense, these days, I serve on the board of an arts non profit, give away my time away. It's a relatively well-to-do outfit, I must add (sheepishly). No one's dying or anything but its art and who cares about art these days, right? And art's important. I also give bigger money away, and not just those $15 checks that get you the free tote bags. Oh and I also refuse birthday presents for my kid. I ask other people to give money away on my behalf.

Big deal. Real queen, aren't I?

But you know the satisfaction just ain't there. Its cool and all, being able to help in so sterile a way but it's sort of like hearing about a beautiful sunset or having someone else plant a row of flowers for you. Gorgeous but unsatisfying somehow.

Now that the bug is biting again and I am ready to brave google once more, I think of the time I taught a slum child to to do math by having him think of numbers as he would money. The A-ha moment he realized that they were all numbers and if he could do sums in his head for money, he could add any numbers just fine. The moment when I helped out a sick relative and how wonderful it felt just for having been there for hand holding. The moments when I cleaned the streets outside the building we lived in because I was just sick of seeing people throw out garbage without a care. How they stared at me, standing at their balconies watching the "doctor's" daughter sweep the streets that only their poor "lowly" overworked sweeper woman would normally do. The look of utter love my friend gave me when I helped her clean out her flooded basement. Small moments but such satisfying ones.

Perhaps collecting tote bags is perfectly fine but if one can also find just one thing to support and work at, plunge into wholeheartedly. Give wholly to. One cause so dear that it would bring out the best even in a lazy pig like me. Wouldn't it be wonderful?

Now if only I could find someone other than Google to tell me just what that might be...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The slippery sense of self

I just started reading Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates a most depressing beginning for a weekend (the theme of the book is marital stress due to sheer boredom) for I promptly began to detest having to do laundry, dust make beds and such mundane house tasks. What is the friggin' point, my mind keeps saying to me nastily. Useless, suburban curses, these tasks.

How easy it is to question I then begin to think, one's sense of self. What a waste of an intelligent mind to do these foolish tasks. So is it these tasks that define you, your job that defines you? Your partner, your kids? Your work, your hobbies, the meals you churn out, your ideas? What?

It was a funny moment but sort of thought provoking too. My son who is four plays a lot of pretend games. In it he casts himself in a role and me in another, even if I am not actively participating, I have a role to play in his game. You be superman, I'll be spiderman he'll say and take off across the room making sounds that in his opinion spiderman might make. Then suddenly since last month he started saying, I'll be Batman, you be Batman's mom. Or I am Lightening McQueen, you be McQueen's mom. I used to be Mater, Doc or Sally even but now I am the mom! I have become Nirupa Roy! The (suffering) mom in all the seventies Hindi movies. I can't remember a scene in a film where she wasn't crying. Of course I am taking a small incident and making a mountain out of it but like I said it was just a funny moment at best, thought provoking at worst, I suppose in my low moments.

The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, Thoreau said. I am not for the most part one of that mass, I like to think, or am I? Are we all just one sliver, one slip one firing, one paycheck, one failure away from being part of this desperate group? What a gloomy thought if we are.

I thank my father's genes for giving me resilience and tenacity as qualities I cherish most in myself, a sense of humor in seeing something funny in failure. But sometimes those have been overused, shredded and raw and my sense of self comes to question. Who am I? What purpose life? Why anything? All that wonderfully painful stuff.

Back to Revolutionary Road. I am now at the place the hero is contemplating having an affair with a voluptuous office colleague. Now the writer in me makes me roll my eyes. Not that again. Of course I must go on and see what makes this novel a classic in the words of some. But I also begin to think is it just that all of us are so similar that we keep making the same mistakes, the same cliched foolish acts over and over, never learning from our fellow human beings mistakes. And the answer is a quiet yes. That is what makes us human, no? We make new mistakes, for sure but in the end, every story is either Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or the Mahabharata. Over and over and over again. It is a relief and yet its also kinda a let down. Like a poor end to an otherwise good movie.

I have put down Revolutionary Road as well as my dust pan to collect myself. Housework maybe a pain but it must not affect one's sense of self. That would be idiotic.

The best among us do one thing and one thing well. They do not accept defeat. If things are going wrong or life has become one endless chore, they stop, or get up from a fall, dust themselves and go on. Create a new sense of self, a new beginning to make life interesting again.

This maybe a low brow source for inspiration but its a good one anyway. One of my favorite TV detectives says this in an episode of Remington Steele. 'His friend is standing on the sea shore awaiting the arrival of a ship he owns and has worked to own for maybe a decade or more. As the ship comes to shore and applause from his friends rings loud, the ship bursts into flames. The crowd becoms silent. The man, however, bursts out laughing. An honest full bellied laugh and says. "Forget it. Its all right." Why? "Why because its all new again!" Time to make a new beginning.

And why am I thinking of new beginnings, mulling on my sense of self? Well, to put things in mundane perspective, I am getting ready to send my novel out for its last shot at publication and must understand that this time too, despite all the work, all the tears and sleepless nights, it might not sell. And I too must then, a few months from now surrunded by rejections from publishers let out a belly of laughs and say "Well, no worries for its all new again now isn't it?"

And I always have the role of Nirupa Roy waiting for me in my son's games. ;-)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Indo American relations

I have lived in America since 1996. It has been the usual roller coaster ride that life tends to be. Ups, crashing downs, and thrown in to make it interesting, lots of in between lulls. And although this is an oft discussed issue especially among immigrants of color, race hasn't yet been an issue I have had to address as in racial tension unless one counts the single occasion when a nasty car wash guy called me an f!@#ing Indian. He has since come to a bad end, of this I am sure.

Other than that even post 9/11 we never felt racially vulnerable. Well a few eggs were thrown at our home following that attack. But the bozos were probably stupid teenagers who don't know any better.

However there is one thing that is in my opinion a source of pressure being a person of a different color and speaking with a non-yankee accent. If one is black or white and speaks American, one blends in for the most part. However being brown and obviously "foreign", there is the pressure to be a stellar representative of one's country.

I mean I feel like I have to act a certain way, especially with strangers to represent what a stellar Indian is and sometimes it is wearisome. People are always asking me what the situation is like in Bombay and Kashmir. How about those religious riots, are there really slums like in Slumdog Millionaire, what about the bomb blasts? And I find I need to be something of an expert, a diplomat even, to answer everything to their satisfaction.

Its the sort of constant pressure that one doesn't know one is under, sort of like an ambient noise that isn't apparent until its gone. I spoke to someone at a party one day, a charming man, well read man who said that he was an accepting man but the only problem he had was with Muslims. Naturally, I asked him why? He went on to tell me how a few Muslims had been cold to him when he wanted to casually socialize with them at the grocery store or someplace. Now this is what I think. Either those few individuals were rude jerks or just in a bad mood. Would he have said the same thing if they'd just been the more blendable type of people? I wonder. But you see how he made an all encompassing generalization despite being such an "open" man about the entire religion! Indians do the same thing. One grocery clerk is rude to them and they are convinced its a racial attack. The grocery clerk probably had PMS, did you think of that, I want to retort.

Perhaps I am a more sensitive individual, a sort of people pleaser, but I worry about these things. What if I am the first or third Indian someone encounters? Lets say the first two were sweet and I am in a bad mood. That colors the opinion this individual has of Indians by 33%! Or if the previous two encounters were with Indians who were jerks then the impression I make has suddenly reached paramount importance.

There is another side to this issue, a lighter side, at least since I find it amusing. I am often told I am not like other Indians in that I have somewhat mastered the art of bantering. Bantering is an art that only Americans are such experts at. Bantering and self deprecation. Try that with an average Indian and you'll be greeted with glassy stares or quick re-assurances, 'don't worry, you're not so bad.' Un-self conscious humor doesn't come easily or indeed at all to people of Indian, make that Asian origin. Now throw in an American who has taken that casual breeziness to an art form and unleashes it upon a stodgy Indian, disaster is all one can hope to expect.

I took my parents to visit an older American couple for dinner some years ago. I have known this couple for ages. They are like a second set of parents to me and a moment of cultural clash of gargantuan proportions arose when our hosts showed my parents around their house and stopped outside their bedroom when the hostess remarked, "And there in that room, the most passionate love in the world is made." Now it is important to note here that Indians do not talk about sex. Oh no. And older Indians, it is as if such a thing doesn't exist. And yet here in the room filled with people of an average age of sixty five, a salty remark had been made. Naturally, my parents froze. I wanted to giggle and in any other circumstance would have been glad to provide an equally saucy rejoinder but in front of my dad? Are you kidding me? My husband and I looked at each other's toes. My father's stare was fixed on a wall somewhere. My mother began to rearrange her sari. My friends were obviously wondering what the hell was wrong!

Luckily, that most awkward of silences lasted only one interminable minute after which my father un-glassified his stare, turned to the hostess and asked in a most formal, voice, "and this here, is it the bathroom?"

Monday, March 30, 2009


I know I know my poor little blog has been neglected and as a result so have its three and a half loyal readers--one of whom is partying in Amsterdam as of this writing but never mind that.

Truth is, I didn’t ignore my blog, was just going through a sort of mulling phase for the past two months, much of which I spent in India, ostensibly vacationing. But really I was at my parents house, thinking. We’re moving back to India next year after all. I needed to look at my homeland with different eyes than that of the annual visitor.

I thought what better time to mull over things than when a life-changing event is about to take place. The main question that kept coming up then was “is this the right thing to do, move back?”

And the answer that kept coming back was yes. Because this is what matters, isn't it? My mind played upon the “what matters issue” and the answers were, I found--very few things do.

It all seemed so surprisingly simple.

On my trip one thing I noticed was that my 72 year old father seemed a bit withdrawn from us, from things in general. Maybe its just his gruff personality playing out this way.But seeing my father withdrawing from us a little I felt a cold chill. I have to be here with him, for him. My son has to be here close to this wonderful, precious man enjoying his company, playing with him, talking, learning from him while he still has the heart to give of himself. For once that chapter closes, its gone. Forever. That matters. So much.

Then there were the smaller things, more minuscule worries. We’re spoilt by America. The place that invented “May I help you”, the land of plenty, the richest country in the world. Can we cope with living in India, which is such a different world? How much does this comfort, this ease of life matter?

As I mulled over this, I thought of a woman in India selling lemons from her small basket whom I'd encountered some years ago. She sat on the sidewalk in the rain hunched over her basket, a tiny frail old woman. I bought some lemons and handed her a fifty rupee note. She started to make change for me when her basket suddenly overturned slightly and several lemons rolled away onto the road. I was mortified seeing what might be her next meal or three squashed by the vehicles driving by. I thought she’d swear, be indignant, or at the very least, sad. But no! All she did was wave her hand in a 'let it go' gesture, and smile.

She looked at my face and began consoling me! “Never mind them,” she said. “What do I have to do with so much money?” I wanted to cry. I gave her the fifty and whatever money I had left in my purse but it wasn’t nearly enough for the wisdom she’d given me that day.Perspective. I think of her whenever I feel like complaining about any lack of comfort or convenience. Perspective. That matters.

Life can be simple or complicated wherever one is. Happy or unhappy. Contented or marred by discontent, I’ve realized. Simplify, simplify, Thoreau said. Reduce your wants, lower your expectations and suddenly everything seems easier, the air becomes lighter.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Spread your legs please, thank you

I am in love with my gynie. That's my ob/gyn, not some alleyway romance I am having with the man in alladin's lamp.

He is the most charming, darling man. He knows my body well, asks after the silliest issues I have, listens to every ridiculous body related doubt I have, shakes his head and seems fascinated by whatever I have to say. And after all thes years, I've even come to terms with our conversations which we conduct in what most would consider unusual positions.

My ob/gyn and I hail from the same town--Bombay. He went to the same medical school as my mum. We once frequented the same haunts in the city. Lots to talk about. Understandably, I don't meet him for coffee or lunches to catch up. He's too busy to do that.

And so we do our catching up the ahem...examining table. Me sans clothes--I have that open gown that patients wear which strips you of any and all dignity--with legs firmly encased in stirrups. And the good doctor standing above me looking down with kind eyes and gloved hands.

Not a pretty sight for the uninitiated, but I assure you it has gotten not wholly discombobulating as it first was.

"Spread your legs please..." Smiling brightly, "so how is your handsome son?"

"Fine doctor, such a pleasure. Naughty, bright," I say gushing like any mum would.

"Work, husband?"

"Still unpublished, husband doing great."

My knees are starting to draw together. "Keep the knees apart for me please...I was in Bombay last week. The Taj Mahal hotel looks almost normal now. Am doing the pap now."

"Oh that's good," I say. Not commenting about the pap silly. The Taj Mahal hotel. Although having a regular pap is a must for those of you who think nothing's going to ever happen to you.

"They say they're going to build it back better than before. Ovaries seem fine. Good. good."

"Bombayites tend to forget the bad stuff and move on but they're urging each other not to this time...," I say wincing a little. "How about your son's wedding."

"They're getting married in California in the summer. Uterus looks fine." He laughs. "My sons gets used to the local trains in a matter of days and travels all over like a pro. I still fumble while getting into a crowded train. Old age, I when are you planning to have another baby?

"Soon doctor. I have fondish memories of the local trains myself."

He peels of his gloves. "Everything seems fine. Get dressed and we'll have a chat in my office."

See, and for this lovely exchange I sometimes wait a hour, maybe more. All this to hear his lively voice boom across the hall as soon as he sets eyes on me. "Ranjeenee, how ARE you!! Nice to see you."

I am in love with my gynie, you see.

Dysfunctional, you say? That word just about sums up most modern relationships, doesn't it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A not so funny trip to the ER

I sometimes forget that my three year old son is three. He doesn't talk like a baby, you see, unlike all his classmates, he has no lisp, is articulate and sounds rather sensible and I get taken in. I foolishly give him credit for a lot more than I should. Such as not taking the Tylenol off the shelf and gulping it down for kicks. I thought hey, I've told him not to do it. My son's sensible, he won't do it.

And sure enough, he does.

I walk into his room one morning and a part of the floor is sticky. Ok, what did I drop here, I wonder and don't give it another thought. He goes to school, I bring him back a few hours later and suddenly I see the Tylenol standing precariously close to the edge of his cabinet. Hmm...
"Did you by any chance touch this bottle," I ask.
"Oh yes," he says refreshingly still honest about his antics. "I drank some."
My heartbeat starts to quicken of course but I stay calm. This is my smart son after all.
"How much?" I ask.
On tiny fingers he counts off, "One, two, three, four five."
Sips, cups, gulps? No idea. Now he's confused and I am panicked. I grab him and ask again, This time he says he's had one cup. Then he changes it to one sip and yes he dropped some on the floor. He didn't want to waste it, hadn't I told him never to waste anything? So he licked that off too.

God bless America for poison control. I call the number and get a reassuring nurse. How much did he drink? No idea. How much was in the bottle before? To be completely honest, no idea. But it looks like he's had a lot since I have never given him much. "But its so unlike him," I plead.
"He's a baby," she says quietly.

And looking at my wide eyed son looking up at me, clinging to my leg, I have to agree.

At times such as these, my strong much more sensible husband is usually around to calm me down and help out with next steps. But this time he isn't. He's out of town. No need to panic, I tell myself. We go to Immediate Care but an hour later they tell me I have to go to the ER since I have absolutely no idea of how much he might have ingested. My son is being really really good through all of this, apologizing at regular intervals. "I won't do it again ma," he keeps saying until I am close to tears.

Ok, ER then. I start my car and begin driving. Never before have I felt so alone in my life as I make my way to the hospital. I stay calm on the phone to my husband so he won't panic. But I am in shreds. I tearfully look at my son sitting sleepy eyed (it's close to nap time) in the backseat and wish I had my mum and dad around, my brother. Someone who loves us.

Then luckily, suddenly, I think of that someone. I call my baby's adopted grandma, my dearest friend and start to sob. "I need you at the ER," I say and without question or comment, she says she'll be there in ten minutes.

And so I stand at the ER front desk, stoic, answering questions while my son is being examined. He'll need a blood test for liver function all that sort of thing, they say, so ordered by the doctor at immediate care.

The place smells of emergencies, big insurmountable problems, huge accidents, trauma, all that can go horribly wrong. But I stay strong, that is until my friend and her husband walk in with worried, loving faces. Promptly, I start to howl. My friend hugs me assuming the worst--later she tells me she pictured my son lying insensible somewhere instead of where he is really--laughing and chatting with a nurse who is taking his blood pressure behind the door.

She leaves most reassuring adopted grandpa with us while she has to run an important errand and just as suddenly, I am no longer alone in the world. "I'll wait here," he says. "Call me when you want me."

I take the boy backstage where I feel like I've walked into a set of well, ER. Not having been to one before, I am of course in an increasing state of panic. A nurse comes up to me and asks me what happened. I tell her and try to make light of the matter by saying that my son "fessed up" to drinking Tylenol. She looks me over. She sees standing in front of her a scruffy looking child of three and his scruffier looking mum in gym clothes with a puffer jacket, hair tightly pulled back in a bun and high furry boots. She's probably thinking I am some sort of gangster's moll instead of a straitlaced suburban mum.
"You mean he admitted to it," she says coldly.
"I most certainly do," I say, acutely aware of how she has characterized me by my idiotic choice of words and promptly switch back to more respectable language.
"If he does this again it might kill him," she says for added effect, even more coldly.
The ground just about gives under me. An orderly comes in, ties my baby down to the bed and they take numerous vials of blood for their battery of tests. My son is bawling and I am close to doing that too all over again when darling grandpa walks in with a joke and a tentative smile on his lips.

We're left alone and the air lightens.

We sit on the bed in an area closed off by a flimsy curtain with all sorts of activities and goings on outside. We cannot leave until the results come in. Two hours or so.

I hug and thank grandpa for coming. We start to chatter and talk about Christmas and new year which is still to roll around and next to our area is wheeled another patient. She starts to moan once the doctors have left her.
My son asks, "Who is that?"
A person in pain I think, wondering what must be wrong with the poor soul close by. My son's questions about her condition get louder and more persistent until her doctor walks in.
"Your stomach hurts because you haven't pooped in a great while," he says, not even trying to keep his voice low. "We are going to put a little tube in there and get it all out."
Grandpa and I give each other stricken looks. Not now is that tube going in right?? is the question that is in the air.
"So," the doctor continues, "you are also unable to pee and that is why your stomach hurts so badly. Once we get all the poop out, that pain will reduce." The poor woman moans in answer. Grandpa and I burst into a giggle.
"What's wrong with her?" my son persists.
"She cannot go potty," I hiss back at him at least happy to be able to provide an answer so he can finally lose interest in her.

The rest of the afternoon is further lightened and we spend the time glancing with some trepidation at the curtained area next to us. I sniff the air, sure that I am smelling all sorts of unpleasant intestinal nonsense. But it is just ER smell, I try and reassure myself.
"My sinuses are completely blocked," grandpa says. He has a poor sense of smell. Lucky him.

Two hours later, four hours since the entire ordeal began with my finding the pool of sticky medicine in baby's room, we're done, cleared of all this. Baby is fine. Grandma joins us and the fun and games continue. grandpa and grandma have a dinner that they offer to cancel. I promptly accept the offer.

The rest of the evening is wonderful. We have dinner, discussing the poor woman next door and my boy's short but no less traumatic tryst with danger.

This was the one time the only time in my life I have felt absolutely horribly alone, I tell my friend. Luckily that feeling only lasted fifteen excruciating minutes. Until you answered the phone.

In hindsight now, I'm glad I had this lesson. It has made stupid me finally accept that I need to stop trusting my child just because he seems and sounds so smart and do the things that keep babies safe from such idiotic accidents.

Until he's about twenty five or thereabouts, I figure.