His Mother & Her Mother

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His Mother

Nine months of reading, planning, organizing. Focusing completely on myself as the books said to have a healthy baby eating right, thinking right and reading right I did it all. Now planning in advance and doing things on time is my OCD. So with two weeks left for our ‘due date to meet’ I was taken aback to say the least when my son decided to take matters into his own hands and arrive to be his father’s birthday gift. “How could I be left out of the celebrations?” he seemed to think.

I lay exhilarated yet exhausted with the ordeal, yes, ordeal, the process of natural child birth is not the most beautiful feeling as the books and my well-meaning Aunt’s conned me into believing. In discomfort and in pain I discovered that this tiny little being had come in to turn my world on its axis. I was a mess in those early days, too used to thinking only about myself, putting the needs of my child before mine was a learning I had to go through. Tired, bleary eyed, emotions that seemed to be out of my control and loss of independence are some of the things that I remember of that time. My mother-in-law and then my mother (God bless those ladies and their patience, I did drive them crazy) got me through the first forty days and I learned to feed, massage, change diapers and clean drool, bathe, sooth and rock to sleep my child who was full of beans from the get go. I would often just stare in amazement at the attitude of this 20 inch human being who could send a bunch of normally sensible adults into a tizzy of anxiety when he bunched up his face turned red and let out a bawl or had them in raptures oooooing and awwwwing as he smiled contentedly in his sleep.

Well the ‘holiday’ was soon over and it was time to take my tiny human and get myself back home to another city far from the doting crowd. I was ***t scared, my biggest worry being that I would do something wrong and harm my child. Despite my mother assuring me that I was ready and I should trust my instincts I was not convinced. Life goes on and one learns to adapt, I struggled and persevered and loved, my son got me through it all. He taught me to be patient and to be less compulsive with time and routine. He taught me to put the needs of others before mine. He taught me how to love unconditionally. I learned to cook healthy meals disguised as treats. He taught me to get down on my knees and play in the dirt and blow bubbles again. He asked me questions that had me scrambling to read Encyclopedia’s. He is calm and sensitive, every mother’s dream child yet with a mind of his own. He inspires me with his commitment and  makes me laugh with his humor.

Her Mother

My daughter came into this world much less dramatically than my son. She took her time and did not upset her OCD mother’s plans, staging her entry keeping to the timeline exactly to the day she was supposed to. (That was the only thing she did that was undramatic, the rest of her life continues to be a series of dramatically inspired events with her parents and sibling as audience.) The oooing and awwwwing all were the same and again we had adults making themselves silly over an infant. This time though, I did not read any books and I was far more confident with myself and her, in fact I was a pro and on my feet within hours. I did not drive anyone crazy and handled both my children with aplomb. I had already learnt the ropes from my older child, I thought.

Well yes to a certain extent. But then you tempt fate when you decide to be over-confident. I thought I knew it all but didn’t. My learning began in earnest again with this bundle of energy that could not hold still to discover the world, she was in a tearing hurry. Turning over at 13 days, crawling at 3 months and walking at 6.5 months. Babbling from the earliest and talking at 9 months she was a whirlwind that had me in a daze. She was sunshine in the tinniest frame, who had to be WATCHED constantly. In the blink of an eye she could turn an entire cupboard inside out, hang precariously out of the balcony railing, climb up on anything that she thought needed to be climbed upon and be off to her next escapade gleefully. I learned that the world was one interesting place that needed to be explored fast before the mysteries escaped to God only knows where. Food for her was an unnecessary complication that needed to be avoided and I had to learn to be ingenious about making things for her hiding nutrition with chocolate. I learned patience again and I learned laughter with her. I learned that every shop housed a treasure that she was just ‘dying’ to have and the world would stop spinning if she didn’t. I learned to walk away from her tantrums in crowded places even if people thought I was a bad mother. I learned to negotiate from her not losing and not winning either.

She continues to twist everyone around her little finger and dance to her tunes. Ever since the day she was born I haven’t taken a breath and the world doesn’t seem to want to slow down. She makes me young again.

When I was a student and a working professional, I thought in terms of degrees and in terms of designations. These were the labels that would define my worth. How things change. Today nothing makes me happier than to be called His Mother or Her Mother, these are the labels that are worth having. For from them I have learned the true art of living.

Gender Bender

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Two conversations are to be credited with for today’s post. The first this morning was a rather serious one and the second later in the day lighthearted and fun. I will share the second first.

This afternoon, I met up with a group of fabulous neighbors, who share my passion for reading and constitute one of my two book clubs (the other being equally amazing.) After we dissected ‘The Sense of an Ending’ and found our own closure to Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize 2011 winning novel, that almost all of us began by hating and then while discussing all changed our opinion of, well again almost all. The discussion then veered off to the craziness of parenting, we laughed at our foibles and our successes. Till one mother of a 3 year old shared her worry that her daughter hates wearing dresses so much that at parties she would pout and sulk if taken in a dress. “She only wants to wear jeans and her circle of influence is only male, she only ever plays with boys,” the mother shared. Now before all the feminists get their knickers in a twist, let me set the record straight the mother who said this has broken far many gender stereotypes than you could even think of. She like every mother is concerned that she is doing right by her child. Some other mothers and I too shared with her that there is nothing to worry, all our girls were the same. My almost teen daughter hates wearing dresses, skirts, and any attire feminine, if it were not for her shoulder length hair and love for nail art she would easily pass off for a boy, so ‘tom-boyish’ is she. Pretty princesses are passé, make way for the girls of today, who are pretty kickass (pun intended.)

Some of us women and I will stress on some, straddle both worlds with complete confidence. We follow our dreams working in any field that we want to and are successful at it. We multitask and can maintain a work-life balance that is the envy of the men in our lives. We dress as we please and travel where the wanderlust takes us. When we sit at home to nurture, we do it on our terms and with complete conviction. A friend of mine who works with large groups of Graduate students once told me that in his fifteen years he has seen girls evolving in confidence far more rapidly than the boys he teaches. He said that he worried for the boys and the kind of men they would become.

This brings me to my first conversation of the day, with someone who is very precious to me. I caught him on a day that was even in at the beginning of it was proving to be yet another in a series of stressful ones. I may ruffle some feathers here, but then I’m a self-proclaimed bad feminist. While we women are breaking the shackles that centuries of gender stereotyping made us wear, the men are struggling stuck under the yoke of theirs. While we endorse a girl’s right to be a ‘tomboy’ and find her wings and soar, the boy that wants to play with a doll is frowned upon and it would send his parents into a tizzy of anxiety if he ever asked to wear a dress. The expectations on men today sometimes to me appears harsh. He continues to be (in most cases) the primary bread winner, he continues to be expected to be emotionally the stronger one, to be tough, to be protective and to defend himself. Then why is it so wrong that he should want to come home to an atmosphere of love and support after a tough day and unwind with the love and laughter of his family rather than come home to an angry parent or a spouse waiting with their own expectations weighing heavily against him? I’ve made my own share of demands, yet I have learned from my mistakes and what they cost.

Some women would say that after centuries of dominance they deserve it. I pose this question to them, should the sins of the father be held against his son? While we celebrate our emancipation let’s also have some compassion for our men, only then can we hope for true gender equality.

 

 

 

Failure of Fear

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An open letter to my children.

Dear Kids,

We live in the same house but as you have grown older the time we spend together has slowly dwindled. We run about in our busy lives, you in your pursuit for excellence and me in mine. Our paths crisscross through the day, we share mealtimes and bedtimes, we talk about your day and mine, we laugh and tease, we hug and squeeze, you share and vent, I advise and caution. There are so many things that I want to say to you that get left unsaid in the days that roll. Today I’ll take up one of them. Failure.

When you were little people and learning to walk you never thought that you couldn’t and as I watched, you stumbled and got up again never giving up till you mastered the art that was so easy that you looked at me in wonder as I applauded at your success. Over the years there have been many battles that you fought, that to many may seem not so significant, yet, for you they were hurdles that you had to cross. And cross you did, with two people who stood by watching, with our hearts beating wildly, your father and I applauding quietly. There were many you avoided, you said they were not worth the pursuit. We prodded and pushed, but, we couldn’t convince and so we silently acquiesced. The pain of failure though hard to bear, is a reality that we all live with, but never, never fear it, my children. The desire to succeed should exceed your fear, for that will be the turning point of your lives.

There are many people that you admire and hope to be like, you feel that they had it easy and achieved fame because they were lucky. They had their own share of struggles and hurdles both large and small. Let me share some examples. I smile as I anticipate the rolling of your eyes, there she goes again with her examples you will think. Bear with me a bit more, I shall not share too many.

Your heroes of innovation Jobs and Gates did not success at the first go and despite the pressures they faced to give up they did not stop till succeed they did. Einstein, Newton and Edison all faced failure in school yet their names today are synonymous with genius. JK Rowling was jobless, penniless with a dependent child and her success story is your favorite book series. Trained as a Barrister he failed when he couldn’t cross examine a witness in court yet went on to lead our country into freedom, hailed a Mahatma by the world and an iconic symbol of Peace, our very own Mahatma Gandhi.

Like I promised I’ll stop here, for now. Your dreams are big and you will learn to take risks. Many times you will succeed and at other times you will fail. It’s when you fail that you must find your second wind and push on for that is when you turn the fear of failing on its head and make it the Failure of Fear.

Love always,

Mama

 

Empathy a Point of View

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view” –Harper Lee

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Reflection

During my tenure as a Primary School teacher I had the privilege of having special needs children in my classrooms. My first introduction to a special needs child was in a mentor’s Grade 1 Classroom during my training period. The task for that day was to observe the Educator’s interaction with the children. My attention was drawn almost immediately to a child who towered above the rest and was mumbling to himself. Since I knew I too would soon be taking over my own classroom, I was keen to learn from my mentor how she incorporated the needs of this child with the rest of the group. What I saw that day humbled me. My mentor’s patience and her absolute devotion to her group of children was not unknown to me.

How I was humbled.

But, it was the children in that classroom that taught me the most. There was to be a group activity that day. Team leaders were chosen by the Educator and she asked them to choose the other members of their team one by one. I expected this child to be the last to be chosen and already a wave of pity overcame me. That he would be the first to be chosen surprised me and I was even more surprised with the fact that the other team leaders looked disappointed. One very helpful and talkative young lady sitting next to me whispered, that team is sure to win, he’s our classes’ good luck charm.

Through the day I watched the children as they took him under their wing helping him, and guiding him for all the activities of the day. For them this child was no different from them. I adopted the same philosophy in my own classrooms and was blessed to work with these beautiful children who not only respond to the love that we give them, in return they leave us far richer.

My learning grew further.

While all my children and almost all their parents were supportive of their friends I have had my share of difficult questions by parents. But then how could I blame them, they came from a place where they only thought of the needs of their own children. The first few times I was confronted by some of these parents I reacted with anger and tried to make them feel small for their pettiness, as you can imagine that did not go down very well. Then I hit open a novel approach, I asked them to speak to their own children about the child whose presence in the class was of concern to them. Needless to say they never came back to me.

As a society we have come a long way from the times when the differently abled were ostracized and hidden away in homes. I did not study in a school that had integrated learning facilities, my own children do and it makes me so proud to see them develop compassion for their friends. Human actions and consciousness both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures. And empathy is the key to understanding, when we learn to walk in the shoes of others we will bring hope to the countless in need of it. Let us learn from our children.

2nd April, 2017. Are we really  that different?

I wrote this post a year back, today in honor of World Autism Awareness Day I am updating it with a few more thoughts that I have  understood with 365 days more added to my search for understanding.  Empathy is a feeling that can come naturally to many, but many a times empathy can also be developed.  Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice puts it perfectly through his speech on Common Universal Humanity, fans of the Bard will remember the lines “If you cut us do we not bleed,” to understand where I am going with this. Without regurgitating the entire speech here I shall come to the point. People with Autism feel the same love, happiness, pain, sadness just like any of us. In fact sometimes they feel each of these emotions to a far larger extent than us. They just express it in a different way than us. But, feel they do.

How to find Empathy.

Who among us cannot recall situations in which we have felt left out, been the underdog or just a misfit. Do you remember those times? Do you remember the hurt that caused? Do you remember how it corroded your self-esteem? If you do, transfer that pain to the part of your psyche that does not understand the need for inclusion. Sit on the bench of hurt for a while. Reflect.  I am hoping now you will find that simple human quality that will set you apart. It is called Empathy.

How can we ensure that we are as inclusive as we can be?

Do not avoid. Do not look away. Speak to these beautiful people just as you would to any interesting stranger. But tread with caution, do not give them a verbal overload. Then give them time to respond they take time to organize their thoughts. Be patient. Be positive. Be supportive. Give them  Love and find it making its way back to you a thousand fold.

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Damsel in Distress

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Yesterday, while seeking inspiration from friends on what to write for D, one of them suggested that I write a humorous piece titled Damsel in Distress. I was all geared up to do just that, with all sorts of clever ideas teaming in my head, I set off for my morning walk. Listening to TED talks while I walk my mandatory 5000 steps every morning is how I like to start my days. Today, I chose to listen to Jimmy Carter (Former President of the USA, 1977-81). As I listened to his talk at TEDWomen 2015, titled ‘Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse’ my clever and funny ideas lost their sheen. I have retained my original title for a very specific reason, however, the changed course of my thinking has produced this piece of writing.

The statistics that he spoke of chilled me to my bones. From his very compelling speech I learnt that even today there are 30 million people living in slavery or are victims of what it is now called, Human Trafficking. 80% of this number are women. In one country that he spoke of 60,000 people live in slavery and in a particular city of this country, 200-300 people are sold into slavery every month. Brothel owners buy brown or black skinned girls at as low a price as $1000 while the price of a white skinned girl is many times that number. Earnings per trade being in the tune of $35,000. You do the Math and the numbers are staggering. The entire state machinery like the Police and Government are well aware of what is going on yet turn a blind eye towards this flourishing trade. Yes, flourishing for the total sex trade exceeds the total drug trade in Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, this country is no other than the United States of America, the so called leader of the free world. We all associate human rights violations against women, afflictions of only the under-developed countries of the world, yet here were compelling numbers from the developed world. His other revelations about sexual assault in the military of 26,000 reported rapes that resulted in only 3,000 prosecutions. And that 1 out of every 4 girls who enter an American University will be sexually assaulted before she graduates left me numb.

So I came home and did a little more digging and what I found was even more alarming. Europe, I read is a destination for victims from the widest range of destinations including Asia. I then recalled a conversation I had last year with a cousin, who works as an academic counselor in one of our city’s leading schools. She shared with me that their school had been running a student exchange program for many years. Till the widely reported Nirbhaya case the school had run this program successfully, but now the numbers were dropping as parents from Europe were unwilling to send their children to India to study. This was not only for girls but the parents of boys too were reluctant. As a developing country we have our share of problems that are very similar to theirs, the only difference is that while we acknowledge our shames, they blow theirs under the carpet.

The Human rights abuse of women by the ISIS in the Middle East, female genital mutilation in Africa, honor killings in almost all of the Islamic world and even India, domestic violence, rape with impunity, acid attacks and human trafficking are truths that lurk somewhere beneath the surface for me. They are articles or stories I read and documentaries I watch. They, however, are living realities for billions of women who have done nothing wrong. In my faith we are taught from a young age that your past life’s karmas give you the life of a human, the highest in the pecking order of species. I wonder at this. If humans are the most evolved of beings why does a young child cry with agony as she gets brutally mutilated? How does the mother whose infant child is torn from her womb find the will to go through the pain of it again and again? Why does the father/brother/uncle murder their own flesh and blood for just following her heart? What the girl goes through whose innocence is snatched away by vicious lust? How the beautiful girl faces the mirror and looks at the ravages that she has been left with by a venomous perpetrator? Where does the woman who gets pummeled to an inch of her life find the strength to go on and serve the very man who subjugates her? Where in all this anguish is the evolved thought of a higher species.

Of the various reasons that President Carter gave for the abuse of women the last one struck me like bolt of lightning. He says, “In general men don’t give a damn. The average man that might say I’m against the abuse of women quietly accepts the privileged position that we occupy. The majority is of men that control the systems of the world, the educational systems, the government systems, the military and the great religions.”

A damsel in distress or persecuted maiden is a classic theme in world literature. She is usually a beautiful young woman placed in a dire predicament by a villain or monster and who requires a hero to achieve her rescue. – Wikipedia. Who is going to be that hero? Who is going to achieve that rescue? In today’s world where we women demand gender equality, we are the ones who need to stand up and unite to be that hero. We need to speak up and take the responsibility on ourselves that all those millions of women and girls do not stay Damsels in Distress.

How I am going to be a part of that change I do not know, yet. What I do know now is that I want to be part of the change that is required. As I will kiss my daughter goodnight and lay my head on my pillow, I will think of all the mothers and daughters who will not sleep tonight as their pain will be too much to bear.

Chinese Collar, Full Sleeves

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There are some of us in this world who are fashion illiterates (I don’t know if that’s actually a term, if it isn’t then I’d like to lay claim to it as my invention).

In conversation with a close friend about clothes I discovered another kindred spirit who shared my unfashionable sense of being unstylish, yes, these are actually words that the dictionary threw up as antonyms to fashionable. Amongst other nuggets that the logophile in me delighted at discovering, which can make for another interesting post, however, this one is definitely about my rant about fashion and its many challenges (for me).

Over the years I have perfected this formula of ready to wear that involves try it on, works on me (means I’m not looking too fat, ridiculous or ugly), the material doesn’t pinch or bite (very important) and is not blingy (shudder…I refuse to look like a Christmas tree, period!!) So far I’ve managed an understated look of elegance (wink) at all weddings in my big, fat Punjabi family. Now thinking about it carefully, methinks I’ve managed quite well actually with a lot loads of help from the husband, the rest of my family has probably given up on me barring my fashionista Bhabi(sister-in-law) who takes one look at me, sighs, shakes her head and I’ve got to commend her, still hasn’t lost hope. So I’m in this conversation with my dear friend about a cousin’s upcoming engagement and what to wear, this time I say I want to plan in advance rather than throw on one of my many sarees at the last moment. I regale my friend about my million faux pas’ and ask her to be on the lookout for something this time that will appeal to my very Punjabi Bhabi (whom I love to bits). The kind soul even goes so far as to offering to loan me one of her own outfits, forgetting my size twelve will not fit into her size zero (not like models size zero, but in post two kids size zero) as she thinks she’s fat (only in her head as her husband and I keep telling her). Once we get through the no, no I’m fat and my outfits will easily fit you now that you’ve shed some weight and I get all teary eyed thanking her with gratitude (for noticing the few grams that I’ve managed to lose). I finally convince her it would not bode well for the outfits in question for them to be stretched beyond the limits than the ‘designer’ intended them to be.

Then she asks me the question, why don’t you get something made. A very good question with a very simple answer…because…(a pause added to heighten the drama)… I have never till date had anything made, that looks the way I’ve been led to believe it will turn out. I think the message somehow gets lost in translation. I say understated, they think I’m cheap and want to pay less money. I say I want blue and imagine a soft blue of a spring sky, they think electric ****ing blue. I say not too much embroidery, they think once it’s done she will have to pay in for it in any case let’s not let an inch of cloth be visible. After laughing with me at my tale of woes galore she enlightens me that’s the reason why she tells her tailor (Boutique wali) to make every one of her ‘suits’(Indian Salwar Kameez) with a Chinese collar and full sleeves. That’s a formula that works well and I’m not changing it, she promises.

Blithering Idiot!!

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You have to say this about the Brits that when they insult they do it with humour (Yes, that’s the way it is spelt in Britain, so word-check please stop showing me the wiggly red line.) At the end of the Harry Potter series when the Death Eaters are the gates of Hogwarts the following exchange totally cracked me up:

Professor McGonagall: That doesn’t mean we can’t delay him. And his name is Voldemort, so you might as well use it, he’s going to try and kill you either way.

Neville:  Are you really giving us permission to do this?

McGonagall: Yes, Longbottom.

 Neville: Blow it up? Boom?

Professor McGonagall: BOOM!

Professor McGonagall: I’ve always wanted to use that spell.

 Professor McGonagall: And Potter… it’s good to see you.

 Harry: It’s good to see you too, Professor.

 Filch: Students out of bed! Students out of bed! Students out of bed!

 Professor McGonagall: They are supposed to be out of bed you blithering idiot.

The British are famous for their sarcastic and self-deprecating sense of humour, which they use to lighten even the most tense or unhappy of moments such as in the example above.

Reading novels from a very young age I took to and up this baffling (to my better half and many of my friends) unique style of laughing at myself and at others. Sometimes quoting directly from books that I have read, to the consternation of others. And sometimes from Aunty Acid who seems to say exactly the wrong things at the right times.

How to recognize someone who is afflicted with and the key to understanding the humour of the English is that nothing is sacred and everything is game to be made fun of including failures. Sarcasm, irony, puns and a healthy dose of self-deprecation are the symptoms of this malady.

So today’s post is sort of an insight into what tickles my funny-bone. Why do I write this? Obviously to explain myself to those who are often confused by what I like to think as my quirkiness and save myself in some pretty awkward moments that I will surely land myself into in the future, leaping in where angels fear to tread.

My mother, a loveable lady to most, was quite a disciplinarian for my brother and me. Once while I was young we heard that there were a spate of women being kidnapped in the small town that we lived in. During a discussion on the dinner table my father cautioned her to be careful, to which I quipped, “Don’t worry, whoever takes her will beg us to take her back in a day’s time.” The silence following this was uncomfortable to say the least. I wished then that I’d been asleep “as my life tends to fall apart when I’m awake”- Aunty Acid.

My kids have also not been spared my caustic tongue and when my teenage son doesn’t get a haircut I don’t berate him, I just thank him for the money he’s saving me by not visiting the barber. And when he, being a millennium child laughs at my foibles with gizmos, I gently remind him that I’m the one who taught him to eat and clean his technologically advanced, ahem, unmentionable. His reactions are a sight to be seen but I’m equally delighted by his comebacks that make me secretly proud that, he’s certainly a chip off the old block. With my almost teenage daughter who is unfortunately being brought up with a heavier dose of verbal sparring by the son and me has a more difficult time of it. Yet we always let her know that we love her to bits, by pulling her leg. For you see a surefire sign that people suffering with my strange condition really like you, is that they will surely poke fun at you. We can find humour in almost any situation and it is not intended to offend rather it is the best medicine in times when life knocks you down and the nation is turning so intolerant. Oops! Did I do it again!