Friday, September 28, 2007

Maid in India

Rohini wrote a follow up post today, about maids and such and while I agree with her for most part, I feel coerced to put in my point of view, especially regarding cultural differences. But first to the points I totally agree with. Child labor. These children would have much horrid lives if they did not work. By working, they are getting square meals, a roof over their head, and security. I am sure there are exceptions to this, but by and large the young girls I have seen employed are just that. Playmates to a kid or light housework. They are not expected to do anything more. My mother taught our maid’s two kids and she, not wanting it for free would send them to our house to help out – watering the plants, folding the laundry. The older one (my age) has a degree in Business Management, and the younger one (a girl) works as a technician in a Pathological Lab. I agree with the political incorrectness too. That’s just plain silly. About trusting working moms, on the whole, I do feel I am at a slight disadvantage because I am a mom. I will shun from jobs that will are stressful or require considerable traveling because I have responsibilities at home despite knowing that these choices are not the best for my career. The prejudice does trickle down the chain.

I disagree with some points regarding cultural differences. And I am going to address them one by one. Its not the first time many of these points are raised and I have had similar arguments with family who had not really lived (2 week visits do not count) in a country similar to the US. I don’t think privacy and/or maid services are mutually exclusive. We had a wonderful live in nanny, who always kept out of our business and would lock our room or would ask me to. Most cleaning ladies/nannies in the US are mindful of their employer’s privacy. And yes, I grew up in a joint family in India, so I don't care that much for privacy, but BiGeek does.

The point I completely disagree with is and this is a huge misconception with most Indians -

Keeping a house in running order is much tougher here. India is a pretty dusty country and we don’t have sealed houses with central cooling/ heating and a thorough daily cleaning is required to keep the house liveable and hygienic rather than the fortnightly cleaning that is adequate in the West.

This is completely inaccurate. Keeping house is difficult anywhere. The problems are different. Although we have sealed houses, they don’t quite remain dust free and need to be dusted regularly - especially during fall and spring (allergy seasons) when we open the windows and unseal our homes. You probably don’t need to vacuum them everyday if you have responsible adults, but throw a child in the mix. We sweep and mop living/dining/kitchen areas everyday. Also, most homes here are carpeted and hygiene becomes important and difficult to maintain, especially in the colder months. It took me several hours with a stain remover and then a steam cleaning session to take out all the of Chip’s puke when he had an upset stomach and puked away to glory everywhere. We also need to steam clean our carpets every now and then to make sure its mildew and allergen free which will cause illnesses when the house is sealed in the colder months. Then there is the yard work. We need to cut grass from spring till fall, rake leaves in the fall and shovel snow in the winter. All that is really hard, physical work. We also need to power wash our decks and sidings, clean gutters and seal all wood work every year lest the termites chew away our home. There is no home delivery of anything. We need to go do our own groceries in multiple grocery stores (because we are Indians), pump our own gas, iron our own clothes and drop off and pick up our kids from the school (no rickshaw walla or vans) and scuttle them off to after school activities. We replace our own faucets, caulk our own bathrooms, install our own ceiling fans and chandeliers and take out our own trash and recycling and water the garden. Most people here have 3-4 kids and the men and women do this all by them selves and raise their kids with zero help – they simply cannot afford it. This is obviously because manpower is premium. So, after having lived here for many years, having the seen people who do everything bythemselves and then some, it becomes very hard for me to sympathize with my mom or mother-in-law when they tell me the maid did not show up for a day.

Another point I disagree with-
Working life can be harder in India, especially for working mothers. Our concept of work-life balance is still not very evolved and working hours can often be undisciplined. With this as a background, it becomes that much tougher to run a house single-handedly, while holding down a full-time job.

And it is here? Women take 6 weeks maternity leave (and 80% of time it is unpaid). And they are back to the above chores and a full time job and a baby. Bosses are demanding. It doesn’t matter where you work. A lot of my friends often work on weekends and stay at work late at night or go in very early in the morning (i.e. 5 am, I myself leave home at 6:30 everyday)

Indian men are not as helpful around the house as their Western counterparts and most of the responsibility falls on the already over-loaded shoulders of the wife and mother. Combine this with the previous point about working hours and it’s a nearly impossible task to manage without maids.

This again is probably true of the older generation. Even here, men will rarely load the dishwasher or do laundry, but they will cut grass and shovel snow, so there is a division of labor, of sorts. The joke these days among Indians here is this – To be an ideal husband you need to work outside the house and make good money, come home take care of the kids and their homework and load the dishwasher. Also, men in India do less because there is a maid to pick up the slack. BigGeek did that when we had my mom/mil/nanny live with us. Now that we are on our own, he does every little bit. And I am sure husbands in India would jump right in, if maids were not a viable option. Here, I find a lot of non-working and working Indian women who slack off because they are used to having maids in India and have a tough time adjusting to the DIY attitude here.

This is not an affront to all those who have full time maids or domestic help. It is simply presenting the other side of the coin.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Bizzare Incident

Last Friday or should I say early Saturday. I am not quite sure myself. But BigGeek was in his hospital bed, I was trying to sleep on the broken recliner close to him. BigGeek had a temperature that was freaking me out. The nurse came in every two hours to check his vitals, taking care not to disturb his sleep. Another patient down the hall screamed his lungs out. “Help, help. Someone please help me, help help.” I drifted in and out of sleep, not sure if the cry for help was real or imagined. Real because I could hear it loud and clear. Imagined because I could hear the faint chatter of the nurses at the nurses’ station. How could they not hear this man? I thought to myself. Surely they won’t leave him in pain. I remembered how earlier that evening, a nurse had rushed in less than 5 seconds after she heard a crash in our room when BigGeek knocked down a cup. The nurses were attentive. Could they not hear this man?

It was close to midnight, I was tired, yet alert, my body must have been producing massive amounts of adrenalin. BigGeek was soundly asleep. His breathing rapid. I closed my eyes and settled into a surreal slumber. Everything was so still. Everything. Except when punctuated periodically by the old man’s cries.

I was aware of the clock. I could see it in my mind’s eye, slowly ticking away. I was waiting for 2:00 am when the night nurse would be back to see if his temperature was down. All I wanted was BigGeek to get out of this, to be well, to thrive. Just about then a very strange thing happened. I don’t quite know how it began, but I have a distinct memory of someone talking to me. It’s quite hard to put this experience into tangible words. It just felt so real then, but so bizarre later. Perhaps it was my tired, stressed mind making up stories. Who is to know? But a voice was heard. It was grandmotherly, yet so young. It was affectionate, yet slightly detached, like a friendly neighbor. It had authority- you got that feeling- you simply could not refuse it, but it was so casual, like a friend. It felt like my own voice, but it was not. All it said was (in Marathi) “Ekda yeoon bhetoon ja” (Come and meet me once). Very casually. Yet with a little urgency. Like what an old teacher would say when meeting a student unexpectedly in the middle of a crowded street. I felt the voice’s presence (not a person’s presence, mind you, I knew the voice was there) even before it spoke to me. I knew what it would sound like even before the words actually materialized. I knew that the voice, bizarrely enough, was Vaishno Devi’s. This is truly weird. I kept asking (I don’t know to who) why not deities I am more familiar with? Like Tirupati Balaji or one of our family deities. Why Vasihno Devi? Who I have always associated with sappy Hindi movies and devout Punjabis? I am not a religious person. Not in the conventional sense. My questions were not answered, but the message was repeated twice and it stopped. That’s it. Nothing more.

It was close to 2:00 am. The night nurse wheeled in her paraphernalia. She stuck a thermometer in BigGeek’s mouth and proclaimed his temperature was down by a degree. An hour later, he broke out in sweat and when the night nurse came back at 6:00, the temperature had returned to normal.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

To shave or not to shave

BigGeek hasn’t shaved in a week. He has scraggly looking stubble and I can’t say I like it. It makes you look old. I plead. Really? He is truly astonished. It’s not all one color now, you know. I say. I really don’t want to point his attention to the white specks but he just made me. I thought it made me look dignified, he tries to tell me. He is looking in the bathroom mirror, admiring himself. No. I sigh. You only look that way in the mirror. Hmm. He is thinking. Do you mean to say I look the mirror image of dignified? There is no winning with this guy.

He rubs his hand over his chin and tells me he thinks he looks like Steve Jobbs. You know, a cool geek not a corporate geek, he has a glint in his eye. I already have the rimless glasses, all I need are a few black turtle necks. (Ah. He conveniently forgets the shrillions!)

This post is so bad, that it made me cringe. But I have promised my self to write everyday and so it shall go up. I am trying to get out of my blues, but it’s not been easy. I just have to bide my time and let it do its magic. Till then, I’ll be writing insufferable posts.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Trial By Fire

We are not quite out of it yet, but BigGeek is on the mend. He still has some fever (which truth be told is freaking me out a little, but he is on antibiotics) I am so scared that I don’t want to say anything more. BigGeek is a very, very strong guy. This happened so suddenly, that it left me struggling to cope with day-to-day issues like caring for Chip. BigGeek was scheduled for the Cath procedure (angiogram) at 9:00 am Thursday. They were going to transfer him from the local ER to the Cardiac Institute at INOVA, Fairfax at 5:30 am on Thursday. It would have been difficult for me to drive to the hospital 25 miles away in the ugly rush hour, while getting Chip ready for daycare. So I asked a friend to be there before 9.00, to meet with BigGeek and Cardiac surgeon. I really did not want him alone. But they started the procedure at 8:00, so BigGeek was all alone, but look at his indomitable spirit. I would have been shi**ing bricks if I were in his place, but he told the surgeon he wanted to see the stent go in. They don’t give an anesthesia for this procedure, just a mild sedative. So he was asleep while they were investigating, but the surgeon woke him up when he put the stent in. When I told this to a co-worker, he could not believe it. But that’s quintessential BigGeek. I fondly call him my Rock of Gibraltar, and he is a very, very brave guy and a real trooper. I am so proud of him and so proud to be his wife. The first words out of his mouth when I went to see him in Cardiac Recovery, where hooked up to allsorts of machines and looking feeble, were “I saw them put the stent in!”

If I had to start narrating the events they would go back to Tuesday evening. BigGeek's aunt is a scientist and was in D.C. for what would later be so ironic, a heart failure conference. We met her for dinner at a popular Kabob place and were discussing stents and stem cells. Who knew what had been in store for us later that night? Around 2:00 am early Wednesday morning, I woke because Chip was calling out to me. I tended to him and realized BigGeek was sitting up in bed. His arms ached he told me. Did you strain them while picking up Chip, did you twist them in your sleep? No. When I went over, to massage them, his back and chest were as hard as a rock. No exaggerating. I asked him if he thought he was having a heart attack. He replied no. No perspiration, no chest pain, no palpitation or shortness of breath, just a dull ache in both his arms that extended from the shoulder blade to his palms. I put on some Bengay, gave him a couple of painkillers. He said he had a little heartburn (which he never has), but so did I, so I blamed it on the food.

I asked if he was doing ok, the next (Wednesday) morning and if I should stay home. He said he was better and I left for work. He did his morning routine, dropped Chip at the daycare and went to work. He worked for an hour or so and decided to look up these symptoms on WebMD where he found something curious about heartburn which is a symptom of a heart attack. He decided to go to his doctor and have it checked out.

On Wednesday, BigGeek called me at work. I was just about to go get lunch and was reading Rohini’s blog when I got a call from an unknown caller id. It was BigGeek calling from his doctor’s office. They suspected he had a heart attack and had called 911. I sent three emails. One to my boss, one to his co-worker and friend to tell his workplace what had happened, one to another friend to tell him to pick up Chip from daycare. When I reached the ER, they had taken 4 EKGs, had given him baby aspirin and nitroglycerin.They were waiting for a CT scan, a chest X-ray and on results of blood work that would prove beyond doubt that he indeed had suffered from a heart attack. He was met by a cardiac surgeon who scheduled the Cath procedure for the following day. You gotta love the ER. They work like a well oiled machine.

Three close friends came to the ER and I don’t know what I could have done without them. Another couple of friends M and S stayed with him while I went back to K’s (a friend) home to see Chip who K had picked up from daycare. I stayed there through the night, readied Chip for daycare the following day (Thursday) and left to see BigGeek. Another friend Y knowing the traffic and that I had to be with Chip, left from her house (which was close to the hospital) and was there by the time BigGeek got out of the Cath-lab. She talked to the Cardiac Surgeon and was there waiting for me. Soon an old college friend N and her husband arrived and stayed by my side all day. BigGeek was very tired and was sleeping in the ICAR. Y in the mean while went home, made some food for BigGeek and me and brought it. N stayed with me until late afternoon when my mom arrived from Toronto (thank god, she was a couple of hours away from us). After which P got there with dinner and to stay by our side. I don’t know what I could have done without this immense support system that we had. I cherish them deeply and we are lucky to have such incredible friends.

The following day more visitors – his classmates (who told him if he could have just asked for an extension on his exams instead of taking this extreme step) and more co-workers (some also wrote emails to him saying that if he was reading this email on his blackberry, he needed to hand it over to me, so I could throw it out the window and yes, he did read this message on his blackberry, he is incorrigible). Y had set up a website on Caring Bridge and BigGeek got messages from 300 people. I didn’t know he knew 300 people.

A and S bought a cute gift basket with heart healthy food, but most importantly a card, not a get well soon card, but a Happy Anniversary card, because it was our anniversary that day. And that little gesture spoke tons.

Snippets of what left an indelible memory. Me being held tightly by Y as I cried my heart out all the time telling me he is going to be fine. K who took care of all the nitty gritties of daily life (including asking me if I needed to pay bills) S and R who bought in warm tea to soothe us thinking we would have enough food which we did. R also brought food. Another friend S who had a good techie-banter with BigGeek (who always loves a good argument). My old college friend N who would not leave my side despite a doctor’s appointment for her 4month old daughter. The nurses in the ICAR who came up to me and asked me if I was doing OK.

In a country where manpower is premium and which thrives on the each-to-his-own mentality, these friends left behind their little children, their jobs and their commitments to be by our side on those three harrowing days. To thank them, is lame.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Living Nightmare

BigGeek had a heart attack early Wednesday morning. He is only 33. It was obviously a huge shock and we still think it is unreal. He drove himself to the doctor and was then rushed to the ER. They found a clogged artery and they did a cardiac catheterization procedure and put a stent in him. He was discharged yesterday and is at home now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Your loving son, Chip

Dearest Baba,

About time we talked, you know, man-to-man. About stuff. I don’t know what’s wrong with Aie these days. She is just soooo difficult to deal with. Gets angry at the drop of a pin and puts me in a corner for minor offenses. It’s like there is a constant battle between her and me. It’s impossible to talk to her. Just take this incident yesterday. I was examining this bottle of water I found in the (may I say, dusty) laundry room. The bottle is almost full, the cap twisted open. Surely you will agree that such opportunities present themselves rarely. So, I open it, take a swig, replace the cap, go into the kitchen, open the bottle again and am about to take another drink, when I see my red truck. I wasn’t really thirsty so I set down the bottle and decide to ride the truck when Aie who is doing I-don’t-know-what by the counter turns back without looking and topples the bottle. I look at her in utter dismay. Couldn’t she be a wee bit careful? And here is the clincher. Instead of apologizing to me or sitting in the corner all by herself without being told, what does she do? She gives me The Stare. “Where did you find it?” she asks, not nicely. “Laundly room”, I say truthfully. “Chip water-bottle pee pani” (Chip drank water from the water bottle). Ok, in retrospect I should not have volunteered that information.

I rush to save whatever water is left in the bottle and to put back the cap. I am trying very hard not to cry at this point. Then, not wanting to escalate the matter further, I go to her dishcloth basket and pull a few dishcloths and begin wiping her mess. Does she help me? No. The mess is reasonably clean, its only water, she is still staring at me. Since she isn’t going to sit in the corner by herself like I do so many times, it’s time to tell her. “Aie, kopyaat bas” Aie sit in the corner. I say trying to be calm, but my voice wavers a little. But look at her defiance. “Tu kopryaat bas.” You sit in a corner. She says to me. I obviously refuse to. How can this be my fault. Really, she is quite imaginative that way. So, taking full advantage of the difference in our physical sizes she picks me up and plops me in the corner, but I was not going to make this easy for her. So, I howl. Loudly. What else could I do?

Or take this. Despite many requests she refuses to give me the lawn mower to mow the lawn. She says, only Baba can mow the lawn. Please. So I have to resort to pretending that my trusty red truck is the lawn mower. I her fill it up with gas, attach the big basket and even tell her what I am doing in the fond hope she will pity me and give me the real thing. But no. That’s OK I can live with that. I check the wheels, peer here and peer there. You know the stuff you have to do before you actually start mowing the lawn. Just then Miss Maureen shows up, I say hi to her- she is alright- and then go back to my lawn mower and start to mow the lawn. Aie and Miss Maureen are talking and I don’t know about what since I am not the one to eavesdrop and truth be told, what could possibly be more interesting than a lawn mower. Anyhoo. I test drive it on the sidewalk and then go onto the business of cutting grass. Might I take a moment to tell you give a quick grass update? It’s in a bad shape. No, I am not criticizing you here, just being very objective. It is barren in large patches and grows in dense clumps else where.

I am targeting the clumps here. But my truck is a truck even if I pretend it’s a lawn mower. It gets stuck in the clumps. I grunt, I get frustrated. But does Aie listen? No, she is busy talking and when she thinks I am being too fussy, she tells me to get the truck and ride it on the sidewalk. For the hundredth time, it’s a lawn mower. You cannot cut grass on the concrete sidewalk. So, obviously I refuse to do what she is suggesting. I am getting no help from her here. I manage to mow the clump and move on to other parts of the lawn when my pretend lawn mower gets stuck again. I am really aggravated now. You try cutting grass with a plastic truck. I sit down, venting my frustration. Aie comes over and sits besides me, Miss Maureen is looking. “Chip, this lawnmower has tiny wheels.. it gets stuck in this grass. Why don’t you mow grass over there?” She is pointing to a large patch of barren yard. The grass is all dead there. She wants me to mow dead grass? Has she even cut a blade of grass in her entire lifetime? This suggestion is completely insane. I keep telling her I want to mow the lawn but she is telling me we have to go inside and eat dinner now. She even tells that to Miss Maureen. So off we go. Is this reasonable? You tell me.

But she is my Aie and I truly adore her. You have seen me cling to her madly and follow her everywhere. And I will not let anyone near me come bedtime. And she has the exclusive rights of feeding me dinner. I have my own ways of showing affection. I am a simply guy. But she is one complicated mother. Only if she followed some rules. Like taking me to the tot lot on our way home from school. I am sure she can do pee-pee in the woods behind. I have done that (hey, it was an accident), and nobody seemed to mind. Or giving me jam and poli and peas every day for dinner. Or swinging me for an hour and a half on the tot lot swing or letting me play with the real lawnmower. Is that too much to ask? You tell me.

Your loving son,

Monday, September 17, 2007

New School, again

Chip starts his first day at the new school today. He woke up crying he did not want to go there. So, not a good start. I am crossing my fingers, toes and whatever else there is to cross. I am stressed (duh). Don't think there will be much blogging done today.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Perfect DotMom

So, after having tried very, v.e.r.y. hard for the past three months, to show my infallible, courageous, near perfect self, I am being tagged by Moppet’s Mom to list my own quirks. This was very difficult, believe me. I could not think of any, so had to email BigGeek who replied with this-
You don’t have any. You are perfect. So enjoy your day.
So, I slept on it for two days, and finally by divine destiny or heavenly providence, my quirks were revealed to me in a very lucid nightmare last night.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Edited to add: Yes, these cartoons are done by me. In Powerpoint.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The man of many quirks

Winkie tagged Chip about his quirks. Chip is a little man but he is a man of many quirks. Some inherited from his Aie, most from his Baba. Here they are in a chronological order.

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The Sneeze
The first thing Chip did after he was born was to sneeze. Tired and amused then, little did I know it would later turn into a habit. After every feed, Chip sneezed. Thrice. Never more, never less. Drink milk. Sneeze. Burp. Hiccup. Repeat.

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The (cute) Head Tilt
When Chip was about 5-6 months hold, he got into this habit of tilting his head to one side when observing something intently. Nurses, me, the reflection in the mirror.

The Nose
Around the same it, he developed a strange fascination for noses. People, dolls, the neighbor’s dog. He would try and bite of every nose he could lay his eyes (rather his teeth on). He would hold a stuffed doll-cum-mitt by her nose by his teeth and shake her vigorously like a cat shaking a mouse.

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The Nose, again
He screws up his button nose when he smiles, especially when he trying to act cute.

The Spoon
Around the time he was a year old, and started to attempt to feed himself with a spoon, he developed this maddening quirk that irritates me till today, since he still has it. Over the years, the spoons I own have grown in size, style and design. I probably have 3-4 designs and 3-4 sizes. But Chip, will only accept a spoon if it is a desert spoon of a particular design. Woe befalls on someone who does not know this. When he was younger he would simply howl but now he gives a rather condescending “uh-oh” and gets down from his chair and helps himself to the correct spoon.

Shut the door, please
When coming down from upstairs Chip always shuts all the doors. I have no idea why.

No curtains
Curtains always need to be opened when Chip goes to bed. Else he will tug at them until the curtain rod threatens to come down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This be the 50th

This be the 50th.
I can’t believe I wrote 49 posts. I had promised myself I would write something every day. Well, at least 5 times a week, 20 mins. a day (god, this sounds like the gym), and it was made a lot easier by warm comments left by those who stopped by and then stopped by again. Thank you.

So I think I deserve a little post-break today. Therefore, instead of writing something of own, I am going to print something written by Marguerite Kelly. Among the many people I admire, as a parent I probably admire her the most. She writes with fortitude and compassion, so unlike other parenting gurus that point a perpetual finger at us, the parents. She also writes with grace and wisdom that is very much in paucity in this day and age. So every time I am weary dealing with the arsenic hour day after day, fighting many battles with Chip and with my own self or get muddled, not knowing which way to go, as a parent, I turn to the Mother’s Prayer.

A Mother’s Prayer by Marguerite Kelly

Help me give my children the best -- not of trappings or toys, but of myself, cherishing them on good days and bad, theirs and mine.

Teach me to accept them for who they are, not for what they do; to listen to what they say, if only so they will listen to me; to encourage their goals, not mine; and please, let me laugh with them and be silly.

Let me give them a home where respect is the cornerstone, integrity the foundation, and there is enough happiness to raise the roof.

May I give them the courage to be true to themselves; the independence to take care of themselves and the faith to believe in a power much greater than their own.

See that I discipline my children without demeaning them, demand good manners without forgetting my own and let them know they have limitless love, no matter what they do.

Let me feed them properly, clothe them adequately and have enough to give them small allowances -- not for the work they do but the pleasure they bring -- and let me be moderate in all these things, so the joy of getting will help them discover the joy of giving.

See that their responsibilities are real but not burdensome, that my expectations are high but not overwhelming and that my thanks and praise are thoughtful and given when they're due.

Help me teach them that excellence is work's real reward, and not the glory it brings. But when it comes -- and it will -- let me revel in each honor, however small, without once pretending that it's mine; my children are glories enough.

Above all, let me ground these children so well that I can dare to let them go.
And may they be so blessed.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I come from a slightly peculiar family. Well, we all do in some way or the other, don’t we? But my family is odder than most. We are quite faithless in matters of religion. By Indian standards anyway. There. It’s out in the open now. We don’t flaunt it, but we don’t hide it either. My grandmother, my father, me and thankfully BigGeek. BigGeek is a self confessed agnostic. My folks and me, we are not quite sure. We are definitely not atheists. We are not agnostic. I don’t think we are religious skeptics (though we do harbor a healthy skepticism for all religions) Heck. There is not even a real term for people like us. Because most terms apply to religions of the book, and also because nobody genuinely inquires into mainstream Hindu practices, no matter how antiquated they maybe.

My earliest vivid memories of our unreligious-ness is my grandmother when I was around 3 or so. Bored in the afternoons with nothing to do, I would often ask to bathe and do a pooja of the little idols of Vithoba, Ganpati, Annapoorna and the likes. My grandmother, a semi-retired lawyer who also majored in philosophy, would happily give me a dish with water, kum-kum and flowers and let me ‘play’ with the idols, much to the neighbors’ bewilderment and incomprehension.

Another memory is about my father. A temple was built on an open piece land in front of our house. It was commissioned by an enormously corrupt and crooked builder or a government official. Perhaps he was both. He or a member of his family had escaped the jaws of death and as deities are often known to do, a deity appeared to him in his dreams and ordered a temple be erected. A marble and concrete structure was duly built with all the black money the said builder had amassed. Everything was alright for a while, but the builder thought this was not enough. To show his true piety, he donated a commercial-grade stereo system and humbly requested the temple officials that pious songs be blared from it at dawn and dusk. So at 5:00 am every morning and at 5:00 pm every evening, for two hours, bhajans and aartis rung out of the humongous speakers and could be heard for a mile at least. We could barely hear ourselves speak in our own house. My dad was not amused. He first thought this nonsense would end in a day or two. But when it continued for over a week, he started to complain. How dare he complain, said the temple priests. This was God’s work. Nobody had complained. My father not believing this went to every neighbor’s house and asked if the noise bothered them. They all admitted it did, but would not complain. It was God’s work. My father was furious. He began his solitary battle. Infact his constant complaining peeved so many, that they hounded him one evening and asked him how could a Hindu and a Brahmin at that object to pious bhajans? He didn’t object to bhajans he said. He objected to the decibels at which they were played. As long as the songs could not be heard outside the temple, they could play whatever they wanted. Are you a Hindu, they demanded, medieval-style. My father calmly replied that if blaring songs from a stereo was a necessary condition, he wasn’t. Which of course made our god-fearing, religious neighborhood whisper behind our back and give us strange looks.

Growing up, we never really celebrated festivals in a religious way. No sathyanarayan poojas, not even daily poojas (we did not have a dev-ghar, the mandir) We did feel a little left out sometimes, but kids that age will feel left out for smaller reasons. When we first heard the Satyanarayan Kathas, my brother and I were amused. This was what people were so solemn about? We could not comprehend it. The only time we went to a temple was to admire the sculptural splendors. My father always was the official footwear-watcher at temples. And later after everybody was done with the darshan, he would quietly lead us away and show the magnificent works of art and architecture, the smallest details would not miss his eye – the walls, the pillars and the idol were all equal to him.

And I carry forward their genes and their legacy. I do have a mandir in my house, but that’s because my mother-in-law gave one to us. There is a treadmill in front of it and we do wear shoes while running. When Chip asks me to recite the Ganesh Stotra (again learnt from my mother-in-law) while he is on the potty, I don’t hesitate. This is not a cheap thrill or an act juvenile rebellion. It simply is because I believe that all things are sacred in the same way all things are not.

My grandmother and my father are deeply spiritual people. Philosophical. Extremely well read. Heck, they will give Kant and Nietzsche a run for their money. And I (try to) tread in their footsteps. If you have to question the purpose of a ritual it can be safely eliminated. This is the DotMom’s law. Rituals are defined by people, not the other way round. The questions of the soul cannot be answered by doing poojas following instructions from a CD. If it were that simple we’d all be enlightened. The answers cannot be found by reading Hanuman Chalisa (and the likes) a thousand times each day while the mind drifts to the kitchen, the children, the TV schedule. Meditation is more than sitting lotus-posed in silence. I have found moments of utter clarity and lucidity in the din of the office when I intensely write a complicated piece of code or in the evening listening to Bach while folding laundry while Chip screeches or in my car stuck in traffic, Kishori Amonkar rendering Bhoop on the car stereo. I have been transported to the place, albeit briefly, where all questions are answered, no, they simply cease by reading a great passage from a book or a haiku. This is the everyday religion I follow. No idols required. No dietary restrictions, no complicated paraphernalia, no sartorial fiat. There is no wrong way of doing it and its rewards are endless.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Observer

The Observer

Wandering the many parks and malls,
City streets and its halls
The curious watcher looks around
Is there no more excitement to be found?

The lights and sounds are not so new,
Extraordinary sights so far and few
Laments the watcher with a sigh
As the evening slowly draws to nigh.

Green and checkered, with frills and bows,
An infant snug in halcyon repose
A baby carriage passes by,
Not missing this curious watcher’s eye.

A look of joy draws upon his face
At last! Something worthy of a chase
Upon his visage a look of pride
He follows with a resolute stride.

Enraptured by the face so sweet
Oh! Charming baby he must meet
Thus the watcher sets his mind,
But the carriage leaves him far behind.

Crestfallen he turns away
Not knowing how or what to say
A wail is heard by the passers by
Taken aback by his plaintive cry.

To the scene a lady rushes,
Holding the watcher she gently hushes.
Yet, with a pout he flings his shoe
For the watcher is no more than two.

This is for Chip, who resolutely follows strollers and will not let go until he has said hi to the baby and later informs me, cute baby, cute baby(except he can’t say cute, so replaces he k-sound with the ch-sound with disastrous results) I am encouraging him to say chotoo baby (small baby) instead. Ever since I told him that a dear friend has a baby boy in her tummy, he wants one. Every night he comes to me and says, “Aie, Chip baby boy pahijey” (Chip wants a baby boy).

To all those kind comments and emails about Chip’s health, he is doing much better. He and BigGeek are at home today.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Home again

Chip is most unwell. The pooy guy threw up several times last night, has abdominal cramps.. and I have no idea why. He is usually like that when he suffers from an egg allergy. But no accidental egg ingestion yesterday. I am worried about his fluid levels, since he can't even seem to keep water in.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

To the Y Chromosome

Even as a baby Chip never was never still. A very wiggly baby, he managed to shake his head in protest at the age of 8 days and slither down because he hated the rolled up blankets his grandmother put to support his head (as a result his head always flopped to one side and has a flat spot).

While I enviously saw other babies sit happily in their baby bjorns, Chip would tug at the snaps, kick in our groins and flail his arms, until we took him out and carried him in our arms where he had better access to everything around him. He wasn’t very happy with the stroller either (thank god we did not buy the pricey-fancy travel system). He would kick and whine until we took him out and later when he was a little older, would simply slither down a bit and hold the wheel by placing his foot on it. He learnt to come down the stairs using his famous tummy slide even before he learnt to crawl. He would climb on the sofa and crawl on the wide ledge of the living-room picture window before he could walk.

So when friends would tell (horror) stories of how their 20 month olds threw the phone out of a window or dunked a toy in the toilet bowl, I would laugh politely. Because just the night before, Chip would have done something like taking an apple out of the fridge, getting my 6” knife from the kitchen drawer by standing on his truck and proceeding to cut the apple on the floor. Even now while many toddlers follow their mothers around grocery stores, or sit in the carts, Chip actively shops by himself for the things he likes to eat. He gets yogurt and a head of broccoli, peaches, bread, orange juice (no pulp, extra calcium and if that’s on a higher shelf, he will gladly climb and get it if it were not for his mom glaring down) and milk. There are mysterious items in the cart every time ranging from kosher meat and cantaloupes to bottles of wine.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard strangers remark fondly “He is all boy” or variations there of, Chip’s college would be taken care of (ok, I am obviously exaggerating, but hey, I am a blogger). But we also get some cold stares. I don’t let Chip run all amok in stores, but he is a boy and will walk up and down the aisle fifteen times while I pick stuff off the shelf. He is forbidden to push the grocery cart, so he will stand on the lower bar and push it with his feet like riding a scooter. He will not sit still as most girls will. (So to all those, who think gender is solely a social construct, think again.) I tried to get Chip to play with dolls, but he had more fun figuring out how their eyes closed and their arms moved and scrutinizing their pee-pees (or the lack thereof). He climbs fences, plays with sticks and stones, can walk a mile and half without getting tired, eats bugs and pretends his truck is a skateboard (this deserves a post of its own) and knows the name of every construction vehicle ever manufactured.

I feel for boys and their mothers in this day and age where everything is so girl-centric. There are hardly any male teachers and the female teachers are so touchy-feely, that boys in high schools read Jane Austen instead of Robinson Crusoe or Tom Sawyer. And then these teachers complain that the boys' reading skills don’t match to girls’. How will it when they are given material they simply can’t connect with? Boys are encouraged to sit still and talk about their feelings. This is not how boys communicate.

My mother, a teacher for close to thirty years, who teaches middle school in India (she also teaches kids with special needs such as slow learners and dyslexic kids) tells me how over the years the tolerance towards ‘boy-ness’ has decreased as a result of which virtually every boy who has a hard time sitting still in class is diagnosed with ADHD and put on drugs. In all these years, she said, she has come across with one boy, dyslexic, who was very, very restless that it really concerned her and she asked the parents to seek professional help. She has a simple remedy for active boys. She tells them to go take a walk/run and burn off their steam before school starts and tells the parents to enroll them in some form of Martial Arts. 99 times out of 100, it solves the problem. If Chip does not spend an hour or two outside running, jumping, climbing, he gets belligerent and restless at home.

There is an inherent aggression in boys. It needs to be channeled not stifled. Their love for adventure and physical activity needs a creative outlet not disapproval. Depending on how they are treated, these little boys will grow up and become fearless astronouts and marines or will end up in street gangs. Its the same aggression, the same love for adventure, the same penchant for taking risks.

I always joke that Chip only has a third of a brain in his head. The rest is divided between his hands and feet. And a few days ago, while reading an article on Slate, I found there was a word for it. Haptic. It means hand-on. Boys are haptic learners. Who knew? So when Chip’s need for physical activity, his love for machines and non stop adventure tire me out, I remember a bib Chip once had which said- Thank Heaven for Little Boys.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Back to the square one

The last two days have been not-so-good. BigGeek was away at school and Friday evening, Chip’s teacher told me Chip refuses to sit in one place wants to do things on his own, is defiant. Well, he is two, I wanted to tell her. Instead I asked her what she would suggest. She just shrugged her shoulders. I was upset, instead I said I will tell him to be a bit more obedient and told her to be firm with him. But honestly, this has left a bad taste in my mouth. Not because it is an isolated incident, but it is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. There had been the allergy incident. Then there had been a time when I went to pick up Chip and he was burning with fever (102F) and the teacher had no idea. A couple of weeks ago, when I was picking up Chip, his room smelt of a cleaner/solvent. When I asked the teacher if it was safe for the kids to be around such a smell, she just shrugged. I asked the vice principal and she said it was fine. The smell was pretty strong and with the cooling, there is no ventilation. So when she told me Chip did not want to sit for circle time and was defiant and she had no idea what to do about it, I had enough. Chip is a high energy kid. Like I say, he is more of everything. He is 20% more than your average kid. He has more imagination and is more curious than your typical 2 year old. He is also more stubborn and obstinate. He needs reasons. If I tell him, to not pick the dirty candy off the floor and pop it into his mouth, there is a good chance he will not listen. If I tell him that the candy has germs because it is dirty and that will give him a stomach ache, he will. Apparently the teacher doesn’t have patience for such reasoning, such as she is. I had been sold by the fact that she had brothers and sons and she would understand energetic boys. But no.

Also, to blame is my perception of center based care. I just thought Chip and I would need to get used to this standard of no-so-personal care. One evening when I went to pick up Chip, the class had been playing with zoo animals. A large tub of big plastic animals. Chip will probably play with these for 5-10 mins. He is too old to get enamored by their textures and colors. Once he identifies the animal, he has lost interest. He is too young to weave stories about the animals so he simply wanders off from the table and looks for something more interesting to do. The teacher should recognize this and give him another challenging activity. Or take their tot lot. The slides are as tall has Chip. He gets no thrill from sliding down those – actually he can’t slide down any of those because once he lies on the slide, there is 6 inches left to slide. We go to the park every day and he has a ball on the full sized slides and I have to drag him home everyday. Another point is reading. The teacher reads to 20 kids. I don’t know how the other kids sit without being able to look at the pictures. At this age, reading is an interactive process. Why doesn't the teacher understand that?

I spent the whole weekend being totally upset. Talked to my dad and my grand mom and my mom (who I finally was able to get through- she was visiting a cousin) and my mom-in-law. I also talked to a dear friend to who I told her all of the above. She was shocked. She has a high energy kid herself and she exactly understood what I was going through. She told me to get him out of that school. This is not how her kid’s (called A here after) school did things. So we are back to the square one. I am going to see if A’s school has openings. Some of A’s teachers have left so she has no idea how other teachers are in the 2-3 age group. I am beating myself up over giving up admission to the nice Montessori school. They just had too many days off and I did not have enough vacation. So I have to see if the Montessori has openings. It will also mean Chip will have to go through to another phase of adjustment. This is life, I guess.