December 9, 2016

Maid for each other: is it a myth?

I slide open the kitchen drawer. The metal clanks as I hurriedly look for the steel lid to cover the soaked lentils ready to be cooked inside the cooker. As I pull out the specific lid, I'm disgusted with how the edges still bear the food stains from the previous day. I quickly reach for a cleaner one, place the dirty one on the clean counter like a carefully collected crime evidence; my mind picturing myself giving an earful to the errant maid.

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This is not unusual. I regularly collect such proofs of disinterest and lack of sincerity on the part of my domestic helper. It happens, not too rarely, that I stand shoulder to shoulder with a friendly spider that's crawling rapidly down in its intricately woven web right above my desk in the study. I frequently notice effects of neglect on the corners and wall edges; like the fall colours, they go from a clean white to yellow to finally a dull brown. Only that these are rather ugly and not even half as romantic as fall colours. Even as I repeat the warnings to the lady responsible and vow to myself to replace her at the first chance or even pray she quits of her own, I know I'm blessed to have her as my maid. Sounds strange? Allow me to explain.

I live in an apartment complex. And, with that, I'm also a part of the ladies WhatsApp group. It's like that freebie that no one wants but still accepts because maybe someday you might put it to use. To be honest, for all its faults, the group is the most resourceful unit you can have when it comes to a crisis situation. A crisis could be anything: from a last-minute sourcing of a porcupine costume for your nursery going kid to getting candidates for a vacant position in your company; the group rises to the occasion almost always. Well, I digress. The point is a crisis situation concerning maids can be only one: they not turning up for work. This is when I'm truly thankful for the group because I usually find a substitute within minutes of posting the distress Ad for one.

Those were the days when anger against my own maid was fresh and I was looking for an opportunity to replace her. Contrary to being upset on being ditched at the last minute, I took it as an opportunity to find possible replacements. And, therein began my journey of eating humble pie.

Once a maid duly sent in by my thoughtful neighbour sauntered inside. She towered over me, her hefty figure adding to her menacing attitude. Even as I meekly laid out the work for her, she stated pointedly, "you have four balconies!" "Err..yes," said I, unsure. Would she rather have me detach them from the rest of the house? I wondered. I was glad to see the back of her as she finished the work, in a seemingly patronizing manner, for that day.

Another time, I encountered a middle-aged professional who seemed to know exactly how this entire business of being a house-help worked. I couldn't decide if her pan-stained teeth worried me more or her off-handed approach to the work. "Hand me the mop broom" she demanded. "Oh, we don't use a broom for mopping in my house. Here take the cloth," I offered. "What, no broom?!" I don't work with cloth. My back aches!," she glowered. I respectfully ushered her out and shut the door tight behind her.

In yet another instance, a pleasant looking person turned up to fit into my maid's shoes for a day. She seemed affable to talk to too. And, wonders of wonder, she even got my approval in the quality department. I was beyond myself with joy at having found a perfect maid and mustered up all my hiring skills. I enumerated the work while she smiled benignly. As soon as I finished, she put on an air of supreme importance and announced,

"3.5k per month ma, non-negotiable. Just vessels, sweeping and mopping; dusting maybe once a week. Also, I don't clean bathrooms."
Did she just think I had a money tree growing in my backyard? Hell, I don't even own a garden!

This is when my maid's good qualities took gigantic proportions to put me to shame. How could I think of replacing her? At least, she doesn't talk back, hasn't asked for a raise in the last one and half years, and even agrees to work on her faults when pointed out. Yes, perhaps we are also made for each other.

****
Do you have that perfect maid?


December 6, 2016

A re-cap of a lovely month

The blank page in front stares at me unkindly. The words swirl around the head not wanting to flow cohesively onto the paper. The house is silent and the only sound seems to cut into the stillness is the drone of the borewell machine in the nearby empty ground outside. My mind is in a rewind mode, replaying scenes from the past few weeks. As I make myself my morning cup of coffee, I'm acutely aware of how everything seems shrunk. It's back to the three in the household. Every single mundane task is laced with this-time-last-week recalls. The wistfulness wraps around me like a thick cloak: an inexplicable inertia and I pull it towards myself tighter like one would a warm shrug against the cold wind. The fragrant vapour from my brew warms me up; a smile creeps up at the freshly-minted memories.

November just flew by and how! Birthdays, outings, surprises, parents' stay, some more family visiting; our house and hearts were full. So many precious moments had been filed away in the recesses of the mind. A part of me rightfully fears the loss of these as life speeds on the tracks of the usual day-to-day existence. Yet, another part of me acknowledges that memories never die; they could fade or get infused with newer fragrances. The frames in my head slide forward and backward, not following the chronology of events and I sit down to relive them and capture them all like the falling rain.

The house had echoed with political arguments with the husband and Appa on either side of the debate. The news on Tele played side accompaniments to the sometimes serious sometimes comical jugalbandi between the son-in-law and father-in-law. Amma and I would weigh in occasionally but mostly just roll our eyes at the duo and carry on with our own topics of discussions. We had more important issues to sort out like what to cook for  the morrow or if there's enough food for the night or should we buy the pink saree or the grey one and such like. I was grateful for the extra pair of hands in the kitchen even as I felt guilty for letting her shoulder the housework. Yet, I knew I couldn't do it all what with my work calendar also brimming over.

R turned 7 and we celebrated it in one of the most satisfying ways. This time, the husband and I were not keen on having a typical birthday party. Since the grandparents were around, we felt a more intimate family celebration would make more sense. As though the universe agreed too, in a last minute plan, R's soul-twin that came from my sister's womb decided to pay us a visit just to be together on his birthday. I immediately conspired to keep it as a surprise for R. How the surprise revealed itself is a story for another day. Suffice to say that the plan was a total hit and the kids had a blast together. To top it, my favourite cousin, R's doting uncle was visiting for a couple of days the same week and the entire house was just bubbling with all the happiness and excitement. 



We took our first ever trip together with parents to the beautiful Wayanad. The drive got a little tedious but we compensated it for not cramming too many activities during our stay. We seem to be enjoying these "do-nothing" holidays. The unhurried schedule coupled with freedom from housework sets the mood for fun things. It helps us to bond with R better. It was a rewound to the childhood of the 90s, unblemished from the disturbances of smartphones and the online vortex. The sated feeling after several rounds of UNO and carrom, the squabbles over half-red strikes, benevolence showered on the kid by the indulgent grandma, the sadistic pleasure of owning better cards than your neighbour, these little moments added up to an unmatched personal treasure. 

I was away from this space for almost the entire month and had just a fleeting presence on the social media too. Did I miss it? To be honest, apart from a low gnawing sense that perhaps I ought to be more regular in writing, I never wanted it any other way. My life had felt so full that there was no space for anything else.

****
How have you all been? Did anyone miss me at all?


November 7, 2016

Lessons I learn from parenting

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We are at the table, the husband, I and R, poring over Math sums, word problems that I remembered coming across in a much higher grade than R is in currently. The little guy is restless, as we plod on, tweaking a number here, twisting a question there. His fingers go up clumsily as he counts, miscounts, rushing to arrive at the solution. His eager face falls as we point out that the answer is wrong. Perturbed to learn from us that an answer (right or wrong) needs to be justified by being able to explain the workings, he looks visibly uncomfortable. The session clearly wasn't going down too well with him.

I notice his eyes prick with tears but blinked away bravely. I sense the fear, disappointment, and insecurities masked by his defiant tone. In an instant, my childhood flashes out before my eyes. I signal the husband and we change stances instantly. From anxious parents trying to teach a kid the vagaries of numbers, we relax and reach out to the little human in front of us who is battling complex emotions. We empathise with the child who's trying desperately to win a pat on the back, feeling embarrassed to admit he doesn't understand and yet trying to put up a brave front.

It doesn't matter if you don't know. What matters is you learn and learn it the right way, I hear myself say. Why the steps and the explanation, he protests? When you break complex problems into bite-sized ones, it gets easier to find the answer and it's also a validation that you've learnt the lesson rather than arriving at the goal without realizing the whys and hows. It helps to be organized and discplined in Mathematics. I elaborate.

The reply I gave was an epiphany to me. Didn't this logic apply to Life itself? And, how easily I parted with the wisdom I struggle to ingrain in my life! I almost felt like a fraud doling out sage advice to a child when the adult in me forgets to apply the same tenets.

Yet, I was grateful for how this scene played out. It gave me a chance to pause, reflect, and take stock. It was not a chapter in Math but a reminder of life-lessons. I became the student rather than the teacher.

In another scene, R came back beaten, not in the literal sense, from the playground. Another boy had been bullying him, using the age old tactic of needling, teasing or even hitting him on multiple occasions without provocation. Incidentally, the boy is a part of the 'friends' brigade and I've observed R pandering to his whims and fancies soon after the boy offers an apology that is mere lip-service.

Again, I found myself mouthing wisdom that I had shied from implementing in my childhood.

Standing up for one's defence and self-esteem needs to start early. Identifying the real friend rather than being desperate to fit into a clique will go a long way in having a healthy relationship with the self. A good friend will always encourage and someone who finds your weakness to hold it against you time and again will never be that friend. Asking for forgiveness isn't the same as feeling repentant. And, one must be able to differentiate between the two. 

These are Zen rules and I realize that I do not walk the talk at all times. I'm aware that my child will learn from observing rather than listening. In that sense, I'm being given a chance to redeem myself through the child and I hope to learn well and not squander away the opportunity.

****
"Raise yourself before you raise your kids"-Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. 
I'm reminded of this quote and try hard not to merely preach or sermonize. Trying is the operative word here :-)

Do you feel similarly? Do share your thoughts. 


October 31, 2016

Of cultural conundrums and influences

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The days leading up to Diwali were marked by the lilting fragrance of milk and sugar simmering away on the stove alternatively followed by the tantalizing aroma of fried crispies filling the house. The excitement and anticipation built up slowly with several rounds to the market to buy crisp new shimmery dresses and crackers. The actual day dawned with the air thick with winter-y fog. The sesame oil mixed with peppercorns combatted the outside chillness, working its way into the recesses of the hair and pores of the body, lending warmth, sheen, and softness. The hot water bath before day-break with a background score of fireworks set off in staccato rhythm in the neighbourhood shook us off the remains of slumber on the D-day; a culmination of all that we kids had been waiting for weeks up till now.

The childhood memories of Diwali come back to me as I'm eager to create similar sentiments for R. As I wait for him to come back from school, I wonder how much of the significance of festivals is imbibed at an educational abode and if the percolation of the nuances of our heritage is all but left to the family and social community. As though on cue, R comes back from school and during our usual after-school conversation casually mentions learning about lesser crackers and more sweets for Diwali. Interestingly, he seemed to be more informed about how Halloween is celebrated and how he's excited to be dressed as a ghost. Apparently, his seniors and more knowledgeable peers had taken care to keep him abreast of the current trend.

I struggle to fathom my own emotions. Yes, certain celebrations need to evolve and going green is the need of the hour. I also concede that initiating and sustaining eco-friendliness, water conservation, waste management or gender-equity in a country that has been infected, since decades, with patriarchy and apathetic civic sense, is a gargantuan task and it would certainly help if individuals hold hands and bring about a revolution to set right the skewed nature of our social structure. Why, then, did I sense a tinge of annoyance engulfing me?

I'm embittered by the self-righteous tone of certain sections of the media that gathers momentum only on selective days. The said societal changes require a lifestyle and mindset change that cannot be achieved by pointing accusatory fingers at occasional practices. It's comical to assume that by conserving water on Holi, by not observing Karwachauth, or by not bursting crackers on 2 days in a year, we can transform the society. Rules are to be followed all year long and exceptions made on certain days. Interestingly, it's quite the other way round with daily routine marked by an indiscriminate lifestyle and the vigil being heightened and tightened when there's a festival to be celebrated. The height of irritation for me was to watch foreign TV actors in a commercial against noisy crackers.

Worshipping deities, following practices and customs, and celebrating festivals in a specific manner have a certain significance and should not be trivialized or distorted by a selected few to influence a large society. Social campaigns have a certain role to play and they are effective because the message is delivered at a constant pace and intensity that slowly corrodes into the staid mindset and starts to take effect. To that extent, these are extremely powerful and need to be used carefully.

The 'secular' campaigns I see these days are extremely unfair. Masquerading as messiahs and instrumentalists of a better and advanced society, they single out certain communities, ridiculing and deriding the very nature and fabric of their set-up. How else do you explain our inclination to celebrate a new and foreign custom with absolute surrender and happiness, even as we magically turn into intellectuals and skeptics to question the basis of rituals that have been handed down to us for years now? When one faith observes month-long fasts in order to secure a place in heaven and then cuts open an animal's throat as a mark of its traditions and beliefs, it is said to be cultural freedom and even finds acceptance among other communities because, of course, to each his own. However, when it comes to the customs of another faith, one that is still followed by a majority in the country, there are extensive debates, opinion slapping, and shaming.

I calm the waves of restlessness that threaten to rise within and drown me and decide to follow my instinct and rules. My child will follow as I lead by example. I may not have a lot on hand myself to pass on but I seek to preserve whatever is and inspire R to find the answers I may not have. I look beyond my apprehensions and dilemmas and I notice with relief and hope that my generation is not doing away with the festivities, yet. There are like-minded people who take pride in their faith, want to safeguard the traditions with sensibility and strive to make it happen for the next generation.

****

October 18, 2016

Purge, prune and get ready

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The nooks and crannies have been dusted off. The spiderwebs destroyed before they get a chance to weave their complex pattern at idle corners. The shelves cleaned and re-arranged. The junk has been thrown out without mercy and the outgrown stuff neatly piled into bags to be donated away. I'm methodically and systematically attacking every room and feel a great sense of satisfaction as I step back and admire the results.

Diwali is around the corner and I'm neck-deep in the getting my space ready for all things positive. I believe our customs are rooted in meaning and hence the prescribed ritual of cleansing before the advent of a major festival. The home-cleaning is only symbolic to reflect what we ought to do at a more spiritual and deeper level. We are preparing our mind for goodness to enter our lives, for light to dispell the darkness, for rustiness to give way for renewed energy and momentum.

I find spring cleaning therapeutic. While I pride myself on not being a hoarder in the literal sense, I have a tendency to collect unproductive adornments like anger, self-pity, despair, inertia, and demotivation. These sit silently beneath the surface, decaying my spirit. They burn my mental peace, the soot coating the true character from time to time.

I mentally visualize my mind being freed of the baggage as I diligently scrub away the dullness that is hardened precipice of dust and grime over my cherished brassware. Just as the metal responds immediately and enthusiastically, gleaming and shining, I will the mind to break away from the negative loop of ungainful thoughts and steer it clear from leading a disruptive way of life.

The blackness that cloaked the brassware previously has now blanketed my fingers. Placing my hands under the running water, I watch the remains fade away; vestiges of the labor, letting off a faint smell of the soap and powder remind me of my sweet victory.

Not far away, Chaos with its multi-faceted tentacles of turmoil is sitting quietly, smirking and shaking its head solemnly at the futility of my attempts, mischievously indicating its impending arrival. In reply, I look and smile in tranquility. What it does not know is that I'm not afraid of it anymore. I've begun to enjoy the periodical process of breaking it down and sending it scurrying away. I seek strength from defeating it every time even as I accept that I cannot wipe it away completely.

Just as I'm wired to get into action at the sight of disarray in my surroundings, I resolve to tune myself to work on my mind and body in a similar fashion. It is never a one-time activity and I'll probably never get to the day when I can sit back and say nothing that happens in my life will affect me negatively. However, I can:

  • Promise to attack negativity the moment it threatens to pollute my sacred space. 
  • Promise to not let it consume me and envelop me in its darkness. 
  • Promise to seek outside help when I falter and slip.

****

I'm ready for the festival of lights. Are you?



October 14, 2016

Of Reflections And Refractions

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There's an emptiness, a feeling of floating in a bubble as Dussehra comes to an end. There's a huge pile of things to be tackled but I'm unable to shake off an explicable inertia. I'm preoccupied, mentally jotting down the tasks that need to be ticked off a never ending list; the simplest of the lot and one sticking out foremost is that of spring-cleaning and getting the house ready for Diwali.

The period of a lull after a bout of intense activities is my excuse for the sudden dip in spirits. Yet, I know, that's not entirely true. A part of me is feeling pepped up, going with the flow, checking off the items, doing what the situation demands but the other part grinds to a halt at frequent intervals, non-cooperating, holding on to the present with tight fists and watching it slip away into a timeless zone.

Finally, the truth of life is that no event or situation is constant.

November will be the month of birthdays and also when my parents would visit us, something I'm looking forward to. It dawns on me that December would soon tip-toe in and slink away leaving me wondering yet again about where and how the 365 days disappeared and what is it that I can smile about 2016. I decide to make a gratitude list at the end of the year to thank the Universe for the many blessings.

I'm not willing to look beyond the year-end at the moment and instead focus on the past fortnight that flew by. The break from school routine was the only let up in the otherwise packed 2 weeks. Every day, every hour was bursting at its seams with to-do lists. The minutes had vanished into thin air teasing me to stop and just take stock. Yet, I was happy to just let myself ebb and flow without a pattern.

I had stiff deadlines to meet at work during the day but the evenings were earmarked for the festivities. Socializing, community programs, golu-hopping, or having people over for vettalai paaku, these adorned my usual plain routine like glittering accessories. Boring suits and jeans gave way to soft, bright silk sarees. I lingered a tad longer in front of the mirror adjusting a stray hair, making an effort to match the dazzling crowd outside. Roles of a mother, wife, and the adult shouldering many responsibilities side-stepped for a bit as the fun-loving woman peeked out of the closet, took centerstage and decided to let her hair down. Like a mono-stage act, I sauntered from one scene to another, wearing multiple hats, and changing roles seamlessly as these diverse characters converged at various points; it almost seemed like a carnival.

The screenplay brought back memories of the past when Amma, my sister and I would be a team doing the rounds of houses during Navratri-Golu. The sister and I were known in the close-knit circle as the singer duo and would be called upon to showcase our skill as an offering to the traditional dolls that adorned the odd number of steps in houses. Post-marriage, as the husband and I moved houses and in and out of various social circles in the past many years, I've come to don this mantle alone, slowly graduating from a self-conscious teenager who half-heartedly participated in the traditions, to someone who has begun to enjoy these little moments, experiencing the love and joy that emanates from cherishing the essence and spirit of these rituals.

****

How did you spend this Dussehra? What has been happening in your life lately?

October 3, 2016

If we were having coffee...

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--I'd brew you some lovely piping hot filter coffee, bubbling with froth and aroma, poured out in steel tumblers or cups, if you wish, and offer it along with some crispy savouries. When it comes to coffee, there's nothing like filter kaapi, I might brag. I hope you'd excuse my vanity and sit down comfortably to some light banter and eventually sober down for a heart-to-heart conversation.

--As we settle down and the initial laughter and madness, that is a part of the package when good friends meet, simmers down, I'd tell you how life is currently packing all the paradoxes in the world and shoving them right up my face. It's, in fact, smirking at me right now.

Something that I had wished for is about to happen. I should, then, be elated, right? Well, honestly, I'm fighting bitter-sweet feelings. It comes at a time when I had almost made peace with the status quo. In some ways, a part of me is looking forward to the change but another part is resisting it because it is a harbinger of some compromises and re-arrangements which are unsettling. It makes me realise how we wish for things without truly comprehending its effects. I was perhaps not fully ready for whatever I had wished for.

--I'd then perk up as you offer consolatory words and move on to tell you how our apartment complex has suddenly erupted up in festive liveliness and colourful spirit. It's taken a while for this to happen but it's certainly heart-warming to see the various ethnicities warm up to one another and emerge as a homogenous unit during community celebrations. Starting with a spirited patriotic front put up for Independence day to the cultural and devotional extravaganza for Ganesha, the energy has been pulsating.

--I'd share my experiences of the Ganesha celebrations; about how fulfilling it was to extend my contribution towards the prasadam-making for one of the days. I usually baulk at cooking large quantities of food and making a sweet for about 30-40 people was certainly not right up my alley. Yet, I brushed off my hesitancy and agreed. I shed a copious amount of inhibition as I sang many solo bhajans but the grand surprise was my decision to take part in a group dance. You might raise an eyebrow at the mention of dance because you know of my limitation and reservations in that area. I'd smile and explain how I kept denying the invitation to join the event until I happened to witness the practice session. The fun and energy exuded by the lovely participants drew me in like a magnet and I impulsively joined in. I'd always be grateful that for once I went with the flow and did not stop to analyse the outcome. I enjoyed myself so thoroughly that now I signed up for a group Garba number during Navratri!

--I'd discuss how work has been very hectic lately. Perhaps, I'd crib about how it has kept me away  from sleep, blogging, and even being idle on Facebook. Now, the last part surely means I'm genuinely busy, right? Yet, I'll also be quick to agree that this is something I'm truly grateful for. Apart from the fact that I derive from it a sense of purpose, I love the teamwork, the energy, and the camaraderie we, as a small unit, share at work. And, I'm not trading this for anything else.

--I'd confess how laid-back I'm and how I do not see myself fitting in the current breed of enthusiastic  mothers, entrepreneurs, bloggers; people who carry a fire in their belly, wanting to leave a mark in this world, do something stupendous and leave a worthy legacy behind. I attended an event recently that talked about how to make yourself stand out in a similarly motivated crowd or competition. I loved the inputs and insights and even networked a bit with the attendees. I looked on with pride and amazement at how some good friends were a part of the panellist. Yet, I couldn't imagine myself being on the other side. No, not because I see myself as less capable. But because I totally lack the fire and passion. Come to think of it, while the rest of the participants furiously clicked and tweeted the proceedings, I sat there happy to just take notes in my diary. I was carrying an old phone whose battery was dying out even as I laid it to rest beside me. I'm also a bit lazy with clicking selfies and photos that need to go out pronto as FB statuses. No, I didn't even come back and shoot out a post here about the lovely experience as I got busy with life. So not the "in" thing. I know. Sigh!

--I'd perhaps look for validation as I admit that I'm someone who at times feels confident and raring to take on the world and at other times is intimidated and boxed into feeling inadequate in a larger and more accomplished crowd. That I readily take a step back in a circle when the others vie and scream for attention and I'd rather not be one among those.

--I'd tell you that I've missed writing for myself, here, in this space.While I do write every day as part of my work, something I enjoy doing as well, it is not the same as writing to satisfy my need to channelise the many thoughts, ideas, and musings that jostle for space in my head to grow and develop their individual identities. I had been itching to share all the happenings in my life and would thank you for the coffee date and the chance to spill my heart out.

--I'd also retreat into spells of silence and listen attentively to what you'd have to share. I'm a good listener that way.

*****