Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Parenting 3.0

Looking at parents, children and the changing world of today, it seems parenthood isn’t going to be a piece of cake at all. It won’t simply entail giving birth, feeding and caring or raising and teaching or keeping them away from harm. It won’t be enough to follow our parents’ footsteps because their update on parenting is dated now. Their choices had transcended that of their parents I am sure, but we have stepped into a completely new generation. Parenthood now is a lot of unlearning the old and learning the new. It is the sensibility to spare the rod to understand the child. It is the responsibility of telling your kid that it is perfectly fine to be himself/herself and not follow the herd. In fact, it is a matter of pride to be special, unique and different.

The other day, in an on-going conversation about kids and their future, a friend casually slipped in a valuable piece of thought – “I will love my son even if he turns out to be gay tomorrow. He is my own and I will be proud of him.” I ruminated on it later, reflecting on its profundity and unprecedented conviction. Most cases of ‘coming out’, often had unsupportive childhoods and disgruntled, albeit, shocked parents. In such a situation, the individuals had to struggle to accept and then appreciate themselves. They chose friends over family, unknown strangers over familiar relations. Even our generation took its time to relate to homosexuality naturally. Therefore, my friend preparing herself to accept it, if her son turned out gay later is a commendable thought for me. I also realised that not just sexuality, but many other things that have been standardised commercially will need to be debunked when I raise my kid. I’ll have to make sure that for him/her, height, complexion, hairdo, income brackets, community or place of origin do not become a matter of judgement or self-assessment. 

I’ll also have to teach my kid what is appropriate and inappropriate – politically, racially and gender-wise. I will have to give him/her an environment that is not sexually prejudiced – no blue for boys and pink for girls necessarily. I will have to ensure that the child learns how to protect himself/herself against perverts and kidnappers. I will have to teach him/her to appreciate fitness and like organic foods, and not stress-eat burgers with fries. I’ll have to tame my own social networking habits to teach him/her that they don’t give evidence of your social standing and popularity. I’ll have to apologise myself if I expect my child to apologise to me for doing wrong. No kid in this age is going to accept anything but an equally respectful relationship with its parents.

My 12-year old niece is very sensitive towards gender-based comments like ‘getting married and becoming someone’s wife’. She doesn’t like being told what she cannot do because she is a girl. Thanks to her mother, she is growing up to realise that feminism is an ideology of respect and that she can claim it as much as the next person, no matter what gender. She is growing up to be a responsible kid, and despite her quiet self, she knows when to voice in what matters. She also plans to buy a bungalow and a farmhouse when she grows up. When we were young, most parents refrained from telling us problems of the family – financial, interpersonal etc. My parents were rather candid, but I probably wasn’t too savvy to figure it as maturely as kids nowadays do. So we grew up, quite oblivious of many matters that, had we understood earlier, we could have staved off them on our way. Now, of course, parents make it a point to tell their children almost everything.

It is important for a child to know what the financial status of the family is, no matter how rich or poor. They must learn that money is not just for spending but also for safe keeping for emergencies, for planning their future and for the parents’ retirement. They also ought to know that money doesn’t always keep coming. Sometimes, there can be breaks in the flow. They need to envisage their future not on the basis of their parents’ bank account but their own plan of action. Without this knowledge, any rich kid would like to cruise along the Pacific, not knowing if the parents are draining their coffers; and any poor kid would resign to fate or switch to dishonourable means. 

I would also need to learn with my kid, as he/she does in the learning curve of their growth. If I do not learn, I will not follow. If I don’t follow, I won’t be able to guide well. And that is going to be precarious if I am to look after my son or daughter well. Kids are uninhibited towards newer and more complicated subjects and when faced with competition, often respond positively. Grown-ups on the other hand, either become defensive or depressive. Neither will help if we are to cope up with them in the long run.

It has also become mandatory to teach kids about sex today. No more shying away when it comes to birds and bees. Our parents had trouble talking about sex in front of us. Yes, mum would have some lessons to impart, which she delicately laid out, often inducing fear and restriction. But now, we have to conquer our discomfort and address the elephant in the room. We need to tell them that sex is not a villain; unsafe sex is. We have to tell them why it is unsafe for them biologically, to indulge in sex at a young age. We’ll also need to encourage them to express their emotions freely – be it infatuation, be it the desire to experiment, be it fear. As much as this is important, it is also utterly essential for teaching kids the importance of avoiding and reporting undue touch. 90% of child sexual abuse emanates from known relations – uncles/aunts, teachers, regular delivery men and in extreme cases, parents themselves. It is imperative therefore that the child knows how to detect unsavoury behaviour on part of the grown up, be it in touching restricted zones of the body or enticing them with solitary attention via gifts or perks. That includes telling the child what zones their bodies are restricted to touch. Unless kids know that, they will be easily susceptible to abuse and later guilt and stunted social personalities.

Having said that, we have to have a voice ourselves if we expect our children to grow up into individuals with a voice. Unless kids see us taking a stand for ourselves, they will emulate our fear as a normal behaviour. We are often told that parents have to sacrifice a lot for their children. Well, in this century we have to sacrifice our submission to adverse situations or people and be bold. We have to make that leap of faith and believe in ourselves. And we have to believe in our kids too if we want them to be confident about their ventures. Often, children suffer from the lack of trust from parents – not in regards to their character but regarding their ability. Most of all, we’ll have to know how to deal with failures – both theirs and ours. We’ll have to teach them that it is alright to fail if we pull up and fight back. Above all, we’ll have to have them know that life is not always about working hard and amassing wealth; that they will need to sit back to enjoy their hard work’s benefits because happiness might be expensive to earn but free to experience. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

My mother taught me that I am important

As a woman of the house, it is often taken for granted that you’d sacrifice for others and let them take first priority every time. I did grow up with such a mother in my early years. After some time, she might have realized how stupid that was and chose to live for herself as much as us.
Mom and I have been very close since I was a child. Not a surprise really, because dad was the more possessive and the silently brooding one, who would burst out once a while, and otherwise assume you read his mind all the time. So yes, mom was closer because she didn’t assume we knew what she thought. In fact, she was pretty overt about what she felt, thought and expected. She made sure we knew she was as important as dad. She would never take a smaller piece of food/delicacy, just because she put a big one on ours (my brother’s, dad’s or mine). She’d rather cook more. Also, she made it clear to us kids very early that just because there was quarrel between mom and dad, it didn’t mean we could see her in any low light. Her authority remained untouched no matter what circumstance. She didn’t treat dad like a god nor did she expect us to treat anyone like that. She didn’t appease someone just because she was expected to. If she didn’t like someone/something, she made it clear. She did all her duties as a daughter or sister-in-law but she didn’t bow down to ill treatment silently. She’d fight back even if that led to a commotion.
Honestly, while I appreciated her openness, I found it overwhelming too. But as I grew up into a woman myself, I realised that if she didn’t do it, we’d always expect her to give up or give in. I realized the importance of a woman making her intentions clear and not just having a mind of her own. I figured that if you don’t stand up for yourself, nobody else will. She also taught me that if I allowed people to walk over me, they will go on and trample. She also had a strange conviction in me and my brother, something we didn’t have ourselves; probably, because she had undying conviction in herself. She always moulded herself to understand our side of the story before she brought on hers. Yes, we fight and damn hard. But she always pauses to listen; and if she doesn’t disagree, she accepts.
She has never waited for us to make her life meaningful. We do make her world go round, but she never compromises on her own time or space because of us. She even asked me if I didn’t want to marry, so she could brace it and move on. I suppose she would have even made herself accept it, if I was gay. She’d have taken time, but she’d have accepted it. Because, even before people could publicly speak about it in our social circle, she was telling us about homosexuality and meeting my gay friends amicably.
As far as my memory goes, she always had short, cropped hair and a plump physique. She suited her wardrobe and hairstyle as per her convenience, no matter how ready the society was for such an upgrade. She switched to salwar kameez and pants, when saris became cumbersome for her. She always carried her weight off well – although taming my carbs because of her hereditary gene – and told off people who fat-shamed her. She brisk-walked 45-60 mins a day and lost considerable weight in her late 50s before hypertension and diabetes could find a home. She has always tried setting an example for us rather than giving advice. She has mild arthritis now but doesn’t stop her evening walks, lest that become an excuse for a passive old age.
When women her age are either worrying about political showdowns, girls getting drunk, live-in relationships or why Simar turned into a fly, she reads, listens to music religiously and keeps a tab on every new model/actor/beauty pageant winner. She lately watched Zero Dark Thirty and recommended me to watch it!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Reading saves me from People & Things


Three years ago, I was working in a media house with awfully demanding hours, adeptly keeping me off social or personal time. Reading my edit drafts over and over again, not to forget some really despicable articles from here and there had given me a reading handicap for years. I couldn’t go past a line without some grammar or punctuation haunting me.

It was only after I took a therapeutic break with my marriage that I took to reading again, this time, without Track Changes. I reread some old favourites (Goodnight and God Bless – Anita Nair) and turned leaves of some new ones (Red Sun – Sudeep Chakravarti). With time, this pleasant habit developed slowly and then gradually became indispensable. It covered my lonely hours when the cop/husband went out on operations, and kept me company when the skies were pouring too heavily to get out of my three-room hostage situation. I also watched all the seasons of F.R.I.E.N.D.S during this time. TV and books had become my roommates.

The present day is settled, with a good three years of – knowing the husband and his habits, earning a postgraduate diploma on the side, learning a few ropes of being married and unlearning a lot of other things. Reading has taken a different gait altogether now. I have read a lot on my android devices, at leisure and even while waiting at the doctor’s clinic. Currently, I sport a Kindle (courtesy: the ever-loving husband who almost forgot what to get for my birthday) and I am stocking up the old and new in it, as Goodreads and friends’ suggestions hit me up every few days.

But lately, I have realized that I almost panic if I don’t have a book on me (digital or hardbound). I am a talkative person when I want and when the company is conducive, but I also find that being with your books is the most sophisticated form of reclusion when you don’t want to engage with someone or in something. Sometimes, I find myself being repulsed by people and their behaviours, things that happen around me or incidents that are flashed on news screens. Since I am not one to take any and every opinion favourably, I realize that it is healthier for me to cut loose of the situation with my current book of occupation to avoid dire consequences. It is also infinitely more pleasant to know how someone in some generation fared while socio-political circumstances took a toll, than to live it by the minute in your own reality. It is in fact irrevocably ugly to find that your freedom of speech is ready to be pounced upon, arrested and charged as sedition. The strong-minded can go on arrest the law that arrests them. I’d rather find solace in listening to the well-dressed humour of P.G. Wodehouse or peeking at the lamp-lit earthen kitchen of Marguerite Johnson (Maya Angelou) that gives my heart the beat it missed, out of shock and awe at the petulance of my country and people.

Books have, much like movies or music, become my greatest and most pleasant form of freedom. I can think and judge as I please. I can offer my opinion on it and the ensuing debate with someone won’t take any leftist or rightist turn without touching upon the intellectual. I can make new friends without really getting too close to them – after all, we only share our love for certain books; not our personal ideologies. And the best reason, I’m always excited about the next one!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Out of a reverie

Today there’s baked, honey-glazed chicken for lunch – leftover from yesterday’s dinner. I think sticking to veggies would have been a better option, but we’re homemakers. Unless there’s 3-day old chapatti or meatless bones, we don’t usually think of throwing it away! 

Someone is playing a Chennai Express song in my neighbourhood. I don’t quite like the song and I am relieved that the music is coming in broken wafts. Hubby left for work and I am left to my own devices, literally! As I type in my wandering thoughts, the window lets in a film of invisible dust that quietly settles on the crevices of my laptop and coarsens the tips of my fingers. But I have to let the window remain open. I am sort of a closet claustrophobic. (Wow, that sounded stuffy already!) The weather is playing a mean game, disconnecting my Wi-fi and distorting my DTH signal. The way the wind is blowing, one would think we live by the seaside. Except, there’s no salt in the air. Only dust. Decadent, germ-laden, phagun dust. Being a day person, this can be quite off-putting because I strive to work during the day and keep the reading for the night. But the cranked Wi-fi is making me of no use. I know that when the summer stillness sets in, I’m going to miss this breeze, but right now, I’m praying for a shower.

To stop my mind from getting muddled I’ve made some green tea for myself to browse through the books I read and those I ought to read – a calming topic for a windy day. Hubby is a Philosophy fanatic. Anything bordering on deeper thoughts could kindle his imagination and curiosity. Maybe that is why he suggested Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for my next read. I am used to reading easier thoughts, concrete facts of fiction, tangible emotions and characters. You can call me a bloke but I am precisely what I read. Right there, in your face! So the description of the sea and seafarers in the novel ‘opened sesame’ to the unkempt thoughts of my brain. I took a quiet hike from it, leaving it for wiser times. I’d do better with Adichie any day. She talks to me, helps me be grounded. As for now, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings!

I often get back to Jack Reacher and his kin to see some real car-chasing and nail-biting deal. Those are times when I am reading a wee bit on the heavier side and need a trippy trip. Otherwise, I am always looking for humour. P G Wodehouse is funny and very sophisticated of course. But most contemporary authors that I’ve read, end up writing autobiographical essays in book form. Not that I don’t enjoy them. But I would like to see something challenging in the genre of humour, something someone hasn’t done before. That reminds me of Jugal Mody’s Toke. He got me -- hook, line and sinker. Weird and often creepy, the humour strung out of the Indian mythological characters and with much reverence, I must say.

Someday, if my time is right and the people around, wrong enough, I’d turn into a humour writer too!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

What makes Life

It’s strange what conversations can bring up. One moment you are in the present, and another, you are cycling down the road to nostalgia. I was talking to my aunt-in-law (aged more like a sister and sharing my cop-wife fraternity) when childhood memories of the then popular occasions of celebration flashed by my mind’s eye. As cop wives, we tend to manage without our spouses on most occasions when the rest of the world is engaged in family revelry. To put it rather bluntly, they are out protecting other people’s memories in place of making their own!

Bohag Bihu, a seasonal festival of the agricultural domain, had a rather bucolic impact on us as children though we weren’t farmers. My dad was, of course, working for the tea/agriculture industry, but we didn’t stay in villages. Yet, the charm of the festival –with its cow-bathing rituals (Goru Bihu), the bamboo skewers that held the vegetables for the Goru Bihu chant or the acrid smell of turmeric and lentil paste for smearing on cows as well as men (for health purposes apparently) – never really dies. The festival meant a visit to the grandparents’ – both sides, on the same day. Dad would buy the latest Bihu cassette and play it on the car tape recorder and we’d almost dance all the way. Playing hide and seek with the cousins, dancing to the tunes of the latest Bollywood hit or enacting self-directed plays out of my talented elder cousin’s repertoire – were the highlights of the day.   

Durga Puja had another meaning. Brother and I had probably taken too many turns in asking ‘are we there yet’ while on the way to the grandparents’ on Ashtami. So, dad devised a game of counting how many puja mandaps there were, all the way. While we got busy in that, the parents had probably heaved a collective sigh of relief. Though I come from a traditionally Ahom background (essentially non-believers in idol worship), doing puja was a family ritual. How that came into practice, I have no idea. But we always offered the Ashtami puja. And to do that, we crossed two districts to land up in a quintessential hamlet like tea-garden named Tippuk. It is still there and they still do puja in the large community hall. Grandpa, being a child’s delight, always offered to have fun with us in ways that the parents couldn’t. He’d giggle and laugh and make fun and whatnot. In that neighbourhood, someone did ‘kumari puja’ – the worship of girls who hadn’t attained puberty, as images of the goddess Durga. I was invited to that household for a few years. I’d sit with a couple of other girls and enjoy a platter of puri-sabzi and sweets. The taste and experience will always be memorable to me, especially because I was 'selected' to be a part of it.

Thinking back now, I invariably remember the things that were experienced in the company of my family and loved ones. I realize that if I measure the times I was able to afford expensive, family-less experiences to the times I was not, the latter would win hands down. There is also certainly some delicacy in the 'not getting' of everything that makes an experience worthwhile. The not getting of flashier clothes and toys, the not getting of night-out or school picnic permissions, the not getting of pocket-money – somehow made us treasure what we did get, the time with the family. These special memories with them can never replace any other that doesn’t have them in it.

When I look at those days now, I feel like plunging into the yesteryears, as in Dumbledore’s ‘pensieve’, if only to relive them again – with my doting grandpa, the din of the younger cousins, the colours of the balloons that we brought home, the taste of grandma’s economic and yet delectable ‘aloo sorsori’ (deep-fried potato wedges). I’d give a dime and more to take a trip to those days of my life if only to understand how meaninglessly we pursue a fast and apparently full life; one that leaves out the most important element of it all – the people we love.  

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Clicktivism, no thank you!

Outside, the nation is bawling about President's rule eating up democracy in Arunachal Pradesh. People are wondering what it means to have the French regiment marching on the Rajpath on the 67th Republic Day of India. Students all over India are protesting against the inhumanity of Hyderabad University research scholar Rohith Vemula's death. And I am nestled here, browsing the news channels in a *bucolic enough spot of earth, wondering if the mulch wasn't good enough for my flowers this year.

Armchair opinions are not just a homemaker's weapon for the outside world. It is something anyone and everyone that is moved by a piece of news, can pick up to show allegiance. How, a homemaker, waiting for the next free day on the schedule of her busy husband, can make a difference in the crazy insane reality of the world - is something I am deeply concerned with. Because homemakers are sadly only associated with Good Housekeeping tabs and Yoga channels because our voices seldom find many audiences. And true in fact, the interaction level remains rather minimal and mostly homely.

So I decided one thing. When posts on a gregarious topic flood my feed, I will abstain from speaking - whether it be Modi or Free Basics. Let the cacophony find peace. Because more than often, the ranting voices on the social networks that we so maniacally cling to, do not rise up to become something substantial. The issue(s) often dies a forgettable death and fizzles out like a bad firework. Coffee house discussions have just found another table, this time on the internet, and the coffee pot does more labour than the clicking tongues and rising tenors.

If at all I want my opinion to matter, I think I will reserve it for actions. If I am not a student, no amount of Likes or Shares can matter to the cause of Rohith Vemula's sorry demise. If I'm not from Arunachal or from the board that decides what to do with its future, my political incorrectness will not break a leg in the President's chamber. I can, however, write directly to the President (open letter, I suppose) if I can articulate my concerns over the Arunachal issue well enough for him to mull over. I can also probably find out what Vemula's death might congenitally transfer to students of my state and write/speak to my university for a careful handling of those who are fighting for a dignified place in society and the ensuing protests of Vemula's suicide. 

Other than that, if I engage myself in plaguing the internet with meaningless blood pressure releases, I will be nothing but another addition to the sea of unknown faces who are venting their fractional fury through a click. And I don't really want to be that!

*Note that when I say 'bucolic', I do not necessarily mean 'pleasant and idyllic at all times'. It simply means village-like.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Gluten-free and fun!

The other day I came across this website that made me rethink my predicament and accept the new me – which is supposed to be, gluten free. I am putting it like that because the other way would be – I am allergic to gluten. So anyway, the website made me feel part of a community, accept that this is going to be a way of life and that there are many others who are facing the same problem. In short, they were saying, “Welcome to GFA – Gluten-Free Anonymous”. I could almost see myself sitting on a chair along a circle of other troubled celiac cursed people. The website did have recipes and options for gluten-free living and diets but I still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a sorry situation. The whole thing sounded like ‘we are with you’. Was I into therapy now?

I shun the putrid thoughts and concentrated on the good things about it. I would have to give up maida (refined flour) which somehow managed to screw up my lipid profile already and my LDL is now pretty borderline! For those scratching their heads, lipid profile is not something that makes you a pro or look pretty, it is your cholesterol test. So the bad cholesterol aka LDL was busting my blood stream and the gut was already celiac cursed. Need I worry more? Damn, I was supposed to talk about the ‘good things’. 

So yes, the good things that came out of my ‘condition’ is that I started watching what I was eating. I love cakes which goes on to say that dropping flour off my chart was like getting dumped on email – shocked and without explanation! I decided that since it was necessary to drop pastas, pizzas and the equally criminal cheese and cream out of my way, I would not give up on cakes, even if it means having a slice a month. Now since the website (which shall not be named) already made me feel clinical about myself, I chose to find a happier path and started browsing Instagram! And then, I found Sheila ( Yeah that’s her name and she surely is one helluva Sheila. Sheila here is not only jawaan and awfully pretty, she also has a very handsome husband and two adorable kids and she makes me feel classier about being gluten-free. I emailed her a few times and let’s say, she and not her customer care team, encouraged me to try a few things for starters. I had a bag of almonds, gifted by someone on some occasion lying in my drawer and I had never thought of them until now. Sheila skips dairy and drinks almond milk instead, and the flour that is the residue of the process comes in handy for baking! My heart cried out with joy. I was ready for cakes again.

That a friend’s Facebook food posts were tugging at my sorrow chords, is now not beyond repair. Sure, I might not immediately come up with her delectable Bundt cake, but I shall and I will, try and try again. To cut to the chase, I baked an almond cake yesterday and it turned out so yum, I felt like a mother rescuing her kid out of the kidnapper’s hands! The recipe I turned to, did not mention butter or oil but I was worried it might burn the cake and therefore added a few dollops of butter nonetheless. I mean, I hadn’t yet come to trust the oil of almonds completely. And the best part is that the husband, who is usually ordering off a completely different menu than mine, loved it to bits…literally! There are only a few portions (not slices) left of it now and I am super excited to try something more gluten free.

In all this, I have learnt one lesson. Practice more than you preach. Sheila, thank you for not trying to put the spirituality of ‘gluten-free living’ down my throat and instead, enticing me to try it as an adventurous new lifestyle. I know I will have to manoeuver a lot through the aisles of spicy, dairy-loaded, flour-heaped Indian cooking, but I will find my way of living and revel at that very soon. 

For those, remotely interested in the recipe, here's it.
ALMOND CAKE (no wheat!)

250g ground almonds
225g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
6 eggs
Zest and juice of 1 lemon 
1 tsp vanilla essence

Blend this together and bake for 40 minutes. Voila!

P.S. This is not Sheila's recipe. I just got it off a Youtube Clementine & Almond cake and dropped Clementine off the list.