Places, people and everything thereof

A good ten years back, right after our wedding, N and I spent a few days in Chennai; hopping from one restaurant to another. I always had some anecdotes to tell him at every place. But somehow, the “corn florentine” at Eden fell flat and mainland china had taken forever to bring our order. Finally when we got a breather at besi beach, he had quipped that the only experience he was going to get at the end of this was a tummy ache.

Those days my parents lived in the building right next to amma-naana by the boat club road. And one late afternoon, I braved to cross that notorious junction by myself and walked to Anokhi. I was doing it completely wrong i realised. I was trying to resurrect my memories of Chennai with N in it, but there was no place for him there really. It was just me. I soaked it all in, one last time and left a piece of me behind in that sweltering city that gave me lots of good times in my four year stint.

That is the thing about places. Its a time capsule. a parallel universe if you may, of people who inhabit it during that time and whoosh just like that the magic cant be recreated.

Because that is how I am sure we will remember our recent vacation to Greece too. How four families, who have been friends for nearly 11 years now, made a laboriously planned vacation happen, with 7 kids nevertheless. Of not only loving each other’s company, but accepting our idiosyncrasies too. Because, if not for the latter, the world would be devoid of intimacies!

In a few years I am sure the little moments will outlive the absolute scenic beauty of our trip that the pictures will tell. They come wrapped in unexpected ways. In the relief I felt knowing, A had a nearly unending supply of theplas I could depend on to feed my kids when I wanted. When someone else could wander away with my little one, in his tantrums while I catch my senses. Of finally mastering the cycle-floating in the swimming pool, thanks to A who taught it to me like a song. The smirk i wear recalling how G is always hungry even after a full meal! How the word “laundry” had turned into a comedy or errors we are sure to retell for years..Of chuckling in the irony of after months of mind-numbing planning and we had to scramble a last minute plan due to ferry-boat-worker strikes on the very same day as our booking ! Of how N revised greece history books, even on the flight back.. And in the unbridled laughter we shared shopping till 2 am in the labyrinths of Mykonos.

And definitely many more that have little to do with Greece but more with comradeship that gets harder to find as we get older. I am but glad, we made that little mark in a time and space, that can span atleast another generation, when our little ones will recall how their parents braved a long journey to celebrate the bonds they have made. Because what good are places without people, and what good are we without friends to call our own!

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The stories the pictures don’t tell

Today evening I watched that crimson sunset from our tiny balcony; the perfect orange sun descending in a rush to the depths of the blue sea. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I was so rapt in the moment that a toddler in tow and the five year old asking one question after another, didn’t seem to distract me.

And just like that as the sun vanished, I snapped to reality. We made the restroom breaks and we were off to find a fruit platter to soothe their tummies before the hunger crankiness sets in!

The moments of getting lost in the beauty of this place and finally getting a minute to soak it in have been far removed and in-between. And I have been reminded umpteen times less by my own volition and more by my surroundings that this land or rather the Cyclades are not forgiving of kids being kids.

It comes in gentle incessant reminders at stores to watch them, or someone telling us that kids have a separate pool away from the unwritten “quiet” zone of the bigger pool. Or at the icecream place, where we were asked to take paper cups to-go and not sit there, since ceramics weren’t safe with the kids.

Mind you the positives are aplenty too! The food is fantastic. I can’t think of one bad experience so far. The little coffee and breakfast place in Santorini run by the sweetest lady who made wonderful omelettes and was extremely patient as our children rearranged all her decor. And the weather, is a tease. The equilibrium is so unfair, because of how consistent it is!

But in all, it is already hard to term a vacation with little children “relaxing” and when it is further taxed with having to ask them to “keep it down” because their presence and voices and antics are detrimental to the reputation of this destination, it can wear you down pretty fast.

I say this because not all parents want to camp or make annual Disney trips. It should be conducive or atleast accepting that kids live in the same world as adults. And a toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of the road shouldn’t make the parent want to cry in ignominy.

My boys have been amazing. They have complained so little and rarely with all the time zone changes, early wakings, packing repacking, bus, ferry, train and hours of walking. But still they have born the brunt of the pressure we have felt at many times that their discipline has failed to match the expectation of this place!

As i hear their gentle snores next to me while they are getting a much needed rest from a long day in the sun, I make a mental note to make tomorrow easier for them and for me. That helping them live in an adult’s world of embracing boredom is important. And so is learning to accept their ubiquity and varied personalities !!

The tragedy of oedipus

I awoke from a deep nap; the one on a moving vehicle that is neither relaxing nor disturbing. As I pulled my toddler closer and patted him back to sleep, I noticed the landscape outside and realized it was nothing like the labyrinths of Athens that we had experienced a day ago. We were in a bus to Delphi and the blue water and green mountains simmering in the golden sun seemed surreal.

The landscape washed over me but not without an aura of sadness, something I felt touched everything in Greece I have seen so far. There was a burden, a pallor that I noticed in her people, on the streets, in the glory they clung to, in the resurrection of archeological marvels, in the remains of a economic downturn, almost like a curse that has taken thousands of years and still hasn’t lifted.

The guide had a mellifluous voice and it paired perfectly with my still subconscious state. I was drawn into her story. Like most legends of Greece, this one too ends in a tragedy. Of an ill fated marriage of mother and son, unable to escape a terrible prophecy and hands of fate. A moral we have often heard but in optimism. “Thalela ezuthu ” as my mother would say. What is destined for you cannot be changed.

But the Greek legend had floored me. They were masters of tragedy indeed. They couldn’t have said this moral in a more tragic and dramatic way!

My thoughts raced to the acropolis museum we had been to yesterday and the exorbitant check we had paid for our lunch there. But mainly how underwhelmed the archeological remains of the Parthenon had made me feel. A magic that the history-tellers and touristy places in Italy had so easily spun, completely failed here. The ruins had a shroud that was hard to shake off. Almost like the country couldn’t break out of the concoction that is ” history” told in terms of gods and mortals and not knowing when one is not the other!

The guide was starting to talk about yet another legend of Zeus and how the sanctuary of Apollo had come about. I decided that the only Greek god or demi god I was currently inclined to dream of was brad Pitt in Troy. I zoned out and decided to get lost in the surroundings of the mountains and valleys that had by now engulfed my every view !

The unspoken Slack

NOTE: Written almost 4 years ago. Never published it then.
I had a severe bout of imposter-syndrome, not-doing-enough and waking up everyday with the “i-missed-the-train” feeling for over a month. Somehow this post i never published helped me recoup. And i felt it is something i should share, since it is one of those thing that is not mentioned enough times!!
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To All you slacking young-parents

My husband was laid off today. It was a surprise when only recently his annual review had gone well and he was entitled to a lump sum bonus, which he will still receive, along with a nearly comfortable period of compensation. My husband was always on the call of duty and gave 100% to his work. Even with fatherhood throwing some stressful challenges during the third month of my son’s nursing strike, when getting a few ounces of milk into him just to make sure he survives was a battle. He juggled work, part time MBA and fatherhood at that time. And not to forget be supportive to his wife who was undergoing severe breakdowns from mothering-nursing challenges and encouraging her to keep her job and look for new opportunities, instead of buckling down under pressure.

What was in fact not the surprise was my husband was ONLY giving 100% to his work during this period. the remaining 100% that is expected out of you was given to his family. So when he must have been weighed against a highly performing group which was giving 200% to their work compared to him, he was a logical choice.

In my 7 years of employment in 3 different companies so far, I have watched and learned this trend especially in this competitive economy. The first company my husband and I worked for 4 and 5 years respectively was a medium sized startup. The 2008-2009 time when many were losing jobs and the NYC stock exchange was slumping like never before, our company was in a sweet spot since we were making technology that was in line with the emerging market of data phone usage.

My husband and I had only a mortgage we were committed to. And we were working nearly 70 hour weeks and giving the 200% that is expected. You are always expected to over-perform to keep your job. We also over-performed, because we loved our job and there was nothing else that was pressing for our attention in those years. It helped us keep focus. We rose ladders pretty fast we well!

By the time we inched to 2010, the company’s visions were shifting or lacking and what could have been was starting to look bleak. During these years, we made many good friends and worked with many different colleagues. There were mothers who were spending more time pumping than in front of their PCs. There were pregnant women who were giving 100% but rushing back home in evenings to pick up their older kids from day care. There were dads who had to WFH because their kids were sick and werent available to answer questions I had for them immediately.

I should have made a mental note of these things back then, as a phase of young parenting, but it all comes back to me only now. When the first round of layoffs were announced, the ones giving 100% and a few under-performers were on the list. Back then to me, as the one slogging hours in the lab and continuing to work from home, the mother who completed her tasks on time, but rushed out at 3 pm to pick her son, came across as a slacker to me.

Things began to change soon after. The company was treading towards maintenance mode and work was starting to enter lackadaisical mode. And my husband and I feared the all eggs in one basket situation for us with regards to immigration and I made a jump to a big corporate, while my husband began his part-time MBA.

When I announced that I was resigning, lots of efforts were made to make me stay. There was a minimal financial compensation that was promised and given. There was a different array of projects that I was told I could head or work closely on. It actually felt great that my work was valued, but the decision was made to not wait till the company closed its doors and threw us all out and we are hanging in limbo without a stable work visa.

It was probably the last time I was ever valued so much for my work.

The first few months in the corporate went well, I was learning new things. The 40 mile drive was brutal. But i managed. And very soon, as this particular corporate is notorious for, a strange bureaucracy set in. There was restructuring, projects came and went. Projects worked on were randomly shelved. It was any employee’s nightmare. There was a general lack of morale. It didnt matter if you worked 200% or 100%. Many times it was even tough to find the opportunity to work 200%. There was work, there was angst that deliveries were not going to meet the date, but there was no proper delegation. there was Chaos and no visibility.

I started to reconsider making a move from this pet-peeve of “not enough work” but ironic chaos of “lots needs to be done”. Only to soon find out that I was pregnant. And like that I made my foray into the ‘supposedly-slacker’ work-life of young parent.

I eased into the feeling. Even till 8th month i drove in because staying home drove me mad. I worked on a project which I had to wrap since it was shelved multiple times in various stages. I bore through it with constant reminders from myself and extended family that all I needed to stress about was my child right now.

By the time my maternity leave began, I was far far away from associating myself as the 70 hour work machine. I wished like so many other mothers that maternity leave was atleast a year long and not the unfair 6 weeks. I remember hearing the story of a distant cousin whose child is a teenager now and she is a vice president of a company; she had skipped hopped and returned to work in 4 weeks after birthing. I couldnt associate myself with that at all, although her story had inspired me before and few months into pregnancy.

I am not saying every mother drops her dreams or will to work as soon she enters motherhood. I am simply stating, young parenting is a really tough phase and it requires 100% of your time. So when you are juggling multiple things, something is sure going to slack or come across as slacking. Like Indra nooyi mentions, there is the guilt and then there is priorities. The balance may take months or years to reach.

I once reveled to a friend on how magnanimous Google is even to new mothers. They offer 6 months of maternity, which is a far off dream for many working mothers in the US. She told me that mothers don’t take more than 4 months, which is like the unwritten accepted time. Mothers who have returned to work even after 6 to 8 weeks of break will tell you, how tough it is to find your bearing. I am not talking about the leaving-your-baby-in-someone-elses-care trouble here. I am talking about finding your worth in your job.

The world works on competitive opportunities and unique skill sets. 6 weeks is more than enough time for someone else to take your spot and limelight. The dependency they once had on your work would have shifted hands very easily in 6 weeks. And many of us go for the 12 weeks maternity leave and I will leave it to you to figure what becomes of her real “requirement” when she returns to work.

I have often noticed mothers change jobs or change teams soon after maternity leave. I did too. In my case, I was long overdue for a change and it was also my attempt to escape a sinking ship. But it mainly stems from the apathy that sets in which seems to say “you are not missed here anymore”, which can very well translate to “you are not needed here anymore”

Unlike what many internet memes and posts will tell you, fathers undergo a slump as young parents too. It is not like for a man, work will always be his first priority. A child burning with fever will always come before his important meeting. even if he manages to make it to the meeting, he may be thinking about how his child is doing

It is amazing we grow our children and our parents grew us fearless to remember that anything is possible and to never set limits to our dreams. It is also easy to state as a non-parent that especially women must not be told that career goals take a backstage when planning a family. I am a mother to a almost 2 year old and believe my dreams are very much intact and achievable.

Although if you had asked me just a year ago, I would have told you that it is impossible to shoot for the stars as a mother. Early parenting (young parenting as i like to term it) will take you on a low if not many, a few times at least. But it gets immensely better after you have found a rhythm to handle the happenings.

Whether it is pumping every 2.5 hours, or staying home too often to care for a sick child, or handling a baby’s transgressions in day care or worrying sick about feeding a picky eater, somewhere in the 0-5 years curve balls will keep coming your way. Most of us manage by hanging there during the lull and looking for a window of opportunity to make the leap.

At different stages parents are always hanging in there by giving their 100% at work and exhausting the remaining 100% reserve to their family. The mothers I knew who ran to pick their kids early, are now back in the groove working long hours in startups, while their now grown up kids dont demand as much time like few years back. Or the mother who decided to pursue her MBA with three to care for. And also the one who quit her job to complete her family with 2 kids and then went back to work.

Their stories tell me that it is okay that I am not exactly pursuing to be the next marissa meyers right now. Even if I am, i will get there in time, when I have found that space and balance with my family. It is an important parenting lesson that is rarely told to us. It is the phase that is very often panned as the bane of choosing motherhood over career. Or allow me to be bold to say parenthood, since it is no longer only about the mother anymore.

My husband was in the aggressively looking to make his leap after a period of lull, which stemmed from immigration and parenthood, when the lay offs caught him. Unfortunately that is how the system works.

Even if so much noise is made about leaning-in and making work places conducive for new mothers, it may take away a few discomforts, but doesnt exactly save one from losing or missing opportunities the economy and competition creates. But that is only the immediate effect. If you havent lost focus of your goals lulling in the lull, you will always find a time later on to make the leap.

And probably that is the message we have to impart to young parents. That a setback may happen. That it may be imminent for the situation. It may look like the world is racing ahead of us. But it is always possible to rebuild. There will be a time the chaos will settle. You will find your opportunity and at that time my friend, is when you make your leap without a doubt!

To my unbeknownst childhood hero

The year short of the 90s, appa was transferred to Patna. We left the comfort of my paternal home in Trivandrum, leaving behind thatha, thathi and periappa, on a glorious monsoon day. It was not their first time; my parents had spent a good many years before I arrived, in the foothills of Janjira-murud and later Pune. So going to unknown lands with unfamiliar tongues wasn’t new to them.

Like all of appa’s transfers, I went from “shattered and heartbroken, I hate this place” to “this is my (2nd) home” in the 3 years i spent there. We lived in a typical middle class apartment complex, all families like ours, most of the dads in government jobs. The kids did the whole “games at twilight” scenes in the evenings, went to same schools, the women had each others backs when the men traveled for work. It was a close knit group. Everyone knew everyone.

It was a time when telephone and television weren’t necessities and nevertheless to say we didn’t own either. One of the families with two daughters had a TV and VCR. And it was at their place we kids gathered to watch a movie every weekend. Sometimes we would love a movie so much (like Mr. India) that we would forgo the evening playtime to catch few snippets, if the video cassette wasn’t due to be returned, that is!

The kids who hosted the movie time were from Madras. And unlike in my case, their parents had not learnt hindi at all; so the kids were on their own to figure out the second language which was compulsory in our school. The older daughter almost in her pre-teens once quipped that, if Sridevi could rule Bollywood without any formal training in hindi, it can’t be that hard, could it?

That was the first time i learnt that Sridevi was a already a superstar in the south, I had not known about, but those details didnt matter to me much back then. I simply looked forward to the movie nights on weekends. And probably because the hosts were fans of Sridevi, it was mostly her movies that we watched most of the time.

And just like that through her acting prowess, flamboyance and seamless panache with wit, she had won the hearts of us kids. I clearly remember laughing till my tummy ached, watching her in chalbaaz! We also did a terribly co-ordinated dance routine with “hawa-hawai” ; And so when recently vidya Balan had revived that magical number for us, I played it to my kids over and over till they asked me to stop!

And just like that, without even realising or declaring, Sridevi had become a huge part of those years for me. In the years that followed and during the time I lived in Chennai, I caught on a lot of her yesteryear tamil hits too and remember weeping like a child after moondram-pirai ( sadma ). Gravitating to her movies had seemed so natural that I hadnt put a tag to it all these years. It is just that easy to love talent like hers, i suppose!

But when the news floated in and the judgments followed since last saturday, these memories had come flooding back. I didnt expect it to impact me as much as it did. May be because I wasn’t ready to feel like I lost a part of my childhood so soon. And may be with her comeback since English-Vinglish, I was looking forward to many more years of awesomeness to come. And for many like me, we may never get to find out!

Venus and Mars

Couple of weeks back, N and I celebrated the year of tin/aluminum. For the uninitiated it is another way of saying, its been 10 years since we were wedded in the presence of our parents and 2000 other people. Yes that number was not an exaggeration. I digress.

If you have been married for a while and meet other married couples in a group, I am sure you must have been privy to a jocular almost bordering on hidden-angst of rants, that can be rightly termed a gender-war. It is usually a tirade that raises from chores and routines and women taking the heavier load. But expressed all in jest; we all get a few laughs at the expense of the men who play along being the country-bumpkin when it comes to matters of domestic everyday chores that keeps a family afloat.

The truth is far from that and we all know it; we do, right?? It is no secret that if the skirmish of right-way-to-toothpaste was infact shaking the foundation of our relationships, this is not the forum we would be discussing it on. Since the matter is much more fun to create the laughs, that is exactly what is told.

On one such recent evening, amidst the peals of laughter that kept coming without a break, I felt obligated to contribute and drew a blank! No, it wasnt always like that and no I am in no means saying we have found the solution to that equal marriage, whatever that means!

We have our everyday battles. Well who doesnt. Because thats when I was reminded of the game we played on our 10th anniversary party. We were each asked some controversial questions and we sat facing away from each other and our answers were suppose to be gesticulated. ( example: who wakes up first in the morning . I pointed to me and N pointed to me ). we had a hiccup at “who calls the shots?”. Probably the only question we didnt seemingly agree on. ( 10 points for those who guess what each answered )

But when i thought more about it, it seemed like the best response i could hope for!

A friend recently shared an post on how women aren’t nags, but they are just fed up. It was a highly popular one which has been doing the rounds for a few months now. It said exactly what many women have been through and may be going through often; And what exactly was told in jest (few paragraphs above). To me honestly the article was a huge eye-opener. It made me look back on this parley from when i have been old enough to notice it.

My parents have a lot of friends and as a pre-teen and teen i often got dragged to lots of dinners, where the women helped the hostess in the kitchen and men discussed politics in the living room. When the mood would lighten, I often noticed ( while pretending to play) how the conversations shifted too. The women also joined after desserts and there is one joke that stands out for me. One man would say ” i have BP ” which meant “bharyiye pedi” he would explain ( means — Afraid of my wife ) and another husband would quip ” I have BJP ” which is ” bharyiye janmana pedi” ( Afraid of my wife since birth ). And it is a joke i have seen repeated so many times, makes the women folk cringe and men guffaw.

Now the reason it was so ha-ha funny, aside from the popular acronyms as pun was because it was not true. If a man was truly deeply afraid of his wife and considering how sensitive testosterone bearers were in the generation before ours, this joke wouldn’t have seen the light of day.

Things are not astronomically different or better now, unfortunately. Men are okay to entertain criticism for their lack of panache when it comes to leaving a kitchen sink clean, because they deeply believe that is not their department of expertise nor do they want it to be. Because it magically gets done right? When they are settling with the remote or wee hours of the morning when the wife is fuming/nearly in tears at the extra work; but doesnt pick a fight because thats the last thing one needs to get everyone out the door in the morning!

And this is exactly what all the women folk who were belting disapproval one after another sugar coated with laughs were actually trying to express. and here is where the line from the article stands out for me —

“Walking that fine line to keep the peace and not upset your partner is something women are taught to accept as their duty from an early age”

 That line is exactly what the evenings spent in the company of my parents’ friends taught me. We have a running joke about “docile-wife” in our circle, but knowingly or unknowingly through bring up and observations we all fall under that time and again.

While the article resonates with most of us and we all agree upon it, It forced me to look at a side I hadnt gone into. It forced me to a reflect upon a huge list of things that magically get done without my knowledge as well. Please tell me, you have that list; because honestly that his and her list is what is keeping you together, like yin and yan?

The generation before ours ( the one with the BP and BJP jokes ),  knew that list really well. Thats how most of them built that mutual respect, stuck to their side of the duties and moved on without letting the jokes take the better of them. The only time i saw that dynamics shift with my parents was when my father retired. It was rarely put on the table for debate.

Marrying those lists as far as they can get is probably one way to approach this. And accepting chores are well chores.. not a entity to load with peeves is probably another addendum to the approach. But hey! if it was as easy as I just typed and if we had a manual that was a one-size-fits-all we wouldn’t we having this conversation would we?

But, a third piece to it that even I have been guilty of, is an important one, I wouldn’t shun away from anymore. So it bothered me that the his-list is something the partners did without making a raucous, while the her-list was the butt of all jokes all the time. Either the his-list is too easy/too small or it is some kind of man-den-secret-sauce. It drove me to create a Loooooong list of “who Does it?” and probably i never got to completing it either.

That list helped me and eventually us in two ways – To take more active interest and participation, not just as a silent partner in matters that were handled for me! And churning that list to eliminate peeves from routines and setting priority. Well! how does this help to relieve the emotional burden women carry you may ask? I can’t give any guarantees that it will. But it is a darn good way to know where a couple stands with the equilibrium in the relationship. And very likely that is a good start!

So today morning, we skimmed the to-doist together. We decided who would handle which errand and to sync back in the evening. And before i made that beeline to the garage, I quipped with a tinge of exasperation for the 400th time (not an exaggeration) ” You know that the strainer in the sink doesn’t doesn’t clean itself, right?” And then i was gone!

 

morning musings

6 am is a wonderful time to be awake, especially on a friday morning. I stood by the kitchen sink, taking in the peach hues of a sunrise. The only sound in that quietude was the coffee filter going “PliP”. I paused some more. And before I knew I was cutting, grating, kneading and rolling the dough to make ‘ parathas with jam’ for the lunch boxes. The thoughts that consume me during these moments are usually the same — A mental run through of today’s todoist, a quick recap of where i left off at work and a brief rush of the runner’s high at finishing my workout before sunrise!

But today was different. I suddenly recalled a dream I had right before my alarm had gone off. It was about getting back in touch with an old friend. And funnily enough my brain had dug to the depths of remembering her mobile number which i knew byheart many moons ago. It didnt hurt, but it was a dull regret that the years of distance had reduced staying-in-touch to “likes” and exchanges of “what else?”. It was a natural run down that comes from not knowing what to say or share; and the moment it comes to a discussion of the weather, you know where its headed.

By the time the parathas were sizzling on the tava, I fondly remembered the long list of friendships that have stood the test of time and distance in my near-nomadic life; and there is that list of gently-letting-go and abruptly-ended, as well. And the third kind that emerged from blogging and twitter, which is a sort of a sisterhood of having each others back, that is so hard to explain to someone else!

“the camaraderie in female friendships are like that” I smiled, as I smothered the butter and jam, before wrapping the parathas. It was almost 6:30 and sunlight was seeping through my window. I quickly made a cup of coffee before the bustle of my morning would take over. I sulked at the first sip. It tasted nothing like what amma got me used to every morning when she was here for the summer. I made a mental note to ask her how she brewed it.

Like an afterthought, it hit me, that not all relationships suffer with distance. The every morning call to my mother is a testament to that statement. Infact, we have settled into this comfortable acceptance that we get along best when not under the same roof. I nodded a little thankyou to no one in particular for that early morning revelation. It was a near zen-like-moment; before I caught the shuffle of footsteps upstairs. My family was waking up and it was time to let the morning cave in!