Guest Post — Lessons in management

I have often mentioned about appa’s stint in the rural village in maharastra, in my posts. He narrates a story from that time and a few others! Do read.

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(Recently Published in the house-magazine of the Bank, my father had worked for over 30 years)

I am going to narrate a couple of stories elucidating certain useful management principles which I learnt without the help of Peter Drucker and /or other management Gurus. One of the stories has been told to me by my grandmother in whose presence I used to spend the best of summer holidays during the childhood. A real life incident is also given alongside.

The first story goes like this…….there was a nampoothiri priest who was very regular in going to the village temple for performing the rituals there. He died due to old age. And his young son was set to assume the mantle. Before the son took charge as the temple priest, his mother started giving him her views about how he should perform the rituals and behave with the devotees and other officials. On the first day when he finished his forenoon rituals and started his return walk home, the lady of the house in the neighbourhood told him “the food ready. Please honour us with your company for lunch today”. The young priest refused the offer politely even though he was hungry.

He came back and narrated the incident to his mother. Mother immediately replied “you should never lose the food in the neighbourhood” for which he nodded in agreement. The young priest used to get the offer from the neighbourhood on a regular basis and he excused himself in one pretext or the other. The mother also kept reminding her son about her piece of advice not to lose the offer for food in the neighbourhood. The young priest sometimes wondered why his mother was reminding him about this more often.

After a few weeks, one day the young priest was on his return journey from the temple. The lady in the next door invited him and even complained about his refusing to oblige not even once. Reluctantly he accepted the offer and ate his lunch there. It was a bit late when returned home. His mother was as usual waiting for his arrival. By looking at his mother’s face writ with anxiety, he quipped “you used to tell every day that I shouldn’t lose the offer for food ………..I didn’t lose it ………I ate it today”.

The mother was very disappointed. She was upset because her son did not get the real meaning of her advice. She explained to him that she never wanted her son to lose the offer for food from the neighbour. The offer would cease once it is accepted. She always wanted her son to stand head and shoulders above the rest.

My grandmother had not studied in any high school, leave alone college or management institute. But the principle she wanted to drive home was relevant from any style of prudent management. In the present day management jargon we may say it as “there is no such thing as free lunch”.

The very idea of taking anything free was not acceptable to me when I started my career in the Bank. Asking for a favour from a customer was the last thing I would do during the initial days of my career. As an young and ambitious Bank officer with ideals of serving the poor and down trodden accepted as the “karma” to followed, I too started working in rural branch in the coastal Maharashtra during the seventies. It was a branch in the thick of the bazaar area full of hustle bustle during the day time and fairly calm in the night barring the regular call to prayers delivered through the loud speakers fitted to the minars of the next door mosque.  I was staying in the manager’s residence provided just above the branch. I used to get back home late in the night only after finishing the daily chorus sitting in the branch just below the residence. My wife was not very happy about my spending most of the time in the bank. Sunday used to be kept for a leisurely routine. It was a day for late rising, forenoon swim in the nearby beach, a late lunch and a short slumber thereafter. Generally it used to end with a drive to the nearby temple in the evening.

It was a Sunday morning. I was shaken out of bed with loud sound of the calling bell which rang continuously for about thirty seconds. It was only about six in the morning. The room was still dark. I had to switch on the light to find my way through the stairs to open the door. I was half asleep. I wanted to know who put an end to the most comfortable early morning sleep in the month of December. As I opened the door, there was a man in his forties with folded hands and an earthen vessel with its neck tied with not so clean piece of cloth placed in front of me. He was a farmer who availed a loan for a buffalo the other day. He had come to give me the news that the buffalo had calved. He had brought a vessel filled with “Kharvas”* for me. With folded hands he thanked me profusely and requested me to accept the sweet specially brought for me. Even though I could understand almost all that he talked in the local language, I could not reply to him for two reasons. I was really furious for having lost the sleep. Secondly he had brought me something in return to what I considered as my duty. With a frown face and fairly loud voice I sent him back slamming the door on his face. I returned to bed. But I could hardly sleep. Half an hour later, the bell rang. This time it was the same person along with my colleague agricultural assistant Gaikwad. Mr.Gaikwad tried to convince me to accept the sweet which I again refused. After a series of exchange of words, I stood my ground and ultimately told that I would pay the market price and take it for distribution among all the staff in the branch. The farmer fell on my feet and requested again seeking my forgiveness. I could see tears rolling down his cheeks. He was very much upset over my offer to buy the sweet. He repeated that it is out love that he had prepared it with the first milk after the delivery and I should not refuse it. My wife who was watching the whole episode called me inside and requested me to relent. At last, I accepted the vessel with both hands. A piece was cut and given to him and Gaikwad. I too ate a piece of it. The farmer returned after thanking me and my wife with folded hands. To cut the story short, throughout the tenure of my posting in the branch, my wife purchased milk from that farmer. Even after leaving the village branch, we used to exchange letters for a long time. Needless to add that it all ended as a relationship beyond banking.

The story had also taught me many a lessons. Just as “all that glitters is not gold”, all that is given is not bribe. Similarly love and reverence cannot be priced or bought. Respect can be commanded and not demanded. In almost every posting, I could learn new lessons and today I can proudly claim to be a better human being, thanks to our Bank.

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*Kharvas — A typical Maharashtrian sweet made out of the thick first milk after calving, jaggery, grated nutmeg, cardamom etc..

Live in the moment

I grew up listening to songs, from a time, from before I was born. When I was seven or eight, I borrowed from appa’s collection, a painstakingly recorded cassette of songs of the black and white era; recorded when it played on the radio. I still remember “yeh raat bheegi bheegi” starts of in crinkles of a broken radio transmission before it reemerges. Over time i discovered ARR, but these songs of Illayaraja, Yesudas, Mukesh and KishoreKumar, from an era I only understood through the sacred recordings of my father, always held a special charm.

They were like a comforting cup of chai after a long day. They were sung and sung again during antakshari sessions with cousins during summer vacation power cuts. They didn’t complicate with slang and slurs and remixes; making it easy to memorize lyrics and mimic tunes after a few listens. That was and is their simplicity and beauty!

Amidst these wonderful songs, there is one genre which was appa’s favorite. May be because it coincided with his bachelor and newly married days in Pune, he never missed amol palekar’s movies and he would never stop to mention how wonderful the music in those movies were. Probably every malayali’s soft corner also emerges from the fact that the lovely renditions Yesudas has given to Hindi film music of that time, 70% of them were for amol paleker’s movies.

Today, as I enjoyed and rejuvenated in my yoga class, when the teacher decided to twist it a little by playing 80s Enligsh music for a few min to pep us up, I was wildly amused. The energy that sprung from listening to yesteryear songs in the patrons was amazing. Someday when I establish my dreams of a yoga studio back home, I will play the songs, my father had unbeknownst passed on to me – I made a mental note.

In the final moments of shavasana, the teacher mentioned a few words of “living in the moment”. I let it through like a passing thought. Back in my car, I tried playing the “top 15” songs from current movies, only to not stick to any. I quickly changed to ‘Gulzar’s hits’ on a whim. Like a train of thought, to remind me again, from a movie of Amol-Palekar, Kishore Kumar crooned “aane waala pal”. The singer in gulzar’s writing, beautifully tells us –

The moment that is here, is here to pass

If you can, live a lifetime in that moment

For the moment will soon pass.

It was probably the best solo driving moment, I had in years. Clasping to the wheel, driving past a setting sun and humming to a tune that was telling me, the moment I was in was the real thing, not my other dozen thoughts. I set the thoughts aside. I breathed. I lived. I hugged the moment….. And then I let it go!

A wedding, A toddler and A vacation (well! almost)

It was with much enthusiasm that I had packed and planned and preplanned the 5 day trip we took nearly 10 days ago. We were taking a long journey to be at my cousin sister’s wedding and for first time in 15 years, I was going to meet everyone in my extended family at the same time! We were following the 2 day wedding events with a tightly scheduled Yellowstone national park visit and stay. Of course, we weren’t foolish to believe that we’d be on a honeymoon travelling with the overly active and transforming toddler, but I am sure every parent will agree, that even though most of your time still encompasses feeding, napping and diaper changes, a change of setting is always welcome for these activities 🙂 ( silver lining, folks! Look for silver linings… )

Now that I have made it sound immensely worse that it really was, here are the things that hit us like a boomerang giving us travel lessons with our little one –

  • Even a short 2 hour timezone change was like a sea of difference for the toddler. He’d wake up at 5:30 am, famished, it being his breakfast time in EST and nap at 10 am, since it was his naptime in EST. You get the pattern and it’d transcend thru the day.
  • Change of setting, driving lots and letting him finish his naps in the car or stroller, instead of giving him the luxury of a bed, we were pushing him to his limits as well. So, yes, can’t blame him for throwing a fuss as the day closed on us.
  • I packed a lot of home cooked meals and lugged a cooler or a mini fridge I’d say. Of course! You guessed it; we ended up eating most of that food, while the toddler was perfectly happy with chicken tenders, yellow carrots and fruits the place had to offer. By day 3, I gave up thinking about his next meal and took it as it came.
  • He was a sport, now that I look back! He managed to stay alert through most of the trails and treks, sometimes walking alongside us, sometimes on our hips and other times, rebelling to stand in the stroller rather than sit. He never complained enough that we had to turn back ever and we shoved him around day after day!

The trip was indeed an experience in all aspects, and here are all the “GOOD” parts –

  • The Bozeman wedding, in the wilderness, overlooking a gorgeous green hill was one of its kinds. The Indian attires glistening and ravishing in the lush green setting was indeed a treat! What were most amazing were two families from completely different cultures and countries bonding and celebrating the union of the beloved couple. For those interested, here are some gorgeous clicks – Photographs. My sisters, full of life and talents up their sleeves, only made the events more colorful than they already were. They spiritedly painted many-many hands in a single evening with henna (maridani/mehandi) and pulled off amazing maa-kolams at the wedding venue with allpurpose flour! Listening to them give the wedding speech filled with yesteryear songs was a treat in itself! Of whatever I caught of the wedding ceremony, my favorite part was J singing “Maalai maatrinaal” during the garland exchange.. She coupled it with English translations without missing a beat “She wore the garlands… She Exchanged the garlands” for the benefit of the groom’s party. It was lovely hearing it against nature’s settings! I relived my childhood summers, being around my family, only this time it was through the eyes of our children. We had come a long way, it was unbelievable!
  • And I must mention that the only grizzly bear we ever spotted during our stay was while driving to the wedding venue in Bozeman. He was cute, relatively small, probably a baby, quick and crossed our car. We were in disbelief before it hit us what we saw!
  • Old faithful and surrounding geysers were our first stop in Yellowstone. The unstable landscape itself was fascinating and annoying at same time. Annoying because of the rancid sulphide that fills the lungs as we walk the long trails, but fascinating that, you are experiencing something that may not survive this century and you are witnessing history. I loved the old country charm of the inn itself, reminding me of Hogwarts somehow (undeterred harry potter fan) with its winding staircases everywhere! Our room was tad small than we would have liked, but it was cozy. We also caught a geyser bubbling up, which isn’t as predictable as old faithful and much higher and powerful than the popular one, by chance, while enjoying the views from the inn’s terrace. That was the highlight of our stay there!
  • Upper and lower falls, was our next and most favorite portion of the park. We spent the day in various parts of the falls, braving the almost treacherous red rock trail that winded, steeped and rolled to the tip of the upper falls 600 feet in 0.6 miles. It was probably the most challenging and adventurous we got during this trip with the little one lugged on our hips. While we got pelted with hail near the mud volcano and some heavy rains near sulphur caldron, we were too excited to let weather dumb us down. Equipped with umbrellas and ponchos we had an eventful day spotting wildlife (Bisons aplenty, and some elks) in hayden valley and mesmerized by the falls, the gorgeous grand canyon of Yellowstone.
  • Mammoth springs was our exit spot of the park. On our way from Canyon village, we meandered through snow covered peaks, mount washburn dumped in snow, tower falls ( not as compelling as canyon falls ) and a long drive through lamar valley. Mammoth springs was a calcite based volcanic activity zone and thankfully it didn’t stink like the sulphur areas! The day was turning hot and probably more so around the steaming hot springs. We managed to complete all the trails in this area, with the toddler running alongside us.
  • I can’t exactly portion my emotions as we drove out of Yellowstone. Part disbelief, part exhaustion, part contentment.  It was a once in a lifetime experience. I felt for a large part immense happiness and peace too, because the toddler slept right at the start of the drive and woke up only 2.5 hours after when we reached Bozeman! 🙂 woohoo!

So, that was as good as it got and here is the BAD –

  • We caught glimpses of the wedding and even missed some parts of the ceremony. We also had to gush out of the wedding home before the late night dance party, lest our asleep toddler woke to the music! So yes! we missed the best part of the evening. Only few weeks back someone mentioned about a wedding invite which said “no kids”. And it had infuriated me. I probably understand the reason now; it is not to discriminate against kids, but to ensure the adults have a good time! With a child who is always exploring, and always on the run and in between ages of 0-5, try reasoning why his mother should enjoy the minty-elaichi-flavored-Gin cocktail instead of babysitting him and you will know what I mean!
  • My idea to stick with vegan/vegetarian/fresh food was met with ‘bite-in-the-a**’ reaction, when a fresh veggie sandwich on Sunday morning, before starting our drive towards YellowStone, ended up being painfully disastrous; making me spend most of the day throwing up and missing the geysers along the way to old faithful! I let father and son do the rounds that day. After that important lesson, it was black bean burger, on my staple diet all the way through!
  • Our otherwise sleeping manageable long stretches child, decided that now is the time to not sleep. We were spending nights catching sporadic sleep and waking up to a hungry angry jet lagged baby! It got better each day, and finally on Tuesday night, my son was in CST time zone. Oh you cruel irony! Our flight back to EST zone was on Wednesday 🙂
  • We slept in a different room, a different location each night from Saturday night to Wednesday night. It is bad and good, from where you look at it, but it also meant our backs were being subjected to every kind of bed, rocking a toddler and lots of driving, which did eventually give my husband a backache, at the end of the trip.

It gets better (NOT)… and here is the UGLY –

For the uninitiated, this is what Murphy was talking about.. We lived “it” in last 36 hours of our journey —

  • 11:30 AM flight out from Bozeman, delayed to 2:30 pm.
  • At 2:40 pm, sleeping toddler on the stroller, still waiting in Bozeman, click pictures of the picturesque views from airport for added boredom.
  • 3:00 pm, flight is canceled. Scramble stroller, bags and whatnots, arrive to be the last in the long line.
  • 4:00 pm, awake toddler confused why we are still at the airport. Finally, our turn arrives. We are on 6:30pm flight to Chicago. Provided stay in Chicago and next day 11 am flight to Boston. Woo hoo (not yet)
  • 6:40 pm, boarded the flight, waiting. We are asked to get off the flight; due to weather conditions in Chicago, no flights are getting permission to land or take off.
  • 8:30 pm, Sleeping toddler(phew!) we finally board and take off to Chicago. Some spectacular thunderstorm and lightning along the way, it almost felt they may turn the flight around. ThankGod! They didn’t.
  • 1 am, Chicago time, lost all sense of time zones by now. Finally checked into hotel, rested!
  • Thursday 11 am, flight to Boston delayed to 12:30 pm. No biggie. We have seen enough. Bite it out.
  • 12:30 pm, sleeping toddler (woo hoo), aboard the flight, driving along the runway…
  • Dang! A passenger has a seizure. Panic and the paramedics arrive in less than 10 minutes. He is well out of danger (thank god) and on his way out in 30 minutes.
  • 1:30 pm, toddler awake with commotion, wont sleep back, won’t eat, won’t listen, Wont anything!! Excellent.
  • 2:30 pm. Still sitting in stupid aircraft that is still parked in the runway! Because they still haven’t found oxygen mask and medical kit to replace the ones used couple of hours ago.
  • 3:30, wits ends, toddler cranky as hell from sitting on his parents’ laps for 3 hours, sleep deprived. Crying. I want to wake up from this nightmare.
  • 3:40 pm, finally the flight is on its way out.
  • 4:40, toddler still not sleeping, he is now biting an apple and spitting it into a cup. I let him. Now isn’t the time to discipline. Anything that keeps him occupied for the remainder of this journey. He finally goes to sleep tired from this focused job of biting small equal size pieces! Phew..
  • We finally made it into Boston. Our bags arrived. And we were home by 8 pm, nearly 24 hours later than we originally should have.

So if you are with me so far, you know why I term the trip an experience :-). Although there were moments I hated it, there were other equally awesome moments too. There were many silver linings and I am glad, we now know a little more about traveling with a child. Until another journey beckons us. Oh wait! You thought this would break us and we wouldn’t take any more trips? Unlikely! Like they say  – “ Traveling with a child, maketh a parent a stronger parent ”.. (shhh! I just made that up) So bring it on! 😀

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Green mountain state of mind!

Many years ago, when i began my mornings with filter coffee and the Hindu; the Tuesday addendum, with the section called ‘know your English’, also had other interesting notes on books and authors. One such read had told me that Rudyard Kipling had in fact written ‘the jungle book’ in a far far land with green mountains. I must have probably skimmed the name ‘Vermont’ back then, for it must have seemed like a land I can’t ever fathom.

The memory had come fleeting back, this past weekend, when we were in the heart of the green mountains and I probably understand where Kipling must have found his inspiration and peace to let his imaginations run free!

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Our journey began on Saturday morning, on an apprehensive note, rather than excitement. It was the first long drive and vacation, that didn’t include family-visiting for toddler A. Like anything with kids, we had no clue how it would pan out, even with all the planning. Our fears were put to bay, as the trip progressed and our little one enjoyed the stay as much, if not more than us!

As the 89N meandered into Vermont from NH, there was a significant change to the landscape — the green mountains, just burgeoning in the soothing bottle green colors of spring were starting to rise all around us. I didn’t bother clicking any pictures on our SLR as we sped past, but simply kicked back on the seat in comfortable crossed leg, taking in the views all around us.

 

2 hours into the drive, our little one, buckled to the car seat, woke complaining from his long nap and we took the next exit that had signs for food.  That detour was our first foray into countryside. For, we expected the big chains McD and the rest, but found ourselves parked in a little wooden shack with a gorgeous porch, a huge grill and run down rusted gas station units.

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While we treated ourselves to potato salads and chicken sandwiches, grilled perfectly on the outdoor grill; the piano, cozy seating and comfortably crowded porch with wooden embellishes of grizzly bears were a welcoming treat for my little one to gobble his lunch.

Thrilled and happy with full tummies, we resumed our drive towards probably the most anticipated part of our trip, the Ben and jerry ice cream factory in Stowe. Ever since, I had watched the documentary about the history of this place and the almost revolutionary way in which Ben and Jerry ran the place with a social conscience, I had wanted to tour their facility. I was never a fan of their ice creams and I was hoping it may change during this visit.

Unfortunately, I still found their ice creams, less than ordinary, even the most popular chunky monkey. But, that aside, I was more curious to be here to understand a culture of doing business with social consciousness they always emphasize. The tour of the manufacturing unit had no bells and whistles; a simple talk as we watch, the machines and employees do their job, from glass windows.

Of course, one can’t gather much culture by standing in long lines for free icecream. Probably the only point that stayed with me, and I could see it sort of permeate in almost all places around the town, was the emphasis on fair trade, local community farms and all-natural raw materials. Clearly I am not saying ‘organic’ here, it is a given. B&J is definitely keeping many many farms that do not use hormones for lactating their cows, in business around Vermont. Even with so many farms and cows we spotted on our drive, wikipedia tells me that the farms are on a significant decline in the state.

 

I was glad I didnt indulge in icecreams, for our next stop at the cold hollow cider mill, down the road, brewed some refreshingly warm cider and baked fluffy, gently sweetened apple cider donuts. We explored their other edible products and spent a little time, as much as our forever-on-the-run toddler allowed, to sit back and enjoy the picturesque mountains and the rains mingled with sunlight.

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A short ride ahead and we were in our B&B destination in the downtown of Stowe. From the little research we had done online to figure the restaurants and shops around the street, the picture in my mind was of something akin to probably a beach town. Oh! was I undoubtedly wrong in my imagination!

The main st, was interspersed with few cozy stores, fewer restaurants, some probably can’t accommodate over 10 patrons, local grocers, coffee shops and a predominant white church. We could walk the length and breadth of it in under 20 minutes, while pushing a stroller. It was this not giving into excess and the mountain town charm that I fell in love with. As we took a stroll along the walking trails in the woods behind the church that beautifully wound over bridges and streams, I was starting to realize that the places Enid Blyton described in her books were in fact not all surreal.

By now, couple of things had started to seem familiar about the area. One, the greenery is equally strewn with rivulets and streams everywhere. And two, the residents and visitors are probably one of the biggest dog loving/owning places in the world. We spotted so many dogs and pups; my son had a ball throughout the trip, even petting and playing with some.

When it seemed, nothing could probably go wrong with the day, we made the unexpected mistake of dining at a mexican restaurant for dinner. Of course, when one doesn’t expect punjabi Dhaba’s to ace the idli-sambhar, it was foolish to expect this place, so far away from anything remotely mexican to even offer the bastardized meals of chipotle! Nevertheless to say, thoroughly disappointed with the food, we called it a day.

Our B&B inn was beautifully decorated in classical style and the narrow passageways and stairs that housed the various rooms of the inn, reminded me of shots from Downton-Abbey. Hidden speakers played jazz along the passageways. Black and white photographs of an era gone by adorned the walls. One was in the 60s or 50s simply walking down a few hallways, it would seem. Our room was comfortably snug with a fireplace and overlooked the big bell atop the ski museum and surprisingly our toddler slept in well too!

After treating ourselves to a pretty magnanimous breakfast spread at the inn on sunday morning, we headed to Burlington, a bigger town with a waterfront. It was a gorgeously sunny day and the streets were crowded with finishers of the annual VT marathon that ended at the waterfront of Lake Champlain. Spotting runners everywhere in itself was a treat for me. Combine that with lolling in

the grass by the waters for a picnic was all very hunky dory, except in reality, I was mostly chasing my son who wanted to pet every dog he spotted around the area.

The festive church street in the city was our next spot to stroll. Street music players, stalls, eateries, shops, brick-stone walking paths, wall murals were all making it pretty addictive that we let the afternoon slip by simply gawking and parked ourselves canceling the long drive to Cabot cheese factory. The cappuccino I devoured at the LakeChamplain Chocolate store was the closest to those i had in Rome many years ago; coffee is best enjoyed sugar free. Yes indeed!

One doesn’t realise how the combination of sunny outdoors and a toddler can make one a weary parent! We found out soon enough by sunday evening, when we took that odd 5 pm nap as a family! Because of the late summer sunset, we also found time later to swim a little in the outdoor heated pool with our son, while another family staying in same inn as us, strummed on their guitar by the bonfire near the pool. Refreshed we again drove a few miles through stretches of farmland and cows to a cottage our friends had rented by a small pond. In the middle of nowhere, as it would seem, we spent a quiet evening reading to our toddlers and kids, attempting board games, laughs and probably the best pizza, from a family run restaurant nearby, I may have in a long time to come.

By now, the third detail about the state had started to figure for me. The easy and fresh access to milk and milk products of this place are contributing to make cappuccinos and pizzas seem more delectable than usual.

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Hanging on to that line of thought, we made two more stops Monday morning. First was a cozy little chocolate store with an open kitchen, run by two friendly ladies. We got a little discount for our purchases for being guests at the b&b down the street. Again I enjoyed their large cappuccino as we pushed the stroller in the rain. The second stop we made before heading out, was the malt shop, which was another ode to the 60s. The audacious decor of the era was complete with Elvis, Monroe, jukeboxes and vintage coke machines. They also managed to floor my husband with the ice-cream soda.

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As if in inertia of not wanting to head back, we decided to make another stop, on our way out, at the Von Trapp Family Lodge. You guessed it right, it indeed has to do with the Von Trapps who fled Austria from Nazis and have been fictionalized in the most beloved movie ‘Sound of music’. And they settled in this land of pastures and green mountains, reminiscent of Julie Andrews making her entrance from behind the hills! This mansion is atop the very similar looking hills. The place is run as a b&b and ski lodge now and they hold tours with few details about the family. To make the best of the time while our toddler napped in the car, we cut the stop short to a few clicks, skipped the tour and sped away, promising to visit again!

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As we drove back, exhausted yet relaxed as vacations are turning out to be, I was leaving behind a dreamy self. As we left each green hill behind, I was slowly snapping to normalcy; to routines and chores. Even the promise of visiting again started to look bleak. As we turned to our driveway, even the tease of curd rice for dinner wasn’t enough to ease me of the thought of the house work mound.

To Robert Frost who duly reminds us of the miles to go before we sleep — For more travels and dreams. For ships we must sail on. For the miles we must go before we sleep.

Movies, Religion and Malayalam

There was so much my husband and I didnt see eye to eye when it came to cinema, when we met, There was the obvious mohanlal-rajni tiff and believe it or not even at 22 years I crushed on srk, which he didnt get. Well! to think about it, I don’t get it anymore either. I will save that for later. Strike that. I am too embarrassed to even saving it for later!

But over the years of courtship, drama, marriage and parenthood, our convictions have loosened. I have watched one too many rajni, bhagyaraj and kamal movies, so I can no longer say ‘I don’t get the hype anymore’ and he has watched few movies, mostly lal-ettan’s and sort of gets the ethos; but still there are a gazillion things he ponders over about mallu-land and its cinema.

Some questions he asks have indeed made me look for an answer too; for what I consider normal may not seem so for an outsider. Malayalis seamlessly tolerate religion co-existence. Or so it is nearly all the time. We have beloved yesudas (often called das-ettan) who has rendered the best and favorite divine hindu songs. It is debatable that he isn’t allowed to enter guruvayoor for not being a hindu; then again which land doesnt have quirks.

Last time I visited Kerala, I noticed the churches have the kodi-maram with a cross on top, akin to the kodi-marams in temples. I learnt that vidya-arambham, the first alphabets of a child during navaratri season is also now practiced in churches. The edapalli punyalan st. george riding a horse is considered an incarnation of the snake god the hindus revere. I have watched my grandfather and parents make a stop there to light a candle and tell a short prayer everytime we travel to cochin from trivandrum. He is also the protector of the traveler. One definitely needs that in the kind of traffic and rash driving the state has. The trisshur puram elephants usually have a busy year too. They shuttle between various temples and churches for festivals that are conducted all year round.

I can tell you more unbelievable stories. I personally know three reasonably smooth with initial hiccups, marriages between a hindu and muslim, who raised kids and lived in the state. Our muslim neighbors in Cochin, who were from kottarakara, which is well known for the ganapati temple there, didnt think twice to send offerings with us, when we told them we are visiting. They believed in their town’s popular deity too. The picture that is often shared during independance day of muslim parents dressing their child as krishna is sort of a true picture in kerala.

These things baffled my husband, especially his stint in the VT area in Bombay wasnt communal tension free. Going by this rather effortless blanket of peace, malayalam movies are also strewn with characters and protagonists of these three religions equally and of course the palakkad iyer is featured every now and then too! One of my favorite characters of lal-ettan is sunny-chayan in manichitratazhu, achayan as the christians are often referred to.

Of course marriages are an exception. Even with few success inter religion stories, I am sure there are a bigger percentage that doesnt work for the same reason. One answer I offered my husband was “the food”. The non Brahmin hindus of kerala eat beef. Enough said? Somehow we Indians gel over food; When my tam-bram friend found a gujju spouse, the final consensus was “vegetarian ah pidichurikan. adhe pesuru” ( it is great that he has at least found a vegetarian )

“The love for gold” is something I suppose no malayali can deny. And the industry is equally held by affluent families of all three religions. Sometimes money and common interests let’s religion take a back stage. Or so is my comprehension from what I have known and only saw how the gold buying has snowballed across the state in my last visit.

And the third reason, I offered my husband is “Kerelaites follow the marxist religion above all else”. Now this culture of parties, elections, strikes and hartals confuses any non-malayali to no end. Probably a bengali may understand the passion. While N enjoyed the movie “Classmates” which sent kerala into a frenzy of reunion meetings and poignant college years, he was completely thrown off by the need for elections and parties in a college.

The communist dream was beautifully portrayed in little nuances in the recent movie I watched of vineeth sreenivasan – ” thattathin marayathu”.
A Nair boy growing up in a predominantly Muslim area who has Muslim best friends and falls in love with ( no surprises here) a ummachi-kutti ( Muslim girl ). The director has kept the story pretty much communal free with humor that’s becoming. I laughed so much for ” symmonds inde wicket kittiya sreesanath ine pole njan endokeyo kanichu”. Translation may probably kill the humor, but nevertheless — ” I behaved wild like how sreesanath had when he got symmonds wicket ”

The pictures of Che Guevara the Marxist god one may say ( the irony! ) are subtly made backgrounds in many scenes. So is how Muslim members of the communist party don’t blink an eye to think of rooting against another Muslim leader of a different party. It simply reinforces that the communist dream can keep a keralite true to himself.

The movie otherwise has a Fantastical touch, and the little screen space sreenivasan has takes the cake. All in all I would say it is a master stroke second directorial venture by young vineeth sreenivasan and Malayalam cinema is truly going places after an awkward transition phase to modern portrayal.

Malayalam movies are no longer all with anti climaxes and ripping your heart out renditions. The feel good, thrillers, historicals are all making their way pretty beautifully with many new and young actors and directors.

The thrillers to definitely watch is mohanlal’s “drishyam” and “22 female kottayam” while drishyam Kept me on the edge of my seat the latter left me stoic. Salt and pepper of Lal and Sweta menon was oh! So wonderfully portrayed love story through the love for cooking and taste. Syncing the story of the making of the rainbow cake to the protagonists was my favorite part.

I still have a huge list of movies to catch up on. I have been hooked to the music of “Ustad hotel” and probably one of last of tilakan’s movies I definitely want to watch. 22 north katham of my new favorite actor fahad, based on OCD is also on my list. Someday I will get to catch up on lots of these movies.

So if you are cribbing about the lack of ideas and change in the movie industry you otherwise follow; stop. Give Malayalam movies a try. Start off with subtitles. Our humor is a little hard to warm up to. Our tongue annoying even. And our culture and settings probably harder. But you will be hooked no doubt.

Appo varate. Pinne kannum vare!

15 odd months as a parent!

* To quote Jennifer Senior “Parenting is all joy and no fun” – You are at the brink of exhaustion nearly every day, sometimes constantly wondering “why does one have kids?” and then you have a fleeting moment of pure laughter and that unexpected hug from your toddler. NO. your exhaustion doesn’t fly away neither does that make your chores go away. you get the answer to your question just for a moment and then snap back to reality. BLIP

* Parenting means, having a sense of humor – 9 out of 10 days, when my clock screams I won’t make it to my morning meeting if I don’t leave in 5min. And the exact moment the toddler decides he is going to poop. Changing stinky diapers IS NOT the toughest part of parenting at all, but one needs a sense of humor to handle circumstantial moments like these.

* Breastfeeding is as rewarding, as exhausting and as judgment inducing as no other parenting act. Everyone wants to have an opinion about how you should handle it. It also demands a lot of your time (pumping at work means, goodbye to lunch socials and constantly juggling/watching time-to-pump and meeting-times) and the effort needed to take care of yourself may be even more than what pregnancy demanded!

*  Sleep is overrated. — it is absolutely possible to survive the day after sporadic four to six hours of sleep, without caffeine. One may take months to get to that point. But it happens before you know it. Whether you are waking up to nurse, rock or sleep train your little one sleep may be sorely missed, but can be easily forgone.

* Planning in advance is understated — Things almost always never go as planned. Whether it is cloth-diapering or cooking and freezing baby food or visit to the grocery store, it is good to have a planB, planC and an open mind to thwart plans when needed. Throw teething, ear infections and plain old tantrums in the mix and one can be prepared to throw every plan out of the window.

Lastly,

* It is easy to be ‘THAT’ over-sharent — Every parent you cringed at when you were a non-parent for sharing every diaper change of his/her baby; Well! if not every diaper change, it is easy to see how your priorities and things you have to say or share have changed overnight. This blogpost is a testament to that fact 🙂

Happy parenting folks! Thanks for reading!