Thursday, December 25, 2008

There's magic in the air!

There is something truly magical about this time of the year. The colours, sounds and smells of Christmas followed closely by the festivities of the New Year.  It's not like i really celebrate this festival with my family, but it does feel like a time to celebrate. Me thinks its more to do with an old year ending and a new year starting. And as 2008 comes to an end - i do have a lot of things that i am proud of having done in the last twelve months. Things i want to celebrate about the year:
- Surviving working with 350 children over the year  
- Reading some amazing books (Women who run with the Wolves, Cuckold & Kite Runner tops my list)
- Trying out Bollywood dancing (phew! that's one item i can forever erase from my things-to-do list)
- Making some amazing connections with some women in my life (this is for you my PACT gang!)
- Learning how to swim and getting better (i like to think of my breast strokes as simply poetry in motion!)
- Meeting several inspiring people doing great work (Lalita from CFL, SST in Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh and Daily dump in Bangalore comes to mind here)
- Surviving cold-cough attacks purely with herbal remedies (thank you philo and aikya!)
- A great holiday in Coorg with my women friends and their daughters
- Welcoming two little girls into this world (amrita, anagha - can't wait for you to get to know me better!)
- Karaoke singing with my family in Seattle (mera kuch saaaaaamaan....)
- Seeing, touching snow 
- Getting over my chai-addiction (thank you leavenworth & ankur!) 
- Continuing to explore my creative self (creating Warli art using PowerPoint - true brilliance!) 
- Losing and managing weight better (finally managed to do that for myself after 8 years of wanting to!)
- Getting over my fear of insects (well almost!)
- Discovering the world's best pedicurist close to home (thank you sumati!)
- Every moment i spent with nia (excluding the times that involved brushing teeth, getting ready for school and refusing her chocolates) 
- Getting my daughter's school principal to see that i am actually a really nice person (can safely put this here, coz i am sure she will never visit this blog!) 
- And of course starting my own blog (inspired and motivated by my sis)!

Wow! it was quite a year for me. And i still have a week left to pack all left over action i had planned or not planned! Got to go - so little time, so much to do!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Half Empty - Half Full

The 12.5 minutes car ride to drop my daughter Nia to school has now increased to 18, thanks to some new traffic signals and road dividers that have cropped up along the way. Not that I am complaining. In my entire schedule, this is the only time i can (in the wildest sense of the term) define as spiritual. Here's what happened a few days ago:

I was tagging behind a biker through some narrow lanes before we could turn onto the main road.  Just as we were turning, Mr Biker in front and me following closely behind, he decides to stop halfway into the turn without even pulling over to drop off his pillion rider. Caught unawares, I had to quickly swerve to my right to avoid hitting him. And i was MAD!

So here's the scene after that:

Me: Oh Shucks ! What the hell! (notice minimal use of profanity keeping in mind the presence of a young child in the car)

Nia: Mamma, why did you say oh shucks?

Me: (still really mad) Nia, did you see how that biker just stopped at the turn, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, he is supposed to pull over BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, i could have hit him BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, luckily i was able to turn off quickly, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH what the hell do people think BLAH BLAH BLAH, these bikers have no road sense BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH, they should be given separate roads to drive on, BLAH BLAH, ........(get the drift?!)

Nia: (hearing my rantings for a full five minutes with complete patience) But Mamma, you should not say oh shucks.

Me: (huh?) But Nia that's not a bad word.

Nia: No Mamma, you are supposed to say, thank god i did not hit that man even though he stopped suddenly.

Oh well! I hear you daughter!

And Santa, I hope you are watching over my little theologian!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Where man & machine meet a little bakery stashed in a small street in our neighbourhood. i went there today on a field trip with a bunch of kids. And though i have been there before, that place never ceases to amaze me.

This bakery essentially has three units - bread division (where dough for the bread is made, cut, and kept on hold till it enters into the oven), bun division (likewise for buns and biscuits) and finally the packing division. Plus there is a quality control lab and a distribution unit.

So what's amazing there is the complete harmony i experience between man and machine. Around each machine stand a group of people, rooted to the spot repeating the same motion over and over again. A few walk around moving material - but most workers just stay put. Stand and repeat what they need to do to keep the machine going - again and again and again. It's basically the machine that sets the pace while the men and women around it support it. Like in the bread unit, as the machine drops the dough balls into the conveyor belt, workers on either side pick it up and put it in the molds. The machine goes clip-clop clip-clop clip-clop. The man goes pick-drop, pick-drop, pick-drop, pick drop. In the packing unit, the bread slicer goes trrtp-sash, trrt-sash trrt-sash trrt-sash and the lady standing there goes hold-pass, hold-pass, hold-pass, hold-pass. Everywhere you see, there is perfect rhythm; a super-efficient mechanical dance between the two parties.

Now, one might believe that this highly repetitive set of motions could be quite mind-numbing over a period of time. And sure i agree people may not necessarily being doing it out of love for the bread-making process. But despite the humming and sounds of machines, there is an air of meditative serenity i experienced. Everyone works in tandem with the machines for a few minutes at a stretch and then there is a break: machines are stopped, quick conversations and back to the dance floor :) . It's not just me who gets drawn into that harmonious rhythm, it also has a calming effect on the children. The same kids who need a variety of theatrics just short of standing on my head to settle down and pay attention back in class, now standing for a full five minutes as one of the men there just stands at his post pushing out hot breads from the baking moulds - dhapp-woosh; dhapp-woosh; dhapp woosh......

i have seen little videos on bread-making where the whole place is mechanized. But trust me, while those places look zillion times more efficient, they do not have even an iota of character like this semi-mechanized bakery has. I think there is a sense of peace many a times, when one is engaged in a repetitive motion. Plain repetitive mechanical work. On an auto pilot mode, doing things over and over again. I get a feeling, this is what i miss in my life. Sure the work i do is quite stimulating and i have all the freedom in the world. But end of the day, i do get a little tired dealing with tons of variables and personalities. So just to recharge myself, it may not be such a bad idea to engage in something simple & mechanical and done in silence. In Mumbai local trains when i was in college, i would notice some women getting into that same calming energy through knitting or at times twirling a rosary. So what do i do?

Not that i could work all my life in a bakery, but certainly maybe once a week. Put on the hair cover and the apron and take my place in this synchronized mechanical world. A time to calm my nerves, relax my brain cells, exercise those arms and just go on and on and on. And given my love for bakery products, the aroma of the place with buns and biscuits all around would be a perk I'd happily enjoy!

So the next time you don't see me in my office, you know where to find me - by the corner of a little bakery in Bangalore, in complete peace going : dhapp-woosh; dhapp woosh; dhapp-woosh!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I am 4!

We celebrated Nia's 4th birthday last weekend. It is probably the most planned event of the year. She starts in June when she first wishes her maamu (mom's brother) a happy birthday. Then sets in the depression: "how come maamu has his birthday so soon and i have to wait till December?" It does not particularly help than most of us in the family have our birthdays thru June, July, August and September! So the only way to counter the depression is to encourage her planning for her December birthday. Though not much of the planning helps since it is only Nia doing the planning (mommy and daddy like most parents wake up a week before the D-day). What does help is that the cake never changes - its always yellow cake with red cherries on top :)

Finally a week before the birthday, Nia woke up every single morning all bright eyed saying "ah! my birthday is so close now!" And then finally the D-day when she was actually up by 5:00 AM dancing around the house! It's hard to not allow that enthusiasm to rub on you right from June onwards! All the discussions, the guest list, the things she wants many a times are part of our bedtime conversation. Gifts she wants are very simple - winnie the pooh cutlery and her favourite brand of chocolates for breakfast was all she asked this year. And yet the sheer pleasure of seeing how much this day means to her and how much she loves herself!

Keeping up with the Dora theme of her life, we decided to take her camping to a place close by (thanks to a friend who could organize it for us). Nia had a great time and the next morning she sleepily murmured "i am 4" before disappearing into the sleeping bag. I kept lying down looking at my little baby, thankful for what her presence has meant to me. So what has turning 4 meant to my baby? What has changed in the last one year for her? Her confidence at taking on people. Defiance when asked to do something she does not want to. Fascination for writing - she went thru a phase of "2 is so difficult" to actually enjoying scribbling 8 all over the place. Increased interest in mythology. Putting in effort to speak grammatically correct sentences. Her willingness to be a little more independent in doing her chores. The thrill she gets in wearing traditional clothes. Also nail paint and lipstick. A strong view that girls are nice and boys are naughty.

I also see a lot of things that have not changed for her since the last one year. A fascination for language. Talking loudly. Her attachment to me. Looking forward to evenings with my neighbour. Trying hard to reason out with us to win an argument. Her amazing ability to move on when someone lets her down. Her tantrums when she is refused a chocolate before dinner. Asking for jeera goli and Gems every time she gets to make a wish. Connecting everything that happens in real life to her own imaginary world in a place she calls Jamma where she lives with her girl husband, 8 daughters and 2 sons. Her fear that people will think she is a boy if she wears pants. Her pretend shy look when she meets new people. Love for chocolates. Not wanting to go to school - making up reasons right from there's a festival at home today to i want to visit oni-ma in Seattle. Her daily dose of one story and one song before bedtime. And of course, her disappointment that she is born in the last month of the year!

But the one thing that stays the same, for which i am most grateful, is her absolute willingness to share her world with me - be it through her questions, her thoughts, her reactions and her wishes. Thanks to her willing and open sharing, i too am challenged to look at my life, my ways and my perspectives. And in her sharing, I too have grown and today am a proud 4-year old mamma!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Racing towards a nicer world

We recently held a sports event for our playgroup program with kids between age 2.5 to 4 years participating in some simple games. The event means a lot of preparation and work back end beyond our regular sessions. But it is so worth it! Personally for me the highlight is the preparation - which starts 6 weeks prior to the D-day, with each  teacher getting her group to practise the games that they would eventually participate in on the final day. Like they say the journey being more important than the destination - it's real fun to see these kids as they get ready for the D-day. I see both independence and team bonding emerging clearly during this phase. The children seem to be mighty kicked that everyone in the class is doing the same thing and doing it together. Be it the simple marching and subsequent drill that each class presents or the organized games. 

So on the D-day, its not like we have on-the-spot races and competitions. Not that it matters to the young children anyway! And I say this because in the last 3 sports events that we have conducted so far - my consistent observation has been that peer-level competition is practically non-existent for these kids. Not just during the team activities but even when they are standing along the start line waiting for a race to begin. Children this age are just not able to see individual performance as different from others'. They seem to playing every game in the true spirit of 'lets-have-fun-together' and not like 'i-got-to-win-this'

For instance, for this year's theme 'Street games' - each batch participated in a simpler adaptation of a street game and also in a typical race. Some examples that i can recall now that shows this non-existing sense of competition:
- while playing blind man's bluff, children actually stop running when they see one of their friends blindfolded and go hold his hand 
- while playing 'saakhli' (a chain tag game). when the chain gets longer, a couple of children who still have to be caught, invariably run and join the chain, because the chain seems to be having more fun!
- in a race, the child who finishes first, sees some of her friends still on the race track and she runs back to join them and continues in the race.
- in a round of lemon and spoon race, one kid's lemon rolls off. the kid in the adjacent track actually stops to pick it up and hands it back to the first kid.

So honestly speaking, these kids just don't get it. No matter how many times the teachers explain the rules or demonstrate or even cheer individual kids, they just don't get it!

Competition is so real for us adults. And more so at the peer level. When we interact with parents of the playgroup program as they are trying to decide which school, a lot of them are fretting about how tough this competition will be for their kids. For a qualifying exam that their child will take 12 years later to get into college. But their kids - refuse to understand, acknowledge or create this air of competition.

And while i do agree that competition is real, i honestly am not able to understand when the concept of peer competition sets in. Certainly not in the first two years of formal learning. So when does this sense of having fun together and collaborating get converted to competing? My fear is that its a change in perspective that we force in as adults into the child's world. Based on our own experiences which we probably took in from our parents. And so it continues. 

Imagine for a moment, what if this was little different - instead of adults forcing their perspective on children, what if we embraced theirs? What would change in our world? In our homes, communities, work places? How different would our interactions, arguments, negotiations be? 

This may not change too soon but its worth a thought. In the words of Lennon, you may say i am dreamer, but (i hope) i am not the only one....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pedestrian Prototypes

There was a time when the only people i would curse were the bikers - zipping and changing lanes like pond skaters and giving me quite a few heart attacks. Then came the bus drivers - driving like they owned the road. Defying every law of space and fit - trying to squeeze in where even the bikers wouldn't dare.

But over time I have started to accept the bikers and the bus'ers as bad relatives on the road that one just has to live with. I respectfully give way, and wistfully stare at their departing fumes trusting karma. So does this mean i am beyond road rage? Ha! Far from it. Now it is directed at the pedestrians around. But since i am the one with the mean machine here, i don't misuse my power position. Instead i just observe their ways and tuck them into my PPH (yes my romance with P continues!).

Which gets me to my next question - what's the PPH? It is the Pedestrian Prototype Handbook - my very own system of classifying pedestrian behaviours. My piece of research for an anthropologist some million years into the future trying to understand how certain category of homosapiens behaved under certain circumstances.

Some quick definitions and terminology that exist in this priceless piece of research:

Wistful wanderers - These are the ones who stick to the sidewalks, walking slowly lost in their own dreams. They seem very purposeless in the way they just walk around, a day to slow down and seem particularly at peace with the world.

Sidesteppers - These are the ones who, for reasons best known to them, have developed a deep aversion to the sidewalks. So you will find them walking along the sidewalk on the road. Trying hard to coexist with the cyclists and bikers on the road. And an occasional four-wheeler overtaking from the wrong side

Phantoms - walk like they are the only things that exist on the road. With as much as much as ease in the middle of the road as they are on the sidewalks. When it's time to cross, they just walk across as if the entire road is a completely deserted stretch made exclusively for them to get to places.

Bollywood Bundar - Definitely the most entertaining. They see a vehicle coming their way and then start crossing the road. Actually running - imitating the styles of the older bollwood heros - mostly jeetu bhai and big B. To ensure that there is an audience for their act - they ACTUALLY run towards the vehicle.

Juggling Gymnast - this is the variety that absolutely insists on using the narrow road dividers and try out different walks precariously balanced on the piece of concrete; completely oblivious to the traffic zipping by.

Undercover traffic cop - This is the variety who have an internal traffic signal they move to. Irrespective of what the actual traffic signal indicates, they decide to walk when they are ready. And just so the whole world is in sync with their internal mechanism, they will actually stick out a hand to stop the speeding traffic as they attempt to cross. The only point of consolation - they mostly use the zebra crossing (+/- 2 feet)!

So this piece of scientific work actually helps me find a vent to the anger at the pedestrians. Even as my research continues, I dedicate this PPH to all those creative pedestrians i encounter everyday.

As for those of you pedestrians who respectfully stand at the zebra crossing waiting for the "walk" sign on the traffic light - come on guys, use your imagination!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Creativity Unlimited!

Back in school, there was clear branding on a whole lot of things - studious / naughty being the most common. More so in the space of arts. There were clearly the "good" artists, performers, orators and writers. The rest of the class, definitely "not good", only meant to be the captive audience. Given large classes and the limited focus on anything other than academics, any event that  came up created opportunities only for the good ones. Although i had my fair share of success in school, no one ever saw in me any artistic talent. Neither did i. Back then the definition of creativity around me was 'creativity = good at performing arts'.  (yes i confess i have still not come around reading Edward de Bono's books!) And therefore "Me = not creative" was a stamp i left school with.  

It was much after leaving school that i discovered the creative part of me quite by accident. A chance encounter with clay when i was in my late 20s. A pottery teacher visited the organization that i was then working with to give a demo class. If you liked it, you could then enrol for an 8 session course. The teacher walked around handing out lumps of earth to all those who turned up and asked each one to work with it. I, like most others, sat blank for a while. But clay can be very enticing and sure enough all of us started kneading, rolling, pinching and stretching it. And as each of us worked with our bit of earth, the teacher went around showing us how a simple mask could be made. Completely mindless of the time, the traffic outside or even the day's exhaustion, I made a couple of other masks, quite amazed that could actually create. 

Sure enough, i enrolled for the classes and went thru a huge clay modelling phase of my life. Made lots of gifts for friends. Ranging from tanagram figures to masks to photo frames. And not just satisfied with the form i gave, i rather hesitatingly tried out colours. Me, a non-artist, actually colouring? With a paintbrush?!! What i created then was quite amazing and almost a surreal experience for  me:

But even more thrilling that what or how much i made, was the joy of discovering the creative part of me. A part of me that could visualise in images and colours and make something original. 

This happened almost six years back in my life. Since then i have tried my hand at several other "creative" things. Innovative lesson plans for kids, designing visuals and posters to be used in our events, learning theatre and performing on stage, learning songs in Kannada (a language i neither speak or understand), co-designing personal development programs for adults, writing little songs for children, painting diyas to be given as gifts during Diwali, blogging,.......  

More importantly, my definition of what creativity means stands redefined. I see myself now challenging the mainstream ways of judging work - be it my own or the work others do. The more i look around, the more i discover immense talent within me and all around me. Playing with clay, colours, words has made me feel less bound and more alive.  

There's a Pablo Picasso quote i often remember when i work with children: "Every child is born an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." What I have learnt from my own personal journey, even as it continues, is that you never stop being an artist. It's only a matter of seeing it. 

Monday, November 17, 2008

It really is that simple!

Monday morning. As usual running a little late to work. Trying hard to get past the overloaded trucks, crazy bikers, equally impatient cars. Honking, manoeuvring, cursing.

Finally stuck at a traffic signal. Using the time to run through the to-do-list to be tackled soon as i get to work. And getting exasperated at the idiot behind who is honking despite the signal being red.

In the middle of all this irritation, i glance at the sidewalk, wondering if walking would have gotten me faster to work. And i spot this guy going by. Seems like a daily-wage worker. Two nylon bags - one filled with what looks like saw & hammer and the other with his lunch box. And walking bare feet. Nothing unusual - except for this broad smile on his face. I look hard to see if he actually has a cell phone or some ear phone connected to some kind of audio device. But NOTHING at all. Some memory playing on his mind that's making him smile. And the smile doesn't get any smaller as he waits to cross the road. In fact, it gets bigger as i see him cross and go past me. Completely oblivious to the world but somewhere deeply connected to his own life.

For a moment, i wonder what he might be reliving in his mind. But it does not matter. The smile is enough to help me tide over the monday morning blues, the traffic, the cacophony.

And as i drive on, the morning seems different. and my mind is cocooned by the image of that smile..... really is that simple to pause, breathe, let your back relax and take things in your stride!

Thank you, Mr. Carpenter!

Monday, November 10, 2008

“I Looove Garbage”

.....declared Poonam to a group of children who looked at her like she had really lost it! We were on a field trip to Daily Dump, an organization that promotes composting at home. The group of children, all between 7-10 years, each carrying waste from the kitchen – peels, tea leaves, rotten tomatoes and what have you. And each trying hard to hold his breath as we walked towards Daily Dump’s work area. And instead of a smelly, fly-infested garbage dump that we are all used to seeing on our streets, what we saw was a series of very aesthetically designed terracotta pots all lined up in a small garden patch. No smell at all and just a few fruit flies frolicking around! These pots are what Daily Dump designs to help you compost your organic waste at home – truly adding beauty to an aspect of your home where you would least imagine it! Different sizes, designs and service contracts to make composting at home super-easy. Do check out the great work this organization does at their website:

What I would like to share is how I experienced the place with the children. A self-proclaimed Garbage Lady - Poonam connected so well with the children and in her warm and direct way challenged them to look at what “yucky” really means. And how garbage is not really waste. And best of all was her drawing a similarity between garbage and children – saying that just like you kids who have great potential to become something in the future – so does your daily garbage! How cool is that!

Explaining the process in a very simple way, Poonam showed the children how the garbage ‘harvests’ over a period of time. Sure the smell of fresh garbage was a little repulsive to the children, but what was an eye opener is how all that smell is lost even as the garbage is half way into the composting process. By the time your harvest is ready – it actually smells like fresh mud. Pure magic! The children got quite drawn into the process and enthusiastically jumped in to rake the composting garbage. And insisted on doing it several time over – all apprehensions of smell and yuckiness buried under the garbage pile!

What stayed with me the most was Poonam describing the earth as the skin of the earth. And just like people need to keep their skin clean and healthy to be safe, adding compost makes the earth’s skin healthy. Did you know, you can actually reduce your organic waste by 80% by composting at home? And even if you don’t have a garden, by simply adding your compost to the soil anywhere, you are doing your bit towards taking care of the planet.

So go ahead, start composting. Echoing Poonam’s parting remark to the children as they marched out with their composting pots : Let’s all make Earth happy!

The Prolific P

The day i started this blog, i must have spent a good 2 hours trying to come up with a name. A name that would truly capture my thoughts, my spirit, my moods and madness! After a lot of rummaging through the dictionary and the thesaurus (none of which really helped!) i finally settled on Purple Pitara. And then spent the rest of the day marveling me on my creative genius. The play of words -the clever mix of languages - ah, what a clever name!

In my enthusiasm, i went as far as crowning myself the Queen of Alliteration. Until this weekend, i knew it was time to give up my title when i saw a friend's son reading a comic book. It's about a hero called Capt. Underpants (i swear i am not making this up!) And the title of the book - 'Captain Underpants And the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People'. 

Me thinks the author is my soulmate in the world of writing J !

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Thali of Two Cities

Last night on a whim, hubby and me decided to try out a new restaurant called Rajdhani for dinner. I am sure this restaurant has other branches within Bangalore, we went to the one in UB city. Now this restaurant has just one thing to offer - The Rajdhani Thali. A scrumptious spread - a combination of cuisines from Gujarat & Rajasthan - that included 1 chaat, 4 curries, 3 different kinds of dal, 3 different rotis, 3 sweets and 2 different kinds of rice. And though you control the portion sizes as different people come to serve you, I was so stuffed at the end of the meal, i wished one of the cranes working on the construction site across the road could haul me back home. As you can see, though Diwali is behind us - the food spirit still lingers on! 

Anyway, after having sampled different cuisines available in Bangalore, I am convinced that nothing can beat the Thali. In comparison, a la carte sucks! After spending countless minutes pouring over the menu and looking at chef recommendations, when the food is finally laid on the table, i am convinced that the food on the next table looks better! No such subtle jealousies waging in a thali place - everyone eats just the same thing. And at Rajdhani, it was quite nice to savour North Indian food down here in the South. Not all the dishes were great, but hey i didn't choose them ;)

So besides this, what makes a Thali place so cool? Well many things put together like : pre-decided menu, super quick service, variety but not too much (like a buffet spread). And what i like best - no pressure on having to make a choice! In this day and age of consumerism, it is the illusion of having many choices that i dislike the most. Too many 'if-onlys', 'but alsos', 'whys' and 'why nots' can really mess up the mind. Not that i am against having many options to consider. But its nice if someone can skim through all that is availabe and make just-the-right-size shortlist for me to consider. Which is what i experienceat the Thali restaurant. Some shortlisted things, i sample and don't like, so i put an end to it. Some i like and ask more more! 

Ah! if only all of life could be served on a thali! 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Contradiction curry

Its festival time in India - we just lived through Dassera and Diwali is round the corner. A huge cultural value i hold (as do most Indians, i think) is "festival = food". So keeping in line with the festival spirit, we decided to have friends over for lunch today. And NOT keeping in line with the festival spirit, I have decided to cook for everyone. I have ACTUALLY decided a menu that can be cooked with the limited culinary skills i have. And i have the next 4 hours, 48 minutes and 5 seconds to accomplish this.

Now let me explain the ridiculousness of this situation. i live with my mother-in-law who is a fabulous cook. I have a helper in the house who cooks snacks for 100 odd kids @ my learning centre through the week. And today when I have 15 people coming over, I decided to make things that both these talented women do not make! It is something that only I can make. This fully knowing that:
1) my friends love my mom-in-law's cooking
2) cooking as an activity completely stresses me out

I still have to get a ladle on this - why does cooking stress me out some much? Well, since a whole bunch of things can be conveniently blamed on early childhood & parents in general, here's my explanation: My mom is great cook. And when i say great - i mean really really GREAT! She could whip up delicacies in minutes with least prep time. She would actually remember what our individual friends liked and then accordingly cook when they visited (in a family of three children with many hungry friends - that's no mean feat). It almost seemed as if she was in direct competition with all the restaurants and the famous Bombay street food vendors. Now maybe that has set up this 'impossible-to-attain' standard in my head. To make things worse, my siblings seem to be quite comfortable in the kitchen and discuss recipes like i discuss comic strips. So that's another source of added pressure.

Also, a part of me feels that there is a unstated rule in our societal psyche : "woman = good cook". So for someone with limited skills like me (and great chefs in the family), this is again a huge obstacle to cross.

So with all this 'खिचडी' cooking in my head - why on earth did i set up this situation today???? why? why? why? But this is not the most absurd event in my life. What is even more preposterous is - when i think of what i would have been doing in life had I not been working with children - the ONLY answer that comes up is running a cafe that serves Indian short-eats. A place which is a happy hangout for people. where everything on the menu costs Rs. 10. And everything is made by me. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!!! No matter how hard i try, i can't seem to get this fantasy off my head. Why? Why? Why?

So this Sunday morning, as i need to get ready to cook food for the 15 friends (who i must say are taking a bigger risk than me), i am obviously stalling for time cooking up questions to see how i still got myself into this soup. And can see myself walking on egg-shells. Gosh! My goose is cooked!

and since i have also run out of the self-imposed 500-word blog limit (and all food related cliches), there is nothing much left to do but to get myself into the kitchen and start. Which reminds me, i yet have to buy some the most critical ingredients for my recipes. why? why? why?

PS Coming to think of food cliches - why on earth would something easy be called "like a piece of cake"?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To Bee or not to Bee

Just finished researching on social behaviors of ants and bees as part of the lesson plan for next week's theme @ our learning centre. All this information is quite new & fascinating for me - teeny weeny insects focus on their roles in the colony and how nature blesses them with just the right physical structure. For instance, the way the hive is structured and the way honey bees organize themselves to ensure survival and sustenance is mind-blowing. And also how insects, through their abilities, then develop unique ways of supporting each other. Take the example of leaf cutter ants. When the worker ants are out there collecting leaves for the whole colony, they are at risk of being attacked by the phorid fly, a parasitic pest which lays eggs into the crevices of the worker ant's head. So the minims (the smallest ants in the colony) often “hitchhike” on leaf fragments to ward of any attack by the parasites. Your own personal body guard as you go about your work - how cool is that?!

So all this research got me thinking - what if people too came with specific structures that dictated what each one is meant to do? What if our bodies got us to focus on specific tasks and only through that connect with others and the community at large? A spot reserved on earth for everyone doing their thing. No conflicts, no politics at work, no one-upmanship. No scurrying like headless roaches tying to figure things out (yeah, that was another thing i researched on!)

But then again, think about it - aren't we too like that little ant or that busy bee? We may not have physical structures geared towards a particular job description in life. But there IS an internal programming that seems to be operating. Maybe not in our bodies but in our psyches. A voice that helps us understand what feels right and what doesn't. Increasingly i hear about people pursuing what appeals to them beyond their educational background or early career choices. Of people giving up everything they do, as if on a whim, to follow a dream. And of others who feel they are stuck in a rut but are asking the right questions to discover their path.

In the culture i grew up in - there were several external factors that determined what you chose as your profession. And early in life, the inner voice is hushed. But going by how i experience a whole of people specially in their 30s - there is hope. For the psyche finds a way to push through the responsibilities, job descriptions, politics and performance appraisals, to say out loud what it needs to. It can come to you in a book you read or a conversation with a friend or a mystical dream that lingers on or just tuning into yourself in your quiet time. And without any clear logic or discussion, our entire being seems to respond to an idea, a thought - "yes this is me!" or atleast what i meant to be! And going by personal experience - when we march in step with this inner voice, life does not get any easy, but it sure does get a whole lot meaningful!

So like those little bees, its nice to heed to the waggle dance your psyche does to direct you to whatever you are meant to be. Go on - ask the right questions, pause & listen, take that one tiny step - and viola, see the magic unfold!

Monday, October 20, 2008

In the company of friends

Of late, i have begun to notice that weekend nights with friends is getting a very different flavour and spirit. We once went through a phase of watching late night movies at a theatre close by. Seems like something we gave up eons ago - i guess a combination of us having kids of our own plus multiplexes getting overcrowded. Then there was a phase of Games night. That too seems to have died a natural death. Reason: we seem to know the taboo and pictionary cards like the back of our hands! or maybe it was just that the men lost so badly to the womenfolk each time - they just gave up!

So of late, weekend nights with with friends seems to be a time to just connect over conversations. The last few times we met, we just spoke and listened and then spoke some more over cups of coffee and tea. And what do we talk about? Nothing of great consequence but somewhere things that do matter to each of us. From interesting books being read to cooking holiday plans that never may take off. From struggles we face as young parents to how blessed we feel to be so aware in life. From absolute jerks we sometimes meet at work to how at times we end up doing dumber things with our time! Personal philosophies, musings, budding ideas, weird questions, stories, facts all making the rounds.

For me this is a feeling of comfort i can't quite express - a similar feeling of wearing that run-down t-shirt that is so in taters but needs to be held on to like a family heirloom! Its a time to speak without being judged, argue without worrying about offending, question without challenging and finally just being. Concerns that are general and yet not too general; feelings that are deep and yet not too deep! Its interesting to see how little snippets, opinions and thoughts all simmer and rise over the conversations to create a final shape and form that appeals to everyone. And then waiting for that last piece of conversation to run out in the wee hours of morning so we can finally go to bed.

How can facebook ever replace connections as these?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!

Its almost been a year that I am travelling in Mumbai (Bombay to me - my city, my home!) and have been in for a few surprises. For everyone out there who thinks Bombay is uncaring and expensive - well think again!

i had to go to a friend's house in Colaba and took a local train to VT station (as u can see - i am sticking to the old names). I wasn't sure which is a better exit to take - so i approached a help desk manned by two cops and asked them the best way to get to Regal theatre. One of them immediately said (in Marathi) - just go to that bus stop there - Bus # 1 will take you straight to Regal. I said i'd like to take a cab. His immediate response: "Why do you want to waste money on cabs when there is a straight bus taking you there?"

Anyway, thanking him for his advice, i proceeded towards the taxi stand (i was running late :-/ , that's why). I asked the first cabbie in the line if he could take me to a street ahead of Regal. His response: " i will drop you until Regal. You can walk from there if the place is close." I wasn't surprised at this response - living in Bangalore, this is something i face everyday from the auto drivers there - something like - hey if your destination is where i "feel" like going today and you are willing to pay double the fare, hop on! So i told the cabbie, i don't want to walk, i'll take another cab that takes me to the street. That's when the cabbie told me that he was running a share cab. Which means he takes in four passengers all wanting to go roughly in the same direction. And that's why it's hard for him to drop me till the end point of my destination. Thus enlightened, i told him i was running late and would take a regular cab - he immediately responded, "madam why do you want to spend on a regular cab when you could get there at 1/4th the price? Anyway the place you need to do isn't all that far from Regal"

So people out there - Bombay cares, Bombay saves and Bombay helps you save. I struggle a lot more in Bangalore where public services assume EVERYONE living there has plush software jobs with high disposable incomes and will pay whatever it takes to avail of the public services. But Bombay knows that people have different lives, different stories and are working hard to earn their living. And no matter what the pace of life is out there, Bombay is willing to stop and listen and help. Bombay truly rocks!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Theology with a three-year old

These days, a new task to my routine activities is dropping my 3 year old daughter Nia to school. And this happens to be the highlight of my day, thanks to the invigorating conversations we have along the way. From discussing people to mythology, plans for upcoming holidays to holidays taken in the past, cracking mysteries of life to things that puzzled us yesterday- all in the drive of 12.5 minutes. Hard to believe? Here’s what happened today:

Nia verbatim and my internal reactions / responses to her

Nia (Opening question) - "why do i to go to school and you to office every day?"
e: 8 secs response - u need to study, i need to earn (i am not going to bore you with the details!)

Nia #2 - "They make me do so much work in school - why don’t they give me a salary?"
Me - a full one minute, importance of learning blah blah blah..."

Nia #3- "I am feeling very sad. My birthday is in the last month of the year.
Me: Rattling off names of people she likes who were also born in Dec

Nia #4- "Even Jesus Christ was born in December".

Me: Surprised - "who told you about Christ"

Nia #5- “Why don’t you tell me about him?”
Me: Nice long response - must’ve taken all of three minutes. Tried to mix reverence with practicality - Sister Joan from my convent school would have been so proud of me!

Nia #6- "Did he die?"
Me: "Yes" (didn’t bother to get into resurrection as i myself am not too clear about it - shortest exchange - as you can see)

Nia #7- "Will you die?"
Me: I cringed, not too comfortable talking about my own mortality and finally "YES"

Nia #8- (tears in her eye) "I don't want you to die" (awwwww!). "Please eat lots of healthy food so that you live forever and ever"
Me: i spent a full one minute contemplating about the shortness of my life and how cool it is to be alive and how much my daughter loves me and how to reassure this little one....until

Nia #9 : “Mamma i know there is no Santa Claus - Ankur came dressed as Santa”
Me: Ok move over death - time for Santa. That's one story i love - so i try convincing her how its cool to imagine about Santa. And pushed my two bits about how good behavior gets in rewarded. (it did feel weird tho' discussing Santa in September)

Nia #10: Mamma whoever thought of Santa has good imagination. You think Santa is watching me now?
Me: "yes"

Nia #11: Mamma you used a very difficult word yesterday - COMMUNICATE . What does that mean?
Me: Oh oh whatever happened to Santa? Anyway, Mamma Dictionary explained the word to her and also wondering why I would use the word ‘Communicate’ with her

Nia #12: "I am sorry for calling you an idiot yesterday - you think Santa heard me say sorry?"
Me: Mission accomplished - but i still went right ahead and used up all of two minutes to deliver another sermon on good behavior

Nia #13: "Now if anyone troubles me or calls me an idiot - i'll tell them not to or Santa will not give them gifts"

Finally silence in the car; guess she had something to think about .

And me, i was thinking about lessons on 'The Art of Conversations' that i learnt from my 3-year old over the last few minutes:

Lesson #1 - Keep it short and simple

Lesson #2 - Just get your basics right - no point goin in-depth

Lesson #3- Seek information - the variety of things you can ask about - the better it is

Lesson #4- All problems have simple solutions - move on with it!

Lesson #5 - Information is good only if you use it - so immediately apply it to your own life

Phew! that's a lot to get out of a 12.5 min ride I think as I park outside her school. The end to my morning ritual is me peering over the wall waiting to say the last goodbye for the morning as Nia enters her classroom. And today i stood thinking how proud I am of this little child of mine – her intelligence, her articulation….when she turns and yells: “Mamma you are very fat, please eat healthy food so that you don’t die”

Me – totally mortified! It’s not what you want to hear when you are standing on the road with a handful of parents AND her teachers around. So turning all blue, purple, red I try to slink back into my car – when again I hear her voice calling out again “And Mamma thanks for communicating with me”


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Music & friends make the world go round!

Life seemed quite a drag last few months (reflected also in complete abstinence from blogging). Until yesterday - when i experienced a modern day miracle! A bollywood movie - ROCK ON - that touched my heart. I said a small prayer thanking the universe for a good life and good friends!
i am not going to critique that movie - there are enough people out there doing it. All i will say is to everyone who reads this blog (if ever) please do go and watch the movie. and if you can swing it - watch it with friends & family with whom you have shared your dreams. I watched the movie yesterday with two of my best friends - i promise the experience will be different....

So there are really two things that the movie did to me:

I need to say I am sorry. Life's been pretty good to me so far but i am also deeply aware that along the way, i have hurt some people. Some i know and some i probably will not even know. And i am sorry. I truly am. It’s not like i want some kind of a dramatic reunion. i also am pretty sure that people i have wronged would never even read this blog. The apology is my own little way of acknowledging to my life that i am sorry i blew up - several times over. and i do hope that i have the wisdom not to do it again (or atleast have the sense to not wait too long before i say sorry)

Second one -though seemingly small but will have a more direct impact on my life - saying NO to music piracy. In my work with children, i find myself turning to the net for songs and given the limited accessibility to resources here, i find myself downloading quite a few free mp3s. No more. I promise.

So here's the new reformed me - saying Life is good! Stay in touch with your friends, follow your dreams. And finally, buy music and Rock on!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Service at Your Doorstep

One of the huge advantages of living in an independent house in Indian Cities - a variety of fruits, vegetables, etc, at your door step! This vendor here has a combination of fruits & flowers - possibly what the lady of the house would need for her daily prayers. And don't miss the solitary corn in the middle (possible placed for good luck!).

Many such colourful sights delight me through the day. Not just the quality of what these vendors get but also their sense of timing. Like tender coconut water as early as 7 in the morning followed by fresh green and fruits & vegetables until 10. This is then followed by another round of fresh fruits & vegetables through the evening. The day ends with the petite flower-lady delivering garlands of fresh buds for the next morning's puja as late as 8 in the night. And along with the long garlands made for the puja, there's a small string kept handy for my little daughter who always insists on helping the flower-lady put the basket back on her head!

Customer service at its best.....let's see Reliance Fresh beat this!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

After a really long time, i travelled by air. Some work came up in Delhi - a good 1000 miles away from home. There was a time, when i first started working, that flying by air for me was the best perk my job offered! And the whole magic was being at the same level as the clouds and also getting a closer aerial view of the two cities - point of origin and destination. It used to be the most exciting exploration to guess the places - from apartment complexes to historic monuments as land drew closer.

Ah! one of those warm memories from childhood - my siblings and me all under 10, eagerly awaiting dad's return from the US - maybe it was his first trip abroad and so the excitement. and more that the goodies that would be in store for us - i remember the three of us discussing how our building would appear from the skies and if dad would spot it. We even waved out at every airplane that flew past our little 3-storeyed structure that day - you know, just in case! Those days most apartment complexes around our neighbourhood were not higher that 4 floors, except for this one building which had maybe around 15 floors. And we were sure that dad would spot that apartment complex from his window and then like a modern day Charles Lindbergh, locate where his children were! So FINALLY, when he walked thru the door, we all bombarded him with questions about how our building looked from the skies and when he said there was no way he could have seen it -we go 'yeah, but you surely must have seen that tall one there'. and when dad replied in the negative, we all rather smugly concluded that he might have dozed off and is unwillingly to admit it! I mean how can ANYONE not see a 15-storeyed building from the sky!

That was a long time ago and now i know. But i still try to trace desperately where my home is, where friends live based on significant landmarks when I fly. But that is where the magic of flying ends for me. Now, I am unable to handle the quickness of the transition from one place to another - be it while leaving home or even while leaving the other place. Its like you are this tree on land, making your own personal connections with a place, the people there, the sights, the sounds - and then poof! you are abruptly uprooted from there and then have to strike your roots in another place. In between safety procedures and rather efficiently packed snack trays, i feel i hardly get any time to delink myself from source A and also re-enter the life in Source B. i experience jetlags even in 1 hour domestic flights - more for the effort it takes to readjust to a very different world than the body clock bit of it!

Train travel is what i would rate the best among options i have. The gentle rocking, the soft sounds, the closeness to earth and the beautiful landscapes she has to offer. The transition is a lot gentler – I slowly say my goodbye to the source city and as slowly get to say hello to my destination. Fast but not too fast; long but not too long. The transition is supported by not just the changing landscapes, but also the gradually changing yummy eats that station vendors have to offer. and i never get to chill in life as much as i get to while on a train journey! hmmm!

In our discussions with friends, we often talk about how gadgets that we saw in sci-fi movies and our all time-favourite Star Trek, have now become part of life. Like the cellphone for instance. And then the thought that soon travel would get revolutionised as much - pretty soon we would get to the "Beam me up, Scotie!" days. Now how will i ever survive that?!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Small Wonder

What happens when a baby is born?

Yesterday, very good family friends of ours had their baby daughter and I spent a large part of my day in the hospital with them. And as I soaked in the beauty of this “zero-day old” baby and the absolute miracle of this birth, I couldn’t helped but notice how different a day becomes on an occasion as blessed as this.

Invariably the parents’ profiles are studied in great detail – whose ears, whose nose, whose forehead has the baby inherited. I have known both the new mom and dad for the last 10 odd years, but I swear I never starred at their noses as hard and as long as I did at the hospital yesterday!

We jump to typecast the little wonder! Oh she definitely looks like her brother! Ah! What long lovely fingers –definitely will grow to be an artist! A Taurean – gosh you better watch out!

A lot of back and forth conversations on how will life be from now on – hypotheses, opinions, advice free flowing and everyone, except the new parents, feeling quite smug that life ahead looks great!

A slowing down of sorts – friends, families arrive. Waiting for a glimpse of the baby (and then of course all the classifying starts all over again!) A friend even landed at the wrong hospital in her excitement! More importantly, the visitors linger on – maybe just five more minutes. No errands to run, no phone calls to attend to. And other than the new father, not many seemed to be concerned about the traffic outside! It’s a day to stop and marvel!

As for me, I have this real strong urge to be nice to everyone (don’t remember the last time I handed out so many warm smiles and thank yous to people around!) I feel like cleaning up the earth to make it more ready to hold this little baby and honour this blessing! And I swear, things around me look a lot brighter and nicer already!

Thank you, little one, for being part of my world and sharing this wonderful day with me :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sleepless in Siliconcity

Of late i have started to catch this pattern in my behaviour – i am unable to just drift off to sleep at night or even allow myself to simply not do anything. Honest to God, my work is quite exhausting – thanks to inexhaustible kids i work with through the day! And yet there is this real odd kind of restless as my head hits the pillow. Its doubly hard because on most days, my husband and daughter sleep under three minutes from the time the night lamp is switched on. And i get up and frantically browse through my well-stocked library looking for some book that will soothe away the anxiety and lull me to sleep.

Tonight i watch myself as i search for just the right book to read and see a deep reluctance i seem to have to simply be with my thoughts. In the dead silence of the night – i see myself running away from the questions that pop up, desperately seeking answers. And tonight i tell myself – let's stay with the questions....

Was i unduly harsh on my daughter today?

Am i being sensitive to the people i work with?

Am i pushing off my demons onto other people around me?

Am i doing enough or too much or too little for people i value?

Am i drifting away from people i value?

Why is it such a scary thing for me to think and act more independent?

How much to hold on to and how much to let go?

Did i say NO too many times to the kids i work with?

How come i seem to criticize more than appreciate?

Am i being honest with myself when i say "everything’s just fine"?

Am i being too dramatic?

Can i give up on being emotional and yet feel passionate about things in my life?

Will there be enough water in the world by the time my daughter becomes an adult?

Is my world safe?

Why is fairness in any situation so hard to get?

Will i ever look at myself in the mirror and love what i see?

Will i ever learn to let go of the past?

Is it too late to dream?

And as these questions start to untangle and get organized in this space, I feel an odd sense of peace. Maybe i will never find the answers but i do know now that these questions just don’t keep me awake – they keep me alive.

P.S. Last question for the night - Is blogging a better substitute to reading?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dancing blues

Act 1 Scene 1 – time 6:00 PM –At Home – quality time with my 3 year old daughter Nia.
We are watching TV (what else?!) and Nia catches a scene from a recent movie - Jodhaa Akbar - Hrithik Roshan wearing some kind of a crown. Nia’s immediate response “Look Mamma – he is wearing a crown like God. Is Hrithik God?” Fearing the wrath of the 1001 idols of Gods that adorn our house, I shush her. “No sweetheart, he is only playing the role of a king and so he has the crown” But Nia in her heart is convinced – “I think he IS God mamma!” and with great reverence, stands in front of the TV set, hands folded (can't really blame the child can I!!) My typical response where I feel foxed – “go ask your paati (grandmother) about Gods" who coincidentally is in the middle of her evening prayers!

Act 1: Scene 2- Tine 7:30 PM – At a fitness Centre - My first Bolloywood dance class
BIG mistake. To begin with – I am the only 30+ overweight person there. And Bollywood dancing seems to be the code word for “ridiculously fast-paced aerobics” which I wanted to avoid in the first place and hence this class. I feel like Gwyneth Paltrow out of Shallow Hal (except that is is NOT a fatsuit that I am wearing!).Turn in whatever direction, there is a monstrous mirror throwing this depressing scene back at you! Certainly not a good place to be in after my latest resolution to feel good about myself and my body. God! I had no idea Bollywood dancing is such a killer. Anyway, after 32 dislocations and complete exhaustion, I practically roll out of the class, promising myself that I shall try it out for another month before calling it quits! Beginnings of masochism?

Act 1 Scene 3 – Time 10:00 PM – Back at home - getting Nia to bed.
We have this little pillow talk every night – my baby and I - kinda talking about how the day was. As Nia drifts off to sleep, I can hear here little murmur, “Mamma, Hrithik Roshan is not God” I think about Hirthik making his moves on the dance floor and then I think about my own experience of Bollywood dancing. And as I pat my little darling to sleep, I murmur back, “He probably is love, he probably is!”