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How to pack your life in a bag and other moving tales

Maciej Frankiewicz - The SuitcaseMy life is at it again.

You would think a child would settle it, make a homebody out of a nomad, fix my feet in the city where family and only some remaining friends were. When my daughter began pre-school two years ago, I thought this was it. We had signed on the dotted line to be Delhi dwellers forever, or at least till she graduated. Then past fifty I would become a farmer and live in the mountains, again. But forever is a tricky thing. It’s laughing behind your back as you make plans for love and life.

So here we are, on a 14th floor apartment in chilly (if you’re sitting at home) Dubai, overlooking yachts go by in one direction and an unmanned metro crossing buildings that The Jetsons swung their hovercraft around many years ago on the telly. And I’ve been cooking every single day of the one week we’ve been here, me of the never-step-in-the-kitchen syndrome. I’ve already begun an uncertain relationship with the stove. We had our first spat today. It screamed, I shut it down. Soon enough we were okay. I’m also doing the evening slides round with the girl, something we never had time for in the almost four years she’s been around.

I’m the person all the “I’m not going to do that…” things happen to. Never not going to work (current status screams ‘Not allowed to work’ on a stamped paper in case I didn’t hear it clear enough). Not leaving the country now. Not packing like a fool. One week before departure I told everyone how I had finished packing everything and things would be smooth hereon. I wasn’t going to get sentimental and try to take everything. Instead I would take the high road, not clutter our new apartment with non-essential items. Till a few hours before leaving for the airport, I was on Round 7 of the packing-unpacking routine. “I can’t live without Rebecca West’s Black Lamb Grey Falcon or the 75th Anniversary edition of Joy of Cooking. I don’t care if they weigh 3 kilos!”

I couldn’t carry everything (except those books of course). Does it matter? Can you really ever pack your life in bags? For the most part just getting up and leaving works too. We can build it here, piece by piece, not in things we buy and hang but memories of that-time-we-lived-here, however long it lasts. My last night in Delhi, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the “Why?” Why were we leaving? Our girl has seen both sets of grandparents around her from the time she was born. And isn’t family all that really matters. Why move to another city now. A better job perhaps but is it really. What if I sit on that white desk in the new apartment and can’t write at all? What if Delhi is where all the words will be? And then I slept, not fighting it anymore. This is what we’re doing right now. This is where we will be. Virtually present with families, physically present in a trio. Learning to live by ourselves, not starting out anew but moving forward.

I went to five different schools growing up. I never have a good enough answer to “Where are you from?” I am from here and everywhere else I’ve been. I am from the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, the stories I’ve heard about strangers. I am from the places I’ve seen and those that mark my dreams. This life can never be packed in enough suitcases and would do just fine without it. It is to be lived and kept in open jars. May it always spill over.

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Rote Beete Suppe (Beet Root Soup)

It was 1975. Two Indian friends were visiting a common German friend in East Berlin, then capital of the German Democratic Republic. That friend’s parents had years ago left their Nazi occupied country and settled along the Polish-Ukraine border. She had found her way back to divided Germany. That evening she served them a pink, sour soup. It was something she’d learned from her mother.

It had enticed the taste buds of my Father-in-law, one of the visitors, so much that he learnt the recipe from her. Making it several times during his stay in the country, he eventually forgot all about it when he returned to India in the early 80s. That is, until recently, when the sight of Saure Sahne (sour cream), leftover from my mushroom soup experiment, brought back the unique flavour of the beetroot soup and he delighted us with blending it all together again.

The dish is a popular soup in Eastern Europe, finding its way into Poland and Germany, through people carrying stories and special recipes along as the settled in newer parts in the region, in the aftermath of the war. The elaborate version of this soup, with many vegetables and even meat, is referred to as borscht (in Russian) and by differing names as dialects change across borders. This is a red hot (or pink depending on how much sour cream you like in it) soup not only in its form but also in the debates surrounding its origin.

This dish has now travelled to me, sans borders and the limits names and places often impose on people, travelled like all good things do, free as stories from life should be. And now I’m sharing it with you.

Rote Beete Suppe (Beet Root Soup)

This recipe serves two.

Ingredients:

1 big bulb (or 2 medium or 3 small) of Beetroot

200 gm Saure Sahne (Sour Cream)

2 tsp Butter

Salt to taste

Method:

Peel, wash and clean the beetroot bulb. Chop it into small pieces, preferably squares.

In a grinder mix the chopped beet root and sour cream to make a paste.

In a pan heat 2 tsp butter, add a little salt to taste, add the beetroot & sour cream paste.

Stir for a minute and add water according to the consistency you want.

Once boiled, cool it.

Add Black pepper as per taste and coriander as garnish.

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10 Lessons from 15 Years of Love

Jacqueline Roque by Pablo PicassoLast month, we turned 15. “We” meaning the husband & I before we were the husband and I, including the time we didn’t feel very “we” if you ask me. We’ve known each other too long you’d think, for there to be any surprises. But surprise each other we do, every now and then, with the serenades, the same yet different notes in each other we’ve come to recognise and love and with how colossal fights can be (the frequency is 1 almost-tear-us-apart sort every 5 years).

Like all things in life should do, we’ve accumulated lessons (which I dole out to love newbies every other day) and which hopefully he and I will remember each day, particularly when the next big war is due.

1. You’re a team

As easy as it sounds, this one gets lost in the melewe of the daily grind, resembling You vs Me most often. Life (spent together) will take enough rough shots at us, and our ability to fight them will always be determined by whether we add each other to the enemy line or stand beside each other (with the gloves on) and take ’em down.

2. Simplify Simplify Simplify

For the sake of arguing, there’s a whole lot to pick up on. But very little of that is truly important. So before you start building ammunition to take each other down, stop and think if it’s really that important. Because some arguments are important and deserve to be shared. Do them justice by leaving out the riff raff.

3. When it comes to each other’s families, play a good guide

You know your respective families the best. So guide each other on some basics on what might be within respectful behaviour lines. Each family is different (don’t have the which is better argument EVER) so just follow each other’s lead and you’ll be fine, as long as you respect the guidance and follow through. (Corollary to #3: Never begin a sentence with “Your mother…”)

4. Go for Core Competencies

It’s amazing how we’re so happy to delegate responsibility in accordance with core competencies at work but in personal relationships we’re often hoarders, refusing to budge from ‘our terrain’. The home world is a happier place if you share work. And avoid a postmortem analysis!

5. Don’t Sleep on an Argument

Unlike other problems that seem to improve when you revisit them the next day, it actually helps to sleep on a clean slate when it comes to things bothering you about your relationship. If your concern passes the test in #2 then it’s better to say it now rather than later. Collecting only results in avalanches much later and are certainly more damaging.

6. The Little Things are the Big things

Vacation romances and weekly/fortnightly dates are important, but the morning hug, the random email during the day (because it feels more like a letter than an SMS), the smile at dinner are markers of the “we” you chose to become. It’s the reason you wanted to wake up to and with this person every day of your life.

7. Don’t let the humour die

Jean Luc Goddard said a couple that doesn’t enjoy the same films will eventually divorce. I like to believe a couple that doesn’t laugh at atleast some of the same things will grow apart. A common language of humour is the pillar that holds it all together. Because if you can’t let out guffaws with each other, life will resemble a silent motion picture that isn’t even cool.

8. Introspect

To become better versions of the “we”, you need to make time to look within the “you”. We’re always so busy telling the world what is wrong with it that we hardly have time to know ourselves. Don’t lose out on a wonderful opportunity to understand what you’re all about. Then every relationship will not be reactive, but rather a conscious, living action of who and what you want to be.

9. Don’t Compare

We all know that couple who always posts happy pictures from countless holidays or their always – perfect home. Sometimes we play that couple too. But it helps to remember that everyone is fighting some or the other battle, even if they’re doing a wonderful job cloaking it. Holidays are for leaving the phone behind, life is for the relentless pursuit of your version of happiness. Do it your way, carry along the people that truly matter and focus your energy on the living, not necessarily the way – it – looks – on – Instagram variety.

10. Give Thanks

How often have you said thank you to your partner? Yes there are things you think is their duty but it certainly doesn’t hurt to show love and gratitude, especially when our daily lives resemble a chihuahua on a sugar high & roller skates going downhill. Stop, take notice and let them (your partner, not the imaginary chihuahua) know why they’re extra special & why you feel butterflies-in-your-stomach excited when you spot them in the crowd.

Have any lessons from your (im)perfect love and life to share? I’m all ears!

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Apple, Carrot and Walnut Salad in Lemon & Honey Dressing

In the past, many a cooking experiment has resulted from my not having eaten the fruit of the day. First it was bananas, which I’ve more or less begun to eat religiously first thing in the morning. Apples by contrast are reserved for that post 5pm pang, which coincides with the let’s wrap up work & run home hour. Thus resulting in a guilty apple trudging home with me. On one such evening, I decided to give it some glory once I got back, dreaming up something pomegranate-y. Finding no pomegranates at home, I found an interesting recipe for a Carrot, Apple & Walnut Salad. While I like to have a recipe hanging before me as I experiment, I always end up going with instinct on measurements. So here’s what I did:

  • Chopped 1 Apple (you could ideally skin it & slice it thin. My excuse was laziness and hunger)
  • Sliced bits of 1 orange carrot
  • Roasted 1/2 cup walnuts for 3 minutes in the microwave
  • Mixed all three in a salad bowl
  • Doused & mixed them in 1/2 squeezed lemon
  • Topped off the salad with a separate mixture of 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil & 1/2 lemon
  • Sprinkled a little black pepper & salt

And Voila! My 10 minute (or less, depending on your chopping speed) crunchy, lemony, bittersweet salad was ready! Apple, Carrot & Walnut Salad Tip: Go easy on the walnuts since a little more could completely overpower the flavour. But mostly, even after a long day at work, this is an easy please & a great way to get kids (and grandparents) to eat their fruits and veggies!

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The Mushroom Experiment (without an A-Bomb)

For those of you who know me, or have walked in here sometimes, the image of a ladle circling apron-clad mamacita does not come to mind. On my date with food, I mostly sit in the EATING ONLY section.

But a slow, aromatic change is coming.

After an end of the day banana fix experiment months ago, and nothing afterwards, I recently decided to graduate out of the baking comfort zone to ‘real’ food, or at least appetizers. Now, I personally love some steaming mushrooms, and so does the husband. And our little girl has been granted no food choice at the moment. So I got all excited about whipping up a steaming broth for my lovelies, especially since it played on the good side of healthy eating (with only a little butter, I promise).

Mushroom Soup IngredientsTo begin, I wanted to send everyone packing to a warm room around the TV, like good house inmates. But I soon realised there wasn’t enough cream to make my soup sexy. So off went Daddy and the girl while I brought out the magic mushrooms, garlic and onion over to the chopping board for some quick and tough love.

My cream party was back just as the last mushrooms came under the knife. And within minutes off went the pan with butter on board. A bay leaf began the play, and then it was all drop, drop, churn churn with a brief interruption by the husband trying to ensure that I hadn’t burnt harmless beings alive. I shooed him out.

After minutes that felt like months at the time, a sight resembling soup came through.

Isn’t there something delightful in the word simmer, even more so when it’s accompanied by a (visually) normal and naturally peppery scent of soup. It was done.

Cream of Mushroom SoupThough I had tasted the broth in motion to see that all was good, it was quite another treat to see the family lick it off their bowls (our furry pet included). The husband even licked the pan clean (though that’s usually undesirable behaviour in my books).

Within two days I had made it again, lots more this time. And it will probably happen again soon.

Until I find a new food road to travel, we can (if we have to) live on some soup and cake.

For your notebook: I used this recipe, strictly by the book, the first time around (without nutmeg). But the second time I increased the amount of water and milk with the same mushroom quantity and extra seasonings. It was thinner but swell.

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In Memoriam

Twelve years ago, my brother and I walked out into the sun with a shoe box for company. We were on a mission, to fulfill my brother’s wish, which he had etched in blue pen on the wall in our room.

“I want doggy with big ears.”

I had never quite understood his fascination with canines. He had had his flesh torn out twice over but his desire for a furry pet was relentless.

We had kept pet dogs ever since I can remember.  First there was Salma, the Indian breed lady with whom we played ring-a-ring-a-roses. She wasn’t exactly our pet, but since we fed her she hung around in our garden in that remote place in Himachal. She had pups, among whom I can only recall the black brute who answered to the everyman dog-name Tommy. And the only thing I remember about him was how he licked my feet all through a fancy dress rehearsal in the kitchen. When we left town Salma followed the truck for a long time after. I don’t remember that part. It is from the parent-to-child folklore about the times you were too young to remember.

The new town was where my brother’s adventure streak really found wings. He was the ring-leader and roamed the streets with his humble followers in tow. This bunch of five year olds had an exciting life building thatched structures in the jungle and parading dead crows about town. Huckleberry Finn would have been proud.

In keeping with his interest areas at the time, my brother brought home a raggedy, stinky dog that looked every bit the part of his potential sidekick. This canine ragamuffin was christened Jacky, for no fault of his. He stayed with us for a few months, just enough time to find himself in festival pictures and be forever named among the beloved four-legged family members. You could say it was in his eyes the day he was brought in, but I guess we (everyone except my brother) knew this dog was no house pet. So Jacky left his two-legged companion one day without notice and continued on in search of possibly adventurous pursuits.

My brother was hurt, as all five year olds whose dogs run away, will be. My parents decided to fill that void by searching high and low for the perfect pet for my brother. We found him hiding under a chair in Gwalior. Blacky (for that was his mane and his name) was a beautiful hybrid with uncertain genealogy but a wild streak that only masked my brother’s ever so slightly. They were perfect for each other. If you came by the house you could catch them lying arm in arm on the porch. Blacky also saved my mother twice from deadly snakes. On both occasions it was a dark rainy night and as my mother bent forward in the porch to place the food bowl before him, Blacky barked away and forced her back in. In a little while my mother knew why, as she saw a snake wriggle past near the bowl. When we found ourselves back to packing and moving, it was time to decide whether taking Blacky along to what was going to be a small apartment in the city was a good idea. Finally he came along, the fox-sized giant in the car with his little companion.

Soon enough it became clear that keeping him locked up in a small space was a bad idea so he was sent to live on a farm, which in this case was not a euphemism for ‘he passed away’. He did go to a farm and lived happily (I presume) till it was time to say goodbye, several years later.

You would think this was it, but you’re oh so wrong. What followed next was the opposite of Blacky, in colour and size. My father went back to where we had moved from and came back with a little white ball inside his coat pocket. This was Rusty. Why a pearly white dog was called Rusty is beyond me. But that was his name when my father got him and we didn’t bother to make him unlearn it. Rusty was a spitz with remarkable self-confidence. This dog would stand in front of a bull, measuring just about the size of the bull’s face, and the bark like there was no tomorrow. Perhaps he was a reincarnation of Napolean.

I distinctly remember this one night when he swallowed a chicken leg piece whole. We weren’t sure if his stomach was that big and my parents said he might die because he couldn’t possibly digest that big a thing. My brother and I cried and cried all night and when morning came Rusty just pranced around the house wondering what all the fuss was about.

I can’t remember why that happened, but after a few years it was decided that Rusty must be taken back to where he came from. I think it was because we had all become tied up in a lot of things and couldn’t care too well for him. Or perhaps it was the usual scenario where kids demand pets saying they’ll do all the related work and when the pet comes he’ll all toy and no work for them, while mummy darling has an additional family member to care for. Once again our four-legged friend left us just as we were getting used to him. This time my brother went with dad, probably to check whether these farms in parent folklore were indeed that. My father told us later that brother darling was crying on his way back. Little boys and their dreams.

For a few years nothing happened. But soon enough the writing was on the wall. Literally.

That is how we found ourselves standing before a golden retriever mother who probably knew we were going to take one of her kids away. We brought Mischief home on the day before my brother was leaving for boarding school. It was probably not the best timing, especially since he was technically being brought home for my brother. I love dogs too but I’m not the sibling who wrote that on the wall.

On the first night we placed newspapers all over our room for him to pee on. When the lights were off we could hear him trying to find his way around. The next day my brother said goodbye with a heavy heart and Mischief had found his caretaker in mommy. During that time whenever we went to meet my brother, we took Mischief with us. All our dogs till then had been wild ones so we considered getting Mischief trained. For about a month Mischief spent time with a trainer and he learnt to sit, stand and roll over. It was all very cute but soon he lost interest and we let him be.

All our pets before Mischief had been more one person’s pet than everyone’s. But that changed with Mischief. All of us cleaned the poo, took him for walks, tick-picked and fed him. He became the true family pet.

As with any pet, the funny moments abound, whether it was the time he sat in the middle of the road in front of the vet’s clinic, as my brother and I struggled to pull him to the side. Or the time he ate one kilogram freshly prepared gajar-ka-halwa right out of the kadai. Coming home meant preparing to be thrown back by the force that was Mischief in his heyday. There were rules to be followed around the house – keep your slippers out of reach, keep fancy food at high places, close your bedroom door if you don’t want it to resemble a tornado hit space.

These rules have become second nature to all of us and it was extremely difficult to imagine that this fiery furry one could ever be sober. But your body plays these tricks on you. Four years ago he contracted tick fever, which was followed by a significant drop in platelet count. This was followed by a bout of nose bleeding that refused to end and signalled the end. I was miles away at the time and the description of his troubles set me crying for what might happen. The vet took one look at him and said, “this dog is not going anywhere. His body language shows he’s too high on life to give up just yet.” He was right. Circumstances that would have spelt the end for many left Mischief weak in limb but fiery in spirit as always.

Since then several close encounters followed and a couple of times the vet stated “you might lose him”. Mischief’s resolve was far too strong for all that was going wrong inside his system. His special food for kidneys and blood continued alongside several doses of medicines. Frequent visits to the vet, more nose bleeding episodes and countless other problems alternated with glimpses of the erstwhile naughty behaviour. But everything had slowed down.

Till September 2012, we were keeping the bedroom doors closed as per the usual rule. Soon it became unnecessary. Mischief had to be carried to the vet in hand and would lie for hours at the exact spot we left him, getting up only for water and food. Then came the first weekend in October. The vet pronounced his judgement. The kidneys had failed and the end was near. He suggested we put Mischief to sleep. We debated and decided to let nature take its course.

Today, two years ago, when I got back from work, I could hear Mischief moaning. His breathing was hurried and he was visibly discomfited. My mother said he was probably going to be with us for two days or so. He had stopped eating for a few days and the only water he had was whatever little we were able to put in through a dropper. In humans this sort of condition usually marks the beginning of the end. Watching him troubled, my mother said we should all pray for his smooth passing. She had been sitting beside him for the most part of the day for almost a week and she decided to sit beside him and pray.

At 9:45pm on 9th October 2012, Mischief the Magnificent passed away right after my mother had sounded the bell three times and begun to pray. She continued her prayers and informed the rest of us when those were over.

As my brother and I drove to the burial ground two years ago, I travelled back to the day we had walked home with Mischief in our arms. The three of us were travelling together again and just like that day twelve years ago, I will never forget this one.

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Let Her Find Her Voice and Sing

“It’s a girl”.

Immediately after I heard her first cry the doctor informed me that I had given birth to a girl. Perhaps I was just imagining their lack of enthusiasm at the news, but while they ran customary checks on her, I wondered how people usually broke the news of a baby boy’s birth and whether it was as solemn. A little while later they handed her over saying “Here’s your daughter.” I had to stop smiling and purse my lips into a pout so that I could kiss her cheek. Truth be told, I followed the kiss with trying to check if she had my eyes. She didn’t, and I thought, “Ah well, perhaps it is better if she has her own version of everything.”

She was born in 2011, the year the Census in India came out with a grim statistic – the sex ratio in the country had declined to its lowest since Independence, at 914 females to 1000 males (the final population figures since put out by the Registrar General’s office have been significantly upwardly revised to 918). Infant mortality plays truant across the country but so does active silencing of the female voice before and after birth. Countless female foetuses do not get a chance to open their eyes and look at the world. Some who do grace the air with their first cry are forced into darkness, sometimes by helpless mothers but most often by ‘family’ who ask the mother to “look away” and forget all about it. And forget we do, because our collective consciousness has learnt to look the other way.

Nearly three decades before that census, an old woman drove through the summer night in an Ambassador car in central India. Her daughter-in-law was in labour after having laughed her heart out at a humour classic earlier that evening and had to be taken to the hospital. The father had not been granted leave by his (Government) employers. So the two women rode alone hoping to see a healthy, possibly laughter-loving baby soon.

The baby was born in the early afternoon the next day and was immediately diagnosed with infantile jaundice, which is a common ailment among newborns. However, this affliction was severe and the infant was placed in the nursery for nearly ten days with photo therapy that required the eyes to be shielded. The mother, a paediatrician, knew the range of symptoms and how bad things could get if the baby’s condition worsened. She may have cried thinking about all the bad things that could happen to the child. But ten days later, her little girl, was ready to see the world.

My early years were spent around the gorgeous hills in the north Indian state of Himachal. While I created childhood memories of river stream picnics, devoured years later through scenic photographs, my mother worried some more about her shy girl and how life would treat such a quiet child. It didn’t help that relatives did their bit comparing cousins and suggesting that the feisty tomboyish one would grow up to ride a bike and wipe the tears of the wailer. That image, like most other plans hatched too early, didn’t quite play out that way. But I found myself being encouraged to search for my voice, irrespective of the form it came through. Slowly I learnt that your voice that pushed forth your will was the strongest tool a person had, not by trampling on the sounds of others but by ensuring that you made yourself heard. Instead of looking the other way, I learnt that you had to jump right in the centre of the ring and fight; because there were things that needed to be verbalized and others that were waiting for just a little support. It also became amply clear that most people (women included) found nothing more fearsome than a woman with an opinion.

Under-graduate studies took me to an all-women’s college in Delhi, the nation’s capital, where I’ve been based ever since. During the daily commute by bus (living in the suburbs meant I needed to change two), I encountered molestation of the butt-pinching, breast-grabbing, hand-on-crotch variety, where only the degree varied over time. The more comfortable Delhi Metro had not begun then and there was no “women’s coach” to get pushed into. Like all other things a woman must “learn to live with”, we used elbows, safety pins and loudly shaming the culprit to get by.

This was also the time I was exposed to countless stories from around the world detailing the trials and triumphs of women through the ages. The suffrage movement in U.S. and Europe, the closeted yet brilliant lives of gifted women writers and harsher realities closer home that showed up in newspapers every day, and continue to, with increasing viciousness, today.

Rape, acid attacks, domestic violence, female foeticide, all stem from the base desire to silence and force into submission the valiant voice within a woman’s heart. This is the voice that often threatens established ‘norms’ and seeks an alternative life not crafted entirely by others. She questions, admonishes, refuses to accept all that women before her were ‘supposed to do’. This refusal to ‘conform’ and be ‘tamed’ creates conflicts, which unfortunately do not lead to questioning their relevance as much as it does to the silencing of the ‘aberrant’ voice of the woman.

~

Even as I write this piece, I receive a message from a female friend about having been accosted by two men on a bike at a crowded parking lot in Delhi in broad daylight. She was walking from the metro station, tagging along with the daily crowd, when these two men first started making lewd comments from a distance and then they pulled up closer. Before she had time to react, the rider pulled out a bottle and threw the contents on her face. In those fifteen minutes of chaos she was certain she had been attacked with acid. It turned out to be hot water. She lost her balance and collided with the pillion rider and they both fell. Her left arm was bruised and while she tried to get back up on her feet, the attackers had fled. The crowd that had by now gathered around her was full of people some of whom tried to help, while others simply stared or worse still, laughed at her. She could hear murmurs of “these things keep happening to girls”. Luckily a nearby vendor had noted the number on the bike and armed with that my friend went to the nearby police station to lodge a complaint. The officer on duty looked at her and said she probably invited the boys’ attention because of her clothes, which revealed her legs. He went on to suggest that since nothing was going to happen to the case anyway, she should just get out of the mess and FORGET ABOUT IT. She went on to lodge a complaint against the boys and the police officer. Based on the bike number plate, the boys were rounded up the next day and turned out to be local hawkers. My friend identified them and they were taken into custody.

I relate this incident here to remind us that it is not alright to find reasons for a crime against women in the clothes she wore, the things she said or how she behaved. And it is not alright to pretend like these things happen in a faraway universe outside of our lives. Or that these are everyday occurrences so we must all forget about it. For then we’re teaching our girls to ALWAYS BE AFRAID (or silent) and telling our boys that they can get away with ANYTHING. Neither of those reflects the true meaning of freedom.

Every year we proudly celebrate the decades since India became a free state. And yet it remains unfair to joyously proclaim this freedom when one half of the country’s citizens are denied the right to life with dignity. Why must a woman have to ‘fight’ to survive, thrive and lead a life on her own terms? Why doesn’t it bother enough people’s consciousness to do something about it, in their own, small way? Why must we close our eyes to the reality of discrimination, abuse and inequality and answer it not by punishing perpetrators but by forcing the female voice into submission or silence?

~

My life has had more in common with many women and most men from a similar socio-economic background than with countless other women across the country. This life has been unhindered by struggles that scores of women face everyday. My education, marriage, motherhood, profession have not been dictated by those around me. I continue to enjoy (or falter at!) the fruits of my labour, with support of those around me. This ‘privileged’ existence has come most significantly from the social milieu of the family I was born into, but it has also come from the uninhibited sky under which I was left free to dream.

As my daughter turns three, I continue to celebrate the things she says and does, to feed her curiosity of all the new things she encounters, to lead the way till she wants to walk alone. In all the things she and I will share over time, I wish we never have to talk about “learning to live with” being a woman in India. And when we do, I hope these words conjure up images of a carefree life, bound only by her will and not by externalities that force her actions.

~

Every child is born with a song in her heart, one that she polishes over time, humming and setting it to tune. It is for us to let her sing to her heart’s content, without erecting walls that trap her voice within.

—–

This article is part of the #BeingaModernIndianWoman archive, which is being launched on 15th August on Indian Independence Day. This storytelling initiative celebrates womanhood and freedom of (responsible) expression, and it’s a stepping stone to further economic opportunities for women in India. Please visit facebook.com/beingamodernindianwoman for more information.

#BeingAModernIndiaWoman

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Finding (Digitally Enhanced) Mojo and then some

There is never a dull moment when you’re living with a toddler. For the most part you are juggling the ball, trying not to get a bloody nose (like Daddy did earlier this week) and mostly attempting to keep things on your turf. Basically to not play like Brazil against your German-inspired toddler.

At other times you just sit back and marvel at the things she says and does, knowing well enough that in time her eyes may not light up at describing the things she did at school or when you were not around.

As part of our customary rhyme/cartoon viewing at dinner (because it’s easier to hold a child down with that and 20 minutes isn’t killing anyone and go feed a two year old before you go judging) we get on YouTube (no TV since that always plays the wrong things when you’re watching), I ask what she wants to watch, she points it out on the screen and then we sit back and have dinner in quasi-peace. Usually we end up with the Famous Five, not the children’s book series but either the Five Little Monkeys that continue to jump on the bed and bump their heads or the Five Little Ducks that disappear for a bit only to resurface towards the end.

But yesterday, thanks to search result algorithms powered by the Google Gods, the screen showed up a new item, a series called ‘Peppa Pig’. It was new and looked harmless enough so we gave it a shot. Within five minutes of watching, I felt elated at having discovered something wonderful. Peppa Pig is a little girl pig living in Britain with her younger brother George (what else could he possibly be called) and her parents. They go about their happy routines like visiting the amusement park, taking a holiday or getting lost in the fog, with Daddy Pig always managing to do something stupid that is made nicer still with the narrator stating the goof up in a nonchalant manner. I love it.

British comedies have always been super special. Peppa Pig is a pre-school series but heck no one does sardonic better than the Brits. Look at Outnumbered, if you haven’t already; a sitcom on a middle class family in London with the parents being ‘outnumbered’ by their three delightfully unruly offspring. The beauty of the show is that the dialogues of the children are not written by 30 year old TV writers. Instead, these are improvised. While the scene and the setting are discussed with everyone, the kids are left to being themselves and what a crazy bunch they obviously are.

Or spend a rainy afternoon with Withnail and I. The adventures of two unemployed (and decidedly unemployable) actors makes for perfect alone time viewing. From the squalor of their city apartment to the marsh madness at the country cottage, this acerbic tale of two men performing the sacred art of ‘resting’ before taking a holiday by accident is enough to make you smile years after you first discover it.

And then perhaps you can walk up to a barman and delight him thus (quoting Withnail):

“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

Mommy said TV was bad for you, and it probably is. But there are delights that it could throw up without turning anyone into gun toting villains or broccoli hating dimwits. And it is for these delectable treats that one should (under adult supervision after ensuring the said adult is wine-proof) indulge in audio-visual activities, with the hope of compressing a little bit of sunshine in deftly produced tales meant for joyous merrymaking.

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10 Things They Don’t Teach You in Pregnancy School

Knowledge sharing on Motherhood is unfairly tilted on the side of pregnancy-related information (maybe because there’s a giant woman on that side of the scale). Very little is said about what really goes on behind unbolted doors and open parking lots. Here’s my contribution to the What-To-Expect-When-The-Baby-Is-Outside-Your-Body section of the library.

1. There is no such thing as ‘private space’.

Prepare to be watched (touched, kissed even) while you’re trying to unload body junk in YOUR bathroom. No you cannot lock the door. Yes it’ll happen everyday.

2. Remember the days when you slept without a care in the world.

History, in this case, will not repeat itself. And there’s a new alarm to boot. Foot-in-mouth.

3. Put on your thinking caps, all the time.

You have to say something when your little girl points to a bra (or even what-lies-beneath) and asks “Mommy, what’s that?” Undergarment. Chest. In case you’re wondering.

4. Learn to say “Fudge”.

Its a 5 letter replacement for an oft needed 4 letter word.

5. Bid Adieu to Moaning Rights

Sex, at the odd chance that you get to indulge in it, must be carried out in stealth, like teenagers sneaking a smoke break. You could say there’s a unique adventure in that. Many wouldn’t agree. But you could say it.

6. Master the Deep Breath

Projectile Vomit on your face, Nosy Strangers telling you how to hold your baby, Chocolate hands on your linen pants. A deep breath tells you there’s a good life across the river.

7. Hide the Caffeine

If you love coffee (you don’t? seriously? let’s pretend this never happened) then you must consume it like sex (#5 above). A toddler will take to coffee like a cat jumping off the ledge chasing a pigeon. Them cuckoo. And with caffeine in their system, them the sort of young-wild-free you don’t want in your house. No Ma’am.

8. Watch the Baby Talk

Male colleagues, Twenty-something juniors, Unmarried friends might smile but frankly no one wants to hear what your little one said or did or ate or spilled. Everyday. That conversation is best had with always eager grandparents, the other parent of aforementioned baby and the baby.

9. Forget Television (or Beer/or Beer in front on the Television)

You can’t enforce No-TV rules and then put your feet up and watch Suits. If you must, there’s humping tigers on Discovery. And who needs television when life with a child resembles most features on ‘America’s Funniest Videos’. Go make your own TV. Better still, READ.

10. Get Flexible

You must have seen the cute little picture of a baby in a mother’s lap as she works from the comfort of her home.

And you thought, “Aww. I want that!”

Well, that picture is a lie.

Reality looks more like a toddler dancing in your lap pressing random keys on your laptop. As long as she doesn’t hit send, we’re safe. Learn magic maneuvers that involve arms (and legs) going around said toddler. Practice hard. Also, Proust must now be devoured under lamp-light after baby is asleep. So, (10a) Get a lamp.

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Cleaning Up My (H)ead, One Room At a Time

There are very few things about interior arrangements that I take seriously. But one that I religiously believe in is that your living space (whether office desk or bedroom) should be free of clutter. Because things piling up around you somehow begin to create unmanageable piles of nothings in your head. So every now and then I have a de-cluttering attack and today seemed like a good day to suffer from it.

There I was among a pile of things that had begun to live together without disturbance. Today I was going to disturb this house of the rising junk. Newpaper clippings that were four years old. ID cards that carried passport pictures of someone who looked like me.

Diving into the piles of things (many of which beg the question: What was I thinking when I kept them so long), I found some things I had forgotten about.

The more than 16 cards I got on my 16th birthday, from people, some of whom (okay most of whom) I have no connection with at present.

The belated birthday card hand drawn for ‘Dear Mumma’ (Man oh Man I could draw and colour with perfection).

A polaroid picture of mom and me having coconut water at the beach in Bombay . The camera we had wasn’t working and we had no pictures of that trip (which was our first to the city). So going all out and doing the touristy thing we thought one picture would suffice to sum up our trip. Now it hangs beside a chidhood picture where mom and I are looking heavenwards (actually at a lizard on the wall) and dad clicked.

Guess what else I found and have enjoyed ‘reading’ the past few minutes. Slam books (remember those?!). For the uninitiated, these were snippets of useless things we wrote about ourselves for the benefit of our friends. I found some prize-winning things in them. For instance, in “Lines for me” a friend had written “Hazel eyed idiot”, another thought I was “a waste of good protoplasm”. That stands out among the humdrum “You’re sweet and generous and a great friend”. Blah Blah Blah.

I noted that very few of the friends have actually become what they fantasized about as a career back then (Or atleast thought fashionable enough to write in a teenage tell-all diary).

Elsewhere, in an ‘Autographs book’ one had made spaces for everyone to write notes to yours truly. So pages were reserved for Grandma, Dad, Mom, Brother etc. The space reserved for younger brother has an arrow pointing to his name and states in my handwriting “You’re a fool”. Now that all those years of screaming and hitting are over, one can just smile at memories of us being enemy number one to each other.

The de-clutter my space expedition was certainly worth the toil. Now I’m waiting for the positive effects of the same on my mind. If only things worked as plainly with respect to the latter. Things your better judgement tells you to discard often stay rooted and things of utmost importance are lost somewhere behind the piles of everyday life.

As my eyes scan the perfection that is my room, I know there’s hope for the mind. And there’s no sleeve-rolling expedition required. Just a recognition of the perils of singing junkyard blues in one’s head.