Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm an Island of Sanity

So I was in the kitchen the other day, Very Busy, and V was babysitting The Bhablet. I stuck my head out of the doorway and saw V sneaking away those bricks, as usual.

I heard some funny noises... If I were to investigate all the funny noises in this house during their waking hours I'd be even busier than I usually am, which is definitely not welcome, so... I ignored them. (It sank in after a while that someone was humming the theme of Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot.)

Work took me to the room a little later. V held up something he called a robot (with a wheel for a nose) and told me with a hilarious mixture of defiance and sheepishness that he'd made it. I made polite sounds and ran back to my cooking.

Some more funny noises, louder this time.

Went back to find the bricks all over the floor and a triumphant Bhablet. V, this time combining fatherly pride with annoyance explained that Bhabzilla had destroyed the robot.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Older post

Found this draft and have posted it, incomplete as it is. Because by now you know how things turned out.

Another Statistic

For the last few days our newspapers have been full of a local murder. Rizwan-Ur-Rehman, a 29 year-old graphic designer, was found lying dead on the railway tracks near the Dum Dum airport. V and I first heard about it when we asked about the jam at Park Circus and were told a garbled tale about some mystery about some body in some nursing home in the area. The next day we read that this man (younger than V, by a year) had been murdered, possibly because of his marriage to the daughter of a local businessman. Rizwan lived in Park Circus, hence the agitation in the area.

Details keep coming up and the Kolkata Police are not coming out of the affair particularly well. In the maze of allegations it emerges that some officials decided to step into the matter, probably at the instigation of the businessman, who was against the marriage. They threatened him and told the girl to go back home.

What kind of a world do we live in? Although this is being intensely covered, this might have been yet another statistic to me, had it not been for hearing that this guy was probably a batchmate of V's in college. These two sat in the same classroom, roamed around the same campus, led somewhat parallel lives. He doesn't remember him, but another classmate of his (who happens to be a friend of mine from my JU days) says he recalls this guy. And ever since I heard that, it doesn't feel like another statistic. It reminded me of when Swagatam was killed.

These deaths are near home, in whatever manner they occur, even if they happen to people I cannot claim to really know. For the last two months it seems to me as though people are either falling very ill, or going through troubled times or dying. I lost my great-uncle and P lost one of hers as well as a cousin and R lost her father on Sunday. R is younger than me, and running around now making arrangements, closing accounts, handling paperwork.

When I was coming home from R's yesterday evening I was very close to tears, even though I've met her father only twice and briefly, even though I'm not particularly close to her either. Suddenly Rahul and V seem so precious, I keep worrying about them. I go to see whether Rahul is breathing as he sleeps. V has gone to help Uncle Tom out with some hardware problems and it's the middle of the night and I am trying not to imagine him in trouble somewhere unable to reach me. When the media finally contacted the businessman he told them that his daughter was "fine". Fine? That is a word I use when I'm a mess but don't want to think about it. How can you be fine when your husband has been murdered? When you and he have been hounded for so long, by your own father? How do you live with this sort of thing? We all think we've got in-law issues, but this?

There was a candlelight vigil planned at St. Xaviers (Rizwan's college) this evening and I was invited. In the old days, when my time was my own, I would have gone.

I spent some time on the phone with my mother this morning and I was telling her how everything seemed to be crowding in fast and furious, and she understood. Said that there are these phases when bad news seems to keep on coming. I know, and this is not the first one I'm going through. But it just leaves me a little jittery, a little fragile, somewhat nervous. It's stupid of me. I haven't really lost anybody very dear to me. But I keep wondering when I will.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It just struck me

... that, what with Rahul being a year old now, I'm no longer the mother of a baby, but the mother of a child. Which is infinitely more alarming.

... that what with having to let my bangs grow so as to look older for Proof (the play I'm doing) and them now falling on either side of my forehead instead of covering it as they used to, and what with me wearing a salwar-kameez and having my hair tied up in a tight plait at the back, and what with wearing a bindi, I really look like a small town girl. Which I sometimes think I am at heart. Or at least, a part of me is.

Laying the Foundations

As many of you have realised by now, The Mad Momma and The Bhablet happen to share a birthday. I should look at MM and feel elated to think that my son will (hopefully) be so interesting, lively and so much fun, but I usually see it from the other end and wonder mournfully if MM also induces so much hysteria in her parents. (If the answer is yes, MM, I strongly disapprove. With a wagging finger, no less.)

Anyway, to mark the happy occasion, when V met her in Delhi last month she kindly sent some nicely-wrapped gifts for The Bhablet. She even managed to persuade a cranky V to carry them, although he had to carry an extra paper bag to be able to do so. (She also sent me some stuff, really nice stuff, but those could be crushed, unlike these gifts.) One gift was a feeding set (sipper, plate, spoon and fork) with a frog theme. The other parcel contained a set of bricks which are currently fascinating The Bhablet.



So yesterday afternoon, taking into account his cold, he was kept at home and left on the bed as much as possible. We gave him the bucket of bricks and he was happy enough taking them out and putting them back in to the bucket. Then V and I both remembered our own childhood fondness for building bricks and generously reached out to show The Bhablet what to do with the pieces. He started building on one side and I on the other. The Bhablet didn't seem to like it much though, ungenerous child, and starting pulling the bricks out of our hands and putting them into the basket. So we distracted him and sneaked them back out when he looked away. I think he got a little exasperated because he snatched them away once more and this time, firmly placed the lid on the basket.

We can take a hint, thank you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The First Birthday

So this time last year I was lying in a nursing-home bed, looking at my baby with a mixture of awe, fascination, love and loathing. A year on, he continues to inspire the same ghastly mixture in me.

The Bhablet turned a year old yesterday, and this was his cake:


Yes, I chose it, and yes, he liked it. He attacked it with a spoon before I could maneuver the cake-knife into his grubby little paw, and while I was trying to prevent him from carving the head up with that teaspoon, he sneakily attacked the plaque wishing him a happy birthday with his other hand. Luckily, my aunt (Cousin T's mother, in whose house the first leg of the happy event was celebrated) thrust a paper napkin between his icing-smeared fingers and so he ended up wiping his hand willy-nilly. Hah!

I don't seem to have any photo of the birthday boy himself, so here is one of us before the funeral last week:


Yes, that is a FabIndia kurta-churidar outfit.

The birthday itself was rather hectic. What with the crazy cyclonic rains we have been having since the weekend, I had been maidless for three consecutive days. So I was faced with the task of doing all the housework, the cleaning and the cooking. Our garage was flooded and the car alarm system ruined once more the previous night so Ally was parked in front of our place. Given that this is the season of thefts (with Pujo approaching) we left our windows open so as to keep an eye on her. With the cold breeze blowing in The Bhablet picked up a nasty cold and stayed up most of the night. Kept us up as well, of course.

Then the poor kid was fed khichdi which was too hot and burnt his mouth, so what with the ensuing meltdown and trying to figure out what else could be given to him without putting him in further pain, the afternoon pretty much fled.

We cut the cake at my great-aunt's, since she wouldn't obviously come to a party so soon after her bereavement. It was a quiet affair, with close family. My mother had made payesh (of which The Bhablet deigned to have a few spoonfuls) and we brought radhaballabi and alur dum for snacks. Diya (Cousin T's other grandmother) brought some little cakes. The Bhablet received a lot of gifts, including some money.

The next phase was at the in-laws' place. V's mother is still rather delicate, what with last week's surgery, so we took the remaining half of the cake and spent a couple of hours there. Dinner was Chinese, from the Anwar Shah Hong Kong (if you know what I mean). The Bhablet played with his grandparents and great-aunt (V's favourite mashi) and dined off a Gerber's chicken noodle dinner as a special treat. That and some more cake, of course.

The last phase was at Cousin J's place. This aunt of mine (my favourite, although we fight a lot, she and I) also happens to be The Bhablet's best beloved relative. They meet the most often and she is my baby-sitter when required. She couldn't come over for the cake-cutting because she wasn't keeping too well, so we dropped in at their place for half an hour. With the head of that blessed snake, which is all that remained of the cake by now.

Home sometime before 11, all exhausted. The Bhablet was given some paracetamol and Timinic and packed off to bed.

In the end, I think he had a happy birthday. He got to meet all his favourite people and played lots. He got, among other things, a rocking-horse, a new sweater set with lovely knitted shoes (not booties), clothes and toys. The gift that went down the best deserves a post to itself, so I won't mention it here now. When I had just finished uploading the second photo the power went off at our place so we are now at Uncle Tom's and I'm trying to finish this post. I have to send in my column tomorrow morning and have no idea how that is going to happen. Sigh.

The things I do for you all.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Gentle Reader

Who do I write for? You, gentle reader? Yes, I do. At least, I write about what interests me, and mostly, I try to write about it in such a way as would appeal to you. Gentle reader.

Why do I use that antiquated term? Perhaps, like Ruskin Bond, I apreciate the feeling of intimacy it engenders between reader and read. Perhaps, again like him, I like the idea of writing in gentler, more peaceful times. When time goes on, but one still has the leisure to follow one's interests. If you think about it, most of us regular bloggers are very proactive about carving out this little time to ourselves. Those who write as well as those who read even when they have nothing much they want to say in their own blogs.

I like choosing my words as I write. Some of my posts are written in a hurry and never proofread, so they are left with typographical errors. In others, I go slow and savour the language, such as "writing" being both noun and verb in the previous paragraph. Or spelling out t-y-p-o-g-r-a-p-h-i-c-a-l.

So, when the whole idea of blogging is to build a bridge where I can meet people who I may not otherwise meet or with whom I may not have much in common, I don't think I appreciate people barging in and throwing their opinions about without taking the care to read the post through, to see if their accusations and questions have already been addressed. I'm lucky in this respect because I hardly ever have people like that, but two such landed up at Rohini's place the other day and I found them both pretty annoying. If you disagree with what she is saying, feel free to make your case, but shouldn't it also be your concern to ensure that you actually have a case?

We are rarely that open with our opinions when we are face to face with real people, and I suspect that is because we are scared of actual response, or ridicule. I have a problem with all anonymous commentors, actually. You can always sign your name under the comment if you don't have a Google id or a link to your site. Why would you not want to be identified with your beliefs? Do you not think they stand up to scrutiny?

...

The other reason I am writing this post is because of a response Dipali made to a critic of my Survival Guide.

MB said:
No way. I sympathize with you but there is no way I would give this advice to a young woman. The whole compromise mentality is what makes women feel unbearably guilty if the in-laws start playing up. And that leads to more DIL harassment and whatnot. And the men who say nothing about this are equally to blame.

No, what I would do is to really really talk to the husband to figure out why I'm getting ill-treated and what he can do about it. If he loves you, provided you are reasonable about it, he will listen. If not, to hell with him. And he SHOULD stand up to his parents. Its only mummy for crying out loud!

We would probably collectively agree that hte best thing for all of us is to move out of the city or country. And then maintain polite-but-distant relationships. So they'll be unhappy. Mummy will threaten suicide or shed great big crocodile tears. Let her. Daddy will badmouth you. Let him. They're just pulling rank and bullying you because they're older. Fuck em.

And then live your life happily ever after.

Yeah, thats what i would tell them young girls.

[later, in response to Squiggle's Mom asking why men don't have the same issues]

1. Because parents of desi girls are so grateful that someone married their daughter that they look upon the SIL as the collective Knight in Shining Armour. On the other hand, parents of desi boys always think that their son sold out cheaply so the DIL has to go through the entire song and dance (sometimes titled Compromise, other times titled Slavery) to convince them otherwise.

2. Because SILs don't care to ingratiate themselves with wife's parents whereas DIL's care. Because we've been taught to as part of our "good women" role, along with the "don't drink, don't smoke, don't have premarital sex, don't study math" bit.

3. Because its still the default in Indian society for parents to be looked after by their son and so given the physical proximity, the DIL would be hopelessly impractical not to go out of her way to be nice to them. SILs don't have the same issue.

4. Because even if they do, i.e. he has to look after their wife's parents and the parents were nasty to him, men have the financial independence to walk out of a bad marriage and the societal sanction to marry again after a divorce. Double whammy.

5. Because desi men just won't tell their parents off (esp mothers) when parents are cruel to the wife whereas desi women will fight with their parents (esp mothers) for everything.

Go figure.

Dipali:
I definitely appreciate Sue's willingness to understand the psyche of all parties concerned. She is not speaking of the entire demographic of Indian women, but of a miniscule number who have entered into marriage out of their own choice and to a partner of their
own choice, and not out of economic necessity either (though many of her guidelines apply across the board). She also comes across as a person with a deep commitment to her marriage and family. As a mother of a son, it is clear to her that the mother-son bond can be very strong, and mothers often feel threatened by the daughter-in-law's arrival on the scene. Enriching her son's life by enabling her in-laws to interact often with their grandson is something also very positive. Tackling issues as they come, with solutions found with love as their basis rather than with one's ego as the basis seems to be a far more inclusive, win-win kind of situation. A mother-in-law also needs to learn to become a good one- it is as new a role for a first-time MIL as it is for a DIL.
More than anything else, physical and mental space, the learning of one's territorial limits, plus essential love and goodwill towards one's child (as distinct from possessiveness)are the determinants of these relationships. I see Sue making a valiant effort at having a more inclusive family, and yet keeping her integrity intact. More power to you, Sue.
My one addition would be that a new bride needs to be a non-critical observer for a while, as she becomes familiar with the routines and mores of her new home. A slow introduction of any changes she feels she must make would probably be more acceptable to her new family.

I wanted to make a post out of Dipali's comment and would have, had I not had to take a break.
of a miniscule number who have entered into marriage out of their own choice and to a partner of their own choice, and not out of economic necessity either (though many of her guidelines apply across the board).
I thought I wrote for a fairly small section of women, but on second thoughts, I don't think I do. You see, when I write I usually end up expressing opinions I have at some time discussed with my friends. And my friends are from different cities, different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, and they face the same problems in very different forms. Obviously, the same solutions do not hold good for all. But, given that you are reading my blog, I take for granted that you

1. have had a good education. Finished your schooling at any rate, or are interested enough to read widely and try to make sense of what you read.

2. are a family person. By that I mean that whoever you consider family (actual blood ties be hanged) is important enough for you to make concessions for them, to make the effort to understand their point of view.

3. are mentally independent. I.e. even if you are dependent, as am I, on another person for your basic necessities, you retain the right and ability to think, choose and decide for yourself.

I'm afraid if you do not fall into all three of these categories you will not get much out of reading Sunny Days.

When I write about wives I am not thinking only of women who married the men of their own choice when they wanted to. I consider my own marriage arranged, to some degree, the only thing being that I arranged it myself! (Although that is another story and one best left untouched.) The problems I have faced because of this marriage are no different from those faced by countless women who got married before they wanted to, or to people they didn't want to marry. I am writing of and for women who got married, and want to make a success out of it. We all have problems and all of us have needed a shoulder to cry on and somebody telling us those words of wisdom we don't really want to hear. My pointers may not apply to all, but most of them apply to most of us.

P.S.
Dipali -- Since I never did respond at the post itself, I just wanted to thank you for the balanced way you put it all. Yes, it's true I have had problems but to my way of thought, nothing is entirely about me any more, and if I have to consider Rahul, then I compromise more than I might have otherwise. I totally agree about mothers-in-law needing to learn their roles. I think mine is getting around to her job at about the same pace as I'm getting around to mine. (Slow, but steady.)

And yes, one cannot be too non-critical. Not critising does not mean suspending ones own judgement, and if that is understood, then I think the compromising becomes less of a hardship.

Friday, September 21, 2007

For One Night Only

Have you ever been a one-night stand?

I have, and it’s an odd sort of memory to look back on. My first boyfriend must have been the only person I have ever loved entirely selflessly. I was thoughtful, sacrificing, concerned, in a way I’ve never been since. (It follows that the reason I broke up with him was the most atrociously selfish one I could have had.) Something snapped in me after the break-up. Things like commitment and fidelity and trust became abstract concepts that needed internalizing (ahem!) rather than the way of life I had always taken them to be.

Once commitment flies out of the window you can have a lot of fun, believe you me. That is not to say that I have ever actively cheated on any partner of mine – but I certainly spent less time feeling guilty for, well, other pleasures.

But – one night stands. Get me on the earlier topic and we could well be here for a couple of hours more yet. Anyway, I recently read Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart and have been thinking about one-night stands. I’m not very censorious about sex. My belief is that so long as you don’t hurt whoever you are with*, whatever you do is your own business and ought to be enjoyed. So, if one-nighters are ok with you, here are some tips that some guys and I discussed once and agreed ought to be passed around – because the game is always more fun when both players know the rules, right?

[* If you are in a relationship and your partner would not be ok with it, obviously, you should not be indulging in this particular game.]

1. Pick up the vibes if somebody’s sending you some. Insecurity and the whole ‘who me?’ disbelief can keep you alone in bed for a very long time.
2. Enjoy it while it lasts. You are both here for the sex, not to discuss your emotional tangles.
3. Work at making it enjoyable for your partner. Keep in mind this may be the only impression you’ll get the chance to make.
4. Play safe. For obvious reasons.
5. Keep it friendly, right up to the goodbye the next morning.
6. If you’re a virgin, come out with it beforehand. If your potential partner thinks that’s a problem, you’re better off not sleeping with him, trust me.
7. Don’t waste your time and your partner’s if you suspect that morning may bring regrets. In other words, get into it for the sex, not out of loneliness, drunkenness or a high.
8. Keep it simple – it’s just sex – and leave your phone silent and your tv turned off.
9. That said, also feel free to experiment! Your temporary partner has no idea of your usual style and therefore has no expectations.

In all fairness, I should add the one point that all men I have ever discussed this with agree upon – there is nothing quite as sexy as the women you have made a move on taking the rest of the initiative.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Back from the Dead

Which may, given the circumstances, be almost taken as a ghastly attempt at a fairly morbid joke. Then again, I didn't think very highly of my great-uncle who died last week, and I don't feel hypocritical enough to cover it up now that he is dead. Actually, that was one of the issues I have been struggling with these last few days.

My father and later my mother have always been very close to him and his wife. Mostly his wife, but my father looked up to his uncle a lot too. But this same man said very nasty things about my brother and I, when we were both very vulnerable, and the smut has not been forgotten. I don't think I ever shall forget, because both times it set off a chain of incidents which completely altered the relationship my brother and I had with the rest of our extended family. We were both young when we left Cal, and we had what I suppose was an idealised picture of our relatives, as ever-loving and understanding. I don't blame my great-uncle for the behaviour of my relatives, but I will never be able to understand how a man who prided himself on his morals could cast dirt on a granddaughter.

That had a longer fallout than anybody had expected. I stopped visiting that house much. Considering it was a place where I had spent a good part of my youth and also that it housed a lot of my favourite relatives (Cousin T and her parents, my great-aunt), that was a difficult exile, even if self-imposed. A less evident consequence was that I stopped touching my elders' feet. I could not bring myself to show him that act of respect and since he was the eldest in our family (his wife is the seniormost, going by blood, but obviously, he would be her elder) that pretty much meant I stopped doing pranam for everybody. It stood out but I refused to compromise on this. Most people attributed it to my bad upbringing and left it at that. Last week, when he died, I finally made my peace with him and touched his cold feet in a final gesture of respect. It unburdened my heart.

I will not pretend I loved him nor will I try to find good things to say about him. And I will not deny all the good he has done to other people. He is gone and I have ended my grudge. Nor is it necessary to feign sadness, because I am truly grieved for my great-aunt. Whatever I may think of him as a dadu, he was a very caring husband, and she feels the loss so keenly.

My father flew down for a day. Since The Bhablet had met him only a fortnight before that, at Hyd, he recognised my father for the first time, and joyfully jumped into his arms. I cannot describe my father's face, but I hope he never forgets it either. He always makes a big fuss over this much-awaited grandchild -- I have been receiving speculative looks for years, and I believe that thought was what reconciled him to my marriage in the end -- but this time they were both enjoying each other's company. The Bhablet missed him and Dimma (my mother) when we returned from Hyd. He kept looking for them. I hate how that kid keeps breaking my heart, just by a look or a plaintive "dadadada".

While on the subject, The Bhablet will be a year old come next Tuesday. This has been preying on my mind all month. I find myself clinging on to him, forcing cuddles he does not want, smacking down kisses that annoy him. I am losing my baby here. Anybody want to trade him in for a younger model? I'm open to exchanges and have great baby boy clothes.

Quirk? You mean OCD.

Y and Kiran tagged me on the fetish tag. It's been on the back burner for a while, but now I'm confessing at last.

1. I can live like a complete slob when I live alone but just the presence of one (or half or even a quarter, hell a threat of a presence of another) human being makes me tidy away and tweak into neatness. If that is rearranged I see red. I used to be worse. When I lived alone and had no maid and cleaned once a month, then visitors who dropped in after a bout of cleaning had to remove their shoes in a marked area, so that the flat would do without cleaning for another month. Yes, I've always been very optimistic.

2. I count on my fingers to pass the time. My other top favourite way of passing time is the bored game, which I invented. You start by saying, "I'm bored. I'm bored bored. I'm bored bored bored. I'm bored bored bored bored." and so on ad nauseam. It's fun and guaranteed to annoy anybody around you.

3. I have this strange theory of cleanliness. I need to wash my hands every time I touch something I consider dirty, but I don't necessarily wash properly. If I so much as touch soap and wash that off I consider myself cleaned. I've been working on this, post Bhablet, but there has been only limited improvement.

4. I like things meticulously planned out and tend to get upset when other people fail to run by the plan. I mean, I planned it taking all contingencies into account, and by that I mean these other people, and we all know (or should) that I know best, so why not just do it my way? Funnily enough, I get along best with people who are slobs or who are pretty unfocused or who do funny things on the spur of the moment.

5. My wardrobes may not be neat but everything in there has a place of its own and must be replaced just so. I enjoy tidying my cupboards, running my hands along my beloved clothes, smoothening out the creases, stacking them straight, sorting out my toiletries.

6. My food has to be distributed evenly all through the meal. (I'm a great fan of symmetry.) So if I'm having, say, fried veggies with dal and rice, I try to ensure that the veggies are evenly distributed between all the mouthfuls of rice. By now I can judge how much each mouthful will need. I also feed The Bhablet like this. I try to ensure that each spoonful has some of the fish/chicken/whatever.

7. I have this thing about clothes. I may not remember your face but if your clothes were even remotely attractive I'll remember you. I notice them and obsess over them and have fairly decent choice when I dress other people. Funnily enough, I'm a pretty boring dresser myself.

There, that is the seven of the original tag and I'm not revealing any more.

*Sigh*

Does this mean none of you will ever visit me now?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Break, for Reasons Completely Beyond My Control

Sorry, I have been on an inadvertent break, what with a crazy previous week, Very Busy weekend and a series of unfortunate events in this week so far.

Cousin T's grandfather passed away early this morning. (Anansi, if you're reading this, give her a call, please.) And the mother-in-law has gallstones.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Arrr

For the last two and a half days V and I have not been on speaking terms. It has been one of our worst fights in recent times.

But we have been bombing each other as Pirates on Facebook.

I'm not too sure of what this says about us (and Facebook) and I'm afraid to ask.

Friends -- Or A Touch of the Warm South

I never did write about my Hyderabad trip, did I? L's wedding was a great excuse but I'd been dying to head south (and by that I don't mean Madras now) for a while. The title about sums it up. It was 'inspired' by Gerry Durrall's short story about his trip to the south of the US, which was in turn stolen from here.

It's a great city. It's changed so much and is no longer anything like the place where I spent two amazing years as a kid, but I love it anyway, what little bits I catch on my infrequent trips.

I feel instantly at home at most places where Telugu is spoken. I don't speak it any longer, but I can still follow it a little, and I know the customs, the feel of the people in the place. I like going to these houses and having the lady of the house put some kumkum in my hair and giving me a blouse piece and some fruit. I like being treated as a grown-up, married woman and mother, because the amusement at being around people who don't think I'm nearly old enough to be married, let alone mother, has long worn off.

And there is this indefinable something about going back to the school that taught me to value myself for the first time in my life, about seeing it grown, remembering how we stamped down the grounds ourselves to make our first playing fields, to remember the plants we grew which were later used to decorate the corridors, to see the many buses and know how popular it has become, it gives one a sense of belonging, pride in being a pioneer, a feeling of warmth at the accomplishment.

L's wedding was pretty fantastic. Most Gult weddings skimp on the food (not the money, they often skimp on imagination) but L's parents had planned a very good spread. I went for the haldi ceremony and somehow, blessing this friend of mine was a very emotional experience for me. Brought it home that she and I have both grown up, are living out the futures we wondered and dreamt about, that I am married and have a son, that she would soon be running her own home immersed in domesticity.

L is not conventionally beautiful but she has an inner beauty in her face that attracts everybody to her. Her eyes always sparkle, her lips are always just about to break into her trademark grin. I was apprehensive that she would get her make-up done at a parlour and emerge with shiny sequins and garish make-up hiding all that, but I should have known better. She washed her own hair and her aunts were to dress it. She told me that she planned to do her own make-up so I promptly decided to land up and do it for her. (L and I have a long history of dressing each other up. She has great hair, so it was always fun.) So I arrived to find her all decked up post bath, and after some running around -- and I mean running around because this friend of mine has always kept me on my toes, literally -- we managed to pin her down. She sat down, had her hair tied into a long braid, had the flowers tied on. There was a moment of panic when her mother was about to absent-mindedly hand them out to the advance members of the baraat, but that disaster was prevented in time.

We then sat down for make-up. I've been in Cal too long, you know? I vaguely remember being amazed when I first moved here seven years ago that almost all the women seemed to be wearing at least powder &/or lipstick &/or kajal. Where I came from lipstick was the height of decadence! So imagine my shock when L disclosed that she had a good lip gloss, face powder, lacto-calamine for a base and kajal (which she wasn't planning to wear) -- and that was all. My shocked protests about eye-shadow, blush, mascara were met with dismay -- "Do I really need those Sue? I don't want too much make-up."

What would you have done? I steamrolled her into position, sat her down and ordered her to close her eyes and trust God. In this case, I meant me. I thanked my lucky stars that I had been carrying all my own stuff because I meant to dress there myself. I went with a very light powdered base which could be touched up whenever necessary, a light blush, some kajal, darker than she wanted but it looked good under the glare of the lights, some mascara, a teeny touch of eye-liner at the outer corners of her eyes, blended eye-shadows (picked up a very good tip there from an artist aunt of hers, same one who did the hair) and a dark lipstick.

I pinned and pleated her into perfection (I really am very good at this) and adjusted her gold belt and other jewellery until I was entirely happy. She is very tall, a good two inches taller than me, and looks very regal in a saree (so long as she isn't grinning).

It felt great. This was an entirely family affair but none of the relatives, least of all her parents, had any issues with me jumping in at the last second and taking over the all-important bride's turnout. I was treated very sweetly, not as an honoured guest but very much as a member of the family. Since some of her relatives had met me in my days in Vizag and almost everybody had heard of me, I suppose this shouldn't have surprised me, but the warmth, the affection I received made me feel so comfortable. Despite having grown away, having put down roots elsewhere, for a day I belonged to them, to the city.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

All I really want is for you to be proud of me. So that when we next meet, in another life when we are both cats, you will smile at me, the way you always have, and tell me that I did you proud. Just for that I keep trying. I know I haven't made much of an effort at times, but the thought keeps me going. Because I too need some vanilla in my sky.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Survival Guide for Daughters-in-Law

Edits at the bottom.

Disclaimer -- The following article is compiled from firsthand experience and hearsay (i.e. gossip and advice) and is intended to be only a guide. For once I am not laying down the law.


When I first got sucked into the world of mommy blogs, one of the reasons I bonded so strongly with all the mothers out there furiously typing away in secret snatches of time was that most of them had a complicated relationship with their parents-in-law too. It's no secret that I have plenty of issues with V's parents, and they with me. But over time, and aided by A Bhablet (and my own mother who gives me very sane advice), things have reached a fairly promising state. I don't think my mother-in-law and I are likely to hold hands and walk off into the sunset any time soon, but we may just manage to rub along during the hours before without actually feeling homicidal towards each other. So, going by what worked for me, and taking into account everything I've heard from my parents, friends, relatives and fellow bloggers, here is how to survive your induction into a new family:

1. Never forget that you are a daughter-in-law and not a daughter. You may be given the same love and spoiling as a daughter receives, but your duties and the interpretations of your actions will always be different. Which I think is a good thing. Daughters-in-law have much to do in imbibing traditions and passing them on to the next generation, teaching the kids how to treat their elders, looking after aging parents-in-law and giving them a security that only sons' wives can give.

2. When the criticism starts, put a brave face on it. Confide in any one person who can be trusted to let you pour your heart out and then do nothing about your woes, but do not tell the world (i.e. more than that one person). In my own case, my mother heard me out patiently and obviously, worried quite a bit about the situation. But to her credit the only two times I have heard her say something even comparatively derogatory was when she thought V's mother was more concerned about her ego than her son's happiness and when it was felt that V's parents didn't show enough interest in The Bhablet. Even then, when I told her about later progress, I think she was even happier than I at the change.

3. This sounds so retrogressive -- but put your heart and soul into learning the ways of your new family. I came from a family where everybody is constantly poking their nose(s) into each other's business(es) and I hated it, but I was also used to it. The unconcern V's extended family showed towards me was a bit of a shock. I was used to being invited over and warmly received all over the place as my parents' daughter. V's family always seemed happy to see me but they never invited me, they never asked to know much about my life. It has taken me a long time to realise that this doesn't mean they hate me. They are like this only. They are a vast family, and used to interacting regularly only with small units.

So yes, alongside learning to cook to please the menfolk also learn what not to say in front of which aunt, which families not to call over on the same day, remember their children's names and what they all do. Even if you don't do puja (like me) learn to help out at one, if puja is a big deal in your new family.

4. When the going gets rough, don't expect your husband to do anything about it. This was the hardest part for me. I could have dealt with criticism much easier if V had stood up for me. Actually, I believe there would have been less criticism if he had stood up for me in the first place, as I did for him in my family. (I told my family to back off, to wait and watch and then comment. Since I managed to browbeat them into actually doing this, they discovered that they quite like him far sooner than they would have otherwise.)

But V had his reasons for keeping quiet. Like almost all other men, he wanted to stay out of 'women's fights' and hoped that we would resolve the problem on our own.

I lost a lot of ground waiting for V to stand up for me. I lost my trust in him and a lot of faith in myself (Why would he speak up for me? Was I not worth it?)

In retrospect, that was just silly. I should have known that in such situations men are best off doing ostrich impersonations, since that is what my father usually does too.

5. Retain your individuality. This does not clash with point 3, actually. You are the person you are. You are bringing your personality, your talents, your prizes, your knowledge into this family and you are enriching them as much as they enrich you. This is so easy to forget, but if only we can remember this, dealing with difficult in-laws can be compared to dealing with difficult bosses -- testing but not the end of the world and certainly nothing calling for a divorce. Remember what you are worth, even if you have to write it out on a piece of paper and carry it about with you, and if you never lose sight of that, everybody else will also recognise it one day. My day hasn't come yet, but I'm hoping if I work hard enough at it, it will get here.

6. Put away all the bad memories and refuse to go through them. Sometimes forgiving and/or forgetting is just not an option. I don't think I will ever forget all the things V and his parents put me through. And while I remember, I don't think my forgiveness will be very thorough either. But I can refuse to brood on those times. They happened, yes, but other, nicer things are happening now. The better times only began once I started forcing myself to let go of the bitterness, little by little. V is the man he is, better and worse. So if last year I saw the bit I didn't want to accept, this year has given me my Joe back.

And my in-laws are old people. It is their prerogative not to change if they don't want to. On the other hand I gain at least as much as they do by reaching out, by letting go of the past. I gain a happy V, a spoilt Bhablet and some measure of acceptance in that family. So it's not about who wins and who loses. If your in-laws lose so do you. And you can only win if they win too. Think about that.

And before I end, here is a joke that became less than funny last year --

Overheard, one woman telling a crony about her son-in-law and daughter-in-law:
Oh, my daughter-in-law is so lazy, she actually asks my poor, hard-working son to get her tea in bed in the morning. But you know, my son-in-law is such a treasure, he gets my daughter tea in bed every single morning!

---------------------------

Edited to add the following:

Mona adds a point I had thought of but forgot to put down, and I'll make it number 7.

7. Avoid family fights like the plague. We are all opinionated (why else would we blog?) and we all want to step in when we think we can be of help. But it never fails to rebound on you. To quote Mona, "because you're still always an outsider, you can't get away with siding with one member or saying something about another. they can and WILL collectively gang up on you. its like instantly they forget why they were upset with their brother/sister/parent and remember that you just dared to criticize said family member."

Before you label it as yet another form of in-law prejudice, think about your own sister-in-law. Would you take kindly to her criticising your brother in front of you, even when you know she's right? You may keep quiet, but at some level you resent it.

Sur Notes also adds a point.

8. You have an incentive for all this giving in, all the insults you accept. At the end of the day, you discover strengths within yourself that you didn't know you had. And unless you are very unlucky, I'm told that these trials by fire do draw your in-laws closer to you in the end. Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi, don't you know?

9. Some in-laws are just so alien to our systems, it may be impossible to fall into their ways. The only way to deal with such a situation is to practise the old adage of live and let live. You don't like the way they do things? Ok, but keep quiet about it. They must have done something right to produce the man you married, right? It's their genes at work creating the man you love. Try to find him in them. This helped me when I was really down, thinking that V's parents couldn't care less about The Bhablet. V is really fond of babies, and he gets that from his mother. I needed to focus on that. Because long ago, way before things soured between us, his mother and I once spent a happy evening playing with a friend's baby.

They may try to push their lifestyle on to you and Katy showed me how to deal with that one... smile a lot, politely, say yes, a lot, and go right ahead and do what you want to do. After a while they get the message and leave you alone.

10. Argee also made a lot of sense when she pointed out that problems immediately acquire a new perspective when they involved in-laws. Keep that in mind and ask yourself if the issue would be so distressing to you if it had been your own family instead. If you couldn't reach a solution, would you not have let it go for your own family? Can't you do it for your husband's family as well? I know this is much harder than it sounds. I personally have so many issues with my own family, thinking along these lines doesn't initially make me feel any more conciliatory. But yeah, if I substitute parents for family, then I do know that at the end of the day I would give in to my parents sooner than keep fighting them. Because they have already accepted so much for me.

Now, having been pushing the whole compromise angle all this while, how exactly does one go about it? Personally, it took me a few months but I managed to figure out what I was willing to cave in to and what I would go down fighting for. I refused to change my name (V couldn't care less and I don't mind being called Sunayana Niyogy. It's just that I'm Sunayana Roy to me and want to always be.) I fought to wear the clothes I wanted to wear. I'm usually careful to suit my clothes to the places they go, so yeah, when we visit relatives, especially in-laws, I usually wear sarees. It helps of course that I'm very comfortable in them. But I want to be able to walk around in my spaghettis when I think they are appropriate. I wanted to have my separate bank account, to be able to meet my friends, male and female whenever I wanted. To be allowed to eat as much or as little as I like, to eat only what I want to. To go out whenever I need to. V gets all these things as a matter of course and I cannot imagine my life without them.

But I was willing to learn Bengali properly, to spend time learning to cook in their style, to do household work, even clean bathrooms. I have a fetish for clean bathrooms and the brother-in-law is disgusting in his bathroom habits, so I preferred to clean up each day than put up with the disgust. I was willing to be polite, even friendly to their friends, notwithstanding my actual opinion of some of these friends, and I was willing to take on family responsibilities. I tried to keep track of relatives and tried to remember stuff about each (no mean feat, I assure you). I was willing to not have too many late nights, and to not come home reeking of ganja/cigarette smoke or alcohol fumes. (This was pre-Bhablet, remember.)

In the end none of that mattered because V's mother somehow got around to thinking that V and I were moving into a place of our own (a 5 min walk away) only because I wanted to entice him away from his family. Not because there was a baby on the way and I couldn't stand the thought of having a baby in a room which didn't even have enough space to hold all our (V's and mine) combined clutter. Sometimes you cannot anticipate all the reasons why they will hate you.

But you can rise above it. I didn't and it took me many long, fraught months to start mending the relationship. It created unimaginable troubles between V and me. I use to scream out at him that he could just go please his mother and divorce me as she had wanted, because I truly felt unwanted and unloved. It's hard to be hated so strongly, and I don't believe V ever understood that. He understood that I was deeply unhappy but does he understand that whatever relationship is built now will be built over those foundations?

That's basically why I wrote this post. My mother gave me great advice and a shoulder to cry on when I needed it the most, but I could have done with other friends of my own generation telling me how they coped with it. In retrospect I accept that the only way to resolve the problem lies in bending and giving. Because once they understand that you are not challenging them, it becomes a little easier to bend and less is demanded.

Even then, things don't change overnight and I wouldn't want to give you the impression that such a volte face is likely. My mother-in-law fell violently ill with a bad stomach attack yesterday. My father-in-law was out of town and it fell to V's brother to hold the fort. V stayed the night over and the presence of her two beloved sons seems to have helped a little. I tried to stay in the background after a while because I realised, at times of crisis such as this, without being precisely an outsider I'm still not close enough for her to want me hovering around when she is ill. I'm ok with running for medicines, taking decisions, arranging food, but I'm no good at holding her while she is throwing up, sitting quietly beside her while she sleeps, coming up with ways to make her feel better. I tried my best but none of that came naturally and I don't think a sickbed is a great place to practice my PR skills, so I did my stuff from the sidelines. It helped that the glow that lit up her face when V held her hand faded when he left the room and there was only The Bhablet and me. I accept this state of things and I know even this is better than I would have imagined a year ago, when even entering their place was unthinkable. So yeah, baby steps are the best one can hope to get, but baby steps do lead to bigger, better things.

So I tell myself.

Monday, September 03, 2007

I Have to Praise You Like I Should

I'm not sure if any of you have noticed, apart from MM who couldn't miss it if she tried -- but The Bhablet turns a year old later this month.

It's coming at me from all directions. Charlie The Spud just turned one, and I have always enjoyed his stories especially because he's three odd weeks older than The Bhablet. So you know, if one is climbing up stairs I find the other follows suit in no time; or if one is teething away, guess who is also erupting a continent away? It's fun to follow not just one little horror but two out of a similar mode, all the more so when you have to deal directly with only one.

I keep mocking The Bhablet or grumbling about him, so, tonight I will write about all the things that I like, admire and appreciate about him. Because there is plenty that I do like, admire and appreciate.
  • He doesn't hold a grudge. He has a fiery temper and it is easily provoked, but he is just as quickly appeased and forgives you for your misdeed very soon.
  • He is really good about food. It is only of late that he gets so distracted and wants to run away as soon as his initial hunger has been appeased, but from day 1 he has always been hungry and willing to eat. V and I were both picky eaters, and I see babies around me refusing even the tiniest little taste. My complaint with The Bhablet has always been the opposite, i.e. he gets so angry when he is hungry, it's a task to calm him down enough to get something down that little gullet.
  • He is a strong little boy. He looks smaller than other babies but is usually taller than them.
  • I married the man with the most wonderful smile in the world (well, I sure didn't marry him for his looks) and his Bhablet of a son inherited that same traffic-stopping grin.
  • He knows when to give up -- and when to persevere. When he sees that V and I are both banded against him he quickly throws in the towel and moves off to further mischief elsewhere. But when he is trying to figure out a way to do something, say trying to get a box inside another one, he keeps on at it all by himself until he gets it right. He doesn't know I'm watching, but I am, and I'm always so proud of him when he does it all by himself. Even though I don't tell him so either.
  • There is not much that he is afraid of. He is scared of the whistle of the pressure cooker and he doesn't like V and me fighting violently. And he takes a minute or two with strangers. But he is wary, not scared, mostly. This worries me because in fear lies a safety, but yes, in the end I'm proud he is not a coward.
  • He makes so many people happy. They would all have been happy with any baby but this child of mine seems to have inherited his mama (my brother)'s special charm that works on everybody, no matter how upset they may be with him. This reassures me when I fear for his future because of his temper. Having lived with the charm, I am fully aware of how useful and potent it can be.
People have been ringing me up these last few weeks asking about the party I'm supposed to be planning. I don't know about that. A first birthday party will be or us more than for him, and we're really low on funds. Can't imagine having one without calling both family and friends, and anyway his birthday's on a Tuesday this year, so it's not convenient for office-goers... I'm basically thinking of skipping town. Heading out for the day like we did for mine. Actually, V suggested an amusement park, which The Bhablet would enjoy more than a day-long drive, and I think that's a good idea. But that still means no party, and that will take some explaining. All I hear is how we (read I) deprive this child, and no doubt this will be dragged out and he will be told over and over how he should hold it against us, until he begins to think he really should.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Meanest Meanie in the World

You know how I keep going on and on about V being a great father? He's a meanie, is what he is. The meanest meanie in the world. (That is what my then 8 yr-old cousin called him and I do believe she was bang on target. Kids sense these things.)

So The Bhablet was playing this afternoon. As is his wont, he picks up a toy in each hand and does whatever he needs to do with his hands full. He makes his way around the room hanging on to furniture by his elbows and wrists (not palms). He crawls with his hands full. He's such a grabber, really. We Bengalis have a custom of offering a baby various symbolic items (a book, earth, money, sindoor and something else I cannot remember) on a plate at the rice ceremony. The baby's choice is supposed to indicate the direction his life will take (academics, real estate, good earnings, marriage for girls etc.) The Bhablet grabbed at the entire plate. V's aunt rotated the plate so that he would be forced to let go and choose any single item instead but my son held on and refused to take any part of the whole, because he, a five month old, wanted it all. He still does.

And when he plays, he grabs something in each hand and moves around with his hands full. He falls a lot, but less than you'd think. This afternoon he was trying to hoist himself up to a stool standing between V and me. After a few tries he managed it, with a plastic car in each hand. I was proud of his dexterity, and V grinned too. But his intentions were far more evil than my simple maternal pride. The man grinned, reached down and brought up a third car and placed it on the stool. The greedy child reached out for it and had to let a car go to be able to hold the new one. The discarded car promptly rolled off down to the floor and The Bhablet had to start all over again. V had by now doubled up with laughter.

P.S.
In case you were wondering, I chose the sindoor at my rice ceremony. Marriage at 23 and motherhood at 24 seems pre-set in my case.

P.P.S.
Oh all right, I'm going to bed already. Stop nagging, y'all!

A Gifted Child

Read Cantaloupe's Amma on the subject of an unwelcome gift and also Noon's comments on gifting.

I have written earlier on this subject. I would not put a blanket ban on gifts, because I would be the first to admit that The Bhablet is dressed, fed and pampered way beyond anything his father and I can afford, and this is done purely through all the gifts that he receives. I hope I'm not jinxing anything by saying this -- but everything almost that I have wished to give him he has received, so blessed has he been. Yet in the midst of all this I also have several shelf-fuls of gifts which he will not use. Clothes that were too small, too repetitive, unsuitable (too many fussy details, synthetic materials, girly); bottle holders he does not need; more sippy cups than one child can use, unless I'm mad enough to wash them all and keep one for each day of the week (well, almost); blankets, an item that he discarded a little way into his third month; knitwear sets that were too big for his first winter but are too small for his second; toiletries that I'm afraid may begin to spoil before he needs them all; more toys than he is interested in -- all he really wants are water bottle, steel plates and glasses, newspapers and magazines he can chew, odd bits of material and pretty much everything you don't want him to play with. You get the idea.

Some of these are still very nice, and we seem to be having a baby-filled year, so I happily repack and re-gift them, keeping in mind the taste and possible wishes and needs of the recipients. This last bit is important. As a recent new-mother, I know what is welcome and what may be redundant. And I carefully keep all such potential gifts packed away neatly and carefully. What I wouldn't give to babies in our circle I know are still welcome among my maids (and maids in my family circles who have babies in the family) so I pass them on. For instance, I do not dress The Bhablet in synthetics much (he sweats a lot) and most mothers I know stay away from them too. But my maid and her neighbours have no such issues and are grateful for these passed on gifts, since they are new and mostly still in the gift-pack. Such sets are expensive sometimes, and would be out of their reach otherwise.

What I am asking all you mothers out there is this: would such a gift bother you? I promise you, you would not know whether I bought it in a shop or it was re-cycled, because whatever I give your child will be every bit as classy as anything I would want my own son to receive.

I see no point in using a receiving blanket once, twice just because it was a gift. The Bhablet does not like blankets and wriggles out of them. It makes more sense to me to save them for the next new-born in my circle. This way, I can welcome the baby with a good, useful gift which may also be more expensive than anything I could have been able to afford in the first place.

Do tell me what you think. I am aware that this generates a lot of mixed feelings.

Note to MM:
I loved the frog though, so I'm afraid he is stuck our little well and not going away anywhere anytime soon.