Friday, November 30, 2012

Why do you write such mournful posts?

Because I am at my wits' end.

Because I have no solutions.

Because when I ask myself, what would Sue do, the answer, the only answer that ever comes up is that Sue would get into bed and stay in bed until her world improved vastly.

Because staying in bed means disturbing your child and setting him worrying.

Because he keeps coming to you to kiss away that sad face you're wearing.

Because, dammit, I want to be able to say I'm bloody sad. Occasionally angry but mostly so sad that I don't even want to eat or bathe or dress or work.

I have a room of my own now and I'm scared I will never want to share a room again.

I am scared a lot because change scares me.

I'm functioning because I must but if I had a choice I would be throwing a temper tantrum. I would get into bed and lock my door and stay there until my world improved vastly.

And if I were to be honest, I'm not really functioning either. I don't cook, clean or keep house or look after my child. So maybe I am throwing a temper tantrum after all. Good thing I discovered it in time to enjoy it, huh?

If you're a Glee fan maybe you'll like the Tumblr I just discovered.

Monday, November 26, 2012

On Dressing

The wonderful Rashmi Sachan of Fliplog posted a link this morning that I found truly hair-raising: children critising their teachers' attire.

My main problem with the article is the emphasis that the kids pay to things like perfect nail polish and repeating dresses.

I know, all too well, what it is to be judgmental over other people's clothes. My mother and I share a keen interest in clothes and although neither of us would ever make it to a fashion listing, we do notice what the people around us wear. When I notice pantylines and slipped bra straps and uneven tucks, it is part of the training my mother gave me. She is the one who told me to either wear makeup like a professional or not bother with it at all. (She doesn't bother with it at all.)

There are a couple of posts lying my drafts folder describing a personal project I started some time last year. I decided to stop judging people for what they wore. I come from a family where people dress more for comfort than for style so I decided to start at home but I found I worked the hardest when I was outside.

What I did was I constantly and ruthlessly questioned my judgments. If somebody's kurta slits were too high yes, it was an eyesore but how did it say anything about her aesthetic or moral nature? She could well be somebody wearing a gift that she hadn't liked to pass on. Or she could have fallen in love with the bright colours and didn't know how to fix the bared midriff. Or maybe she had more important things on her mind than occasional glimpses of bared skin. She could also think it was attractive, the way I sometimes wear a low neck or a high hem. Just because her style and mine were different, how was I to judge that hers was bad and mine was not? (My mother critisises my clothes quite a lot.)

When I was pressed to explain exactly why I raised eyebrows at people's appearances, most often I found myself lamely explaining that "it just looked bad". Which is no reason at all.

After some months of moral policing my inner fashion police I found that I just judged people less. I might dress a dear friend down for messily wearing her saree but I don't judge her for it. I might wish the man on the bus took the trouble to condition his long hair but it's his hair and I don't have a problem with his refusal to take what I think is proper care of it. It has worked very well, my little project. The bonus is that it has considerably broadened my horizons. A year or two ago I might have been intrigued by clothes like these but concluded that I would never dream of wearing a gamchha. Today I can see the inherent beauty of the fabric and appreciate the designer's vision.

The best part, to my way of thinking, is that I feel less bitchy. When I look at somebody, since I have been trying to teach myself to understand why they are wearing what they are wearing, I often notice little joys I might have overlooked otherwise -- a minute but delightful piece of accessorising, quirky colour blends, interesting hair or fabric or makeup details. Since I look at clothes because I like clothes and styling, it feels great to be less judgmental and more open to individuality. If I get over my mother's throw-on style of saree draping, I can admire the saree itself more easily (and my mother has a beautiful collection of sarees.) I have been trying to give Rahul somewhat greater choice in his daily wear and I can see the delight he takes in throwing together the most ridiculous colours -- and also how his clothes don't bother him at all, which I find truly delightful.

Being as I am on the other end of my little project, I find the comments by the schoolchildren saddening on a lot of levels. I know kids judge, I did too, but to say that somebody looks like an ayah puts the child, her teacher and the ayah down. Will the school explain that to the kid or will it direct all its focus on helping the teacher to not look like the ayah? (In Rahul's playschool his ayahs were always neat and often looked very pretty, with flowers in their hair and big, welcoming smiles on their faces.) Nail polish chips. That is what nail polish does, especially on the nails of an adult woman who works around the house and has a lot to do with her hands all day. Very few of us have the time or patience needed to maintain perfectly manicured nails all the time, so why judge somebody for chipped nail polish? It's not pretty but it's reality. (That particular comment mentioned in the article could have been made by a certain Miss Sunayana Roy about 15 years ago. I don't make any bones about that.)

Now, with all the fervour of the newly-converted I think people should stop thinking so much about what other people are wearing. Or at least, stop judging them for it and enjoy it a bit more. I promise you when you really look there is nearly always something to enjoy.

And lastly, while it is never a bad idea to help somebody dress 'better', I hope this school and all others where similar thoughts are discussed, keep a sense of proportion. These are children after all, here to be taught. A love of neat, attractive dressing and tolerance for eccentricity or unknown circumstances can go hand in hand and should do so.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Winter is coming.

Soon the men of Kolkata will go to work wearing their v-neck sleeveless sweaters knitted in elaborate cable stitches and whathaveyous by their womenfolk (the unlucky ones will wear ugly store-bought versions of the garment) and the women will go to work covered in their pretty wool shawls carefully chosen each morning to match or coordinate with their outfit for the day.

Vicky will catch one of his awful colds.

Rahul will wear socks at home.

I will also wear socks at home.

I am glad we are no longer in Kalikapur now that it's getting colder. Last winter there was one of the most miserable winters of my life. I spent a good month with the heater on (and paid the price for it, literally, when the bill came home to roost). I remember spending the day huddled up in bed trying to get a little warmer.

Moore Avenue can also be very cold. However, I shall be better prepared and I have my socks!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Telling Tales

This post is for harried parents everywhere. The children want stories and you have a sinkful of dirty dishes to return to, a TV show to watch and a deadline calling your name. You haven't the energy to read a kiddy book but nor can your tired mind concoct a new story off the cuff. That's when you remember what you [are about to] read in this post. And yes, as always, you are welcome.

How To Make Up Stories for Children -- Guidelines for Parents

1. Use the events of your child's day. If he went for a birthday party, the child in your story also went for a party. Not the same party exactly, but similar enough to have your kid excitedly furnish half the details for you. We saw a family of seven monkeys in front of our house today so Rahul's story today had a monkey who visited the house of our young girl protagonist.

2. Use repetitive dialogues. Children love the rhythm such exchanges bring to a story and they makes it easier for the kids to chime in. It is a great idea to tell stories that repeat an event with varying characters or places. For example, when I told Rahul about the little boy who turned himself into a T Rex and went around eating up his family, the boy had a little give-and-take that was pretty formulaic with each family member before he gobbled them up. It's fun and it's easy for when your mind is not working.

3. Cannibalise from stories you've read or heard before. I don't do this much but my father does. Feel free to work in storylines, characters or events from stories all over the place. It's all good and your kid will enjoy the feeling of recognition when she encounters the originals one day.

4. Keep the stories positive. My T Rex got scolded by his grandmother and threw up his grandfather, father and then mother with great drama. The moral was ostensibly not to eat up one's family but it was actually a desperate effort to save a storyline that had become far more morbid than I'd thought when I first unthinkingly said, "So the boy ate up his mother." (It worked, by the way. That story's a hoot.) You can discuss death, destruction, procreation, religion, anything at all, but make it end happily. My son tends to nightmares so I do this but who doesn't like a happy ending?

5. Reach into your own childhood. The house the monkey came to visit was an actual house I lived in as a 5 year old in Selimpur, Kolkata. Since I knew what I was talking about, it was easier to make the action come alive in my post-lunch stupor. Use people and places you know and you'll find the story tells itself.

6. Dramatise. If you don't know this already you should: children love hearing stories with different voices and sound effects and facial contortions. Ask them questions they are prepared to answer. ("The caterpillar was still hungry. So, the next day -- can you tell me what day comes after Monday? Yes, so on Tuesday etc.") There is nothing so entertaining as a dramatised, interactive story. Ask any child. You don't need to jump up and down at bedtime, a few voice modulations will do.

I have been telling some fantastic stories this week. I know they are good because I enjoyed hearing them myself. Sometimes my stories are blah, but now that I've stumbled onto tip #1, there is always a story at the tip of my tongue.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Quick Notes

1. We have moved to Moore Avenue. The upkeep of two households was becoming too much for my parents so early this year Vicky offered to shift here, keeping the place running and so on. I'm excited to be living here after twenty-two years, but it's not all joy. However, I don't mean to complain.

2. We are surviving on extremely erratic internet. Which is to say, Vicky has the 'net and I come online for a quickie browse in the wee hours. Which sounds delightfully scandalous but is actually very tiring especially when you consider I am also browsing for work in that time!

3. Rahul's school commute is a good 20 minutes longer each way now. This gives us more time to ourselves in the mornings but also tires him out a bit more. The good news is, there is another child at the bus stop and they seem to like one another.

4. I have been making major changes in my thinking and household. Things are in flux -- the changes are still very new -- but so far, so good. I will blog about this another time, when I am not yawning so widely.

5. Which is worse: giving greater focus to the spouse or to the young child? Assuming it's impossible to stay evenly balanced all the time and both are demanding in their own ways?

6. Rahul is a very funny kid. I would imagine all kids are funny but I know I wasn't. I was earnest, sober and rather pi. Rahul on the other hand is a barrel of laughs. His beam is infectious and he knows it. It is a pity that he doesn't believe me when I tell him not to trust his Baba or Diddi (my mum). Both of them laugh at him all the time. I only laugh at him most of the time and it is me he doesn't trust. I tell him, I have known them both longer and better and if there is one thing I have learnt it is that they are both Bad People Who Laugh At One. He doesn't believe me though.

7. I hope you have ordered your copy of Y's Just Married Please Excuse. If you haven't, you really should. I finally bought and read my copy this weekend and it is a truly delightful read. The editor in me winced at a couple of sentences but the reader in me laughed out loud frequently and finished the book with a sigh of regret. It is not just for jollies either. I do not care to speculate which parts of the book are fiction and which pure fact, but the truth is that the narrator comes across as engagingly self-aware and, well, honest. If you read me you know I value that.

8. Elephants have giant, S-shaped penises. I have had to read that at least 5 times in recent weeks. Consider yourself lucky I'm inflicting it on you only the one time. And I'm not going into the details of their sex lives either.