Saturday, May 28, 2011


When I see the foreign construction workers working on highrise buiding sites in Singapore, I wonder what would happen if one of them arrives here to work and discovers he has the fear of heights! Are the poor allowed to have such fears? Or is acrophobia, and other phobias, the privilege of the rich?
  Photo from:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Anands!

According to Aloka, our family members and their full names:

Aloka Anand, Atreya Anand, Mummy Anand, Anakin Anand, Mallika Anand and....Witchy Anand!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today's Lunch

Potatoes, pumpkin, capsicum, baby corn, small red onions, garlic chopped, mint leaves, kafir lime leaves. The herbs were my idea for no reason other than that I had them in the fridge!

Spread them out on an oiled foil...sprinkled parmesan and bread crumbs...shoved in preheated oven

After 45 minutes, pumpkins are nearly melted, potatoes crisp, onions sweetened, corns chewy

Another view...the best surprise was the pumpkins!

In the lower chamber, whole chicken rubbed with garlic and ginger paste, salt, pepper, cummin, and then with a generous dollop of honey and finally olive oil, rolled up in foil and shoved in preheated oven for about 50 minutes

Another view of the perfectly roasted chicken. The browning happened by keeping the foil open for the last 15 mins in the oven.

Atta's first helping. He took another...and then another!

Atta digging in! Aloka ate chicken skin and potatoes (her all time favs).

2 Months

It's exactly 2 months since my last day at KP. These 2 months have been so much better than I had ever imagined. I feel fresh and healthy and cleansed by the constant contact with good people, loving openly and living harmoniously.

In a way I am having my Eat Pray Love moments! More on that in the next post.

Chanting with Strangers

Yesterday, after lunch with Minnie, I took the train to Tampines and then a taxi to Street 81. I reached about 2:25pm and readied myself for a 3-hour chanting session. I always prefer to be with others, even strangers, when chanting for long periods of time. A couple of days before, I wouldn't have been able to tell you why, but it all became clear yesterday.

The Carnation room was about 3 quarters full, mostly with women. In such sessions, there is always a leader who sits right in front and chants into the mike. Its like a roster. Every hour, a new person comes to take the mike. I arrived half way into one such session and sat in the first row. As always, I took time settling in, checked messages, drank water, fidgeted in the seat and what not. I think I even checked mail on my phone. Anything to avoid sinking into myself. It's such a routine with me that I allow it kindly, almost like an indulgent parent, knowing it will pass soon.

Slowly, my eyes got transfixed and my voice became strong and determined. The next leader came to claim her place at the mike, bringing with her a white sock-like cover for the mike. I was very aware of things happening around me, like the young pretty girl's rather harsh voice right next to me, the rhythm of the leader who took a breath every 4 counts, and the slightly off beat slower pace of the old woman behind me. A man's voice soon joined in, to my left, deep and steady. Everytime the leader paused to take a breath, I could also hear the 50 or so more people's voices behind me, sounding a bit shaky as if they will fall apart in separate beats if the leader didn't get back up on the mike quickly. I could hear my own voice rising and then steadying into a higher than usual pitch.

The next thing I knew, none of this existed. There was music around me, inside me, in my ears, in my heart, resonating in my whole body.  The voices had become musical instruments, and each was at a slightly different level from each other, forming like a rainbow of sounds. As my senses flowed into one another, I could see the music as well as hear it. The man's deep voice was at the bottom of the rainbow, the leader's voice on the mike held the center and my neighbour and I held the upper end. Each voice was distinct,- different tones, different pitches. Yet it was if we were one! All the instruments were in tune!

Jaise naad baj uthay hon!

How that hour passed I have no idea. I stayed in that state as part of this mystic musical magic for 45, maybe 50 minutes. My determination was clearer, my goals within my reach, my worries vanished. With every breath, I reclaimed my right to be happy and powerful. I had a brief thought that just 100 feet away, outside, there are so many people who are struggling and suffering and here I am transformed in this short period of time!

I stayed on for another hour or so to complete what I had promised myself. I had entered the kaikan in one state, and I left in another. Now I know why I prefer to chant with others, even if they are strangers.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

With Bated Breath!

If you tell my life story real quickly, like 15 minutes for each phase, it will make for a very interesting story.

My childhood growing up in a middle class doctor family, the persistent illness, the lonely adolesence, the crazy out-of-control teenage years, my poverty-ridden early married life, IIT Delhi, the experiments with religion, my miraculous motherhood, NIIT, the worsening illness, the divorce and the move to Singapore, the experience of hell and rebirth, Buddhism, getting close to my family again, health regained, KP, Atreya growing up, travel and then Aloka...

What's next for you Puja? What twist are you going to add my dear? We are all waiting with bated breath.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My real job as a mother

All the fracas caused by Amy Chua's book and the resulting backlash and counter theories got me thinking about my children and how I raise them.

When Atreya was a young child growing up in Singapore, I didn't have the peace of mind, time, or resources to engage him in any structured activities after school. No soccer league, no martial arts for him. Once I enrolled him in an evening Wushu class in the community center (run by guys who only spoke in Chinese), but at the first sign of disinterest and disinclination, I allowed him to discontinue. He didn't have any video game that Singaporean kids his age were addicted to. The only thing I invested in was giving him my full attention, even if it was for a short period of time every day.

Every night, we would talk in bed about all kinds of things. One of our rituals was to tell each other about our high point and low point of the day. As per our rules, no one was allowed to say "nothing" or "same" as an answer. Each person was bound by rules to explain in more detail if the other party wanted to know more. This was not a serious boring activity as it might sound. We laughed more than we talked. I discovered his sense of humor during this ritual and it was the first step in us becoming companions. I  believe that its only because of these nightly sessions that he has grown up in touch with his feelings, unlike most young men of his age.

I was not the showering love types mother hen mom - too much going on in my head for that. Other than ensuring that there was enough food in the house, I didn't bother a lot about what he ate. The only time I attended to his school work was when he was in trouble, such as when he  got very low scores or when his teacher complained that he just didn't care. Often on weekends, we went to the zoo and night safari. RS once joked that after so many visits, the animals must surely recognize us by now. We also watched a lot of movies together. Once I remember watching two movies back to back, one together and one separately (his was a comic book type movie which I didn't want to see and mine was a serious drama that would bore him). I didn't much think of what messages I was sending him. I squeezed as much joy from life, shriveled lemon, as it offered us at that time and Atreya was part of this process as an equal.

A few days ago, he told me that unlike other kids of his age, he had no clue about the importance of studying and doing well in exams. He felt no pressure of any kind and was clueless about things other kids cared so much for, like streaming and PSLE. He just knew that mom worked hard and he should too if it makes her happy. Where I am concerned, being a mother to him was all about joy and happiness and I, too, never felt the pressure many parents feel about child rearing.

It was only much later, when he was a teenager, that I had funds to let him attend guitar classes or go for jamming sessions and snooker. His exposure to sports was limited to what was available in school and because he went to local neighborhood schools, he missed out on basketball, which would have been the natural game for someone of his build.

Whatever he missed out in sports and skills, he makes up in self esteem. Atta has a huge reserve of self esteem that is going strong despite some setbacks in his "love life". There is no substitute for self esteem- it's a key life skill. Also, he is a deep thinker and great communicator. Spiritual too. For all this, I am grateful for the hard knocks that life dealt us in the first few years of this century and to the light Atreya was born with.

As a parent to another child now, I am convinced that I know how to raise a happy child through my experience of raising Atreya. All Aloka needs to know is that she is truly important to me and is loved a lot by everyone in the family. Attention and shared joy is what will convince her of this. Nothing else really matters.

She is different from Atreya and will grow up to be a different person, but as long as she grows up loving herself, my job would be done.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Coming out of Shaw Plaza, I looked across the street and saw the food stall where mom, Atta and I had a horrid midnight feast a few months ago after a late night movie. Oh the memory of that great movie (Hereafter), horrid food (Bak Kut Teh), best possible amazing company (mummy and Atta), and such a wonderful beautiful night!

This time the reaction was not in my heart, but in my whole body. My feet stopped mid stride, as if by stopping, they could stop time. I fought a wave of sadness at the end of this beautiful story, of late night movies, of walks along Balestier Road, of introducing mom to our crazy rituals.

Atta and I both laughed at the memory. When I mentioned my sadness, Atta said something like if this comes to an end, something else will come alive. How does he know all this?

So instead of wallowing in my sadness, we decided to make some more memories. At 11 pm that night, Atta and I walked the length of Balestier Road, then on an impulse, looked for a hawker center, and in its search walked back almost the whole length, ate some nonsense, and then hailed a cab, reaching home way past midnight.

My son, my life, my memories.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The real birthday gift!

The real birthday gift was not the ear piercing but the excuse letter written to prevent serious consequences! I am totally guilty for propagating the myth that Indians have the weirdest traditions ever!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Shakti and Kshama (Strength and Mercy) by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar

A poem from childhood. It was the first poem that was not just drudgery of Hindi  lessons. It opened my eyes to the beauty of poetry. I wanted to learn the meaning and remember discussing it with my friends. Simply awesome.

क्षमा, दया, तप, त्याग, मनोबल
सबका लिया सहारा
पर नर व्याघ सुयोधन तुमसे
कहो कहाँ कब हारा?

क्षमाशील हो ॠपु-सक्षम
तुम हुये विनीत जितना ही
दुष्ट कौरवों ने तुमको
कायर समझा उतना ही

अत्याचार सहन करने का
कुफल यही होता है
पौरुष का आतंक मनुज
कोमल होकर खोता है
क्षमा शोभती उस भुजंग को
जिसके पास गरल है
उसका क्या जो दंतहीन
विषरहित विनीत सरल है

तीन दिवस तक पंथ मांगते
रघुपति सिंधु किनारे
बैठे पढते रहे छन्द
अनुनय के प्यारे प्यारे

उत्तर में जब एक नाद भी
उठा नही सागर से
उठी अधीर धधक पौरुष की
आग राम के शर से

सिंधु देह धर त्राहि-त्राहि
करता गिरा शरण में
चरण पूज दासता गृहण की
बंधा मूढ़ बन्धन में

सच पूछो तो शर में ही
बसती है दीप्ति विनय की
संधिवचन सम्पूज्य उसीका
जिसमे शक्ति विजय की

सहनशीलता, क्षमा, दया को
तभी पूजता जग है
बल का दर्प चमकता उसके
पीछे जब जगमग है

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Being Judgemental

I have done a lot of foolish things in my life. Like feeling so much in love with one person that other people's feelings didn't matter. Like supporting people who were less than ethical and fair. Like ignoring people who considered me a good friend. Like being rude and moody with people who care for me. Like getting carried away and disclosing more than what was needed. Like gossiping about people who had let me down. And I am no Raja Harishchandra either. I have told my fair share of lies, some to save face, some just to look good.

Having done all that and more, I tend to be less judgemental of people. When faced with behavior I do not particularly like, I ask myself "Could I have done this?". Often the answer is Yes and I am able to look at people kindly and be as forgiving towards them as I would be to myself.

But sometimes, the answer is No. There are some things I would never do under any circumstances. Like I would never deliberately sweet talk to a person, while gossiping behind their back. I would never ascribe the worst intentions to every action of a person, while pretending to be respectful and friendly to their face. I would never destroy anyone's hard work by silently resisting their every effort and chipping away at the foundation, while pretending to be proper and ethical.

For such behaviour, I draw the line and assert my right to be judgmental.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"We had a lot of fun in my sister's marriage!" ...Really?

We Indians seem to have some problem differentiating between the words "marriage and "wedding". I have always wondered why. Is the word for the two in Hindi the same? Shadi? Someone needs to explain this to me.

Many years ago, a very good friend of mine, Anand, was narrating the story of his wedding day to our American customers. We were having lunch in a fine restaurant in Naperville, near Chicago. He explained the entire ceremony, which had lasted 2-3 days, and finally said "When the marriage was over, all the relatives finally went home". There was a stunned silence, and then a voice piped in "You mean after the wedding was over?".

Only then it dawned on me what his sentence had meant to all of them. A wedding being over is the end of the ceremony, but a marriage getting over is a divorce! To my Indian ears, his sentence had sounded OK, but to American ears, the difference was stark!

Marriage is the long term relationship between two people. You can't attend it, or at least you should not! Give the couple some privacy please! Sure, go attend the wedding- dance, eat, and get drunk if you want. 

Why did I remember this story today? Well, because today I saw a Facebook update/photos from a school friend. It said "My Brother's Marriage- A Few Moments".


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thank Gawd for Medha!

Medha is a little girl in Aloka's school bus, just a little older than her, and the focus of all of Aloka's naughty thoughts. I am pulled into imaginary conspiracies of beating Medha or keeping things secret from her on daily basis. The first thing I hear from Aloka as she comes home after school is what Medha did and why she is a bad girl. The day Medha doesn't come to school, we have some peace and quiet, well sort of.

This morning I pulled out a new Salwar Kameez for Aloka to wear to school, a gift from her cousins from India. Expecting a major drama because of her fixation with skirts nowadays, I also brought along a dreaded shorts/T combination as a distracter. I was fully geared for some negotiations and cajoling.

But surprise surprise! Aloka smiled at the Salwar Kameez and reached out for it. I almost had a heart attack. Then she piped in "Medha also wore a yellow and orange Indian dress yesterday. My one is better."

Thank Gawd for Medha!

Here are some pictures of Aloka in her better than Medha's Salwar Kamiz.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Innocent until Proven Guilty...and Vice Versa!

Into my third or fourth year dealing extensively with Asian clients, with a few American/UK clients thrown in, I had formed most of the ideas written here. However, I shied away from this topic because it is a form of stereotyping, and being an Indian expat living in Singapore, I have seen enough of stereotyping applied to me to be wary of it. I decided to write it down only when I was able to present my perspective constructively.
Let me start with my experience with Western clients. As an Asian service provider working with Western clients, you start at an even keel. They choose you after careful evaluation and once you have passed that test, you are their equal, unless you prove them wrong. Innocent until proven guilty…
The work that you execute is considered to be of equal value to both parties and its success likewise equally important. This trust at the starting point of the relationship lasts a long time, through the usual ups and downs of project DLC, provided you are professional and competent. You operate mostly in an environment of trust and partnership.  
Coming to Asian customers, I have come across two types of relationships between them and Asian service providers. The first and the more common type of relationship is hierarchical. There is some kind of unseen but powerful driver that forces Asian customers to be aloof and somewhat distrustful of their vendors, as they refer to their service providers. Actions and decisions are often scrutinized for hidden agendas. You have to work much harder to build trust. Guilty until proven innocent!  But it’s not all bad. The good thing is that once you have built this trust, it will last a long time. Customers are not likely to go to a competing vendor as easily because the barrier to entry is too high. Great thing for repeat business!
The other type of relationship between Asian customers and vendors is quite the opposite and seen in situations when the vendor’s expertise is well known and well demonstrated, usually in consultant roles. There you see a kind of respect for you as an individual that borders on adulation. Great for business but the downside is that this respect is reserved for only one individual, making it difficult to scale up such a relationship.  
As in any generalization, there are exceptions. And just like any generalization, this knowledge can be useful if used effectively. Had I known about these differences at the start of my career in Singapore, I would have made fewer errors with customers and been less perplexed by some incidents. I would also have known how to overcome the barriers that seemed out of place and context at that time.