Monday, September 26, 2011

On Being Brave

Usually fearless, I am surprised to see myself afraid to look deeper into what really matters to me. I am surprised to see myself just skimming the surface, flinching and moving on. This unwillingness to confront myself is more upsetting than the situation that is causing it. This lack of self-directed honestly is more unsettling than the lack of any other thing in my life today. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Outside Looking In!

We all live in a bubble of perceptions- perceptions others have about us. I was lucky enough to be in a situation that allowed me to step outside the bubble and observe what others thought of me. Some of what I saw broke my heart, some vindicated my own beliefs while some of it surprised me. This is what I found.

Some people think I am vulnerable and need to be protected, others think I am brave enough to handle any situation. Some think I am grounded and know what I am doing, while others think I fumble my way through life. Some think I am very good at my work, but  there are a few that think my skills are overrated. Some think I work very hard, but some others think I am laid back. Some think I am truly concerned with others, while others are convinced that I am self absorbed. Some believe I hold people together, while others think I break them apart. Some think I am vindictive, while others believe I am forgiving and kind. Some think I am foolish enough to allow people to use me, while others think I use people to my gain. Really! No kidding!

Major life lesson happened. Perceptions that exist about me are certainly based on my actions and behavior but only to a degree- they are significantly clouded by the perceiver's life views and experiences. People judge others on a scale that has weights of the their own values and attitudes on one side. I can control or influence that as much as I can the weather.

Now when my kids ask me why they are misunderstood, I know what to say to them. Instead of being concerned with what others think, and wanting to be understood and appreciated, what is worth doing is focusing on and refining what sits on our scale- our own principles and values. What is worth doing in knowing what we want to be and working hard being that in all honesty.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The games we play!

About seven or eight years ago, my father called me from Dharamshala and said "Puja, tu mummy ko samjha. Sara din games khelti rehti hai." Translated, it meant I should drive some sense into my mother and make her to stop playing computer games all day long. I only laughed and mock scolded my mom, but honestly, even that was like the pot calling the kettle black.

The fact is that obsessive game playing is in our blood and goes back generations. My grandma's day wouldn't be complete until she completed her daily crossword. A conversation with her would usually include a couple of crossword clues she hadn't been able to crack. I actually feel sad that Sudoku showed up in our lives only after she had passed away. A maths teacher herself, and a very good one too, I am sure she would have been as crazy about Sudoku as her daughter and granddaughters are today. (Actually, that's not all correct- I suddenly got over Sudoku after playing it nonstop as I flew half way across the world last year). 

Coming back to my mother's current obsession (though calling it current is rather odd cause she has been at it for at least 3 years) is a game called the Letter Linker. All day long you can hear a strange tuk-tuk sound as she joins connected letters to make words. Just when you think mom is watching TV, or painting, or reading a book, the tuk-tuk would tell you otherwise. 

Different people react to it differently. Once at an airport somewhere in Asia (Kota Kinabalu perhaps), mom was playing while I sat next to her. Suddenly I felt an urge to look back- and there were 3-4 people bending over and intently watching her play the game! One of them, a young boy, later sat by mom to play with her and mom was happy about it. She is not so happy when Atreya sits with her to play. He forces her to try the most ridiculous letter combinations, which 99.99% of the times are incorrect, words like ETAN, MALIN, SHOPA, FATIR and what not. It frustrates her no end and usually ends up in my pulling Atreya out of her room after her screams...Puja isko yahan se lejaaa...can't be ignored anymore. 

Last week, mom called me over to help her find the last 4 words in one of the boards. Last 4 words! Of 187 words! She had been playing that same board for the last 67 minutes, diligently finding the hidden jewels, and had already found 183 of them! 

I am also quite a word game freak- that should explain her request for help. But I play in a timed mode. My SCRAMBLE board on iphone is programmed to end in 120 seconds. What thrills me is finding as many words as I can in 2 minutes and the maximum I have ever found are 61 words in a board that had 108 words. Once the time is up, I casually look for the words I didn't find, but don't care too much, because the fact is that even if I knew all the words that were on the board, 2 minutes wouldn't be long enough to hunt them down. 

What is quite fascinating is that this difference between mother and daughter spills over in real life too. She is disciplined, diligent and patient. For example, she never missing her morning walks, come what may. She is often seen holding an umbrella and walking in the cold rain in the hills of Khanyara for a simple reason that it was time for her daily walk. She does her pranayam daily and takes her vitamins and other pills regularly. And when she starts watching a show on TV, she usually watches it to the end even if it's not the most interesting show. 

I, on the other hand, am impatient and undisciplined, progressing in life through sparks of creativity and bursts of energy amid quiet periods. I only take the medicines when symptoms remind me to, often even forgetting my daily asthma preventive puff. I have an on now, off now affair with vitamins. I only form of exercise I can handle is dancing because the music and steps are different each time. I don't have the patience to sit through a TV show (except Law and Order) and often watch 2-3 shows at the same time, switching between channels. 

So, when mom asked me to help her find the last 4 words on the board, I told her to call Atreya instead. She would have more luck with him! 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The New

Right across from our condominium is a popular park called the Bishan Park. One of  the reasons I bought this apartment was its proximity to the park. When we first moved here a couple of years back, mom was visiting and she would do her morning walks in the park. Aloka and I would often join her to walk with her or to stop by the sandpit in the kid's area in the park. Aloka loved to play in the sand and slide down the bumpy slides. Soon it became our routine to go there on weekends. We loved to stop by the lotus pond in the park...where else would you see pink lotuses blooming in the middle of the crowded city!

A few months later, we saw notices all around that the park would be closed soon for renovations. At first it didn't bother me- the parts they closed first were further away and we still had access to the kid's area. Then one day, the swings and slides were taken down and our beloved sandpit was cordoned off.  I don't know who was more heart broken, Aloka or I. Sadly, it spelled the end of our wonderful weekend ritual.

In our bid to find alternate spots of entertainment, we started going further out towards Peirce Reservoir. To get there, we had to pass by the park, which was in progressive stages of destruction. There were tin sheet barriers hiding most of the mess from the public, but one could see uprooted trees, muddy paths and some ugly construction. The lotus pond looked dry and dead, and the green grass trampled by the huge road-rollers and cranes. It all seemed so unnecessary and destructive.

Then a month ago, some of the barriers got taken down. We started to see the new version of the park, which included a narrow river channel connected on one side to the Peirce reservoir and on the other to the Kallang river, new grass and trees planted along the side of the channel, a couple of beautiful wooden bridges, some very comfortable looking seats facing the channel, and wonder of wonders...a new and colorful children's playground! Standing on the bridge, when the light is right, you can see small brown-black fish holding up against the current to let the smaller creatures/insects into their mouths. Just the other day, the channel had filled up after the rains and it looked like a river! And there is wildlife that was never there before. I once saw a bright blue kingfisher flitting across the boulders and at another time a large turtle sunbathing on one.

The official park opening is still a month or so away, but we are all so excited. We walk through the park often, crossing any barrier that can be crossed to a take a peek, oohing and aahing at the new features, and planning future picnics. Mom is particularly enchanted by the creepers growing wildly on the stone walls around the channel. She points to them and talks about them each time we pass by, which is like 5 times a week!

It's true that sometimes it is necessary to destroy a good thing to create something better and more beautiful. It's a lesson I learned twice this year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Annual Happiness Tax

The rush of water
In the khudd
Welcomes me noisily
So much noise, incessant
Come here Puja, COME HERE.
No way Sir! I am happy to say hello from afar!

Last morning, we stopped by- Amma, Atreya and I
Tired and hot after our long morning trek.
The water was icy
I dipped my feet till I couldn’t bear the blue pain
Amma, ever the teacher anatomist,
explained about noxious stimuli and nerves in the human body. 

She was the one who started it- the horseplay
Then left before we could drench her proper,
Atreya and I couldn't (or wouldn't) stop 
Hysterical with laughter
Surprised at each other’s boldness
And oblivious to everyone else.

He was pressed down against the boulder
His head half submerged in icy water
Held down by his loving (!) mother
His leg locked around my neck
Till I was down too
Shrieking as the cold water drenched my back.

Dad looked on at us from the veranda
Sipping his hot tea
Shaking his head (disapproving or disbelieving?)
When we waved and shouted,
Although for him it wasn't something new
Not the first time he was seeing us lose our minds near that spot 

We left shivering and giggling
The khudd looked back at us
Somehow a little less noisy
A little less demanding
And why not? 
Had we not just paid it our annual happiness tax? 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Little Peanut on Skates

It's been a month since Aloka completed her Level 1 inline skating classes. Now she skates 2-3 times a week downstairs. She has learned to go around in circles, push herself up the slopes near the pool and control herself from careening out of control on the way down. What she still likes the best is being admired by people!

Here is a short video of her going around the fountain outside the clubhouse.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No Words of Love

No words of love
are more precious
than the ones you never spoke.

And no endearment
than the quiet darkening of your eyes when we met.

No vows, no promises
were ever as resolute
as your refusal to make any.

And no goodbye
as cruel
as the kind words you greet me with...everyday.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Open Adoption

When I told a colleague/friend that I was going to take Aloka to meet her birth family last year, there was a stunned silence. Then she asked politely "Are you sure it's the best thing to do?" I have a feeling what she wanted to say was "Are you out of your mind, you crazy woman!"

No, I am not out of my mind and yes it's the right thing to do- for me and Aloka. By the time Aloka arrived in Singapore, about two months after I had legally adopted her, I had decided that this will be an open adoption. But those two months were tough. I agonized over the issue and struggled with my own confused and mixed emotions of attachment, jealousy, insecurity and what not. I worried about the complications that could arise from contact. I read as much as I could find on issues related to adoption, but everything I read amplified my doubts. Finally, it was a simple question that helped me decide. Would I be able to tell a lie to Aloka for several years? The answer was actually quite easy. No. I could not use a lie to build a family. I could not lie to a little girl in her foundational years and expect her to trust me or anyone for the rest of her life. So, the decision was made.

It is said that there are many ways to lie, but there is only one way to tell the truth. Sounds simple, but how do you tell the truth to an infant? I used a bit of what I had had read and a bit of my own intuition here and started talking about mommies and babies when Aloka was about a year old. I used a lot of different opportunities to talk about it, be it a pregnant woman walking on the road, small kittens in the car park, or a book with children and their parents. By the time Aloka was two years old, talking about two mommies was nothing new. We often talked about how she didn't come from my tummy like Atta did, but was in my heart forever. Honestly, talking to her while she was so young helped me a lot too. I figured out the vocabulary that I wanted to use and got over my hesitation about discussing certain issues. But I knew that these words meant nothing unless Aloka actually met her birth family and saw them for real. Thus the decision to see them in Aug 2010. And the experience was amazing (more about that another time).

Now, ask Aloka how many mommies she has and she will promptly tell you "Two" and will go on to name them. Sometimes, she gets carried away and cites five mommies, including Mallika, Atta and Anakin. Lately, witchy aunty also has developed two mothers and is as lucky as Aloka for having two mummies who love her so much!

Aloka is not yet four-years old. I am not a fool to think that there will be no confusing emotions in her when is older and no deeper questions about her birth family and the circumstances around her adoption. There will be. But that confusion will not be compounded by secrecy and lies. That I am sure of....and happy about.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Little Princess

Before our Lhasa trip, Swati asked me what she should get for Aloka as a gift. Considering Aloka's current obsessions, I told her to get any piece of clothing that is shimmering and flashy and girly- the kind of stuff she would NEVER buy for her own daughter if she had one (because that's the kind of thing I can never get myself to buy for Aloka)! Under no circumstances should she buy anything remotely sophisticated or elegant, or reflecting her own good taste!

So Swati bought her a princess dress straight out of a fairy tale. Pink and orange, shiny and shimmery, satin and gauze, lacy and flowy! To top it, she also bought a pink fuzzy crown.

Aloka fell in love with the dress the moment she saw it. Every other day she begs me to let her wear it to school. When that doesn't work, she insists on wearing it at home after school and on weekends. And every time she puts it on, she tells me how much she loves Swati, whom she has never ever met!

Here is my little princess in her Made in China, Bought in US, Worn in Singapore princess dress.


Saturday Lunch

Is there a bigger joy than cooking great tasting food for people you love?

I learned about potato croquettes watching a show called David Rocco's Dolce Vita. Atta and I fell in love with this dish the first time I made it about 3 years ago. I made croquettes today for lunch for mummy, Atta and of course Aloka, who is the newest good food connoisseur in our house.

Boil potatoes. Cool down before mashing. Must be a dry mash.

Parmesan and mozzarella are the key ingredients.

Add Parmesan and salt/pepper to potato mix. Taste to make sure enough salt.

Aloka loves to eat this mixture uncooked. I just add some olive oil for her. 

 Fresh parsley is the best. I have also sometimes used parsley flakes from a bottle.
Chop and mix into the potato mix.

 Mozzarella for filling, egg and bread crumbs before frying.Fresh mozzarella (packed in water) is the best. My mom keeps reminding me not to get too dependent on these fancy ingredients. So I think paneer should also do!

Take a bit of the potato mix and flatten it on your palm.Add mozzarella or paneer inside. Too much will break the skin. Too little will be lost. So figure out the right amount by hit and trial! Close it up making sure it doesn't break.

Dip in beaten egg.

Roll in bread crumbs. 

And fry in extra virgin olive oil. Oil must be very hot before starting to fry.  

Looking yummy! Made about 12 of them. 

Atta and mom enjoying.

Aloka refused to leave her TV, so she ate alone.

 This is what the inside looks like. The mozzarella inside melts a bit and becomes stringy.

Check out the original recipe here:

Friday, September 2, 2011

It is your lineman speaking sir!

One blistering summer afternoon, my sister received a call. The conversation was carried out in Hindi/Haryanvi.

"Hello is it the Bali's residence?" asked a voice with a heavy country bumpkin accent.
My sister, Anuradha Bali, replied "Yes it is. Who is speaking?".
"Can I speak to your daughter please?".
"Who is speaking?"
"I am your telephone lineman speaking. Please put your daughter on the line."
"What? Why do you want to speak to my daughter?"
"I want to talk to her, not you. Please give her the phone right now."
"Give her the phone? Why should I? Speak to me. Who the hell do you think you are? How dare you talk like this?"

Anyone familiar with Indian telephone linemen would understand why my sister was livid with this preposterous demand. Just then there was laughter on the other side and a familiar voice asked my sister to relax and chill. It was my brother Arun. He was up to his old telephone accent tricks.

Soon after that, I was holidaying at my mother's in Dharamshala. I had asked my team to contact me for any urgent work. My sister's teenage daughter (the same one who was the target of the lecherous fake linesman) also happened to be visiting. While I was sitting in the garden, the home phone rang and my niece picked it up.

"Helloow! May I speak to Puuuuja  please", said a voice in a heavy American drawl.
"Helloow! No sir, you may not speak to Puuuja please", replied my (by now) wise niece in a copycat American drawl.
"Is this Puuuuja An-aand's residence?"
"Arun mamu, cut it out. I know it's you."
There was a pause. "Sorry, this is Chris calling from Singapore. I am looking for Puuuja An-aand."
"Yes yes, I know who you are. Will you cut it out? You can't fool us anymore with your fake accents Arun mamu!"
"Err...I am calling from Knowledge Platform in Singapore. I was told this was Puuuja's number".

At this time, my niece realized that this was the real thing, not her uncle bluffing her. So, she ran to me and gave me the phone without a word. Unaware of what had happened, I talked to Chris normally, neither did he bring it up. I can only imagine what he must have thought though of my crazy family! I wonder if he caught on to the fact that Arun mamu referred to the serious Arun Anand that headed our India office!

Today, I received a call on my land line around the time I was expecting a call from my brother. The young man on the other side asked me about the problem I was facing with my Microsoft Windows computer. Since I had no such problem, I immediately went on high alert. Honestly, I spent the next 3-4 minutes on the phone just figuring out how Arun could put on that distinctly Bengali accent. So busy I was analyzing his voice and looking for that chink in his armor that I didn't really listen to what the guy was saying. Well, as it turned out, it was not Arun after all. It was some poor call center guy who got a very abrupt "I am busy, call later" response from me once I figured out I had NOT been fooled. I am sure I would have handled the call very differently had I not been so busy playing the voice detective.

The lesson here is that once you have a brother/uncle who fakes accents and fools you a few times (he once fooled me into thinking he was a reporter wanting to interview me just because I was the granddaughter-in-law of the famous cartoonist Shankar Pillai, which I was), you become slightly unstable, suspicious and dangerous on the phone.

Friends, please call the Anand/Bali family members at your own risk. Not only is there a crazy guy faking accents, there is a whole bunch of us paranoid freaks doubting every word you say!