Wednesday, February 29, 2012

That Kind of Night

Last night, around 9 pm, we decided to go for a walk. Because I was too tired (from dancing like crazy in the dance class) to do our usual longish walk, Aloka, mom, Mallika, Anakin and I set out from the side gate towards Upper Thomson Road for a short stroll.

It was a lovely night- a clear skies, cool breeze, new moon type of night.

Aloka was jumping and skipping and chattering and being happy as only she knows how to. Mommy was keeping up with her by running and catching and copying her, as only she knows how to. The two, 70 years apart, are unbelievably close companions, playing and fighting as equals. Anakin was being assertive with Mallika, the only time in the whole day when he gives it a try, the poor hen-pecked boy.

As we turned back, I trailed behind, watching my sweet girl, my darling mom, my one-(wo)man support system Mallika and my loving Anakin against the backdrop of our majestic apartment building, thoughts of my brilliant resilient son not far from my mind.

Suddenly I felt swathed in a sense of calm and maybe pride. This is it. This, in a nutshell, is my life and all of its achievements. This is me. These are mine.

It was indeed a rare lovely night- a clear skies, cool breeze, new moon...and contentment... type of night!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Who was that for?

Many years (perhaps 30 or so) ago, my mother and sister Anu were walking towards Central Market in Lajpat Nagar from my grandfather's house. Along the way, they had a major disagreement. The source of disgreement was a flattering comment "kaimon mishti" made by a couple of Bengali ladies who walked past them. For those who don't know Bangla, kaimon mishti means how sweet or how pretty. The problem was that the Bengali ladies did not specify the recipient of the compliment. My sister was convinced it was meant for her, whereas my mother was sure it was directed at her!

A few years later, I went with my mother to Central Market Lajpat Nagar (again!) to buy a nightie for my grandma, a small petite women. As my mom walked into the makeshift shop and asked to see nighties, the shopkeeper told her they didn't have them in extra-large size. That caused a disagreement between mom and me. Mom declared that she will never go clothes shopping with me again because I prompt the extra-large discussions, whereas I am telling you as I told her then twenty years ago, it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her- I was outside the shop, out of sight of the shopkeeper.

But sometimes, there is no doubt who the comment is for. Once I was at a local shop (I think it was also at Central Market) by myself to buy some undergarments. The shopkeeper asked me what I wanted and then loudly shouted to his assistant to bring out the JUMBO panties! No kidding, God promise.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Atta home for the weekend!

Last weekend, Atreya was home after 18 grueling days in the army camp. Just two days with us before he was to go back to back- (and spirit-) breaking army life. He said he felt like a prisoner out of jail.

All weekend, we huddled close together, talking, eating, laughing, hugging. No one in the family went out. No outsider was invited in. I cooked all meals except one (which Mallika stole from me by serving dosas for breakfast), each one a gift to my gentle loving son. Mommy and Atreya held long conversations that I strained to evesdrop on from the kitchen. Aloka alternated between bursts of affection and jealousy towards her soldier brother.

In between, we took short breaks from each other to do our stuff. Mom played letter linker, I uploaded pictures on Facebook, Aloka watched her Phineas and Ferb videos on the iPad, and Atta, the newly released prisoner....what did he do in his free time?

He spent his free time this simple but fantastic proof of what arithmetic mean means.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Slime Alert!

I received the slimiest message yesterday from someone I used to know quite well. It reeked of selfishness, fakeness and power games that made me sick to my core.

The world has many great people, some creative geniuses, some benevolent protectors, some deep thinkers, and some selfless doers. Why didn't I receive a message from one of them? Why this particular person?

If the environment is a reflection of my life, then what does the continuing presence of this person in my life suggest? How much ugliness lies hidden in my depths, only to expose itself with such incidents?

Sending out a slime alert, both outside and inside!

What are you holding? Kee Dhorechish?

Last year, we spent a glorious week in Lhasa. Our hotel turned out to be a youth hostel frequented by young travelers from all over the world. The rooms were very basic, but comfortable and clean. We didn't spend too much time indoors because we were out in the city and neighboring areas all day. But whenever we were inside, we were fascinated by the graffiti on the walls.

There were messages in English, Chinese, Spanish, German and some other languages we didn't recognize and drawings of all sorts. As far as we could make out, these were messages about where people had come from and what they had done in Tibet and many were obviously about altitude sickness. The drawings were rather badly done (there was one of a set of teeth to signify, we think, tooth ache!), but were all quite innocent. All except one.

In Meenu and Swati's room, there was this life size drawing of a soldier holding a rifle. Of all the drawings, it was the most well executed, with all kinds of details. The person who drew it was obviously an artist of sorts. Every time I came to their room, I was riveted by this particular drawing because of this detail and another reason. There was something very odd about the position of the hand holding the rifle and the shading near the crotch area. Yet everything else about it was so well executed and "clean" that I thought it was all in my (dirty) mind.

On our last evening in Lhasa, we organized a picnic dinner in Meenu and Swati's room. The idea was to consume everything that was left over from the last week, such as fruits, bread, butter, cucumbers and tomatoes. As we organized and ate this messy dinner, the conversation drifted to the graffiti and how we should leave our marks on the walls too. Suddenly, all eyes were on this massive soldier drawing and it became clear that it was not just I who had doubts about the drawing.

A marker pen was borrowed from the reception and the four ladies went berserk. The intellectual Bengalis (as usual) were most active in suggestions and the industrious Punjabis in execution. We wrote a few messages and coined a term for our group using our initials: MCSP. We also wrote out the soldier's anthem about guns and rifles that mommy dearest recollected. 

But the most memorable term used and recorded in that room was "Kee Dhorechish"- Bengali for "What are you holding"- written in Hindi script.

See if you can spot it!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What logos mean to Aloka!

A couple of weeks ago, I read this article about a 5-year old's interpretation of logos.

I decided to do the same with Aloka. I recorded the first attempt as a voice memo and it was most fun. Later I figured out that just the voice memo without the corresponding pictures was no good, so I decided to record a video. My later attempts with video were good for viewing but by then she had lost the spontaneity of the first attempt. For example, on the voice memo, she calls the Pepsi logo a shell, but on video, she calls it a ball. 

Here are some of the notable points:
  • KFC= McDonalds (There is so much happiness associated with these brands. You can hear it in her voice, even though we hardly eat there- in fact I don't think we have ever eaten at KFC with Aloka)
  • Bank of America= Beach mat
  • Disney= Movie time
  • GE logo= Globe
  • Sony Ericsson = Mars (!)

Then I tried the same with logos of some brands she has come in contact with here in Singapore. Some of these are international brands but some are purely Singaporean. 

Some notable points:
  • She recognized Atreya's JC logo from his badge he used to wear on his lapel! Honestly, I wouldn't have. 
  • Supermarkets like Cold Storage and NTUC are indistinguishable. 
  • NTUC means Thomson Plaza to her because we go to the Thomson Plaza NTUC every week. 
  • Both SMRT and SBS logos were familiar to her. She said PUBLIC BUS- a comment on our recent austerity measures! 
  • Because she loves going to Ikea, I thought she would recognize the logo, but she didn't. Thinking that the missing blue color was the problem, I showed her the picture of the logo on the store exterior and bingo...she recognized it immediately! Unfortunately, I didn't record this part. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Being that person

Precious life is passing me by. Every minute lived in a fog is a minute of clarity lost forever. Every minute running in meaningless circles is an opportunity of value creation lost forever. Every minute of passivity is a minute of passion lost forever.

For once, I will allow myself to begrudge life. I will allow myself to reel from the loss. I will allow myself to complain to myself. For if I don't begrudge, don't mourn the loss, and don't complain about it, I will be someone else with some other expectations, some other desires and some other purpose in life. I am not that person. I will not be that person.

I will keep reminding myself about who I am really am. Even if it makes me miserable. Even if it's so much easier to forget.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Upside

The only upside of leaving early for a morning meeting is the warm, sleepy but focused hug from my little doll. The hugs I get on days I go later are cooler and somewhat distracted.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Atreya Enlisted

Yesterday, we dropped Atta at Pulau Tekong for his enlistment in the National Service. People have been asking me how I feel about it. The fact is that my feelings about this event are not important. It is all about him and what he is feeling or going through.

Atta and I have been speaking about his army service for years. At first, I was very against it for two reasons. One, we are not Singaporeans. Two, I abhor violence of all kinds and the basis of army training is getting ready to kill the enemy. It conflicts with my (and Atreya's) Buddhist belief of sanctity of all human life.

Over the years, I got over the first issue. This country has given us a lot in the 12 years we have spent here and is Atta's home country, regardless of the passport he holds. He belongs here and if he needs to do this service in return, so be it. As years passed, I noticed that he began thinking of NS as the normal course of life. And finally, another consideration was that he is likely to spend many years here- or at least should have the option to.

Regarding the second issue, we talked a lot about it and came to a conclusion that army training can be dealt with dispassionately. Learning to use a gun isn't the same as killing someone. If he can deal with the physical training without letting it mess with his mind, it should be fine.

So, when we finally went there and saw the camp he will be in for the next 12 weeks, I was fairly resolved and calm. Unlike other parents, I wasn't worried about the load he will have to carry, or the distances he will have to run, or the heat he will have to bear, or the discomfort of the bunk bed, or the quality of food he will get to eat. I have never mollycoddled him and he has been fairly independent all his life. He has travelled to India once a year by himself since he was 7 and spent months away from me each time. He has cycled around Singapore alone and run long distances and exercised in the gym for years now. I know he is a capable and fit young man and can handle all kinds of physical exertion and discomfort.

But after having a short phone conversation with him last night, there is another aspect that I suddenly became aware of. Yesterday, he lost his way of life. He will now live the way someone else wants him to.

That loss of freedom is something I (supposedly the sensitive and far thinking mother) hadn't considered in all my contemplations and discussions. That loss of freedom is what was written on his face all day yesterday that I didn't recognize. That loss of freedom is what kept me awake last night and lingers on today as sadness I can't shake off.