Monday, December 31, 2012

I see those eyes, I feel those hands...

When I think of you,
Mostly I think of what went through your mind
At the moment you saw those leering eyes
At the moment you felt those groping hands.
When your world shifted in a terrible second
From being someone's much loved daughter
Someone's carefree giggly friend
Someone's loving protected sister
To an object of hatred and subjugation.

I stop there, I can think no more
The horror of it has me in its stronghold
I am trapped in that moment
When you, a child of the Universe
Free, evolving, still growing
Joyous at your existence as an independent being 
With your simple aspirations and dreams
Of a home, of love, of a life
Came in contact with pure evil.

I live that moment again and again
There's no turning away 
I cringe and wince, my heart churning
(I rush to hold my mother's hand, and to hug my child)
For each time when your world shifts, mine does too
And when you, in that dreadful moment
Realize what these men meant to do to you
Sweet girl, my sister, my daughter, me
I see those eyes too, I feel those hands too. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Winking at the Universe!

After a late night call with Atreya, I was especially disturbed. He had sounded very low, worse than ever before. He was not happy with his performance in the Army and was wondering if he was at all meant to be an officer. According to him, the other cadets seemed to know what they were doing and were doing it well, whereas he was fumbling and making mistakes, and not getting any better as time passed.

My first reaction was to tell him firmly to plow on. I was not just firm- I was angry at what I perceived to be his defeatist attitude. I told him that I too had to do things I didn't know or like in the last one year, but I had figured them out with hard work and persistence. If I could do it, he should too. I feel strongly about this issue of giving up half way, so this reaction was instinctive.

Later, while in bed, I felt terrible remorse at how I had reacted. So many thoughts went through my mind. He has only me to talk to- what right have I to push my opinions on him? And was I pushing him for his own good or to save my face? As always, such situations bring out my deepest inner conflicts about my role as the only parent to my kids. Am I a father, tolerating no nonsense and teaching his son to be strong, or am I a mother, gentle and kind and all forgiving.  I remembered how my mother had always unconditionally supported all my decisions, whether they looked good or bad, and how much that meant to me. Didn't Atreya deserve the same unconditional support? I recalled my father's implicit trust in my ability to run my life my way and how much that empowered me. Doesn't Atreya deserve a similar right to make his decisions, and take the reins of his life in his hands? 

After tossing and turning and contemplating on all these issues for a while, the mom and pop in me reconciled and I messaged him to say that whatever he decides to do, I would support him without judging him. I really meant it.

Three days later, I received another call from him while at work. He urgently needed his passport and certificates to be delivered to his camp. These were needed to apply for his citizenship, which was necessary before he could be nominated for an award called Sword of Honor. Not having forgotten our conversation of a few days ago, I didn't pay much attention to the award. In fact, a part of me thought it was a joke. I assumed that this nomination thing was just a gesture, and therefore certainly several cadets from his platoon would have been nominated too. Anyway, since he had asked, I rushed from office to home to pick up the documents and then took a cab to his camp 20 miles away.

There I met his boss, the Captain, and asked him what this award was for and how many cadets had he nominated. He looked at me oddly and said that he was nominating only one from his platoon. There were a total of nine nominations in the entire cohort, one from each platoon, of which only one would win the Sword of Honor. 

Taken aback, I blurted out- “Only one from your platoon? And you chose Atreya? Why?” He looked shocked at my question. But I think we were hell bent on shocking each other, because he responded- “Why? Because he is the best cadet in my platoon”. By now, my head had begun to spin. I said- “But he has not been doing well. How can he be your best cadet?” The response had me totally rethinking everything I knew about my son. The Captain said- “It's Atreya’s humility that he thinks he is not doing well. He is not arrogant enough to believe he knows it all, and works hard to improve constantly. We need more people like him, we need that attitude. He is a role model.”

On the way back, his words kept ringing in my ears. Atreya is the best cadet in the platoon. Atreya’s humility makes him doubt his own performance. Atreya is deserving of the highest award in OCS. Atreya is a role model!

When I spoke to Atreya later that night, I first scolded him for making me go through the hell of guilt and anxiety for almost a year for no reason. I told him I will never empathize or sympathize with him ever again because it is not needed. And so on. He listened to my ranting quietly and when he got a chance to speak, he admitted that he was as shocked as I was at the turn of events! 
Talk of humility!

As we found out in the next couple of days, Atreya did not after all win the Sword of Honor, but his nomination as the best cadet of the platoon (and award of Sword of Merit) is proof enough about his abilities and character. More than making me proud, which is a fleeting emotion, he makes me confident about how he will deal with the huge change happening in our lives. Just a few days ago, I was faced with the terrible guilt of abandoning my son in his time of need, and here I was watching his self-esteem build up all over again. Could I have asked for more at this juncture? 

I see the Universe winking at me, and I wink right back at it! 

‎"We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts." : Nichiren

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Easy Decision?

I am excited and scared at the same time. I feel empowered yet so nervous. I am elated yet deeply sad. I taste joy and despair mixed in a strange concoction. I see dreams and and I also see nightmares. I am holding on and letting go in the same moment. I am celebrating one event and mourning another. I am as sure as hell and shakily unsure. I am strangely at peace in the middle of such restlessness.

I am  living and dying- both at once. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Best 10 Minutes of my Day!

The best 10 minutes of my day are spent in the condominium bus, which takes me to Bishan MRT station, and Mallika and Aloka to Street 22, every morning.

In these 10 minutes, Aloka sits on my lap even if the bus is empty and she can have a seat to herself. Sitting at such close quarters, looking into each other's eyes, we have the most focused yet utterly ridiculous conversation of the whole day. There is no high-point low-point sharing, no lecture, and absolutely none of the serious stuff we talk about at night- these 10 minutes are dedicated to having spontaneous fun with each other.

Aloka ready for school, saying bye to Witchy 
Sometimes we make up songs, sometimes play name games (as in a Necklace for Nicholas), sometimes make ridiculous rhyming words and at other times, talk in funny Hindi. Just this morning, we had a paroxysm of laughter talking about her new Art teacher Mrs. Pei, who we decided must "pay" Aloka to attend her class.

We don't plan what to do during the ride, just let nature takes its course, and by Gawd the course it takes! It gets so bad that I often have to whip out my imaginary remote control to reduce her volume and on some days, force her to take deep breaths because her giggles start bordering on hysteria.

Mallika and Aloka get off a stop before I do. A tight hug starts the moment she sees the Street 22 traffic light and continues for a minute or two until the bus reaches the bus stop. Then, in addition to loudly proclaiming her love for me while getting down (love you mommy, miss you mommy), she tells me to have a good day and learn something new, repeating phrases I may have used when bidding her goodbye sometime. Upon getting off, she draws big hearts with her arms- starting with outstretched hands at the top of her head, separating as far as possible at her mid section and ending with them coming back together at her knees. Then she twirls a couple of times and blows me kisses. I find myself grinning from ear to ear and have to consciously stop smiling once the bus moves. It's not just me, I catch smiles on many fellow passengers' faces too!

For these 10 minutes of my life everyday, I am the happiest woman in the world. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Bit Too Much!

I love my travels a lot. Maybe a bit too much.

The other day, I asked a colleague how his family vacation to New Zealand had been. His face fell and he said "terrible". His 3-year old son had thrown tantrums everywhere and insisted on seeing the same animal farm three days in a row.

Then, another colleague, who had just returned from France, said "Not so good" when I asked the same question him. You see, three quarters into the holiday, he had his iPad snatched away in a train in Paris. He had nothing else to say about the trip.

Now, ask me how my holiday to Morocco was and be prepared to hear the most flowery adjectives- captivating, seeped in history, gorgeous, so real yet unreal, exquisite and so on. Unless you bring up the topic, I will forget to tell you that I nearly died on day 2 of the 10-day trip.

Yes, I love travelling...a bit too much. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hi I am Gina!

Just saw a check-in update by a friend for Trattoria La Vigna. I did a double take because for a second, I had read it as Trattoria La Vagina! It reminded me of an episode many years ago.

In 2007 or so, we were developing an e-learning course for a big pharma company. The topic was a new type of Intra-Uterine Device (IUD). The purpose was to teach sales folks enough about it so they could sell it effectively.

 For some reason, the client was fixated on having a female mascot in the course. He rejected our initial design ideas and said that he wanted to somehow depict the IUD as the mascot. A tall order indeed, believe me- this IUD didn't look remotely like a human figure. After some more trials, my super creative team managed to create a pretty woman with flowing hair and a seductive look, somehow anchored on a IUD. Yes, that's right, she was one-legged.

Then came the quest for a name. Many were suggested, but the one we all loved, but never shared with the customer, was Gina Vee!

All of us in the office were RFOL'ing imagining this one-legged sexy woman floating in and saying seductively in James Bond style "Hi, I'm Gina. Vee Gina!". 

Priceless Recklessness

Looking back at my childhood, the most fun I remember having was when we were extremely reckless.

Like going for a walk in the forest in Simla with a group of friends and being told by a woodcutter that we could encounter a bear, then scrambling back towards the hotel only to lose our way, then having to be rescued because the mountain side we were trying to climb up was slippery with saw dust.

Like playing chor-police with scores of colony kids and running wild on the streets even as the sun set.

Like getting drenched in heavy rain and doing pretend swimming in the muddy garden dug up for planting grass.

And like cycling on the main road along Moti Bagh towards Chanakya Puri to get to the isolated railway tracks, and using mummy's chunnis to catch fish in the dirty nallah there.

Our parents let us do all this because mostly they were unaware of what we were up to and of the danger we were putting ourselves into. Now ourselves super-aware parents, are we depriving our kids of similar fun by over-protecting them and stopping them from doing anything remotely risky? I wonder. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Political Mystery with Extra-Large Under...err..tones

My brother Arun's home is a black hole for all clothes. Anything you wash and dry on the lines gets picked up and wrapped in a huge pile of clothes kept in a secret room, which is later sorted by whoever needs their clothes. Sometimes this sorting is delayed- as a result, there may be three or four huge piles of washed clothes at a time, any one of which could contain the piece of clothing you may be seeking.

Wary of this, I am usually quick to pick off my clothes from the lines as soon as they dry, and put them straight into my suitcase. One winter day, however, I forgot to pick up the undergarments I had washed the night before. As dreaded, they were nowhere to be found the next morning. Panic ensued as I started going through the piles of washed clothes in search of them.

Seeing my frantic state, my brother, referring not so subtly to the size of the undergarments I was looking for, quipped- "This is like a US political mystery. You know panta-gone!"

(See also:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It is Time!

This morning, I saw a mail from a colleague that plunged me into a dark mood. My whole body reacted. I could feel myself shrinking and a physical burning knot formed in my stomach. I recovered a bit after a few minutes, but even now, a good 30 minutes after reading it, I find myself feeling unhappy and thinking of ways to escape (e.g. TV, food, games).

But I won't do any of that. Instead, I plan to analyze what really happens to push me to this state. It is not just this incident. I can recall several incidents in my life that have pushed me into similar funks- memory and experience being advantages of being 47 I guess! Now let me see what is common among them?

Here is what I notice.

1. Suddenness or unexpectedness of the incident.
2. A highlight on a negative aspect of an action that was actually done with a lot of good intention (in other words, there was no callousness or malice involved, in fact quite the opposite)
3. A realization that my lack of knowledge/foresight was responsible for a problem
4. A realization that I don't know enough- that I continue to make mistakes- that I am not good enough
5. A realization that although I don't really care for the aspect being highlighted, others do, and my not caring about it makes me "bad" in their eyes

So there. It seems I don't want to make mistakes. I don't want to be the one who causes problems. I don't want to be anything but the best. I don't want to look bad. That is my problem!

OK, so what's the big deal, no one likes to be wrong. Yes true, but with me, it is a bit too serious, a bit too defining, a bit too unforgiving. And as I think deeply, it seems to have started in early childhood.

Time to get less serious about things Puja. Time to accept that some mistakes will be made. Time to give up on being a perfectionist. Time to forgive yourself. Time to let go. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I think jealousy, or envy, is a lowly feeling that says I am not grateful for all that I have and do not value it much. All my life, I have watched myself for signs of jealousy, and so can say with some amount of surety that I am not the jealous types. I am not jealous of those who appear more physically appealing than me, or thinner, or less saggier, or richer, or married, or whatever.

However, I am jealous of one type of person- the runner. I see people running/jogging on the road and my heart twists with envy. I see them huffing and puffing and sweating, and I could do anything to swap places with them.

For, though I am grateful for the breath that keeps me alive, I am not grateful for it running out too fast from my lungs. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Letter to Atreya

While cleaning up my laptop, I came across a letter that I had  written to Atreya almost a year ago, when parents were asked to write letters to be given to the new recruits during/after their toughest army training exercise. The challenge was that we had to write it in their third or fourth week in the army, but they would be given the letter only towards the end of their three-month basic military training. Here it is. It also includes mom's funny message to him towards the end. 

Dear Atta

I am writing this mail to you in not the best frames of mind. The knowledge of your struggles stays with me like a shadow. Being a mother, and having played the role of your protector for so many years, my inability to help you now is crushing.

However, one thing occurred to me yesterday. The prisons are everywhere. Sometimes, they are physical, sometimes mental. What matters is if we can free ourselves regardless of these prisons. This is meant as much for me as for you, because I feel I am trapped in a demeaning purposeless life- it is no less a prison than a real physical prison.

I had read about Viktor Frankl many years ago. He was a psychologist and a Nazi camp survivor, who later wrote books about his experiences. From Wikipedia: “It was due to his and others' suffering in these camps that he came to his hallmark conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful.”

A para from his first book goes like this:

“If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life– an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival.”

The above is for both of us to contemplate upon. Can I regain my self-worth and passion in a life-sucking environment where I am free physically but trapped in every other way? Can you regain your self-worth and passion for life in a place that denies you physical freedom and pushes you to extremes?

Take heart my son. Soon, this phase will be over. You will look back at this time, just as you did Mt Kinabalu, as an experience that taught you things you didn't know about yourself. You will be physically fitter and mentally stronger. Nothing will be too hard for you to take on once you are done with this. This is what everyone I speak with says. It is hard, but it only gets easier as time passes.

It is one thing to say I will do it because I have no choice, and another to say I will do it and still find happiness and joy in life. I am trying to do the second and I so hope you will too.

Try to rest as much as possible. 5 hours of sleep are not enough after a tough day’s training. Try to get to bed as soon as they let you go and don’t worry about your things so much. If you don’t rest, you will get sick. And if you do feel ill, please let your platoon commander know. They promised us parents that our kids will be safe. Tired but safe. Please make sure you are safe.

Now on to some other random news.

  • I have started going for my dance classes. Major stress reliever.
  • Manjari’s father is quite unwell. He is getting heart surgery to open clogged arteries. 
  • Mallika is going to Malaysia for a weekend to see some temples. She will go on 18th night and back on 19th night.
  • I will take mom and Aloka to Penang in March for a weekend. 
  • Aloka is going for her dance class but refuses to join in. Just stands in the corner. I am quite surprised at her shyness with others.
  • I am checking out Granada for a trip for you and me sometime later this year (whenever you can take time off). We will have a great time sampling the sights and sounds of southern Europe, my favorite part of the world with my favorite travel companion.

Love you lots
Note from Amma:

Hi my darling Atreya,

I have been sleeping in your bed for the past week and have invaded your cupboard too. So be prepared to combat this friendly enemy with whatever gadget you have learnt to use in the academy. Make sure they are appropriate for Buddhan amma ji .

Because how so ever hard you may try this buddhan is not going to die very soon. She will travel in your latest car, and be there alive and kicking when you come to India. Thanks to you we had such a wonderful snow storm when "all the light went off" Your video commentary was remarkable.

Looking forward to hearing all the details.

Love you beta.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

More Questions than Answers

Growing up and older should mean you know more and understand more than you did earlier. At least that's what I expect. But surprisingly, I find myself having more questions now than ever before.

Now, more than ever, I don't understand why we live and what the purpose of this drama called life is. I don't know what it is I should aspire for, what is really meaningful. I don't know what a good life is supposed to be. I don't comprehend what makes a person really good. But most of all, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life so as to have lived a life worth living.

These questions are not passive. They gnaw at me and splash around in my heart like choppy sea. They won't let me enjoy frivolous pleasures and make me stop and consider every action. They make me somber and quiet.

I remember asking these questions even when I was younger. So why am I bothered by these questions so much more now than when I was younger? Did I know the answers then? Or is it that I didn't know enough then to even understand what these questions meant?

Questions, questions. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Outside Eating Anyone?

When Mallika came to Singapore 25 years ago, she didn't speak a word of English. Employed in a Tamil household, it wasn't a big issue initially. All she needed to learn was enough English to deal with shopkeepers etc. Over the next 12 years, she learned a lot more and could carry out basic transactions everywhere she went, but Tamil was still the language she conversed most in.

Then she came to live with us 13 years ago. English is the only common language in our household, so it required Mallika to extend herself. I remember initially she used to have a tough time expressing any complex idea, but soon she devised ways to be understood and to understand us. The keyword here is "devised", because the English that Mallika speaks is not any English you would hear anywhere. It is not even Singlish. It is something else.

But I am not complaining because I understand her perfectly well and that's all that matters. In fact, I am so used to it that it took mom and Anu on my last DS trip to point out how funny some of what she says is. See for yourself. I had to pay special attention to what she says in the last couple of days to capture some of these.

  • The fish cannot see the color brown stone brown brown. (This is not about color blind fish, but brown-colored fish that can't be seen because their color is so similar to the brown rocks in the water)
  • Otherwise I will switch it off the TV not saying only. (A common threat to Aloka)
  • No problem. We walk walk talk talk. Ok Aloki ma? (Telling me how she will keep Aloka engaged on the walk to the market)
  • Aloki, you eat so much sweet you rolling rolling rolling roller coaster like that. (Talking about sweet-induced hyperactivity- I think)
  • All these coconuts coming die die. (Feeling bad that no one plucks the coconuts from the tree while they are young, and by the time they drop, they are dry inside)
  • She put kutti white mouse soooo small small on Aloki hand and aiyyo kaka already on hand. (Context is Aloka's visit to the small animal farm)
  • Aloka, eat after going to sleep OK? (Setting some candy eating rules for Aloka- means first eat then sleep, though it sounds quite the opposite)
  • You see the below room lights nice. (Appreciating the lighting in the basement of the DS house)
  • Aloki, don't up up pull your skirt, coming small small small.
  • Voice coming different already. (In response to how Aloka was feeling the day she had sore throat)
  • Puja outside eating? (Now that's for you guys to guess! All I can tell is that it's got nothing to do with el fresco dining!)

(Click here to read another post about Mallika: