Category Archives: Random Writing

Damn, Daniel

When the husband and I went through the battery of tests before starting treatments, we both got all reports as normal. Wait, let me rephrase that – all my reports were normal and his were spectacular! It was like the difference between our CAT scores – I scored enough to make the cut while he was above and beyond.

Side note: I have a serious issue when it comes to diagnostic tests, not just the ones related to fertility but generally for any medical procedure.  I believe the best value for money is either if I get a positive result (even if it means I have some life-threatening disease) or if I score spectacularly well across the range column typically given in the right side of the report. This whole being mid-range makes me feel mediocre and I refuse to pay good money to put myself down.

But I digress. This isn’t about me.

So as you may (or may not) know, for the IUI procedure I need to prepare by taking drugs during the entire cycle and he needs to prepare by being ready to offer a sample in a container. He once had the unfortunate experience of providing the sample in a bathroom where he could hear the guttural sounds of pigeons through a broken window. To prevent any further scarring, for this cycle we decided we will be getting the sample from home. We were told to be there at the clinic at 5:30 pm sharp because Daniel will be present to help prepare the sample.  The instructions for being on time were repeated a few times because Daniel is incredibly busy and we should not be wasting his time.

Taking these instructions seriously, we left home at 4:45 pm. It was tense because we planned to leave at 4:30 but didn’t know how best to carry the container with the sample. After a lot of back and forth, we narrowed down on a Nalli bag and off we went. As soon as we sat in the car, there was the choice between lowering windows and putting the AC on. I was fine with the windows solution since I feel cold with air conditioning irrespective of the time of the year but he was worried about pollution and general humidity. Since they were his swimmers, he won this round – we put the AC on full blast and drove at the top speed possible on Kanakpura Road (10 kmph).  I sat perfectly still holding the Nalli bag in front of one of the air vents and regularly turning it for all-around cooling which apparently is important as per so many refrigerator ads.

We reached at 5:30 pm sharp but as luck would have it, Daniel was stuck in traffic. So we waited – me with my Kindle, him with his book and his swimmers holding onto their dear lives. Soon a motorbike pulled up and Daniel rushed in. His client engagement game was on point, because he asked for our names and shook our hands while apologizing for the delay. I felt reassured that someone this well-mannered would be handling what goes inside of me (okay… that came out wrong). Taking the container off our hands, he was off to do what he does best.

After about 30 minutes, he called the husband into the lab. By then I was wrecked with nervousness wondering if the AC killed the swimmers (they are originally from Chennai and it was cold!). Within a minute, the husband came out looking both gray and unable to suppress his laughter. Daniel followed and asked, “Ma’am would you…” and before he could finish, the husband jumped in screaming NO! Daniel looked surprised and said, “The sample is super ma’am! Very good quality!” The husband by then took Daniel’s hands, thanked him profusely and tried sending him off. But Daniel being Daniel, took his time to thank me, wished me luck and as he was leaving reminded me again how sir’s sample was super.

The husband walked in sheepishly and confessed, “He made me see them and wanted you there as well! For what it’s worth they are moving superfast!  But what idiots, putting in so much hard work without realizing that the eggs are sitting in the other room!”

We both started laughing incredibly hard (think snorting, spit bubbles and on the floor) and were immeasurably judged by the receptionist.

We both couldn’t figure out why Daniel had to invite us individually to view the sample. The husband was however glad because he felt we would have offended Daniel if I had broken into my laughter fit. Maybe he is right…though I would never do anything to hurt Daniel’s feelings. He truly must love his job to express that kind of enthusiasm and I will not be the cloud that rains on his parade.

Damn, Daniel (at the risk of being so 2016) you are now inextricably tied to our lives!

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Temples, faith and dissonance

We were on this road trip with our parents to this temple called the Garbharakshambika literally translating into the Goddess who is the protector of the womb. It is located near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and believe it or not, is very easy to find using Google Maps.

Flashback: We have fielded many suggestions around applying some kumkum from some temple to wearing some thread on the left hand. A visit to this temple was something that came up over and over from relatives and it was something we never acted on. I was able to park it aside with the excuse of undergoing treatments and therefore not wanting to do road trips. But once we decided to stop all treatments, we lost that excuse and it was hard to ignore the plea of “there is no harm in trying”.  So off we went with a seething husband waiting to connect his fist to the face that made this suggestion in the first place.

What is strange about this temple is how new-age it is. There is a dedicated website (feel free to look it up. I have no intention of ruining my day with sponsored ads by posting the link here) explaining the history, instructions on how to consume the prasad and most importantly, how it can be couriered with blessing to U.S, UK, Canada etc. There are also testimonials but again all by NRIs as though domestic clientele is not worth bragging about.

As we were entering the temple, the lady selling flowers on the other side of the entrance, yelled out saying buying flowers as an offering is great for putrabhaagyam (fortune of having a son). That got the ball rolling.

Outside the administration room (where one goes to pay for the rituals and prasad) there is a board in Tamil explaining how there is no need to stop on-going medical treatments in order to make an offering at the temple. In fact, it strongly encouraged continuing with medical treatments.

Walk further in, there are cows grazing and women in three clear categories:

  • Category 1: Women here to pray to have a baby
  • Category 2: Heavily pregnant women who are praying for a safe birthing experience
  • Category 3: Women with babies who have come back to offer thanks

As everyone stands to look at the deity, the main priest offering prayers inside the sanctum summons the Category 1 women to line up with the ticket bought, a 5-rupee coin, a small bottle of nei/ghee (clarified butter) and a coconut. This isn’t some discrete announcement or a tacit understanding but more like an angry man bellowing at a room of about 50-60 people.

Then in groups of 4, we were asked to sit at the threshold of the sanctum and the priest took the stuff from our hands to rest it at the feet of the deity. Sitting there it is hard to not notice things like the palpable sadness in the women around me, the fact that our husbands are not expected to sit alongside us, that the priest is churlish to a point that makes me wonder if he is mad at us for not being able to do the one thing that is expected of us.

I was also incredibly conscious that I was basically sitting at a threshold of a temple asking for absolution. As a feminist, was I disrespecting the way paved for me by all the work done in the past? As an educated woman, did I fight hard enough against this? As an educator, am I no longer a role model for my students when I preach rationality? But what if this works, would I become a statistic on the website in the favour of this ritual? Was I going crazy thinking this would work?

The four of us were then asked to put some kolam on the threshold of the sanctum and place the 5-rupee coin on the design. Now the other three women drew a star with two intersecting triangles and in my head, I was like everyone obviously has seen/read the Da Vinci Code. But I cannot draw straight lines with a pencil let alone rice powder so I drew a basic flower imagining that I could place the 5-rupee coin at the centre. Clearly, I didn’t meet the brief since the priest scowled, redrew a star on top of my flower and placed the coin on top of it, not trusting me with anymore tasks.

We were then given back our small bottles of nei/ghee and sent on our way with instructions on consuming it for 48 days.  As I walked back to my family, I was struck by how even though I come from incredible privilege (caste, colour of my skin, ableness, education, economic background, access to medical care, voice, you name it) in this temple I shrunk my presence without being explicitly asked to do so. I walked slower, with lowered shoulders, I struggled to find my voice when the priest barked something at me and most importantly, I experienced guilt.

Fast forward: The 48-day thing didn’t work. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. The rational part of me, of course, didn’t think it would work. But clearly miracles happened to someone right?  I was just hoping it could have been me.

Other things I noticed:

  • This temple is dedicated to a goddess who is dedicated to solving only the women’s problems. There is another section in the temple with another god for men but guess what, that God deals with “general health problems”
  • There is an ecosystem around the temple where there are flowers to please the goddess and chappal stands. BUT there are also a few stores on the parallel street to the temple selling porn. Loving how this “ecosystem” is committed to the whole experience
  • All the paintings in the temple explaining the story have incredibly fair skinned people. Because you know, if you are dark-skinned and struggling with infertility then even God cannot save you
  • How the word “luck” was thrown around so many times and most of the women in Category 3 came with twins. Awfully coincidental?

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Immaculate conception during wedding season

When in teens, sex was all about the sheer quantity – how much are you getting. Then came the 20s where it was about the mood, the ambience, the planned spontaneity (my favourite kind) and needless to say the quality. At some point towards the end of 20s and early 30s, IF procreation is on the cards there begins an unspoken scheduling  and then verbalized scheduling based on apps and/or pee sticks. Post which comes a time when the dates for sex are on a prescription alongside the different medicines that need to be paired with it. While sex by itself is great, when accompanied by a calendar and a cocktail of hormone stimulating drugs it does little for either parties involved.

Along with this angst, add a houseful of people and the madness of an Indian wedding – even a platonic hug seems like a chore. Typically when I whine about weddings, it is because they are a great place for anyone to be more inappropriate than usual. Not only do people shamelessly try and arrange the next wedding by pairing up unassuming souls, there is brazen questioning of anyone’s child-free status. In at least two cases in the last year or so, I have been asked about why I didn’t bring my non-existent child to the wedding. I think this is the latest strategy of the aunty network – ask with so much conviction that the person is shamed into at least renting a child for the next wedding if not making one on their own.

But there is more than just the random accosting by strangers during the ceremonies. Weddings also mean cohabitating with family from far and near. Families with great heart but also Vulcan hearing, x-ray vision and enough curiosity to kill any feline.

Case in point:

Me (gulping the water down with my drug cocktail in the kitchen thinking everyone is in bed): Ohh..hi!

Aunty: What is wrong? Do you have a headache?

Me: No, no…I am fine

Aunty (eyes narrowing): Then? Why tablet and all? Are you still on the pill?

Me: What?! No, no…just some vitamins for good health

Aunty: Oh good, so you are trying. Nice nice… Give me also one vitamin tablet.  So much work in this wedding, I could do with some health.

Me: Ummmmm

Other problems include: How do you escape for a couple of hours to go for a scan between the mehendi and the sangeet? How do you get out of people giving a mile-long shopping list when you lie about going to the market? Or worse, ask to accompany you or be dropped off somewhere on the way to the market you weren’t going to in the first place?

But the most difficult to tackle is ovulation and prescribed sex.

With people camped in every room, walking in and out at all odd times and gendered, hostel-style sleeping arrangements; making a dash for the narrow window of ovulation is hard. Forget the stress-free ambience or the mood, there often is little room to get the basic mechanics right.

That leads to shady projects like trying to get people out of the house for at least an hour by suggesting movies, shopping or even a chaat visit. But no – every project will be met with either disinterest or worse, extra kindness where you get pulled into the amazing plan you made to get rid of people in the first place.

That’s when even an agnostic such as myself turns to all the possible gods to get tips on how exactly does one manage to make a baby without really doing it. Does one try pulling a Kunti from Mahabharata – glaring at the sun while chanting some prayers and risking blindness? There is the Mary-Joseph route, but if I actually had a barn to myself I could make this work without needing divine intervention. I also considered the birth of a child like Aphrodite from the foam of the sea on Marina beach in Chennai but knew deep within that there is no way the husband will willingly throw his testicles into the ocean.

For the sheer number of examples I could pull up, I realized that these stories were not just folklore – they were clear messages pointing in one direction.

If you want to make babies during the wedding season, you are better off trying to pull a baby out of the earth, fire, ocean or sky.  There is no bloody way that the conventional, more fun route is getting you anywhere.

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Sometimes just being in a place wipes you out…

Maybe a childhood home, maybe a café where you have had a lot of difficult conversations or a work place you never want to go back to. What is strange is when the heaviness comes from a place you have never been before.

I have never been to Nepal before. I have seen pictures of the Himalayan ranges and then some of the city in the news during 2015. But as I walked the streets, along with the smells and sounds was a wisp of sadness. Something I couldn’t put my finger on but I could feel in the crack of every broken building, every electric pole with mangled wires and every pothole along the way.

It makes me sound like I am from some developed country where none of these exist. But that is not true. Where I come from, the cracks in the buildings somehow feel like they ooze anger, the mangled wires shock enough to tell that they are live and the potholes, well…they are filled with the curses of those who drive over them.

Maybe it is me who brought that wisp of sadness. Asking questions on why it feels calm when there should be rage. Is what we see contentment or resignation to fate? Was that laughter or was that a sigh? If there are enough prayer flags and wheels does it bring peace? Is it peace or is it apathy? Does seeing grief in someone’s tired eyes, remind me of happiness within reach back home? Shouldn’t there be guilt if someone else’s arduous life makes me feel more than a twinge of gratitude for my own? Why am I constantly scanning faces for some extreme reaction? Am I seeking validation for screams ringing in my ears?

Sometimes just being in a place wipes you out. But most of the times, being in my head does the trick.

More parents bother me than their kids do

Before I begin, let me state that I do not have kids yet and I disallow you to dismiss me off as a carefree, millennial with no responsibilities, tons of cash to spare and probably a frigid soul. I honestly do respect your decision to have children, I really do and I expect you to return the favour.

Now that we have that out of the way -let me share my two cents on this whole Indigo “child-free” zone fiasco.

Over the past few months, I have been irked multiple times about Indigo’s need to monetize every single seat, leaving only terrible middle seats on the rear end of the aircraft. I also think that this whole zone idea in a budget airline in India makes no sense considering there aren’t any physical barriers to block sounds and neither is there any distinguishing service (no, getting a dried out sandwich and a MinuteMaid doesn’t count). Lastly, I do think it is discriminatory if you are a parent, who is willing to pay and still doesn’t get seats with more leg room. If you have a toddler or an infant, you deserve to board first and get the necessary space to feed and rest with the child.

But there is a slightly different issue here – I have been seeing responses that talk about how adults aren’t any better and there is a litany of woes about mobile phone usage, manspreading, getting up from seats before the plane is done taxiing, misbehaving with women passengers and the crew,  leaving toilets unclean and what not. Yes, it is true and it is terrible but that still doesn’t make the behavior of many kids on flights any less awful.

Cross your heart and tell me that you really believe that ONLY kids who have earaches or any other physical need cry on flights. I have been on multiple flights where I have had my seat being kicked by a child constantly. When I look behind, I see the parent either completely disengaged or worse look at the child with eyes filled with pride and joy. I have had conversations with parents who think it is really cute when their kids pull my hair and I think otherwise. I have had moms who say “Beta, why is this aunty not smiling at you? Let’s make her smile! <insert strange baby talk and face touching> ”  I have seen kids mashing bread with water and then spreading it on the seat – this maybe a great kindergarten activity to build motor skills but it is disgusting when you are on a non-stop 12 hour flight. Once again, conversations with parents lead to shrugged shoulders, quick assertions on how “kids will be kids” and worse an argument about how they have paid equally for the flight and therefore anything goes.

You recall the never ending list of terrible things that adults do? Well yeah, when those very adults have kids and their kids behave like mini versions of their parents – being callous, discourteous and conceited, I have a problem with that. When I hear the idea of a kid-free zone, I get dreamy because I envision a zone where both those adults and their kids are not around when I am crammed in a wafer thin seat.

Also you cannot possibly believe that my existence centers around you and your child. So when I pull out a laptop and am furiously typing, it is not to show you up but to finish some work before a crazy deadline (Also side note: check gender bias when you rant about corporates and working people. It may not necessarily mean men or black suits).

Flights are hard for kids and I am happy to help with reading a book, figuring out a quiet game, walking the aisle or just holding a baby while the parent on the adjacent seat needs to use the restroom or eat. I have met amazing kids while travelling but I most often see them with parents or guardians who are considerate individuals themselves.

When space is so less, we are bound to get into each other’s nerves. Being less obnoxious whether you are a parent or not can help go a long way.

Would I pay Indigo more for a kid-free zone seat? Absolutely not! But would I pay to get away from obnoxious adults and their kids? Hell yeah! If I can afford it.

Notes for the movie Pink

I watched Pink last evening and more than the movie itself, I could not help dwell on the snatches of conversations I overheard during and immediately after the movie as people were leaving the theater. I made some notes for those who saw the movie and for those who are thinking of seeing it soon.

  • The movie is a bit too close to reality for many urban, working women at some point in their lives (especially if we are/were from the NCR region). So when you sit in the theatre and say things like “bahut social hai yaar”, “thoda aur entertaining hona chahiye tha”, “slow hai” etc. it is hard not to take it personally and wonder if you want our struggles to be more fast-paced or glamorized
  • If you feel like the movie makes a bigger fuss than necessary, talk to the women in your life. Just have the courage to ask them what goes on typically when we go out for a run, when we go to get dinner with friends, when we are at work, when we are just trying to be. Don’t be surprised, if you hear some really raw, jarring stories. But also don’t be surprised, if you hear the echoing of your sentiment of how it is too much of a fuss really. Many of us women don’t even realize or choose to be numb on how we construct all of our actions around not getting raped.
  • If you feel like you keep circling back to the question “did they take the money or not”, just pause and remind yourself that you are probably missing the whole point of the conversation
  • If you think “No means No” is too complicated a message because many times of course women just say things and don’t mean it. Take a pause – it is hard to dismantle decades of indoctrination through movies and every other system of information dissemination. You don’t need to be transformed at the end of 2 hours 15 minutes, you need to be able to have the capacity to accept the hypothesis that women do mean what they say and try to see what it could mean for the interactions with those around you. Treat it like an experiment if you will.

Lastly, I know it is just a movie, there is a lot to be done, of course the “system” needs fixing and of course “some women also sometimes really exploit the situation to make the most of it”, which makes for great post movie auto/car ride conversation. But also remember the following:

Right from the time in the morning we have the momentary hesitation of going downstairs to collect the newspaper without a bra under our t-shirt, to the way we hold our bags in public spaces when we go to work/college, to telling a joke and then replaying it at least a few times over wondering if it was unnecessarily “forward”, to looking at a picture of ourselves and think if it can be misused or morphed easily, to making sure different guys drop us back to our PG because we don’t want to be linked with just one but at the same time making sure it is not too many different boys lest someone thinks you are not the ‘right’ type, to quickly scanning men around you in elevator spaces and check off if you are feeling safe or should you get off on the next floor and just take the stairs – all of these are few of the many many thoughts that are fleeting, unconscious and so natural to us as women that it doesn’t even seem crazy  to have them.

Pink could be many things and I don’t mean to rule over your movie choices but the one thing to remember – it is not exaggerated.

Feelings and the lack of it – Part 2

So I guess you all know about how MFK has absolutely no feelings for anyone right? Well, wrong. Turns out we do have a lot of feelings for this one person called S and if one were to let Facebook put a label on this relationship, it would definitely read ‘It’s complicated’.

So a few weeks back MFK called me up and again began with the whole spiel on how there are no feelings and more people from our class have fallen into the abyss of what they believe to be love, but surely is nothing more than their pituitary gland acting up (her words not mine). I just asked if she was just resurfacing this conversation over and over again because she was walking straight off the cliff with feelings for someone. There was silence followed by a shrill “Didi! How did you know?”

What followed was a battery of questions from me as a pseudo-parent/teacher/friend and she just begged me to come to Bombay so that we could speak about this in person and far far away from her mom. So go to Bombay I did.

I landed at her house and she wasn’t there. Her mother complained that this is the fourth time she is trying to get her hair right  and hence is at the neighbour’s place. Her mom then worriedly shared that MFK has been distracted for the past few weeks and her grades both in her school as well as coaching classes have dropped. I would be lying if I said I knew what was going on.  While her mother was complaining, MFK walked in – her hair done in a braid I could simply not fathom. She looked beautiful and I realized that in my head I kept seeing her as my 5th grader while she has grown up to be this awkward girl-woman. Her eyes welled up when she realized that her mom had told me all about her recent grades. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was not pleased. She kept her quiet as her mom and dad told me about how she barely listens to a word they have to tell her and how it is always as though she was mentally checked out. They did admit that she was putting in a lot of effort but they also didn’t miss to tell me that she was their only hope – their ticket out of this way of life.

While we were leaving to go, her mom called me to the side of the one room they all lived in and whispered, “Please talk to her, she is just not the same and I miss her”  I am pretty sure MFK heard it but we both pretended like that didn’t happen and left. In the auto, I couldn’t help but ask what happened. Her eyes welled up again, she told me about how she has been distracted for just three weeks and how she is now back to being herself, she told me about how she felt her parents only noticed when she slipped up and not when she was doing great, how she didn’t care about what they thought because she knew she was going to do well. This was the kid I knew – my friend, my insanely level-headed kid and my kick ass student.

When we were walking, I asked her about S and her face lit up. He is very sincere and good in studies, she replied (as D said, if we had the brains to use these as criteria for crushes when we were 16, we would be far less embarrassed about our choices!). She began to like him when they were sitting in the same row next to each other at coaching class and soon enough (in one day!) realized that she is losing focus. She asked to be moved to sit in the back of the class and all was fine. She would think about him only while walking back from class to home and during dinner because that’s when she had the time. But then soon S realized that he liked her too. He began to ask her for pens to write his test, asked her stupid doubts in chemistry which she just knew he already understood and worst began walking to the back of the class (to where she was sitting) during tests to take extra supplements when he didn’t have to! She was getting really flustered by his weirdness and THAT’s what has been happening for the last three weeks. It took a lot of effort on my part to not want S’s head on a plate – how could this guy not see what he was doing! I know he is 16 as well, but I am on team MFK and if any boy is messing with her head, well then – he has me to answer to.

So now over chocolate cake, she declared that she has decided to completely ignore him as well as stop thinking about him. She has given herself time till end of September to get over this whole thing because she is aware that you cannot turn feelings off like a faucet (and also because it’s her birthday end of this month. Her point being she would grow out of it because it is her birthday after all). I just sat there listening to her, just thinking how this kid has grown up to be this amazing girl-woman who is so hard on herself and so admirably with her eyes on the game. We then moved on to discussing other things such as the Olympics and her dislike for trains but somehow in my head I kept circling back to the fact that how much ever I wanted to fight her battles for her (move S to another state), she is on her own now. She is figuring out this world and is doing a beautiful job at it. While we were getting the cheque, I just asked her about the situation with her mom – she bristled and said that her mom doesn’t understand anything. I reminded her that her mom has no clue about S (for the better!) so it is kind of hard to figure out what all of this is about. She didn’t say anything but changed the topic to some other girl who likes S’s brother and how that was panning out (not too great apparently). It was a relatively quiet auto ride back to her place and while getting down from the auto, she just said, “I am going to let Ma braid my hair the way she likes it for today” and hopped off to run back home.

All I was left with was this immense sense of love and a voice in my head reminding me to not go looking for S for a ‘talk’.

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