Category Archives: Special moments

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’.


Feelings and the lack of it

So while I continue to say that I love all my kids equally, I secretly love some a whole lot more. It could very well be because I find more of myself in them than others but whatever the excuse, one of my favourite kids (MFK) called me recently and we had the most interesting conversation ever.

So MFK begins with the typical announcements on the books she has read and inquiring after my hair (if it is growing, what my plans around it are etc). We then had a power packed five minutes on how much she scored in all her tests, how she absolutely loves chemistry, the new elements in the periodic table and how no one in class is as excited as she is about those new elements (!)

But somewhere in all this, I felt like she wasn’t really saying what she wanted to say. Not wanting to probe, I let her stew in the pauses and then she suddenly piped up saying “Didi, I wanted to tell you something about our class. All our students have fallen into the TRAP.” I was suitably intrigued, and she continued, “Didi, these days all the girls they have feelings for boys.” The way she said the word ‘feelings’, I could totally imagine her disgust showing up on her scrunched up face. She let that information stay with me for a few seconds expecting a dramatic reaction. While I completely cracked up in my head, I projected a very calm ‘is that so?’ kind of demeanour. She could contain herself no longer and burst out saying, “Didi, I called to tell you while everyone has these feelings, I have absolutely no feelings whatsoever. Didi, I cannot feel a single thing! In fact Didi, I thought about these feelings and I realized I do not need these feelings also. I do not know why these girls and boys are like this. Unit tests are just over and they are still thinking about feelings only.” (Yes she did use the word ‘feelings’ so many times in one breath)

I was completely torn between cheering that MFK was exactly like me when I was in the 9th grade and ensuring that I give her balanced perspective or be that someone she could confide in. So I say, “You know it is completely okay if you do not have these feelings right now, but what is also okay is if you do ever have feelings and want to talk about it.” Yes, that’s how lame I was! I heard myself and I rolled my eyes over my own response.
Clearly, I wasn’t the only one because I could literally hear MFK’s eyes going to the back of her head. She shot back pointedly saying, “Didi! It is just hormones! These are not real feelings. I do not have any feelings and I will never any feelings for any boy.” I immediately caught on and reminded her it doesn’t necessarily have to be a boy and she again sternly brought me on track saying she is completely aware of the ‘choices’ she can make and she is not happy with the way I am digressing at each step of the conversation.

So I let her take the reins and just listened. She told me about who is dating whom, who broke up and who is in the in-between stages of deciding their relationship status. She also magnanimously pointed out that someone’s writing has improved because of all the love letter writing, though she was disappointed that as a couple they weren’t really focusing on spellings. There is a lot of crying, breaking up in the corridors and missing school to mend the broken hearts.

MFK suddenly halted since her mom was in the room and she made me promise that I will come to Bombay soon so that we could catch up and discuss in detail why girls and boys are so weird and why feelings are such a waste of time. She reminded me again loudly (I am guessing for the benefit of her mom) that she has no such feelings and she is never falling into this trap.

As I imagined each of my kids being gangly and awkward, I couldn’t help but feel a huge pang of missing this part of their growing up. While I may not have been great at feelings and all that, but I would kill to be there for them and just remind them that it gets better.

Sometimes it is easy to forget how hard being 14 can be. MFK reminded me that being a teenager is chaotic, messy and mostly heartbreaking.

I cannot wait to go back to Bombay. It will be a session of coffee, doughnuts and high school drama – MFK is growing up and I just need to make sure, I play it cool and not let my feelings come in the way of our awesomeness.

You can read what happened next here.

Tagged , , ,

The year that was

So I tried the feature in Facebook which tried to capture what 2013 looked like for me in a snapshot. I realised it says nothing really about what 2013 meant to me and was no where close in terms of the ‘real’ deal 2013 was. It was a big year. So here goes nothing.

This was the year when I struggled to understand what my life is all about

This was the year when the going got tough and I found external validation through admission in a college I never imagined I would get through

This was the year when I came back home

This was the year I got a scholarship, which was then taken away

This was the year I got a scholarship and I turned it down

This was the year my brother turned 20 and I felt old

This was the year when I went to Europe for the very first time

This was the year (maybe the only one) when I was an official witness at an Austrian wedding

This was the year I visited 5 countries, saw so much of the world and realised there is so much more to see

This was the year I spent the most number of months with my husband at a stretch since our wedding and loved it

This was the year when I felt the real pain of not being able to pay for one’s education

This was the year I learnt what it truly felt to be without a job or a plan (not very good. FYI.)

This was the year I wholeheartedly appreciated being married to one of my closest friends

This was a year when I started two blogs – one died its natural death and the other is where you are now

This was the year when I decided that I would do what makes me happy – staying with my partner in crime and working on my terms

This was the year a dear friend became a pet-parent and made me question how good a friend I could be

This was the year when I had an awesome boss and woke up most days excited about working

This was the year I spent Diwali like a princess after 4 years of being away from home

This was the year I went to Kashmir and came back a wee bit changed for the better

This was the year I hadn’t met my best friend (in person) for over 12 months!

This was also the year when I realised that I used every possible tool (Gtalk, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook, blog, emails, Viber…) to stay in touch with her so it really wasn’t like she was gone

This was the year when I felt like I was 21 again with her living with me for 3 days and giggling like we were in B12

This was the year when I realized I do not spend enough time in the wild

This was the year I learnt that the handful of people I love, mean the world to me and I should not be embarrassed about proclaiming that my life does revolve around them

This was the year I truly grew up

Come on 2014 – I dare you to dazzle me.

Of traditions and what not…

Yesterday was Aavniavatam and of course I did not remember. I remembered Rakshabandhan and like any good sister in this modern day I changed my profile picture to something which has my brother looking super cute and me looking good- waiting for people to ‘like’ it.

So when my mil called me at 11:30 a.m. (by which time every self respecting  iyer-iyengar ponnu should have showered and offered ummachi something to eat) asking what all I made today, I was caught. Honesty being the only way forward (since I would have to ask for recipes anyway) I told her I forgot and she being the kind soul did not make a big deal about it. Then armed with recipes for nei appam, vadai and sakarapongal I rushed to shower and leave for the supermarket.

Back at 12:30 with all the ingredients for appam, some sort of payasam and MTR Vada mix I was back home and I started with the prepping. I did not have the kuzhi paatram  for making appam so I directly used a spoon to pour the batter into the oil. The result was something that looks like bhajji  but tastes like appam. 

It took 3 hours to wrap up the whole deal and I ended up eating stir fry vegetables for lunch (yes irony infused situation). But overall I would say I did have a great time.

When I came to India every year as a child, aavniavatam was a huge deal. All the boys would be up by 5:30 a.m. to go for the pujai for changing sacred thread business. Whereas the women will shower and then start cooking (the sequence I have never been able to follow). There would be appams, payasam, vadai, avial, some unnamed kozhambuapplams/vadam, upperi, pulikaachal and my favourite pachadi all being made at the same time. I used to wear my pavadai and pretend to be busy while sneaking out to read my book only to be caught and told to cut almonds, cashew and pista into small pieces. I was never really caught up with the whole pujai deal but this cooking festival, running to check with the vaadyar when the poonal changing thingy will be done and report back at home feeling very important was what made my India trip real.

The boys would be back by 1:30 p.m. by which everyone would be ravenous and thatha  would start his pujai then. After sprinkling turmeric’y’ holy water on us (extra large serving if you look particularly bored)  all the boys were made to sit in a line and the girls would bring in the assortment of rakhis to tie on their wrists followed by a series of namaskarams to all adults present. Then the periammas, chittis and mamis  would give gifts to the girls on behalf of the brothers. The gifting process was complex – right from selection to distribution the focus had to be on equity and customisation at the same time. Hence the responsibility was never given to the boys. What happened therefore was my brother would eagerly open my gift which was supposed to be from him to see if I got something he would like, say Pokemon cards. Like I said, complex.

So when C asked me yesterday if I enjoyed the whole deal of making all those things…I had to say yes.  While I did not know which god to pray to or the chanting part the whole thing made me go back to my childhood and smile.

Below are pictures of my attempt at nei appam  and vadai. The appam looks nothing like what my patti makes (check out the one deformed appam that strangely looks like gingerbread man) and the only reason I put a sprig of curry leaves near the vadai was to for you to be able to tell it apart from the  appam.

2013-08-20 14.05.10 2013-08-20 14.05.49

P.S: since I do not like sakarapongal  myself I did not make it. Instead I made a coconut milk pudding with almonds and boy o boy was that awesome! 😀


Dear _________

I know I never say such things to you but since there is a designated day for brother-sister type thingy I thought I might as well put it in writing. I do not expect you to write back or acknowledge this…your patented blend of discomfort and mockery will suffice 🙂

You are truly awesome. I know most of our conversations in the recent past has been more about me giving you gyaan about life, university and what not, but I do want to say that I truly admire the way you take life as it comes. Smiling.

I admire you for choosing people over most other things – you are much kinder and nicer in both thought and action than I will ever be.

I absolutely love your innate ability to be perceptive and gentle…I think I lack that as a person. In fact I know how hard I have been on you and I am sorry. I still hope to make it up to you sometime.

I am super proud of how good you are at playing drums and more importantly how you do not make a deal of how good you actually are.

I appreciate the fact that you are nothing like me and I hope you stay this way.

It makes me happy that unfairness makes you angry.

I always play the devils advocate when we argue and by virtue of being louder or using fancy words I know there have been times I beat you to it. But more often than not I tend to agree with you in my head and I think you should know that.

You are my younger brother and you inspire me to be better all the time.

I know you do not read this blog and I wish there was a way for me to tell you all this without the help of words. But for now, we just have to make do.

I love you and I wish I was there today to squabble over how much money I make with this festival 🙂



Independence Day

I have honestly never understood the idea of a nation or appreciated the sentimentality that it begets. Even though I grew up outside India and it is expected that my identity is defined by the country I was born in or from which my parents belong; I merely saw India as my grandparents’ home then.  I have many a time wondered how is it possible that 1.2 billion people with different dialects, backgrounds and stories feel kinship to an idea called India. There have been days when I have simply summed up the situation as the triumph of economic need to belong to a larger state over the need to carve out an own identity.

This is not to tell you that I have had a change of heart simply because of Independence dayand a few episodes of Satyameva Jayate. But I am beginning to see a kinship with the hope called India with every passing day. Yes, there are issues – not one, not two but innumerable. Inflation, currency de-valuation, illegal migration, corruption, unheard protests, foeticide, education, healthcare, nutrition, environment, caste based discrimination, safety of women –there is not a single news channel that at 9 p.m. talks about something good that transpired that day. It is about all the wrongs done by all those who could not escape the prying eyes of the camera. Of course the media should be vigilant, of course people should be pulled up for trying to hush up a rape case or pocketing 2500 crores meant for the healthcare of the state –but does it have to be only about the bad? This is not rhetoric – its something that I worry about. Is it true that there is absolutely no good happening which is why nothing makes it to the papers or TV? Or is it our choice to only see the wrong simply because the indignation compensates for our inaction in the day.

But even if I do consider the violent opposition of every action or inaction that occurs and the sceptic look that follows the announcement of any intention I cannot help but hope that it stems from a desire to simply see a system working better for its people.

This gooey optimism may not agree with most of you…I would be annoyed too if I made the kind of money you did and then pay the taxes you do! But I guess my optimism is also an occupational hazard. Everyday when I walk into class I see hope, dreams and the joy to make something new. I find it extremely hard to not believe that these kids will not have a chance to realise their potential and live the lives they want. I see them shaping their future one task at a time and incisively moving towards a goal they set for themselves. And something tells me if a bunch of 8 year olds can, then I am sure 1.2 billion across age groups, smarts and wherewithal can figure something out.

I do not relate to the chaos that is pouring out on the streets to resolve issues endemic to the system. But I do see the adrenalin for some form of change and that to me resembles hope – for if there was no hope, we would see indifference and not angst.

I am aware that there are elements who are striving to maintain the status quo to feed their source of power. But I believe that these elements too are now beginning to see the power of the collective.

Yes, there is a lot to be done. Of course you may not tell me but I am sure you think me teaching 30 kids, is not going to change anything for better. But let me tell you something, it is happening – things are changing and the future is looking up. It is for you to smell the wet earth. Like someone once said, some feel the rain while others simply get wet.

I still do not understand what holds all of us together. But I do see the shared past and glimmering future in the eyes of my kids and I feel like I belong to something that is larger than me – maybe it is the idea or hope that someone once called India.

304606_10151019240482568_759795495_n 402073_10151019252812568_483535608_n 528112_10151019241422568_1982777985_n 553810_10151019242207568_548949616_n

Tagged , , ,

Foolishly surprised

Sometimes you are surprised. Surprised by the depth of conversation, by the impassiveness with which the truth is spoken or by the naivety you hold thinking of yourself as the protector.

Along with our regular curriculum, I began conversations on Gender Equity in my class. It has been less than a week and I am surprised by own students. Today we discussed the difficult topic of female infanticide. I was very worried about how I am going to explain this to my students. How do I tell my 8 year olds that such a barbaric practice exists or the fact that there are people who do not value all children equally? These were the questions in my mind on my bus ride to school.

I began the conversation by saying that there are homes and families where a girl child is not welcome. There is sadness and no joy for she is seen as a burden and not hope. There was sudden murmuring and I saw a lot of raised hands. I could not fathom what all these students have to say at the same time. And that is how the stories began to pour.

Malini was the first to speak on how her mother laments and curses her every day about how having two daughters and no sons. Then Aravind spoke of how his father was very sad when his sister was born and would come home drunk everyday to squarely blame the mother for this misfortune. Stunned by the openness of these students, I shared the sex ratio in India of 933 females per 1000 males and asked where are the remaining girl children. Tippu quietly said “They dead, Miss”. Roshan and Karan spoke of their villages where the new born baby girls are buried in the farm the reason in their words being “girls so much money give marriage, too much tension father mother do not want”. Santosh said in his village an old lady sees the stomach of the woman to tell the sex of the child and even grinds some leaves to give the mother if it “feels” like it is going to be a baby girl. Divyadarshini spoke of how even if the child is not killed, the parents and extended family continue to express discontent. She knows this because when her brother was born her grandmother gave so many gold chains and rings to her mother but when she was born her mother got nothing because she did not deserve a prize for after all giving birth to a girl child. And every birthday, Divyadarshini’s mother is told how she could have done better.

When I was 8, I had the luxury of not knowing. It saddens me that my children have experienced the pain of feeling unwanted firsthand. It hurts to see such all knowing 8 year old eyes. It makes me so angry to think of those parents who willingly, unwillingly, knowingly or unknowingly make their children question the value of their very existence.

When we ended our conversation today with how girls and boys both need to be loved and cared for and how it is not a mother’s wrongdoing for giving birth to a girl child Jayarani, one of the quietest girls in my class raised her hand to ask “Miss, mother also girl then why miss mother no fight for her girl child?”. I had no answer to give her other than telling her that she needs to be much stronger than those mothers and fight for what she believes in.

Devika, Divya, Fathima, Thulasi, Malini, Jayarani, Meenakshi, Thrisha, Nandhini, Srija and millions of other children deserve better. We need the change to happen. We cannot wait for times to change. It has to happen NOW and I see its beginning in 26 pairs of resolute eyes.


Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: