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 , , ,

Multiple versions of me

Being self-aware and having voices in your head is a bitch. Truly. I am having one of those days when the grass pretty much looks greener on everyone else’s lawn. I woke up disbelieving that it is already Friday and a complete sense of dissatisfaction over what I have accomplished this week. I was supposed to have figured out some gym where I could work out balancing my new life, I was supposed to have had a break through at work, I was supposed to have helped someone I know with job hunt, I am supposed to have stopped eating wheat to get healthier and I was supposed to have done 4 days’ worth of laundry, which I have parked in the other room so that it doesn’t prick my conscience when I wake up. Yet, it is Friday already and quite frankly other than alarm icons on my phone, which remind of these things not much has changed.

As I was sleepily sipping on my coffee this morning and going through other people’s lives on Facebook, the wave of disappointment was palpable. I saw someone standing on yacht with arms outstretched and I immediately wished two things – being on a yacht and having gorgeous arms. I waved to no one in particular in my living room and my arm jiggle only made the voice in my head sharper. I saw another someone post about their graduation from one of the universities I had gotten into and the voice in my head again nudged saying, “that could have been you”. Of course, there were two articles on MAGGI followed by the indignation around processed foods which reminded me how I should not be using any “fast-cooking” solutions but only healthy alternatives, which take a couple of hours of effort. The final post I saw was on  ISIS cutting out water supply in some parts of their territory and I felt like absolute scum on the face of this earth for being so shallow and wallowing in self-pity while the world is in shambles.

I have Facebook “friends” who are on the boards of non-profits, who are getting funding for their start-ups, who are moving to countries I someday hope to visit, who are experimenting with new styles of working out which I would kill to try, who have amazingly bronzed legs and who are vacationing with their parents and kids in tow. It is a struggle to remind myself that all these are not one person and surely not everyone is cracking it. When I swipe through my phone, all these amorphous facts just come together as one big ball of things I am currently not doing. The rational me knows that lives on Facebook is just a sliver of most of these people’s existence. One voice in my head mocks me for being so full myself while there are kids who need a better education but the other voice also constantly claws me for not doing enough on any front.

I am not a hotshot racing the corporate ladder, I am not a passionate entrepreneur who is doing her bit to fix the world, I am not an effortlessly chic woman who eats vegan bagels after a TRX class,  – I am just me who knows that there are many, many more just like me but is also vain enough to wish that I was more.

P.S: This wasn’t a post to make me feel better about myself by fishing for compliments. I just wanted to let the other ‘Me’s know that you are not alone.

Teaching is finding your own people

When I decided to make the transition from teaching into Firki, I did it believing that I am increasing my scale of impact. On a good day, my reason holds true. But on most days I miss being a teacher.
I miss the feeling of everyday being a new chance or a beginning. I miss waking up knowing what it would take for my day to count as being productive. I miss being in complete control of my plans and my actions. I miss the high of knowing that I taught something brand new in the last 45 minutes. I miss seeing the progress from inarticulate words to broken phrases to powerful ideas. I miss having meandering conversations with little humans and having my mind blown. I miss the sigh which escapes me when I think I may have had something to do with those ideas.  I miss having the power to forge friendships and make every person in the room count. I miss being the person who knows how to fix things. I miss having ‘do overs’ for bad days. I miss cracking up over terrible jokes using homophones (Why did the doctor quit? Because she did not have any patience). I miss for it to be normal to announce to 30 people, “If you need to pee, then go now. The next 45 minutes will be super intense Math”. I miss getting text messages asking if I saw the latest episode of Chota Bheem. I miss conversations around how Bheem was not working towards gender equity.
I miss being cool like Karthi here. I guess all I am saying is, those were my people and I miss them.
2012-12-14 09.22.49
Tagged ,

When good news is never good enough

Hi Aunty

You met me yesterday at that family function in the temple. I am sure you remember me. I am that woman who is almost thirty and have been married for five years now. Yes, yes the same one who does not have children or any good news to give yet.

You pulled at my cheeks and reminded me that you last met me during my wedding reception (which was a close and intimate affair of over 1000 people across two cities). When my eyes showed hardly sign of recognition you poked my tummy and asked “any good news?”. I shied away pretending I had a call to take, when you told the other aunty “she has been married for five years”. The other aunty played her part and appropriately tutted in the right places. I heard you both. One of your friends pointed out how I look ‘healthy’ and then followed it by “how many months”. I didn’t realise you had it in you to make me feel fat as well as inadequate in the same breath. Thanks aunty, you are truly special.
I noticed how you asked my cousin brothers what they did but only asked me about why I hadn’t done anything yet. I saw the wheels in your head turn when I told I was travelling next week for work and would not be returning to Bangalore tomorrow. I saw your eyes glaze over when I explained what I do for a living and shared my good news  about my project getting the second round of funding.
I also saw how you passive aggressively asked my mom if she is a grandma yet. I felt terrible about putting her in a spot. Just as I was beating myself over this, I overhead you asking another woman with a toddler “so when is your next?”. When she laughed, you pushed harder saying “you cannot possibly be be thinking of raising her as an only child. She will be spoilt”.
That’s when I began to look harder. I saw so many instances during the day when none of us measured up in your eyes. You aren’t happy when we don’t have a child, you aren’t happy when we aren’t planning the second one, you are shocked when we say we are stay-at-home moms, you are appalled that we would leave our children with our parents to work long hours, you are unhappy that we don’t have jobs in the US, you feel cheated when we don’t come back from the US to meet you.
I am trying to remind myself that you mean well but you are making it really hard.
So let me just clarify for you once and for all – whether I am happily married or single, whether I am planning on having a baby or am struggling to manage my newborn, whether I am gainfully employed or not – when I have something to share with you, I will. It may not be as good a news as you may want to hear but well, c’est la vie.
In the meanwhile, a couple of quick pointers to save you from featuring in another blog post:
a) If you think someone is pregnant but you are not quite sure – save everyone the trouble and hold your tongue.
b) Quit poking tummies or randomly coping a feel will you? It is really annoying.

Why is #jesuischarlie more appealing than #bokoharam?

I am reading this book called We Need New Names by Bulawayo and this quote from its first few pages is stuck in my head – “ In our countries game, we first need to fight for country names. Everyone wants to be USA, Britain, Canada, France and Australia because these are country-countries. If you lose the fight, you just have to settle for countries like Dubai, South Africa, Tanzania and them. They are not country-countries but at least life is better than here. Nobody wants to be rags of countries like Congo, like Sudan, like Iraq or even here – who wants to be a terrible place of hunger and things falling apart?”

While Charlie Hebdo and the hostage crisis fills every minute on my television, Nigeria is relegated to a ticker far down below. The death of 12 people leads us to proclaim Je suis Charlie, but I am yet to see one message claiming Je suis un Nigérian over the 2000 people killed as a part of the Boko Haram attack. We nod in agreement when we see posts on upholding the rhetoric of democracy and feel proud of being liberal when we see puerile humour picking on a scab that never properly healed.

As upper middle class, urban India our sympathies lie more with Paris or London than with Baga. Strange as it is, we are now more white than ever before. With our growing affluence we see these country-countries as our own, we relate to their xenophobia even when we ourselves would be migrants in these very countries and we share the unspoken feeling of “we are tolerant and so we are being taken for a ride”.

Our aspirations to be one of them has led us to relegate the conflict around Boko Haram as something to be a non-issue for us simply because it is happening in the Dark Continent. We have come to expect that the people in these countries will be poor, will fight amongst themselves, will continue to be displaced between indistinguishable boundaries and as a consequence many will die. Any problem here does not anger or frustrate us as long as it is not exported to our country or countries we would like to be (Ebola?).

It would be the easiest to paint all of this be it Charlie Hebdo or Boko Haram, in one single brush stroke of the monolithic Islamic threat. But it is far more complex. It is about this growing sense of “the other”, it is about the feeling of superiority to a culture unknown, it is about struggling with the idea of sharing social space which we righteously think belongs to just one faction and the fear of being displaced from what we believe to be our homes.

What happened in Paris and what is happening in Baga are equally terrifying but we need to be able to find a voice for both. We need to be able to empathise with stories of fear which may not be so close to home. We need to be Charlie of France as well as Muhammad Gava of Nigeria. We need to be able to fit in both these worlds and bring them together.

After all, nous sommes tous humains.

Tagged , , ,

15 things you should never say to someone with a migraine

You had adequate warning and now I am spelling it out.

  1. I also am coming down with a slight headache
  2. You are so lucky you will never put on weight! With not being able to eat chocolates or cheese…
  3. You know my uncle’s cousin’s second wife used to have pounding headaches, turns out it was a brain tumour
  4. If you know when it is going to happen, why do you let it affect you?
  5. If you brightened up the room and let some sun in, you would feel better
  6. Did you not have a headache yesterday as well?
  7. What do you mean your arm hurts? I thought you had a headache
  8. Are you sure it is a migraine and not some PMS thing?
  9. Here, smell this new perfume
  10. Exercise some self control. Just don’t keep popping pills because you have a headache
  11. Start eating <insert trigger>. Your body will get used to it
  12. Cmon! This is nothing! If you cannot handle this pain how will you have a baby!
  13. I am not yelling. Why would you say that?
  14. Why are you wearing sunglasses?
  15. Wow! You could run a pharmacy out of your bag

The other side

It has been a while since I wrote something. Of course, I could cite paucity of time as an excellent reason and it would not be a lie. But it would not be the entire truth either.

Over the last one month I travelled between Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. I went into the crevices of the cities which some of us have chosen to forget about.

In Mumbai, along side swanky new apartment complexes on an arterial road, are huge areas covered with make shift houses and blue tarps to protect them from rain. Walking in one of those gullies, failing to escape the overflow of sewage I reached a school. The school entrance in itself so tiny that I had to double over to get in (and that, believe you me is saying something!) and I had stepped into another world. There was a tree running through the middle of this dilapidated structure as if somehow nature was trying to offer to the children what we could not. There were dark classrooms teeming with children. The corridors had ankle deep water and tiny paper fish floated in it outside the grade 1 class.

Stepping out of the school, I saw a tiny house which was slightly sunken into the ground. The walls were blue and adorned with the drawings of a three year old who at that very moment was sitting with her mom outside to do dishes in a broken pink tub, filled with water while the water like sewage flowed alongside.

I meandered out of the gullies and stepped on to the main road. I looked back and I could not spot where I had just come from. Ahead of me, I saw a gated community which shields its world of manicured gardens and glass balconies from what lies outside. Standing at the gates, I saw a gaggle of mothers waiting with their children for the school bus.

I heard a mother admonish her third-grader daughter, telling her not to cross the road and go to the other side. The daughter seemed oblivious to her mother’s concerns. The help standing alongside did not grasp most of the conversation since it happened in English. Suddenly, the mother turned to the help and yelled at her in Hindi reminding her that it is her responsibility to ensure that the child does not stray into the unsafe ‘mohalla’ that side. Another mother chimed in about the horrors of the unknown evil and how she cannot imagine why people would ‘choose’ to live like that.

The school bus with its half tinted glass windows arrived and the children filed in. The moms waved and added last minute reminders about lunch, homework and the money in the bag for some school trip. The bus drove away.

The help handed a key to the mother and confirmed she shall be back in the evening to cook dinner. The mother walked into the gates and the help crossed over to the other side of the road.

It suddenly started pouring and I realised I had forgotten my umbrella in the school. I started walking back and saw the help going the same way. She had a plastic bag wrapped around her head and she was walking along the edges of the shops trying not to get drenched. I followed her and I realised she is going to the school as well. We reached the miniature door together and her tiny daughter stepped out wearing a rain coat. She could not contain her stories about her class and burst out excitedly in Marathi to her mother. Her mother took her water bottle, adjusted the hood of her raincoat and listened rapt with joy. They walked away hand in hand into the sheet of rain.

The peon in the school handed my umbrella over to me and I turned to head back. I saw the tiny house which was slightly sunken into the ground. I could not spot the mother or the three year old. I saw the broken pink tub – right in the middle of the house, collecting the water leaking from the roof and overflowing into the ground.

%d bloggers like this: