Category Archives: Self

Talk To Me

For the past 4 months, Arvind and I have been going out for lunch once a week. I pick him up after school at 1:45 and we drive to his favourite dodgy Chinese restaurant and we ask for the “usual” – Macau fried rice for him and Kung Pao beef for me. The proprietor grins and brings us Coke and water without even asking.

We talk. There is no plan, no agenda and inspite of uncomfortable, highbacked chairs, we relax. We talk about everything that comes to mind – what happened in school, what is in the news, salient features of the Triassic age and the Jurassic age, why I should learn Minesweeper. Our words foxtrot effortlessly without stumbling over each other, without awkwardness.

There is the day Anders Behring Breivik is declared insane.

“Does this mean they won’t kill him, Mamma? Or put him in jail? Because I’m sure he is really really sorry that he did something so stupid. Everyone is sorry afterwards, right?”

“I wish it was that simple, love,” I say “but I think he meant to do it. As awful as it is, I think he meant to hurt people and he believed he was doing the right thing. In many places in the world, he would have faced capital punishment. The death penalty.”

“Death penalty?” he says the words carefully before spooning more rice into his mouth.

“Where you are sentenced to die for the crime you’ve committed.”

“Even if you’re very very sorry?”

“Even then.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” he frowns. “Why would they do that?”

“It has never made sense to me either.” I tell him.

I tell him about the various forms of capital punishment, about execution squads, about my impressions after visiting the Spandau prison in Berlin and as he turns his barrage of questions towards me, the couple next to us look like they really wished they had ordered take away Moo shoo Pork.

From death by capital punishment, we move onto apple pie, religion and afterlife and I might have snuck in that at least once in his life, he should read Catcher in The Rye because Holden Caulfield? He will stay with you forever.

“You’re sad, Mamma,” he says one afternoon. “You’re smiling, but you’re sad.”

“I am.” I say quietly but directly. I am unwilling to explain this darkness, this desperate suffocation I am feeling. The feeling that the already tenuous centre of my life is unravelling at a pace faster than I could keep up with. I don’t know how to tell my son that I don’t know how I got out of bed that morning.

I try to remember being myself at his age, so much like him. The child who sensed discord and discontent, who picked up even minor distress and made it hers. I know that I want to accord him more credit and respect than I was given in those circumstances.

“You know how sometimes, in school, everyone seems to be having a great time except you and even though everyone wants to play with you, something is just not right? You either feel too much or too little? Or somedays you are sad or angry about something that happened some other day?”

He nods, sombre in the moment.

“It’s like that for me sometimes,” I say. “Sometimes being sad and being angry comes from a place you can’t see anymore, that you don’t really understand. But I am trying to understand. I need to understand so that I can be a better mother for you and Armaan.”

“But Mamma..” he begins and stops short as if a little overcome by the moment and I am ready to hurry in with my effortless guilt.

He pulls out a pencil and paper from his bag and writes

DU ER FIN SOM DU ER.

You are fine just as you are. Just as you are.

There is the 1000 volt realization that no-one has ever said that to me. Not in that way or in any other way. And I have known so much love.

In those moments, a gift so huge, so vastly generous that not a single thing in my life could possibly feel unaligned.

Because I am enough. Just as I am.

“Also, you cry easily,” he says, slightly alarmed by this unexpected reaction.

“But of course I do,” I laugh. “Your mother is an emotional woman. I have tears for the happy and tears for the sad. This is really going to annoy you at your graduation.”

He grins. “IF I want to,” he says, “Maybe I’ll just make lots of money playing and making video games.” And we’re off again.

We still clash, we still fight, but something has changed so fundamentally. We are quicker to diffuse, quicker to get it, quicker to laugh.

Today, on the 17th of January, he turned 9. He awoke to music he’d selected the night before, (“Kiss” by Prince. Spell VICTORY for me.), Super Mario Toad cupcakes, candles and presents.

“Soon, I’ll have to fold you in four if you’re going to fit in my lap,” I joke. He grabs a cupcake and brings his shaggy haired self to the sofa, where he contorts his ever-lankening limbs in to my lap, his head contentedly tucked under my neck.

“I want some Us time today” he says quietly, while his brother clamours that he wants a birthday too. NOW.

So I pick him up right after school, we come home, eat more cupcakes and at the stroke of 2:30, the exact time of his birth, I gather him in my lap again to tell him how lucky we are to have him in our lives. To tell him that he should always be himself, true to himself, no matter what, because nothing in life will ever feel quite as amazing.

You are fine just as you are, I say.

Remember the book All I Really Needed To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?

Well, Robert Fulghum, you were wrong. Or maybe my Kindergarten was just lousy.

All I Really Need To Know I Keep Learning From My Sons.

When Macau met Kung Pao

Nine. Going on sixteen. Occasionally 46.

Because he wouldn't approve of a post without Luigi

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Filed under Arvind, Life Lessons, Parenting, Self, Togetherness

Sink or Swim

I was eight years old. My teeth spilt wantonly out of my mouth, refuting order and containment. I had legs all the way up to my armpits.

“You have beautiful legs. So shapely.” says a strange lady at the swimming pool. I blush, completely unaware of my body, unaware of how it’s all pinned together. Many years later I think, “What an odd thing to say to an eight year old.”

I love the water, the element of my dreams. Underwater dreams, enveloped in a thrumming quiet and staring at a soluble spot of light somewhere far, far above me. Dreams of swirling in indigo, cyan and azure.

I was eight years old when I learnt to swim.

I was seven years old when I actually learnt to swim, but I spent a year convincing myself that I couldn’t swim without armbands.

My obsessive, elemental love for water warred with the fear that it would not let me come up for air. The fear that I might not be embraced back.

I feared sinking like a miserable, unworthy pebble.

“You can swim!” My uncle’s hearty, commanding, teacher’s voice booms at me. I ignore him, wading sullenly in the shallow end, desperately concealing my need to believe him. I float, infatuated by the lightness of my body against the gentle ripples. I want this so badly. Almost an entire summer vacation spent in longing, fighting diffidence and knowing that this need consumed me.

“Of course you can swim!” he boomed again.

In retrospect, I blame my waterlogged ears. My ears were practising being a mermaid’s ears that summer. I didn’t register the waves, the discreet splash created by his legs as they powered through to me in my shallow end sanctuary.

In a sharp, unmeditated move, I was wrenched from my safe, aquatic quiet and flung through the air.

I recall with masochistic clarity, the brutality of my limbs crashing through the glassiness, plummeting like a pebblestonerock, heavy, stubborn and unmoving. Water within. Water without. Wide open eyes. The beauty in murky green.

I was here. I was here. I had always known that I would be here. I had seen this all before.

No breath. No breath. No breath.

Panic and movement in oneness. I kick. I slice. I punch with my arms all the way to the soluble spot. I splutter in the sunlight and my indignant rage fuels these now familiar motions. Push, heave, kick and lift. Furious, powerful arms and aqualungs.

I manage to swim to the other side of the pond. I drag myself up to my full height, a few inches immediately added on by wrath; by exhiliration.

“You BASTARD! You awful brute!” I splutter.

I will never forget the absolute glee on his face, the unrestrained heart in his laugh and the droplets clinging to his beard.

What I have forgotten over time is the force of  that untiring faith.

I’m still there, on that diffident edge, dying to be brave. So brave that I’m willing to fail. Waiting for that push from the arms that won’t let me drown. Yet, at 35, I’m too old to be thrown into the deep.

A woman of a certain age, she needs to learn to propel herself.

And jump.

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Filed under Life Lessons, Self

You’ve Got A Friend

At the home of superfriend R, in between taking freshly laundered capes out of the dryer and exercising superpowers.

MGM: We have to this discuss this thing.

R: Uh-oh. Better put the tea on then. Rough day? What’s up?

MGM: It really bothers me how even after you’re done having kids, it’s somehow the onus of the woman to get her tubes tied. I mean, shouldn’t men be volunteering vasectomies at this point?

R: Isn’t that their business? Wait. OF COURSE NOT. Because who would we judge then?

MGM: Seriously. Pop one through your hoohaa and its all vulvar distress and no AMOUNT of kegels will help you NOT wet yourself ever so little when you’re jumping up and down, dancing to Song 2. Seriously!!

R: VULVAR? That is not even a word. I just poured tea. Have some mercy.

MGM: Oh, suck it up already. It’s 2011 and we can’t talk about vulvæ over tea? The post-episiotomy monster one deserves a medal for chrissakes. And C-secs? You had one. I had one. Tummies that look like badly set liver pudding. Loose skin that makes your abdomen look like a shoddily stitched bag.  If Ryan Gosling were to walk up to me and say, “Shed your gear, honey”, I would be too ashamed. THE SHAME!!!!

R: James McAvoy? Something tells me James would have a workman’s hands and appreciate a real woman’s body. He wouldn’t go, “Monster vulva. That is just gross.”

MGM: Wait, we can’t derail over gorgeousness. Come on. Don’t tell me you don’t agree? A good man will let his eyes sweep over his gorgeous progeny, take a minute to reflect over the corporal sacrifices made by his lovely, often annoyed wife and instinctively think, “My work here is done. I must stem this bounty at the fount. I must spare her the slightest brush with gynæcology and fix this myself, so as to continue with unfettered monkey business.”

R: You can’t spare yourself a brush with gynæcology anyway. Not unless you want to die of cervical cancer avoiding any brushing. Come on. Maybe it’s not painful. Maybe it’s like a smear. Ok, who am I kidding?  They should so get snipped. At the bloody fount. AND be in pain. Only ripe agony will do.

MGM: I KNEW you would see it. It’s principle. It’s basic courtesy. You tear, I snip. Your pain to get them out. Mine to make sure they stay put as a perfect, phantom third child. Really. Every mother needs to raise her sons to be so considerate.

R: And you know the kind of guy who wouldn’t even entertain the thought when presented to him, right? Yup. Mr. Don’t-Make-Me-Pretend-To-Care-If-It-Was-Good-For-You-Too. Mr. Roll-and-Snore while you turn to James McAvoy in desperation.

MGM: You’re not really sharing, right?

R: Oh god, no. After shoddily stitched bag abdomen, continued and excellent sexual service should be written in stone in the family constitution. As a fundamental human right. Wait. As MY right. So much better.

MGM: Come on. Can’t be anything as painful as labour anyway.

R: Face it. If you were a guy, you wouldn’t go there unless you were taken kicking and screaming, you darned diva.

MGM: *shudder* Not a chance. Not while there was grass on God’s green earth.

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Filed under Self, Things That Make Me Go Grrrr!

Mi Casa

Arvind: Mamma, why are you staring at me? Stop staring at me.

MGM: *wistfully* I’m trying to remember you forever this way. Your last day as a first grader. I’m taking pictures in my mind.

Arvind: Mamma, you know you’re a bit wierd?

MGM: No baby. I’m WAY wierd. I’m plenty wierd.

**************************************************************************************************************

The Viking is co-building/assisting in re-building our garden patio. It promises to be a Beauty of the Burbs. I’m thrilled to death about this, but most of all I am thrilled because suddenly my dirty and totally infantile mind seized upon all the fun I can have with my “decent” lad and bejeezuz – the number of permutations and variations of lame-ass one liners with the words “nail”, “screw” “hammering” and “bending over”?

5899 at last count.

The man is hapless in the face of his insane wife calling him YET again with her latest pervy giggly.

He is SO hot for me, peeps.

The Polish workers are probably rolling their eyeballs like GET LAID ALREADY.

**************************************************************************************************************

The World Cup has been the perfect time to a) nurture an interest in football and b) pull out our Flags of the World book.  Now that school is out and we can geek without school interference, homework and such excrement, its all about flags, countries, capitals, nationalities and currencies.

I am mostly alarmed by how much I have forgotten over the years. Time for Mamma to brush up on her ejukayshun, dudes.

Now that we have ONE pedagogical activity in place, I can serve him beer for the rest of the vacation and we can laugh ourselves silly everytime we say Pyongyang.

Like PYOOONNNGYANNG.

Yeah, you had to be there.

*************************************************************************************************************

We are trying to teach Armaan numbers. Since he went all DIY with his potty training, our hopes were high and the magnetic board was dug out.

“Here’s the number 2, Armaan”

“No. It’s blue (B-noo).

“Yes, its a blue number 2”

“Not two. B-noo”

“Yes yes. Blue. But a number 2. Like One. Two.” I can hear my voice rising a pitch in the midly hysterical way a parent’s voice is raised when they suspect their child might be shtoopid. Less gifted. Whatever.

Luckily for Armaan, he could not give a sod. He cheerfully swipes the board clean and delights over the magnetic pieces lying strewn around.

So delighted that he breaks into an impromptu Michael Jackson dance.

“It’s all good,” I sigh, “We just have to give him more beer is all.”

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Filed under Armaan, Arvind, holidays, Self

India – 1

When we go down to India, especially for my brother’s wedding, we have an unspoken understanding that the Viking will handle the kids while I shop, organize and socialize. In case you think I mean the pleasant “meeting-long-lost-friend” kind of socialising – no.

I refer to wedding socialising which involves greeting and spending a certain amount of time with all the invited guests. A little more than a cursory hi and hello. It is not an unpleasant task by any means since most of the invitees are dear family and friends and this is a wonderful chance to catch up with everyone. But demanding nonetheless – not to mention draining, in the humid heat of Kerala, when you just want to dunk yourself in a tub of cooling water and curl up like a foetus.

During the parties and ceremonies, the Viking dutifully handled the boys, made sure they were fed, nappies changed on time and he let me be.

It took about two minutes before the comments started to rush in. What a wonderful father the Viking was. How well he was looking after the kids. HOW MUCH he did. Cousins playfully teased that I needed to keep my husband away from their wives because they would not hear the end of complaints otherwise. Our new in-laws gushed over this wonderful firang who was such a nurturing father.

It would not fricking stop.

After the first couple of times, I had to fight to keep my irritation from getting the upper hand. Choice retorts like

So? He should be more than just a sperm donor!

and

Jeez! Give him his bloody gold medal already! Why is this such a big deal?

and

Oh, screw you. I am alone with these kids for weeks at a time with absolutely no help at all, and just in these couple of days he is milk of frikkin’ human kindness?

did spring to mind, but were not articulated. And just as well really because it gave me the pause I needed to see that it was not about him, my irritation was about me. Or more correctly, I was bristling at being judged because I am so familiar with the drill – the tilt of the head, the intonation – where the other side of the shiny coin of “What a great dad!” is “Why are you shabby at it?”.

Or that could have been me being as sensitive and prickly as a cactus, just wanting to enjoy a holiday without being in the headlights waiting to get hit.

The instant gratification of a mean comeback would have been incredibly satisfying. The downside of that though would be hurting the one person I did not want to hurt – my husband – who was basically being a decent human being. Did I really want to be like that loud asshole at parties who would exclaim loudly about “Women these days needing to know their place?” or “Its her job anyway. What do I care?” If I had ever overheard him making that kind of comment about me, dotted lines would be signed while the dinner was still hot.

It is completely and utterly inappropriate for a man in this day and age to say something so blatantly sexist. Why should it be okay for a woman to be as disrespectful? Does this new millenium’s feminism mean that WE ARE THE NEW BOORS IN PRETTY HEELS? Wow.

So here is my retort.

Gosh! You are right. He is a terrific father and husband and ever-supportive and loving. We are extremely fortunate that he takes such good care of us and y’know what? I could not have swapped spit with a better guy. I know that this is killing you and you really want me to feel inadequate, but I have really never felt as blessed. See? Here is your proof that good people happen to the err… shaky ones too.

It was at this point that I ran out of grace and straight into a glass of martini.

Edited to add: The Viking completed another trip around the sun yesterday and matures like the smelliest, yummiest cheese and deepest, most excellent wine. Happy happies to a good ‘un!

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Filed under Self, The Viking

Oxygen

Pretty elementary if you stop to think about it.

The elegant lady in the uniform – the one with the shiny hair and great skin –  tells us in a kindly voice that we must first put our own oxygen mask in place before placing the mask for the child.

I’m slumped in my seat on the plane, returning from another strange city, desperately hoping that the friendly-looking man in the next seat is not going to attempt conversation.

I’m beat and I really need him to remain a mystery. I need to plug in my ipod and tune into a dream.

No-one told me about a damn oxygen mask, I think resentfully. Why do I never breathe enough?

Probably because everyone knows that breathing REAL oxygen would leave less time for inhaling our own guilt.

Guilty of feeling chained and drained by the expectations of routine and domesticity. If I ever knocked domestic help before, here I am – watch me now – eating crumbs of your humble pie – soon to be cleaned up by YOUR DOMESTIC HELP GODDAMIT.

Guilty in my knowledge that I want more of this – the travel, the exciting work, the coming home to my kids’  hugs with presents and less of the hard, hard work of being their parent.

Round peg in a square hole I am on this day.

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Filed under Parenting, Self

A Pick-Me-Up

of the raindrops-on-roses and whiskers-on-kittens variety that Julie Andrews so throatily garbled about.

On my way out of the house today, already running late for my first meeting, and with two kids to drop off at different points, I grabbed the first notebook that came handy. Y’know – just in case I needed to take notes at the meeting or doodle the lyrics of a Green Day song to kill the boredom. What? You thought bureaucrats ALWAYS had fun? Ok, there’s the odd margarita in there but tsk tsk, you poor misguided child.

I make it to the meeting on time and just when I open the book and am preparing to look busy and involved, a yellowed sheet of paper floats with casual elegance, straight into my lap. I open it and then spend the next couple of minutes not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Instead, I settle for mildly strangulated and feign interest as is expected of me.

It was a letter, a note, written by a very dear friend – one of the bunch of us engineers/ humanities graduates/seekers of good fortune who had moved collectively to Bombay after having laid our sleepy little town in Kerala to waste. It is fair to say we grew up together in the streets of that grand lady and stood by each other through all the upheavals and the magic in our lives at that point. If I recall correctly, (and if he’s reading, he gets to correct me!), this was written on the local train from Churchgate to Borivli as a farewell scribble a few days before I was to leave Indian shores.

Reading it now, I’m overwhelmed, I’m embarrassed, I’m moved and I’m all Get-a-grip-and-don’t-rush-to-mow-down-your-husband-and-ask-WELL-WHAT-HAVE-YOU-DONE-FOR-ME-LATELY? I’m also wondering how much we drunk prior to this. Whatever the answer to that is ( ALOT!), I know we laughed a lot. I will always remember laughing a lot with this bunch of boys-turning-into-men and feeling effortlessly like one of them. I don’t think I ever thanked them for taking such good care of me while never letting on that that was what they were doing.

So before I lose my nerve..

Dear S,

You taught me so many things.. here are but a few..

You taught me

that one could live on cheese toast

that one is never too tired for anything

that one can look and leap and still get fucked

that if you want something, you have to reach out and take it

that hard work and nothing but hard work pays off

that when things are taken for granted, generally no-one has understood whats happening

that waiting for you can be a real test of one’s patience

that I should listen to silence

that there is someone who is always worse than me at the stove

to stand when I had fallen

You taught me

that good guys don’t always get fucked

that there is more to life than getting laid

that bad things happen to even the best of us

that one man’s music is another’s poison

that no matter how much you give, it’s sometimes never enough

that memory can be convenient

that its okay to cry

that its okay to ask for help

that sending exe files to people with scrambled eggs for brains is a waste of time

that nobody is perfect

that one could have zero logical abilities and yet be proud of it

that there are many smart people who are technolgically inept 🙂

that flattery gets one places.

that hormones can screw one’s life and be a very powerful excuse (when do I get to use it?)

that I should never trust you with directions no matter how desperate I am

that I should never trust you when it comes to rating movies

that there are still many books I have to read

And that the most important thing in the world is sometimes the human touch.

Lets hope I learnt a few. You changed my life.

Ditto, dude.

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Filed under Life, Self, Uncategorized