Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Solitary Reaper - A mother's lone journey

Sometimes certain incidents or faces get stored in our memory and surfaces at times, reminding us of some forgotten event or moment which leaves a mark on us unknowingly. As I hit the so-called 'writer's block', this memory surfaced from the recesses of my mind.

When my mother-in-law was hospitalized a long time ago, I used to take breakfast and lunch for her, and relieve my husband who would do the night shifts. After spending a few days in the hospital, you sort of get to see some people, who also are there to attend to their loved ones. Over a period of time, you smile and then get to talk to them. 

I saw this lady for the first time when I was passing along the hospital corridor. There she was, busy preparing coffee on the heater. She seemed to be in her mid-sixties, less than five feet in height, chubby and cute. In other words, she reminded me of a typical grandmother from one of the many Grandmother's storybooks that I used to read for my children. She seemed to have that lovely aura about her. She had a radiant smile on her face, with a twinkle in her eyes. It was one of those faces, which you would love to see, and which would liven up your mood.

After a couple of days, our paths crossed and I smiled and she smiled back at me. This lady was very agile. I would see her climbing stairs and never seemed to use the lift. She would be found traversing the entire corridor to either get food or could be found standing in a long queue at the hospital pharmacy to buy medicines. Mind you, these corridors are so long that for everything one needed, one had to really walk quite a lot. Most of the time, she beat most of us who were half her age, hollow with her agility. I always found her doing all this tirelessly. I never saw any person who would come to relieve her. She seemed to be a one soldier army!

By the looks of it, she seemed to have been in the hospital for quite some time, as she seemed to be very familiar with the hospital procedures. All the nurses and doctors seemed to know her pretty well and would stop to speak to her. So, I guessed that, whoever her dear one was, had been hospitalized for quite a long time. I did not get a chance to talk to her as we were also busy during the initial days, hence my interaction with her was limited only to a smiling acknowledgement whenever our paths crossed. Each time I met her, I would always be amazed by her energy and enthusiasm that seemed to be radiating from her face. 

I wondered how she seemed to be managing everything all by herself? Because, as we all know, after a couple of days in the hospital, one feels really stressed out and would wait to get back to routine life, back home.

That evening, I was heading back home and for the last time, our paths crossed (as my mother in law was shifted to another ward). From afar, I saw her with a person in the wheelchair, which this lady was pushing. I smiled at her and she smiled back and as I came close, she introduced me to her daughter.  Sitting in the wheelchair was her daughter, who seemed to be in her forties, totally paralyzed, and oblivious to anything around her. I stood there benumbed and humbled as she passed me, with that sweet smile on her face. For some unknown reason, I had tears in my eyes. And I wondered how she could hide all her pains behind that ever-smiling face. 

I saluted this brave lone mother who was treading an uphill task of caring for her beloved daughter, who knows, maybe for a whole lifetime with that total love and devotion which only a mother can give to her child. I don't know why, but all I could think of at that moment were the verses from the poem 'The Solitary Reaper' by William Wordsworth.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Exploring the inner chef

'Master Chef, Australia' was the key inspiration for my children in their gastronomical journey. My elder son who is a foodie loves to taste different cuisines. He became quite enthused and started going through the recipe books which I had bought long, long ago. Well, I never got to be Julia Childs! You guessed it right, not a single page had been opened neither was a single recipe tried. So I was happy that my son was at least trying out some recipes from those books.

He made Noodles, Pasta Arabiata, White Pasta, mocktails like Fuzzy peg and so on. Barring our traditional cuisine, he loves all the other cuisines, and hence when he plans on cooking, we can expect tasty Continental dishes. Not that I am complaining, because not only we, but even his grandparents enjoy it! In addition, once in a while he would also help me roll out chapathis, puris, and so on. The moment I try new recipes his face lights up and both of us try and prepare it together.

Coming to my younger son, according to his hierarchy he joined my elder son as his sous chef! You can imagine him being bossed around by the Master Chef! This was however not to his liking, and after just about couple of times in the kitchen, he felt that cooking was not his calling and so there was me, who was promoted to the role of sous chef, when the post fell vacant!

Right from his childhood, my younger son's staple food both for lunch and dinner was curd with rice and mind you with no seasoning, with only one or two of his favourite vegetables. Parathas, Aloo parathas, chapathis were a big no with him. Every other dish would be spicy or not his favourites. In a way, it was very easy for me to plan a menu when he was around. It did not require too much of planning, did it now?  He was totally the opposite of my elder son and was loathe to experimenting with anything new. His taste palate dictated simple non-spicy, regular comfort food and that was curd rice! His knowledge of cooking I must say was zilch.

So, when he had to go abroad for his studies, he just did not know A or in this case C of cooking!  Nor did he have a clue as to what ingredients go into what. Since this came up suddenly, I did not have enough time to teach him the basics, as most of his time was spent running around for visas and in completing other official formalities. So my only solace was, that he was going to stay with three of his seniors and I fervently hoped and prayed that they would at least know some basic cooking, enough to sustain them.

It turned out that I was fretting for no reason at all! Why? because it so happened that one of his senior housemates was an accomplished Chef! No not in the actual sense, but cooking was his hobby! So within a short time of them settling down, this Master chef with the other three sous chefs, worked magic in the kitchen in that far off land. The pictures of these gourmet dishes sent by my son, made even a pro like me look like a trainee. :-(

The pictures were something out of a food magazine. He sent pictures of absolutely delicious looking hot and spicy Vegetable Biryani, yellow sizzling Dal tadka with fluffy white rice, nicely roasted parathas, chapathis with vegetable kurma, yummy looking aloo parathas with curd and pickle, a melange of colorful Pav Bhaji ..... the list was never-ending. Not only did it look mouth-watering, but they also had the time and patience to plate it beautifully. It sure did cross my mind, that I might want to go on a sabbatical to their place! 

It was such a joyful moment for me to see my son, who used to run miles away from the kitchen, was now not only learning to enjoy his cooking lessons but learning to enjoy eating food which he would otherwise curl up his nose when I used to make it. What I really admired about them was they were managing to make all these gourmet dishes while juggling with their hectic study schedule. Can you imagine that in an alien country he was eating home-cooked desi food?

Breakfast was not at all on their list, as he said there was no time. Lunch would be a simple sandwich or salad which he would pack to college, he told me that he could not afford the canteen food. Dinner however was an elaborate affair. It was very touching as well as a proud moment for me when he sent pictures of his very first solo attempt at cooking. Yes, no prizes for guessing what it was - curd rice with seasoning, plain rice, dal tadka, and carrot and potato curry, which he said, his friends ate heartily.

We were really astonished when they threw a grand Diwali party to their house owners of foreign nationality in that distant land! This was a party where all the four children had whipped up a mouth-watering four-course meal, complete with a beautifully designed menu card explaining what each dish was....totally five star way! The pictures say it all!

I guess life really teaches a thing or two when you are on your own. What a delightful gastronomic journey this has been for him. Can you keep a secret?  I am planning on hanging up my apron when he comes home for vacations and let him treat me to some of his delicacies!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The foundations for a meaningful life

The other day I was listening to this podcast where an eminent personality was giving a Graduation speech at a prestigious university abroad. He said that he would like to share with the students the importance of imbibing virtues which would have an impact throughout their lives.

After listening to this, my mind went into a reflective mode to my childhood days and the parenting practices that my parents followed. I remember when we were children, our parents taught us these precious virtues by their own actions, advice, guidance, and of course reprimanding us as well.

I still cannot forget this incident which happened when I was 5 and my elder sister was 8. My sister and her friends were playing a tagging game and that too on a slide.  I was not included in the game as I was considered 'too young'. However, I was allowed to play on the slide as my sister was part of the group. I was standing on top of the slide when in the heat of the moment one of my sisters' friends accidentally pushed me down and I fell from the top of the slide! Mind you, these slides where of old times made with cement and stone and quite high. To my luck, there was soft sand surrounding the slide and I was not hurt. The teachers came rushing when the news reached them.

But here is what happened even before the teachers came. The girl who had accidentally pushed me was the leader of the group and was admired and liked by all. So none of the group was prepared to give her up, and sadly the least liked person in the group was made the fall guy or girl in this case. The rest of the group urged me to take the other girl's name when the teachers asked me. And here was I following their instructions, when even at that age I knew it was not the right thing to do. Well, luckily I was not hurt much and the girl was reprimanded and let off. But even after some 40 odd years this episode still remains fresh and my conscience still pricks me.

All forms of life need careful nurturing
My parents also taught us the importance of following virtues by narrating mythological stories like Ramayana, Mahabharat, Panchatantra, Hitopadesh, and so on. The result of all this was, when the need arose, we as a family collectively helped each other; as well as tried to help others whenever needed, respected others point of views, avoided telling lies as much as possible, respected and took care of elders at home and so on. All these were imbibed over a period of time.

How can one forget the spiritual anchor, which over a period of time has truly helped us lead a contented life? During our childhood, prayer time was part of our daily routine. When we were young, the prayer time seemed to be a hindrance, which came in the way of our fun time. We felt that those 10-15 minutes that we would spend praying could have been utilized more meaningfully in activities like playing games, reading our favourite books, and so on!

Times changed. We became parents ourselves. Slowly all the virtues that we had been taught by our parents combined with varied experiences that we ourselves had gone through, made us mature enough to be role models for our children. We have tried our best to make them realise the importance of these virtues that they have to individually build upon, as well as the values that are expected from them as members of the society that we all live in.

Again this does not mean I am perfect, far from it, I am still learning and strengthening and building upon these virtues as I grow more mature with the passing of time and experiences that I come across every day in my life.

The virtues that at one time felt like a waste of time, have now provided me with a strong base on which I can rely on, to lead a better life. I think my children too will over a period of time build a  rock-solid foundation and become role models for their children. Finally, I believe, that times might change, eras might come and go, but virtues like love, honesty, faith, discipline, respect, humility, and a host of other virtues will never get outdated. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lockdown diaries - a new day, everyday

Life takes a strange and mysterious turn when you least expect. Sometime in February, news about the virus in China started trickling, and before we knew, it was a worldwide pandemic. No country was spared. And then, our Government announced a total lockdown! This was something which we had not experienced at all, ever. 

Comforts which we had taken for granted, like having maids, cooks, home delivery for groceries and medicines, ordering food online, and not to forget the comforts of living within a gated community, where even the garbage disposal is taken care of by the housekeeping staff! All this came to an abrupt halt.

The topmost thought and concern looming large for all us women was, 'How are we going to manage without the maids and cooks?' A part of my mind was trying to give reassuring positive signals suggesting that we might still have that teeny bit of chance that this nightmare would come to an end soon and life would very soon be back to normal. Something like, here today and gone tomorrow kind of scenario. 

So there I was clutching at straws as the saying goes. But going by what I was reading, I knew doomsday had arrived. And so it was with great trepidation and a very heavy heart, I informed my maid that she was to go on a paid leave from the very next day until further notice. I had absolutely no 'notice period'!

Well, the grind started two and a half months back and is still continuing. What with senior citizens at home, we cannot take the risk. The initial few days were tiring, but if it had to be done, it had to be done. No two ways about it. 

Very soon life turned into a rhythmic cycle of cooking, cleaning, sweeping, mopping, washing, and so on and so forth. Whatever time left thereafter was taken up in finishing assignments that I had taken up. Before I knew the day had just flown past! Yes, there are days when I get up in the morning and feel lazy just thinking about doing all the chores, and then there are days when things get done in a jiffy. So right now I am all pretty set and pulling along.

This is not to say that it is all hard work and no fun. On the contrary, I must say I am enjoying the lockdown period. For one, my husband and my son are now working from home. My son who otherwise would visit us 2-3 times a month was now home 24x7. 

I am pampering them with homemade delicacies, though once in a while my son does complain about not being able to order outside food. So I try and whip up menus to suit all. I have embarked on a culinary journey. I experimented with Spanish cuisine which we had immensely enjoyed during our visit to Spain. The Paella, Patatas Bravas, Spanish omelet have become part of my cuisine. Mexican dish Guacamole is being relished with nachos, potato chips, cucumber, carrots, and other veggies! I am also adding Indian cuisines from different regions! So my culinary repertoire is expanding.

When it came to veggies and fruits, thanks to some volunteers, we are being pampered with a whole array of them literally brought to our doorstep by the farmers themselves! Fresh avocados, different varieties of mangoes, different types of jackfruits, grapes, litchis, zucchini, bell peppers... the list is a long one. It is a win-win situation for the farmers as well as for us! I guess, back then when things were normal I had never gotten around to buying so many varieties.

The icing on the cake is family bonding which is happening big time. Summer vacations meant looking forward to visits by my sisters and my nieces and nephews. This time too we did not miss our rendezvous! We have them in our living room every night - virtually! Thanks to WhatsApp video calls. Every day new games are being planned out. Every night all three families are on video trying to solve riddles, puzzles, play atlas, scrabble, jumbled words, and so on. All this is going on till late in the night.

Over the course of these three months, I have learned several things. When problems crop up just face them and move on. I can make do with what I have. I can definitely do without things which I thought was essential. What I thought was very important was never so in the first place. Yes, if health permits and circumstances are conducive, we can definitely manage without the maids and cooks. No matter what happens, life goes on. There's a new day, everyday. 

This is my lockdown story. What's yours? Do let me know.


Friday, March 8, 2019

Awaiting the true International Women's Day

Today March 8th, 2019 is the 110th year that the world is celebrating International Women's Day. How far have women really come from the early 1900s to now? Iceland has been voted the most gender equal nation for the 10th consecutive year. Let us see where India stands.

Closer home, the population Census 2011 states that there are 940 females for every 1000 male. Hence, we still need campaigns like 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' even in the 21st century. India has been ranked in the 108th position out of 149 countries on the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap 2017. The Gender gap was measured across 4 key pillars - Economic opportunity, Political empowerment, Educational attainment and Health, and survival. Despite the same qualifications, Indian men get 30% more pay than women according to an ILO report in 2018,

The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs ( MIWE) has ranked India 52nd out of 57 countries, judged on the parity for Women Entrepreneurs. The 6th Economic Census by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), finds only 14% of businesses in India are run by women. Considering all these aspects, how much time and effort is still required for women to celebrate this year's theme of #BalanceforBetter?

The above might just be numbers and statistics. But when we observe within our own environment, it starts with the microcosm that is the 'Family'. Within our own spheres haven't we come across women who are being subjugated or abused either physically or emotionally by the men in their lives? Mind you this is not restricted to any particular socio-economic class.

Sex determination and female foeticide are still rampant, be it in urban or rural areas. Girls are still considered to be a liability.

I have come across women who work at menial jobs, just so that their children can get better education translating into better job prospects and better lives, with absolutely no support from their husbands.

Women working outside of the home are still trying to put on different hats to be that 'Perfect' mother, wife, daughter, daughter in law, friend etc all at the same time. At times they have to sacrifice their promotions and job assignments outside for the sake of the family.

A woman who is a homemaker has to face the ignominy of 'not working outside and earning', though she is the busiest, working to make family life that much more meaningful and comfortable for all.

These are the everyday women, the real heroes, who despite facing hardships and frequent knocks are out there with boundless energy, smiling, working harder because they want to bring about that change. A salute to all the women out there, and hoping that a time comes when we no longer need to celebrate Women's Day to showcase different facets and areas where women are facing challenges, but celebrate a lifetime of 'Humanity Day' where the word 'Gender' is stuck out of the dictionary.

Friday, January 25, 2019

A choice by Design

After the preliminary academic journey of our second son, which I have captured here, it was research time once again. This time around it was to look for good design schools. We actually found that there were several institutes offering courses in design. However, some institutes preferred students having a science background. So automatically these got eliminated from our list.

We zeroed in on five Institutes which offered Design courses and applied online. The Entrance exams for the design courses were very different and tested their creative skills, design conceptualisation, logical and analytical thinking and so on. The exams happen in between their school academic years. Being private institutes, they conduct their own entrance exams.

While four out of five of these institutes had entrance exams as their main criteria for selection, the fifth institute had several steps when it came to shortlisting the candidates. Now, this institute was what interested my son! This came highly recommended by one of his friends whose cousin was doing her course there.

The candidates got shortlisted at every step. He first submitted the Statement of Purpose and once this was approved, then came the submission of his Portfolio. The first two steps being done online. He uploaded his collection of sketches, designs and drawings that he had done during his Foundation Course. Once he was shortlisted he went to the Institute to give his Entrance exam. They were given their scores on the same day and then as he got through this he had his interview. Then began the nail-biting wait to see whether he had made it to the final list. Yes, he had made it! The best part here is that we get to know the results even before his school final exams! This then would let him concentrate solely on his final exam!

His final exams were soon over and he got his results. He had done well. Since his college would start only in September he had a good three months to relax. However, days flew past and it was time to start packing. Second time round we were connoisseurs. This time it was me advising on traveling light and not over packing! Our second son was now ready to spread his wings and fly!

Another milestone and another Institute to see where my son was going to be for the next five years, as this was an Integrated Masters Course. The institute located on the outskirts of the city was spectacular. The Academic and the Hostel blocks were designed beautifully. There were beautiful and intriguing murals and structures. These were set amidst huge expanse of well manicured lawns. It was truly a beautiful design campus!

The itinerary was prepared by the college for the students as well as the parents. Admissions and college procedures along with checking into the hostel was done on the first day. The hostel rooms were neat and clean. It was a twin sharing arrangement. We were very satisfied with the room. My son took to the place as a duck takes to the water. He insisted that he will stay in the hostel from the first day itself though he had the option of staying with us in the hotel room. Suddenly it struck me that he was now ready to make his own mark in the world!

The second day was the Orientation day for students as well as parents. The Chairperson and the Principal along with all the Trainers gave us a thorough briefing about the Institute and the courses. All queries put forth by the parents as well as the students were answered to our satisfaction. An exhibition of designs and models made by the students over the years were displayed and we were taken around. We could see so many outstanding designs and we were told that many of these had been chosen by reputed companies and were already into production.

That night the college had hosted dinner for all the parents and the students. Over a sumptuous three course meal, we met students and their parents who had come from different parts of the country. There was a lot of bonding as everyone shared the same aspirations and interests. There was excitement, laughter and animated conversations going on. It was like one big family bash. We also got to interact with Trainers from different countries. Overall we were very happy and knew that we had made the right choice.

All too soon it was again that time when we had to bid our final adieu to our son. When we came back home it was time to restart our lives which had so far been revolving around our children. It was a fresh beginning and an adventure for all of us on this beautiful journey of life.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Decisions, decisions, decisions - Yet again

Two years just flew past. It looked like it was just the other day when we were busy with the admissions to the college of our elder son. I have chronicled that entire journey in
'Life out of a cocoon - Part 4'

It was now the turn of my younger one!

There is a gap of 21 months between my two sons. When my younger son completed his 9th grade we asked him what decision he had made about the stream he wanted to pursue in his 11th and 12th grade. If it was Engineering, Medical or Pure Sciences, then he had to take up the Science stream. This meant getting into the juggling act of coaching classes once again, which gave me nightmares. But, mentally we were bracing ourselves to go through this whole jig if he were to choose so (sigh).

But he decided on taking up Commerce as his stream. Two reasons sealed his decision:
1. While he was above average in Math, it wasn't something he was in love with.
2. He had seen what his brother had gone through and that was definitely not his cup of tea.

He is good at sketching and drawing. Right from his childhood, he was very methodical, detail oriented and neat in his work. This was the comment that his teachers too would make about his work. But, he was his best critique! He would never be happy with his work and it would be done and redone until he was satisfied. Everything from his books to pencil box had to be arranged in a certain way. Touching his books or pencil box by any one of us was taboo! Even if we took out something and kept it perfectly the way it was, he would still know that someone had gone through his stuff!

Given all these peculiarities, he was clear it had to be something in fine arts. But did not have any clue as to what it could be. We then zeroed in on architecture. On enquiring, we found that one had to prepare for entrance exams to get into Architecture. This required preparation. One of my friends highly recommended this particular coaching institute where her daughter used to go. We went to this Institute during his summer vacations to find out more details about the course. After talking to the Trainer, we came to know that apart from Architecture, they also offered coaching classes for Design courses. This was something very new to us! The Trainer explained to us about various fields of design which one can pursue like Product design, Transportation design, Game, and Animation design and so on. We had never heard about this at all. We spoke for a long time and the more we got to know about it, the more my son started leaning towards design. Finally, my son decided to explore this option for two reasons:

1. He had found something which intrigued and interested him.
2. He came to know that Architecture required him to take math as one of the subjects in 11th and 12th grade. That was anathema to him.

He started attending what was called Foundation Classes at the institute, during his summer vacations. The Foundation Classes would help the Trainers gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the students and also help the students to actually discover if this was their calling. The classes were very interesting. The students were asked to sketch and design some twenty odd T-shirts, ties, jewelry, cartoons, furniture, shoe, school bags, sketch stories and so on.

As he started attending the course, a new world opened before him. He started enjoying it and discovered different facets and skills unfolding. Once his regular school classes started, the Foundation classes were held only on weekends. Our days of scurrying, ferrying and driving to and fro was finally over! Did I mention that Math was not mandatory for Design courses? So there, that was an added incentive for him.

P.S.: My son finally ended up taking Math in 11th and 12th grade as we felt if he were to change his mind and wanted to take up Architecture, then he would still have an option. To his credit, he managed to do well in Math without going for extra coaching!