My very own Krishna

Among the many characters and the relationships woven into the great Mahabharatha, Lord Krishna and his friendship with Arjuna stand out. Legend tells us that when the Pandavas were considering waging war against the Kauravas, Arjuna approached Lord Krishna for his help. Lord Krishna asked him, ‘Would you like me on your side, acting as your charioteer, or would you like the mighty Yadava army to fight with you?’ Without hesitation, Arjuna choose Lord Krishna for his friendship and wise counsel.

Later, as the two armies stood facing each other on the Kurukshetra battlefield, Arjuna was overcome with emotions at the sight of his dear family members and gurus on the other side. Lord Krishna then delivered the Bhagawad Gita, counselling Arjuna to fulfil his duties as a warrior and uphold righteousness.

Why this narration? Well, for most of my adult life, I’ve always secretly thought to myself that I have my very own Krishna, a friend, philosopher and guide, in the form of my maternal grandmother. My Patti is a truly extraordinary woman. A trailblazer in her own right, a national award winner, and someone who has changed the lives of so many. But I’ll save that for another day. Today is about my special relationship with her.

Over the last ten years, I can recollect countless occasions when I turned to Patti for advice. I guess the child in me assumes that she will be able to fix anything, give me a solution to every problem. I’ve never regretted talking to her. And every time I speak to Patti, I come away feeling comforted. Is it the wise counsel, the very solid and absolute trust I have in her and in my belief that she will only want the best for me, or simply that hearing her voice reminds me of her warm hugs and is such a comfort? My heart tells me it’s probably a mix of all of these.

My grandmother is by no means a perfect human being. She will be the first to admit that she has made many mistakes in life. We are both strong-willed, stubborn, independent women, from two different generations with wildly varying opinions. Our conversations run the gamut from argumentative, to thoughtful, to deeply-introspective. But, the one thing I’ve learnt from her is that decisions should be judged in light of the circumstances in which they were made. And Patti too has changed, watching all our lives.

When I moved to the U.S., one of my greatest fears was that I would lose this relationship. That living so far away would mean that we would miss the everyday conversations that were the foundation of our relationship. That everyday life would take over and we would forget to tell each other how much we loved the other. Happily, that has not been the case. I wake up to Patti sending me pictures of a new saree, weekend conversations on FaceTime and even the occasional call in the middle of a weekday when I’m upset and just want to hear her voice.

My Patti had a rough childhood. I’ve always believed that she over-compensated for that by making sure we had the most glorious time and never wanted for anything.

Like I said, I come from a line of strong, independent women, going back several generations. And of all the family resemblances, I believe my most striking resemblance is to my maternal Patti, in both looks and temperament. Every time I hear someone saying I look just like Patti, I break out into a big grin. To be told I look like someone who is gorgeous, both inside and out, in such a compliment.

My best friend, philosopher and guide. My grandmother has played and continues to play so many roles in this lifetime. Call me partial, but if you ask me, she excels at being my Patti the most.

Related posts: 

Trying to grab hold of memories

Constant Comfort

I was fortunate to grow up with all my cousins living in the same city.  We spent our childhood vacationing for a week in Ooty every year. The rest of the summer would go by playing cricket, board games and card games. We came up with a legendary game of driving our own spaceship with each of us having specific roles mapped out – quite literally! I still have maps of our space driving routes. I remember us concocting a mixture of manathankaali from the garden, peanuts, salt and pepper (God knows what else we put in there) and proudly making Amma and Athai drink it (Bless their stomachs!) I  have rose-tinted memories of licking brownie batter off, tagging around Athai until she took the brownies out of the oven only to be finished in one sitting.

We grew up together. And for a couple of years, drifted apart slightly while we each dealt with teenage angst and growing up in a world without Facebook and whatsapp. 

But Madras was always the base. We came back home to countless sleepovers, late night snacks, and a mix of uncontrollable giggling and deep conversations. We mourned the death of a beloved Thatha together. Celebrated as some of us got married, moved away from home again, and began careers. 

I boarded the train to work this morning only to get an excited ping from my elder cousin sister, “The baby just kicked! I wish you guys were here to feel it!” In the 20 minute ride to work, we’ve exchanged over a 100 messages and I have a big grin on my face. We fought over who had the best nickname for the baby-on-the-way, discussed what was happening in the Olympics, what our daily routines involved and what everyone was doing for the weekend. And the best part? This wasn’t a one-off conversation. There’s ALWAYS someone to talk to and something to talk about. Within our group of five, we have smaller relationships. We’ve known each other long enough to know the good and bad in each other’s lives and to know that it doesn’t make a difference. 

I’m the first to admit that technology helps. But I won’t be so quick to credit it all to having easy access to instant messaging. Keeping in touch takes real effort. To make the others feel a part of your life by sharing the significant and the everyday. To continue to have meaningful conversations and share truly terrible jokes. 

Today and everyday, I am so grateful. Grateful for this constant comfort, these very special people that have loved me from my earliest memories. And I pray that I come back to this space many many years from now to write that while we’ve all grown up, the constant comfort hasn’t changed. 

Today, I am grateful

It has been a stressful week. A few things on the job front that aren’t falling in place, a crucial meeting that keeps getting postponed – I’ve been a bundle of nerves.

I’ve always prided myself as being the person who calms everyone down. Quite naturally, I don’t deal well with being stressed myself. Unfortunately, its not just me. This whole situation is weighing on everyone’s mind – my parents, sister, husband and in-laws. I should admit here that I put a ton of pressure on myself. I hold myself up to very high standards and I hate to disappoint the people I love.

Insert here my sister’s voice saying “They are not disappointed in you de. They are disappointed for you and feeling bad for you that things aren’t working out.” This was something I desperately needed to hear and the baby sister is probably the only one who intuitively understood what I was going through and that I needed to hear this. Deep in my heart, I already know this. But in the rush of life, it is so easy to forget and I am so grateful that I have someone to remind me.

Later in the evening, I got a text message from Amma “What happened to your meeting khanna? I was checking my phone every two hours to see if you had sent something.” My mind tensed again – how I hate to cause people so much anxiety. I reply, “Meeting postponed again ma. Please try not to worry so much. I’ll give you an update tomorrow.” 

On the commute back home, I started obsessing again. But then I tell myself, I should be grateful for a family that loves and cares for me, thankful that I have people who worry about me because they want nothing but the best for me.

Did I calm down immediately? No. But it made me take a step back, reevaluate and realize how truly blessed I am.

I took a deep breath and sent out a prayer of thanks for a loving and supportive family. And I told myself “Tomorrow will be a better day.”

Of incredible stories and gratitude

This article was recently published in The Hindu. This postcard was found in my uncle’s possession. The people referred to at the end of the article, Gayathree Krishna and Srividya are my cousin and aunt, respectively. I am distantly related to the Dr. Padmavati referred to in the article. This is the first time I’m hearing of this story, although the people mentioned in the postcard sound very familiar.

But, reading this made me remember so many stories I heard while growing up.

My paternal grandfather was born in Burma in the 1930s. His mother passed away when he was a few months old, and his father was left with the responsibility of raising 7 children. War soon broke out in Burma. My great-grandfather handed my grandfather over to his brother-in-law. This man carried my grandfather, then a two year old infant, and travelled all the way from Burma to Bangalore. My grandfather used to narrate stories of how they traversed the wilderness of Assam on foot, and how they eventually reached Bangalore after a few months. Thousands of people fled Burma at the time, and very few survived. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones. They reached Bangalore and were hospitalized for a month while they recuperated from the hardships of the journey. They then made their way to Madras where my grandfather grew up, married, and lived to raise his children and grandchildren. My grandfather didn’t meet his own father until he was 14 years old, when his father finally managed to come to Madras from Burma. Till his dying breath, my grandfather had great gratitude for his uncle, for having carried him as an infant and bringing him all the way to India, and for having raised him after that.

My maternal grandmother’s father was an agricultural scientist who worked for the British Raj, doing research on potatoes and other vegetables in the hills of Ooty. He was allergic to Penicillin, the only antibiotic at the time, and died at a very young age simply because he couldn’t be administered antibiotics. My maternal grandmother was a 5 year old girl when she lost her father and spent most of her childhood shuttling between the homes of various relatives.

Hearing and reading all of this reminds me of just how blessed I am. I had what I consider a perfect childhood, a safe and happy life in Madras. I grew up spending my summers and holidays with cousins and friends, the occasional holiday, frequent weddings and other special occasions. Thanks to the grace of God, there was never a moment when my parents had to worry for my future or survival when I was a child. But, everything that I am today, is hugely due to the hardships that so many of my ancestors had to go through. I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be to fear for your child’s safety or even existence. That would be a parent’s worst nightmare.

But as blessed as we are, I can’t seem to forget that even today, there are so many people who go through this horrible nightmare every day. Take the refugees from Syria, for example. I can understand the fear in letting refugees into your country – the fear of the unknown, of providing for others when you can’t provide for your own citizens. But if everyone digs deep enough into their history, almost every single person on this earth would likely have an ancestor who had to survive through some horror. Eventually the whole world is just one big family – if we took a moment to think about that and to put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, maybe we would think differently.

On the first day of the New Year, I take a deep breath and send out a prayer saying a simple thank you. And a prayer for those who are still struggling every day.

 

Welcome 2016!

I think the concept of New Year is one of the best traditions that humankind has come up with. I love that it gives me a chance to introspect on the year that has been, and to dust myself off and look forward to the year ahead.

If I had to come up with one word to describe my 2015, it would have to be *RELIEF*. I passed a hugely difficult professional licensing exam a few months ago and some important progress has been made on the professional and personal front. So, a huge sigh of relief! 🙂 2015 has also been a year when we made the most of the weekends. We headed out every weekend when the weather was good and revisited old hiking spots and found some new favorites. We celebrated both of our birthdays by taking an extended weekend off – for the husband’s birthday we headed to Cape Cod for a day of cycling and we celebrated my birthday weekend hiking in a beautiful national park here. And how can I forget? We began 2015 by spending time with friends and family in Kenya and Madras.

2015 has been good to us 🙂 Excited to see what 2016 has in store! Bring it on! 🙂

A very happy new year to everyone! My prayers for good health, happiness and prosperity 🙂

For someone to share the ordinary with

My cousin brother got married recently and at his wedding, my (older) cousin sister gave a brief speech about love and marriage. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it for the wedding, but my family recorded a video of her giving the speech and sent it to me. I found it so incredibly thoughtful and I’ve listened to it repeatedly since then. I love and admire my sister for many reasons but I think this is one of the most meaningful things she has said.

She said “When you get married, you make your spouse a promise. A promise that you will be there – for the good, the bad, the sad and the terrible. That you will be there to share every moment – even the mundane and the ordinary. You tell your spouse ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I am there to notice it'”.

I find these words keep reverberating in my heart and mind.

The husband and I have settled into a pretty standard routine. We leave home together in the morning, and he drops me off at the station with a quick kiss. We come back home within an hour of each other and spend our evenings discussing how our day went. I usually tell him about the new cases I’m working on, or the updates that happened in an earlier case. He tells me about a new program he’s working on, and sometimes gives me a demo to walk through the process. We talk about the problems we are having, brainstorming together and coming up with new ideas.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize how much what my sister said is true. The intimacy of having someone to come home to, to share your every day with. To show him an email from my boss saying “The draft was well done. Good job”, or to say “My colleague was being really crabby today. I wonder what’s going on”.

These everyday conversations might sound so ordinary, but to me, these shared conversations are what make our marriage extraordinarily special. Because the presence of a special someone, makes the mundane in my life,  seem meaningful.

Tag time!

So, the Blue Bride tagged me to take up these five questions to participate in the Sisterhood of the World Q&A.

I found it to be a pretty interesting set of questions and I think I have a lot to say so here goes.

  1. One beauty product you would recommend to all your girlfriends. 

The first thing that popped into my head was “Argan oil”. Argan oil or moroccan oil is made from the argan tree that grows only in Morocco. Similar to saffron, argan oil has to be extracted by hand, making it quite expensive. My cousin introduced me to this product when I visited her and since then, it has become a staple on my bathroom counter. Just squirt two drops onto your hand and smooth it all over your face. Similarly, I use a couple of drops and rub it into my hair. It has a mild nutty fragrance, and is supposed to keep wrinkles away, prevent aging and do all kinds of amazing things. Hollywood celebs seem to be touting it as the next miracle product. I like it because it keeps my skin super smooth and moisturized. I use this and a quick dusting of powder from my compact and I’m good to go! Definitely try this if its available where you live!

 

Couple of useful links: Wiki page on Argan oilTips to buy Argan oil (definitely look this up before you buy because there’s tons of adulterated versions in the market)

2. Three books everyone must read: 

This is an incredibly difficult question. I have so many recommendations! But I’m going to try to keep it to three books that have had a massive influence on me.

(i) Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl and/or All my love, Detrick.

Both of these books are set during the period of the Holocaust. Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family during the Holocaust. They were eventually found and except her dad, all of her family members were killed in concentration camps. All my love, Detrick is the story of a German man and a Jewish girl who fall in love during the 1940s. Although essentially a heart-breaking love story, it gives the reader a perspective on how life in Europe was at the time and the horrors that it entailed. I read Anne Frank as a young girl and it was my first introduction to what happened during the Holocaust. I read All my love, Detrick about a year ago and had tears running down my face by the end. I think its incredibly important to read these books – both to understand the atrocities that human beings were actually capable of, and also to realize how truly blessed we are today. All my love Detrick also has a sequel called You are my Sunshine (which is also amazing), and a third book (which I’m waiting for).

(ii) The Chicken Soup series. 

This has to be one of my favorite collections. The Chicken Soup collection is a running series of sorts which contains multiple short stories contributed by both readers and celebrities. These are usually categorized by reader – Chicken Soup for the Teenagers’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, etc. My favorite till date is the Chicken Soup for the Grandmother’s Soul that I purchased a few years ago for my Patti. A heart-warming collection of short stories about the relationship between a grandchild and grandparent – something that you can read over and over again.

 

(iii) The Ramayana/Mahabharatha and/or the Harry Potter Series.

I can’t decide between these. Each of these are truly epic (pun intended!) and offer profound life lessons and so much food for thought. I don’t think of the Ramayana/Mahabharatha as religious texts telling me how to lead my life. Simply as a story for a teenaged or slightly older reader, I believe it offers plenty of room to debate morality and talk about right v. wrong. I would recommend a slightly more serious version – like Rajaji’s interpretation. My husband and I have both read Rajaji’s version of both Indian epics and it continues to be a topic of conversation even today.

Harry Potter requires less introduction. Each time I read it I am astounded by Rowling’s power of imagination and story-telling.

3. Favorite online shopping site: 

This has to be Amazon. We’ve even started getting groceries like rice, dal and spices on Amazon! My favorite aspect has to be the user reviews – I’ve found it super convenient especially while buying appliances like vacuum cleaners and water filters for our house.

4. Favorite phone app: 

This is a really interesting question. I think my favorite app right now is WordPress, especially with the recent updates. It is both beautiful and incredibly functional. Easy to comment as well. (As opposed to the reader section on the website which is doing this weird thing by not opening a new blog in a new tab! Aargh!) I logged on the website on my laptop today after a really long time to write this post. If you are a blogger, be sure to have a mobile friendly layout!

My most-used and favorite app for another reason  is Whatsapp. Makes it so comfortable to text and call friends and family from all over the world and reduces the home-sickness.

5. One dish you’re really good at making and its recipe: 

I was thinking about for the longest time. I eventually decided to keep it simple and put down the recipe for one of my favorite comfort foods.

South Indian Style Spinach Kootu/Dal: 

Cook half a cup of toor dal until mushy and set aside. Season a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a tablespoon of jeera (cumin seeds) and a teaspoon of urad dal in a spoon of oil. Once it sputters, add a generous pinch of hing/perungayam/asafoetida, a tablespoon of freshly ground pepper and a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger. Add two cups of chopped spinach and half a cup of water. Stir for a few minutes until the spinach wilts. Add the cooked dal and salt to taste.

I made this today. Served with steaming hot white rice, a dollop of ghee and appalam on the side – it was the perfect comfort meal on a cold weekend afternoon. Pepper, jeera and ginger are also good for digestion and easy on the stomach so its an ideal dish to make when you’re feeling under the weather.

And… I guess that’s it! This has been a really fun tag and I spent quite a while thinking of my answers! Thank you for the tag, Blue Bride!

I’m going to tag TGND, Pop goes the biscuit!, Green Boochi, Jan’s doodles, L.G. Iyer, and Hidden Passions. I believe I was supposed to come up with my own questions but I found these questions really fun so I’m just going to piggy-back on them! I hope you have fun, ladies! Looking forward to what you write.

When do you stop arguing?

This post could be considered a follow-up to my previous post on Making Sense of all the Madness that you see/hear around you. This one is called “When do you stop arguing?”

Let me put this in context. I have three friends on Facebook who are so-called Youth Wing Leaders in the BJP. Another friend is an active member of the RSS and a few other right-wing organizations. I don’t have anything against them – in fact, one of these people is a really good friend of mine and a very nice person. I myself don’t know yet what my political stance is, but I try to educate myself by reading everything I can get my hands on.

But here’s what happens (and increasingly, what’s been happening frequently!) My friends frequently post messages in support of their political ideologies and leaders. I think that is totally fine – everyone is entitled to their own political views and to express them. I don’t have anything against this per se, but sometimes it is so blatantly communal that I find my blood boiling. Sample this, from a recent post. “Beef-eaters are telling us we shouldn’t burst crackers that hurt animals. Beef-eaters are preventing us from celebrating our majority festival – Diwali”. So I left him a comment saying this: “No one is preventing anyone from celebrating Diwali. A comment by someone saying ‘don’t burst crackers that hurt animals’, while they themselves eat animals, is at the most, a hypocritical thing to say. People find it easier to sympathize with dogs and cats that they keep as household pets, as compared to chicken/beef/port that is processed in a factory far away from you. That’s it. Please don’t turn everything into a communal issue. ”

As I expected, it went from here into a completely illogical argument saying that Hindus are being targeted in India by the “sikulars and Adarsh liberals”. At this point, I gave up, wished him good luck and withdrew from the conversation.

Another thing that happens is posting of these photo-shopped images. In my head, I imagine thousands of bhakts across the country hunched over computers, carefully editing images and writing stories to go with them. And before we know it, it has gone viral and you have a bunch of people believing all kinds of things. Read this link for some laughs. And I’m not kidding when I say at least two of these images have popped up on my newsfeed.

Another friend is notorious for posting patriachal jokes, or simply stuff that is so degrading to women. Every time I see a “joke” being “liked” by 20-something people, it makes my blood boil. A recent joke doing the rounds was of Shahid Kapoor being so lucky because he married a girl so much younger than him. I don’t understand that at all – wouldn’t you be more compatible with someone of the same/close age and maturity? (At least in most cases) But, whatever, apparently I’m not getting the joke.

So here’s the question. Where do you draw the line? I’m not aggressive at all on social media, but lately, I feel like it takes all my energy to not say something. A part of me thinks it is important to speak up because it is essential to tell people that what they said is offensive or that another viewpoint exists. The other side of me wonders, why argue with someone who is so brainwashed?

Have you experienced this? What do you do?

Related Posts:

Making sense of all the madness

Making sense of all the madness

Every time I log onto Facebook, I feel like there’s yet another cause that I agree with. There’s so many things wrong with the world, how do you make a choice?

Let me give you an example.

I grew up vegetarian, and I continue to remain so. I suppose it was originally a religious requirement – people from my community don’t eat meat so I was not introduced to it as a child. For a brief period of about a year or two, I ate chicken. I don’t remember how it happened, or who introduced me to it, but I tried it and ate it for a few years. I was about 8-9 years old at the time (or maybe slightly older). At that time I didn’t really have a conception as to what “eating chicken” really meant. A few years later, I realized that it involved actual birds and that’s when I stopped altogether. Since then I’ve never gone back and I don’t see myself doing so in the future.

I used to light lots of fire-crackers during Deepavali as a kid, but growing up, I realized what a toll they cause on the environment, as well as the conditions that children who manufacture them live in. Its been quite a few years since I lit crackers. These days, Deepavali is spent by lighting up the house with diyas and drawing kolams.

But… I’m not vegan. I use leather products as well as dairy. I don’t really like the idea of fashioning animal skin into products, but it is difficult to get over the convenience of it. Living in frigid Boston, I own half a dozen woolen sweaters and coats. I presume alternatives are available but I’ve never tried them. Down jackets are extremely popular in cold weather conditions here – these are jackets made of polyester, where the inside is filled with duck/goose feathers. Recently an article about the torture involved in obtaining the feathers was detailed, with so many people swearing off wearing down jackets and buying down quilts. Last week, I watched a video about the torture that cows in the dairy industry go through. The video ends requesting people to stop consuming dairy products.

This is really driving me crazy. There are so many things that I disagree with, so many products whose manufacturing process I don’t like, but where do you draw the line? If I were to stop using woolen sweaters/jackets, presumably I would have to purchase something made of synthetic materials- but what about the harm that these products cause to the environment? Not to mention that they are not biodegradable and we’re just filling the world’s landfills. What about products that are manufactured without causing anyone harm? Is there even such a thing? Take rice, for example. Presumably grown without causing harm to any animal. But what about the laborers who work on these fields, those who are paid peanuts for a long day’s work? What of the farmer who committed suicide because he couldn’t pay his debts. What if the wheat that you consume came from his farm?

Just thinking about it makes my head spin and makes me believe that human beings are such evil characters. I would love to change so many things, but so much of it is inconvenient (and in some cases, so expensive). I will freely admit that I don’t believe I am either disciplined or principled enough to give up so many of the things I disagree with.  My highest respects to those who do manage to live up to these ideals!

In a perfect world, wool and milk (and other animal by-products) would be obtained without hurting the animal. Produce would be grown and products manufactured in environmentally safe and sustainable methods, with all persons involved in the process treated fairly. But until we get to such a point (assuming that we even do), I’m going to pick a couple of things I agree with and that I can implement, and go with those.  Because worrying about all the things wrong with the world will drive me crazy.

Coping

I read this post by the Mad Momma, and it really struck a chord.

Before my marriage, I had never lived away from my parents. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I’m incredibly grateful I had 24 years of living under the same roof. But that meant that when I did move away from him, it hit me hard. Not being able to see them everyday, missing the daily hugs, kisses and conversations, missing being around them for special occasions. I come from a big noisy family. Most of the family is based in Madras, so there’s always something happening. One cousin would be getting married, while another would be having a baby. The babies would be growing up and hitting all their milestones while I live so far away. My mother recently turned 50 and my parents celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary the same year. I celebrated both occasions by video chatting with them. Considering we have limited vacation time every year and the cost of air tickets, it is obviously not possible to fly back to Madras on a whim.

I would love for my parents to visit me for long durations. But the more I think about it, the more it strikes me how unfair such an expectation is. My parents both have active careers, and active social lives. They have a huge circle of friends and family, with plenty of events to attend through the year. Having lived in Madras their entire lives, they’ve turned into what I call “pillars of the community” and they’re always busy doing something or helping someone out. And recently when only my mother came on a short trip, I realized how much my dad missed her. It isn’t fair to tear them away from their lives.

Every now and then, I would lapse into self-pity where I feel incredibly bad for myself for missing everyone so much. Until recently, when I had a moment to myself. I realized I was only making myself miserable by going over the things that I miss over and over again. Moving to the United States was entirely my choice. My husband and I made this decision together. Having made this decision, there’s no point being miserable with the consequences.

The only way I can keep my sanity would be by not-thinking about it. So, that’s what I do. I try not to think about all the things that I’m missing. I try to come up with ideas to make up for them, without letting myself wallow in self-pity. I spend at least a couple of days a week chatting with them, simply because I have to see their faces at least that many times a week. I send them snippets and pictures of our life here. I’ve also been trying to focus more about the things that I love about my life now.

Sometimes I think about how my life would be if I didn’t share such a close relationship with my parents. If I were the kind of person who was content to chat with them once a week, see them once in a couple of years, and generally not deal with the daily pain of missing someone you love so much. It would certainly be easier. But would I trade the closeness for the peace of mind that would come with a little distance? No, not for anything in the world.

 

Related posts:

My parents are growing up!

Redefining Happiness

Of new beginnings