Monday, December 20, 2010

Open letter to my daughters.

Dear Isha and Amisha,
Another year is drawing to a close; the smell of Christmas is in the air. The weather is lovely and its time for you to dream of all the goodies “Santa” will bring you……. You know it’s only us, that Santa does not exist, yet you still play along and I do not discourage it for it’s all a part of the spirit of Christmas….the warm glow that surrounds us as we look forward to another year, another fresh start, another beginning. There’s also the end of the past year, a chance to look back on our mistakes and a chance to learn from them. As you grow older, I find there are so many more things I have to tell you, so much more I need to tell you for soon your childhood will be out of my grasp and I will find I haven’t had the time to tell you all I ever wanted to. Hence this note, someone forwarded me this email today, apparently, it’s part of a speech given by Bill Gates (if you do not know who that is, look it up on your encyclopedia, yes, that fat book you never touch!) and it seems to say so many things that I do want to tell you. Maybe it will be a little out of your depth right now, but then, who knows, maybe it will help you understand and evolve into better individuals…. So with all my own two bits thrown in , here goes:

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

At least face up to the fact that when things do not happen the way you want them to, everything seems so unfair to you…but that is probably exactly what makes it perfect for someone else! And it’s not your parents business to right every imagined wrong…neither is it possible for them to fix it, nor do they want to. So when you are busy playing and scolded by the teachers for missing class, it’s your headache, not ours.

Rule 2: The world doesn't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

And feeling good is something that comes from inside yourself, using up all my shower gel or deodorant because you like to smell nice, doesn’t quite cover it! And self esteem will make you look good even in scruffy jeans and sneakers…you do not need those high heels and mini skirts to feel good about your self!

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

That includes buying chewing gums or having icecream at dinner. You better earn it. Just because I vaguely said I would buy chocolate sauce does not mean I have to rush to the store and get it when you do not bother to finish the work I set for you. And even if you do the work, we have no deal here, lifes not a contract.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Just wait till you grow up……life is tough, just revert to Rule no 1.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

And that’s something that passes by silently all the time, you had the opportunity to finish all your work and watch TV in the evening but you chose to mope around the house with your fake story about the fake stomach ache just because you did not want to have your lunch……now don’t come and tell me its TV time and you are missing your masterchef nonsense!

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

It’s never ANYONES fault, but your own. Specially, remember your sister had NOTHING to do with it!!!!

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

And while you’re at it, clear the desk and the bed and the floor…. And leave the bathroom dry and clean after you’ve used it!!!! Remember clothes are to be folded and kept in the closet; you do not scrunch them into little balls……

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

In life, you don’t get second chances, ask me! And when it’s gone, it’s gone. You cannot say, ”oh I got most of the answers right…”, in life you have to get ALL of the answers right EVERYTIME. Btw, there isn’t always one right answer, life is not a question about revolution and rotation, often there are many answers and choices to be made. You just have to find whats best for you and live by that!

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

And your own time is not my time. I really don’t care that you are bored with your teacher or do not feel like practising the piano today just because you THOUGHT of something. Your thoughts are in your head. The piano, it needs to be physically practised every day.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

And fairies do not come flying to your rescue either….and remember, if you visit the sickroom every time you forget your homework, someone’s going to catch on….guess who?

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

Yes, I mean that boring little girl in the corner, the one who looks like she is going to burst into tears and the one whos always answering the teacher’s questions…’s not cool to be ignorant. And even if you don’t end up working for anyone quite like that, you will have befriended someone who maybe is just feeling shy and lonely…..and who knows, it may be a beautiful friendship that will last you all your years.

It’s still a beautiful world out there. Enjoy every moment of it for all it is worth. Most importantly remember to smile, for there is more love surrounding you than you can possibly imagine……. And take care.
Happy new year!
With love,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

family vacations

Every ever so often, we go on vacation. A “phoren” holiday, to be precise! True, the High Court being closed for stretches of time during summer and pujas and again in winter, (we officially have 210 working days…in a year!) helps. But yes, like true-blooded Bengalis, we love to travel. I particularly do. I specially like packing a few things in a back pack and setting out to find new and exciting places….my ideal holiday would have no bookings, no set plans, expecting the unexpected and a lot of adventure….yes, I look back on my college holidays with shameless nostalgia.
For when it comes to family vacations, it’s an entirely different ball game.
First we choose the destination. I like the off-beat destinations, specially ones where I believe my interaction with other Indians or Bengalis will be very limited (yes, I am a snob) and my family is very agreeable and accomodating…..provided the finances allow it. So it may be Bhutan in the dead of winter, Thailand in April, Singapore in the rain, Spain in the summer, Scotland in the frost, Munich during the Oktoberfest…everyone gives in to my whims. No complaints.
Then comes the planning. I am given a freehand and a credit card (sometimes a few)….no one interferes, so I may plan a nude beach in Ibiza or a mountain climb up Zugspitze or a ferry ride in the North Sea, I am allowed to plan and book and choose the hotel and everything. I just love this part. I love to dream about that seven star deluxe accommodation overlooking the Bosphorus and then book the practical one we can afford. Then come the frantic phone calls, by me, to ensure everything is in order, tickets have been booked, hotel confirmations are at hand and passports and visas (if required) are in order. Before the holiday starts, hence, I have a dossier thicker than my wrist and probably a few fat books on things to do when we have reached wherever we are going.
That’s the fun part.
Then comes the part I dread. Packing. I pack for four people. My stuff is simple…..all minimal and keeping the weather in mind. My husband too does not fuss too much as long as he has fresh clothes every other day…..I must say he’s been most tolerant when I have forgotten to take his inners or shirts or shaving kit (not all on the same trip) and generally follows a non interference policy. That I can live with. Then come the girls. When they were small I only had diapers and cerelac and bottles and sterilization to worry about. That was when life was easy. Now I have to pack for two brats with opinions of their own. So while packing for Bhutan in winter I am handed a slip of a dress which my daughter insists she will wear on new years eve. The other one wants to carry her skimpy shorts that “make my legs look long” and no amount of explaining will help them understand that it will be COLD. So I wave them away and pack. But lo and behold…..when I reach Bhutan I find that string bikini stashed away in a corner…that chocolate I insisted could not travel with us squished inside my favourite sweater and a hardcover book which no one ever reads. Believe me, my first impulse is to throw them out in the snow along with their precious owners!
Anyway somehow we are ready…and on the plane…..we have woken up at an ungodly hour, the house has been appropriately shut down, the keys are in my bag, passports have been stamped, visas verified, the endless waiting in the boarding area is over, the new crayons we bought for the holiday are half broken and some have irretrievably rolled under the bulky uncomfortable sofa, the filthy loo has been visited for the umpteenth time, my voice is sore from asking the kids to “shut up” and “stop it” and “no you cannot have chocolate at 5 in the morning”…is it any surprise then, that I sink into my seat, turn on the i-pod and wait for the alchohol to be served!!!!!!!? My husband looks at me askance, its only 7:30 in the morning but I insist it feels like midday!
The girls watch TV. That’s if we’re lucky. If there’s no TV they play the whining game which means they whine in their seats, they whine about the window seat, they whine about the fact that there is no view and they whine about the food. These are times when I pretend I have a migraine and let my husband “bond” with his children……
We land, we clear customs…we are on holiday. The next few days…..weeks…I am chilled. I don’t care that the girls have not had a bath every day (after all, it IS cold) or have not emerged from the swimming pool all day; we catch the trains/ferries/whatevers and make the connections…we visit friends and/or relatives if there are any in the vicinity and we walk. On holidays, miraculously, everyone can walk. Only at home it’s the 50 yards to the medicine shop for which you need a car! We walk down riverfronts, in the castles, up and down the main square and all over. Sometimes we even do touristy things like hire a car or grab a buggy ride or ride a hop on hop off bus!
I like to experiment with food so I end up trying all the local stuff, sometimes, one or the other daughter will be adventurous and try something like baby octopus or oyster or black pudding and look at me in horror, “you just ate a unborn pearl, Ma!” But all in all the girls are happy, they are handed a huge sausage with a bit of bread and told that that’s lunch, they munch on some corn on the cob or jacket potatoes or coconuts and are happy….only a few days later, it starts. “You think we could get some Chinese food here?” one asks. The other says, “our room has a kitchenette, why can’t we have some butter rice?” and then we invariably make a trip to the supermarket….and here I am cooking and cleaning…not that I really mind, mind you!
And then there’s the night life, after a lot of planning, one night, the girls have been fed, bribed to agree to watch TV in some foreign language for as long as they want, and my husband and I go to check out the night scene! After a while we’ve had enough of the semi naked women (and men) and loud lights and that crazy ‘one beat serves all’ music and we return to the hotel exhausted and more than a little drunk but not admitting that we are too old for this shit. We both have had our eye candy and that’s that…..
Our holiday usually ends in a mad rush for souvenirs and gifts for friends and relatives…souvenirs we have been seeing all along and saving to “buy later, we have lots of time, it may be cheaper there…” So our last few hours are spent running about like headless chickens as each of us remembers soandsowhowentsomewhereandgotussomething and we rush about to buy something for them….then all our stuff is stuffed into suitcases that are over spilling and overweight although I insist “I didn’t buy anything for myself, ……. only those bottles of Cognac and Sangria and Jagermeister….” . Somehow we make it to the airport and are home ward bound again. We’re ready to drop on the plane as strangely content and satiated we survive the trials of the duty free area and manage to avoid paying excess baggage yet again……yes, “can I have a stiff Vodka please?”
I’d like to get sentimental here and say that no matter how good the holiday or whatever, there’s no place like home. As I look out the window (I’ve fought my kids for the seat!), I see the familiar landscape looming up below us, I’d like to say how much I’d missed being home and all that jazz. But my mind is worrying about the bottles in the suitcase, the ones I hope did not break and the weeks worth of laundry waiting for me and the girls’ school that will be reopening and all the unpacking I have to do but that’s another story.
Sure, after three weeks of ogling strapping young German men, I look at the squat bespectacled short bald man in blue overalls as we disembark and sigh, “yup, I am home!”
At that moment, jet-lagged or not, I’m strangely refreshed! And the holidays are over.
Until next time!