Thursday, January 28, 2016

Let's be friends...

Marriages, unfortunately, do not come with manuals. Neither does parenting. Both these experiences have no one word or phrase to describe them. They are constant, routine, ever-changing, continuously setting new deadlines and testing your limits....they also create some of the most beautiful bonds ever... the bond of a father and daughter, the bonds of siblings, the affection that spills over to your sibling's children, and their children and so forth...See that old man and woman sitting on the bench? They've been married for over 50 years. They have squabbled every day, they are old and slow and yet there they are together each evening in the park ... Love, you say? Yes, they possibly love each other but you know what, love is a rather strong word. I would like to believe that they also share that magical bond everyone seeks: friendship.
Actually if you and your spouse can be a friend to each other, that's half the battle won. As a lawyer who occasionally strays into the rather sticky area of divorce, I get a whole lot of clients who really shouldn't have to divorce... if only they could just try and accept the other person for who she/he is. But no, many couples make that mistake of marrying with the erroneous notion that they will change the other person. Very often these marriages are doomed from the start. Changes do happen. Changes are bound to happen when two people (or more) start to live together. But you cannot force these or decide on the direction they will take.  
My husband and I, for example, met at work and became friends long before marriage was contemplated. Only after marriage I realised that in reality, we were as alike as chalk and cheese. I was the punctual, military precision type, he was forever running late. I was a light sleeper, he was the kind that set the alarm but never woke up till someone physically dragged him out of bed. I couldn't sleep  with the lights on and he couldn't sleep in the dark. He was essentially conservative and religious, I did not have one reverent bone in my body. He was out-going and friendly and I was the introvert who hated meeting new people. His closets were always neat and organised, mine I swear had a ghost who kept jumbling stuff around. He liked to eat food that he was familiar with, I ate anything that moved! The list was endless and touched every sphere of our lives, our marriage could have been a total disaster. Without a healthy dose of laughter. And friendship. Of course we learnt to adjust to the other's strange oddities, we learnt to accept the other's eccentricities, gave a little and took a little, and although there must have been innumerable times that we each wanted to run away from the other, we endured. We became friends. Yes, I say became. Because the friendship that existed at the time of our marriage has been constantly challenged and changed, even replaced, over the years, by a much more enduring one. I'm lucky to be able to stand here and say this. I still bicker and argue and sometimes think he is horrible and mean and wish I could hammer some sense into him... but you know what? I bet there are times he thinks the same of me!
Coming back to friendship. Yes, I am convinced that the key to any enduring and true relationship among humans is friendship. And it does provide a delightful breeding ground for those more complicated emotions like "love" and "respect", even "trust". So befriend your child. Befriend your family. Keep talking to them and remain open to their opinions, howsoever different they may be from yours. Keep an open mind, sometimes you may even learn a thing or two!
The world is much more complicated now than it ever was. I  grew up in a generation that by and large did not befriend their children. Children were told what to do and they obeyed. If they did not, they were punished (if they were caught, that is). Few families actually interacted with the children, most of my friend's mothers had no clue what their children were up to. Hell, neither did mine.
Today, in a way, technology has made it easier for us  to NOT know what our child is doing, who their friends are, who they meet when they go out for  tuition. We all are busy running our lives, our generation is busier than most of our mothers ever were. We have cell phones. And we live in a false security of knowing where they are and being able to call them at any time.
Is that enough?
I know I say it again and again. I hope I say it often enough. Befriend your child. Chat with her. Put away that laptop, silence your cell-phone, switch off that TV and talk to your child. Find out what kind of music she likes. Listen to it together. Yes, watch that stupid Barbie Doll movie together! Have him help you in the kitchen the next time you are making his favourite mac and cheese. Listen to him chattering about his friends. If he doesn't talk, chatter about your day, no matter how tired you are feeling, or how much you hate to chatter! Give your child the most precious thing that you can: your time. Spending time with you and chattering with you must be such a free and easy thing that it will continue well into and beyond the teen-age years. 
And don't take your child for granted... remember, to have friends, you have to be one. Friendships are earned and have to be nurtured... As your children grow and change, your friendship with them too will change, and you will have to figure out when to move in and when to let go...when to be the wicked witch and when to be the fairy godmother!
My teenage daughters have friends who do terrible things like "cut themselves". Don't look at me horrified. Apparently it is quite common. A nick or cut (physical pain) on the arm or leg often with a compass or a blade (horrors!) apparently hurts less that the emotional turmoil (mental pain) she is going through! "Why doesn't she just talk to her mother?" I asked , "Ma, you don't understand. Her mother isn't interested in her life, she cannot tell her mother!" Another child comes from a broken home. Another has super busy parents who are earning super huge pots of money and have no time. Ah. This is just a tiny example of how wrong things can go. So start early, know your child. She or he is not what you imagine her or him to be. Go on, find out for yourself... what is going on in that tiny head? 
And while you are at it, make memories together. 
Make lots of memories. Believe me, that expensive cellphone you have gifted her will become out-dated, the Barbie Doll will be forgotten, that dinky car will roll under the sofa and lie undisturbed, that expensive lehenga will lie forgotten in the back of the cupboard, the child who runs and grabs you when you return home today will barely look up when you go to her room.. time has an uncanny knack of changing everything.
But those memories you make together? Those stay. In the end, they are all that stay. So make sure you make good ones so that one day when you are gone, your children will be able to smile at some remembered story, take comfort in your friendship, take pride in the way you touched their lives..and become a friend to their children too!  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Looking over my shoulder...2015.

Okay, okay, I know I am late. It's gone 13th January and my round up of 2015 has been somewhat overdue. Actually, to be honest, I was toying with the idea of skipping it altogether this year. Who wants to read yet another (boring) take on someone else's year? But then a few emails attacked me. Apparently, there are people out there who are wondering where my annual round-up has gone!!! I'm really grateful that you ask and touched that you remember. So here goes.... do try not to be snoring at the end of it!

Picture Credit: Joe Musgrave
Picture Credit: Amitesh Banerjee
2015 was a year of new experiences. Yes, there was nothing boring about it, really. In March we visited Tadoba and had our very first sighting of a tiger in the wild! And we also saw a sloth bear that bound across the road ahead of us and a leopard in a tree... It was thrilling, to say the least. We have visited jungles before but never actually seen any wild animals except the likes of deer and rhinos. That holiday was really something. The girls refused to accompany us, so it was just Pinkie, Joe and the two of us... Frankly, I was glad we didn't have the girls tagging along. The resort we stayed at had no swimming pool at the time, (I have been told there is one now!), no TV and a very limited wi-fi connection. And you had to wake up early to go for those safaris. They would have driven me batty with their complaints and bored faces!

Wadi Rum, Jordan
The other fascinating experience was in Jordan. Yes, I fulfilled one long standing wish, one right there in my bucket list: a holiday in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Oh, in one word, it was brilliant! Right from the fascinating corals in the Red Sea to sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum to climbing a sand dune to the controversial horse ride into Petra to the ruins of the Street of Facades to the mansaf to floating on the Dead Sea to the nightlife and argilla on Rainbow Street, it was brilliant. As Amitesh keeps repeating to anyone who will listen, we have been to the West (read USA, EU, UK) and to the far East (read Thailand, Malaysia) but nothing quite prepared us for the hospitality and charm of Jordan! And I also have to mention Hani Abadi here, the guy who arranged for our transportation in Jordan and helped with the ground details. He responded to my first uncertain queries about our holiday and ended up answering well near a hundred of my 'urgent' emails and still had a smiling face when we finally met! Only one thing that my family declared and I (reluctantly?) agree to: my mansaf tastes much better that the one we had there!!! This holiday was taken with friends, Samrat, Pupai and their two children. It was a big group of eight of us and we all had a blast. Even the girls had fun although there was a lot of travelling and driving and walking..."phoren" holiday, you see!!! 

In summer too, another wonderful holiday in Sikkim took us to Nathu-la Pass which is 4310 m above sea level, part of the ancient Silk Road and on the China border. It was covered in snow and the trek, shivering in our hired boots and jackets was well worth it.... We also stayed a few days at Biksthang Heritage Bungalow. You can see it here, a charming little retreat in the middle of the hills where the mist came rolling in through the trees in the morning and you were forgiven for imagining that you were the only person on the planet. My Mesho was with us on holiday and we all enjoyed the peace and tranquility, let it seep into our pores.  It also had a swimming pool, which was a facility I readily used. The girls, who do their own packing, obviously did not carry swim wear and sulked about, yes net connectivity was also an issue but what else would you expect in the middle of the mountains?

What else can I say about the year? After the above three 
holidays, everything else fades in comparison. The days were routine, normal, I guess. The usual, with it's ups and downs.  Isha is sitting for her board exams this year so there was a lot of pushing (on my part) to go and study. And because you cannot have the other girl lolling about while her sister is studying, Amisha has been bearing the grunt of my temper as well! No, before you feel sorry for them, they do not quietly suffer. They are very vocal and end up doing exactly what they want to so most of my shouting is a vain attempt to make me feel like I have some concrete contribution in their lives!

The pujas, as per schedule carry on along with all the duties that follow when one lives in a XXL family. The household too runs on it's well-oiled machines no matter what. Everything ultimately falls into place and you realise that no one is indispensable. The year also saw the greenest of my children: the twins were born in January and continue to draw us into their web of sweet smiles and outstretched arms.. At their annaprasan later in the year, when I had all my eight children around me, life felt so complete...

On this side, Amisha went for her first ever camping trip to some place in North India called Maldeota and returned not having bathed for days and a pile of wet sticky clothes stashed in her rucksack! Well, what else could you expect? Isha has been busy with her debates and choir and million extra-curricular activities which I know she will miss next year as she goes into High School, hopefully. Amitesh is just over-worked and busy. There are no other words for those holidays when we can just switch off from the world become all that more important. As for me I take one day at a time. I feel like I am sailing along on my own little dinghy, taking the calm waters with the rough, back-paddling when I need too, racing mindlessly at other times and sometimes swimming away when the eddy is too strong.

Before the year ended we were able to do something that we had been planning ever since Baba passed away (cannot believe it's already been three years!), we had a short ceremony with the Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court and had his portrait put up in the Bar Library. So now I have Baba looking down on me right where I sit and yes, it gives some degree of comfort. 

I guess what I'm saying is, that despite all the holidays, micro-managing the routines of life with two opinionated teenagers and the hyper-active, busy spouse, at the end of the day, if I sit down quietly, much of it is about the people I miss, the people who are not with us anymore, except in my thoughts. I think of them often, (many of you may be tired of all the sad poems I post at ) and thank them for making my life more meaningful... for the memories that I can draw on specially late into the night when I lie awake and wonder where this life is headed, where the girls are going!

So. I'll leave you here this time; hoping that you too have memories you can draw on, memories that give you strength, memories to fall back on when the wind howls or even when it doesn't. Because in the end, that's all we have: memories. And that's all we are doing here in our time on this earth: making memories.
So let's make good ones, shall we? And may the memories you make live in the hearts of those who love you..long after you are gone!
Happy 2016, everyone!

Picture Credit: Amitesh Banerjee

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Of girls, boobs and bras.

Let's talk about breasts, shall we?  Especially about breasts, bras and teenagers.
There's your daughter, a cute little wide eyed ball of fluff, running about:  stick-like or podgy or just-right. She's everybody's pet, ruling the house in that cute little singlet and shorts. All of a sudden, puberty strikes. Usually without warning. It could be as early as 7 or as late as 15 and the entire range is considered perfectly normal.
All of a sudden, your little girl is not so little anymore. Even before you know it, she starts to feel conscious about her changing body shape, those budding breasts and specially the fact that boys their age seem to constantly talk to their chests. Some men too. She looks around at school, is she the only one? She finds company in her peers. Sometimes she feels accepted,  at other times, inadequate. In fact a range of emotions race through your little girl; a lot of it body-shaming. Or not.  Your little girl, in fact, is, as yet, a long way from accepting that her breasts are just another part of her body, much like an arm or a leg and nothing to write home about! 
So what should you, as a parent do? 
Yes, talk to her. In all likelihood she knows about the periods business or have been through it already. Make sure she knows the right things: the biological and physiological aspects. Do not tell her that she is dirty and not cannot enter the puja room and the kitchen and henceforth should any man touch her, she will have babies! I actually know a mother who said that. And also another who thought 8 years old was no age for the child to be starting her chums so actually went to the doctor to put the child on hormones to "delay the process"!!!!
You do NOT fool around with nature. That is the only rule there is.
And the next thing, take her to a good bra shop. There are tons of them now. Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons and Westside have good lingerie sections, in fact. There are those stand-alone lingerie shops too. There are helpful young lady shop assistants who will be willing to let your little lady try on several sizes and styles for size. I mean it. In our time, budding breasts meant my grandmother made us a inner which was much like a sleeveless blouse and you wore it under your clothes. It kept things in place and did not let the nipple show. Now you have your choice of sports bras right from size XXS to do the needful. 
I remembering bra buying in my youth. It was a horror. We had to go to this clothing store which was manned by men. My mother would accompany us and announce she needed bras and proceed to select three different sizes while we cringed in the corner. Next, my mom would squeeze into that tiny cubicle pretending to be a trial room with us and teach us how to adjust the straps to find out which fit best. No, we had no choice. We had white or black pointy cotton thingies with adjustable straps that kept peeping out from under our clothes...what a mess that was!
Thankfully, times have changed. As I said, now you have a variety of choices in cotton or nylon or lycra or under-wired or padded in all colours, shapes and sizes. Just make sure that the first time you go out there and get that girl something that will not only fit her but make her comfortable and help her keep her posture straight.
I don't know if I am the only one who notices but my attention gets dragged to women or girls in several spheres of life who I find wearing ill fitting innerwear. One is bouncing, (much to the delight of the men watching her run across the street trying to catch that cab) one is squashed flat. Another is just halfway down her stomach while yet another has spread out like a tree. Imagine what this can do for their body images, imagine all the wrong kind of attention they attract! 
You'll notice, young girls , specially teens often begin to slouch. One reason is when they are taller than their friends, they tend to bend a bit. They should absolutely be told to sit up straight and be proud about their height.
Sadly, another lot of children develop slouches. They are the ones ashamed of their breasts. Someone probably spoke to her and made her feel uncomfortable, she's not sure what it is but something does not feel right,  so she hunches her shoulders and pretends she is flat. This is where you, as a parent come in . Talk to her gently, do buy her a good supportive bra. Ensure she walks with her shoulders straight and head up; poised, like the confident woman of the world she is meant to become. Not an unsure little girl with bad body posture.
It's  a little thing, but it makes all the difference.

As I end here, I must admit I am not a specialist of any kind. I'm just a woman who was once a young girl who was often, like many other women on the streets on India, subject to jibes on account of her budding breasts. Sadly, I also believe that there is no imminent revolution that will change the way men or boys  on or off the streets will see our young girls. I just want to help them get a bit of confidence so that they can walk with their head up and meet the world head on.... like it's meant to be met!
 Picture credit: