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Friday, September 09, 2016

Of Shapes in the Clouds and other things..

The other day, me S and lil D were on a drive, and since it was a long drive, and D was being uncharacteristically quiet, and it being a glorious day, I was staring at the sky. Azure blue with clouds floating by languidly, it looked like a beautiful canvas to me; and then, my brain started to find patterns in the clouds and I was transported back to my childhood. 


It was the time before mobile phones and gadgets, before even cars had the mandatory "entertainment consoles", back before automobiles had air conditioning in India. Our family had a zippy little blue Maruti 800. I was around 7 and the sister 2. We were stationed in Kozhikode back then, but for every vacation or long weekend, without fail, we'd head to either Achan's or Amma's ancestral home. It was quite a long drive- almost 7 hours if I remember correctly. And making the journey with two kids without many avenues to keep them occupied was even harder. These days, with D only being two, I still have to pack a myriad of things to keep him from getting bored on even the usual grocery shopping expedition. 


But my parents made the journey back then, without anything to keep us kids occupied other than their wits. We'd sleep for a while, then wake up, roll the windows down, feel the wind in our hair and face and then the incessant questions would begin. When would we reach? Where had we reached now? How many more places to go before we reached? We'd play with each other for a while and then boredom would set in. And then Amma and Achan would come up with fun games for us to play. We'd sing songs. We'd spot things along the road and talk about them. And then sometimes Achan would casually look up at the sky and say, I see a rabbit in the clouds, can you? And then me and the sister would me mesmerised by the sky and thus would begin a competition to see who could spot the most outrageous shapes on the horizon.




The sheer joy of doing something so inane, and trying to outdo each other doing i,t is something I find hard to describe now. We'd scream with laughter and giggle at each other's descriptions. During the monsoons we'd look up in awe at the grey black clouds and watch in wonder as it poured. We'd trace the water drops that trailed down the glass. We'd make bets on which water droplet would make it down first. And the smell that wafted in when you rolled down the windows after the downpour, was sheer heaven. Or if it was only drizzling, we'd roll the windows down and lift our faces up to the spray. And in all these little shenanigans, we wouldn't even notice when we got to our destination. 


These days, with the advent of technology and air conditioned cars and mobile devices, all this is lost.  The inside of the car is always at the perfect temperature. There are too many things to keep you occupied- music, movies, your mobile phone, your kindle- you name it. And in the midst of all this who has the time to look up at the clouds or the trees or the rain? I'm guilty of the same as well. But the other day made me more aware of the fact that I need to get my son more interested in these. We do sing songs, and spot our favourite colour cars and big trucks, and watch for trees and rivers and what not when we go out, but his pleasure in it is all fleeting. Probably it is because of his age. Or probably it is because he's already used to technology. I'm also guilty of using technology to keep D from acting out when we are out. So maybe I'm to blame as well. And I guess to an extent, society has also become less tolerant of kids acting out in public? Anyway that's matter for another post. 


As of now, I'm going to try and teach him to spot rabbits in the clouds and play with the raindrops.


(Image Courtesy: Your's truly, taken on my iPhone) 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Cost of Conflict

When I was asked to draw a picture of my home, and I drew a series of chaotic loops, because chaos was all I had known in my short life, you wept. When I sat among the ruins of a railway station, my mouth open in a silent scream for my mother who'd never come, you wept. When my blazing green eyes bore into you from the cover of a magazine, reflecting the horrors I'd been through, you wept. When I crawled my way to a mouthful of food, naked, emaciated, trying to escape from the jaws of a patiently waiting death, you wept. When someone pointed a camera at me to take my picture and I put my hands up because I'd only seen guns being pointed at people, you wept. When in my quest to escape the horrors you inflicted on my land, my tiny frame washed up on a beach, you wept. And you weep now as you see me, bloodied, motionless and emotionless on an ambulance chair. 


What you see are a few, but there are millions like me. Millions whose voices you do not hear, whose pictures do not get to you, whose lives you do not know. Millions like me who have lost families, homes, limbs and life in our quest to survive. There are also millions who have had weapons thrust in their hands at an age when they should be holding teddy bears and schoolbooks. Millions who are asked to fight, but do not know what they are fighting for, or whom they’re fighting against. But that is another issue altogether.


I am tired of the world and all of you. Every time you see one of me, you weep, you vow to change and in a few days you forget. There are a few of you who fight tirelessly, but the most of you are secure in the knowledge that something like this would never happen to you. You are easily distracted. My problems and me are too much for you to handle. You do not know where, or how to begin. And even though I’m tired, this makes me angry.



I was always told that you people are intelligent and sensible; that you always learn from your mistakes and never repeat them. But you somehow seem to have forgotten to rectify the many mistakes that have made it impossible for me to live in this world. You seem to have forgotten all about the innocent millions like me, whose innocence is being sacrificed at the altar of your greed and your senseless every day. 
  

You make excuses of lofty ideals like "greater good of mankind", "protecting the freedom of the individual", "destroying terrorism", "rooting out extremist elements" and what not. You fight in the name of religion, ideals, resources, beliefs, politics. You exhort people to war with entreaties of patriotism, and service of mankind and the like. You forget that all this makes sense only to you and others like you. 


For me, it means I get to wake up to bombs falling. I get to go to sleep to the sounds of gunfire. I get to see my family massacred in front of my eyes. I get to live a life without fun, without joy, without toys or even a place to call my home. I get to live a life maybe without limbs, or eyes or ears. I get raped and assaulted and killed. I try to escape and I die in the process. I stay and I get killed. If I do manage an escape, its months, years before I get to a place I can call my own. I sleep on forest floors and swim across oceans; I travel in jam-packed containers where I might suffocate to death. 



And sometimes, when I do get to freedom, you tell me you can't have me in your country. That there are too many of us already, and we would upset the fabric of your country. I don't understand. You deem it alright to destroy my home or you condone someone else's destruction of it, and then you won't have me in your own. You worry about your homes and your children; their right to be happy and run unfettered and unaffected by anything. While there are millions like me who have never known a day without war, not gone to sleep without the noises of destruction ringing in our ears, who have not known what it is like to be free, to not worry about waking up the next day, to not worry about their next meal or if we will lose our parents. 


I don't understand how you can look at my face and not see your children's faces there. I don't understand this war or this conflict. I don't understand the killing and the bloodshed. I don't understand the terms you bandy about so casually to justify what you do. All I can do, is implore you to stop. To leave for me, a world where I can sleep in peace. A world where I will never be hurt by anything, in any fashion.  A world where I won’t be relegated to yet another iconic photograph..



(Images, Courtesy: Google Images)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Motherhood Woes

"Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else's happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you're not sure what the right thing is...and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong."- Donna Ball, "At Home on Ladybug Farm"

You assume motherhood to be something that comes to you naturally. That you'll know exactly what  needs to be done, when it needs to be done. That you'll hear your baby crying, and know if its because he is hungry, or sleepy or what not. Believe me when I tell you reality is far from that. Right after I became a mother, I had a nasty case of what people call "the baby blues". I was lost, confused, crying. I couldn't bond well with D. And I was left wondering if there was something wrong with me, and if I had made the biggest mistake of my life by bringing him into this world, when I didn't have the smallest clue on what to do. Thanks to amazing parents and a wonderful spouse, I pulled through. I started bonding well with D, I started to understand when he was hungry and when he was sleepy. I started to realise what set him off, and what calmed him down. Things were starting to look good. 

But then, the thing about motherhood is that nothing is constant. Just when you get comfortable with a certain routine, and you think you have your little one all figured out, they change. Routines change, likes and dislikes change, sleep patterns change. And being ready for all that is a challenge. I had returned to work after having D, when he was around six months old. He seemed to be happy with my parents, and he seemed to be coping well without me during the day. I was happy to be able to do my own thing and being independent. But that lasted all of four months. D started getting fussier. He wasn't happy when I left in the mornings. It got to a point where I had to sneak out of the house without him spotting me, and then I realised I had to put him at the top of my list. So I quit. 

As D grew, so did the things I had to handle. His tantrums, his rough play. When he got too excited, I had to learn how to calm him down. When he got physical, I had to get him to stop without using force myself. When he wouldn't eat, I had to learn how to coax him. I had to learn to pick my battles. I had to learn to manage by myself when S was travelling and wasn't home. I had to learn when to put my foot down. And all the while, I had to battle self doubt. Wondering if I was doing the right thing and what the right thing was. 

Motherhood is the hardest thing I have done without a doubt. It is fulfilling, granted, and even the smallest of your child's accomplishments make you swell with pride; but there's a downside to it as well that no-one talks about much. It's a journey of doubt. You question everything you say and do. You wonder if you're teaching your child the right things; if you're equipping him with the right tools to face the world. You wonder if you're giving his self, time to develop and bloom. You wonder if you're crushing his spirit, when you tell him "No" to something you feel is unacceptable. Some days you break down and yell, and the instant you see their face, you turn to self-flagellation. You hate yourself for what you've done. You try to say that its ok; after all you're only human. You wonder if you're a horrible mother, and if you're messing up your child for life. 



Every time your child throws a tantrum, or makes a scene when you're out, you cringe, you turn apologetic and you wonder what you're doing wrong. Aren't you following everything every single parenting book and article says you should? Then why is your child such a terror? You wonder, and you read more, and worry your child has behavioural issues, and you read some more, and you freak yourself out to the point of tears. Trust me, I've been there. I've done that and I'm still doing that. 

You talk to friends who try to reassure you they're going through the same, or have been through the same. And you reassure them on their bad days. You compromise on whatever time you try to keep to yourself in a day, to spend even more time with the offspring so he behaves better. You try different things to hold or spark his interest. You need him to behave better. And you utilise every single resource you can, to make it happen. 

And then, one day, realisation strikes. You realise you're dealing with a child. A child who knows nothing much of the world. Who's still discovering the sky, and the grass, and the birds, and the flowers, and what not. Who's discovering who he is every single day. Who's understanding a little more about himself, and you, and the world around him as the days go by. Who's being faced with so much information, from so many quarters, every single day, that he finds it difficult to process and file away everything. Who gets so excited about certain things on certain days, that even eating seems like a distraction. 

And then you feel, maybe all these routines and all the things you wanted to teach your child, or are expected to teach him don't matter all that much. Maybe you should only ensure that your child is happy, whatever he is doing. Maybe there's still time to teach him all the social niceties and acceptable behaviours. Maybe you're not messing up completely. Maybe you should just cut yourself some slack, and not be so judgemental. Maybe you shouldn't lose it when he's being too energetic, or too difficult, or just too much. After all, he's going to grow up in the blink of an eye, and you're going to be with him every step of the way guiding him, as long as he needs. 

Like I read somewhere, "Behind every great kid is a mom who's pretty sure she's messing up." I'm hoping all my messing up turns into something amazing. :) 

(Image Courtesy: Google Images)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Sherlock-ed!!

A few years back, I had mentioned on this space how I love watching series; and I'd gone on to tell you guys the ones I love and why. And back then, my sister had tried to get me to watch this new series that had come out called "Sherlock". I watched half of the first episode of the first season, and stopped, and decided I didn't like it. Granted the lead actor was good looking, but that was about it for me. Jeremy Brett would forever be my Holmes. 

Recently, while in the middle of a reading spree, I was finding it difficult to plod through a certain book and looking for a distraction on Netflix, stumbled upon "Sherlock" again. Because the book bored me so much, I decided to give it a go, and this time, I decided I'd watch the episode till the end. So, I set aside my "Jeremy Brett coloured" glasses and watched it and, I was impressed. Now, before you Sherlock fans out there start saying "I told you so", hear me out. 

I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes when I was all of 8 years old. He was my first literary crush, you could say. It was my school holidays and Dad had given me an abridged version of three of his stories- The Adventure of the Red- Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches- if I remember correctly. I read them and I was hooked. Over the next few years, I proceeded to devour every single Holmes story I could get my hands on. I did, eventually graduate to Agatha Christie and Perry Mason and even went through a teenage period of a few Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, but in my mind Holmes was perfection. 

The young me was fascinated by his process of deduction. The way he arrived at conclusions about people, and the cases that he took on, were nothing short of magical to a wide eyed 8 year old. As I grew older, I kept going back to his books and reading them over and over again. And he never ceased to amaze me. I don't think there has ever been a character in English literature to rival him and his deductive skills, nor his proficiency in a wide range of subjects. I've read tons of books from a variety of authors in the mystery genre since, but no-one has had the effect on me that Holmes had. 



It was only a few years ago, that I discovered Holmes had been on TV as well. I went online and found episodes of Holmes stories starring Jeremy Brett and I loved them. Brett looked like the illustrations of Holmes that used to appear in the Strand magazine. The stories stayed true to the ones Doyle wrote and I was happy. But then the Sherlock movies happened with Robert Downey Jr., and I felt like someone had massacred my favourite detective. Mind you, I loved Downey as Iron Man and although I think no-one else can be Iron Man but him, he just wasn't Holmes. 

So you can understand why I was extremely sceptical when my sister suggested I watch the new "Sherlock" series. But when my father, who happens to be a Sherlock Holmes fan as well, said he had liked the series, I was intrigued. So when my recent reading material bored me I turned to Sherlock. And I was happy I did. The writers of the series have done a brilliant job. Taking stories that were set in Victorian times and making them relevant for the twenty first century is no mean feat. And they've done an amazing job of it. The actors play their parts well. Moriarty is superb. The episodes don't feel dragged. In fact, after every episode you're left wanting for more. And the stories have been modified so beautifully to fit the modern context, that never do you feel that its far fetched. I do have a couple of minor gripes- I think they went too far with Irene Adler's characterisation and I was disappointed at not getting a massive Mycroft. But these are just minor complaints. 

It was good to see my favourite detective on screen again using mobile phones and the internet to catch criminals, and yet never losing an iota of his intelligence or deductive prowess. So its official guys, I've been Sherlocked! :) Now onto check out Elementary. The idea of a female Watson is alluring. 

(Image Courtesy: Google Images)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What do I teach my child?

Terror attacks painting the globe red. Police shooting people. People shooting police. People shooting people. Kindergarten kids being taught to stand on toilet seats to escape shooters. Terror outfits kidnapping children and forcing them into sexual slavery. Politicians endorsing racist and extremist rhetoric. 

These are just some of the incidents that I read about in the past couple of months. And I'm exhausted. I'm tired of seeing the names of places attacks happened and people killed. The numbers simply make my heart go numb. These issues were there when I was a child and I hoped that as I grew up, things would get better. That the people in charge of nations all over the world would do the right thing, and make the right decisions. That we'd see an end to war, poverty, climate change, genocide, terrorism. That people across the globe would learn to live in peace. But the exact opposite seems to be happening. 

The world seems to be sprinting towards xenophobia, terrorism and more wars, with the death toll rising steadily. And my initial hopes of things getting better are almost non existent. As a mother, this scares me to no end. Growing up is a painful process. Its hard enough learning new things, making friends, going through love and heartbreak, losing your naiveté about the many things in the world, figuring out what you want to be in life and getting through the journey without losing sight of your inner child completely. Add to this the state the world is in right now, and we have a depressing scenario.

When I went to school, my biggest worries were about teachers asking me something in class that I didn't know the answer to, or not scoring well on a test, or missing the school bus, or what I'd do if it rained during PE class, or how to avoid getting mud on my white uniform. Now that I'm getting closer to sending my son to school, the list of things I need to worry about seems endless and much more scarier. 

I need to worry about the bus driver. Will he or she hurt my child? Will he be safe with them? I need to worry about the security at school. What if someone gets in with a gun? Or a knife? What if my child is bullied? What if someone passes racist comments? What if someone bigger than him beats him up? What if the teachers don't notice? What if they hurt him? Should I send him to a posh private school then? But will he be made fun of there as well? What if my child is caught in a shooting at school? Should I teach him how to get out alive in such a situation? Should I send him to self defence class? Will it do any good?


How do I explain all this to him? I recently lost my grandmother. D was close to her. He could recognise her in pictures and he would watch videos of him with her. So when she passed away, and a few days later he mentioned he wanted to see her, I had to tell him she wasn't there anymore. He was confused and I had to tell him she had gone bye- bye to see God. Its hard enough explaining the concept of life and death to a child. Imagine having to explain why people kill other people, why wars happen, why people of a certain color are considered better than other, why his colour and his culture might make him the butt of jokes, why he might be persecuted for his beliefs or his choices in life or his sexual orientation, why he could be shot dead in his school or his home or any other place where he should be safe, why he shouldn't trust anyone completely, why he should always be careful, why he shouldn't be confrontational, why he should just put his head down and walk. Imagine having to teach him what to do if he's caught in a shooting, or if someone is picking on him, or if someone thinks its ok to make fun of his color, or if someone is using racial slurs against him. Can you imagine the sheer list of things that a child needs to be made aware of at a tender age? And can you imagine how much that would affect their young minds? 

At an age when they should be climbing trees and laughing till they're out of breath and singing nursery rhymes, we are teaching them to look at everyone and everything around them with fear and suspicion. We are not just fighting against monsters under the bed now, we are fighting against real monsters and real issues. We are bringing up a generation of children who will soon forget what diversity is like, what peace is like, what a happy world is like. We already have a generation like this in many parts of the world; who've never known a day without war. We are leaving a legacy of terror and war and prejudice and discrimination for the next generation. Unless we start to make a difference right now, the world is going to be a bleak place to exist for our children and the generations to come. It pains me to think that I'll be sending my child out into a world like this; where he will have to learn to navigate such choppy waters. It pains me that I'll have to see him lose his innocence and hope bit by small bit and stand by helplessly. I can only hope that things get better, and teach him to hope for the same as well.

Like Pope said, Hope springs eternal.. 

Image Courtesy: Google Images 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?

The other day, me and lil D were talking about the moon and stars and I decided to take him out to the balcony to show him some. I opened the door, lifted him up and pointed to the sky, and paused... I was waiting to find a star so I could show it to him. I finally managed to find one that I'm sure was a planet, and pointed it out to him saying it was a star. Lil D looked in the direction vaguely and then went back inside to his toys. I finally had to show him pictures and videos on the laptop to show him the "lots of stars", that he wanted to see. 

I was extremely sad. One of my best childhood memories involve me and Achan walking around the courtyard of his ancestral home during the quintessential power cuts that plague Kerala, and looking up at the night sky trying to find constellations. Thats how I first learnt to locate The Big Dipper and Orion and find the North Star. Back then, looking at the night sky was magic. You could see millions of stars spread out across the blue black sky. Just a glance made you feel inconsequential. Those short walks and talks with Achan triggered an interest in astronomy that survives to this day. I did entertain hopes of becoming an astronaut at some point during my school years, but considering my relationship with Mathematics, that dream quickly fizzled out. But the awe that the sight of the sky generated in me, still remains. 


Alas, the sky is no longer the same anymore. If I take a walk in the same courtyard today, I'm sure I wouldn't be able to spot any star. Maybe a stray firefly, but even they have become rare now. I think I might have to take D to some remote village or the top of a mountain for him to see the magnificent night skies of my childhood. We have polluted the world so much, that my child and his future generations might never be able to see the skies of my childhood. Excepts for pockets of the world that are still isolated from "development", it would be impossible to see the masses of stars that I did in my childhood with our naked eye. 

Lil D already has an interest in the stars and the moon and rockets and spacecrafts. I want him to fall in love with the sky like I did. I want him to get his hands on books and read up about stars and how they were born and how they die. I want him to learn about galaxies and the cosmos and feel the same sense of awe that I felt when I realised how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. I want him to see the Northern Lights and maybe hear them talk. I want him to think of his place in the world. I want him to have a better understanding of how our universe works and I want him to work towards taking care of whatever is left of it. 

But the way the world is; the way we have made the world in our mad dash for progress, I just might have to take him miles away to some small field in a country for that to come true. Or buy a telescope. Makes me sad; thinking about the legacy we are leaving our little ones- a planet where you look up and cannot even see stars...

Image Courtesy: National Geographic

Friday, July 01, 2016

Misogyny from the cradle?

Its the year 2016 and yet misogyny seems to be rampant around the globe. From campuses shrugging off sexual assault like its no big deal, to actors and politicians who have no qualms about stating their misogynistic views, and the number of people supporting them, we live in a scary world. And as mother to a two year old son, I try every day in whatever small way I can to make sure he doesn't grow up feeling entitled because of his gender. And I hold on to some hope that, if not in my lifetime, then maybe in his we'll see a world free of misogyny in all its forms.

But that hope took a severe beating the other day when I was shopping online for some clothes for myself. The store is a big name retailer that makes clothes mainly targeted at women in their teens and twenties; I saw that they had clothes for kids as well. Now, since I love shopping for D as well, I decided to check out their kids section. Unfortunately they had clothes only for five years and up but as I was randomly scrolling down, my eyes fell on a t- shirt with a message that read, "Sorry ladies, I only date models". 

I was shocked at first. And then I was mad. Really, really mad. This is a t -shirt meant for boys from ages 5 to 14. As a mother, I wouldn't even dream of putting my kid in something like this. And neither would a lot of mothers I know. But I cannot imagine how the people who made this, thought that a t- shirt like this was OK for kids as young as 5. I don't think D would even know who or what a model is at that age. And personally, I don't like t-shirts with messages on them. I find the messages on kids t- shirts reinforce gender roles at a very young age. I always find messages like "boys will be boys" and "little princess"; and I hate them. Kids are born with no idea about gender roles you know? And these messages just start sending messages to kids that they shouldn't be seeing or hearing. We are trying to confine them to the gender roles set down by society and severely limiting their creativity, originality and personality.



What scares me more is, what if there are people who think its ok for their kids to wear something like this t- shirt? What if sometime down the line, D meets someone who is wearing this and comes home to ask me who a model is? How do I explain it to him? And when I explain who a model is, what is the message he takes away from it? Will he feel that in spite of the way he looks (not that looks are important) or the kind of person he is, he's entitled to a female who looks like a model? How much harder will it be for me and the husband to teach him otherwise? As he gets older his peer groups and kids his age will influence him more than us. Imagine him being around children who are sporting these kind of clothes. 

To those of you thinking I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, and its just a message on a t-shirt and its all in good humour; it is not. We live in a world that is increasingly glorifying the male and putting down the female. Sexual assaults and commonplace and are often punished with mere months in prison. Acid attacks are met with nonchalance. Women are stalked and hacked to death in broad daylight. Male celebrities are making rape comments and sexist statements and getting away with it. Women celebrities are being attacked and questioned for simply stating their political views. In a world where women are consistently being portrayed as commodities and second class citizens, I simply DO NOT want my child to be exposed to more of such nonsense at an age when he's not even old enough make decisions regarding his own food or sleep. 

When parents like me and S are trying our damnedest to ensure that our son doesn't grow up with preconceived notions about gender roles. When we are trying to teach him that his love for trucks and his love of cooking are equally ok with us. When we are trying to show him that its not just Amma who's comfortable in the kitchen but Acha as well. When women I know are teaching their daughters that they can be warriors and pirates and Kings, we do not need this nonsense; this utterly disgusting portrayal of male entitlement and reduction of women to chattel. Shame on people like these. And oh, I'm no longer shopping from them anymore.