Category Archives: home

Learning to Like a Small Town : Adventures in Trichy

 

This year, i moved to a city in Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirapalli. Its not really a small town. Its one of the major cities in the state. Its a huge trading centre. But in my head, it was very much a small town. It was also a bit of a come down because as a Tamilian, I was going back to the heart of Tamil Nadu. I started thinking where I lived would no longer be exotic. I would no longer try to understand other people’s cultures, their world views. Because everyone would be just like me.  Never mind that I have never lived in Tamil Nadu and actually have a very poor understanding of Tamil culture. That my understanding of Tamil culture was limited to an elitist brahmin culture and Tamil Nadu had much much more to offer. But for me, Trichy just didnt seem exciting enough.

And the food. I had lived in Ahmedabad, which I thought was foodie paradise. What could trichy offer other than Idli or dosas. ANd I dont even like eating them. Definitely not at hotels. How could my food devotee image survive in Trichy.

I tried my best to think positive, but I came here with deep misgivings. Maybe it was good I had those misgivings. It made me overcompensate in trying to find joys in Trichy. So I am now going to start a little series – of little things I love in this city. Its my gratitude journal for this place. For people who know me, you will not be surprised to see that most of these little joys are to do with food. But beyond that also, Trichy continues to surprise me.

My First post on this series will soon come up : Trichy Special Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A To Z Blogging Challenge : H is for Hedgesand attempting to create an English garden

A to Z Blogging Challenge : Apr 9 H

My husband and I are rather fond of watching BBCs Hercule Poirot series and one of the fascinations with the series is the way it captures English countryside and specially the lovely hedgerows. I even persuaded him to watch the six part Pride and Prejudice series, just so that he could sit and admire the hedges, never mind that he didnt care so much for the story.

 

The neat and trimmed English hedges are really something. I have never visited England, but if I do, I think I would give up all the typical tourist spots, just to go and stare at some hedges. Bill Bryson calls them Englands national heritage, and him being so well travelled in the country, he must know what he is talking about.

 

So back to my husband and me, we had this great desire to have some hedges in our own garden. We wanted the English hedges, never mind that we live in Ahmedabad, a place which is practically as removed from England climatically as it is possible to be. I mean, we are close to a desert spaces, we have camels roaming around in the city.

 

But we had garden space and so our efforts started. It began with trying to get our gardener to understand what we wanted. Not too difficult, because the institute already had invested in hedges, and we could point out quite a few examples to him.

 

BUt our gardener was the kind who expected us to spend a fortune on gardening, the kind of fortune, we unfortuantely did not have. His suggestion was to get an extremely expensive plant and make it the hedge. THe plant was such that we had to buy individual saplings and each cost about 50 rupees and I think as per his estimate, we should be needing almost a 1000 such plants. He was categorical that we could not buy a few samples and then sort of propogate it ourselves.

 

Like I said the cost was pretty daunting, so after a lot of negotiation, we settled for a cheaper plant which we could sort of breed ourselves. And so began the process of getting our hedges up. We lost interest in the garden for a bit after that, with the arrival of a baby and all that. But the hedges continued to grow, and last I saw, they have come up to this level. Looks like we can replicate the english countryside after all.

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How free are you ? Social Roles get you one way or the other

Recently, I heard that a young couple who had gotten married fairly recently were expecting their first child. My first reaction was, “Of course I am not surprised. The girl is not working.”

This reaction and all the judgment it involves set me thinking about the fact that as an educated working woman, I have spent so much of my life trying to fight the social role of a conventional woman, which is usually imposed on us, but at the same time, I am replacing one social role, with another, and judging a lot of women by whether or not they measure upto it. My new ideal woman is someone who has a fairly decent education, is capable of working. But this is only a superficial description. Underneath, I also assume that she will be aware of family planning, willing to follow family planning and capable of doing it.  If anyone therefore got pregnant right after marriage, she was not really educated or concerned about a job. That a woman, educated or otherwise,  may choose to have a child soon after marriage is not a possibility I was willing to grant anyone.

In that way I exclude many possibilities for educated women. I wonder why someone would choose not to work (even if she has no commitments like children). I wonder why someone gives up a chance for a productive job to dabble in some kind of hobby. Actually, I exclude many possibilities for myself. Though there are times when I find the dual responsibility of motherhood and a job physically and emotionally exhausting, I don’t even consider quitting. There are days when I feel, I would love to not have to do a job, so that I can read all the amazing books which this well stocked library possesses, but I know that is totally fantasy. There are days when I feel I want to quit all these jobs, and pursue yoga seriously, but again, I know that thought is going nowhere. I dont mean to say I work unwillingly, but I acknowledge that my decision to work is not wholly a ‘free decision’. At some level, it is influenced by my expectation that a woman should work.

This is not just my expectation. A scan of matrimonial ads will show that in most cases prospective grooms desire working women, preferably, professionally qualified.   A lot of recently married women tell me something like, my husband would like me to work, So I will settle into the new place and start looking for a job. He does not want me to be a house wife. Now I wonder, and I want to ask them, “Do you really want to work there, or do you just think you want to or your husband wants you to. Would you prefer to settle into married life without the additional responsibility of finding a job. Would you prefer to pursue some hobby which you never had the time to for now. Would you continue to value and respect yourself if you dont take up a job. Or will you feel like an underachiever every time you hear of a career progression of a friend or erstwhile colleague.

So is this where my personal empowerment has led me?  Replacing one set of ideals with another. It was far easier fighting the other role of an ideal woman as a ‘good and dutiful wife, mother, daughter in law etc etc’. It is so much more difficult to fight this role, since its something I created myself. I will need to shift my empowerment drive to a higher gear, where I really make free and informed choices, with no pressure to fulfill any social role.

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Reflections on Motherhood

Almost two months into this life as a mother, what has been my primary learning? It may sound funny or cliched, but I truly learnt what it meant to be child centered. 

I had always intellectually understood this concept relating it to the idea of client centered counseling, a term I use repeatedly in my professional life. I had always wanted to be a child centered parent. But when the child was given to me, I suddenly became very me centered. I was a completely unprepared mom, I had always had this  notion about myself that I am not good with kids and kids dont like me. Having a kid given to me within one week, everything I was doing for her suddenly became a reflection of how good I am as a mother. Her bath, her feeding, her sleeping, none of it was about whether she enjoyed it, but whether I had fed her or bathed her well. 

Funnily enough children do sense this anxiety and resist in their own ways. My little one resisted while taking a bath. She would scream the place down, whenever she was taken for a bath. It took a couple of bath sessions with her father for me to truly understand why she did that. Karthik taught me that its not nice for a child to have two people pounce on her catch hold of her hands and legs and start giving her a massage. But its nice, if she is allowed to play with the oil and smear it all over herself. Its no fun to have water poured over you suddenly. But its fun to have water splashed on you by a doll. Its no fun to be with a mommy who is worried about whether every inch of your body has been scrubbed. Its fun to be with a mommy who will play in the water with you and to hell with it if one patch of your skin has been ignored for a day. What he taught me was not ways to make her enjoy the bath, but a whole paradigm on how to engage with her for anything. Suddenly play was not confined to what she did with her toys, but every activity could be playful. Suddenly, everything I did for her was not a task which needed to be completed, but an opportunity to bond more with the baby. 

Performance anxiety is probably very common among new moms, specially in Indian contexts, where there are always a million opinions within and outside the family on how something could have been done better. So probably, first lesson, there is no one way to be a parent, and no one is a bad parent. You can choose a way which suits your own personality. I am a person who always treated kids like adults, so for me that works, I will prefer to reason with the child and set up mutually acceptable limits on behavior. 

And I guess most important thing for a parent, is to first just feel good about ourselves as  parents. Its quite challenging, specially for the parent who is taking primary care (mostly the mother, but let me concede that things are changing) to separate themselves from the child. When so much of your time goes towards someone else, then its their acheivements and milestones which you cherish and hold as a reflection to your own efforts. So if the child does well, its a reflection on the self, and if the child does badly, its again a reflection on the self. My advice, its ok to be inconsistent, if the child does well, be proud of it. If a milestone is delayed, or behavior is inappropriate, give yourself a little more time. She will get there. 

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2011: The year of small pleasures

When I realized I am ending 2011 pretty much exactly where I started it (personally, professionally or any othe lly which we can choose to evaluate ourselves on, as years end), I was in great danger of getting depressed. Now, this list is a therapeutic exercise, as I embark on my first new year resolution (first even new year resolution actually) of cherishing the small pleasures…….

1. Our young garden. I know zilch about plants. I dont understand eveb 10 % of what our gardener tells me. But I will take a moment out everyday, to see these young plants bloom. And we will attempt to create hedgerows resembling the ones in the English country side which we so admire in so many TV shows.

2. Yoga. Its the daily dose of challenge we need to keep life entertaining. For me yoga is not about releiving stress, or being in shape. It is for the moment when I acheive an asana which I have struggled for days to perfect. I dont aspire to be a yoga guru, just want to be a person for whom the bar is just out of reach, as I push my body to newer limits.

3. Books. Yes, I have always been known as a reader, but over the last few years, the reading habit has been slipping away. Thanks to Kindle, I have now reconnected to reading, and spent many enjoyable hours rereading old classics. And realized Jane Austen improves as you age.

4. Bird watching. An activity as ego crushing as gardening for me, which again highlights how totally oblivious I am to my surroundings. But with pigeons and peacocks and parrots running amok in our garden and adjoining areas, it is hard to miss them.

5. Cricket : Again something I lost touch with for a few years now. But as I followed many close encounters throuch website commentary, I realized the joy of unobstrusive, internet based cricket viewership.

6. Food. I am a street foodie. And we live in Gujarat. Need I say more. I hope the next year brings me more opportunities to explore local cuisines across the country, as I attempt a staggered food pilgrimage across the country.

Wish me luck.

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Home, away,navratri, garba et. al

I would like to start my first blog by ruminating on this point of home, away and what exactly does it mean. Seems most appropriate, since one of the reasons I am debuting in Blogspace (apart from my professional dalliances) is that I am away from home. Home being a  place called Bangalore. Of course I have been away from home before, for studies as well as professionally. But this seems to be the first time I am away, with little scope of settling back in Bangalore.

So this is the first time I am really away. And to think the last time I went back to Bangalore after quitting my job in Ahmedabad, I felt very bad because I thought for the first time I was leaving behind a city, where I would probably never come back, and after a very long time I was going home to Bangalore, at that time a very claustrophobic sense without knowing when I would get out. To think, five years later, I am contemplating a life in Ahmedabad, and wondering when I will get to Bangalore.

Somewhere down the line I had the  realization that in a way, home to me was mostly in South India. No, I am generally not the conservative South Indian, I dont know Carnatic Music, I hardly recite any slokams, and most days at home, you wouldnt find me eating idly or dosa. Funnily enough, I dont like most of South India. I have never been able to tolerate Madras, have never visited Hyderabad, and although Kerala had its attractions mainly due to the beaches, I dont think I can handle the lifestyle there either. I mean, you cant live in a beach. Even Bangalore, I kind of like bits of it, and increasingly grow to appreciate its climate (imagine, I complained about 32 degrees heat there, this year. When I stepped into Ahm, it was 45). But I had grown to detest the traffic which seemed to cut short the time I had for anything.

But despite never having lived in most of south, I am still  at home in South. Its a certain assurance that my instinctive responses there are probably the responses, which even if they are not normal or expected, make a sense within the pattern of life there.

Yesterday, I just went to watch garba out here. It was not one of those fancy club garbas, just a simple one put up by the campus staff, and mostly it was their families out there. Few people were dancing, mostly kids, all excited to be in their chainya cholis. I was fun, just to see them. One little kid had no idea what was happening and simply kept running behind the rest of them. Another was always slow in her steps and went reverse when everyone else went forward. Her over-enthusiastic neighbor used to go more forward than others, and there were many  collisions. The older kids were keeping to the steps, in them I saw the different phases of youth, the ones who had come all decked in traditional finery, as well as the ones who couldnt resist the lure of garba, but insisted on doing it in the jeans and t shirts.

And I realized what really was different about me out here. I could never join the dance. It has nothing to do with me being a bad dancer, it has nothing to do with a rather high degree of self-consciousness. Its just that the way I was socialized, people just did not instinctively feel the beats and start dancing. Dancing was not a communal activity. As a kid I have attended communal singing events, and can probably sing in a group. But mostly, the people I knew regarded Dance as a strict art, it was Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam or whatever, all to be learnt, mastered, and not to become an inclusive communal activity. As I sat watching it, I realized, it would take me many years of re-socialization to ever be able to become a part of a garba naturally.

And suddenly, this Navratri, I have missed it.  I have missed wearing our best pattu pavadai which later became a pavadai dawani (various styles of wearing a traditional silk lehenga kind of thingy) and eventually a saree and going to homes for santhanam kumkumam. I have missed golu (arrangement of dolls and idols in wodden steps for the nine days of navratri). And I feel bad that in my adult years, I was too preoccupied with myself and my work to ever take part meaningfully in these navratri rituals.  And I am making up big time : last couple of years, I never even went to my neighbors house for golu, this year, I have received three invitations and have already been to the houses at the expected times.

So yes, I like Ahmedabad in many ways. I like my quality of life here. But I am not at home here.

And I realize home itself has many layers. My  mother in law for instance, having lived as a South Indian in Delhi for many years, is more at home here, having found a bunch of other South Indians living away from home. She never liked Bangalore in the three years we were there. If people ask how she finds it here, she says its really nice, there are lots of Tamilians out here. Dude, werent there tamilians in Bangalore. Well there were, but there were not enough Tamilians who felt away from home in Bangalore probably, who could give her the familiar feeling of a bunch of people trying to recreate home.

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