Monthly Archives: November 2008

>Food for love

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Of the many ways used to express love, I find food the strangest. Whatever truth there may be in the saying that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I refuse to believe that you’d be able to keep his heart in good condition if you continue feeding him the rich food of love. Sooner than later, the cheese if not the oil and the ghee will smother it and what will you do with all your love then?

Forget about lovers, I’ve seen scores of mothers over-feeding their children, because they love them so much! Of course, if a child is hungry you need to feed her but allow the child to learn what hunger feels like. And the problem is that long after their children have grown up, mothers continue to fuss over their meals as if a 20-year-old wouldn’t know when to eat and how much. It’s one thing to badger an adult child to eat greens and veggies, it’s another to badger him to eat all things you find tasty, however unhealthy they may be.

I, for one, am particularly averse to the idea of being force-fed. I do not remember being force-fed even as a child. My mother just let us be because she firmly believes that if a child is hungry, there’s no reason why she won’t ask for food. And that’s how we were brought up. I am extremely fastidious about the foods I or dislike. Despite that, my mother never tried to bully me into eating things I did not find palatable because she knew there was a point up to which she could try to drive sense into my head; beyond that, I’d continue being adamant, foolish or fastidious.

Even when I was living in a hostel away from home, mum never inquired on the phone if I’d eaten my lunch or dinner because she was so sure that I wouldn’t stay hungry, no matter what. And that doesn’t mean she loved or cared for me lesser than those mothers who were going paranoid wondering about their grown-up children’s meal, the same children who were grown up enough to live away from home, but not old enough to take care of their food.

If someone asks me ten times in a day if I’ve eaten or not, it’s likely I’ll lose any appetite for my favourite foods as well. And it serves no purpose – this asking after adult children if they’d like to eat this or that. If they want to, they will anyway and if they don’t, why emotionally blackmail them into eating something that they could easily do without?

And because food wasn’t just a big deal at home, we never used it to blackmail our parents either. No matter how angry or upset I would be, I never gave up my meal for it because I knew it wouldn’t hurt anyone except me and that my mother wasn’t going to come begging to me to have at least one morsel of food. I’d have to go hungry and that wasn’t such a nice weapon to get back at anyone.

Also, whenever she saw me overeating, instead of bloating with motherly pride at my expanding waistline, instead of indulging me, she would ask very subtly if indeed I was hungry for a second helping. And that was hint enough for me to know I was going overboard.

Now, when I’m faced with hosts at a party who take it upon themselves to feed their guests till they can eat no more, it evokes a really angry response in me. So you cooked all that scrumptious stuff and put in a lot of time and effort doing it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stuff my mouth with everything that you put on a platter before me. The whole idea of Indian hospitality is hinged on not just what you serve your guests but how much of it they eat. And I think it’s very, very unhealthy apart from being very irritating.

I’ve often seen my friends, much-married with children, panic at dinner-time because they so want to eat out but can’t because there’s food been cooked for them at home. And what do you think will happen if they don’t eat that food the same night? No, the food won’t rot – why do you think refrigerators were made? – but the mother’s mood certainly will. Of course, these adult children don’t give up the pleasure of eating out; they just go home and eat all over again. Need I say what that can lead to?

People think love can be substituted with food. And so, when you aren’t quite in the mood to savour deep-fried, buttered, over-cooked food, or even normal food, they take it as a rejection of their labour of love. Which it isn’t meant to be.

Also, when you equate love with food, you just can’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods. So if sonny boy asks for fried nuts, mommy dear will furnish them with utmost love, irrespective of how they add to a sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and the health problems that creep up when you’ve crossed 30. It’s not about how calories can make you fat, it’s about how they can cause you long term harm which won’t be visible just yet. And mind you, it’s all for love!

For once, I blame women for all this food-for-love business because inadvertently, it’s the women in the family who’re in charge of the kitchen. And whether as wives or mothers, if they cannot distingusih between love and food, we’re going to have very unhealthy families.

>What do you want?

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When you kill innocent people, what is it that you want from them, from us?

When you turn a city into a war front, what is it that you want from that city, from its people, from this nation?

When you kill Hindus & Muslims, Indians and Americans, what is it that you want from any of us?

When your weapons do not discriminate between the rich and the poor, what do they want – from those who can give you nothing and those who take nothing from you?

When a wife wails and a mother cries because you killed our men and children, do you rejoice because you have what you want?

When we live with fear and yet we live with hope, how can you achieve what you want?

Edited to add on Nov 28:

It’s no longer about statistics, no longer about people we only watch on TV. It’s personal now. I did not know her, but just that I knew of her, had been part of conversations about her makes this tragedy seem personal now. I read about Sabina Sehgal Saikia in the paper today morning and it shook me. Stuck at Hotel Taj, they fear her suite was burnt down. She texted her friends from the hotel that “they” were in her bathroom.

They haven’t even found her body yet.

How much worse can it get?

>Kill joy

>How late is too late for a baraat to arrive at an Indian wedding? When the time given in invitation cards is 8:30 pm, what time do you expect the guests to arrive? 9:00 or 9:30 or may be 10: 00 pm? And what do the guests do if the baraat doesn’t arrive till midnight? And surely, there must be a decent limit to which you can be late to your own wedding!

At the wedding The Guy and I attended last evening, the groom and his family and friends must’ve felt no compunction to be punctual. Perhaps, arriving at twelve in the night wasn’t bizarre for them. It certainly was for me! It’s not the first time I’ve heard of a baraat being so delayed, but being from the bride’s side, I couldn’t help but pity the girl who was ready well in time and had to sit through agonising hours of waiting. When the baraat did arrive, it was greeted by an almost empty and beautiful pandal – most of the bride’s guest had already had dinner and left even before meeting the bride. How pathetic – the girl spent days deciding her clothes for this occasion, spent hours getting dressed for it and in the end, there was nobody left to even admire her!

Luckily for us, there was another party we had to attend in the same vicinity and we didn’t have to twiddle our thumbs in anticipation for the groom to arrive. We hopped over to the other party and an acquaintance at the wedding kept us informed about the status of the baraat. Since the groom was nowhere in sight by 11:30 pm, the acquaintance also left. And it was after our party had winded up at around 12:30 am, that we thought we’d give our luck another try – perhaps we would now be able to meet the bride and the groom! We sure were lucky, because they were just exchanging garlands when we reached the venue. I was glad I’d finally be able to tell the bride how pretty she was looking. So, as the bride and groom posed for pictures, The Guy and I waited patiently watching all the commotion of a typical Indian wedding with repressed amusement.

Just as the garlands were exchanged, a man – probably the groom’s relative – in the middle of the small crowd – began to fire his pistol in the air. He was standing a few feet away from us, surrounded by lots of other people. And he fired six rounds of gunshots. But the first one was enough for me to turn on my heels and head for the exit. Call me paranoid or practical, I just didn’t want to be present at a wedding where my life or anyone else’s could be threatened by a brazen act of foolishness. Had I been in a more compliant mood, The Guy would’ve suggested that since we’d waited so long to meet our colleague, we might as well wait a few more minutes. But I seriously was in no mood to be in a potentially dangerous situation, even if that meant having to forego the chance to meet a friend at her wedding. And firing in the middle of a wedding crowd is creating a potentially dangerous situation for everyone present there.

To me, this kind of a celebration is as repulsive as it gets. Exactly what purpose does it serve? If it is meant to be a show of power, go shoot a canon ball! We’ve heard of so many tragedies caused by such foolishness, I don’t ever want to be at a wedding where I may have to see someone being killed because that someone could even be me. And why do anything that could turn a happy occasion like a wedding into something tragic? What does it take for people to learn from others’ mistake?

>Allergy rab di marji!

>All of us have been reading about the Food Allergy Awareness Month across blogs on the blogosphere. And unlike The Guy, who is allergic to sea food, I have no apparent food allergies that I may be aware of, I have plenty of allergies that equip me with enough experience to contribute my wee bit to this campaign. So when Sue suggested I do a post on it, I came up with a really long one!

I wasn’t born with these allergies and had a healthy childhood. I ate just about everything I wanted to and though I needed them rarely, I popped pain killers when my periods became very, very painful. Despite living in the dusty north Indian plains, I scraped through most of my school life unscathed by all the allergies that various family members on my Dad’s side evinced. My grandmother was severely asthmatic and could not take up a lot of physical activities that would be considered normal even for women her age. R, my cousin, took after her and was also severely asthmatic. Allergens like dust and pollens did a lot of harm to her physical constitution and in turn impacted her school life. Her asthmatic attacks, like my grandmom’s, were often so bad that she had to be hospitalised.

Four years elder to me, R’s life was dictated by these attacks. As a sister, I could only imagine what it must be like. When I suffered my first asthmatic attack in 1997, I knew exactly what it feels like to be panting for breath, to be fighting an inexplicable constriction in the lungs, to be wheezing helplessly. I could not believe this was happening to me, but it was. I suffered three mild asthmatic attacks in quick succession and I was convinced at that time that it must be something else – an allergy that had triggered off this breathlessness. And perhaps it was. I remember trying very hard to figure out in my head what it was that I had eaten on all three occasions that could have caused the attacks. But it became difficult to put my finger on it because the attacks, though mild and manageable once I started using the inhaler, became a frequent feature in my life. I did not participate in the Sports Day at school because I was terrified of all the dust on the field filling up my lungs!

It was the same year that my body began rejecting a lot of meds. I remember vividly the day I sat writing a test in class, convulsed with menstrual cramps. Just so that I wouldn’t be groggy while writing the test, I waited for the class to get over before I popped a Brufen. It wasn’t the first time I’d had that medicine and till that day, it had suited me just fine. But the medicine triggered some strange reactions in my body and within minutes my face swelled unrecognisably, and my eyes were only two slits in my face. I was appalled! I went home and wept inconsolably at these weird things that were happening to me. It took two whole days for the allergy to subside.

Next time I needed a painkiller, I made sure it wasn’t a Brufen. But it didn’t matter because I had developed an allergy to ALL the painkillers that are there. Later, the reactions were different: my body – every part of it – would be covered with red blotchy patches that looked like huge, enormous mosquito bites. And despite the anti-allergics, it took me at least two days to be able to get out of the house without having people stare at me. I even developed an allergy to Paracetamol which means that every time I’m down with fever, I just have to wait for it to go away because no medicine will work for me. I cannot have cough syrups or your over-the-counter drugs for cold and flu either – allergic to them too!

That isn’t the end of it. I realised, much to my consternation, that I was also allergic to severe cold and severe heat and sudden changes in temperatures. On a trip to Chennai in the summers, the air-conditioning inside the shops and the high temperatures outside left me itchy, scratchy and very irritated.

I haven’t had any painkillers in the last 10 years. And in those ten years, my threshold of bearing pain has gone up ten times, because I have no other option. Doctors have been of no help. When they look at my allergic reactions to medicines, they are dumbfounded.

‘But why do you need a pain killer anyway?’ people ask dismissively. All of us feel the need for painkillers at least once in a while. Like when you get your tooth extracted, when you get injured, when you sprain an ankle, when you have a surgery. It’s not easy to bear all those kinds of pains.

Last year, my index finger got caught between the car door and I was in excruciating pain. But I could not have any painkiller; I spent the whole night with my finger dipped in ice cold water to numb all sensation.

On another occasion, The Guy accidentally fell with all his weight on my foot. I thought I had fractured a few bones, it was so painful! Turned out it was only an inflammation and when I applied an ointment to relieve the pain, I discovered I was allergic even to these sprays and ointments! It’s exasperating to have your life crippled only because you’re in some sort of pain.

People suggest getting an allergy test done. R and my father did undergo that test a long time ago. And according to the results of the test, it turned out that my father was allergic to all possible food items except arhar dal and rice. He lived on that alone for one whole year, but it didn’t help him deal with his allergies any better. The doctors also advised against it. So I never got one done.

My pa-in-law recalls what his teacher in med school told him about treating allergies and I think it’s the only thing that makes sense: Allergy rab di marji! You bet.

>Inside the bedroom…

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… The Guy is always right.

Because I’m always on the left!

So we can talk about some seemingly banal things here. And surely, my side of the bed isn’t banal. Between The Guy and me, the distinction between his side of the bed and mine is sacrosanct. He sticks to his side, I to mine. And that’s the unwritten rule of bed sharing in our room that’s rarely broken.

Before I got married, I didn’t often have to share my bed with anyone – not even my sister. And I never had to cofine myself to any particular side of the bed because I had it all to myself. But on our “first night” – yes the much hyped “first night” after our wedding – I slept on the right side of the bed. So I don’t know how it happened, but I just got the left side of the bed after we came back from our honeymoon. Actually, I do know why it must’ve happened: a) because the AC is closer to the other side of the bed and because The Guy is always more in need of the AC than me, I gladly let him have the right side of the bed. And b) because the television is exactly in the line of vision if you sit on the right side of the bed and since The Guy is such a television bug, he had to be on that side of our bed. So there we have it: why I am on the left side of our bed.

Anyway, so our territories are now clearly marked. There can be no breach of boundaries. And if for any purpose at all, I’ve spent my waking time on The Guy’s side, I must return to mine before we call it a night. That’s how we are.

Now, just about all the married couples I know of have their own side of the bed. I’ve never seen my mother sleep on the left side of her bed while my sister religiously sticks to the left side of hers. Those are just two examples. From what I’ve observed, the division of the bed between the husband and wife is usually non-negotiable. And rarely do people change sides as far as their bed goes.

People often choose sides that are convenient for them. So a lot of moms I know sleep on that side of the bed that makes it easier for them to access their baby’s cot. But in my case, I seem to simply have an affinity for the left side of the bed. So much so that even when The Guy is gone, I cannot sleep on any other side except my designated left side. And even when we travel and have to sleep in hotel rooms, I invariably end up choosing the left side of the bed! It happens without me even having to think about it. Through ALL our trips to different parts of the world, I’ve always had The Guy on the right side! Queer, huh?

I wonder if you’ve ever thought about your side of the bed… Tell me reader, what’s your bedside story?

>Another Dad

>I spent Sunday afternoon at the stadium watching my 60-year old dad running around the field as a fielder, bowler, batsman for his cricket team: flushed, nursing an injured thumb with a smile, hospitable, pleasant and so much the man I’ve loved all my life! He doesn’t look 60 to me, not even when I can see the fine lines creasing his face, not even when I can hear him talk about his tennis elbow, his stiff knuckles or his liver problem. Perhaps, because I don’t want Papa to be anything but the man I saw when I was growing up. And yet I know he is not the same man anymore. It’s not just that his hair has thinned and greyed, or that he is no longer the same athlete that he used to be. He has changed in so many ways that are more than just physical.

And it’s not just Pa. It’s all the men in that age bracket – my F-I-L, they say, is not the same man he used to be. I wouldn’t know better because I know him only as he is now. But I certainly know that my uncle – Bade Papa, as I call him – is certainly not the same person I spent my childhood with. I look at him and wonder what part of him has changed and I cannot say at all. I cannot tell whether it’s in the quality of his smile or the look in his eyes that has changed. But he has, just like dad, altered in undefinable ways.

So you say we all change, and what’s so surprising about it then that all the older men in my life seem altered? I don’t know the answer to that, except that it’s unsettling when the most stable elements in your life suddenly begin to change.

Perhaps, it’s that they no longer treat me like the little girl I’m used to being treated as. I ceased being a “little girl” long time ago, but I thought I’d always be one for my dad at least! And I was, till my nephew came along. So perhaps, it’s because he’s not just my dad anymore, he’s my nephew’s grandpa too. I know I will never be irrelevant to his existence, but I know I’m not the centre of it anymore.

And there’s more – subtle differences that may seem impalpable but are not to me. Like how he enjoys his solitude more now than ever before. Or how he doesn’t even want to spend his evenings with the same friends that he did a couple of years ago. Or how he smiles more and laughs less. Or (I say this with my tongue very firmly in cheek) how he no longer views my word as the last word on any topic, not until it suits him!

There are things around us now that weren’t there before and may be responsible for these changed men. There’s technology, for one – cellphone, DVDs, LCD television that make the worst cricket match seem like worth watching! Perhaps, it’s one of those things that they’re hooked to and that makes me think they’ve changed.

Or perhaps it’s just age. You know, how with the years you begin to see the same things differently and react differently to them. And if it is, then why don’t I feel those changes in mom too? Or in any of my aunts, for that matter?

Tell me reader, if you think your father has changed with time too? Or is it my age that’s making all the difference here?

>On the other side of the table…

>…The deal is just as raw as it was when I was around it!

I spent a large part of my life, nay, all of it, wanting to be the boss. The first year I started working my very motivating boss asked me where I imagined myself five years hence. And I replied candidly, “As the boss.” I never stopped to think that could mean replacing him, because I never thought of it like that. I just always wanted to be the boss; you could give me any time frame, and my answer would remain the same. I chucked that job five years later to become my own boss. And for appearances’ sake, I have to say it’s the best thing in the world – being accountable to no one but yourself, being free to take an off when you want to, to be “ma’am-ed” (not that I dig that too much!) all the time, to be saved the heartburn of someone less worthy being promoted out of turn… All of that is true, no doubt. But there’s so much baggage that comes with it that there seems to be little time to enjoy any of it.

No, I’m not cribbing, but I am expressing my agreement with that cliche – “the grass is always greener on the other side”! I know now the boss’ job isn’t enviable at all. It’s like waiting all your childhood to grow up and when you’re all grown up, you know you were so much better off as a child! Today, I’d rather go home with a lesser salary at the end of the month than be saddled with the problems of being the captain (or co-captain) of the ship! If it floats, people aboard just take it for granted – that is the captain’s job. But if it sinks, it’s certainly the captain’s fault.

They say it’s lonely at the top. And though we do not follow the kind of hierarchy in our office that makes it lonely up there, sometimes it just feels so. When you and you alone are accountable for everything that goes wrong (even if you’re accountable to no one else but yourself) at work even if you can chide someone else for it, when despite trying to be more than an employer, you end up being treated only as that, when there’s no one to pat your back at the end of a difficult day and say “well done”. It gets lonely then. It gets lonely when you can’t have your employees sit with you and explain to them the financial crunch that is making life slightly difficult for you. It also gets lonely when all you do is expected and all that you do not is carefully noted in some mean crevice of a staff member’s mind.

As for off days, there are no off days anymore – none at all, because how do you leave your baby behind and enjoy an off without guilt? You can get subsitutes for everyone in the office, but unfortunately, there’s none for the boss!