ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

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Growing up in India, I never dreamt in a million years that one day I would be living in America and working at the reference desk of a public library. Life unfolds in unexpected ways or maybe it was always destiny’s plan, but here I am, in the southeast, enjoying every minute of helping people find information and also observing the vivid displays of interesting interactions which occur at the library. 

People are always curious about where I come from and it is really endearing when some people start the conversation with a Namaste, complete with folded hands and bowed down heads. They ask me if I am Hindi and if I speak Hindu and it is always funny to me because I am Hindu and I speak Hindi! One lady asked me if I put Chameli (a flower similar to Jasmine) oil in my hair and I was flabbergasted that she even knew about that since most people just know about coconut oil. Another woman told me that I looked like Nikki Haley (Governor of South Carolina, whose parents are from India) and I was so flattered! 

Last year, a middle aged Caucasian gentleman came up to me and told me that he was a big fan of Priyanka Chopra (Bollywood heroine) and followed her on Twitter. Since then, whenever he visits the library, he stops by to chat about the gorgeous Priyanka and I update him on all the gossip about her from the Indian tabloids. He knows her whereabouts and he got really excited last year in April when she visited Tampa for the IIFA awards. I find it amusing that he pronounces her name Pri- yank (as in the word yank) –a. He is so earnest that he wants to learn the correct Hindi pronunciation and he tries but fails. 

My face is a dead giveaway of my nationality but once in a while someone will come up to the desk and flood me with a barrage of Spanish complete with animated hand movements and intermittent laughs and giggles only to be cut short by my curt response of “Sorry, I do not know any Spanish” and they will give me a confused look as though they are thinking “Chica, are you kidding me? I could have sworn you were a Latina!”  

Sometime back, I was on the phone answering a reference question and the person on the other end was intrigued by my accent. He asked me if I was French and it gave me such a thrill, sounding European sounds so exotic and uber fancy to me. 

The best part of my job is that every day I get to learn something new. A lady called me on the phone with the description of a small bird which is brown in color but has some red on its head and under the neck. I asked her if it was a Robin and she said the bird is smaller in size. “Could it be a hummingbird?” I thought aloud, only to be rudely silenced by her saying that the bird she saw is not that small. After giving her many options like a Cardinal, Woodpecker, Blackbird with some red on it etc., I finally figured that it could be a Red Finch and as soon as I said that, her voice took an excited pitch and she screamed to her husband “It’s a Finch, I got it, It’s a Red Finch” and then she thanked me profusely and put the phone down. It was quite exhilarating to help her come to that conclusion! 

A young girl came to the desk the other day and asked me if I could find books on light workers. I asked her if she was looking for books on people who worked with lights like Electricians and she started laughing.  Then, she told me that a Light worker is a human being dedicated to the cultivation of inner presence and the elevation of awareness in self and other selves. I had never heard that term before but I did help her find some Internet sources on that topic.

 Reference books on religion are researched a lot. Recently, there has been a lot of interest in the Koran and the Bible has always been widely read and interpreted. Sometimes, people remember a passage from the Bible and want to know which book and verse it came from which is not hard to find, thanks to Google. Long back, an old lady came to me and said “Honey, Are you Christian?” and I told her that I was not but I did respect Jesus. She told me in a concerned and quivering voice “You are so sweet, do become a Christian, I do not want you to burn in hell.” I shook my head and smiled and thought “What if I was sour?” I told her that she should not worry about me as I will be fine. I have not read the religious texts in depth but I do know in my heart that I am a good person and I have not committed any crimes and so there is no logical reason why I would be banished to the fires of hell.

 Mentally ill people visit the library too and we treat them with courtesy and respect. A lady calls me Ruth (a noble woman from the Bible) and refuses to call me by my real name. There is this patron who is always wearing a helmet, even inside the library. I do not know the reason behind it but I am guessing that he could be scared of getting an injury to his head. To a normal mind, the idea seems preposterous but in his mind the fear is real and therefore worthy of taking precaution.  My heart goes out to people who suffer from mental disorders. In our society, we offer so much help and support to people suffering from physical diseases like cancer or diabetes but for those who are tortured by their own minds and suffer from anxiety or depression, we do not extend the same compassion. 

Sometimes, an incident happens at the library and it teaches me a life lesson. Few years back, on a Tuesday evening, two women got into an argument while using the public computers and one of them attacked the other with a box cutter. We called security and they came to the scene immediately and separated them. Our security workers are the best and they are really skilled at their job. One woman was bleeding profusely from her forehead where the box cutter had taken a swipe and it was quite shocking to witness the whole event. The lady who used the box cutter was jailed. 

It made me a little upset as the fight was initiated by the woman who went scot free. She was in a mood to argue and pick a fight and she was constantly heckling and provoking the other woman who could not take it anymore and decided to leave. While she was leaving, the other woman threatened to beat her outside and that is when she snapped and took out the box cutter. The moral of the story for me was that in situations like these you have to keep your cool and walk away, using violence only gets you into trouble, nobody cares about who started the fight, they only see who got hurt and they punish the person who inflicted that wound. Let me add that the library is a very safe place and incidents like these are extremely rare. 

Changing gears, on a lighter note, I am reminded of a library patron who looks like Sean P Diddy. He dresses in very fashionable long coats, well-tailored pants, sunglasses, lots of bling and he walks with a swagger as though he is a millionaire. The other day, a man asked me for paper scissors and I told him that the rule was that he could not take the scissors anywhere and he had to use it right there at the reference desk well within my view. I thought he wanted to cut some paper, but to my surprise, he took the scissors towards his face and feeling alarmed, I asked, “What are you doing?” and he said, “I just want to trim my moustache.” I said, “No, no, you are not allowed to do that at the library, please return the scissors immediately!” Thankfully, he did return the scissors and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

The reference desk sagas are never ending. All of these stories are real, I cannot make this up. I get to help people in their quest for knowledge and I also get to observe them with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies! Some hours at the desk can be a little dull and slow but more often than not there is plenty of mental stimulation and excitement going on, all in a day’s work!

(Post written in a pre covid time long long ago!)

SWEET SIXTEEN ( original post date: December 2015)

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Growing up in India, I did not know that turning sixteen was a big deal. The only thing I remember about my sixteenth birthday is that it was my first birthday without my loving dad who passed away when I was fifteen. Last December, when my daughter turned sixteen, my first thought was, “Thank you, God, she has a stable, loving and caring dad to celebrate her birthday with and her special day will be much happier than mine”

Sweet sixteen birthday parties for girls are an extravagant affair in America. It is a coming of age party celebrated with pomp and splendor. Ballrooms are booked, DJs are called, and the birthday girl gets a car and a tiara and what not. Thankfully, my daughter is the sweetest and the most sensible sixteen year old I know and she did not want us over spending on a party. My friends had been asking me to have a big affair as everyone was excited for us and they also needed an opportunity to dress up and party! Sadly, I had to tell them that I may not do that as Mansi does not like crowded parties.

All she wanted was to hang out with her close friends and a Wii U to play video games. We gave her what she wanted, she has an eclectic mix of friends who got her thoughtful gifts and they chatted, sang, danced and played board games. I got her favorite cake and they all had a good time painting her face with the icing before eating the cake.

My husband always tells me that I let our kids spend too much time on electronics and yet every time Mansi’s birthday comes up , he buys her some or the other electronic device whether she has asked for it or not. So far, he has got her a smartphone, a kindle, an iPad, a Nintendo 3ds, a smart watch which syncs with her phone, and then this year he did not disappoint with the Wii U, and then, I get blamed for spoiling our kids! 

Mansi is our first born and we were blessed with her five years after we got married. She was supposed to be born on Dec 31 1999, a Y2K baby and yet she came 4 weeks early on Dec 2, 1999. The nurses called her peanut because she was so tiny and they admired her long eyelashes and head full of beautiful black hair. The day before I went into labor, we had a dinner party at home for some of my husband’s single friends and I had made biryani and other entrees and desserts. Those poor guys were shaken up when they heard that the baby was born so early and they were calling my husband and telling him that he should have taken them out to eat instead of letting me get tired from all the cooking!

 Mansi was the most beautiful chubby little baby and I enjoyed every minute with her. I stayed home the first couple of years and I was always carrying her around, I loved cuddling with her, dressing her, talking to her, just always holding her close to my heart. I wish I could use the rewind button and relive those days again. The day she started preschool was traumatic for me as she held on to my leg, would not part, and the teacher had to physically pull away a crying baby from an equally emotional mom. I cried all the way home and then finally pulled myself together when the teacher called and said that my daughter had stopped crying.

I am proud to say that today she is an independent girl who goes on band trips with friends and chaperones and can manage by herself. However, if she does not respond to my text immediately, I start hyperventilating till I hear back from her. I am always amazed that even though Mansi is my daughter, she is so different from me. At her age, I was so foolish, I had crushes, I would tell everyone whatever was going on in my mind, I did not know what profession to choose when I grew up and I was not focused. My daughter is very private, she thinks most boys her age are dumb and she does not scream and cry tears of excitement at a boy band like One Direction or anything similar. She knows what she wants to study, who she wants to be friends with and she is very selective and focused.  

The quality I admire most about my daughter is that she is her own person and she is not a follower. I always wanted her to fit in but she has no trouble standing out. I remember, when she was in the fifth grade, the teacher said that on one day the girls could either dress as cowgirls or Native Americans. All the girls decided to be cowgirls and Mansi dressed up alone as a Native American and was not worried about that at all. To this day, if I am going to a party, I will call my friends and ask them what they are wearing so that I am not the only one in Western clothes if everyone is wearing Indian or vice versa. The whole high school could be wearing skinny jeans and boots but my daughter will wear comfortable athletic pants and tennis shoes and does not care one bit about what others think and I really admire that about her. 

She is a voracious reader who taught herself the periodic table in fourth grade from library books on Chemistry. Physics has been her favorite subject and she wrote a paper on anti-matter in fifth grade. I could never understand Physics.  In high school I made the mistake of taking science subjects under parental pressure but quickly realized I am terrible at it and do not understand the basic concepts at all. I am very expressive and I can write pages and pages but Mansi takes a long time to write an English language Arts paper. I send her lines and lines of texts on her phone about what’s going on with me and how much I love her and she responds with one word – ok! I worry about the fact that she is an introvert and does not open up quickly but I have learnt to let go of that and love her for who she is.

 My daughter has a great sense of humor. Since she is very quiet, if she ever opens up and has a conversation with somebody, I get all excited and say, “Good job Mansi, that was so awesome, you talked so well, yay, you can do it.” My son will quip ,“What is the good job for, all she did was talk, what’s the big fuss about?” and Mansi will laugh her sweet laugh and say “ You don’t know Arjun, when I talk it’s a magical event, violins play in mom’s head and angels sing!”

My daughter never disrespects us or rolls her eyes. She always tells me I am beautiful. She is my strongest supporter. I always second guess myself and she always fills me with her quiet strength and confidence. Incidentally, last summer, I was walking on the dam with the kids and a man with three rolls of fat and without a t-shirt was running towards us, Arjun kidded: “Mom look perfect flabs” and I said “I wish I had his confidence ,he is inspiring me to wear a bikini but if I do that dad might die of embarrassment” to which Mansi replied “no mom, if you wear a bikini, dad will die of your hotness!” Age is just a number, so often our roles get reversed. Just last week I went for my twenty fifth high school reunion and turned into a giggly sixteen year old full of excitement, nerves and exuberating at the prospect of meeting old friends. My daughter told me to go have fun, enjoy and not get into trouble! 

Daughters are the best. She is the only girl among seven boys between me and my two sisters. We joke with her that she will have to look after her mom ,dad and mausis and mausas when we get old since we do not have much  hope from the boys! She is so sweet that she tells us that we are all welcome to live with her. Good luck to her future husband with that, he will have to deal with seven brothers and six live in in-laws! On a serious note, I love my sixteen year old with all my heart and soul and I wish her nothing but a long, happy and healthy life. I know that if something happened to me , I can count on her to be quietly strong for her dad and brothers and she will be there for them. We are so blessed to have her.

THE TWO MEN IN MY LIFE

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If you read the title of this blog and you are wondering who the second man in my life is, let your dirty mind not wander anymore, I do not have an illicit paramour! The two men in my life are my husband and my dad. As many of you know, my dad passed away and departed to his heavenly abode in 1987. Yet, he is still present with me, in my thoughts, in my memories, in my actions and in the very core of my being. He is omnipresent and omniscient. Once in a while, I get to hug him in my dreams only to wake up with a terrible longing of wanting to hug him physically in the real world. When I miss him too much, I go and sit by his photograph and it seems like I am in his company which always calms me down and comforts me.

My dad was the most dashing, dazzling, dynamic and daring person I know. He was six feet and one inch tall, broad shouldered with a sharp nose, thick curly hair and big eyes. He was in the army for a short while and he looked incredibly handsome in his military uniform. He was an extrovert, he cherished company, he loved to invite people home for dinner and the way he met people by shaking their hands robustly and maintaining great eye contact was really charming.

He could not hold his drinks and when he had one too many, he would talk in a loud booming voice, enthralling people with his tales of the army and he would always be the life of the party. He loved watching movies and during his army days he would fly in the helicopter with his friends to catch a show at the neighboring town and then fly back to base. He also won the prestigious and coveted Raksha medal while in service.

We were four sisters and my dad believed that his daughters were the best at everything. He could not stop bragging about us. In his eyes, a piece of art work/coloring  done by me was a Monet masterpiece, the tea I made for him could very well be the best tea in the world and of course, we were the smartest, brightest child prodigies around. I remember winning third place at a state level story competition and when I went to get the prize on the stage, my father had arranged for a professional photographer complete with a big camera stand and fancy lenses to take pictures of me as though I was a celebrity! He was insanely generous with gifts, if you asked for one thing; he would shower ten of those upon you.

He was also quick tempered and impatient. While driving, he would constantly honk till the other drivers on the road made way for him! He would never get angry at us but god forbid, if any young man decided to write a romantic letter to one of his daughters or misbehave with one of them, that guy would face a storm of my dad’s torrid fury and blazing vengeance. 

My dad loved babies and was willing to have a fifth child. My mom, of course put her foot down and said – no more, four is enough! When I had my first son in 2002, I really missed my dad as I knew that he had always wanted a son. It is so heartbreaking and ironic that today he has seven grandsons and yet he is not here to see them or play with them.  He lives on in my son Arjun whose eyes are just like my dad’s – big, sparkling and popping. Arjun has the same voice and he is a wonderful orator like his nana (grandfather). Arjun can engage a crowd with an impromptu speech just like my dad could.

Few days back my daughter told me that when she grows up she wants to marry somebody just like her dad. Then she asked me, “Mom, did you want to marry somebody like your dad?” I was stumped by her question. I told her that we may think we have a type of man we are looking for but then life has other gifts in store.

Marriages are made in heaven or in my case arranged by my mom and uncle.  My children are always disappointed by the story of how their parents (Ajay and Mona) met. Arjun told us that our story sounds like we were out in the market to buy a cow! My kids can be so brutal sometimes. I wish I had a more romantic story to tell them but I do not have one. 

When we met, I was impressed by Ajay’s good looks, he was tall (5’11”) and he did not smoke (this was very important to me, my dad smoked lot and I did not like that) and he also seemed very nice and decent. He did not talk much in the first meeting and so I told my mom –“I like him but he does not talk much.” My mom replied in her usual headstrong way –“That is good, I find people who talk too much really annoying!” I kidded with her if she was finding a match for herself or for me! Then, she told me that the next time I meet him I should be quiet and give him a chance to talk. So that is what I did and slowly and steadily he opened up to me. I discovered that he had a great personality with a fantastic sense of humor. 

He is also very calm, disciplined, patient, hardworking and organized. My husband is a planner and he always makes decisions after weighing the pros and the cons. If he has to buy any electronic device or even clothes he visits multiples shops, compares prices and takes his time to decide. I feel flattered that marrying me was the only impulsive decision he ever made in his life. I was the first girl he met, the first proposal and even though his family wanted him to meet some more girls, he stuck with me. He was smitten and committed and that gives me a tingling thrill to this day.

Despite being outgoing and social my dad had an underlying sense of sadness and melancholy about life. He lost his own dad when he was a baby and he remembers people telling him how manhoos(unlucky) he was that his arrival brought his own father’s death . My heart breaks when I imagine my dad as a little boy. His mom remarried and he had several more siblings but the loss of his biological dad and lack of communication with that side of the family really ate at him all through his life. I wish I could have taken his pain away.

My husband has an optimistic outlook on life and nothing really brings him down. He loves to play pranks, once he kept a dead snake from the yard in an empty box of doughnuts and handed it to me; I screamed my head off when I opened it. Then, I laughed too because practical jokes make life fun. Recently, I have been trying to lose weight for an upcoming India trip and I am really slow on the Elliptical machine. He runs on it when he warms up before a soccer game but I was dragging my feet. He came and copied me, he had my tired and dull expression on his face and he was doing the elliptical movements in exaggerated slow motion. I laughed so hard to see him copy me to a T that I almost fell off the elliptical machine.

The other day I was smiling to myself and he asked me why I was laughing. I kidded with him that I was thinking about my boyfriend. He replied – “ Toh isme hasne ka kya hai, tumhara boyfriend joker hai kya?” ( What is there to laugh, is your boyfriend a joker?”)My husband is not very expressive and extravagant with his praise and therefore when he does pay me a compliment, I get ridiculously ecstatic and I feel like I could die of happiness.

Ajay can drink a lot and not lose control. He tells me that is because he drinks slowly and he does not gulp it down like I do. My dad got really emotional and talkative after a few drinks. My dad and my husband – my most favorite men, polar opposites and yet they have one thing in common- me. My dad loved me and my husband loves me unequivocally. My biggest disappointment is that my dad could not meet my husband but hopefully he is watching us from above. My two sons aged 10 and 12 are a combination and culmination of the physical features and personal qualities of my dad and my husband and I am waiting for them to grow up and turn into wonderful young men!

Sexist Jokes and Wife-Bashing Forwards in the Times of Coronavirus

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I have always found jokes which portray negative stereotypes of women a little bit irksome but lately the onslaught of these kind of forwards and a general social acceptance of this kind of humor infuriates me. I feel compelled to vent by writing a blog about it.

Let me give you some examples in case you have missed reading these. First, we have a picture of a man whose hair is standing up and his ears are enlarged and the caption reads, “Five days at home listening to the wife”. Then, we have a picture of Modiji with his hands in a namaste pose and the caption reads, “It is our request to women to stay quiet so that men can stay home”

Forget jokes, the Malaysian government went one step further when its Ministry for Women, Family and Community development issued a series of posters for Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #WomenPreventCovid19. The message advises women to stop “nagging” their husbands. In addition, they are also requested to refrain from being “sarcastic” when they ask their husbands to help them with household chores. This is not the end of it. The ministry also suggests that women should dress up and wear makeup while working from home.

I was shocked at these sexist and condescending messages. This is not acceptable. In the middle ages, a woman was made to wear a scold’s bridle (a mask like device made of iron to keep one’s mouth shut) as a punishment for nagging. This is the twenty first century, for crying out loud, we cannot perpetuate such prejudices towards women. This is no laughing matter. The myth of the nagging woman and the poor hapless henpecked husband needs to be busted.

In reality, nagging is a two-way street. Men nag too. I am reminded of the scene in the movie Queen where Kangana Ranaut’s fiancé is drilling in her ear about instructions on how to behave and all the things she is doing wrong. I don’t remember exactly what the fiancé’ said but I do remember that it sounded a lot like nagging. Yet, we never hear of jokes where husbands nag. A wife’s request is always interpreted as nagging and it is a deliberate power play on the part of men. We women dread being called nags and men use the word “nag’ to undermine our requests and trivialize what we are trying to say.

I know a lot of women who are quiet and have the attitude of live and let live while their husbands are always in their business asking them not to nap too much or asking them to exercise. There are men who complain about the house being dirty or the kids being unruly. Nagging is more of a personality trait rather than a gender based phenomenon.

It specially bothers me when women forward these jokes or find them funny. We cannot be a part of forwarding jokes which instigate biases towards our own gender. We need to call them out despite the risk of being told that we lack a sense of humor. It is not okay to throw wives under the bus. Wives would never do that to their husbands.

The ever wise Amitabh Bacchan has rightly said, “We post/say funny jokes about wife and laugh and always post respectable quotes for mother…The only difference I can see is one brings you into the world… and other makes YOU her world, but men always take their wives for granted and often ignore them in important talks, matters, decisions, plannings, etc. because they think that they are inefficient to handle them.” I agree with his thoughts completely.

Meanwhile, I am so relieved to hear that the Malaysian government has issued an apology for its sexist advice after it received severe backlash online for its unfair and  unthoughtful depiction of women.

I am hopeful for a world where we have gender equality and respect for both men and women. We have to acknowledge that sexist jokes aim at ridiculing women. We are normalizing sexism by sharing such jokes and laughing at them. In these times of home quarantine my advice would be to appreciate your spouse and bond together and create wonderful memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections From The Reference Desk

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While deep in thought searching something up on my computer at the reference desk, I heard a voice say, “Angel!” Awaking from my reverie and collecting my senses, I asked the good looking man in front of me- “Are you looking for books on Angels?”

“No, you look like an angel”, he replied. I really do not like to flirt and I said a bit curtly, “I am here to help you with reference questions, do you have a question I can answer?” He stared at me in awe, shook his head and said, “Wow, professional too, a professional angel!” and to my dismay and his happiness, I burst out laughing and so did he. I do not know why I laughed but that is the most unique compliment I have ever got and this is a true story. (The good-looking part might be a stretch but everything else is real.)

I love my job at the library. I get to answer reference questions in person, virtually and on the phone and sometimes people just stop by at the desk and start chatting. The questions can be as simple as where a particular book or electronic material is located in the library to something more labor intensive as helping someone build and format a resume or finding several primary and secondary sources for someone’s research paper. There is a woman who calls every evening (yes, every single day) and asks for the weekly weather forecast complete with highs and lows and the percentage chance of rain.

 Once, a lady called me and said she was researching from a book but she did not write the citation down and she did not remember the title of the book for me to pull it out. She had jotted down the information by pen, if she had made copies, she would have had the title and page numbers at the bottom of the page which would make it easier for me to find the book. I asked her if she remembered what color the book was and after thinking for a while she said that it was bound in green and there were several volumes of it. I went and looked in the reference 920s as she had researched some biographical information on a fairly unknown woman. I found the series, found the exact volume and article she had looked at and gave her all the information needed to cite this reference source. She was delighted and it was such a thrill to be able to help her, almost felt like I had won at a scavenger hunt or something.

At the library, when I look at the people around me, I can see that it is a microcosm of society. People from all walks of life- the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the homeless, they all visit the library and we treat them equally and respectfully. It is interesting to me how we can gauge the personalities of people just by talking to them very briefly. There are the nice, gentle folks who thank you twice or more just because you told them where the restroom was. There are the impatient, rude people who are drumming their fingers on the desk while you are looking up answers to their questions and you print them some really good information and they snatch the papers from your hands and leave without a backward glance or smile, let alone a thank you while you sit there in shock listening to the click clocks of their pointed high heels fading away.

I simply love and adore children and sometimes I regret that I did not choose to be a children’s librarian. When my kids were younger I sought a break from them and talking to adults was refreshing and desirable but now that my children are older, I realize that I want to work with children.  Once, this sweet little girl who came to the desk with her mom told me, “I like your shirt!” I was wearing a flowery blue and white shirt and she had a little kitty t-shirt on. I said, “I like your shirt too” and not to be outdone she said, “I like yours better!” She said she loved my black hair and asked if she could touch it. I seriously wanted to bring her home with me. I have one girl and two boys and I have always thought having one more girl in my family would be so wonderful.

I also feel very sad when a mom comes in to do homework on the computer with four kids in tow and they do not sit patiently (we do have puzzles, books and crayons for them but it only holds their attention for so long) and she is yelling at them. It broke my heart when I heard a mom say to her six year old- “Sit down right now, you do not deserve any Christmas gifts, I should cancel everything!” I do not blame the mom as she is working full time, studying and taking care of her kids which can be so stressful but it makes me feel despondent to hear these things being said to little ones.

The library is usually a quiet place where people come to read and research but once in a while we get some excitement/entertainment too. The incident I am going to narrate is real and I am going to name it ‘Love in the Library!’ The heroine is a voluptuous homeless redhead who was with her homeless African American boyfriend when apparently a White homeless guy started flirting with her. I do not know what happened but the two men were scuffling, one on top of the other on the table and then whilst trying to punch each other they rolled off and fell with a thud on the floor with that loud noise reverberating in the whole library and startling everyone. Of course, our security guys came running and separated them while they were still yelling and cussing at each other with the choicest of bleep words. People had gathered around and were watching in shock and disbelief and the two guys who were fighting were escorted out of the library. I had been a witness to the whole incident too from the sidelines and when the guys left, I turned to get back to my seat at the desk when my eyes met with an older distinguished looking Caucasian gentleman standing next to me. I told him “That was quite something, wasn’t it?” and he said “Yes, Welcome to America!” and I burst out laughing. Nothing like a good laugh to dissipate all the nervous tension from watching such an incident!

I was helping a lady who wanted to print some recipes of cakes and cookies for a tea party. She was homeless, had dirty nails and was smelling really bad and so I knew that she did not have a house to throw the party at but I went along with her as in her head whatever she was planning was real. I have so much empathy for the mentally ill, it is the worst kind of disease when you lose control of your mind and the thought of that ever happening to my brain scares the living daylights out of me.

It is amusing to me that when people misbehave, for example if someone is talking really loudly on their cell phone in a public area, sometimes, they will not listen to you but if you call security they immediately hang up. It reminds me of how the traffic slows down when people see a police car on the side of the road.

There are so many more anecdotes to tell but I do not want the blog to get too long. Let me sign off by talking about my encounters with Indian folks (my people) who do visit the library a lot. I usually get two kinds of questions, the first one being a very disdainful look of why I am not an engineer or a doctor and they cannot believe I actually had to get a master’s degree to get this job. The second kind always think it’s so cool that I work here and they ask me if I can find a job for their wives at the library which I cannot, I am not involved in the hiring process at all. With this, I end my reference desk sagas and maybe I will write a sequel soon as there are a lot more interactions in my inventory.

Forty Five

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45

 

No, this blog is not about Donald Trump who many people call 45 as they do not wish to take his name! Its about the age I turned this June. I had been anticipating this birthday with some apprehension. Birthdays come and go and the milestones are always those which end in 0’s. People tell you that 40 is the new 30 or 30 is the new 20. Thankfully, 20 is not the new 10. I am sure nobody wants to hear that at 20! When we are younger, we cannot wait to grow up and when we are older, the best compliments are those which tell you how young you look. The decade birthdays are brimming with bouquets and brouhahas while the ones which end in five do not get as much attention.

My youngest son, all of eleven, gets really excited about my birthdays and he kept asking me how I felt about my fast approaching special day. I told him that I was kind of sad as I am getting older. He gave me a hug and said, “Mom, look at it this way, 45 is a good birthday to have, at least you are not turning 54!” He eagerly told me with all earnestness that I look about 25 to which my almost fourteen year old son replied, “Armaan, you are such a suck up, sheesh, Mom looks like she is 38!” I smiled and thought to myself, “How did he come up with 38? 35 would have sounded better but I will take it” My sixteen year old daughter told me, “Why do you care so much about how you look? It’s not even important”

I keep telling my children that I adore chubby and cuddly babies and I may have another one soon and it really mortifies my 16 year old as she does not want a sibling that much younger to her. I am definitely not having another baby, it’s just  wishful thinking out aloud on my part but once I start my monologue on how much I love babies and how wonderful it would be to have a cute little toddler at home while the older three go off to college, she gets annoyed. So, this birthday,my daughter told me in her usual matter of fact way, “Mom, you cannot have babies anymore now, can you? You are 45 and menopause will be soon, right?”

Menopause occurs in women anywhere between 45 to 55 years of age. The Ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: “men” + “pauein.” The word “men” means month which is closely related to the word for moon, “mene” because the months were measured by the moon.  The word “pauein” means to cause to cease or stop.  At 45, you are definitely beginning to experience perimenopause. As your estrogen decreases you may experience mood swings and fatigue. So the next time you succumb to the urge of crying uncontrollably just know that it’s the side effects of your hormones going out of whack and all is really well with the world. I never had pimples as a teenager and now they are erupting everywhere. I work at the library and I have always worn a light cardigan or jacket there, even in summer as the air conditioning made me cold, but not anymore. For the first time in years, I am not cold in the library. At home, when I say, “Oh God, I am so hot, I feel so hot,” my husband will smile and say “yes, you are, I agree” and I will laugh but there is no pun intended. I go over and decrease the temperature in the air conditioner settings.

45 is a pivot point, half time in the game of life, a time to reflect on how the previous years have been and how you want to live the rest of your existence. I feel an increasing awareness of my mortality, an urgency to live the best life I can because I have wasted enough time already. For the first time in years, I am serious about taking care of myself both physically and emotionally. I had fallen off the exercise wagon and so I went back and started Zumba again. There is nothing more exhilarating and enthralling than dancing with a group of women to catchy songs complete with clapping and woohoos at the end of class. Endorphins are released,calories are burned and camaraderie and companionship is formed. I am trying to eat food rich in omega 3s like fish and nuts and also more of fresh fruits and vegetables. We, as mothers, take our kids to the pediatrician, the dentist, the orthodontist, the ophthalmologist and so on but every once in a while we forget to get our own checkups done. We need to go to the doctor for regular physicals and other recommended exams. We need to have a good intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent the occurrence of osteoporosis later in life.

I read an interesting quote that in your middle age when your body starts falling apart, your head is finally coming together. That could not be truer. I feel like I have grown into myself, I am stronger,  I am bolder, I know what I want and what I don’t. I don’t have room in my life for toxic people. I have a very low threshold for tolerating other people’s bad attitudes.I feel an impending sense of “what would my legacy be if I were to die tomorrow?” To that end, I wish to do more for my community, to volunteer more, to be a better daughter, wife,mother,sister and friend. In my twenties, I was very insecure and I would get upset when my husband was not expressive enough or when my friends would unknowingly say something hurtful. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore, I really don’t. I have complete confidence that my husband loves me, he doesn’t talk the talk but he walks the walk. He is always there for me, we work as a team and he makes me laugh every day and for that I am so grateful. I have three beautiful children and for that I feel extremely blessed.

In my twenties, I was a cautious driver staying mostly in one lane and I would feel scared driving to new places, fearing I would get lost. Now, I am one step away from getting a speeding ticket and I am more adventurous when it comes to driving to places I have never been before. My patience for irresponsible drivers has decreased. I get really annoyed and say some choice curse words when people cut you off and slowdown in the left lane or when they make a daring/foolish left turn and you have to slow down for them else they would get hit by you.

As I am getting older, I am realizing that time does not heal some wounds. When I lost my dad in my teens and my older sister when I was 24, everyone told me that with time, the pain would get better but it doesn’t. I still miss them a lot and think of them often, especially on my birthdays; I am swept away by the flooding rush of memories. However, I did have a good forty fifth birthday. My children made me some beautiful cards, my middle son baked me a heavenly Tiramisu cake, my friends treated me to lunch and I had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my family. I am surrounded by love and I cherish and treasure those who love me. I am proud of how far I have come, lucky to be alive and excited about the future.

Now that the kids are older, I am also inspired to travel more, to visit new countries and discern more of this world.. My children motivate me; my daughter grows her hair and then gets it cut to donate it for making wigs for cancer patients. She has donated it a few times and inspired by her, I am planning to do the same later this summer. I enjoy spending time with my children as I know that they will go off to college soon and I am also trying to make them more independent and ready for the real world. Going forward, Maya Angelou’s quote comes to mind, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style”

(I wrote this blog in 2016, republishing here from my now extinct blogger site)

She is Fat

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            I reconnected online with a childhood friend of mine after a long time and after catching up on her life, I asked about her older brother. She told me that he is doing well and is married with kids. I asked, “Who did he marry? How is his wife?” She replied with some disappointment, “She is fat, she was big boned to begin with and now she has put on some more weight.” I was taken aback. Why is that the first adjective which came to her mind whilst describing her sister-in-law? Why does the physical attribute of fatness take precedence over all the other amazing qualities one may have as an individual. You could have a beautiful smile, a kick-ass attitude and a great sense of humor but the first thing anyone notices or defines about you is your weight? I gently chided my friend that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and if they are happy and she is nice, let’s not worry about her bigness.

          The social stigma of obesity is a reality. Fat people not only bear the burden of their physical weight, they are also crushed by the weight of society’s sarcasm and disdain.Overweight people are stared at, laughed at, called names like fatso, fatty etc. and we as a society do not realize that we are being mean and hurtful. It is somehow okay to make a face if a heavy person sits next to you on the plane or laugh at negative stereotypes of fat people in movies.

           When friends in an online group responded with laughing emojis to a video which had an overweight woman dressed modestly in an orange sari and a black cardigan dancing to a Bollywood song, I shook my head and thought to myself, this is not right. We cannot normalize making fun of and mocking such videos. I felt relieved and reassured when one of the friends in the group wrote that the lady is dancing very gracefully and she admires her self-confidence to go up there on the stage despite her weight and dance alone in front of a big group of people. Dancing is really not just the prerogative of slim people, talent and graceful dance moves can be exhibited by people of all sizes.

        In today’s society, it’s not just the morbidly obese who bear the brunt of fat jokes. You could be a few pounds overweight and still have micro aggressions thrown your way. I have put on some pounds over the years but I have no health problems and I am confident enough to know that I look and feel great for being in my forties and being a mom to three teenagers. You cannot be expected to look the same as you did when you were younger. There is such a thing as aging gracefully. Age adds character to your face.The curious case of Benjamin Button is not a reality. However, it’s interesting when people who meet me after a long time expect just that and literally lament that I have let myself go and woefully remember my yonder days of slimness and slenderness.

           Scrolling through Facebook, I always shake my head with some annoyance when I read comments such as, “You look so pretty, have you lost weight?” as if you cannot look beautiful without losing weight. The perception in society is that if you are slim and toned it means that you have self-control, self-discipline and you have it all together. If you are fat, then by default you are perceived as lazy, unmotivated and unworthy of adulation. Sometimes, you are not fat because of your habits, you could have a thyroid imbalance, water retention problems or just a genetic disposition towards weight gain. All slim people do not eat healthy, they could be on a diet of fatty foods and desserts and yet have an active metabolism which burns all their extra calories.

        In the world today, when I see actresses who looked gorgeous being an average size aspiring to be slimmer, I wonder, how slim is slim enough? Is it just about health or largely about vanity? It is so refreshing to read an interview of Vidya Balan who is secure in herself and in her talent and is unapologetic about her weight. I completely agree with her when she says that she does not need unsolicited advice or questions about her weight, it’s really nobody’s business.

     The body positive movement in social media is a welcome start and it needs momentum and acceptance. What we need more of, is positive connotations attached to the word ‘fat’. In Bollywood, instead of a stereotypical Tuntun providing comic relief, we need a big beautiful heroine completely confident of herself, who knows she can do anything and be anyone she wants to be. Such a heroine should be portrayed as totally worthy of the love of a dashing hero.

     I am not advocating that people should put on weight or be unhealthy. What I am advocating is that we as a society should change our attitude. Let’s not be so harsh and unfair. Let’s not judge human beings on their weight alone and lose the chance of knowing them as people. A fat person should not be an embarrassment to their family and friends. Let’s celebrate their qualities and talents without focusing so much on their physical appearance.

 

My Year as a Reading Tutor

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In the last week of April there was a celebration of the students and volunteers participating in Midlands Reading Consortium at Harbison West Elementary school. During the school year we tutored a child once a week, helping him or her read and comprehend. While it is a joy to volunteer and it gives you a certain peace and contentment to know that you are doing something useful not for money but out of the goodness of your heart, I couldn’t help but feel thrilled and happy when we were given our choice of free MRC goodies like a tote bag, a cup, bookmarks, water bottles etc. as a reward. 🙂

I used to spend time with my second grader every Monday morning at 9:00 am. Now that the volunteering year is over, I miss spending time with him during that hour. The year started a little rough, it was hard to hold his attention, he would look at other kids passing by, yawn a lot, ask to go drink water or use the restroom and found it difficult to focus. I really wanted to do things he was passionate about so that I could hold his attention and he would feel awake and excited about what he was doing. I discovered that he loved to play memory card games (one with matching despicable me movie characters was his favorite), connect four and tick tack toe and he, like every child I know, loved to win. I started the session playing with him and letting him win more often than not, and then we moved on to reading. He is a good reader and I always let him select the books he wanted to read. Some books he liked so much that he would read them every chance he got till I felt like I knew them by heart and could not hear them one more time and I needed to add new books to his reading log. By the end of the year I was so proud of him as he was reading loud and clear and answering my comprehension questions too.

In the beginning, I felt like I was not connecting with him as he wasn’t a hugger, and not too expressive. However, once, I missed a Monday as I was not well and then when I saw him next Monday, I told him I was sorry I could not make it and he told me, “I was waiting for you last Monday” and my heart soared with happiness. I was reminded of something that we forget ever so often; just because someone doesn’t express, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings.

Another incident which really touched my heart happened around Martin Luther King’s day. He told me he wanted to show me something and then took me towards a display board outside his classroom which had pictures of notable African Americans. He pointed out pictures of Michael Jordan, Dr. King, and Barack Obama to me. He told me that he wanted to grow up and be somebody famous. I was so overwhelmed with emotion that he liked and trusted me enough to share this information with me. I also have so much respect for the teachers who work hard everyday and inspire students by doing these projects on positive role models.

Towards the end, he had opened up a lot and would tell me stories which were very imaginative. He told me that his dad is disabled and stays home and is looked after by their pet monkey who is trained to get dad, juice and food from the kitchen! I generally believe things kids say but this one seemed too far-fetched to me. Still, I came home and repeated it to my husband and asked if it could be true and my husband shook his head and smiled. We were reading a story for St. Patrick’s Day, the Monday after and he told me that he had gone to see the parade downtown on Saturday and he saw a leprechaun. The leprechaun cleaned his shoe and gave him a gold coin which his mom sold for a hundred dollars and got him a new dirt bike from Walmart! I did find his stories endearing and I do hope he gets a new bike.

I am not tutoring during summer but I look forward to teaching another child next school year and I hope I run into my old student too and I hope he has a great summer. I am so grateful  to MRC for giving me this opportunity and giving each child a bag of new books to take home.

Purrfect Companion

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“I have lived with several Zen Masters- all of them cats.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

“A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I have never thought of myself as a cat person. However, never say never. There are stray cats which visit my backyard. Once, a cat curled itself up and slept on my swing on the deck and I knocked on the sliding door to wake her up and shoo her away. Her eyes opened from the noise and without batting her eyelids she scornfully looked at me as though saying, “How dare you wake me up” and she refused to budge right away. So I left her alone but I was amused and chuckled at her attitude.

It is interesting to see how some cats gather together in a group in my backyard as though they are gossiping/holding a town hall meeting, and one or two are shy and always like being loners. There are cats on either side of the creek in the forest staring down at each other down from across the water and sometimes I wonder if the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, books on cats and their clans, which all my kids read in elementary school could possibly be true.

A stray cat which probably came from the forest in my backyard ended up being friends with a neighbor’s outdoor cat and the two of them hang out together in her driveway. For some reason both my sons love this cat and play with him. The cat loved the boys but would run away when I would come out to the driveway. My youngest son Armaan plays with him after school every day on his way home from the school bus, he just claps and the cat appears. I enjoy watching them from the window, the two of them interacting with each other. Sometimes, the cat follows Armaan home.

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I don’t remember exactly when and how but the cat got comfortable with me. Armaan had told me that cats need time to open up. The cat came up to me while I was sitting on the front porch steps and moved around me and I was able to pet it. His eyes are so expressive, reflecting his emotions, everything from inquisitive to scared to happy and excited. He snuggled deep into the space between couple of pots in my front yard at the base of the porch steps where we were sitting. I was perplexed as to what he was doing. Bewildered I asked Armaan, “Why does he look like a hen trying to lay eggs?” Right then, the cat peed, it sprayed out as a small fountain, like a meteoric shower! It was so unexpected and dramatic that Armaan and I both burst out laughing. Armaan told me that when cats do this they are marking their territory. I felt like he put on this show for us, right in our direct view and so close, luckily Armaan and I  got up and jumped back to avoid getting wet.

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Now the cat even does tricks for me. It was so exciting that he stood up when I moved my hand up. When Armaan comes inside the house , the cat sits on our driveway and waits for him to come back out. One of the most blissful and relaxing moments in my life is sitting on the porch with Armaan and playing with the cat. He is such an elegant and majestic creature with great personality.

I have some really cute videos and pictures of Armaan playing with the cat, the cat following him home, the cat coming up the porch steps, but Armaan did not want me to post those publicly so I am refraining from doing so.  It warms my heart to see how nurturing and loving Armaan is, when I hear him pet the cat using positive words such as, “you are a good kitty”, “such a nice kitty” “do you need space” “do you like the camera” and so on. I think my child will be a good parent when he grows up.

The cat has not been seen in the past week. We are missing him and hope he resurfaces soon from his hiatus.

Happy 18th Birthday Mansi

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Elegant, effervescent, exuberant, 18! Its senior year and Miss Mansi is so eager and enthusiastic about college, applying to schools near and far, standing tall, ready to embrace life while I am a worried mess, nervous already that she may fly the nest next fall. The years are passing by in the blink of an eye, and for some reason it makes me cry. I am so proud of the brilliant and  beautiful young lady she is today but memories of her as a little girl never go away.

             Lately, Mansi has been reading a lot on Psychology, her interest piqued after taking an AP course on it and reading voraciously on this subject this summer. She is so fascinated by the study of human nature that her original love of Quantum Physics has taken a back seat. Her dad and I were talking about how many more scholarships are available for girls in science and technology and she is in a magnet STEM program and gets those subjects and makes good grades in them but we also know in our hearts that we do not want to be stereotypical Indian parents wanting our children to be doctors and engineers.
             It amazes me how someone as sweet as her can also be so stubborn. I constantly butt heads with her when she asks me to look over her college essays, she wants my opinion but then refuses to take most of my suggestions! I am grateful she asks me to read as I am learning so much about her , what she thinks of herself and what she wants to do with her life. It was so difficult for her to write those personal statements for applications as she does not like opening up and talking about herself but colleges want to know and I am so very proud of her for finally writing so beautifully about her authentic self. She is an amazing writer but she will not let me share her writing on Facebook. She is so private, she has a blog on tumblr with a pen name theorizing on her favorite Japanese manga series and it gets quite a few comments and likes.
            She also keeps imparting me with little nuggets of wisdom in her usual matter of fact way. The other day, we decided to go for dinner on our way from an evening walk at the lake. When everyone decided on a somewhat fancy restaurant I suggested we could go to a casual place as we were not formally dressed. I had no makeup on and my hair was a wiry frizzy mess. Mansi told me that it doesn’t matter, we were fine as we were and then she said, “Mom, I think you suffer from the spotlight effect.” “What does that mean?” I asked.  She went on to tell me that suffering from the spotlight effect means that you think everybody is noticing you but in reality very few people are. In short, I am not a celebrity! She also said that when people are so focused on themselves and are acutely aware of their appearance, they think everybody else is equally focused on them but they are not. Her observation stumped me and really made me think. Maybe she is right. I also admire her for not seeking attention, she does not feel the need to take selfies, and she is not on Facebook or Instagram.
             She is our first born , our only girl, our pampered princess and yet she is very grounded and never demanding. She exudes a quiet strength, never affected by peer pressure, she is a great big sister to Arjun and Armaan. Armaan is her boo, her baby, her sidekick and her minion, its really cute to see them cuddle together.armaan
            Right now I can hear her laugh as she is hanging out with her friends at home and it is the sweetest sound, I always love to hear the children laugh, each has their own distinctive laughter. Very soon she will cut her favorite carrot cake made by Arjun. As she blows out her birthday candles and makes some wishes , I hope all of  those come true. I love her so much.