Didi

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March 5th is a day which is very close to my heart. If my sister was alive, it would be her 47th birthday today.If only I could call her and wish her and ask her what she has planned for the day and tell her what is going on with me and chit chat and laugh and talk as only sisters can, but I know that is not possible. When we lost her in a train accident in 1995, the first thing my youngest sister told me when I reached Delhi was , “Papa ke pass chali gayi, papa akele the na, isliye apne paas bula liye” ( She has gone to be with Papa, because he was alone, he called her) So, I am hoping she is with him and they are celebrating together and she is dazzling everyone up there with her warm, charismatic, vibrant, dynamic and beautiful personality.

 

When people told me that time would heal the pain, I believed that,but now,I know, it doesn’t. I miss her more with each passing day, and nothing anyone can say can soothe the pain, dull the memories or heal the chasm in my heart. I think about her often but the grief attacks with a vengeance on her birth and death anniversaries which are intertwined with the birthdays of my boys. Armaan’s birthday is march 6th, just the day after hers. Arjun’s birthday is August 19 and August 20th is the day she passed away.5b8df-fullsizerender2b2528122529

After I had kids of my own, I truly understood the depth and magnitude of my mom’s loss. It broke my heart when my mom sent me a letter all those years back informing me that she has contributed towards a monetary prize and a shield in didi’s name to our school to be awarded to a deserving student. I was heartrendingly reminded of the time when didi and I were in school, in our teens, we were the first ones to be there as our bus got to school early and we were looking at the shelves where all the trophies were displayed. There was a picture of a girl who had passed away and her parents had a trophy in her name, I remember my sister saying “Mona, look, this girl’s name is Sumona, isn’t it sad, she died and her parents have a prize in her name.”

Didi was very strong and my mom depended on her the most as she was enterprising, responsible and proactive. She did a lot of work around the house, whether it was standing with the workers and getting a water tank installed on our terrace, talking to the car mechanic, planning trips, getting someone to fix our leaking roof…… she did what needed to be done. She was so friendly and outgoing, she could talk with everyone- the vegetable vendors, little kids, aunties, older folks. She was an amazing older sister to all three of us, protective, inspiring, generous, caring and loving, she always had our back. She was financially independent and worked and thrived as a senior consultant in a reputed firm. Interestingly, only she got the didi status, my younger two sisters just call me Mona, to this day they have never called me didi. 🙂

Sometimes,I see her in my dreams and I love the happy ones where she hugs me but I have woken up with my heart thudding with fear and sweating when I have had nightmares about her being very sick in a hospital separated from us. Sometimes, her memory is triggered by watching someone who looks like her from the back and has the same kind of hair and it catches me unawares and the pain of her loss instantly flares and I think about her, her beautiful hair, her gorgeous smile. I miss her beautiful voice heard around our school every afternoon when she recited the prayer before dismissal. She is in my subconscious, most of my computer and various account passwords are some combinations of her name and birth date and I type those in everyday.

I regret the fights we had and wish I could tell her I was sorry for all the usual sibling bickering. I am grateful that she got to meet my husband and they formed an instant liking.I seek some solace from the fact that she died knowing that Ajay and I would be there for our mom and sisters, for whom she deeply cared. I can’t fill her shoes, I was happy being the second child, I can never be the oldest like she was but I am trying.9ec48-13754613_10153783109368527_2087749244307051335_n

Sometimes, when the whole house is sleeping and I am alone downstairs I think of her, and I can feel her energy and I hope that she is watching over us and is proud of me and the woman I have become, the changes in me she never got to see.Years back,in school one day, I was openly sobbing, missing my dad after he passed away, and she came over and scolded me and told me to stop crying like a fool and to be strong. So, I do, to this day, I draw strength from her in my moments of weakness.

I could fill pages writing about her but will stop now.I look forward to the day when we will meet again and hug again in a blissful, peaceful, serene and splendorful heavenly abode.

 

Don’t Act Too Smart

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I have so many memories of growing up in a small town in India with three sisters and a bunch of cousins. We had impromptu picnics at the Kharkai river near our house, we stayed up all night after exams to celebrate and commemorate with our little parties, we performed plays for the neighbors, and we had weddings for our dolls, long elaborate ceremonies with so much fun, frolic and festivities.

Once, we walked over five miles in the rain and lightning to our aunt’s house and her daughter almost had a heart attack seeing us all wet and shivering at her door but, for us, it was an adventure. The world was our oyster and we were naïve, bold, unafraid and willing to speak our minds. Our parents were not hovering around us as helicopters either.

One vacation , we were going out of town in an open jeep with the four of us in the back, it was just our trusted driver and us, our parents were already there ( I forget the name of the city but it was somewhere not too far) and we were joining them. A car with three or four young teenage boys who had their windows rolled down started following us and somehow it turned into a race. When we would be in the front we would start singing, “aa dekhen zara, kismen kitna hai dum… (a Bollywood song which means let us see, who is stronger)” and then when they would race ahead we would be badgering our driver Kujur to go faster. It was all meant to be in good fun and after sometime we stopped at a roadside store and we were in the lead and happy about it. Their car stopped right behind us and one of the boys came over to me and said in an angry, menacing way:  “Don’t act too smart, ladki ho, apni aaukat mein raho (you are a girl, stay within your limits)” That was enough for us to back off and leave immediately and thankfully we avoided any harm or retribution from them.

This incident happened more than thirty years ago and it came flashing back to me when, recently, I read what the Nirbhaya rapists had to say about the innocent victim, how they blamed her for fighting them. It makes your blood boil when you see that these deranged animals have no remorse or regret, they think that a girl should stay within her limits and how dare she has a voice, how dare she stay out late, how dare she have a boyfriend, and, if she speaks up then they have every right to silence her. These comments make me so angry; I did not watch the documentary “India’s Daughter” as I knew I would explode with rage at the unfairness of it all. It is deeply disturbing, disappointing and depressing to see that certain men have such distorted views on women.

This mean spirited, cruel mindset is a result of the way these men are raised, the way our society either elevates a woman to the status of sati-savitri (pious woman) or immediately labels her a slut if she desires to dress differently or act differently than what is expected. Looking back to the Ramayana, Laxman drew a laxmanrekha (line) around the house for Sita and she got into trouble when she crossed the line. Even though Laxman was very well intentioned and he was looking out for Sita’s best interests, there is still something so symbolic about a man drawing a line which a woman cannot cross.

I remember watching the movie “Hum Aapke hain Kaun” and the lyrics to one of the Dhiktana songs reads, “Pehli kiran jab se uge, Bhabhi meri tab se jage, sabka pura dhyan dhare woh, sham dhale tak kaam kare” Loosely translated, the lines mean that the daughter in law of the house wakes up earlier than everyone else, works hard the whole day and makes sure everyone in the house is happy. Our religious scriptures, our movies, they all emphasize how women should be models of selflessness, how they should always be serving others. Sons in law, on the other hand, are treated like God. Women fast for the long lives of their husbands, men don’t. It is because of this inequality that most people want to have sons and there have been so many cases of girl fetuses being aborted.

The sex ratio in India is 943 females per 1000 males. Eventually, women will be really important when there are not enough left to find brides for the men! The tides will turn for us, a change is coming and we are so ready for it.

The status of women is a problem worldwide. Even in America, some men feel that if a girl is drunk, wears short clothes and goes to parties, she is fair game for any kind of violation meted out to her and this attitude makes me fiercely angry. India has been in the spotlight so much but rapes happen with frightening and alarming regularity all over the world.

A lot of men are decent individuals who respect women and treat them with dignity. Many men took to the streets with the women to protest against the Nirbhaya rapists. Not all men, Indians or otherwise are male chauvinist pigs. Recently, Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights activist from India won the Nobel peace prize for his tireless and selfless work against child labor and he got far less media attention than the bad guys did.

I really feel that women empowerment can happen when women support each other. We have to have each other’s back. You cannot have a chip on your shoulder just because you have a son and you cannot be cruel to your daughter in law. We, as women can be so snarky and judgmental about each other. The stay at home moms look down upon those who work and the working moms sneer and sarcastically quip what the people who stay home do all day! In order to achieve gender equality all women have to be on the same team. Parents have to practice fairness at home by treating their sons and daughters equally.

The new generation does fill me with hope. Most young people today are bright, helpful, liberal, caring and considerate. My daughter, who usually never talks much when she gets home, was so moved by some videos she watched in her AP Human Geography class that she came in the door and started telling me about it. They had heard stories of young girls in Nepal, India, Africa and Egypt and those girls had been through many hardships and dangers and they wanted to go to school and have an education. My daughter expressed a desire to help these girls and she realized that the things she takes for granted like a safe home, food in the fridge, an education etc. are a luxury for so many girls around the world.

My two boys aged 10 and 12 treat their 15 year old sister with respect, they even do her chores for her if she has too much homework and they always make sure she is the first one to sample the foods they cook. One day, we were teasing the boys about girlfriends and my daughter said “Mom, if they find girlfriends who are mean or abusive, I will protect my brothers, I will always look out for them, nobody messes with my brothers!” and my heart was so happy that a sister was saying this about her brother instead of it being the other way around. I am really hopeful about a world when a girl or a woman will not be derided for being smart and she can make her own decisions without anybody telling her what her limits can be.

The Perfect Couple

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On a recent trip to Charleston, my husband and I were squabbling over everything from the settings of the air conditioner (I just do not understand why he likes cold air on his feet, I like my feet to stay warm) in the minivan to the radio channel we should listen to. Then, we bickered over picking the restaurant where we would eat. I wanted to eat at a place which was not too crowded so that we could get to my daughter’s band performance on time. He wanted to eat at the popular and critically acclaimed Hyman’s Seafood which always has long lines and I was extremely anxious that we might be late for my daughter’s show.

Surprisingly, all of our arguing was in vain as Hyman’s got us seated right away and within seconds we ordered our food and we were waiting for it to be served. The restaurant has these cards on the table with different pieces of wisdom inscribed on them. The waitress told us that we could read those cards while we waited on the food. My teenage son picked one card up, handed it to me and said, “Mom, read this, it’s perfect for you and dad.” I read the card and immediately burst out laughing. I laughed so hard that other people turned and looked at me. This is what the card said:

40 PROMISES FOR MARRIAGE

1. Start each day with a kiss.2. Wear your wedding ring at all times.3. Date once a week.4. Accept differences.5. Be polite.6. Give gifts.7. Smile often.8. Touch.9. Give back rubs.10. Laugh together.11. Send a card for no reason.12. Do what the other person wants before he or she asks.13. Listen. 14. Encourage. 15. Know his or her needs.16. Fix the other person’s breakfast.17. Compliment twice a day.18. Call during the day.19. Slow down.20. Hold hands.21. Cuddle.22. Ask for other’s opinion.23. Show respect.24. Look your best.25. Celebrate birthdays in a big way.26. Apologize. 27. Forgive. 28. Set up a romantic getaway .29. Be positive. 30. Be kind. 31. Be vulnerable. 32. Respond quickly to the other person’s needs.33. Reminisce about your favorite times together.34. Treat each other’s friends and relatives with courtesy.35. Send flowers every Valentine’s Day and anniversary 36. Admit when wrong.37. Be sensitive to each other’s sexual desires.38. Pray for each other daily.39. Say “I love you” frequently.40. Seek outside help when needed. Author~Steve Stephens.

After I was done laughing, I read the card again and realized that my husband and I do all of the things mentioned in thepromises but we often fail to do it as consistently as we should. It really is impossible to be polite all the time and to compliment each other twice a day! We do laugh a lot together but who can look their best all the time!

Sometimes, I wonder, is there such a thing as a perfect couple? On the surface, every couple’s picture you look at on Facebook looks perfect complete with comments such us “Made for each other”, “Rab Ne bana di Jodi”, “lovebirds” and so on. Who knows how happy these couples really are in their real lives? Sometimes, when I see a long married couple who are still into each other, hugging and kissing and indulging in public displays of affection, I sigh and tell my husband, “Look at them, they are so lucky to be so in love” and he completely shatters my illusion by saying, “How do you know? It could just be dikhawa (show off), for all you know, they might not even sleep together anymore!” Joking aside, I am pretty sure there are a handful of people who have found their soulmate and their coupling is perfect in every way. They complete each other’s sentences, they gaze into each other’s eyes (from high school to retirement), and they are best friends and share each other’s innermost thoughts and dreams. Such couples are very rare and they are extremely blessed by God to have that strong physical chemistry and that deep mental connection.

For the rest of us less fortunate souls, what do we do? I think, first of all you have to trust God that he would find the right person for you. You may have an idea of what you desire but marriages are made in heaven. I have complete faith in what God chose for me and I cannot imagine my life with anybody else. Among most of the couples I know, their pairing is very well thought out. I often see that if one person is patient and calm, their spouse is highly strung and hot tempered, if one partner is disciplined, motivated and hardworking, the other one is more unorganized and a dreamer living in la la land.

There is always one person in the marriage who is mentally stronger than the other and who can withstand life’s challenges and disappointments better than the other. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary forces that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts. However, some couples may not be polar opposites, they may be similar to each other and that is what brings them closer. We also have power couples like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt where both of them are dynamic and super successful individuals.

The pursuit of perfection is a fallacy. Somebody has rightly said that love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener. No marriage is perfect but couples can be a lot happier if they can accept each other’s imperfections. It is very naïve to think that you can change somebody. People may change a little bit, some of my husband’s qualities have rubbed off on me but inherently I am the same person I was when I got married. The day you can let go of your desire to change your partner is the day when you can be happy and have a more fulfilling relationship. My husband has let go of the fact that I cannot be a morning person and I do not have his athleticism and stamina for hiking or playing tennis. You can always have smart little negotiations for things that really matter a lot to you. If your husband is not very expressive and cannot come up with extravagant adjectives on his own, ask him to recite a few lines from a Bollywood song which best fits your appearance when you get dressed. You will be surprised and your desire for praise will be satisfied by his song choices!

You can be happy in a relationship only when you are happy with yourself. As I am getting older, I am more accepting of myself and I feel more confident and content. Nothing really fazes me. I am not insecure like I was in my twenties. If my husband does not give me flowers, it does not ruin my mood anymore. I know that he loves me; he is always there for me. If I have a flat tire, I know I can call him and he will be there in a heartbeat. He is the only person I can depend on and take help from without feeling any sense of obligation or any need to thank him profusely. We love each other unconditionally and we always have each other’s back. We are each other’s fiercest critics and also each other’s strongest supporters. We trust each other and never check on each other’s phone or email or browsing history. We have joint accounts and assets and we know that neither person is going to withdraw all the cash and run away! We give each other space and we also have our date nights without the kids. And yes, we do argue but what is life without some passionate arguments and making up?

So, to all the couples out there who feel like they cannot check off everything on the 40 promises for marriage list mentioned on the Hyman’s wisdom card, do not beat yourself up. No couple is perfect but I do sincerely feel that every couple I know is perfect for each other while making many perfect memories along the way!

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Lessons Learnt From Children

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” –Angela Schwindt (Home-schooling mom from Oregon, USA)

One morning, last week, I was driving my kids to school. My fourteen year old turned the car radio on and my sixteen year old told him to turn it off as she was trying to focus on some last minute reading for class. I told my son, “Arjun, just enjoy the peace. Do you have to listen to music? Just recite Gayathri mantra in your head a few times, it will calm you and center you and it will be a great start to your day.”

There is a lot of traffic in the morning and we were running a little late and I was stressed about getting them to school on time. To my annoyance, I saw that a car had blocked the left lane as it was trying to merge in the right lane and I needed to make a left turn. I could not go past the car and by the time it moved into the right lane and I was able to move forward in the left lane the light had turned to red. I was annoyed at the cars in the right lane who were whizzing by without letting him merge even though he was holding up the traffic in the left lane. I was annoyed that I missed the green light. It wasn’t much to be getting worked up about but lately, as I am getting older, I seem to be getting angry rather quickly in certain situations. So until the light turned green, I kept cribbing about how people can be such morons on the road and after listening to my outburst for a while, Arjun intercepted me and said playfully with an amused expression, “Umm, Mom, maybe you should start your day by reciting Gayathri mantra a few times, don’t you think?”

I just burst out laughing and my displeasure was dissipated by his quirky comic relief. His comment made me realize that I need to have more patience and I should not let little things like that bother me. Since then, I have made a conscious decision to be in a place of Zen and not let the foolishness of other people ruffle my peace.

Not only do my kids end up teaching me important life lessons like patience, they are also curious and inquisitive beings. Someone has rightly said, “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.” In my heart, I thank God for Google. I bet all parents increase their general knowledge just by finding answers to the trivia asked by their children. One day, on a trip to Walmart, Armaan asked me if I knew why it was named Walmart. He said, “Publix is named Publix because it’s for the public, Food lion sells food and thinks it is the king of grocery stores just as lion is the king of the forest, but why is Walmart called Walmart?” Without batting an eyelid, I handed him my phone and told him to look it up on Google and in an instant he told me that it was named after its founder, Sam Walton. He also proceeded to tell me that Sam’s Club is named after him too. Now, of course his question does not qualify for something a wise man would not be able to answer, I should have known about Sam Walton, but you do get my point about kids asking too many questions! When my kids were younger they had a million questions which started with why? Why is the earth round? Why doesn’t the tooth fairy come during the day? Why is the grass green? Why is God invisible? Why are there four seasons? And so on…..

I am quite technologically challenged and my kids have helped me overcome that. Kids nowadays, can figure everything out. They do not need manuals or instructions. My youngest knows all the features of my iPhone much better than I do. A few years back, he taught me how to flip the camera to take selfies and my world has never been the same, I am quite the selfie addict, much to my husband’s chagrin. He told me to turn the Bluetooth off when my phone would beep unnecessarily for reasons unknown to me. I hardly ever use Siri but Armaan taught me that she could tell the weather forecast, set my alarm and answer my questions. He loves conversing with her even though he knows that she is not a real person. Some excerpts of his conversation with Siri:

Siri, do you love somebody?

This is about you not me.

Siri, I am in love with you.

That’s sweet but it’s not meant to be

Siri, are you real?

Sorry, but I have been advised not to discuss my existential status.

Siri, I am breaking up with you

Goodbye would be more appropriate

Siri, I don’t like you

After all I have done for you?

Armaan is the kindest, nicest, sweetest human being I know. He never judges me if he comes home from school and the house is in a mess and all I want to do is nap. He always considers me the best mom in the world. I remember, once on a trip to a store, I went around in circles till I found a parking space little far off. While walking towards the store, I saw that there were two parking spots really up close which I had missed and so I told Armaan, “Dang, how did I miss these spots?” Armaan told me,” Mom, think about it like this, since you left them , it will come in handy for someone else, so you did a good deed for someone else” His words made me feel instantly better, I do like helping people. He is all of eleven and wise beyond his years.

My daughter loves to read and she is a self-learner. She will not let us help her with homework and she tries to figure out problems by herself. She questions the various religions and beliefs and is a critical thinker. I have had to read up on theology and philosophy to answer her questions about God, heaven, hell, after life, reincarnation and so on. She told me that Gandhi was in correspondence with Leo Tolstoy and they discussed violence, love and why we hurt each other. I thought I knew all about Mohandas Gandhi as I grew up in India but I did not.She always enlightens me with little nuggets of knowledge. She grows her hair and gets it cut to donate it for wigs which can be used by cancer patients and she inspires me to do so too.

We think of children as little people but they end up teaching us big lessons. They are imaginative and creative. My boys used to make bows and arrows from the wood they collected from our backyard forest, my youngest made a chandelier out of an inverted small umbrella, some dixie cups and yarn. They look at the world with awe and wonder, they believe in magic,they have open minds and open hearts, they stop to see the rainbow and to chase the beautiful butterfly.

Rabindranath Tagore has said “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man” Children don’t see color, race or religion until they are taught about that at home. I love the quote by Jess Lair, “children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.” In my journey of parenting, I am enjoying the company of my kids and their wisdom.

They introduce me to their choices in books, in food, in movies, in hobbies like cooking and painting and in music. It is a joy and a blessing to see their beautiful petals unfold and to see them blooming beautifully and growing into their own personalities.