Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Forwarded Email And Emotional Blackmail !

On an entirely different note from the other celebratory blogs of this month, here's a post on a topic I've been mulling over for quite some time. I receive numerous forwarded emails from well-meaning friends, most of which I enjoy. Some of them, I must admit, elicit appreciative laughter, and some of them make me go "Wow!". I'm happy to be the recipient of such emails that put a smile on my lips or make my heart sing. The bone I have to pick with is about those emails that need to be forwarded to a required number of contacts within a said number of minutes to enjoy a blessing or whatever, or else...! Let me confess... I never forward any such email, but promptly hit the 'delete' button without any qualms whatsoever!

I do not believe in chain mail that warn me of dire consequences or bad luck if the chain gets broken, but if I'm part of the unbroken chain, then I'd reap rewards untold. That's the best nonsense of the millennium and hardly do I give credence to such b.s. even for a split second. In the whole cosmic sequence of events, one simply can't bring on good karma by sitting on one's dainty bottom (I'm being decent here!) and forwarding emails of this kind. The other kind of email that makes me fume is the one that says Bill Gates is giving away his fortune to those who forward the said email, or the one promising me a new iPod or iMac (substitute this with cash or any other popular electronic item of the day) if I did the same. As if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have nothing else worthy going on in their lives, and as if their only mission in life is to heap said rewards on recipients unknown to them!

Some of the forwarded emails are truly brilliant in creativity and ingenuity as I keep marveling at them and keep scrolling till the very end, only to find the last few lines asking me to forward them to all the folks in my contact list. I have better things to do, and being on autopilot, I hit 'delete' without any question. Of all the kinds of such email, the ones that rile me the most are those that use religion to emotionally blackmail me into forwarding them to others. "If you truly believe in Jesus, then send this to all the people you know," or some such crap implying that I'm not a true Christian or sadly lacking in Christian values if I didn't forward it to others. I see no need to prove to anyone that I'm a believer just by forwarding emails of this kind, so again..DELETE!

As we head into the New Year 2010, let me assure all the friends on my contact list that I do value and enjoy your funny, smart, intelligent, thought-provoking forwards, but if at all you do require me to forward them to others or keep the chain unbroken, then FUGGEDABOUDIT!!!!

Here's wishing one and all happy and sensible emailing in the new year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Cool Yule!

Now is the time of the year to reflect on life's blessings and take stock of all that has happened in the months past. I MUST acknowledge with humble devotion and gratitude that despite all the accompanying downs that are very much a part of life, the ups take precedence of all kind! How lucky am I!!! I had a wonderful Christmas with the family and celebrated with utmost joy and thanks, the 14th birthday of the kid. Needless to say, it was a cool Yule, quiet and understated, yet overwhelmingly joyous and merry in its own way!

Though my faith as a Christian runs very strong and leads and sustains me through life's uncharted territory (excuse the cliche), I am definitely not the Bible-toting, regularly church-going, obsessively ritual-following kind of Christian. However, the family and I were extremely pleased to have attended on Christmas eve, a church that is just a stone's throw away from where we live now. The mood at the inter-denominational church was upbeat and festive, the message positive and hopeful, and the celebration truly joyous and uplifting. It was an awesome feeling to walk back home in the cold winter's night, reflecting on the service we had just attended!

Christmas Day being my son's birthday, there is always the wonderful feeling of God having granted us the best gift of all!!! Our son is truly a blessing, but we always have a muted celebration in deference to the birth of the Christ Child. Dinesh usually has a party in advance and so had his friends come over last weekend for endless hours of video games and fun. See picture below! On Christmas Day it was just the three of us, with all the attendant calls, of course, from friends and family to wish him well. Surprisingly, he did not have a wish list of gifts this year, which is quite unusual for a 14-year-old. His explanation: " I'm a more mature person now. I have developed morally...!" I just couldn't believe my ears...bah, the words of wisdom from the mouths of babes!!!

What with the lamb biriyani, chilli chicken, uppu kari (mutton fry), and onion and cucumber salad, accompanied by the requisite celebratory red wine and simple presents to each other, it was a day of gaiety and mirth in the Kanna household! In retrospect, it was a cool Yule indeed, and I'm truly thankful for all of life's blessings!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

An Enchanted Evening, Tequila Shooters, And More!!!

It's been fun so far this holiday season, what with the workplace party at the Empire Landmark, the staff lunch at Pasta Polo, the potluck party in class, and to top it all, an amiable, raucous and fun-filled party at Ewa's place last evening! Ewa and her handsome husband (sounds alliterative!) Jarek threw open their doors to ten of us and played the perfect, impeccable hosts (double emphasis here!) to us starry-eyed guests. It was a much anticipated evening of camaraderie and socializing, one that lived up to all our expectations! Yesterday being our last day of work before we closed for Christmas, it was only fitting that we ended it on a "high" note, both literally and metaphorically!

I had to enlist my husband's help (as I always do) in ferrying me to and from Ewa's place in Surrey. The time on the invitation said "6.30 P.M." and I thought I was being fashionably late by arriving at 6.40, only to realize that I was actually the first guest there. After I had been introduced to Jarek, and after popping my tandoori chicken and onion bhajias in the oven to keep them warm, I sat down on the couch to have a chat with Ewa. I must digress and talk about Ewa's beautiful house here. It was a magnificent home, so elegantly decorated and spotlessly maintained, a reflection of Ewa herself, I must say. The first thing that caught my eye was the real wood-burning fireplace, something of a rarity these days in our parts. Such fireplaces have been banned in newly built houses, which feature only gas or electric fireplaces nowadays. In fact, this was the first wood-burning fireplace I've seen in my 6 years here in British Columbia! Just as I was exclaiming about it, and as Ewa was pouring me a glass of red wine, the next set of guests arrived - Alan, Roz's husband, followed by Roz herself and my good friend Gayane.

The tour of the rest of the house had to wait because we were waiting for the others to show up. Slowly the momentum built up, replete with shared stories and jokes and raucous laughter. It was interesting to listen to our hosts' stories of their escapades in the Dominican Republic, their accounts of the ribald behavior of men in Greece, the need to bargain for goods around the world, and so on. All the others pitched in as well, regaling us with their own reminiscences of their travels, from Roz's experiences around the world, to Gayane's jinxed elevator rides, and Sandy's most recent celebrity spotting of the oh so hot Vin Diesel in LA! The wine, beer, vodka, and not to forget the tequila shooters in the kitchen for the bold and the brave (accompanied by the requisite Spanish chants, of course!), accounted for the rising decibel levels, needless to say. God bless Ewa's neighbors! The colorful spread of food was as varied and interesting as the guests ourselves, and when Jarek turned on the music system, it was time to trip the light fantastic toe! It was interesting to watch Esther swing her hips a la (insert appropriate accent here) Shakira, and Gayane as usual let her hair down with her smooth grooves on the hardwood floor. She truly had a match in Ewa, while the rest of us laughed and clapped and just soaked in the fun and excitement of it all! See the merry group below, kind courtesy of Ewa! I chose this one where we're consciously posing and all our faces can be seen! :) Note Ewa's delectable spread of short eats on the coffee table!

I have to go back to writing about Ewa's house. Inhabited by beautiful people as Ewa and Jarek and their sons Dorian and Oscar, it was a home where the walls echoed with cheer and laughter, and each room painted with the colors of love. Every nook and cranny of the house was opened up to us and we had a greater appreciation of Jarek's renovation of the house, from the ocean blue of Ewa's bathroom to the redone family room to the inviting deck invoking memories of summer barbecues and parties galore. The evening was a time for all of us to bond together, especially with our new faculty - Elena, Natalie, Neil, and Keith. It would be remiss of me not to mention Alan, Roz's genial husband, who seemed to fit right in and was very much a part of all the merriment and jollity.

After an evening spent with my wonderful hosts and friends, the husband and kid came to pick me up at 12.40,well past the "witching hour." The night was redolent of the Christmas gaiety and spirit as I sat back and reflected on all the cherished moments we'd just had. I drifted off into a deep slumber at 1.30 A.M. and slept like a baby for eight hours straight. No telltale headaches, no hangover this time, but just a warm, happy feeling and the afterglow of an enchanted evening, tequila shooters and more!!!

God's in His Heaven and all's right with the world...that's how I feel right now! Merry Christmas to you and yours, my friends!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Trimming The Tree And Memories Galore!

Vancouver had its first snowfall of the season this morning, after minus four degree temperatures last night. With the feathery snowflakes falling outside and some heavenly jazz playing inside our cozy home, my son and I were trimming our Christmas tree, as we chatted away about our fondest memories of the season. Each tree ornament had a fond story behind it and brought back memories galore from the past. With just that touch of snow, life's perfect, I thought, with a white Christmas just around the corner, but I couldn't help but think at the same time of all the Christmases past. My childhood holiday season had been way too much simpler, with none of the glitter or the glamor, yet fun-filled and pleasurable in its own way.

As the youngest of four children, I always watched in awe as my older siblings worked their magic on the family Christmas tree. Those were the days when synthetic trees, pre-lit trees or fiber-optic tips were unheard of. In a hot, humid city as my hometown, pine trees or any conifers were unseen, and ingeniously enough, the closest we could think of to a Christmas tree were casuarina branches that grew aplenty in the region. It always fell upon my two brothers to fetch home a worthy tree branch that could pass off for a Christmas tree. My sister joined them in decorating the branches with festoons of crepe paper and cheap tinsel. The ornaments were Xmas greeting cards tied to the branches with a piece of string threaded through the holes on top. There were a mish mash of colored paper balls and cut-out figures of Santa, snowmen, etc. thrown in the mix. The tree was simple enough, but brought about a great deal of childish delight in me.

Living in North America these past 13 years, we've thrown ourselves headlong into the Christmas experience, complete with a seven foot synthetic Christmas tree and glittering ornaments that outshine one another amid the twinkling, colored lights. Santas, snowmen, angels, fairies, silver, white, gold and red birds, pink elephants, golden shoes, colored hearts and shiny balls vie with each other for a hanging space on the tree - a sight relished by one and all. Each year after Christmas, each ornament gets carefully wrapped in tissue paper and goes into a special ornament box, only to come out the following year before Christmas. No wonder then that I've had most of them for more than ten years now. My sister gave me many of these ornaments and my son and I fondly recall the time each one joined our collection.

The Christmas season is always one of celebration, mirth, remembrance, thanks and nostalgia, and the tree that lights up our house reinforces the gaiety and exuberance of it all. Just like I have evergreen reminiscences of my childhood holiday season, it is my hope that my son builds for himself his own memories of Christmas in the coming years, and always looks back upon them with fondness and nostalgia.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Night Of Gay Abandon!

Funny how I've morphed into a party enthusiast though I've never ever been a keen party animal before! I actually had had no plans earlier of attending the workplace Christmas party, but the husband was the one who decided I ought to have some fun and encouraged me to go. He even promised to give me, and also my friend Gayane, a ride to the Empire Landmark Hotel on Robson in downtown Vancouver, the venue of the party. Gayane asked her son Artak to pick us up late in the evening, and he ever so graciously agreed to chauffeur us jolly women (read "tipsy!") safely back home.

Well, Roz, another colleague of ours decided to join us, and boy oh boy oh boy, didn't we three women have a blast! My husband and the kid drove us for an hour through insane traffic in the early evening hours and we were giggling like schoolgirls and talking incessantly on our way to the Crystal Ballroom. The topics ranged from our exploits around the world, to plans for Christmas, our international students, etc. etc., while the husband lamely volunteered a comment or two, and the kid valiantly tried to ignore our chatter by listening to his iPod. The truth was, we never gave the guys a chance to get a word in sideways! It looks like my son had some choice comments about our excitement, which he made to his Dad after we were dropped off and they were off to their sushi dinner downtown. The brat!

There were at least 150 people, our colleagues, elegantly dressed in their party outfits in the resplendent ballroom. The chandeliers were ablaze, reflecting the merriment on our eager faces. It was nice to see all of us professionals in a social setting! No more talk of Canadian Language Benchmarks or lesson plans or workshops or recalcitrant students! It felt great to unwind and let our hair down and hobnob with our colleagues from the various departments. Ewa, our manager, looked fabulous in her chic black dress (not to mention her shaking a leg to the Peruvian band!), and Claire, our instructional coordinator, did a fantastic job MC-ing the event. We were happy to reconnect with Christina who used to work with us and recently moved to another location. There was so much of oohing and aahing and hugging and grinning all around! The only one missing from our gang was Sandy "the Shoulders" Gidda, she of the figure championship fame who could put Michelle Obama's arms and shoulders to shame!The vodka and the Merlot and the beer were flowing fast, and the food was great to boot. When the chandeliers were dimmed and the strobe lights came on, with the DJ spinning his magic on the records, the flushed partygoers gravitated to the dance floor and began to "shake [their] groove thing, baby!"

Let me just say that we three ladies got home close to midnight, like Cinderella, after having to drag Gayane off the dance floor: "Gayane, Artak is parked outside, waiting for us...Come on, let's go!", I urged. She, who comes bundled up like an Eskimo in 5 degree weather, claimed she wasn't feeling cold at all on the street in the minus 2 degree temperature last night. Roz and Gayane felt we probably ought to have stayed on a little longer, but anyways, there we were, three happy women who had just had the time of our lives. We were back to our non-stop chatter in the car...I wonder what Artak thought of us! Interesting, what two glasses of Merlot can do to otherwise staid individuals!

The truth is, I woke up with the mother of all headaches this morning! The husband served me a cup of hot coffee with a much-needed Advil! I have a hammer-on-anvil concert going on in my head right now, but you know what, I'm grinning like a Cheshire cat and feeling more like a giddy-headed goat, if you get my drift! There's still the staff lunch on the 15th to which I'm now looking forward to. And maybe I'll go to Ewa's potluck party at her place on the 18th...the joie de vivre, excitement, and gay abandon of the holiday season are too potent to be ignored after all!

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Holiday Reading Wish List

With all my crazed rush with work this past year and a half, I must confess that I have indeed lagged behind on my reading. As with the way most resolutions usually go, my intentions to catch up on all my reading have tragically fallen by the wayside so far. It used to be that I almost always read a new book every two weeks, but not so in the recent past. That's such a shame considering the fact that I'm basically a literature aficionado who taught the great masters to both the undergraduate and graduate students back home. So it is with earnestness and a sincere hope of following up on my intentions that I have decided to pursue some serious reading this holiday season. Travel, parties, and the kid's birthday apart, here are the books I most wish to dig into.

As a lover of historical fiction, I've been dying to read Hilary Mantel's
Wolf Hall. I've been reading up all the reviews of the book with avid interest, ever since the novel won the prestigious Booker Prize. If a novel is fat in size and is set in the historical past, then it's delightful fodder for me, and I have no doubt that I will relish this novel about the time of the Tudors and willingly hobnob with the likes of the inimitable Henry VIII, the charismatic Thomas Cromwell, and the sultry Anne Boleyn in sixteenth century England. Palace intrigues are quite irresistible to me, which is why I embrace this genre so willingly. So that's 651 pages of sheer holiday pleasure that I look forward to!

Next on my list is a book of the same genre, Annabel Lyon's
The Golden Mean, in which she vividly captures the real-life teacher/student relationship between Aristotle and the 13-year-old son of King Philip of Macedon, who would soon grow up into Alexander the Great and conquer the world. My fascination for this book, which recently won the 2009 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, is that this is the writer's debut novel, her forte being short stories. Annabel Lyon teaches Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and better still, she lives in my neighborhood in New Westminster...what's not to like about reading her latest book, might I ask! Come Christmas, I am so looking forward to be transported back into the ancient court in Pella, the capital of Macedon!

I have always been gripped by the powerful story telling of Dan Brown, and having thoroughly enjoyed his earlier
Angels and Demons, and The Da Vinci Code, I'd love to read his latest, The Lost Symbol. Who could not have fallen in love with the suave, charismatic Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon! So it's perfectly understandable that I'd love to read about his latest exploits and try to get a sense of the ever so mysterious Freemasonry. I have a 16 day holiday break, and as ambitious as my reading wish list is, I'd be really happy if I could finish at least one of them. However, I intend buying all the three books and am determined to give them a go amid all the chaos of my angst-ridden everyday life!

Here's wishing myself some happy holiday reading!!!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tickled Palates And Gastronomical Delights!!!

Reiterating the fact that I'm a diehard foodie who loves to cook and also appreciates relishing good food,my culinary skills were put to the test yesterday when my husband's colleagues came over for a dinner party. This had been a long pending invitation that coincided with my husband's birthday weekend, and so there I was, stepping up to the plate and debating how on earth I was going to cook South Indian food for 10 international guests.My mettle was sorely tested in this regard because I had to lay off the chilli powder one hundred percent, yet compensate for it by improvising with the spices - a daunting task indeed!

The next challenge was to cater to both the vegetarians and the non-vegetarians, and spread out the dishes to tickle their palates equally. I just couldn't delight the non-vegetarians alone(non-veg food being my specialty) and ignore the vegetarians altogether. Keeping everyone sated and deliriously happy was my goal for the evening. I also had to keep in mind that this was not merely a casual get-together, but rather more of a formal, multiple course dinner for guests who were expecting home-cooked food and nothing of the store-bought kind. This being a South Indian meal, it was only right for the hosts to serve the food to each guest, and not just let the guests help themselves from a buffet spread. And true to tradition, we had to extend the hospitality to clearing the plates and assorted dishes ourselves as well!

Let it be said that the dinner was a resounding success! I kind of surprised myself by improvising on the use of spices to make the dishes flavorful and delicious, and to my luck, all the twelve items I made turned out to be heavenly bites and were well-appreciated by one and all.The coconut rice was a big hit, as were the lemon rice and curd rice. The butter chicken was finished in no time since they went well with the chapathis and naan. The tandoori chicken and lemon fish were requested to be taken home by some, while the vegetarians loved the channa masala, mushroom gravy, and the pan roasted potatoes cooked with red onions in olive oil...all these to name a few. With the aperitifs, appetizers, and desserts, I was able to pull off a magnificent meal single-handedly!

While I patted myself on the back for having pleased the guests and the husband as well, I couldn't help but think of how much I missed India, where I wouldn't have had to so much as lift even my little finger to pull off such a thing! What with the cook and the maids and sundry help, I could've hosted a hundred such dinners with absolute ease! Sigh!!! That's the story of my life...I can't have the cake and eat it too!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Say 'No' To Cosmetic Surgery

( Am reproducing here a piece I wrote in the format of an academic essay for my writing class at the University of British Columbia on Dec.5, 2007, and which was published shortly thereafter in the Zoni Voice.)

The music system in my son’s room is blaring. I pause at my workstation to listen, mentally blocking out the background chorus booming out of the speakers and focusing on the lyrics instead. “Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I’m so proud of you / Let me tell you what I’m about to do, Hey Mama / … See, you’re unbreakable, unmistakable / Highly capable,… / A livin’ legend too, … Hey Mama….” I recognize the famous rapper – Kanye West – and yes, he is singing about his beloved mother, Dr. Donda West. My blood runs cold when it sinks in that just one week ago this day, Dr. West, who was the former Chair of the Chicago State University’s English Department, died from complications after cosmetic surgery, a tummy tuck she’d had the previous day.

Zoom back a couple of years and I’m sure you would remember reading about Nigeria’s first lady, Stella Obasanjo, who died after undergoing cosmetic surgery in Spain, or the year before of Olivia Goldsmith, the 54-year-old best-selling author of The First Wives Club, who died under anesthesia while having a chin tuck. So much for celebrity deaths and the quest for beauty and perfection under the surgeon’s knife! Who bemoans the countless other non-entities who meet a similar fate every single day? I’m sure you know the answer and also realize I’m not talking about those who undergo corrective surgeries for deformities or birth defects. We live in a period of ubiquitous cosmetic surgery – lunchtime laser treatments, botox gift cards, and facelifts at the mall – a sad reflection of the times indeed! The common man, woman and teenager are being nipped, tucked and botoxed day in and day out, so much so they have a cavalier attitude towards it. Cosmetic surgery ought to be decried because its perils and pitfalls are many, in terms of complications, cost, and the psychological fallout it leads to.

First of all, I say ‘No’ to cosmetic surgery because in their foolish craving for perfection, people are blind to the dangers of going under the knife and never, for a moment, pause to consider the complications that might ensue. Reality TV shows such as Extreme Makeover, The Swan, I Want a Famous Face, Skin Deep, Dr.90210 and so on, add to the hype surrounding cosmetic procedures. Impressionable teenagers and desperate, aging adults who watch these shows are hoodwinked into thinking that the metamorphosis into a ravishing beauty with a perfect body is quite easy, painless and free of problems. Think again, I categorically say! Liposuction, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty (reshaping of the nose), facelift, tummy tuck, butt lift, laser treatment, fat transfer, brow lift, lower eye lift, and all the slew of procedures glamourized by the media carry grave risks such as infection, blood clots that move to the lungs or brain, damage to nerves and vital organs, scarring, and severe loss of fluids causing shock and death, to name a few. Some scrupulous surgeons require all their patients get medical clearance from their doctors before surgery, but alas, not everyone operates on an ethical, moral basis. The older the patient, health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease add to the risks, and addictions such as alcoholism, smoking, and drug use exacerbate the problems. The complications increase significantly when the surgeons are not board- certified and do not operate in a licensed facility. Beauty and perfection – at what risk?

The horror stories following cosmetic surgery are countless and endless. Despite the risks, beauty overhauls are the norm of the day. Our obsession with our appearance and our skewed perception of beauty have spawned a society that is quite oblivious to the dangers underlying cosmetic procedures. It is no longer a surprise that parents give breast implants as high school graduation gifts for teenage girls or pay for procedures to reshape their sons’ noses. Should we ignore the perils of cosmetic surgery and knowingly subject ourselves to risk and danger, or should we be responsible human beings who value and embrace life with utmost care and happiness, and not go traipsing after the elusive so-called standards of beauty? You be the judge.

The second reason I decry cosmetic surgery is because of the huge cost it involves. The upsurge in beauty treatments over the years clearly shows that they are no longer just for the rich, famous and powerful who sculpt and hone their bodies on whim or as per their fancy, be it an Oprah Winfrey, whose weight waxes and wanes periodically under the watchful eye of her personal trainer, or a Janet Jackson who flaunts her abs in a photo shoot before the release of her latest album, or a Heidi Klum who struts the catwalk in Milan and Paris just two weeks after childbirth. Some celebrities eschew cosmetic surgery, while others openly embrace it. Who could ever forget the image of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian leader, who attended the summit of world leaders, his head wrapped in a bandanna after the hair transplant he’d had? Or who couldn’t believe the rapid weight loss of the morbidly obese Star Jones of TV’s The View, after gastric by-pass surgery? Be it these procedures, or much simpler ones leading to Britney Spears’ plumped up lips or Ashlee Simpson’s modified nose, every one of them is within the reach of the common man and woman today. I am not exaggerating when I say that the middle class now has easy and excessive access to cosmetic procedures through financial loans doled out by credit card companies solely for this purpose, a burgeoning and thriving industry today. It is no wonder then that the number of total cosmetic procedures has risen dramatically in the past decade, by a staggering 446 percent, according to statistical reports. These procedures are not cheap, let me add, and put the middle class under great financial strain in the long run.  

It is tragic that many people fail to realize that the complications arising from cosmetic procedures require further corrective surgeries at a great cost. For example, a teenage girl receiving breast implants may combat subsequent infection and hardening of the breasts and may have to undergo corrective surgery or replacement of the implants. Those who availed of the augmentation on the installment plan offered by the cosmetic surgeons or the credit card companies are often unable to pay for the corrective surgery since they are still paying for the initial procedure. Despite such financial setbacks and possible ruin, the number of cosmetic procedures is skyrocketing annually. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to study the figures and costs of the procedures. Reports show that Canadians have spent half a billion dollars on cosmetic surgery last year alone. Our neighbors south of the border are no different, having had 11.5 million surgical procedures in 2006, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. All this in our part of the globe! Consider the entire planet, and what an astronomical sum that would amount to! Wouldn’t this world be a better place to live in if we used all that money to combat poverty, prevent global warming, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life of all humanity? Why chase the mirage of perfection, my friends, and beauty at what cost? Give it a thought!

The third reason why one should stay away from cosmetic surgery is because of the eventual psychological fallout one experiences after having unrealistic expectations from the surgery. The media-driven frenzy in quest for the beautiful face and the perfect body builds up false hopes and high expectations in the individual, so much so that one is almost always disappointed by the results of the procedure. Though proponents of cosmetic surgery argue that people certainly achieve improvements in body shape and enjoy a better quality of life post surgery, it cannot be denied that in many cases the outcomes are poor, unhappy and disappointing. Surgeons have hordes of patients who are dissatisfied with the surgery and request repeat procedures – what better an example could there possibly be than Michael Jackson who gradually morphed into the ‘bogeyman’ after repeated surgeries? Documented research also shows that many patients experience depression and adjustment problems after surgery. Besides, the inexorable passage of time changes the body over the years, cosmetic surgery or not, and even if one feels a temporary high after surgery, the feeling is definitely bound to deteriorate as one ages.

Granted that cosmetic surgery is undeniably a powerful juggernaut of an industry in modern society and an ever-growing pop cultural phenomenon that warps our mind and twists our values, don’t you think it is high time we came to our senses and stopped going under the surgeon’s knife to fix every perceived flaw in our bodies? Let us embrace ourselves, be proud of who we are and how we are, and redirect our energy towards positive goals. Cosmetic surgery is dangerous due to the risks it poses, not worth it because of the cost it entails, and condemnable for all its negative psychological impact. Think logically and rationally and say “No’ to cosmetic surgery!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Over-indulgent Parents And Modern Day Excesses!

As revelations go, to my utter horror, I have come to realize that maybe the husband and I are over-indulgent parents! I understand that all parents indulge their children, but I use the prefix "over" here to qualify that adjective just an extra bit. I look around us and find we're being no different from all our friends, but why then the nagging feeling that we're succumbing to all the excesses of modern day parenthood? I have always wanted to focus on the emotional health and wellbeing of the kid and thought that was of paramount importance in preparing him for life. Compassion, empathy, and understanding of others' plight ought to be priorities in his life, or so I thought. So when and how did all the material excesses creep in, I ask myself.

As for myself, I was raised by my parents in a manner that erred on the side of a sort of disciplinarianism and puritanism combined. My siblings and I had a daily dose of religion, no nonsense rules, and tough love. For our birthdays, all we got were a new set of clothes, a special meal, and always a book for a gift. No parties, no Barbie dolls, nothing fancy that I can remember. Nevertheless, my parents were never egregiously severe authoritarians, negating their children's right to express an opinion. We were all raised on values that we still hold dear, our lives characterized by clear boundaries and clear sanctions. I do look back on my childhood with fondness and nostalgia to this day, so why and when did I start equating my child's happiness with gifts, gadgets and gizmos galore?!?

My North American friends have bought their sixteen year olds Volvos and BMWs for their birthdays, and parents plan months ahead for their children's birthdays and host these elaborate shindigs complete with a coordinated theme, catered food, and gift bags loaded with goodies. I know parents who rent an entire theatre, video games arcade or bowling alley to entertain their kids' friends and classmates, and richer ones give away iPods in their kids' goodie bags. Though the husband and I have never given in to such excesses, at times we do feel that we have this mistaken notion of giving "reasonable" gifts to the kid as a sop to our consciences, both of us being working parents at that. So it goes that the kid got his first mobile phone when he was eight, and his very own debit card when he was ten. The justification for the former was that he took a 10 minute walk back from school and crossed a 2 minute wooded stretch, and so needed it for safety's sake. As for the latter, the husband said he needed to teach the kid financial responsibility (yeah, right!).

The birthday bashes stopped when the kid turned ten and we explained he was on his way to becoming a young man, and didn't need such frivolities anymore. He was fine with that, I should say. On the one hand, we sit and speak to the kid about the starving children in Africa, wanting to motivate his empathy and cultivate humane feelings in him, yet on the other hand, we give in when he wants the iPod Classic replaced with a Nano, and yet again the Nano with an iPod Touch. The same goes for the Playstation I, II, and III consoles, and need I mention the laptop and the LCD HD TV as well! It never occurs to us why we have to replace a gadget that is in perfect working condition. One week after the iPod Touch was bought, the iPhone was released in Vancouver, and the kid goes, " Man, if I had just waited one more week, I could've gotten the iPhone!" My response to that: " Excuse me! Why would we get a 12 year old an iPhone? Even Dad doesn't have one yet!"

Anyways, the justification for all our excesses is that the kid studies well. We have no excuse to deny him the things he asks for because he delivers when it comes to school work, but we always tell him that these are privileges that he has to earn and not things he can take for granted. We want to be good parents who have instilled values in the kid, and looking around us, we take satisfaction that indulgences, excesses and all, we still have managed to do a decent job so far as parents!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Strangers In Cyberspace? Not Anymore!

I was never into the social networking scene in any way whatsoever. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and My Space all seemed uncharted territory to me, until my students from over a period of 20 plus years and from all over the globe roped me into Facebook. I have now come as far as Status Updates, but PhotoTagging, FarmVille, and a whole host of assorted activities on Facebook are still alien to me. One major reason is that I simply do not have the time for such (trivial?) pursuits. However, what I have come to be excited about is the possibility of reconnecting with long lost classmates, students, and acquaintances from my past. One thing I never realized was that I could be on someone's Friends List, without either of us having any clue as to who exactly we were(!!!), which is the reason why I'm writing this blog.

Many months ago, I received a Friend Request from Hannah David Paramanandam. The name Hannah David was very familiar to me, because I had had an English Major student at Lady Doak College (India) by the same name in the late eighties. She was one of the smartest students I'd ever had, and I automatically assumed it was her. I didn't confirm right away that I knew her, because I wasn't too sure about the last name Paramanandam. There was no profile picture at that time for me to verify her identity. I sat on the request for a while, but then rationalized that it was probably the same Hannah David I had taught, that maybe she'd gotten married and taken on her husband's last name. So I finally confirmed that she was a friend. After that, no news from Hannah David at all, no attempt to contact me. That must have rung a bell. Usually, if it's a student from India, I receive a wall post or a message saying how excited the person is to reconnect with me, but in this case, absolute silence!

Anyways, Hannah and I were on each other's Friends list, and when I eventually saw her pictures, I knew it wasn't the same Hannah I knew from the English Department at Lady Doak College. Then, very naively, I assumed that maybe she'd been a student from some other department at LDC, and maybe that's why she'd invited me to be her friend. So there we were looking at each other's pictures, making the odd comment or two,"liking" each other's updates, etc., etc. The best thing about all this was my French Professor, Ms. Maida Gonsalvez (now Thomas) from my undergraduate days in India, found me on Hannah's Friends List and got in touch with me. I was truly thrilled about reconnecting with my teacher, continents away and years apart! And then Ms. Maida (that's how we used to call her, though it beats me why we never called her Ms. Gonsalvez!) asked me the question,"How do you know Hannah?" , to which I had no answer.

The pinnacle of it all came last week, a comment from Hannah with the query,"Are you from Madurai? Just curious." So it finally dawned on me that this wasn't a student from some other department at Lady Doak College, as I had assumed her to be. This poor girl had no clue as to who I was, but yet there we were, friends in cyberspace without really knowing each other! How did I get invited to be her friend in the first place, I have no idea! I've never heard of cyber-ghosts or paranormal occurrences in cyberspace before, so how did this all come to be?!? The whole thing seemed to border on the ludicrous, the ridiculous, and the insane, but the best thing ever was Ms. Maida having found me through Hannah, and through Ms. Maida, I've now gotten in touch with five of my classmates from my undergraduate days!

I do have a few more on my Friends list that I've confirmed as my friends, only because their names rang a bell, but there's been no contact from them. I'm now beginning to wonder if it's the same case as my cyber-friendship with Hannah David...probably I don't know them at all! Anyways, about Hannah David Paramanandam... Is she a stranger in cyberspace? Not anymore, I think!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Beautiful British Columbia!"

All the license plates in British Columbia boast "Beautiful British Columbia". Agree, I must. I live in one of the most beautiful regions on the planet and I'm positive one has to see it to believe it. I used to live in California and I used to think that was really beautiful, but only until I laid my eyes on the ever so gorgeous British Columbia! To have the Pacific Ocean and its pristine beaches, not to mention the fabulous peaks and ski resorts, and the verdant rain forests, all within driving distance, makes Vancouver one of the most attractive cities in the most beautiful province in the world! I feel proud every time I take a visitor sightseeing, only because this is not part of the tourist stuff for me, but a veritable aspect of my everyday life. Who wouldn't want to live in "Beautiful British Columbia?"

As often as possible, my family and I undertake small day-long excursions to revel in and soak in the natural wonders of my home province. The ethereal, serene beauty of it all works magic on one's senses and transports the beholder to a Shangri-la of sorts. This summer, on a balmy weekend morning, we chose to drive to Pitt Lake, less than 10 miles north of Maple Ridge, BC. The lake is surrounded by rugged, mountainous terrain, and is accessible by road only at the southern end. The lake itself is 14.8 miles long and offers canoeing and kayaking adventures aplenty. There are a number of hiking trails in the dikes on the marshes for the diehard hiker and birdwatching towers for avid bird enthusiasts and photographers. In the picture below is one such birdwatching tower overlooking the marshes, replete with a mind boggling avian variety, a bird lover's paradise indeed. This nesting area for marsh birds is part of the Widgeon Valley Nature Reserve and we had the privilege of watching a couple of photographers in action while we were there.

The shoreline was incredible in its beauty dotted by very few private coves and seasonal homes. The tumbling streams spilling into the lake, the secret coves and sandy beaches are all ideal for fishing or hiking.
However, the park ranger was practical enough to warn dreamy-eyed innocents like me of the presence of cougars and bears in the area, a jolting lesson of how man has encroached the habitat of the wild beasts. Stories of bear mauling are quite rampant in the area, which made me wonder who was the victim here, man or beast? The lurking danger from predators apart, it cannot be denied that this is a sample of what British Columbia is all about - rugged, serene, and primordial in its beauty that makes you wonder if you've died and gone to heaven!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What a fall was that, my countrymen...!

Two weeks ago, I had a nasty, humiliating fall on the street close to my workplace. I have had similar falls on three other occasions before, but those were spills caused by adverse winter weather conditions - black ice on the road, heavy snowfall, melting snowdrifts, etc. This time round, however, it was different. The weather was characteristically balmy, with a clear blue sky and radiant sunshine on that mildly chilly fall day. Not a day one would have an awkward spill, so to say. How on earth then did I fall, I have no clue. All I know is that I found myself in the ignominious position of having collapsed on the road close to the sidewalk, with my leg twisted painfully under me.

Unlike the other times when I'd come down like a sack of potatoes, on this occasion I couldn't pick myself up. Can anyone understand the ignominy, embarrassment, and humiliation of your mind being alert and urging you to get back on your feet before others on the street see you, but your body absolutely refusing to cooperate? Well, there I was, sitting in a daze on the road, while drivers from three different cars waiting at the signal got off and came rushing to my aid. One gentleman hauled me up by my arms, while another picked up my bag and jacket, and yet another stood behind me in support as I tried to find my feet. Oh, what a fall was that, my countrymen...!

Two weeks later, I still feel acute pain around my left ankle and right heel, so much so it had the husband worried and made him cart me off to the doctor's office. The prognosis, my friends, though not dire, is still grim. I seem to have sprained my ligaments in the aforesaid places. Not bad indeed considering the fact I could've fractured any of the bones in both my legs. Now, not only do I need painkillers, but I need to have a physiotherapist work his/her magic on my throbbing feet to alleviate the pain. The only good thing that has come out of this ordeal is I can sit around and order both my men (husband and kid) to fetch and carry things for me! And oh yeah, did I mention the long, enjoyable soaks in the hot tub? Every cloud has a silver lining, as the cliche goes, and so does my fall! As much as I dread the onset of winter and more spills to come, I'm making the best of all the attention I'm receiving right now, in and out of the hot tub, might I add!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Diwali, Friends!

As Diwali (Festival of Lights) is being celebrated today by my Indian friends - Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and others, I wish each one of them abundance of prosperity and happiness and pray that the bright glow of the festive lights illuminate their days ahead! As I was raised a Christian, Diwali had never been close to my heart. My only fascination with this festival had been the cartloads of fireworks - sparklers, crackers, matches, flowerpots, chakras (fiery wheels) and the like that I had taken pleasure in as a child in India. Well, I moved to the US when my son was merely a year old, and since it's next to impossible to light sparklers and crackers here in North America, I feel a pang that my son is missing out on all the excitement and fun of the resplendently colorful fireworks I'd enjoyed as a kid.

Diwali in Canada is more sedate and laidback, what with a thinly spread out Indian diaspora in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Friends who speak the same language are fewer and far between, so my family and I have learned to tone down our expectations of any kind of exuberant celebration here. In fact, in all these six years here in Vancouver, I have met only one other Tamil speaking family hailing from mainland Tamilnadu in India. All the other friends are Sri Lankans who speak a different dialect of Tamil. Very recently though, I met a newly hired colleague, R. from Malaysia, whose parents and grandparents hail from my home state in India, and I was thrilled to learn that R. speaks the same kind of Tamil that I do, despite being born and raised in Malaysia. So now the number of my Tamil acquaintances has increased to a whopping two!

My husband comes from a traditional, conservative Hindu family, and we usually spend Diwali morning calling and greeting members of his extended family in India, as well as friends here and abroad. Diwali is just like any other day to us now, being so far away from home, but because of the urging of my in-laws, wearing new clothes and offering prayers have become mandatory (the picture above, taken today, shows my father-in-law who passed away two years ago, and who made sure that Diwali was a memorable celebration for the entire family). However, the foodie that I am, I usually make sure I cook a traditional Diwali meal for the husband and kid. Today I made my mother-in-law proud by following her recipes and cooking up a delectable spread for the family. The incessant rains didn't deter us from venturing out of the house on a personal engagement though.

I am not a traditional Hindu wife, but my tolerance towards and respect for my husband's religion has made life and its allied celebrations a pleasure. I look for the good in everything, religion included, and this has endeared me to everyone I know. My husband reciprocates the same, celebrating Christmas with the same enthusiasm and gusto. I only hope my son learns values such as respect, empathy, and tolerance from his parents and tries to appreciate everything that is different and inherently good. All in all, shouldn't life be just about that?!?

Happy Diwali, my friends! I pray that all of you be blessed with good health, prosperity, and happiness in the coming days!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Seventh Canadian Thanksgiving!!!

Canadians observe Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October unlike our neighbors down South who celebrate it in November each year. Today, my family and I celebrated our seventh Thanksgiving in Canada, albeit with an indianized menu! We left India twelve years ago to move to the United States, and Canada then was nowhere on our horizon. The move to the US having been unforeseen and surreal in itself, had anyone ever told me I'd eventually become a Canadian citizen, I would've considered the idea preposterous and laughed in their face. Well, here I am now, a true, tried and tested Canadian, proud of how far my family and I have come. See picture above taken during our Citizenship Ceremony two years ago.

I reflect on the path we've taken thus far and am truly thankful for all of life's blessings here in Canada. Like all new immigrants', our life was not easy in the initial years. Having been caught in the vicissitudes of life, maintaining our equilibrium and peace of mind was an arduous task. Looking back, life was definitely not easy, but we have now reached a stage where we're grateful for all the things we've been blessed with - good health, comfortable jobs, great friends and colleagues, friendly neighbors, a cosy home, and above all, life in one of the best countries and in one of the most livable cities in the world! What else could one ask for?

As I prepare Thanksgiving dinner for my family, I have enough food for thought as well. Here's a lovely poem (author unknown) that I read that reflects my state of mind right now, and what we all ought to focus on:

"Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count your joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself."

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!! 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Strange Bedfellows And Unlikely Friends!

The day before yesterday, Thursday, October 1st, was bittersweet, mainly because it marked the end (sort of) of a period of camaraderie and friendship I'd had earlier and signaled the forging of a new alliance with my colleagues and friends. There were the four of us women at the workplace, all from different backgrounds and with varied interests and of different ages, but we seemed to have struck a friendship that transcended everything petty and mundane. We were members of a sisterhood who had excellent vibes and were always there for each other, personally and professionally.

I took up teaching an evening class for immigrants last June, a class that was labor market focused, aimed at helping immigrants towards employability and settlement in Canada. Two weeks later came S.G. who was to teach an ESL class for immigrants as well. Both of us hit it off right from the start, despite the difference in our ages. We were as different as chalk from cheese, but there was this comfortable understanding between us. S. was into figure competitions and hit the gym faithfully every single day, something that inspired me no end. Young and petite as she was, she could easily beat the crap out of any able-bodied man, I thought, and that was something that I admired endlessly again.Both S. and I put in a full day's work and then showed up to teach this evening class, but there was this positive energy flowing between us that made working into the late hours a cakewalk.

Two months later G.P. joined our team to teach another labour market focused class in the evening. G. was closer in age to me and I discovered shortly thereafter that we were kindred spirits who could chat about anything and everything under the sun. With her Ph.D. in Linguistics, she was a well-read and well-informed person. Endless were our conversations on the bus and off it as well. We would talk incessantly about our academic backgounds, what we had given up professionally in our countries to come as immigrants to Canada, the unfairness of life in general, the vagaries of our growing children and what not. The fact that G.'s was a labour market focused class as well helped...we made it a point to have joint activities for our classes- conversation sessions, fieldtrips, guest speakers et al. It was just the three women in the evenings thrice a week, S., G., and myself, and man, didn't we rock!

It so happened that in April, S. and I shared a Level 4 class during the day, myself teaching in the mornings and S. in the afternoons. It was then that we met C.M., an affable, genial, pleasant-mannered darling of a person. She was considerably older than the rest of us, but we all meshed right in. C. was such an angel, a colleague who was always friendly and outgoing and put everyone else at ease. Many were the occasions when we brought our students together for a joint activity and just basked in the warmth and geniality of it all. Well, due to personal reasons, C. chose to move to another location because of its proximity to her home, and come Monday, we're all going to miss her terribly at work.

Day before yesterday was bittersweet because we were happy for C. that she'll be working closer to home, but also sad that she was leaving us all. To mark the occasion, we four ladies hit
White Spot, a restaurant close by and savored our time together for one last time. I'm hoping that it isn't the last time ever...maybe Providence will engineer a situation where we're all thrown together again, strange bedfellows and unlikely friends in that sisterhood of ours we cherish so much!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I've Got The Blues!!!

For very many reasons, I've got the blues. It's just one of those days when your woes weigh heavily on you, you feel life's unfair, and everything sucks! Know the feeling? Well, I'm in one of those moods right now. I'm wallowing in self-pity and feeling humongously sorry for myself. I know the feeling will pass, as it has often before, but as long as it lasts, it's the pits, for sure. And the rounds of sore throat, cough, nasal congestion and feverish feeling going around the house haven't helped one bit. Throw in fears of the swine flu and having to play nursemaid round the clock!

My Mom always told me to count my blessings, and I do too, except at moments like these. I feel the universe has been grossly unfair to me and that I've had to struggle for anything and everything I've ever wanted. Why is it that some people get everything handed to them on a platter, while the rest of us mere mortals have to struggle for the smallest of things?!? Why is life itself an existential angst for some of us, while for others it's a merry breeze? Why do the universe's miseries have to be heaped only on some of our sordid heads while others just get away with them ? Have I been a bad person who's being chastised for my erring ways or is it my karma returning to bite me on the butt for some misdemeanor in a parallel universe? God knows! All I know is that I've got the blues.

For some strange reason, or maybe not very strange for that matter at all, Keats' famous opening to his
Ode to a Nightingale has been popping into my head, and I've been reciting the lines incessantly since yesterday:
"My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: ..."
There you go, that's exactly how I feel now. Maybe there's a better tomorrow around the corner. Let me wait and see!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Deferred Dreams Or Wishful Thinking?

Growing up in a family of book lovers, I used to devour anything and everything that was in print. I had a special fascination for travelogues and would savor every word and pore over every picture and the comment beneath it. In my mind's eye, I would be transported instantly to all the varied countries and continents and would dwell on the idyllic moments of myself indulging in endless hours of sightseeing, soaking up the sun, and general laziness all around. In short, I just wanted to travel around the globe, experience the sights and sounds of different places, and be a citizen of the world. When will this dream of mine become a reality, or will it ever become one, I wonder? I'm still waiting for time to tell me the answer.

Having lived in my hometown for thirty plus years, a sense of panic used to grip me and I would wonder if I'd have to live in the same town till the day I died, without ever having seen the world around me. All that changed after my family and I moved to the United States. Now, traveling is not that big a deal and is entirely possible, but the biggest obstacle to doing so is lack of time. With my husband and I holding full time jobs and having vacations at different times, not forgetting the kid who has school when we have vacation time, travel is still a deferred dream. My son keeps assuring me quite frequently that when he becomes a doctor, he'll send me traveling around the world. Promising though as it sounds, I can't help but think that's almost 12 years away, what with the kid having started Grade 9 just a couple of weeks ago!

So in the meantime, fantasize I must! I dream of an early retirement and see myself living with my husband in a tiny cottage in a scenic locale, with a beautiful garden to boot. I'd love to putter around in the garden, read my favorite authors endlessly, cook gastronomical delights, go for long walks on the hiking trails around my house, all without ever having to think about work, worry about expenses or saving up for the kid's education. I'd love to punctuate that kind of a life with travel to exotic places, like spending a week in the French Riviera or soaking up the sun in Cancun or marveling at the icy vistas of the Antarctic. Relaxing in a villa in the Algarve, reveling in the culture of Paris, gazing at the majesty of the pyramids or lounging on a barge on the Nile, exploring the Amazon, etc., etc., are all part of the deal. Will such a day ever come or is it just wishful thinking? Time must tell.

Another of my deferred dreams is getting back to University for a doctoral program. Unfortunately for me, Vancouver universities do not offer part-time Ph.D. programs, which means the only way to earn that is to give up my job and become a full-time student for the next 5 years. Again, another impossible task because I need to make a living, and besides I need all the money I have and more to put my kid through university, for which he'll be ready in another 4 years. I can't be selfish enough to think of my own academic pursuits at this point of time, can I? I'd love to pursue a program in criminology/psychology/sociology, etc., etc., (because all these subjects fascinate me!) but I just have to defer it for now, I guess.

Deferred dreams...wishful thinking... whatever they might be, life does go on!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My Summer Staycation!

For the first time in 6 years, ever since I moved from California to Vancouver, I've had a 3-week summer break! Yaaayy!!! All these past summers I was busy teaching full time, so this year's break was a welcome change. Unfortunately for me, the husband was working (as he always does year round!), so it was impossible for us to travel anywhere outside of Vancouver. However, I must admit, the staycation at home, broken by the odd one-day trips to sundry places, was such a wonderful experience and kind of grew upon me!

How on earth could staying at home be enjoyable, one might ask. Well, for starters, I had the luxury of sleeping in every single day. For those of you who wake up to the sound of an alarm in the unearthly hours of the morning (if you could call 5.30 AM that), you will have a perfect understanding of what I mean. Though I usually don't drink coffee on weekdays (because I'm too busy rushing to get ready for work and so don't have the time), during this break I actually savored the coffee my husband made for me every morning. Typically, lazing, lounging, or lolling on the couch became the order of the day! This was my downtime, so there wasn't any particular order to the day...sounds like heaven, doesn't it?!?

Another good thing (or bad thing, according to some!) about my staycation was that I had the time to start this blog, just so I could have a platform for all my random thoughts. I'd always wanted to give vent to those creative urges, but simply hadn't had the time to do so until now. Well, better late than never! What the kid liked about my being home was that I was able to rustle up all this good food after thorough Internet searches, and also, was able to sit with him and watch all his favorite movies and TV shows. However, I must also say he detested my nagging him about getting ready for school: "Dinesh, you haven't touched your saxophone in two months. Take it out of the box and clean it, for heaven's sake!" or "Why is your room such a holy mess? Don't you have to get things organized before school starts?" At times like these, I bet he wished his Mom would just get lost and give him some peace and quiet around the house!

As they say, all good things have to come to an end, and so it is with my staycation. Tomorrow is Labor Day, the last day of my summer break that I oh so thoroughly enjoyed! Come Tuesday, the 8th of September, it's back again to the grind! It's going to take me a couple of days to get back into the groove, but I'll be really happy to see all my students and reconnect with them in class. Secretly though, I'll be looking forward to my Christmas break and all the magic of the season it brings!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Heavenly Bites!

I am a self-proclaimed foodie! I simply love to eat and am absolutely fascinated with the delights of the culinary world. I'm pretty sure I inherited this trait from my Dad who had what they call "the typical Thanjavur Naakku" (the Tanjore tongue!), it being said that those who hailed from Tanjore were food lovers nonpareil! His love for delicious food was legendary, and it was no wonder then that he was a better cook than my Mom. I seem to share my father's passion for food in the sense that though I don't eat much, I'm very particular that every morsel that goes into my mouth be of the finest taste, or else I will never touch it even if it means I have to starve!

I never learned to cook till after I got married. My excuse was that I was too busy studying (yeah, right!!!) and simply refused to enter the kitchen. What an idiot, I'd been! When I was at university, my mother couldn't leave me alone and go out of town simply because I couldn't cook. My eldest brother was married and living in the same town at that time, so I would promptly be packed off to his house whenever my mother had to leave town. My sister-in-law, of course, was a fantastic cook, and incidentally, she had picked up her cooking skills from her own mother.

My husband put up with my half-baked attempts at cooking, and then he hired a full time cook after 3 years of marriage. At that time, I was delirious enough to think that the husband was lavishing me with the luxury of a live-in cook. Little did I know that it was an attempt at escapism, never having to go through the trial of tasting his wife's food! So the story goes that I lived like a queen in India, just rattling off the menu each day to my cook and having a delicious spread at each meal every single day. The luxury lasted 7 years, till there was this radical change in our lives of having to move to the United States. I was petrified because I knew nothing about cooking, not even enough to survive.

My mother-in-law was my saviour...she painstakingly wrote down all the recipes for me in a notebook which became a Bible of sorts to me after I moved to California. I would have the notebook wide open and attempt whatever recipe it was, the guinea pig at that time being my eldest sister who lived a mere 10 minutes away. I slowly became hooked to the art of cooking, and by trial and error, I seemed to have perfected every single dish, so much so that my sister thought I had missed my calling! "You are soooo good, Olivia. Maybe you missed your calling. You should never have become an English teacher.You should have become a chef instead," she would go. I thought she was saying it out of filial piety or sisterly affection or whatever! Then my second brother from England visited me in California, and after one particular meal, just as I was beginning to put the dishes away and clear the table, he poured a little bit of the curry on to his plate and licked it with his fingers. This, from one who's a well-accomplished cook and food lover himself! I knew then that I had really aced the whole cooking thing!

It so happened that a friend of ours who had a grocery store had come to our house for breakfast, tasted my idlis (steamed rice cakes), and asked me if I could supply idlis to his store. I laughed incredulously, but he convinced me to give him just 5 boxes, to see how they moved. Silicon Valley being full of bachelor engineers at the time, the 5 boxes flew from the shelf. I gradually ended up supplying 55 boxes each weekend and made a cool 1400 dollars each month. Not bad for a weekend's work of a few hours, eh? Soon enough other stores began asking me for the idlis and I had to turn them down because I ran a household kitchen, and not a commercial one. Typical Gemini that I am, I did this just for over a year, and soon enough, I began to tire of the whole thing. I needed other diversions and so went to university to earn all my teaching credentials.

Though I teach English full time in Vancouver now, my love for food hasn't abated one bit. I faithfully scour the Internet for recipes and am game enough to try all kinds of cuisine. The husband and the kid compliment my every attempt and I feel gratified that my interest and efforts in the kitchen get appreciated all the time. Today I made a chicken gravy authentic to a particular region of my home state in India, and eaten along with idlis, they were heavenly bites indeed! My husband has already asked me if there are any leftovers, and if so, he wants them with pooris (deep fried mini tortillas) for breakfast tomorrow...all of which has prompted me to write this blog!

Happy eating, my friends! May you be blessed with heavenly bites as well!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Other Eden: Where Imagination Blends With Reality

[Note: This is a piece of descriptive/narrative writing fed purely by my imagination. It is semi-autobiographical and the rest fictitious, the locale and the topography of the land having been changed as per my fancy and convenience. If my description is reminiscent of my favorite writers, it only bolsters the fact of how deeply I have been influenced by them!]

Want a glimpse of my other Eden? Relax now, breathe deeply, loosen your limbs, sit back in your seat and come with me on an interesting journey to a place so rugged, so serene, so pristine, so primordial and elemental in its beauty that I truly believe is the abode of the gods. The flux of life has taken me across the vast expanses of continents, be it for work or pleasure, but my mind is still awash with fresh memories of this other Eden from my childhood and like Wordsworth’s daffodils “ they flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.”

Not far from my parents’ vacation home was this oasis of beauty, a quiet haven of nature’s bliss to which we retreated time and again. It was a lucid lake that was nestled among the mountains, flashing like an aquamarine jewel in the brilliance of the sun and reflecting the deep blue skies on a warm, clear day. On occasion, when a few clouds drifted lazily past, they reflected on the water and changed its color, from indigo to blue to turquoise, shades of blue and green playing out continuously on the surface. Sun, rain, wind – it looked amazing in all. The lake was fed by tiny pebble-strewn streams and waterfalls that poured off the canyons surrounding it, and had an abundance of fish in it. The mountains foundered in a wreckage of rocks and boulders that stood like a crumbling fort around the lake, with the towering stands of pines and other conifers for sentinels, guarding a heavenly secret suspended in time and space. It was a relatively unspoiled location, literally in the back of nowhere, and only a few of our neighbors who lived far and apart were privy to it. The ambiance was sheer magic, the mood it evoked so divine and ethereal. Child though I was, it felt like paradise on earth to me, inspiring dreams as grand as its lonely, silent, stupendous splendor.

The lake was quite an enchanting walk from home, across a heavily – wooded area of mixed conifers and various other trees that roofed over like a great cathedral, with an impenetrable mass of ferns and bushes growing under them. The mighty canopy of the trees towering above was colossal in proportion and size, evoking an almost religious awe in me. The ground underfoot was like wet sponge as we walked on a mass of sodden leaves. Nurse logs were there aplenty, signaling death, decay, and rebirth. The woods were always loud with birds, a bird watcher’s paradise indeed. As we walked through the woods, my siblings and I would listen to the bird calls, be it the chatter of a thrasher or a thrush, or the ear-piercing calls of others which sounded like a dozen hammers beating on anvils. Buoyed by enthusiasm, we would compete with the sound of the bird song, as we skipped merrily along, dancing to the varied tunes of our winged friends. It was always cool under the trees, the greenness of the foliage adding to that feeling. Late spring and midsummer were my favorites, when the trees were a dark green. It was then that the brilliantly hued flowers in the clearing were a riot of colors, from the muted pinks and whites to the vibrant golds and yellows – a shangri-la of leaf and bloom and bird song.

There were a number of streams that emptied into the lake and as we crossed through the woods, we could hear the gurgle of the water as it flowed atop the pebbles. On a warm, lazy afternoon, my siblings and I would go off the beaten path and gravitate towards the streams. I would watch the boyish antics of my two older brothers as they climbed a tree or two on the way. My sister and I would pick the native berries on the banks of the streams, or collect nicely-rounded pebbles for our brothers to skim along the surface of the water. I remember being fascinated by the sight and sound of the pebbles as they plopped into the water. I would recite Tennyson’s “Song of the Brook” – “I come from haunts of coot and hern / I make a sudden sally/ And sparkle out among the fern/ To bicker down a valley.” My sister, the oldest, would go, “I chatter, chatter, as I flow / To join the brimming river, “and we would all cry in unison , “For men may come and men may go/ But I go on forever.” Oh, for those days of childish delight and pure unadulterated bliss!

Pouring off the shaggy rocks in the area and not easily accessible were a couple of waterfalls. We children were not allowed to go there without our parents, precisely because we had to thrust our way through the trees on a steep rocky canyon where the waterfalls came cascading down in a torrent and eddied into the silver pools below. Our parents were concerned that a misstep might send us hurtling down the jagged walls. The place evoked an awe in me as I sat and gazed at the silvery curtain of the water plunging down below. I would often recite Robert Southeys’ “ The Cataract of Lodore” with its plethora of ‘–ing’ verbs. “How does the water come down at Lodore ? “ the poem would ask, and after an endless list of verbs in the present progressive - “Rising and leaping,/Sinking and creeping,/ Swelling and sweeping, /Showering and springing, / Flying and flinging, / Writhing and ringing, / Eddying and whisking, / Spouting and frisking,/ Turning and twisting around and around,/ With endless rebound,/ Smiting and fighting,/ A sight to delight in,/ Confounding, astounding, / Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound…,” - it would end, “ And this way the water comes down at Lodore.” Up above, I would watch the birds zooming past in the sky and wonder if they enjoyed the aerial view or took it for granted. In my childish fancy, I would be a bird as well, soaring above the rocks and water. It was a surreal feeling, as if I had transcended the barriers of time and space into another dimension.

As we came down to the lake, it was picture– perfect indeed. There was an other- worldliness to it, as if we had stepped into eternity. It had the typical smell of all water bodies, that of leaf, and mud, and fish, blended together. Under the glassy blue green sheen of its surface, what secrets did it hold, I would wonder. I would imagine an iridescent creature with amber eyes rising sleekly out of the water like Nessie, or I would fantasize about a mermaid with her merman and merchildren living in the depths of the lake. Wasn’t the water in the lake perhaps the very same water that the dinosaurs of yore drank? In retrospect, the lake and its surrounding environment in all their beauty and ruggedness bring about a calming, healing effect on my soul to this day. I feel akin to Thoreau in Walden, one with nature and in tune with the music of the spheres when I think of my other Eden now.

My parents are no longer alive, my siblings and I now live in different parts of the globe, and the vacation home is long gone. My other Eden still exists, in reality as well as in my memory. Will the lake of my childhood memories be there for my son and his children and countless other children to enjoy for posterity? Only time will tell. In the meantime, dear readers, relax, breathe deeply, loosen your limbs, sit back and enjoy whatever it is you are doing, for there is hope yet for our planet and our own personal Edens.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Tribute To My Father-in-law

Today marks the third year of my beloved father-in-law's passing away. I am assailed by a myriad of memories, thinking of him in ways that only a fond child would. I used to call him "Appa" (Dad), but he was more than that to me, having touched my life in a very remarkable way. I still find it difficult to reconcile with his loss, for he had always seemed so larger than life, the patriarch of the family who ruled over everyone with that unmistakable combination of love and sternness and pride and geniality. Death was something I never associated with Appa and it broke my heart when he died, just as it did my husband's, his first-born child.

I must confess, my father-in-law and I did not start off on good terms.I was the outsider and a Christian at that, who had dared to fall in love with his beloved son, the apple of his eye (excuse the cliche) for whom he had great dreams and aspirations. He had hoped his son would marry a well-heeled Hindu girl, preferably one that he and his wife chose, but there I was, ready to throw a monkey wrench in the works. Let me just say that what got off to a rocky start blossomed and mellowed into a relationship of mutual love and admiration in no time at all.

Appa was hugely proud of who I was and he respected and admired me for my education, profession, and a whole host of other things. We clashed ideologically on many grounds, but he admired the fact that I was able to hold on my own and would not be cowed down by his stand on any matter whatsoever. I was able to sit with him and have an informed conversation on varied topics, both global and local. I could as easily discuss with him the genocide in Rwanda or the state of the economy as I could the local municipal elections, and he was very proud of my ability to do that. I remember how taken aback he was when during a blackout I asked him what a brownout was, and he was very surprised that I even knew about it. He explained it to me very clearly in lay man terms. I could sense the pride in his voice when he introduced me to others. "This is my daughter-in-law. She's a professor of English at Lady Doak College," he would go. I also remember how he was there in attendance at my graduation, and my husband's as well. I was there for my M.Phil. degree in English, and my husband for his M.B.A., and the University premises were under Appa's jurisdiction at that time. Besides, the Governor of the State was the chief guest at the graduation ceremony, so the entire Electricity Board was in attendance at the affair. Need I say that Appa was beaming with pride at our accomplishment and kept introducing me and my husband to his entire staff!

Appa was an electrical engineer by profession who wielded a lot of clout, both political and otherwise, while he was in service. There were other engineers in the Electricity Board, but Engineer Paranjothi was clearly by far greater among his equals.His influence was extraordinary, his contacts ranged from the lowliest to the mightiest, and his dedication to his job was unrivaled till the very end. He was very knowledgeable about his field, having moved up steadily through the ranks, and his willingness to use his influence to help others was legendary. My Aunt would walk into his office for any kind of help related to power supply in her huge compound, and she would brag to people that she need not worry because her niece's father-in-law was the electrical engineer in the area. Having my own father-in-law as the ADE came with its own perks. When I was getting ready to go to work and there was a power cut, it would annoy me no end, and I would call him right away, "Don't worry, ma. It's just a changeover. Your supply will be restored within minutes," he would say. Or he would forewarn me about a power cut so I could manage things at home efficiently.

My husband always used to tell me about all the valuable life lessons he had learned from his Dad and how his father had helped him hone all his soft skills. He was a pro at public relations and inculcated in my husband the truth that every single person is important, no matter what their stature in life. He was a "people person" till the very end and he takes all the credit for having turned his son, my husband, into one as well. Another important thing we learned from him was about the importance of giving feedback to one's superiors. "Never assume that your boss knows what you have done. Always make it a point to inform him about what you have accomplished," he would say, an advice I still remember to this day. For our turn, my husband and I keep reminding our son of all these lessons that we learned from Appa.

Appa always treated me in a very special manner. It was ironic how quickly I turned into the favored one, and he would show it in such an obvious way, much to the annoyance of the others in the family, and to my embarrassment! However, I must admit that at times I did enjoy his attention and preferential treatment!!! Whenever we traveled out of town, Appa would have boiled and filtered water brought for him in a canteen, and of all the family members, I would be the only one allowed to drink from his canteen. "Olivia is like me, she just can't drink water from unknown sources, or she might get sick," he would say, and this would irritate the others around us. When I visited his house and he was having his coffee, he would yell to my mother-in-law in the kitchen, "Olivia is here. Indira, bring her some coffee!" and my mother-in-law would patiently answer, "Oh, she doesn't drink coffee, you know." And this would happen every single time I went over to their house! Or when we visited the ancestral village where there was just one portable fan available, he would invite me to sit next to him so I wouldn't sweat in the humidity and heat. If he spotted so much as a drop of sweat on my brow, he would hand over his towel for me to wipe it off... and this from a man who was so finicky about cleanliness and wouldn't let anyone touch his towel! As was the custom, as the patriarch of the family, he got to eat first with the other men during festivals and celebrations, but I would be the only female he would invite to sit with him for the meal, and countless were such occasions! Or when everyone else sat cross-legged on the floor for the traditional meal, I would be sitting at the table with him. His excuse? "Olivia is like me. She's used to sitting at the table and cannot be inconvenienced by sitting on the floor!" The only other person in the family for whom he had an overwhelming affection was his younger sister, the only girl in his family. He always doted on his sister, and the whole house would be agog with his infectious excitement whenever she paid him a visit!

My father-in-law respected my family a lot. He had great regard for my father whom he considered an intelligent, well-read man. My brothers he treated with the utmost courtesy and considered them intellectuals in their own right. When my father died of complications from diabetes and kidney failure, my father-in-law was terribly rattled, because he was a diabetic himself. He took the greatest care with his diet and exercise regimen, but who can stop time and the toll it takes on one's body?!? Appa's health started deteriorating gradually...after a series of hospitalizations, my husband decided it was time to pay him a visit. My father-in-law pulled through on that occasion, and was discharged from the hospital, but when my husband left to come home, he knew that was the last time he would ever be seeing his Dad alive. He said Appa insisted on walking out of the house to see him off, and till the car turned around the street corner, he was standing there waving goodbye! Unfortunately for all of us, two months later was an irreversible deterioration, and all I was able to do was talk to Appa, both of us crying over the phone, me with the knowledge that he was dying, and he with the sadness that I was so far away and he wasn't able to see me. My son got to speak to him as well, and I was choked as he and his grandpa sobbed over the phone."Is Thaathaa (Grandpa) going to die, Ma?"... I didn't have an answer. We were hoping the doctors could do something to save Appa, but all was in vain. My beloved father-in-law passed away this day three years ago.

My bond with my father-in-law was as strong as my husband's to him. I never expected anything from Appa other than his affection and he was very much aware of that and loved me all the more. I made sure I loved him for who he was. He had his own failings just as any human being has, but his love for us overrode all those failings, I must say! We all miss him every single day, and I especially think of all his kindnesses and loving gestures towards me. From disapproval to inclusion and wholehearted love was an incredible journey for me with Appa and I shall always cherish him in my heart. True to the Hindu philosophy of an after-life, they always say that the soul returns to earth and hovers around the ones it loves, and I have no doubt in my mind at all that Appa's soul is here with us, his benevolent presence felt in our midst, day in and day out. 

Rest in eternal peace, Appa! We love you very much!