Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne!

It's that time of the year again to look back at events past, reminisce, reflect, and recall all the lessons learned. It's also the time to look ahead to a whole new year ahead of us filled with hopes, aspirations, dreams, opportunities, and endless possibilities. We are all like Janus, the two-headed Roman God, one head looking back at the past, and other ahead at the new year. It's also the time to give humble thanks to God's guiding hand, and for those who don't believe in God, to their good Karma or whatever else it is that has kept them going. I am truly grateful for all of life's blessings, great and small, in the year 2010, and look ahead towards better times in the New Year 2011!

In my opinion, 2010 just sped by too fast, in the blink of an eye as it were! My family had no major health problems (and myself miraculously so!), no big money problems, no significant job problems, and no worrisome issues with the kid - all factors contributing to a wonderful, blessed year! Of course, there were a few minor hiccups, as is normal for any family, but overall, we were a happy, smiling lot, I should say. The most significant event in our lives was Dinesh going to India all on his own to volunteer in the tsunami-affected regions of coastal Tamilnadu, something that changed his outlook on life and made him a better person. We also had family visiting us, the husband's sister in March and my brother in November, reminding us of the warmth and love that only family members can bring.

As 2010 winds to a close, I wish all my family and friends
A Very Blessed And Prosperous New Year 2011!

May We All Find Continued Health, Increasing Wealth, And Abundant Happiness In The New Year And Decade Ahead!

May All Our Troubles Last As Long As Our New Year's Resolutions!

Happy New Year 2011, Folks!!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Smart Alecks

Why is it that children have selective amnesia when it comes to rules of behaviour, chores at home, assignments at school, and the like, but seem to have a phenomenal memory recalling the mistakes, foibles, follies, and errant ways of their parents?!? Every single parent has the common experience of hearing the most popular response, "Oh, I forgot!" from their child(ren) when queried about something the kid was supposed or expected to do. Throw in an additional, "Oh, did you want me to?" or "Oh, was I supposed to?," and that completes the picture at my home. The same kid who feigns ignorance or forgetfulness about a task, will almost always be quick to remember some mistake the parent committed, say 5 years ago, and that too accurately, with all the minor details involved!

Take for example, a common scenario playing out at home. I ask the kid why the newspapers are piling up and why they haven't been taken out to the recycling bins, and pat comes the response, "Oh, I forgot!" The Dad will throw in his two cents' worth to help by saying, "Actually it's you who's reading all those papers!" The same goes for the coke or pepsi cans (Diet, mind you!) rolled under the bed. "I forgot," the kid says and I think how could a child possibly forget to throw them in the trash can which is right there under the table. And it's always the mother's job to send the cans dutifully to the recycling bin as well. When I find the folded laundry from one week ago still sitting on the side table, discover he's been pulling out clean clothes from the pile, and ask him why he didn't put them away in the closet right away, it's "Sorry, I forgot!"

The scenario switches to the school and it's the same story there as well. On the rare days that the kid takes lunch to school, and I question him in the evening about the lunchbox, he goes, "Oops, I forgot!" The same can be said for bringing home the gym bag for the clothes to be washed, or the locker to be cleaned out on the last day of school. And don't even get me started on the number of umbrellas he's left behind at school, all because he forgot! I get a call in the evening about the kid having missed a class, but he insists he was there after all, and so I ask him to meet his counsellor and sort it out. Come the next evening and I go, "So, did you meet the counsellor?" and the answer is, yes, you got it right, he forgot! And when eventually he does meet the counsellor and we find out it was a planning class at lunchtime that he had missed, he says he forgot about the class because it was lunchtime and all he remembered was the food! Husband and I see the validity of his statement and launch into a debate if the school is right in scheduling classes for famished teenagers at lunch break, while the kid silently gives us the slip and slinks off to his room!

It's Christmas and the Mom gets an iPad, and now is the time that the kid's phenomenal memory kicks in. Husband buys an expensive case for the iPad to match the Blackberry's and tells me how to handle the gadget properly on the commute to work. Kid butts in and says,"Yeah Dad, you think she will? Remember how she dropped the Blackberry on the sidewalk and cracked the LCD screen?" And this was like 4 months ago! To add fuel to the fire, he goes, "And do you remember how she left her cell phone in the bathroom stall at the mall?" And this was 4 years ago! Then he turns to me and continues, "Ma, don't think a stranger who picks up your iPad will be good enough to return it to you, just like you got your phone back!", assuming that I am definitely going to misplace my iPad somewhere and lose it. This is just one tiny example of how the kid can recall incidents vividly and rub it in when the time's right. Now what do we do with such smart alecks at home? Tough job parenting, eh?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tough Love

Am I my child's parent or friend, I often wonder! As much as I would like to be the kid's friend, there are times when disciplining the child becomes imperative, and I then play the role of a parent, read "monster" here. In a world where children are becoming increasingly narcissistic and self-centred, and have a sense of entitlement to all that they desire, it rests on the parents to dole out some tough love as and when the occasion warrants. In most families, it is the mother who becomes the disciplinarian and thus the villain, while the father almost always gives in to the kid and ends up becoming the good guy. At least that's the case here at my home!

I grew up in a strict, yet loving family where austerity bordering on the puritanical was an accepted norm. No lavish birthday parties, no excessive gifts, but just a book for a gift, a set of new clothes, and our favourite meal were to be expected on our birthdays. New Year was celebrated, not Christmas, and this was marked by going to church early in the morning wearing new clothes, and a sumptuous lunch that followed to celebrate the day. There were strict rules to be followed at home, like family prayers in the evening and going to church every week, and our parents' commands had to be obeyed without question. Narcissism didn't exist then, neither did self-entitlement. It's a whole different ball game altogether these days where the kid has everything his heart desires, asks for a good reason why he has to do something when he's told to, and argues unabashedly and convincingly to justify his stand on anything for that matter, from mundane things as taking out the garbage or recycling the newspapers, to sublime matters such as philosophy or religion.

As a parent, I keep reminding the kid that everything he has is a privilege and not a right. He needs to follow the rules, tough as they might seem to him, as long as he lives with us. I tell him I'm being cruel only to be kind, not that he gets it all the time! The rules aren't that impossible to follow (in my opinion) - no pop, particularly at bedtime (maybe Diet occasionally), no Playstation 3 during school weeks, no insipid TV shows on weeknights, daily review at home of all that was studied at school, veggies at mealtime, 30 minutes of cardio each day, no iPod in bed, laptop only for studies and not for watching movies, to name a few. The kid's usually good at following them until the husband throws a monkey wrench in the works by exclaiming, "He's a child, for heaven's sake!" or "You should've been a drill sergeant in the military!" or something to that effect, and lo and behold, the kid's up in arms and goes, " Yeah, Ma, am I at home or at boot camp?" So much for my tough love, as I leave the kid and start battling the husband and his stupid comments! That's another week of hard work for me before I can bring the kid around!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Kitchen Klutzes

I've always wondered why most of the world's famous chefs happen to be men, and if at all they went home after a day's work and cooked for their wives and children. I also wonder if those chefs are as efficient at tidying up the kitchen and cleaning up after themselves as they are at concocting all those gastronomical delights. To my knowledge, men do not have the patience to put things back in order as women do, and as creative as they might get with their food, they are downright klutzes in the kitchen and leave behind a holy mess after they are done cooking.

The husband here is no exception in this regard, but then again, neither is he a renowned chef for that matter. Once in a blue moon, he ventures into the kitchen to whip up something unhealthy but delicious. I must admit that there are moments when I think he's God's gift to the gastric juices! If one were to ignore the calories piled up on the plate and focus solely on the taste and creativity of the food he serves, then he would easily and surely score an 'A'. People say I'm a good cook, but sometimes the kid says, "Mom, can you ask Dad to make something?", which goes to show how the Dad can improvise in the kitchen and tickle the taste buds. There are moments when I'm downright tired and resent entering the kitchen, and on such rare occasions, the husband takes it on himself to put together something quickly.

It so happened that a friend of his had shared a shrimp pattie with him at lunch one day. He had asked her how it had been made, and voila, that night he took it upon himself to indianize the dish and serve it for dinner. When I say such things, please don't think that the husband waits on me hand and foot everyday. These are very rare occurrences, so rare that I can count them on the fingers of my hand! But the best part is that he cooks and serves it as well, bringing it to the couch while I'm watching TV. I take immense pleasure in being served wherever I am at that moment, in front of the TV, or the computer, or the bedroom, but after the eating is done, all the pleasure evaporates when I enter the kitchen and see the royal mess it is in! I cannot for the life of me imagine why and how all the dishes - pots, pans, plates, spoons, ladles, knives, cutting boards, etc., etc. - got into the sink! Surely he didn't cook for an army, did he?!!?

I then kick myself for having let this happen, that I should have overcome my laziness and fixed dinner myself in the first place. For the perverse pleasure of being waited on, there I am, paying the price of having to spend an extraordinary length of time scrubbng and mopping and cleaning and wiping and sanitizing the whole place. Never again will I allow this to happen, I swear to myself! For every minute I spent eating, I spend ten times the time tidying up ... and as the husband keeps gloating over his culinary skills and tooting his horn endlessly, I ask him to shut up and give me a break! Ya think I learned my lesson? Yeah, right!!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Love or Money?

We live in an extremely materialistic world these days where money rules. In an interesting discussion I had with my class recently about what was more important, love or money, I was quite surprised to find that most of the young people took the side of money, whereas the older ones opted for love. Is this a reflection of the times, I wonder?!? Is the younger generation being mercenary merely to feed their increasing narcissism or is it being very practical and realistic about living comfortably in this increasingly expensive world, I ask myself? The arguments in favour of both were plenty and I was left inconclusive at the end because of the validity and verity of both the arguments.

I commented about this on Facebook, and many of my friends weghed in on the subject. Here's what some of my friends had to say: Chithra Just, whose comment I wholly endorse, said," Why does it have to be this OR that always? money without love doesn't fill the heart; love without money doesn't fill the stomach! we need both - money in moderation and love in abundance! :)" Krithika Swaminathan said, " I would choose love... It would be great to have both in balance, but if I had to choose one over the other, I will choose love... The world won't go around without love. ;)" Petulia Joseph was succinct and poetic in her comment that she thought love was priceless and would survive even the apocalypse. Lily Blessing was very practical in even giving a ratio of 60 : 40 (love : money) that she would prefer to have. Sampath Kumar felt that it all depended on age, that in youth, one would be on the side of love, in middle age on the side of money, and then again in old age back on the side of love - sort of like a pendulum swing to me.

Shashikala Subramanian, another friend from my school days came out with some beautiful quotes in favour of love: "Though I give all I possess to the poor and surrender myself to the flames, but do not have love ... I gain nothing. Love is always happy when it can share something and give something. Everything in life prospers and grows in the sweetness and warmth of love," and went on to quote, "Even out of the three - Faith, Hope and Love - the greatest of these is Love." I was particularly struck by what my student Viktor, the 86-year-old Computer Science Professor Emeritus from Kiev, Ukraine, had to say. He and his 70-year-old wife Olga, who's also my student, took a clear stand in favour of love and he told the class of a proverb from the Soviet Union: "When there is love in your heart, you can find paradise even in a hat!" That set the whole class thinking, while another came up with a proverb from her country, in favour of money: "When Poverty knocks at your door, Love will fly out through the window!"

It was a very interesting, lively debate indeed, and when asked what I thought was more important, I answered of course, it was love. I came home and told my husband of the whole discussion, and quick came the retort, "How stupid! Will love pay the mortgage or the other bills or put food on the table?" Ever the realist, I thought! Now according to Sampath, does that make me young /old and my husband middle-aged, or as per my class, am I old and my husband young? Hmmm ... I wonder!!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why I Blog

I certainly have no ambition of any kind to be the next J.K.Rowling or Arundhati Roy or anyone else famous for that matter. I have nothing earth-shaking or mind-blowing to say, nor do I feel compelled to show off my knowledge or flaunt my language skills here. This is not a Ph.D. thesis of academic value displaying my literary bent or a dissertation to showcase my vocabulary or flair for English. My posts are just my random thoughts on various subjects, things that I see and hear around me, things that fascinate me, and those that I feel an urge to comment on. Above all, I, for sure, do not write to impress others, but merely to share my thoughts in an understandable way with my students who happen to read what I write.

It all began when I signed up for a six-credit online course in Advanced Writing at the University of British Columbia two years ago. This was no job requirement or anything of that sort, but one that I voluntarily got myself into, just for the challenge and fun of it all. And boy, sure it was both, a veritable year-long challenge juggling a full-time position teaching at college and churning out assignments day in and day out, and a lot of fun critiquing each other's writing as well! My Professor, Dr. Barbara Siennicki, reminded all of us time and again to write for our audience and make sure we modified our register to suit our readers. She also motivated us to have our articles published, and so it was that one of my pieces was published in the Zoni Voice, the journal of the language college where I was teaching at that time, kind courtesy of Mr. Zoilo Nieto.

I decided that the skills I'd picked up in the writing class had to be honed constantly, and thus was born the blog last summer, so my students could continue reading whatever I wrote. My students come from all over the world, and because English is their second language, I have to tone down my writing enough for them to understand, just as I have to modify my "teacher-talk" in the classroom. It has been a pleasant ride so far, I must accept. Sometimes they do comment/complain that this or that post was too dificult for them to comprehend, so back I go again to my Professor's reminders and advice about writing for my audience. I urge my students to write as well, one journal a week, and to be a role model for them, I write one extra post a month, just to inspire them and keep them motivated! If their Instructor can do it, they can too! I find the entire experience truly gratifying and I hope this whole blogging thing will continue with the same enthusiasm and gusto.

Happy Writing, Folks!!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cultural Faux Pas

Focusing on settlement issues while teaching my class of immigrant students from all over the world, I often address social blunders many of us make in an alien land. What is culturally acceptable in our own countries may not be so in yet another country, but many of us commit so many cultural faux pas stemming from our ignorance of acceptable local behaviour that we leave the locals reeling from shock and disbelief at our abominable behaviour. Social acculturation is a very important thing we have to learn consciously when we're trying to settle down comfortably in a foreign land. As long as we live in our ethnic silos and persist in following our own ways regardless of what is acceptable in the country of our choice, then assimilation into society becomes a very difficult task.

People from most Asian cultures, in my opinion, have no distinction between the private and the public, and ask way too many inappropriate, personal questions that can leave the other person squirming in the seat. During a session on family law related to abuse and divorce and all that, I was mortified when an elderly Asian student of mine asked the guest speaker if he had ever beaten his wife. During yet another session on banking, another student asked the speaker how much money he made in his job. Sometimes, as their Instructor, I too get asked how much salary I am being paid, which is not something I'd ever disclose to my students. Or when someone tells them he/she has bought a house, pat comes the next question, "How much did you pay for it?" Also, when someone answers in the affirmative about their marital status, and in the negative about having children, almost always the next question is, "How long have you been married?" As if it's any of their business! And more often, they follow up with probing questions about the couple's medical history, offer fertility advice, and so on, completely unmindful of the fact that none of these should ever be addressed in the first place because these are very personal matters and that these are practically strangers they're offering advice to.

Recently, I happened to throw a party where the time was clearly mentioned as 6 PM for the guests to arrive. I had been standing for nearly ten hours in the kitchen lording over the stove, and was putting the finishing touches to the food, when the doorbell rang. The husband was vacuuming the living room one final time, and to our consternation, we discovered that the first of the guests had arrived, almost an hour and a half earlier than the said time. They had no thought if the hosts would be ready to receive them so early, or any consideration at all that they should give us time to get ready. Anyways, their reason for the early arrival was that they had to go to another birthday party, so they thought they should stop at our place on the way. To be honest, I was livid about their insensitivity, and I had to run to the bathroom for a shower, leaving my task in the kitchen midway and asking the husband to complete it. They walked right in, with the vacuum cleaner still sitting in the middle of the living room. These were people I had never met, who were coming to our place for the first time, so not a very good first impression I had of them! And horror of horrors, the woman nonchalantly wandered into the kid's room without invitation and completely took him by surprise ...and worse still, was about to enter the master bedroom where I was having a shower in the adjoining bathroom. The husband had to literally grab her hand and pull her out of the bedroom with a loud , "NO, NO!" Perhaps this was something she could have done in her home country, India, and not much fuss would've been made about it, but not here in North America, for sure! Privacy and personal boundaries are very important here, and one doesn't just wander into someone's private rooms uninvited!

The list of cultural faux pas people commit can go and on, and I can see the value in big companies and corporations offering acculturation lessons for their personnel when they go on trips abroad. It becomes all the more important to learn the cultural do's and don'ts when you immigrate to a foreign land and try to assimilate into society there. It pains me all the more when people from my own country are boorish and behave like uncouth louts and uncivilized morons . Time we all educated ourselves about what is culturally acceptable and not!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

School Day Reminiscences - III

This blog post is dedicated to Mrs. Kamala Jegadeesan, the Teacher Of All Teachers!

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires," said William A. Ward. In my opinion, the Teacher Of All Teachers influences posterity into eternity, whose influence doesn't stop merely with the students passing through his/her classroom, and who better than Mrs. Kamala Jegadeesan to epitomize this truth! I can say with all honesty that it was my singular privilege and blessing to be taught by this illustrious lady, that today I am who I am solely because of her, that I have continued and still continue to pass on her inspiration and love for learning to countless numbers of students from all over the world. My memories of SDA School, Madurai, have been truly enriched because of my association with her, and I have never failed to tell a single class of mine these past twenty-five years about her extraordinary influence on me as an impressionable child!

Where do I begin? My love for the English language and its literature came from two people in my life - my father, the lover of books nonpareil who could easily put any academic to shame, and my teacher, Mrs. Jegadeesan, who stoked that inner fire in me, lit by my father at home, into a raging inferno of passion for English at school. I remember one particular English Reader I had in Grade 5, English Today, by Ronald Ridout. The book was handpicked by Mrs. Jegadeesan, and the exercises in it were so interesting and challenging that I still remember them to this day. I was introduced to a whole new world of synonyms and antonyms and proverbs and poems and short stories in this one text that has served me well for a lifetime. Words Are Important was another workbook that helped strengthen my vocabulary, as I grappled at home with those exercises that were too difficult for a child my age. Mrs. Jegadeesan would check them right away each day, despite her great responsibilities as the Headmistress of the school, and it gave me enormous pleasure to see my perfect scores for each exercise and her elaborate comments for the sentences I'd made.

Mrs. Jegadeesan encouraged all of us to memorize poems such as "The Cataract Of Lodore" by Robert Southey, "The Daffodils" by William Wordsworth, "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Ode To A Nightingale" by John Keats, to name a few, poems that I can still recite without a single mistake after all these decades! It was not just the poems alone, but I remember reading and rereading and thoroughly enjoying the short stories from Norah Burke's Jungle Picture, that I knew whole paragraphs from those stories by heart. She brought Shakespeare alive for us in each class, and we would wait with bated breath for the English period just to find out the suspense in Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, or roll with laughter at the escapades of Pickwick and his friends in Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers or identify ourselves with the mischief of Swami in R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends.

Who can ever forget how Mrs. Jegadeesan directed us in the annual school plays! I vividly remember playing Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice and the very thought brings alive "The quality of mercy is not strain'd/ It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:/ It blesseth him that gives and him that takes..." speech from Act IV, Sc.I to mind. I also recall in particular a vocabulary contest she held for students of all grades. She had given us a number of categories like flowers, fruits, feelings, etc., and all we had to do was list as many words as we knew under each category. The contest extended well after school hours, and one by one all the children left for home, until I was the only one remaining, squeezing my brain cells and writing away like a maniac. Mrs. Jegadeesan sat with me patiently, not once urging me to finish, but silently encouraging me to go on and keep doing my best. My mother, who taught at the same school, poked her head into the room once in a while to see if I were done, and finally I had to finish only because it was getting late, and my mother and I had to take the bus to our home in Vilangudi, past Fatima College.

The elocution contests and temperance speeches she organized opened a whole new world of poise and self-confidence in us children. Thanks solely to her, I was fearless facing an audience and still am to this day! She took me and my classmate Harish Bhat to participate in a speech contest in Chennai (Madras, at that time), and I recall quite vividly our train journey with her, the first ever trip for both Harish and myself out of town, without our parents. I still remember that speech of mine on the evils of smoking ... it began, "The easiest way to commit suicide in installments is to start smoking. Smoking is the No. 1 health hazard of modern man! ...." The laurels I won, the accolades I received, the honours that were heaped on me were all because of my noble teacher, and were it not for her, I could not have excelled in whatever I did!

When I was in Grade 9, Mrs. Jegadeesan was transferred out of Madurai, and what a devastating blow that was to all her students! Noone could fill her shoes, and what colossal shoes they were! My connection to her was not confined to the school alone, but extended to the church as well. I knew her on a personal level both inside and outside of school because of those church connections. She was a big admirer of my father's classes at church explaining the prophecies from the Book of Revelation, and many a time would I sit with them, a mere child listening in on their discussions and debates. At school, she was my beloved teacher, an extraordinary educator who singularly influenced me in choosing my career path, and showed me that I could be whoever I wanted to be in life, and be the best in all that I did!

A teacher is a catalyst who brings about positive change in his/her students, and Mrs. Jegadeesan was the most powerful of them all! We passed through her chaste seminary of education, only to emerge as successful human beings and passionate , empathetic ciitizens of the world. To you, my teacher, the Teacher Of All Teachers, I owe everything in life, and pay my heartfelt obeisance for all that you have been and done for me!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Master Manipulators

How well our children manipulate us! They play us like a finely tuned instrument and twist us around their little finger, smiling oh so bewitchingly and talking oh so convincingly while doing so, till it takes us a while to realize we've been had for a ride! But by then it's too late to go back on whatever promise we've made in a moment of temporary insanity and complete trust in our little devils. From seeing them as these helpless infants in our arms to watching them pitch their Machiavellian tricks as teenagers on their unsuspecting parents is a metamorphosis that is unrivalled on the planet. They know exactly what our weakness is, lull us into moments of fleeting ecstasy, and then go for the kill. Sounds familiar, folks?!?

It so happened that I was heading home from work yesterday when the husband called and exclaimed ," Do you know that Dinesh got a 29 out of 30 on that Science poster he submitted on Monday?" "Really? Did he call you? How come he didn't call ME today?", I asked. That was a bit strange, calling the Dad on his drive back home to give this piece of information, I thought. It's usually the Mom he calls in the evenings with a terse "Mom, I'm back home." There is usually no conversation after that, however hard I try. "How was school?" "Good." "Any homework?" "Yeah." "Anything new?" "No." "What did you learn?" "Nothing." Getting more than a word out of the kid is like pulling teeth, hence the surprise on learning he'd called the Dad!

The minute I walked in, there he was, chatting away non-stop - "Hey Ma, did I tell you I got a perfect on that Math test? And oh yeah, that Science quiz I had yesterday, I got a perfect on that too! And you know what, my Planning teacher said I was a vocal leader in class!" - and so on and so forth came a barrage of his accomplishments at school, as he crowded me and followed me around while I was removing my shoes, throwing my lunch box in the sink, taking my jacket off, and heading to the closet to get rid of my work clothes. I guess by then I'd been softened for the kill! "I'm so proud of you, son! Keep up the good work for the next three years, and then your future'll be made!" I went, and just as I was about to enter the bathroom, came the final volley from the door, "Can I have my PS 3 for the next 4 days? It's a long weekend for me, you know. Can you please tell Dad to let me have it?"

The PlayStation 3 is securely locked away on school days, and usually comes out only during the summer and Christmas breaks, but what do you do when your child has just sprung his successes at school on you and how could you be so evil as to deny him the pleasure of videogaming when he's been such an impeccable student till now? So I mumbled something lamely about breaking the rules only because he's done so well at school, blah blah blah, and since the Dad had already been softened as well even before he reached home, out came the PS 3 and hooked to the HD TV in the living room, all in the blink of an eye! Little did we know that nine of his friends were already online, waiting for him! And he had already set up the bluetooth, concealed in his pocket, so supremely confident that we'd give in and he'd have his way after all!!!

Thus we met Wily Pete, Four Seasonz, Hyperbolic State, Wakeboarder, etc., etc. - all pseudonyms of some 14 something rambunctious teenagers, ready to plunge headlong into a weekend orgy of videogames and swearing and profanity that comes with the territory! The boys have taken over my house in a sense, albeit from their living rooms, and on my Remembrance Day holiday, I'm confined to the bedroom, a stranger in my own home, blogging away from my bed. At least my son had the decency to mute one of his friends ("He swears a lot, Mom!") when I dared to venture into the living room. Four more days to go as I wonder why we were suckered into this mayhem in the first place! Our children are master manipulators after all, aren't they?!?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Diwali Delirium!

To make matters clear, I'm not your average Hindu wife. In fact, I'm not a Hindu wife at all, but I pretend to be one just because I'm married to a Hindu husband. Tolerance of each other's religion has been the order of the day from Day 1 in the Kanna household, so just as the husband accompanies me to church on Christmas Eve (though I must confess that's about the only time of year I step into a church!) and helps me trim the Christmas tree, so do I jump headlong into the Diwali delirium and madness each year. And why do we bother with this semblance at all? For the kid, has always been our answer. Our teenager has been in India for Diwali just once in his young life, so we try our best to remind him of the traditions from back home. Only, the kid now claims he has no religion at all! And here we are, thousands of miles away from home, pathetically trying to reinforce a cultural lesson and desperately attempting to infuse some excitement into it all!

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, dawned bright and clear here in Vancouver yesterday, but life in an alien land dictates you go about your daily chores with no thoughts of what is culturally important to you from back home. So off we went to work, and the kid to school! It was cereal and banana for breakfast as usual, as I thought of Amma's (my mother-in-law's) "paal panniyaram" ( a sweet lentil delicacy soaked in coconut milk) and "ullundu vadai" (a deep- fried savory snack made of ground urad dal - my favorite!), not to mention the idlis and mutton curry, a staple on Diwali mornings back home. My mother-in-law always ensures that we don't forget the big day by sounding the alarm at least three weeks ahead. It always starts with the question to her son if he has bought new clothes for everyone for Diwali. Last year, despite her reminder, we forgot the clothes-shopping and rushed to the mall at the last minute, which is another story! Anyways, thanks to Amma, I got six designer label outfits for Diwali, and so did the kid.

My mother-in-law then asks me what sweets I plan to make and what's going to be my menu on Diwali day. Good Lord! I'm a career woman in a foreign land whose life's a crazy whirl each day and I have nary a moment to even give such mundane things a thought. However, I've always managed to remember and honour her reminder to me as a young bride that the oil must boil at home on Diwali day to ensure prosperity in the coming year ("Ennai nallaa kaayanum, Olivia!"). After 23 years of marriage, I still haven't made a logical or scientific connection to boiling oil and prosperity, and so it was this Diwali as well. After a considerably long day teaching at college (to which I wore an Indian kurta and jeans, Friday being a casual clothes day, and talking about Diwali to my international students) and then running to the pharmacy to get my flu shot, I rushed home to make the necessary sweet and savoury for the evening prayers. Thanks to MTR, I made the ullundu vadai from the instant mix (since my Ultra Grind has given up the ghost and we've had no time to replace it!), which turned out soft and golden brown, much to my amazement! The shape of the vadai was a different story though ... from a flat, round shape, it slowly turned into a flat, elongated one, then into a round blob like a bonda, but who cares! I still haven't heard the last of it from my men though! I had no time for the gulab jamuns, so made do with kesari instead. The idli batter ground the previous day had risen splendidly, so it was soft idlis, accompanied by mutton curry and coconut chutney, as well. The mixture, kara chev, and the assorted sweets from the Punjabi sweet shop completed the spread.

The kid finished his session with his Math tutor at 7.30 PM, and was asked to take a shower. "But I already did this morning! Aw man, why do I need another one now?" was his annoyed cry. "It's for Diwali," I reminded him. "But I'm not a Hindu!" came the quick retort. "I'm not one, either," I said, "but Dad is!" To make the long story short, we showered, donned our new clothes, offered prayers, and set to attack the food like hungry wolves. If I might add another animal simile here, the men ate like pigs!!! With constant comments from the kid about his not being a Hindu and why on earth (or was it why the hell ?!?) were we celebrating Diwali at 9.30 PM and shouldn't it be celebrated early in the morning, and all that, the Diwali delirium came to an end. One more year for it to start all over again, with my mother-in-law's reminders and questions from way back home! The day after, I now feel feverish from yesterday's flu shot, and I hope I don't go into a delirium of the other kind! Hope you all had a good Diwali, my friends!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Creative Tweets 5

A few more of my tweets here. I must add that all of these are composed during my rather long commute to work each morning. Blackberry in hand, I check my Facebook notifications and catch up with all the world news on my Twitter feed, and when I'm bored or inspired, whatever the situation might be, I tweet! :)

Dreams rule my mind
But life scales them back to the parameters of my reality
It's a "get real" moment
One that I'm still getting used to!

Awe-inspiring drive thru ancient forests
Miles of beaches n outer reefs pounded by ocean swells
The rugged majesty of the Pacific Coast!!

The boats loaded with glistening sockeye salmon
Bring out the romantic pioneer in me
Embarking on a culinary journey
With frontier fortitude

A favorite tune posted on Facebook
Brings back haunting memories, Mummy
The umbilical cord still attached
Beyond death, grave, into eternity

Gorgeous Fall morning, the birds chirping
The sun shining, the dew glistening
The hearth is warm and so's my heart
This cold October day!

The perfect parent am yet to be
Renegotiating my closeness n distance
The dramas n conflicts tell me
Don't finesse motherhood, but let it be

Due to the 140 character limitation of a tweet, sometimes I struggle to make the tweet as pithy as possible and am left with no character for an end punctuation. Still love it though!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

School Day Reminiscences - II

Seventh Day School, Madurai ...a place where the most part of my childhood was spent, and happily at that! The memories come surging back from the nethermost recesses of my brain. Picking up from where I left off in my earlier post, the chapel was the focal point of our mornings. Each day we would gather in it for our morning assembly of hymns, stories, thought for the day, and prayers. The chapel served like an auditorium of sorts, and considering that the school was still small in those fledgling days, it could easily accommodate all the students from Kindergarten to Grade 5. Our elocution contests would be held there, our guest speakers would address us there, our educational movies would be screened there, yet on Saturdays, when I attended church with my family there, it would take on an entirely new form, with the pastor preaching his sermon from the pulpit, and the tank behind him filled with water for the immersion baptism of new members inducted into the church. For the New Year's Day, the church would come alive with colourful festoons and shiny spangles and assorted decorations that brought about that special magic of the season. Come to think of it now, that chapel was an incongruent mix of the academic and the religious, I should say!

The classrooms on the campus were not that many in those days either. As the school strengthened and increased in numbers, tile-roofed classrooms were constructed along the back walls of the school campus. Global warming was not a major problem then, and the red-tiled rudimentary clasrooms were not a big discomfort even during the dog days of summer. Just behind the compound wall was a slum that teemed with a porcine population along with the human kind, and it was not uncommon to hear the pigs grunting and squealing as our classes went on. One of my childhood memories is of being chased by a pig that had strayed on to the school campus. I happened to go to the bathroom behind the chapel one evening, after school hours, and was rudely shocked to find the pig give chase. I remember turning tail and running for my dear life! There were a lot of casuarina saplings (must be huge trees now) that were planted around the campus, and on a rainy day, a naughty classmate would take me under them, promising to tell me a secret, and while I innocently stood under the young tree, would take hold of a branch and shake the water droplets on to me.

I also remember cartloads of sand being brought from the Vaigai River and spread around the school grounds. The sand was still damp and fresh, and we children would frolic in the huge mounds heaped in front, near the school gates. We would jump on to those mini mountains of sand and dirty our uniforms and shoes, and get shooed away by Moses Annan, the school watchman, and Joy Akka, his wife. The girls would put their thumbs and forefingers together in the wet sand and make molds shaped like betel leaves. There was a big tamarind tree on the right end in front of the school, and also guava trees, which we children used to raid continuously. There were huge tamarind trees at the back as well, but several of these were cut down to build the classrooms. As long as the trees lasted, we had a great time plucking and eating the guavas and tamarind. When the tamarind was out of season, we would still munch on the sour leaves. At times, when the guava or tamarind was beyond our reach, an ingenious classmate would climb on to the compound wall, jump like Tarzan and seize a branch and hold it down for us on the ground while we raided the branch and picked it clean. I was particularly addicted to the tender, unripe guavas, and I'm afraid I never let many of them ripen and complete their full life cycle! Oh for those days of mischief and gay abandon!

When the number of students outgrew the chapel, the morning assemblies were held outside, near the main gates of the school. I had the honour of hoisting the flag during the assemblies and would recite the National Pledge aloud ("India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters," and so on), and all the students would repeat it after me. My brother Karikalan used to joke around at home saying, "You know, when you say all Indians are your brothers and sisters, you have to silently tell yourself, 'Except one'!" The assemblies were eventually reduced to twice a week, and then to once a week as time went by. It was around this time that a new campus was bought, the one in Ellis Nagar. The campus, as it was then, is still vivid in my memories. There were lots of coconut palms all around the campus and again, tile-roofed, rudimentary classrooms were built there to accommodate the primary classes of the school, and eventually the entire elementary section moved there. It was a pang to see many of our teachers and our loving juniors move to the new campus. The students in the higher classes felt sort of isolated, and the only time we got to go the new campus was for the weekly assemblies and our Physical Education (I think they were called PT) classes.

Memories will continue ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Same, Yet Different!

India is truly a sub-continent, teeming with a lot of languages, customs, traditions, religions, and cultural practices. One begins to realize the enormity of this truth only when we live far away from our homeland, where the diaspora that speaks one's own language is few and far between in a foreign land. As long as I lived in my hometown of Madurai, in my home state of Tamilnadu in India, I simply took for granted the joys and nuances of everyday life. When I moved to California, I still didn't miss my state that much because Silicon Valley was swarming with Tamil engineers whom I could bump into on the streets on any given day. Life here in Vancouver, British Columbia, is different though, and it is very rare that I run into a Tamil-speaking person from Tamilnadu, though there are a lot of Sri Lankan Tamils here. Consequently, most of the Indians I know here are East Indian (as the Punjabis are called here), and though my heart sings with joy at the sight of an Indian face, I realize we have nothing in common at all in terms of language, traditions, religion, culture, etc., etc.

Other than the common bond that we're Indian, everything else about these friends is Greek and Latin to me, if you'll excuse the cliche. Take for instance the occasion when we were invited to Bob and Raji's house for the kirtan ceremony (religious rites to name a newborn child) of their first grandchild, Athena. The husband and I had no clue what the Sikh rites entailed, or what to expect there, and the first major faux pas of ours was to enter the house with our heads uncovered. The reaction of several Sikh folks there, total strangers to us, was as if they'd stepped on live coals. They immediately rushed to our sides, politely ushered us out of the hallowed hall, and while I was instructed to pull the palloo of my sari over my head, the husband had his covered by a piece of red cloth that was dutifully provided to him. I had no clue about the goings on there, but however managed to observe and follow. The next dumb thing I did was that there were some golden coloured rectangular objects stacked at one end of the reception area, and I saw two women go over and take one each. I told the husband that perhaps I should do the same, thinking that probably it was a book of prayers or something of that sort. I promptly went over and took one, when Raji sauntered over to me, and said, "Olivia, please have a picture of our grandchild as well," and handed me the same. The box, I discovered, did not contain a book of prayers, but laddoos that the hostess was giving away to the guests, thanking them for attending the ceremony. I shouldn't have gone and taken one myself, I realized with a great deal of embarrassment!

Anyways, last weekend we had another invite to attend a Thanksgiving ceremony at the Nanak Niwas Gurdwara in Richmond. Friends Malwinder and Avneet had bought a new house and this was an occasion to celebrate that. The husband and I knew what to expect this time round. I wore a chiffon sari for the occasion (knowing very well that I needed that palloo to cover my head), but little did I know that it would be a herculean task to make that stay on my head as long as I was there. I really hate it when I have to leave my husband and go over to the women's side, particularly when every one of those women is a total stranger to me. Go over I did, and there was this huge mound up front that was covered in a shiny, pink, sequined cloth. There was a bearded, turbaned gentleman with a duster-like object in his hand that he was fanning the mound with. By his side were three Sikh gentlemen singing in Punjabi, and I became lost in the magnetism of their deep voice, though I had no idea what they were singing about. Folks who came into the hall went up to the mound, respectfully knelt down and touched their foreheads to the ground. I was trying to figure out what could be under that pink cloth, and was wondering why they couldn't openly display it, whatever that object might be.

Lost in thought, I happened to glance over to the men's side and found the husband frantically gesticulating something to me. It took me a while to discover that he was trying to tell me about the palloo that had slipped off my head ...the horror! To make the long story short, I completely lost interest in the proceedings thereafter and was focusing valiantly on keeping that piece of chiffon on my head. The husband went up to the mound , genuflected, and touched his forehead to the ground like the others he'd seen, but I prudently stayed behind, not wanting to risk my palloo slipping off at the holiest of places and scandalizing the entire Sikh population there! We came out of the hall and on the opposite wall was this huge portrait of a Sikh gentleman, a religious leader, I presumed. "Is that Chatrapathi Shivaji?" went the husband. I shushed him into silence lest anyone hear him air his ignorance, and as soon as we left the hall, we both burst into laughter. Indians we all are, the same, yet different!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

School Day Reminiscences - I

These past couple of months have been especially nostalgic for me. I happened to reconnect with a few of my juniors from school on Facebook, and slowly all these fascinating people from my childhood days seemed to come out of the woodwork. My husband cropped my picture from my Grade 10 class photo, and jokingly posted it as my profile picture on Facebook because he thought it was cute, and lo and behold, it stirred a whole lot of nostalgia in many of my schoolmates and opened the floodgates of memories past! I absolutely revel in walking down memory lane because it puts my life in perspective, helps me relate to folks with our shared recollections of teachers, events, friends, and the like, and makes me feel proud of how far we have come in life from those days of fun and childish laughter.

Well, school was the Seventh Day Adventist School on Travellers' Bungalow Road (TB Road) in smalltown Madurai of those days, in Tamilnadu, India. It was founded in the mid-1960s, following the establishment of the SDA Church, predominantly for the church members' children, but then grew into a behemoth of education for the general public. My parents, Mr. D.G. Samuel and Mrs. Mercy Samuel, were actively involved in the forming of both the church and the school, and my mother was one of the pioneer teachers of the school. I must admit I had the honour and privilege of attending this great institution right from Day 1 of its inception, until I graduated from the Grade 10 ICSE class, the first ICSE batch in the whole of Madurai! My memories of my school days are nothing but pleasant, my teachers extraordinary in what they imparted to me, my friendships so precious, and my childhood days full of sunshine, geniality, and general bonhomie! Needless to say, all that I am today is because of my wonderful school and its superlative teachers!

I remember very vividly my Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Abraham Koshy, whose daughter Anita Koshy was in the same class as well. I credit this teacher for having taught us reading skills at a very young age. I was 5 at that time (1967) and would eagerly await my turn to read aloud from the English Reader, a practice that was continued at home, my Dad relaxing in his easy chair with eyes closed shut, as I sat opposite him and read aloud from the Reader's Digest. Pastor Samraj was the first Principal of the school, and he and his family lived on campus. His son Edison was a few years my senior, and we children used to play with him on the sandy grounds of the school. On the side of the chapel next to the road leading to Ellis Nagar was a huge tree with fragrant white blossoms (not sure of the name...they were shaped like trumpets!), and I can still recall the heady scent of those flowers early in the morning, as we filed into the chapel for our morning service!

Memories will continue...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Take On "Endhiran the Robot"

I hardly ever see Tamil films and go to the theatre very rarely to catch one, Tamil or otherwise. The only exception is when a Rajni starrer comes to town, when the hype is built to a level bordering on mass hysteria and there is a fevered anticipation until D-day, the day the movie is released globally. To those of my international friends who may not know who Rajnikanth is - well, you just have to google him to find out his colossal stature in Tamil cinema, and now with Endhiran, in Indian cinema on the whole! His legions of rabid fans are legendary. To them, he is usually a demi-god to be worshipped, but in Endhiran, he becomes God the Creator Himself who creates the ultimate in Artificial Intelligence, Chitti the Robot!

I do not count myself a Rajni fan, nevertheless, I watch his movies because they guarantee rock solid entertainment, and also because I'm a little curious to see what the hype is all about. There is something compelling about this man, a charisma about his on-screen persona that transcends words and expectations. His unique style, his body language, his punch dialogues whip his fans into a frenzy, and woe betide the mere mortal who dares question the acting prowess of Rajnikanth! He clearly orbits the stratosphere in terms of fame and fortune, so tell me now, how could I miss a Rajni starrer, particularly when it is screened thousands of miles away from my homeland, here in beautiful British Columbia?!?

Endhiran did not fail to impress, and the 15 dollars spent on the ticket was well worth the 165 minutes of sheer entertainment it offered. The subject is something very new to Tamil/Indian cinema, and to see it having been shot on par with Hollywood shows that Indian cinema has come of age for sure. The stunning display of robotronics and spellbinding graphics is a visual treat in itself, an amalgamation of Terminator, Godzilla, and all those other superhero movies rolled into one. I am using Hollywood comparisons merely because they are the usual standards of comparison, but Endhiran is uniquely Indian, and any other future Indian sci-fi movie has a tough act to follow. Rajni truly rocks as Chitti the Robot and Vasi the Robotics Engineer who created him! He plays both with equal panache, the former with all his child-like innocence initially and as the vile monster he morphs into later on, and the latter as a genius engineer who outdoes his Professor in Robotics but lacks the heroism to stand up to a drunken hoodlum and runs away from him. Rajni somehow looks ageless, flawless, suave, debonair, fascinating and extra handsome in this movie, thanks to his makeup artists!

Man, how could Aishwarya Rai look so ravishing and sinfully gorgeous?!? She exudes charm in every frame and oozes sensuality in every dance move. She's HOT beyond words on the screen and leaves me wondering if Rajni could have any other heroine to match in the future. The cinematography is absolutely stunning, particularly the song sequences shot in the deserted splendour of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes, and in the tantalizingly beautiful blue and green lagoons amidst the sand dunes of the Brazilian desert. The music of Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman is another hero in the movie, so to speak, and when the songs come on, one is mesmerized, trying to take in the beauty of the location, the magic of the music, the poetry of the lyrics, and the sensuousness and charm of the choreography, all at the same time. Oscar-winning sound engineer Rasul Pookkutty dominates throughout as well, I must add, and that adds to the heightened effect of a movie of this genre. The stunt scenes have a fire and spirited style to them that Rajni fans of all ages will find a treat.

Flaws there are, of course, as there will always be, to the discerning, critical eye. The scenes of Rangoski, the mosquito, despite the superiority in graphics, fail to add to the humour, and appear artificial and contrived. The same goes for the comedy of Sandhanam and Karunaas who are sadly outwitted by the humour of Chitti, the Robot himself. Their characterization seems abrupt and stunted, working as assistants in Dr. Vaseegaran's robotics lab, then switching sides to aid the villain in his nefarious deed, and then reapppearing in the last court scene of the movie with Rajni. The humanoid Chitti begging Vaseegaran not to kill him when the engineer hacks him to pieces and dumps him in the trash, yet being able to reassemble himself from under all that rubbish in the dumpyard is quite unbelievable. It is also not so plausible that the super intelligent Chitti would try to find out the human Rajni in the midst of all the android Rajnis by clanging a sword against their metal bodies or plunging it at random into them. Doesn't he have sophisticated sensors and scans that should help him identify a human being among the robots? The stunt scenes of death and destruction unleashed by the army of robots appeared a bit too long to my liking, despite all the computer-aided graphics and stunning technology. It's also not clear how the monstrous Chitti happens to get trapped in the hi-tech van so conveniently at the end for the engineer to comfortably deactivate the notorious red chip. The Judge at the end orders the robot to be dismantled, citing it as not suited for that day and age and the untold destruction it had the potential to cause, which makes it again an anachronism in the first place.

Overriding all the negatives are the positives, and needless to say, the movie is indeed a feather in the cap (excuse the oft-used cliche!) for its director, Shankar, and the producer, Kalanidhi Maran, and a remarkable milestone in Indian cinema! It leads the viewer on to a willing suspension of disbelief, and aren't movies supposed to do just that? In that sense alone, besides its many other plus points, Endiran the Robot rocks, for sure!!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fallen Resolutions

Every now and then, and not just on New Year's day, I make up a list of resolutions that never get carried through and inevitably bite the dust almost always. Then why on earth do I make them in the first place is something I always ask myself. Sometimes I start off quite enthusiastically, but then after a couple of weeks, the eagerness fades, the spirit weakens, the energy level sags, and the resolution falls by the wayside or dies a miserable death. I then kick myself for being such a wimp in not having the strength of character to see it through. Does that teach me anything? No! I go back again to making another resolution, allow it to fizzle into nothingness, and the cycle goes on! SIGH!

Exercising on a regular basis is the foremost of my resolutions that I can never carry through. Though I keep telling myself that age is only a number, that I will embrace the aging process quite happily, there is that secret urge within me to stay fit and trim and flaunt an appearance that belies my age. I mean, who doesn't?!? I must admit though that the NordicTrack in my bedroom sees action only in fits and starts, and I sometimes think it is calling out to me pathetically for some action that validates its existence. There is always some excuse or the other not to heed that plaintive call - there is no time, I have a zillion things to do, I have a cold, it's too hot today, etc., etc.

Eating healthy is another one that bites the dust. I resolve to stay away from junk food, but then again, who can resist pizza loaded with cheese and umpteen toppings?!? I resolve to turn vegetarian sometimes, but the smell of fried fish always wins me over (seafood being my all-time favourite!), and I simply do not have the will power to resist it. The same can be said for detoxing, drinking plenty of water, avoiding white rice and eating the brown one instead, cooking fresh everyday, reading a book every week, and the list goes on and on. The only thing I seem to have adhered faithfully to is writing five blog posts every month. And if that resolution fails as well, then I am beyond redemption, I suppose!!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Teenage Angst

Teenage can be a very awkward stage of life rife with angst, insecurities, rebellion, and what not. Am yet to see (with an exception or two, maybe) a teenager who is poised, mellow, knows what he (and that applies to the other gender as well) wants, and is comfortable in his own skin. The distractions are one too many, the hormones are raging in their maturing bodies, their thoughts are so self-centered, and there's the pressure to do well at school or keep up with their peers that teenagers morph into monsters and turn into absolute strangers to their parents. There is something alien about them at this stage that it makes parents wonder, "Is this the helpless infant I held in my arms not so long ago?!?" And then one might ask their child, "Who ARE you, and what did you do to my sweet kid?" With the right kind of supervision and parental guidance, many teenagers emerge sane and successful, and it's always a big relief for the parents to have their sweet, well-mannered child back after a turbulent, tumultuous teen period!

I have many friends with teenage children who have problems of different kinds. Mood swings seem to be a common one, where a teen can be talkative and communicative one moment, then turn surly or taciturn at another. At moments like these, I think the best thing to do would be to just let them be, give them some space and time to internalize, and then approach them when they have mellowed a bit. Getting teenagers to follow the rules is another, because breaking the rules is an essential teen rite of passage. I have heard parents tell of grounding their teenagers when they break the rules, like a curfew, for example, but then again to no effect whatsoever. Taking away their electronic gadgets or locking away the computer, TV, or game console cables is no punishment either, because an ingenious teen will still find a way to keep himself entertained, like using the landline to call friends and chat with them for hours together. I can sense the frustration in parents when they seem to have hit a dead end when it comes to disciplining their teens.

In North America, drugs, guns, gang violence, and early sex are rampant problems as well that compound the teenage angst. If a boy or girl sails through the teen years without succumbing to any of these, then it should be considered a real blessing. I must mention teenagers who are role models to others, like Afraj Gill, the Surrey teen who scored a perfect in all the seven subjects in Grade 12, and won 100,000 dollars in scholarship to university this year. Quite heartening and uplifting to learn that there are kids who emerge successful inspite of all the angst that is typical of the age! Let me add that my teenager is quite focused, dedicated, motivated, and is working very hard towards his goal, and I sincerely wish the same for other parents with teenagers at home as well!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pacific Coast Road Trip

That wander lust in me never seems to abate. When life gets tedious and I begin to feel stifled and claustrophobic, there's nothing to beat a wonderful, relaxing road trip. Road trips afford perfect mini adventures that are new, energizing, and cost effective to boot. Visiting cities not far from home, taking off to parts unknown, or stepping on the gas pedal down the scenic byways and going off the beaten track has something innately romantic and adventurous about it. Just viewing the landscape whiz past through the windshield of the car lifts up my spirits, and when the scenic vignettes include ancient forests, pristine waterfalls, and the rugged coastline, there's that extra element of magic added to the whole experience. The kid had just returned from India and shot down the idea of a trip to Las Vegas because he didn't want to get onto another plane just yet, making it the perfect time for me to hatch plans for yet another road trip during my 3-week summer break. Thus was born the idea of a three day trip southwards along the Pacific Coast.

Travelling from California up north, or going down south to California from Vancouver, we'd always taken Interstate 5 and driven through the hustle and bustle of the cities. For a change we decided to take the scenic Pacific byway, Highway 101, that starts from Port Angeles in British Columbia and hugs the Pacific Ocean and winds down south all the way to San Diego, California. The plan was to take each day as it went, stopping wherever we fancied and taking in all the sights along the way. The only planning of any sort we did was deciding on where to stop for the night, and the consensus was that we would avoid the fancy hotels in the cities, but opt instead for the quaint oceanside inns on the coast itself, right next to the mighty Pacific. The foodie that I am, I also decided to take some home-cooked food along, an idea that was vetoed very strongly by the kid!

So off we went, on a balmy summer's morning, with the sun roof down and the wind in our hair. Crossing the border was uneventful and the drive got more and more interesting as we went up the hills and down the valleys, till we actually touched the coastline. Long Beach, Washington was our first major stop for the day. We were completely taken unawares by the sudden drop in temperature, the low clouds moving just above our heads, the very poor visibility, the wind whipping the hair into our faces, the chilly salt spray, the cackle of the seagulls perched on the sandbars like sentinels guarding the ocean, and the eerie sound of the ocean that could not be seen at all but only heard through the mist. There was an other-worldliness to the whole scene. I felt I had stepped into a primordial setting, rugged, elemental, and fearful in its might and magnificence. When the husband and kid started walking towards the water, I was overcome by fear that they would be swallowed up by this unable-to-be-seen, raging monster of an ocean, and kept yelling at them to come back. The birds on the sandbars in the distance appeared like gargantuan apparitions through the mist, and in the darkness of the evening, it seemed like an eerie Galapagos of sorts!

We returned to the town of Long Beach at a distance of maybe four blocks, and could still hear the raging sound of the ocean. I was wondering what would happen if a tsunami were to occur ... no high rises, no way to escape! We did the usual souvenir shopping and strolling downtown (which was just one long street), and after some hot clam chowder to beat the cold, hurried to our room in the oceanside inn. The next day was a revelation in itself. With the sun beating down upon us, and the ocean gleaming in the sunlight, it was very difficult for me to reconcile with my previous day's impression of it. Kite enthusiasts, barbecue lovers, joggers, parents with kids and other sundry people dotted the beach, as we said goodbye to the world's longest beach, as the Americans claim it to be!

The Oregon coast has to be seen to be believed! The drive through old-growth forests and mountain passes as we never lost sight of the ocean was absolutely phenomenal. We stopped along the way at sights that caught our attention - Columbia Fort, Oswald West State Park, Cannon Beach, Rockaway Beach, Oceanside, Tillamook, Sandlake, etc., to name a few. Lincoln Beach was where we stayed the second night before we took the road back home again the next day. It was a wonderful experience for the three of us, as we laughed and joked and chatted on our three day drive. Do you think I might have had enough? Not at all! I'm already planning the next road trip, perhaps this time to the Canadian Rockies, just waiting for us in all its splendour and glory, a glimpse of the eternal!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Facebook Peeves

This whole Facebooking phenomenon still baffles me. While I may not have taken Facebook 101 or any other course on Facebook etiquette, I'm pretty sure I have enough common sense to gauge what is acceptable and not so acceptable behaviour on Facebook. With every Tom, Dick, and Harry having jumped onto the Facebook bandwagon, and it being no surprise that even a granny has a Facebook account these days, it has to be said that the rate of bizarre behaviour has increased in direct proportion as well. People continue to bewilder me day in and day out with their shenanigans on this social networking site, and I feel compelled to write about a few of my Facebook peeves here.

I am really confounded when complete strangers send me Friend Requests. I really don't know who these people are, and most often, these requests are never accompanied by any introductory message of any kind telling me who they are and how they know me or where they met me. Most often, they have found me from a friend's list or from a friend's friend's list, and when there is no accompanying message, I usually check the person's profile to see if we have any mutual friends. On many an occasion, when there is no mutual friend, and there is no profile picture of the person either, I have no way of checking who they are. There is not adequate information to identify them - no place, no school or university, or any other detail - that might jostle my grey cells a bit and bring back a memory. Many of them just have their sex listed as Male. The vanity! Let me confess, I have ignored countless requests like this from strange men because it makes me suspect it could be some sort of phishing or stalking or whatever.

There is yet another category of people who simply assume that I know them very well from decades ago. Truth be told, I really don't! They send me a message saying, "You know me very well," and not, "I know you very well." There's a huge difference, people! What's the harm in a plain, direct introduction and asking me if I now remember them? Or why not send a query if it's the same boy or girl one went to school or university with, along with the request? Is that too much to ask for?!?

Then there is a third category of those who send me friend requests, and after I check them out or remember them and confirm them as friends, there is absolute silence from their end. These people are reading my status updates on a regular basis, but they never reach out to me or respond in any way whatsoever. In fact, I have never heard from them even once after I confirmed them as a friend! Then why on earth did they invite me to be their friend, I wonder?!!? Did they add me as a friend just to increase their number of friends on Facebook or are they shy or afraid to contact me any further, I'm not sure? All the activity I see is their success as farmers on Farmville or the results of some quiz they've taken. On a slight variation to this category of so-called friends, I also have folks who have accepted me as a friend, but then maintain a stoic silence! When I write on their wall or send them a message in private, is it too much to expect a response? If someone considers me a friend and has accepted me as one, shouldn't they be responding or reaching out to me just to be polite?

Another thing that completely floors me is the number of friends a person can have in order to maintain a meaningful friendship with each one of them. Is it possible to have more than a thousand friends (I remember seeing one who had close to 3000 friends - no exaggeration, let me tell you!!!) and still be in touch with every single one of them in the real sense of the word? Should one exercise caution in accepting friend requests, or should one be obliged to accept every single request that comes his or her way? I don't think networking meaningfully and sincerely with more than a thousand people is humanly possible by any means. Networking should be considered on genuine terms and not indiscriminately taking on too many friends just to emerge the winner in a competition of popularity.

I am not even going to go anywhere about using Facebook solely as a platform to promote religion and not for any social networking of any kind, or using sundry Facebook applications and flooding friends' home pages with the said updates and pictures of their farms or whatever. Ditto about posting updates that have a veiled criticism of someone he/she wants to attack ... I mean, why not approach the person directly , instead of making all the 300 friends on the list read it and wonder as to who's the one being attacked and for what reason? Very juvenile behaviour, in my opinion! Shouldn't Facebook be all about fun and friendship and camaraderie and memories and good-natured sharing and networking?!!?

Having said that, I wonder what the etiquette is about quietly "unfriending" someone! I am seriously tempted to do so, particularly those I haven't heard from for ages. Why be their friend or keep them on as friends when they haven't bothered to stay connected? Perhaps a lesson from Facebook 101 might serve us all well, I suppose!!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Super, Natural British Columbia!

British Columbia is a daytripper's paradise and one has to experience it to believe it! Its clean air, pristine forests, pure spring-fed water, rugged mountains and towering peaks, sheer slopes and majestic canyons, deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, fast flowing streams, the mighty Fraser River with sockeye salmon popping up like popcorn during a historic run, alpine meadows, gorgeous beaches, unique flora and fauna, abundance of wildlife, and outdoor adventures galore make you feel as if you're in a veritable Eden of sorts! Needless to say, there are many getaways not far away, and this is about one just an hour and a half's drive away - Harrison Hot Springs!

The husband and I had our first weekend getaway in 14 years, all by ourselves, since the kid was away in India, and for want of nothing better to do, we decided to hit the road. So off we went to Harrison Hot Springs, nestled against southwestern British Columbia's magnificent mountains and the sandy beaches of Harrison Lake. It was a truly sensory experience for us, the region being abundant in rich history and natural wonders. Its fresh air and breathtaking lake and mountain views made it an ideal place to escape the hectic pace of everyday life and rejuvenate the body, mind and soul. Am not exaggerating folks, but that's how I truly felt! Not to mention the hot springs themselves ... a soak in the hot mineral spring pools is just the right way to finish off the day for anyone who has spent the day walking on the lakefront with the sun in their face and the breeze in their hair! More in the pictures below!

On the trail up to Bridal Veil Falls

Fun going off the beaten track!

A glimpse of the falls through the trees

At the foot of the falls with a warning sign not to go up any further

Shot courtesy of a friendly stranger

The Bridal Veil, so ethereal in beauty!

He walked all the way up despite the warning!

So tranquil and serene!

A sunny break through the thick canopy

Lush vegetation so verdant and unique!

Entering Harrison Hot Springs!

Tourist accommodation overlooking Harrison Lake

A balmy summer's day on the lakefront

Outdoor enthusiasts soaking it all in

Tourist info. can be found everywhere around the place

Bewitching lake and mountain views

Another view of Harrison Lake

The Harrison Hot Springs Hotel and Resort which has its own private spring pools

Such wakeful serenity!

An idyllic lake view

Boat, kayak, and canoe rentals for the adventurous

The weekend road trip was the perfect start to a gorgeous summer, to be followed by a longer one along the Pacific Coast in the days to come. More about that in my next blog post! :)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Creative Tweets 4

A few more of my tweets below. I absolutely love the 140 character limitations of a tweet that is inclusive of both space and punctuation marks.

Shallowness in society
Has reached an all-time high
People, focus on the Gulf oil spill now
Not on Michelle Obama's dotted summer dress!

Livin' in Vancouver with its beaches, mountains,
Outdoor adventure n incessant rain
I've come to realize
That sunshine is a state of mind!

The Farmers' Market a riot of colors
Berries, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers,
Produce, pickles, n heavenly pies
A far cry from the harried world!

Manicured acres of formal garden
Reflective pond, bridges, lush foliage
The Japanese Gardens an Eden of sorts
Lull me into wakeful serenity!

Hiking trails thru towering firs and gnarled arbutus
Leading to views of snow-capped peaks
And the bluescape of the bay
A taste of paradise!

The tin-horn echo of nuthatches' calls
Wood ducks waddling on offshore rocks
Among harbour seals and red-billed oystercatchers

More of these to follow. :)

Friday, August 20, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well!

Final day in Chennai - With Dr. Sundaradevan, IAS, Commissioner of Revenue Administration (CRA), the topmost official of the government in charge of all the revenue departments and District Collectors of the entire State

With Dr. Ramanan, Director, Area Cyclone Warning Centre, Indian Meteorological Department
Outside Ezhilagam, after meeting the top brass of the government on his last day in India

Our little fellow (well, not actually little!) is finally home! After a month-long adventure in India, Dinesh returned home safe and sound a couple of days ago. His escapades took him on a life-altering experience learning about disaster management in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), one that was valuable, informative, enlightening, touching, and heart wrenching by turns! In the whole cosmic scheme of events, everything fell into place beautifully for the kid and made it all happen for him. The higher ups who granted a mere 14 year old permission in the first place to participate in such a prestigious project as this, the top brass of the government who never for a moment patronized him but motivated him and encouraged him on his mission, the mentors who organized and managed every single detail of his trip, the chaperones who took care of him and guided him along, the family members who lavished their attention on him the entire month, the friends who doted on him - every single person was inextricably tied to Dinesh and touched his life in some unfathomable way that is too hard for me to explain. I am truly humbled, gratified, and speechless at how things panned out, and am not sure if I should call it providential, coincidental, or just our good karma acting out!

The trip to India was a wonderful way for the kid to learn about his roots and get reacquainted with his homeland. Having lived a life of comfort and privilege, he has been able to understand that there is another side to life after all, and when mankind is hit by the ferocity of natural disasters, the agony and suffering is exacerbated to unthinkable levels. Dinesh has brought with him memories and experiences of a lifetime, some of them haunting enough to remind him that there is so much more to be done for those afflicted by disasters. Everybody he has met and each one's sordid tale of woe has revealed to him that despite all the relief, recovery, and rehabilitation efforts, each story is a human tragedy brought on by disasters of gargantuan proportions. So much more needs to be done, and in the words of Robert Frost, we have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep!!!