Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Back ...

I am simply thankful for all of life's blessings, great and small, in spite of all the challenges thrown my way this year. Looking back, the predominant feeling is that this year sped by SO FAST ... WHOOSH it went, before I could pause for a breather! It was January just a while ago, and before I could realize it, here I am on the last day of the year, looking back at the days gone by ... Wow, indeed! As is usual of life, the year had its share of the good, the bad, and the ugly, an eclectic mix of experiences over which I had no control, and I am eternally grateful to God for taking me through it all with aplomb and grace, with nary a scratch and no regrets whatsoever.

The highlight of the year, unarguably, was my trip to India for my high school reunion, one ridden with nostalgia and peppered with faces so precious and dear, and experiences colored by love that only a long absence can bring. I had the time of my life in those two weeks back home, meeting all my long lost friends, teachers, and loved ones. Back home, we celebrated two milestone birthdays this year, the husband's 50th, and the kid's 16th, with a splash in Las Vegas to commemorate both the birthdays. Professionally, I did very well too, and I can say with all honesty that I was able to go to work with a big smile each day, despite some new kind of challenges that I was able to weather out quite well.

The down side was that there were too many hospital visits this year, but then again, with God's amazing grace, we were able to sail through it all with a minimum impact or fallout. My shoulder injury was my biggest challenge of them all, one that saw me in a lot of pain and put me through some grueling physiotherapy that I continue to this day. However, with the love, support, and understanding of my family, I have come through, and I look forward to the New Year 2012 with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Hope springs eternal that the new year will bring about many more blessings, and like the two-headed Janus of mythology, I look back with one head at the year that has just passed, and with the other, I look forward to the new one that's just about to dawn. Happy New Year to all of you, my friends, and may all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions! :)

And speaking of resolutions, I may not be blogging as much in 2012, as I have these past two years, and I'm all set to work out with my personal trainer from next week onward ...YAHOO!!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Milestones

Merry Christmas to all my family, friends, and loved ones! I have been having a fantastic winter vacation, and everything has gone according to plan so far. Today marks a milestone birthday in the family - yes, our baby has turned 16 today! It seems as if it were just yesterday, but the inexorable passage of time has brought us 16 years forward to the present, and we recall with gratitude to God, every single one of those years. From his first birthday in India, and his second to his seventh in America, and then the eighth birthday onward in Canada, we have had a fantastic ride through the years, by the immense grace of God. With the advent of the milestone 16th comes the inevitable rite of passage for every teenager, the process of getting one's driver's licence. Wow, where did the years go, I ask myself?!?

To mark the occasion, we attended a beautiful candlelight service at Olivet Church last night. The ambiance was so serene and evocative of that long gone Christmas Eve in Bethlehem when the Christ Child was born. The sermon was so meaningfully delivered, from the point of view of the innkeeper's wife - "Make sure to always make room for the Savior!" - and we returned to the twinkling Christmas lights at home, so upbeat and full of cheer and optimism in our hearts. It is my fervent hope and prayer that God enable my son to reach many more milestones in life, and I wish for all my friends the love, hope, and peace of the Christ Child, the joy of Mary and Joseph, the light of the Star of Bethlehem, the faith of the shepherds, and the wisdom of the Magi, this Christmas and always!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winter Break

I feel like a child, now that I'm off work for the next 17 days. It's Winter Break, a time to relax, rejuvenate, and recharge my batteries. Every year, around this time or so, everything seems to drag just prior to the holidays, and all of us, myself and those around me, seem to long for the holidays to begin. The dark days of winter seem to have something to do with this mood, but the bright lights of Christmas promise a lot of cheer and merriment just around the corner. Had a fantastic time yesterday at work, with lots of joyous carols and partying and potluck food, and everyone was beaming in anticipation of the much-needed break that was almost there.

My plans are simple - to sleep in every single day, have lots of R & R, cook some delectable food, enjoy an occasional glass of red in commemoration of the holidays, and catch up on my winter reading. I have downloaded Adam Gopnik's "Winter" on my iPad, the much acclaimed CBC Massey Lectures for November 2012, that are both broadcast and published simultaneously every year. I also have downloaded Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein, plus subscribed to the National Geographic, one of my favorite magazines, on the iPad - enough to keep me happy and sated for the winter. Throw in a day trip to the US for some shopping, and also some eating out, and I'm all set to enjoy my holidays. Here's to me and a fun break, a fantastic way to cruise to the end of the year!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sinless in Sin City!

Whether you want to live a little or live large, Las Vegas is the place to do so! With milestone birthdays in the family this year, we decided to make a splash in Vegas, and on the long weekend in November, we made a beeline to Sin City. It is called so, apparently for all the pleasures it has to offer, and the decadence of it all hits you the moment you land at the airport. We had been there 10 years ago, but boy, what a change the city has gone through in the intervening years! With larger and newer casinos on the Strip, Las Vegas has something to offer every one of its visitors - excitement, escape, and everything all at once, before you can pause for a breather! This was OUR time, so to speak, so we decided to stay at one of the ritziest resorts on the Strip, take in some shows, and do the tourist thing, all in all, but as sinlessly as possible, mind you!


Inside The Venetian, with its natural-looking fake skies



The Las Vegas Strip

The slot machines at the airport terminals give you a fair indication of what Vegas is all about, and if you're not wary of your gambling urges, you might find your wallet getting thinner as soon as you land in this gambling destination. After a lame experiment or two at the slot machines, just to get into the spirit of it all, we made our way out of the airport to take the shuttle to Mandalay Bay Resorts where we were going to stay. On our drive, we found the city as electrifying as its neon signs, and the huge lobby of the resort was awash in over-the-top Christmas decorations, each one of them so unique, artistic, and compellingly appealing to the eye. Our Strip view room on the thirtieth floor was a delight to stay in, and it took us no time to realize that the resort was a self-contained world in itself, with its fascinating shops, luxurious spas, artificial beach and wave pool, decadent eateries with world-class chefs, and entertainment galore, not to mention the gambling opportunities for gaming aficionados.


Airport slot machines


At the Shark Reef Aquarium, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

We are not the gambling or drinking kind of tourists, but just walking along the Strip and taking in all that each casino had to offer was an entertainment in itself - the musical fountains and the splendid conservatory at the Bellagio, the gondola ride complete with our serenading gondolier at the Venetian, the musical extravaganza of The Lion King and the underwater magnificence of the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, the rocking blend of music, dance and acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis at the Aria, the luxuriant rain forest cafe and regal lion habitat at MGM, the delectable buffets offered by all the resorts, the incredible splendour of the Luxor and Caesar's Palace, the medieval charm of the Excalibur, the mind blowing shopping experience everywhere - all these and more made our stay in Vegas a memorable one. Construction along the Strip is still continuing to boom, and who knows, maybe ten years later when we revisit Vegas, we may have to redefine ritz and glitz!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Charm Of Hotel Rooms

To those of you who think that hotel rooms are impersonal and lacking in charm and warmth, let me assure you that they are far from that. For the diehard traveler, hotel rooms are a haven of relaxation at the end of the day, and a place to chew the cud of their wanderlust in. When the daytime adventures come to an end in a new place, and those legs beg to be put up after hours of wandering around and taking the sights in, there is no better place on earth than a cozy, comfortable hotel room. They are a home away from home, however temporary that might be. I consider my stay in hotel rooms as an extension of my whole travel experience, imbued with its own characteristic magic and romantic charm.

I have stayed in very many hotels in North America these past 15 years with my family, and one thing we always do as soon as we check in is to take a picture of our hotel room before we actually start using it and mess it up. Thus those pictures have become an intrinsic part of our travel adventures, and bring back fond memories of those fascinating places we stayed at. Be it in ritzy, glitzy Vegas, or magical Disneyland, or mountaintop retreats, or fabulous getaways with killer ocean views, every single hotel room has an undeniably unique charm to it. I love to take a tour of the room and check it out in detail, while the kid loves to roll and tumble around in bed and test it out. The husband watches us with amusement, and if there's a fantastic view through the window, then he too gets caught up in its charm. Please see below the most recent one we stayed at in Las Vegas.


At the Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas


Our room on the thirtieth floor


A view of the Strip from our room


Yet another view from our room

It has always been my wish to run a cozy bed and breakfast after my husband and I retire, one particularly for book lovers. I dream of this place being somewhere in the heart of nature, in the countryside, or on a mountaintop, or on the oceanfront, a place where handpicked guests with a passion for books retreat to. I see myself sitting along with my favored guests, quietly devouring our books, and sharing with each other what we've read about. On a hot summer's day, we would take our books out into the garden to be read or go out on nature walks or just putter around in the garden by way of relaxation, and on a cold winter's day, we would sit snug by the fire, reading to our heart's content. On a stormy day, we would sit by the windows, watching the storm raging outside, or would snuggle under the covers in bed, with our books for company. In addition, I would love to invite writers to my cozy retreat and have them read aloud from their works to my guests. How idyllic that sounds, not to mention that the background for my dreams is a hotel of sorts! Wishful thinking it might all be, but I'll take whatever is a reality right now. Here's to more travels, more stays in hotel rooms, more room service, and more indulgences to come!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Airport Hassles

Travel junkie that I am, I long to take off for parts known and unknown. The lure and magic of distant destinations draw me irresistibly, and weeks before my actual date of travel, I start dreaming about my trip, totally succumbing to the anticipation and excitement building within me. Needless to say, the romantic within me comes alive before I travel somewhere, be it to a far off location or a place a short road trip away from home. When it comes to a long vacation to a far off place, the excitement builds up fast into a crescendo and I feel I am going to burst with the feeling of it all. Then the actual day of travel arrives and we leave for the airport to catch our flight, and boy, what an anti-climax the whole experience turns out to be!

Post 9/11, travel regulations and airport security screenings have become so excruciatingly strict and tight that they can deflate the excitement of even the diehard romantic in nanoseconds. It all starts with the park and fly routine. Finding a parking spot for your car at the airport becomes next to impossible and you keep driving around and around to the point where it makes you wonder if the entire population of the city is flying out that day. Finally, you do snag a spot at the farthest end of the terminal, and when you go in from the zero degree cold outside for your security check inside, you find your body temperature has automatically risen because of your blood boiling at all the obstacles you are made to go through by the security personnel.

Jackets and coats are taken off, shoes are removed and so are belts, pockets are emptied - cell phones, keys, coins and all, laptops, iPods, iPads, cameras and handycams are out, cleansers, gels, and shampoos have already been shoved into the checked in baggage, and just when you think you've done everything right and are going to sail through, the security officer spies the make up bottles and tubes in your handbag and takes you out of the line for a more thorough physical examination of your handbag. He just wants to make sure that those mini bottles don't have potentially lethal chemicals in them that can light a fire on the aircraft. Then there was the time that I was travelling to England for a wedding and was carrying some gold jewellery in a cylindrical bangle box with gold chains stuffed inside in order to minimize the number of jewellery boxes I was carrying, and it apparently looked like a rudimentary bomb on the x-ray screen that I was taken aside for a thorough check. It all ended up with the women security officers oohing and aahing over my jewellery pieces, which only goes to show that women are women everywhere, whatever their position might be!

On one of our vacation trips to mark a birthday in the family, the kid bought a few souvenirs for his friends that included a couple of snowglobes. After we had checked in our bags and were going through the final security check near the boarding gate, we were told that the snowglobes couldn't be taken in the hand baggage and had to be checked in. I suggested we just dump the globes in the trash, but the kid was adamant that his friends needed them, so the husband had to go all the way back to check them in, while the kid and I were standing like lost souls, eyeing the serpentine line waiting to go through security, and see if the husband had made it back to the end of the line after all. After an extra 30-minute wait, he did eventually join us and we made it home without any further hassles. At times like those, all the draconian rules of airline travel make me rethink the wisdom of leaving home in the first place. And that lasts for some time, until the travel bug bites me again and the excitement starts building up all over again. I never seem to learn, anyways!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tough Years

I look back on my teenage years and recall having sailed through it without any of the major angsts that today's teenagers face. Life in those days was less competitive, and parents were not at their children's throats or breathing down their necks, egging them on to study day in and day out, and achieve anything that was beyond their capabilities. Parents had a more genial take on what their children did or achieved, or at least mine did. Children too never talked back or rebelled when their parents stepped in to to steer a misguided child back on to track. It's a whole different ball game altogether these days.

It's a highly competitive world now where children have to be on top of the game in everything. As it is, the teenage years are difficult ones with hormonal changes and all that, and add to that the pressures of having to do well at school, get admission into a good university, find a decent part time job, and fend for oneself outside the parental home, many teenagers today buckle under the stress and need a helping hand. Drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, dating woes, addiction to social media and online gaming, etc., etc., compound their misery, and many teenagers get derailed, much to the consternation of the parents. Teenagers need all the understanding and support that could possibly be extended to them, because these are the rough years of their young lives, and once they are able to get a handle on things, they will eventually settle down and see the light of day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Walter Isaacson's "Steve Jobs"

I have just completed reading the authorized biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and how fitting to have read it on my iPad! The book was certainly a compelling read and virtually "unputdownable" because of its celebrated and mercurial subject. Steve Jobs has long been one of my heroes, and this book served to bring home the fact that not only was he a creative and business genius all rolled into one, but that he was also very human in his flaws and failings. I discovered that my idol had had feet of clay after all, metaphorically speaking, but it endeared him to me all the more because of the way he made his mark in this world and the universe at large, despite all his flaws as a human being. Isaacson has rendered a powerful account of Jobs' humble origins as an adopted child growing up in a middle class family in the Bay Area and his meteoric rise to becoming a tech titan in Silicon Valley, a quintessential American story of a working class kid being shot into the echelons of wealth and fame and orbiting the stratosphere by virtue of his eye for design, quest for perfection and uncanny business sense.

The appeal of the book (other than that it comes from an author who's adept at writing biographies) is because of all the never-before-known information about the man who had kept his personal life a closely guarded secret his entire life, right up to his cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Isaacson has done a credible job of validating his information from multiple sources, thus providing us a varied, comprehensive perspective of Steve Jobs' personal life and career. The disclaimer that Jobs' gave full control of the book to the author seems quite incredible, given the fact that the subject of the biography was a control freak who needed to have a hand in every single detail of the products he created. The photographs included in the book have been well-chosen, drawn from every phase of Jobs' life, from his babyhood to the pinnacle of his career - another aspect that helps bring the subject closer to the reader.

Many incredible facts about Steve Jobs, the man, jump out at the readers, one of them being his nonchalant attitude that no rules whatsoever applied to him. His having driven around a Mercedes without licence plates and always having parked in the handicapped spot in the Apple parking lot is just one example of his I-am-above-all-rules attitude. His lack of empathy, his unkind treatment of waitresses, the brutality with which he fired people if he felt they were not A players, his constant berating and yelling at the Apple engineers, his outright refusal to give out stock options to friends who'd been with him from those garage days in his parents' home, his reality distortion field, his compulsive dieting and extreme veganism almost bordering on an eating disorder, his refusal to have surgery after his cancer diagnosis, his criticism of anything and everything that did not please him - these and many more reveal a supreme arrogance in the man who was bent on changing the course of the universe. One just wishes he could have done that more graciously and compassionately, and been a good, kind human being in addition to having been an innovator, creative genius, and entrepreneur nonpareil.

Great read and highly recommended!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

America's Education Crisis

While channel-surfing yesterday (which I always do on lazy Saturday evenings for want of nothing better to do), I happened to watch an engaging program about America's education crisis by Fareed Zakaria on CNN. I think Fareed is one of those very few admirable CNN hosts with a lot of substance and merit, and I have great respect for the cerebral manner in which he analyzes issues and gets to the root of the problem, so to speak. The hour-long focus was on how America has lost its grip in the field of education, and how countries like China, India, South Korea, Finland and Singapore are giving America a run for its money, and have easily taken global dominance in education in recent years. While I was happy that the country of my birth was rated high for its education and is clearly emerging a global leader and trendsetter in education and jobs, I was equally alarmed that America is now grasping for oxygen to stay alive, mainly because higher education for my son in America has been on the cards for some time. Well, to be honest, with Fareed's analysis, we're now taking pause and beginning to reconsider if that would be a viable and rewarding option in the long term.

Growing up, for many Indian students, America was the chosen land, where one could have their professional dreams come true. An Ivy league education, climbing the rungs of the professional ladder with a green card and eventual citizenship, and living the ultimate American dream used to be on the average Indian student's dream horizon, but not so any more. Many Indian professionals in America have chosen to return to India, because that's where the jobs are, thanks to American outsourcing. And with America falling behind so dismally in education, that craze and rush for admission into American universities seem to be dwindling as well. Throw in the economic mess that America is in right now, and the US of A is no longer one's dream haven these days.

With its dearth of home talent due to an inefficient educational system, America needs to quickly ramp up and catch up with the other nations that are superseding it, as per the US Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. And with tech titan Bill Gates throwing in his weight into perking things up and reviving America's education, one hopes that America will do all the right things to stay on in the game. In the mean time, India and China are forging on full steam ahead. For immigrant parents like yours truly, the question remains if we are doing the right thing in having our children continue in the flailing American system, or pursuing their higher education in those once-hallowed halls of learning in the US.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Being A Semi-invalid

How strange that when you feel really young and vivacious and so full of life at heart, your body tells you a different story! I have often heard people remark that once you hit 40, everything starts going South (read 'downhill') body wise, and I'm beginning to find out that it's true after all! When I wish friends on their birthdays, I always put health on the top of my wish list for them (it's always "health, wealth, and happiness", and yes, in that order!), and now I wish I could have the same for myself. It so happens that either by accident or by neglect, I seem to have injured both my shoulders and have been undertaking a faithful pilgrimage to the physiotherapist's for the past 5 weeks. Need I say then how that justifies the title of this post?!?

A semi-invalid, that's how I truly feel these days. It really sucks when ordinary tasks that I normally do without second thought, like slinging my bag over my shoulder, now require focus, gritting of the teeth, and measured movements so as not to aggravate my injury any further. Pulling my pillow to a comfortable position, scratching my back, dressing myself, brushing my hair, reaching out sideways for something (the phone on the night stand, for example), stretching out when I'm tired, writing on the board and erasing it, pretty much any action that requires motion of the arms is now making me think twice. I am beginning to have a great understanding of and empathy for those who go through painful rehabilitation and grueling physiotherapy sessions in order to regain control of their movements, and eventually, their lives.

I am eternally thankful to my physiotherapist who works magic with her fingers in alleviating my pain, and is slowly taking me on the road to a better place where I can manage the pain and keep it under control, if not get rid of it altogether. The same goes for the husband who has been thoughtful enough to take on the cleaning chores at home, and kind enough to massage my arms for relief, and the kid who is mature enough not to make thoughtless demands about what he has to eat, and goes so far as to carry my bags and be helpful whenever he can. I hope this situation is just a temporary blip, and that I get back to being my usual vivacious, pain-free self as soon as possible. Am counting my blessings, so to speak, that at least I'm only a semi-invalid for now, and nothing more! PHEW!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Parenting Woes

I honestly cannot understand how parents in the old days had broods of children and still managed to keep their sanity. It was not uncommon in my parents' generation to see families with even up to ten children, and raising them all seemed to be a cake walk for the parents in those families. In my family, there were four of us, and our parents did a superlative job of raising us, I must admit. I don't recall impossible situations with children in my family or my extended family or in those of my neighbors'. The parents I knew had everything quite under control and knew what exactly to do to defuse volatile situations in the home-front, the primary strategy of them all being " Do what I say and don't question me or talk back ... I know what is right for you!" And the children then seemed to take that in stride, but not so these days!

Most families these days have no more than two children, and parents seem to be raising self-centred narcissists who think the world owes them, that they are always right, and that the parents don't know anything at all. Hmmm ... quite a sea change from a generation ago, I would say! And then when these children hit their teenage years, they morph into strangers and monsters by turns, with whom communication becomes next to impossible. Interestingly, during one of our lunchtime chats, a friend of mine told how her teenage son would just grunt with nary a word by way of communication all through his teenage years, and would do just what he pleased in open defiance of his parents, but how once he passed those turbulent years, the son she had known originally as a sweet little boy, reemerged. "So there is hope, after all!" were her words, as those of us who had teenage children chuckled nervously.

Added to the woes of parents these days is not knowing how to keep up with their super smart children with their incredible exposure to a wealth of knowledge and limitless opportunities. Children nowadays know ten times more than what their parents did at the same age, so the onus rests on parents to do a quick sprint to catch up with them. Children also need a very good reason to do what the parent asks them to do, and the "because-I-told-you-so" ploy that parents used to unilaterally employ before happens to be just a dud these days. And then again, the parent has to navigate the minefield of their children's teen years (throw in alcohol, drugs, boyfriends/girlfriends, sex, etc., here) and be a friend to them, which is a very difficult thing to do. Keeping one's sanity as a parent, considering all of the above, is doubtful, and if a parent sails through without having to cheerfully wring his or her child's neck, then he or she definitely deserves a gold medal, to say the least! And this comes from a mother who's raising an almost-to-be-16, mercurial, bright and brilliant child!!! :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Moammar Gaddafi

How the mighty are fallen! A tyrant was killed yesterday by his own countrymen whom he had oppressed for 42 long years. All the bravado and bluster of this despot came to naught when he was flushed out like a rat from a drain not far from his hometown, that after he had unleashed so much of terror and caused untold bloodshed in the previous eight months and had vowed to hunt down his opponents like vermin. Libya's "King of Kings," the "Imam of the Muslims," and "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Libyan Revolution" is dead and gone, like all the other tyrants before him. History is rife with tales of dictators who all fell eventually because of their sadistic and boundless appetite for power. Gaddafi was an eccentric narcissist who could be cunning, cruel, charming, and charismatic by turns. His death-hold on Libya had gone way too long, almost to the point of psychopathy, and now Libya is free at last.

Stories of Nero and Caligula and Hitler and Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin, to name a few, have and are still being revisited by the world over and over again, and for Gaddafi not to have seen his ignominious end coming is quite pathetic and reflective of the denial that all despots are subject to. His Third Universal Theory postulated in The Green Book and made as compulsory study material for all Libyan school children stands testimony to his weird philosophy of a welfare state without laws, money, government, or private enterprise. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," said Orwell, and so was it with Gaddafi who got high on power and did not hesitate to murder in cold blood anyone who dared oppose him. He believed in his destiny as the ultimate ruler of Libya, and all the brutality of his regime was a justification in his head to keep that destiny alive. It did not matter to him that so many people would have to die a bloody death because of his maniacal clinging on to power.

"The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted and with this enormous promise the Libyan people now have a great responsibility to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Gaddafi's dictatorship," said President Obama on the news of Gaddafi's killing. It remains to be seen how Libya succeeds in its attempts to redeem and rebuild itself into a stronger nation. In the meantime, a dictator is gone, and the world rejoices with the Libyan people!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Me, Myself, And My Religion

I was raised a Seventh Day Adventist by my parents, with a strict dose of religion almost verging on the puritanical. No movies, no radio, no TV, only books, no coffee, no tea, no alcohol or cigarettes around the house, no jewellery, daily prayers, observing the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, being called in for family prayers even if it meant being halfway through a game with the other children on the street, compulsory churchgoing on Saturdays, no cooking or doing work of any kind on the Sabbath day, no celebrating Christmas or Easter or observing Lent like the other Christians, but only celebrating New Year's Day, and so on and so forth. That was our way of life since my earliest memory, my parents having converted to Adventism from the Lutheran Church even before I was born. As an obedient child, I never questioned the strict religious upbringing my parents subjected me and my siblings to. As I grew older, however, my outlook on Christianity and religion, in general, changed radically, leaving me as who I am today.

I am a Christian, no doubt, but certainly not the Bible-toting, regularly-church-going, always-on-my-knees-praying, Bible-verse-spewing-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kind of Christian. I do not wear my religion on my sleeve. I get very uncomfortable when people pontificate to me about religion, or try to emotionally blackmail me using Jesus' name (you know, "If you really love and believe in Jesus, forward this email to 10 other people", or "If you are not ashamed of being a Christian, post this as your Facebook status" kind!) - I always delete or ignore such imperatives, both the religious and the non-religious kinds. I feel there is no need to prove to anyone that I believe in Jesus or in anyone or anything else. My faith is personal and I choose to keep it that way. I personally do not post anything related to religion on Facebook and choose to keep it strictly for social networking purposes, and I certainly have no qualms per se about friends airing their views on religion on Facebook. It is their call to do what they please, and if and when any of their posts DOES appeal to me, I DO hit the LIKE button then without fail. I hate a holier-than-thou attitude in people, and try to stay as far away as possible from such people.

I certainly am a Christian who is not very fanatical about religion. I believe in being good, both in thoughts and in deeds. I believe in loving my neighbor as myself, and in being compassionate and kind and helpful to my fellow human beings. I help the poor and the needy as much as I can, and firmly believe that what goes around, comes around. I begin each day with a prayer and never get out of bed without thanking God for keeping me safe through the night and having added another day to my life. I never eat a meal without saying grace, and I never get into bed without a prayer of thanks to God for having been with me throughout the day. These habits are those ingrained in my childhood that I'm still comfortable with. My personal faith keeps me well-grounded, and I see no reason to sit in judgement over others. I am tolerant towards other religions and respect others for what they believe in. I chose to marry a Hindu solely for the good human being that he was, and never insisted he convert to my religion or else. Twenty four years later, we're still going strong, each of us keeping our own religion, and never having fought over religion even once!

More than religion itself, I esteem the love that all religions preach. My son has been exposed to both his parents' religions, but if he chooses not to have a religion at all, that's fine with me too. I would be very pleased if he turned out to be a good human being above everything else, and practised the values of love, respect, compassion, forgiveness and tolerance towards his fellow human beings. My faith is very important to me, but I can't say the same for others, my son included. I was raised an Adventist, for sure, but I'm now a Christian, needless to say, albeit a very different kind of Christian!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Steve Jobs - RIP!

The world, and not just Apple, has lost a visionary, a creative genius, a business mastermind, an innovator nonpareil, and a superlative tech titan just four days ago. The outpouring of grief Steve Jobs' death has spawned has been massive, on a global scale, a grief so simple yet elemental, from both users and non-users of Apple products alike. He revolutionized Silicon Valley and the world in a manner where the appeal of his unparalleled products was greater than the technology itself, it being said that Jobs was not a tech nerd but a business genius who combined technology, product, and appeal into a global marketing phenomenon for Apple. While I join the millions in paying homage to this great man, this post is not about what a great genius Jobs was. It is more about a successful human being who battled pancreatic cancer, just like millions more who share the same plight, and fell prey to it at the pinnacle of his career.

The Web has been abuzz of late about Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, the only authorized one, that is being rushed to the press for early release, now that Jobs has passed away. While it has been a well-known fact that Jobs was very guarded and secretive about his medical condition in order not to panic the investors and send the Apple stocks tumbling, rumors have been swirling around that Jobs was highly distrustful of modern medicine and even after his diagnosis of a neuroendocrine tumor in his pancreas, he chose not to have it surgically removed right away. Surgery is a personal choice and a very important one at that, and the talk was that Jobs' decision not to have had one right away might have cost him his life. No one will know for sure until Isaacson's biography is published, but with Jobs' grounding in Zen Buddhism, I can quite understand what might have made him decide not to have one.

I happened to be watching a panel discussion on CNN about Steve Jobs and his stellar rise in Silicon Valley from the time he dropped out of college, and while everyone was praising him as a genius, the moderator threw in the point that Steve Jobs had also been a perfectionist and a hard taskmaster who drove his team to perfection with singleminded determination, and micro-managed every single aspect of a product, almost to the point of being draconian, and wondered why the American media wasn't talking about that then. Interestingly, one panel member responded that it was a very cultural thing not to speak ill of a dead person, that somehow death negated all the harsh aspects of one's personality, and it was common for one to eulogize the dead person and remember only the good things about him or her. Fair enough, and true to boot, I thought. Whether Jobs chose to have surgery or not, or whether he had it done right away or delayed it, is not for anyone to judge him about, nor would it be appropriate to look into character flaws or personality traits now and to sit in judgement over him. What one has to look into and acknowledge is that Steve Jobs made a mark in this world as an exemplary entrepreneur and stellar genius, but in the face of cancer, proved to be as mortal as the next human being. There is no app for immortality after all, and the world has lost one of its illustrious sons now!

RIP, Steve Jobs!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Time, You Old Gipsy Man!"

What, is it October already?!? This sure, steady, and swift passage of time is quite alarming to me, now that I'm getting on in years. It was but the twinkling of an eye ago that I was a mere child basking in the love of my immediate and extended family, yet here I am now edging closer to the wrong (?) side of my remaining years on the planet, I know not how many more! Both my parents are dead and gone, I've seen members of my extended family being snatched away quite prematurely, I see all the young children in the family and those of my friends grow up, get married, and have children of their own, all of which remind me of the inexorable passage of time. And then again I ponder about old age, ill health, loneliness, senility, and human mortality in general. On a deeper level, I'm not even afraid of having to die one day, but the loneliness and helplessness that accompany old age, before one dies, absolutely terrify me!

Geriatrics is a field of study I'm beginning to take a closer look at these days. Health management in one's sunset years, and living a productive, independent life till the very end is getting to be one of my concerns of late. Maybe because I saw my mother die of Alzheimer's three years ago, I've been rattled quite a bit, and maybe that's why I keep asking my son if he'll be there for us when my husband and I get old. It sounds really pathetic, I admit, but I can't help this morbid obsession about old age and losing my faculties and becoming a vegetable of sorts. It's mere wishful thinking on my part that I could just fade into the sunset without any of the allied concerns of old age. And it's wishful thinking again as I utter the lines I learned as a child, written by Ralph Hodgson: "Time, you old gipsy man,/ Will you not stay,/ Put up your caravan/ Just for one day?" I know the gipsy man won't stay. It's October already, and the days move swiftly past, as I wait for the unknown, unforeseeable future!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When Marriages Bite The Dust

It unnerves me no end when I see marriages crumble and bite the dust. As a child, I saw couples stay together come hell or high water, and divorces were very uncommon decades ago. In many cases, the concerned parties tried hard to work at their marriage, and in some cases, they just put up with the situation for very many reasons, the foremost of them being for the sake of their children. Not so these days. Separations, divorces, and bitter legal wranglings are ubiquitous across cultures, and there seems to be an attitude of impatience in that most people do not have the inclination to even give any attempt at reconciliation a try. There also seems to be an overriding feeling of self-centredness wherein the individual just focuses on individual happiness and justifies the thought,"If you're unhappy in a marriage, just get out!" In fact, these were the very words uttered to me by one who had married her fourth husband, and was trying to explain to me why she had divorced the previous three.

In cases where I have seen the couple very much in love in the early years, it comes as quite a shock to see how quickly they have fallen out of love now. Where did all that love go in the intervening years, I always ask myself?!? Public displays of affection such as the almost 50 -year-old wife sitting on her husband's lap in the presence of company, advertising her love and affection for him just five years ago, have now deteriorated into a situation where they just can't stand the sight of each other. In some cases, either the man or the woman has walked out of the house, and lives alone or has moved in with friends. At least in a couple of cases I know, where children are involved, the man has just taken off and has had no contact with the wife or children for years at a stretch. The wife doesn't know whether the husband is even alive or dead. Didn't these men marry their women for love, and weren't those children conceived out of love? Whatever dire thing could have happened to bring about this kind of an estrangement?

All I can understand is that making a marriage succeed requires hard work on the part of both the husband and wife. Instead of just blaming one another for the unpleasant turn of events, hurling accusations at one another, and letting all the acrimony between them crumble their marriage, it would serve well if both the husband and wife just allowed a moment of introspection, closed their eyes and recalled the person they initially fell in love with, and relived their love-filled, memorable days of the past. Understanding, empathy, adjustment, a give-and -take attitude, and above all, forgiveness that comes from the bottom of one's heart, will all go a long way to save the marriage. After all, life is very short. Unless otherwise the reasons are dire and warrant a separation or divorce, such as physical or emotional abuse, we should make the most of our short lives by cutting out the acrimony in our marriage. And this comes from yours truly who's now in her twenty-fifth year of marriage at which she's worked so hard! :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Fickle-minded Gemini!

The fickle-minded Gemini that I am, I crave for constant change and excitement in my life. As the husband likes to joke very often, the only thing I've never had the slightest inclination to change so far is HIM! Well, jokes apart, he can rest assured that's going to be the one constant in my life forever, and I certainly have no intention of jumping into the dating game in the foreseeable future. I am content with the here and the now, but I can't say the same thing, let's say, maybe next year. I am constantly looking for newer challenges, better things to do, greater opportunities to try out, never-before-seen places to visit, and if you get my drift, just fresh experiences that I can dig into with relish, and to be honest, I have been quite lucky in this regard all these years, both personally and professionally. Just when I'm beginning to settle into a routine, I blurt out, "I'm BORED!" and life has thrown me something or the other my way to keep me engaged and happy.

When I was living in India, I used to wonder if I would ever move out of good old Madurai, for heaven's sake! Change came in a very big way, leading me out of India after my son had turned one. Life in California was a cornucopia of new experiences, new places, new friends, new challenges, etc., which saw me re-enter university, explore new areas of expertise, and plunge headlong into a future I knew not then where I was being led to. I just went with the flow, and lo and behold, I ended up in beautiful British Columbia. It had been MY idea to immigrate to Canada in the first place, merely because I was bored and needed yet another change, and one that I convinced the husband to go along with. Eight years later, here we are, with no regrets whatsoever - citizenship in our adopted country, Canadian passports, a home to call our own in an upscale housing market, satisfying and steady jobs amidst a raging recession - not bad at all, for a change sought by yours truly!

The husband is now keen on seeing that my fickle-mindedness doesn't get out of hand, just to preserve his sanity. When I begin to get bored, he hustles me out on a road trip, just to quench my thirst for adventure, or he packs me off on a trip somewhere to quell that wanderlust in me. I was away in India last month basically for my high school reunion, got to attend a wedding in the family, and meet long lost relatives and friends, and now that I've been back to the grind for a month, I'm beginning to itch for more adventures and fun. That calls for another road trip, I suppose, and if my husband ever reads this, which I hope he will, another fun experience should be just around the bend. Sometimes, it pays to be fickle-minded after all, take it from me!!!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Other Side Of Teaching

I believe it was my calling to become an educator. Though my mother was a teacher, and one of my brothers ended up in the same profession, I never, for an instant, wanted to be one myself. Somehow, growing up, I'd always thought I'd have a career in the Sciences, and it was just happenstance that everything fell into place and made me what I am today. I totally revel in what I do, and have a thorough enjoyment interacting with all the brilliant minds, young and old, that pass through my classroom. Looking back, I would not have had it any other way. The love and adulation my students have shown me over the years, and the fantastic camaraderie I've enjoyed with all my colleagues down the years have only strengthened my love for my job.

I must admit here that there's a totally different side of teaching that I enjoy, namely, the personal bonding I've had with some of my students outside of the classroom after they graduated, and the strong friendships I've cultivated with many of them in the last 26 years or so. I take care not to let the professional mix with the personal, and as long as one remains a student in my class, I don't let them get close to me at all, lest they see me in a different light in class and lose sight of me as their teacher, but after they leave my class, it is a different story altogether, and I continue to keep in touch with them via email and social networking, of course. It's always heartening when a student from 15 or 20 years ago reaches out to me, and remembers many of the texts and life lessons I taught him or her.

Some of my students have gone on to call me by name, some older ones call me their daughter, some younger ones call me "Mom", many still call me "Ma'am", some think I need to be fattened up and keep bringing me all those sinful, delicious food, some invite me for a drink, some invite me to their homes for a meal they've specially cooked for me, some ask me to name their newborn child, some ask me for parenting advice, some confide in me about their marital woes, some tell me about their health scares and ask me to send my positive thoughts and energy their way, some mouth "I love you" to me on a daily basis, many never fail to greet me on my birthday, some have adopted my son as their own and inquire about him frequently, some email me about their new business ventures and ask me to bless them , some go on to exciting jobs and email me about it from some part of the world, the older ones continue writing about their memories of incidents from a long time ago and ask me to correct them via email, some just reach out and update me as to what's going on in their lives, some email me pictures of vacations they've taken, some call me and ask me where to shop for Indian clothes, and so the list goes on and on. Is it a surprise then that I truly enjoy this other side of teaching as much as I do what goes on in the classroom?!?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Travails Of Working Parents

Come September, parents in North America heave a big sigh of relief as the school year begins, and they no longer need to worry about finding a baby sitter for their school going, yet under age kids. In Canada, parents cannot leave a child unattended until he or she turns 12, which leaves parents often scrambling for a place in summer camp for their wards, or trying to move heaven and earth for a sitter who can keep an eye on their kids while they're away at work bringing home the bacon. The same cannot be said for parents whose children have not started school yet, and for those, it's a year-long struggle first to find a place in day care, and then to keep the place for good. When they do, it's yet another heart-wrenching struggle each morning, trying to pry off their children's clinging hands at the daycare premises and leaving with a hardened heart, unmindful of the sobs, wails, and tear-drenched faces of their little ones. Hiring a sitter on an hourly basis and leaving them at home, on the other hand, is simply not worth it at all, and if so, then one might have to surrender their entire income to the sitter, who, undoubtedly will call the shots!

Taking care of the children in my country used to be a breeze, so to speak. There was always a grandparent, or an aunt, or a friendly neighbor who stepped in with a helping hand, and eased the burden of the parents to a certain extent. Trusted servants would take care of the children, with a family member on hand to supervise them. Not so here. In the absence of elderly family members here, children cannot be entrusted to friends or neighbors because of molestation concerns, and sitters have to be thoroughly vetted and cleared with periodic criminal checks. There are horror stories now and then of sitters being caught secretly on tape, by "nanny cams", abusing the children under their care. This can undoubtedly be one of the worst nightmares for any parent. I feel a pang when I see all the child-rearing travails of my working friends and family, and can very well understand if someone decided to defer having a child to a time more conducive to them, or if they decided not to have one at all.

Having been able to take five and a half years off work in the first six years of my son's life has been a dream come true for me, and a mighty blessing in the truest sense of the word! Looking back, it was a luxury to have been able to do so, one that many of my friends still envy me for, and I'm simply grateful that I could afford to do that then. Subsequently, the husband or I have always been available at home for the kid, and now that he's a strapping young adult, soon-to-be-sixteen, we're mulling if we should take a vacation without him after all. "No way," he says, "I want to come too!" ... and so for now, our babying continues. We may not have had the usual travails of working parents, but now our concern is of a different kind - how to ditch the teenager, leave him on his own, and take off on that much-needed vacation, without any parenting woes!!! :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hospitals - An Anathema

As a little girl, I always said I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. I always thought that doctors were mini gods, with life-sustaining power in their hands. They could bring about miracles in the lives of patients who needed them the most, just to be able to breathe and live normal lives. Little did I know then that the coward that I was, the sight of blood would make me panic, or the soft-hearted sympathizer that I was, the suffering and pain of my fellow human beings would make me cry. Eventually, I ended up on a different career path, one that I absolutely enjoyed and reveled in, and I foolishly thought that I would have nothing to do with hospitals for the rest of my life, considering that I was healthy then ( or so I thought), but boy, was I wrong!

To put it plainly, hospitals are an anathema to me. I find them highly depressing and unnerving, but as fate would have it, I am the one who has had to go there repeatedly for various reasons. I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach each time I wait to see the doctor, and on every occasion I get off lightly with a not-so-alarming verdict or test results, I count my blessings and rush out hurriedly with a sigh of relief, determined never to set foot on the premises again. That's only until the next visit, and so the never-ending cycle goes on! I agree that hospitals are a place of hope and optimism and courage for the sick and the dying, but still they're not on my list of favorite places, so to speak. I detest them thoroughly and keep wishing that I could enjoy perpetual good health so as not to venture into those dismal corridors ever again.

Call it karma or whatever, my only child is now determined to become a doctor. I thought he might change his mind as he grew up, as his mother did, but till date that hasn't happened. He seems to show no inclination towards my career path or his Dad's. Far from it, the subjects he enjoys the most are Science and Math, and at times I feel a pang that he doesn't appreciate literature as much as I do. There's still plenty of time left for him to make a decision, and as a parent, and as a well-meaning, supportive one at that, I'll be happy whatever he chooses to do in life. His Dad and I have given him all the opportunities and support he needs to get there, and we'll be there for him, no matter what. I'd be certainly proud of him when he becomes a doctor, but I'll stay outside the hospital, thank you very much!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My High School Reunion

I remember travelling with my parents on the train in South India once , and noticed this lady sitting opposite us looking keenly at my mother. After about a minute or so, and with no hesitation or doubt whatsoever, the lady exclaimed, "Mercy, oh my God, is that you!?!" My mother seemed taken aback for a second, but recovered quickly enough to respond, "Kamala, how wonderful to see you again!" We discovered that not only had they been classmates fifty years back, but also roommates at their boarding school run by the British missionaries in the Madras of yesteryears. My Dad and I, and the lady's husband as well, looked on with bemusement as the two friends caught up on the 50 years that had lapsed since they had left high school. The incident left an indelible impression on my mind, as I witnessed firsthand the nostalgia and the joy that only two friends are capable of on reuniting after a considerable absence.

Well, it has been my turn this month to experience the same emotional highs of seeing many of my teachers and classmates and other schoolmates after a period of 35 years. I was a mere child of 14 when I graduated high school and had completely lost touch with many of my school friends, so when the idea of the SDA School Alumni Meet was floated around as a possibility about six months ago, I jumped on to the bandwagon with all the eagerness and enthusiasm I could muster, and decided that I would make it this time for sure, and fly across the continents and oceans just to see all those dear faces again. Call me a sentimental fool if you must, but this trip to India has been monumental to me in that it has been truly nostalgic, and to put it plainly as Shakespeare did, a pleasant "remembrance of all things past."

I'm back home after a short, but worthwhile trip that was packed with people, events, and memories. I'm not sure if I will see all these wonderful people again, but I'm eternally grateful to Sampath Kumar who mooted out the whole idea of the reunion, and also to Nizam and all the boys (?!?) who made this happen. It was fascinating to see how everyone had aged and matured, and it was particularly engaging for me to associate those baby faces I'd had in my head to the adult faces I was seeing now. I was overjoyed to see my friends' families, and their children coming up to me and addressing me as "Aunty!" Seeing all my beloved teachers under one roof and paying tribute to them was a privilege I had never before thought was possible, and for my family to have witnessed it all on live stream from Vancouver (thanks to Ashok!) just made my day.

I had been in touch with my classmate Padmakumar all along down the years, but it was very special indeed to see my other classmates Priya, Sankar, Rajkumar, and Ezhil after 35 long years. We met for dinner after the reunion, and those fun moments of laughter and camaraderie and shared memories made me regress into my childhood and relive my school days again. My friends' families looked on with the same bemusement that I'd had watching my mother see her long lost friend, and it was with mixed feelings of happiness and pain that I bid goodbye to my friends that night. Nostalgia is a very powerful and curious emotion that serves us all well amidst the sweeping rush that characterizes our lives. Back home in Vancouver, I savor and treasure each moment and memory, and couldn't agree more with the words of Jack London, " Darn the wheel of the world! Why must it continually turn over? Where is the reverse gear?" SIGH!!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Vignettes from Madurai And Around

If a picture says a thousand words, here then are a few thousands of them. My international students almost always don't believe me when I tell them how we share the roads in India with our canine, feline, bovine, and porcine friends. Living in a country where pets enjoy a pampered status in society, and where pet supplies are a multi-billion dollar industry, it is inconceivable to them that dogs and cows would just roam the roads in India, and that it is not an uncommon sight to see a stray cat cross your path (and a black one doing that being a sign of bad luck!) or see pigs looking for litter on the streets, at least in some small towns, if not in the big cities. Another thing I've told them about are the vegetable vendors hawking their wares in baskets on their heads, and going from street to street shouting aloud what they are selling, and stopping at regular customers' houses to ask if they needed any particular vegetable. It is as if you have your very own mobile farmer's market coming to your doorstep or front gate. Here are a few vignettes that I captured:



A vegetable vendor at my mother-in-law's compound gate. The lady in blue is Irullayee, the domestic help from the neighboring village, seen here haggling over prices with the vendor.




A cornucopia of goodness, straight from the farms and fields! The greens and veggies are oh so fresh!


I asked Amma (my mother-in-law, in the brown sari) to buy some fresh "arai keerai" (a kind of spinach) that I love cooked in a mashed form and eaten with rice. Ever the foodie, ain't I?!?




Encountered this herd of buffaloes enroute to Fatima College, my alma mater, on one of the back roads. The chauffeur had to wait patiently till he had some space to manoeuvre the car and drive forward.


The cowherd showed no sign of letting us pass! :)



A cow standing lazily next to an autorickshaw, on the streets of Sivaganga, my husband's ancestral place


Some pigs loitering on the streets, scavenging for food among the litter and trash

More sights to follow ...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Trip To Madurai - I

My British Airways Flight 87 taxis down the runway to a smooth landing in Chennai in the unearthly hours of the morning, at 3.30 AM. As I look out the windows of the plane and see the lights of "Singara (beautiful) Chennai", I'm overwhelmed by emotions untold. The temperature outside is a balmy 27 degrees Celsius, as announced by the pilot. "That's not too bad," I reassure myself. In order not to inconvenience anyone, I have convinced family and friends not to rouse themselves from their deep slumber, but to continue their sleep uninterrupted. I have managed to reassure everyone that I'm a big girl now and can find my own way to the domestic airport from the international terminal, so I can catch the plane to Madurai, my hometown, first thing in the morning. As I walk towards Customs and Immigration, I am fully in agreement with Sir Walter Scott and recite his lines to myself:

"Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand! ..."

The Customs officer on duty is sleepy, glum and morose, and waves me through with nary a question. I have an hour or so to kill before I wind my way to the domestic airport. I find a row of three seats closer to the exit, but choose not to sit on the awfully dirty upholstery, and sit on a low window ledge instead, as I fish out my cell phone and activate it. A missed call to husband dearest is in order and he calls me back right away and tells me that he's been tracking down the plane's flight path online. He seems greatly relieved that I have landed in one piece! My son then calls me to tell me how he misses me already, and as I keep talking to him, I commit my first murder on home soil, of a pesky mosquito that had found its way into the air conditioned hallway. The murder weapon is my plastic hand fan that is going to be my most needed accessory for the next two weeks!

My flight to Madurai is very pleasant, but I notice that refreshments of any kind have to be paid for on the flight - quite a change from fifteen years ago when we were served a full gourmet meal on a 50-minute flight! As I bound down the steps on landing, I simply can't believe my eyes - there's a brand new terminal gleaming on the other side of the tarmac, one that screams "International Airport" in the not too distant future! Escalators, high tech screening equipment and top notch baggage carousels spell it all, as I collect my suitcases and walk into the embrace of my beloved family and friends waiting outside. The skies are overcast, the temperature bearable, and no sign of the sweat yet that I was really dreading, in all honesty. This is SO not the hot and humid Madurai that I know so well, I think! My drive home reinforces my initial impression of Madurai after a considerable absence, that it has improved by leaps and bounds from its small-town proportions of a decade ago! Madurai's economic development is staggering indeed, and this is obvious in the number of houses, businesses, cars, malls, mobile phones, and general affluence and buying power of its people. Its ever expanding urban sprawl stands testimony to its colossal growth, as I drive into a neighborhood that is virtually unrecognizable.


Let it be known that I absolutely love my hometown, heat, dust, mosquitoes and all! Madurai is in my blood, and consumes me like a raging fever, if you can excuse my pathetic cliches. Its sights and sounds and smells and tastes and life experiences characterize who I am, and like a desperate drug addict seeking a quick fix, I come to Madurai every now and then to get an emotional fix that will keep me going for the next few years or so. This is my fourth trip in fifteen years, and I have come here now for my high school reunion, a trip that is epic in scope and in magnitude, allowing me to take stock of my roots, revisit familiar haunts, and relive the halcyon days of my youth. I now live and teach in Vancouver, in beautiful British Columbia, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but in my opinion, nothing can compare or hold a candle to my hometown, Madurai. I reach home, sweet home, for a few hours of rest, before I meet with some of my juniors from school to discuss the next day's reunion. I close my eyes for a short nap in the air-conditioned comfort of my bedroom in Shangri-la, the house that we so lovingly built before we moved to California, and as I drift off into a gentle, pleasant sleep, my grey cells come alive with all my wonderful memories of Madurai!

More to follow ...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Travel Fever

Now that the summer break is coming up shortly and my trip to India is more of a reality, with tickets in hand and all travel arrangements in place, I must confess that it still hasn't sunk in because of all the zillion things that need to be done before I take off. I'm winding down at work with my last week of classes and all the nitty gritty details that have to be taken care of before my 3-week break, and on the home front, not a single thing has been done yet. I always think of myself as a travel junkie utterly enamored by the romance of undertaking long trips away from home, but when it comes to preparing for the trip itself, I am not a big fan, I must acknowledge.

For starters, there's the gift-buying spree that's still pending. I have a whole cartload of relatives and friends for whom I need to buy a gift or souvenir of some sort, and doing the shopping thing is not exactly my cup of tea. Unlike other women who revel in shopping sorties, I cringe at the very thought and tire easily after just an hour of walking around the mall. It boggles my mind how exactly I'm going to accomplish buying gifts for thirty thousand assorted family members and friends back home. And after the shopping comes the packing part that is equally mindboggling and makes me swear off travelling every single time. With all the weight restrictions imposed by the airlines and the endless list of do's and don'ts of international travel, I sometimes question myself why one ever bothers with travelling at all in the first place.

Throw in a handful of doctors' visits till the very last minute amidst my crazy schedule and you get the idea of all this travel fever that's escalating into a delirium of sorts. Compounding my already existing medical woes is finding sweatproof makeup that will go with my compounded sunscreen that I need to wear 24/7. My dermatologist has delivered dire warnings about being reckless and foolhardy in forgetting to wear the sunscreen while I'm in hot and humid India. The warnings have been well-taken, leading to countless hours of searching for the right makeup that will hold my sunscreen to some extent and not unravel completely. I leave the rest to the Sun God, hoping he'll be kind and save my excessively sensitive skin from the onslaught of ultraviolet radiation.

My travel fever shows no signs of coming down, and I have a feeling it will stay that way till I hop on to that blessed plane that will carry me across the continents and the vast expanses of the seas. I am going to India for my high school reunion and am willing to go through endless bouts of travel fever just to see those dear faces of my friends from a long time ago. The pain of preparing for this sentimental trip is a small price to pay, and I will take it, any time. The excitement is starting to build within, and combined with the fever and the delirium of it all, it's a pleasurable experience, I must say!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Domestic Violence

It is appalling indeed that many women die at the hands of their husbands, so brutally felled down by the very spouses who are supposed to hold them and cherish them for the rest of their lives. On July 28, Vancouver was aghast and stunned by the shocking killing of 24-year-old Ravinder Kaur Bhangu who was axed to death by her 26-year-old husband, Manmeet Singh, and this, not at home, but at her workplace, the offices of the Punjabi newspaper Sach Di Awaaz in Surrey, on the outskirts of Vancouver. The callous slaying of the administrative assistant took place in broad daylight, and when a colleague rushed to her aid, he too was attacked with a meat cleaver, suffering injuries that had him hospitalized. In a classic case of domestic violence that extended outside the home to the workplace in this case, the murder is yet another addition to the long list of fatalities where abused women become hapless victims.

Young Ravinder is said to have had a love marriage and not an arranged one, as is common in her community. When marriages go sour, it is quite shocking to see the escalating level of acrimony and animosity in the relationship. Where did all the initial love disappear, one might ask, and in arranged marriages as in India, there is not even the buffer of love and understanding in the first place to protect the woman even a wee bit. Ravinder is said to have moved out of her marital home into her aunt's, a few months before the killing, something that might have triggered off the uncontrollable rage in her husband. Sadly enough, the young woman had not confided in anyone what was happening to her at home, which is very important for abused women to do. A colleague of hers seemed to have asked her why she had moved into her aunt's, but all Ravinder had done was to have cried in response and not to have said anything at all, thus leaving the friend in the dark about her real situation.

The Canadian Women's Foundation says that on average, every six days a Canadian woman is murdered by her intimate partner, that is, by her current or former spouse or boyfriend. It is imperative for women to recognize that they are being abused and see how best they can get out of the situation and seek help. There is no shame or stigma about sharing one's plight with friends or trusted colleagues, so there is a support system for the abused woman outside her home. The following URL is a very valuable link that answers questions about violence against women and provides information in understanding the causes and kinds of violence, and why women stay on in abusive relationships: http://www.cdnwomen.org/EN/section05/3_5_1_1-violence_facts.html . I strongly recommend all my immigrant students and friends to read this without fail.

While men are also abused by their partners in some cases, it cannot be denied that more women die at the hands of their husbands than men do at their wives'. I wish young Ravinder had lived on into her sunset years, and not been murdered so heinously by her husband. It is my fervent desire that all women have the strength and confidence to get out of abusive relationships, and not become yet another number added to the long list of domestic violence casualties.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

School Day Reminiscences - VI

It may have been a while since I blogged about my recollections of those wonderful school days of mine, but they have, for sure, been constantly underlying my daily thoughts and actions. Needless to say, now that my high school reunion is coming up next month, those memories are all flooding my grey cells, vying with each other as they come rushing to the surface. I have mostly fond memories of the halcyon days of my childhood at SDA School, Madurai, but I must confess that there are three predominantly unpleasant incidents that I have never been able to reconcile with, even after all these years. Life consists of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I know that now, from my vantage point as an experienced adult, but as an innocent child, those unpleasant experiences made no sense to me at all then. On all those three occasions, I was let down very badly by the adults around me, for reasons that were incomprehensible and inexplicable to me at that time.

I debated long and hard within myself if I should be talking about unpleasant things now, but then decided that it might be cathartic for me to acknowledge that not all my memories of school are rosy after all. I may not be able to share all of them in the online world, and perhaps will never do so lest I hurt others, but one of them at least will resonate with many of my readers who have taken a physical beating from a person in authority, for no fault of theirs at all. I was beaten black and blue one horrible summer's day, and by that I literally mean black and blue, when my petite body was bruised so badly for weeks to come. I was a mere child at that time, perhaps ten years old, and had always been a good student and an obedient child at school. I had, and still have, the utmost respect for all my teachers. No one had cause to lay hands on me, not my parents, not my teachers, until that fateful day when I lost faith in my teacher, of all people!

It was our History class, and our teacher had brought back the test notebooks for us to see. Children that we were, we were all curious to check our scores on the test we'd taken the previous week, and scrambled for the notebooks all at once. Perhaps the teacher hadn't anticipated this mad rush to get our notebooks, on which we fell like a pack of wolves. He was unable to control the situation and couldn't hold us at bay, so he yelled at us to return the notebooks to his table so he could enter the marks in the register first before we could have them. I was a first row student, as always, and promptly returned it to the table, but so did the 25 other odd students in the class, all at the same time. Some of them from the back rows leaned forward from behind me and placed their books as well, but in the melee, the notebook pile got knocked down and went sliding down the table. Now the teacher had a pile of notebooks at his feet on the floor, and he completely lost it when he saw my notebook that had slid down with the others and was the one that caught his eye first.

To this day, I honestly don't know what came over him at that minute, but he went BALLISTIC. Yes, 'ballistic' is the word! He grabbed me by my uniform, pulled me forward, and slapped me multiple times with his bare hands. He then proceeded to rain down blows on me - on my head, on my face, on my back, on my hands, on any part of my body that was accessible to him - all with his bare hands. All his pent up fury was focused on battering my petite frame as he raged in anger at me. The entire class was aghast and fell silent, and I myself was speechless in total shock, confusion and pain. I could not understand why he was hitting me for no apparent reason at all, when I had implicitly obeyed him and had dutifully returned my notebook to his table. My agony and humiliation were compounded when he hauled me by my arms, and literally flung me out of the class, shut the door against me, ordering me to stand outside in the sun for the entire class.

My classroom at that time was the right side vestry at the back of the chapel, and I stood outside in the hot and harsh sun, sobbing uncontrollably. Another teacher, Mrs. Chandra John, who was teaching Grade 1 then, happened to come out of her classroom at that time and spotted me crying my heart out, with my hair in shambles and my face all swollen from the slaps I'd received - something quite unusual and not right to all those who knew me in school. The class had just ended, and she took me by the hand to my mother (also a teacher there), on the other side of the school campus. I was still seized by racking sobs and was clearly not in a state to explain to both of them what had happened. By then, angry welts and finger marks had begun to appear all over my face and body, and for the first time and the only time that I can recall, my mother took me to the teacher's room, and pointing to the telltale evidence on my body of the monstrous beating I'd received, she asked the teacher what grave offence I'd committed to warrant this kind of a punishment. The teacher said that I had been disrespectful to him and had thrown my test notebook on his table, and had knocked down all the other notebooks as well. All my mother said was that he should have known me better, that I would never be disrespectful to my teachers, that everyone at school could vouch for my good behavior, and that he had jumped to conclusions about me in this matter.

I went home in the evening, still sobbing, and continued to sob in my sleep, I was told. My father was outraged when he saw the finger marks on my swollen face, and when my mother removed my chemise that evening and he saw all the black, blue, and purple bruises on my body, he was practically livid, I must say. My trust and faith in my teacher was lost a little that day, and on extension, it was of a child who became distrustful and skeptical of an adult's unlikely and unexpected reactions to seemingly normal events in life. I have no clue why the teacher lost his temper with me in a big way that day, but what I'm sure of a hundred percent is that I had done nothing wrong. The next day, the teacher came to class with both his pant pockets full of chocolates and piled them in my hands - his way of making up, but I was very wary of him and steered clear of him from that day onward. I was never able to look him in the eye thereafter and not remember the severe beating I'd had at his hands. He was transferred elsewhere soon after and I never saw him again, but the incident left a deep scar on my psyche, deep enough, obviously, to warrant a blog post decades later! My beating had been senseless, monstrous, and unwarranted from my point of view, and he was the only teacher who ever laid hands on me in my entire life, thus making him quite an unforgettable part of my life for all the wrong reasons! :)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Saga Of My Long Hair

Strange how whenever I reconnect on Facebook with my students from a long time ago, say anywhere from 15 to 25 years ago, they almost always are startled on seeing my short hairdo and question me about the looong hair I used to have! Oh yeah, that was another time and another place, for sure! While teaching in the Department of English at Lady Doak College, Madurai, India, I seem to have impressed my students a great deal with my long hair, if not my teaching! Many of them have distinct memories of the particular way I used to put up my hair, and surprise me with their recollections of the same.

So it goes that I had hair long enough to sit on and I used to wear it in a single braid like a snake. By that, I mean that my braid wasn't too thick or too thin, but just the size of a medium snake. My students tell me that I wore matching hairclips with my hair pulled up from my face, and then loosely bound at the nape of my neck with two colored ball clips that matched the color of my saris. Seriously, I don't recall this very much at all. From the ball clips downwards hung a single braid that swung like a pendulum when I walked. The only thing that I remember was the hassle of having to pull my braid to the front so as not to sit on it and have it caught under my kind bottom. That, and also having my year old son pull my braid and grab those colored balls so he could chew on them like candy!

I do remember though that I held on to the long hair for 3 years after I moved to California. By this time, maintaining it was becoming a problem. In addition to caring for a rambunctious three year old, having to take care of the hair as well was wearing me down. My sister took me for a perm, and I sported waist length hair, all in curls, for some time. That too proved to be a nuisance soon enough - I had to iron curl it, mousse it, and what not - not exactly my cup of tea! My husband kept urging me to chop it all off, and one day out of desperation and frustration, I took the plunge. I categorically asked the hairstylist to do the deed, and to my greatest surprise, she refused to take the scissors to my head. She tried to talk me out of it - "It's beautiful as it is. Why do you want me to cut it?" - but when I held on, she asked me if she could take my hair after it was cut. I asked her what she would do with it, and she replied she'd make beautiful hair extensions with it. I sort of felt like the heroine of O.Henry's "Gift of the Magi", only my hair wasn't used to buy a gift for my beloved, but was probably meant to be attached to some stranger's hair!

Thus ended the saga of my long hair and the rest is history. When I tell my current students in Vancouver that once upon a time I used to have hair long enough to sit on, they look at me with an incredulous expression as if to say, "Get out of here!" Have I regretted one bit about having lost all that hair? Not really. I feel like I belong in this part of the world, and I think it goes quite well with how I dress to work these days. It's the perfect foil to my dress clothes, and needless to say, my husband has now quit complaining of how long I'm taking to groom my hair!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

No Time To Stop And Stare!

What is life if there is no time to stop and stare, I wonder! As much as I exult in the fact that both the husband and I have jobs that leave us gratified, I can't help quell that niggling thought that our lives have become so busy, mechanical, and high strung for leisurely pursuits of any kind. From the moment we open our eyes at 5.30 AM each morning, it's GO, GO, GO all the time, till we hit the sack around 10.30 or 11 PM at night. There's hardly any time for a breather in between ... my days are so super-structured and highly regimented that sometimes even bio-breaks are impossible to have. I am left with what my professor at the University of California used to call a "teacher's bladder" ... go figure! If that is my case, the husband brings home his lunch uneaten, or worse still, has his sleep disrupted to troubleshoot something that has cropped up at work - the price one pays for being in senior management, I suppose!

When was the last time we took an extended vacation as a family? That would be in January, 2008, when we both managed to make a two-week escape from all the madness and made it to India for a wedding in the family. I almost didn't make it because I was asked to cancel my trip two weeks before I was scheduled to fly out, all because of some inspection from some Canadian licensing board for which management wanted me to be present. I put my foot down and refused to do so, angering the management a great deal. I couldn't care less, because we were making it to India for the first time together as a family, after 10 long years of having left India for America, and I was determined not to let anything throw a monkey wrench in the works. Did we have a great time in India? Yes, we did, but we were so sleep deprived during the 2 weeks because it was a Hindu wedding, the rituals of which were spread out over many days, and my mother-in-law would wake us up at the unearthly hours of the night and the unholy hours of the morning for some ritual or the other! :)

Since then, we've only managed to get away for 3 days at the most at a time, that too for short road trips here in North America. Even then, the husband used to bring his work with him, and sometimes lock himself up in the bathroom at 4.30 or 5 AM in the mornings to take or make calls, in order not to disturb our sleep. On one occasion, he was whispering instructions on the phone at 4.30 AM, when the person at work on the other end asked him why his voice was so feeble and if he were sick. He had to confess that he was calling from the bathroom lest he woke us up! That's our life, and sometimes, we feel terribly sorry for the kid who has to put up with all this crap. He hasn't complained, at least not yet, because he's busy with his studies and doing his own thing. As for me, I have no reason to complain, but sometimes I wish I just had the time to do all the things I've been putting off for way too long. My reading list has been growing of late, and I feel a rising panic if I can read them all in time - that's just one example, from my long list of pending things to do!

After all, what is life if there is no time to stop and stare?!?

Friday, July 8, 2011

An Outrageous Verdict

Civilized America has just let out a collective gasp of disbelief and dismay on hearing the acquittal verdict of the jury in the Casey Anthony trial. For the past three years, the entire nation, and its neighbors to the North, have been riveted by the unseemly case of a young mother having allegedly done away with her two year old child, Caylee, in order to continue with her partying ways. It was a drama the likes of which we had never seen before, the "tot mom" as Nancy Grace had dubbed her, being the most reviled woman in America thus far. The circus brought to the fore the entire dysfunctional Anthony family, the press out like a bloodhound every single day, a legion of angry protesters outside the family home crying for blood, and eager members of the public trying to get into the courthouse each day of the sordid trial to watch the legal drama being played out by both the prosecutors and the defense.

While forensic analysis, common sense and gut instinct cried out that Casey Anthony had killed her defenseless child by allegedly administering her chloroform and suffocating her with duct tape placed around the mouth and nose, and then disposing off the body in the woods less than a mile from her parents' house, it has come as a great shock to the public that the jurors acquitted her, going against the common grain, citing lack of motive and conclusive evidence. Her lawyers mounted a vigorous defense that the time or manner of death of Caylee were inconclusive and that there was no concrete proof that Casey was responsible for the deed after all. The prosecution had asked for the death penalty in this case, but in retrospect, perhaps they had overreached in their charges that could not be proved without the shadow of a doubt.

Passions seem to be running high since the verdict was read out a few days ago, and with Casey to be let out of jail in the coming days, there have been many death threats to her, the jurors, and her family as well. Her defense lawyer now has an agent to field calls from the media, television corporations are vying with each other to score the first interview with Casey, and jail officials are planning how to let her out through the back door, away from the prying eyes of the media and the blood calls of the protesters. Casey Anthony has already turned down a jail cell visit from her estranged mother, and the drama continues to unfold on the airwaves, from everyone to her former friends, ex-boyfriends, psychologists, and lawyers from all over weighing in on the case. As to what the future holds for Casey, one has to wait and see, and as to who killed Caylee Marie Anthony, and how, one may never know the answer!