Friday, February 25, 2011

The Name Blame

Is one ever really happy with the name given by one's parents? I don't think so, as I have learned from experience and encounters with countless others. Many of us are disgruntled with our parents for saddling us with a name we abhor for very many reasons. Very few of us are satisfied with the name that was assigned to us at birth, and at some point in life, most of us wish we could've been given a more exotic sounding name, or an uncommon name, or a name that didn't draw so much attention to us while we were growing up. Most of us, then again, reconcile ourselves to our names as we grow older, and come to accept it, while some others take matters into their own hands and change their names legally while they can do so. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet," says Shakespeare's Juliet. While acknowledging the verity of the bard's query and its meaning, it cannot, however, be denied that some would love to have a name they personally prefer, and generally blame their parents for whatever name they have been given.

I was named after Shakespeare's heroine in "Twelfth Night", Olivia being a very, very uncommon name in smalltown Madurai, India, of the sixties. My sister and I had an English name and a Tamil name, and my father being from Tanjore, the Chozha stronghold in history, we were named after the Chozha princesses. Thus, my sister was named Millicent Vandarkuzhali, and I was Olivia Punguzhali. My brothers had the names of Roman emperors for their first names, all because my Dad was a history buff, followed by a Biblical name, and then a Chozha king's name - so it was Julius Paul Karikalan, and Claudius David Kulothungan! What a mouthful! We called them Rajan and Babu at home though. And the irony of ironies was that the clerk at my second brother's school misspelled his first name as Gladius in his school leaving certificate, so Gladius it has been since then!

While everyone around me thought my name was beautiful, I didn't because I thought my name stood out among all those Tamil, Indian names around me. I just wanted to belong with everyone else at school. Why couldn't I have been named Chitra or Meena or Kamala, I thought! There I was, this little, brown-skinned girl with an uncommon English name as Olivia, and what an incongruous Tamil name, Punguzhali, to go with it, I thought! I decided then that I would give my child a typical Indian name and not make him or her feel out of place while growing up. Also, I was listed way down below on the class list that was made out in alphabetical order, and just because my name started with an O, it meant when I took an exam from school to university, the examiner would grade my paper much later than the others' in my class. In fact, I was the only student at school then, whose name started with an O.

So it was when I got married that I promptly dropped my Tamil name, and took on my husband's as a last name. By then acceptance of my first name had slowly set in, and so I was OK with Olivia Kanna now. Little did I realize then that I would be moving to North America and settle down there for good. Olivia is a very popular girl's name here, and just imagine how the Americans, Canadians, and my international students and friends would've massacred my Tamil name, had I continued to have it! I'm at peace now with my name, mercifully at last! Not so my son! True to my earlier vow, we named our son Dinesh, a typical Indian name with its origin in Sanskrit, meaning "Lord of the Day" or in other words, the Sun. The name chosen by my father-in-law seemed appropriate because this baby was the light of our lives, the centre of our solar system, with the rest of us revolving around him like the other planets!

When Dinesh was 1 year old, we moved to California. Now HE thinks HIS NAME sticks out like a sore thumb! He came back from his Grade 1 class one day and vehemently posed the question, " Mom, why did you name me Dinesh? Couldn't you have named me Matthew, or Sean, or Kevin? I hate my name!" So there you go, my friends! Is anyone at all happy with their given names? I doubt it very much. And the name blame continues to this day! SIGH!!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good Genes Or Good Docs?

Raymond, the Filipino hairdresser who was cutting my hair for the first time, seemed to be surprised at not finding any strand of grey hair on my head. The friendly person that he was, the conversation turned to my job, how long I'd been doing it, my family, and so on, and eventually, he was able to guess my age. I make no bones about my age and we discovered that we were actually both closer in age. It was then that he expressed his incredulity at the absence of any grey in my rather thin mop of hair, considering my age. He asked me if I needed to color my hair, and when I said I'd never colored my hair in my life, and certainly didn't intend to now, his surprised exclamation made the other ladies in the salon turn their heads and congratulate me. "Wow," they went, "Is that your original hair color? Beautiful! Congratulations! You're so lucky!" etc., etc.

I have always taken my black hair for granted and never given it a second thought. The reaction of the others now made me wonder if I were supposed to be proud of it. I wasn't too sure, actually. How can I take credit for something that I have no control over, I thought. It had to be the genes my parents passed on to me, so "Thank you, Mom and Dad!" I silently muttered, as I got out of the salon, rather embarrassed at all the attention my hair had garnered. The truth of the matter is, when you look around and see the images of airbrushed perfection everywhere, you realize the extent that people go to in order to hide their age or diminish a defect or set aright a perceived flaw in their bodies. Cosmetic procedures are so ubiquitous these days that it is difficult to differentiate who has had one and who hasn't.

The twenty-something brothers I know are rapidly losing hair and are contemplating a hair transplant, several of my Asian friends have had double eyelid surgery, some of my students have openly talked about their nose reshaping surgery, others have had breast augmentations, breast reductions, liposuction, tummy tucks, face lifts, etc., etc. Botox seems to be the latest fad of the day, and when there's no time to be nipped and tucked, people prefer to be botoxed day in and day out. A quick lunchtime dart to the mall, the whipping out of the Botox Gift Card the husband or boyfriend gave for the anniversary, a shot here and another there, and one is free to get back to work 10 years younger and wrinkle-free!

Appearance certainly maketh the man these days, and who cares if it's good genes or good docs! Noone basically knows the difference. Would I get nipped and tucked or botoxed for that matter? I don't think I will. In fact, my dermatologist gave up on a rather stubborn patch of melasma on my face and recommended me for a chemical peel a year ago, but I'm still sitting on the fence about it. If I can't muster enough courage for a simple cosmetic procedure, I don't think I'll ever go under the knife to improve my appearance. So what you see of me now, my friends, are good genes and not good docs!!!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

For The Love Of A Girl ?!?

It's an arduous task for me to make my 15-year-old exercise, and by that I mean, to get him to do a physical activity of any kind. Physical fitness is clearly not his forte, while his mental agility is a thing well-known to his teachers and peers. If folding his jeans and putting away his clothes in the wardrobe, or throwing the soda cans or juice boxes in the recycling bin, or putting the cap back on the tube of toothpaste can be the most strenuous kinds of physical activity he has to be coaxed into doing, you can very well imagine about making him walk on the treadmill or getting him to swim twenty laps in the pool! Exercise is anathema to him and so is Mom's constant reminder ("nagging" to him!) regarding the same!

Imagine my incredulity and wondrous surprise when I returned from work one day to find him lifting weights in his room! "Who are you, and what did you do to my son?" I asked this stranger in my house. The kid calmly continued with the lifting, and with an enigmatic smile, got on to the treadmill next. I almost had a heart attack when he proceeded to run, not just walk, on the Nordic Track! The husband came home from work just then, and rubbed his eyes in wonder at the scene. He raised his eyebrows in query at me, to which I could just shrug my shoulders in bewilderment and shock. The kid next unrolled the yoga mat I had bought the previous week, lay on his back and started to do some sit ups to make that waistline trim. I jumped at the chance, rushed to the kitchen and cut up some veggies for him - broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, snow peas, red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers, asparagus, and spinach - which he dutifully ate without protest. Now if you know my son, the chicken lover, seeing him eat vegetables is like witnessing the end of the world!

I happened to post this apocalyptic event as a status update on Facebook, and many of my friends who responded seemed to think that this sea change in him was because of a girl. Could it be so, I mused?!? Amy said that this sudden interest in his personal appearance screamed "GIRL", and so did the others! It was quite incomprehensible to me how a girl could work magic so quickly while the parents had been at him, begging him, and cajoling him to do the same for so long! Did my son, the nerd, get swept off his feet, or was he trying to impress some girl he had a crush on? I secretly scoured his Facebook pages for clues, but there were none. The husband and I went to bed bewildered if there was indeed some girl in the background, but hoping anyways that the miracle would be sustained for some time till he lost those few unwanted pounds.

Come morning, I found the kid dressing to go to school. He had worn an old pair of jeans that were a little short and riding at his ankles. "Don't you want to change those pants?" I asked, and continued, "The girls might find those outgrown pants ridiculous, you know!" He turned and gave me one hard look and said, "So? Who cares about girls! They're stupid!" My son was back!

Ladies and Gentleman, the case is closed ...FOR NOW!!!


The exercise is continuing though, and there's no girl ...YET! LOL!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Creative Tweets 6

Long time since I put a few of my tweets together! They are mostly composed during the morning commute to work, and I absolutely love the challenge of the 140-character limitation for each tweet!

This was inspired by a glorious Fall scene, when the sidewalk was littered with leaves of glorious hues.

Fallen leaves on pathways
Gold, orange, red and burnished copper
Nature's red carpet for mere mortals
Treading their fantasy walks of fame!
It was an exceptionally cold Fall day, and the short walk uphill from home made me feel like an aboriginal woman bundled up against the Arctic cold.

Layered n bundled up in the cold

-4 with a windchill of -11
I climb uphill from my garage
As I would Mt.Denali
An Inuit woman in full gear
This was composed around Diwali time in November when I felt my creative juices overflowing, in sync with the exuberance of the festivities.

Creative energies in my system
Festive energies in the air
Prompt me to forgo practical matters
Make art, fantasize, or just enjoy the ride!
I had a particularly busy week before the Christmas Break, with hardly any time for a breather. Had to do a presentation even on the last day before the holidays, and I was longing for some personal downtime, which was not to be!

I'd feel best staying in the background
Focusing on my own priorities
How great it would be to nurture body and soul
Before Christmas hits!
Was feeling particularly down one December day!

Sunny disposition, ready charm, dazzling smile?
But way down, in my internal personal space
A raincloud or two is hidden from the world!
The kid was preparing for his Provincial Exam in Science in January, his first public exam ever!

Signs of beauty of my son at work
Set jaw, sheen of sweat on his brow
Flexing his mental muscles
As if steering the course of the universe!

More of my creative tweets to follow!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

School Day Reminiscences - IV

It's been a while since I wrote about SDA School, Madurai, and its hallowed halls of learning. As impressionable children enjoying each day with friends at school and going about our usual routine, we don't recognize then what a great impact our school is going to have on us for the rest of our lives. In retrospect, from the vantage point of adulthood, we realize that our alma mater is what has shaped us and moulded us and branded us into the kind of people we've turned out to be. The role our teachers play is incredible, and let me acknowledge here with heartfelt gratitude and praise that I was fortunate in having some of the best teachers there could ever be!

In my last post about the school, I'd written exclusively about Mrs. Kamala Jegadeesan, who actually shaped my career path and motivated me to become an educator. The next important teacher at SDA who'd win hands down any day on the influence scale would be none other than Mr. Daniel Thomas (DT, in short, to many of us!). He started his teaching career when I was in Grade 8, and was assigned to teach us, the first batch in the school, Math, Physics and Chemistry. His dedication to the job was unparalleled and the sincerity with which he went about his task was a little daunting to us children. With his slicked back, straight-parted, wavy hair, and those scholarly glasses, and clear enunciation, he was all that a strict school master was supposed to be, not forgetting the ruler or cane or long pencil he wielded in class. He unravelled beautifully for us the mysteries of the aforementioned subjects, and woe on any student who proved to be a slacker in class! He would teach us a rather difficult problem in Math and then would put down another one on the blackboard, and call upon an unsuspecting student to go and solve it on the board. The ones who did, got away with his praise, but the ones who didn't, recieved a hard rap on the knuckles with the wooden ruler or pencil, whatever happened to be in his hand at that time, a technique that always made sure his pupils paid attention to what he taught!

Mr. DT was best known at that time for mispronouncing certain names, and after he'd left the classroom, the boys would repeat it and cackle away with uncontrolled laughter. Like all the other teachers, I knew him well outside of school, at church. He attended my Dad's Bible classes regularly, particularly on the prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The church leaders would have a meeting after the Saturday service at noon, and child that I was, I would hang around and wait for my parents to take me home for lunch. On one occasion, my Dad called me "Oluvu" in one of his affectionate, endearing moments, and I was mortified when Mr. DT called me the same in class the following Monday. I remember flushing awkwardly and wanting the floor to open up and swallow me. You can imagine the riot that followed after Mr. DT had left the class - I was teased mercilessly by the boys, Jeba, in particular!

The boys had the impression that Mr. DT was a scholarly nerd, that all he knew was Physics, Chemistry, and Math, and of course the Church, that he knew nothing beyond those, about anything else in life. Typical short-sighted, erroneous teenage judgement, I would say! They seemed to be very surprised on hearing the news that Mr. DT was getting married shortly. I also remember quite vividly Mr. DT bringing his new wife to my house in Vilangudi, at my parents' invitation. To see one's teacher, and that too a strict one at that, in a different light and setting, was a very unique experience for me as a child, and I remember walking them back to the bus stop with my father. Mr. DT had a son, Tennyson, quite closer in age to my brother Karikalan's son, Julian, and it was always a joy to see him in the role of a father.

The years rolled past and in 2002 I had the privilege of visiting SDA School with my son. I took Dinesh to the English Church at the SDA school campus in Ellis Nagar, and Mr. DT was overjoyed to see us. He was the Principal of the school at that time, and we had a wonderful time walking down memory lane together. He told my son what a great student his Mom had been, and the 7 year old looked on at this distinguished gentleman with the same awe and respect that his mother had had for him when she was a little girl! Some things never change, do they? Thank you, Sir, for all that you were to us!