Tiny Conversations… “Come here. I’m going to Touch you!”

This happened some 6-7 years ago. I lived in Chile then. I had to consult a physician about a mole that was growing on my leg, and it was also indicating inward growth – a kind of plantlike feeling where I felt it had a root.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

At the clinic:

Doc– Buenos Dias, señora!

“Buenos Dias, señor!”

Doc– Cual es el problema? (what is the problem?)

“No sé mucho español. ¿Puedo hablar en inglés? (I don’t know much Spanish. Can I speak in English?)

Doc– Si, Si. No problema. I know leetle, leetle Englich.

“That’s a relief. Thank you so much!”

So, I tell him what my concerns are about the mole on my thigh. He asks me some pertinent questions. Nods his head thoughtfully.

Doc– Ok, I will see it first.

Then he gets up and walks away from the his desk towards a curtained area in one corner of the room.

Doc– Come with me here, señora. You will remove your trouser and I am going to touch you here, in this place.

I almost burst out laughing. The immediate thought that ran through my head was…‘what if I were silly enough not to understand what he meant!’ I’d have gathered my handbag and vamoosed out of the room!

“Ok, señor,” I said instead and followed him into the curtained area.

Examination done. He agreed that there was a downward, rootlike growth. Diagnosis would depend on removing the mole surgically and sending it for biopsy. We walked out and sat at his desk. He had to decide on a date for the surgery. That done, I stood up and thanked him from the depths of my heart.

Doc– So señora, how you like my Englich?

“Awesome, señor doctor!” I said genuinely appreciative. “I am so happy to have found a doctor with whom I could communicate in English.”

Tiny Conversations – no colors for a widow

When I was widowed, we lived in a very conservative and restrictive society in a rather backward province at the time. So things were pretty bad for me with my sort of disregard for their stifling conventions that made no sense to me.

It was a society that took away the colors from a widow’s life, literally and figuratively too. Any kind of fun and enjoyment was banned for her. Dressing up was absolutely forbidden – no jewelry either. As if that weren’t enough, society had decreed that these unfortunate women could only wear certain colors – specifically, a dull, dark maroon and a dull greenish-blue. This identified them as widows. It horrified me that such rules were imposed on them. Imagine wearing clothes that put a tag on you WIDOW for everyone’s information! As if they hadn’t suffered enough. And for what purpose? It wasn’t their fault that fate had dealt them such a blow!

I recall a social acquaintance of mine, one who is a non-practicing, lawyer, telling me why the women of their society “willingly” accepted these social norms. She tried to explain it to me by quoting her widowed mother:

“My mother accepted it because she believed, ‘Once a husband dies, there is no color left in life. Life becomes totally colorless.‘ This is why it is okay for them to wear these colors and not wear jewelry nor participate in festivals and entertainment of any kind.”

“Oh, really?” I interrupted her with undisguised sarcasm. “What about the men, the widowers?”

“What about them,” she countered. “They are men. These things don’t apply to them They can carry on their lives.”

“Exactly my point – Why doesn’t it apply to them? Why does everyone start looking out for a wife for the widower, but push the widow into deeper misery? Why do they strip her of her dignity and self-respect? Why do they want to kill her spirit? Why make them like living corpses that way?”

“That’s how it’s been for years and that’s how it will remain. Who can stop it? At least it is better than Sati.”

“If the practice of Sati (burning the wife alive on the funeral pyre of the husband) can be stopped and declared a crime, this can be too. All it takes is the decision to fight against it. All it needs is one strong person to stand against it.”

“That’s what you think. We women don’t think so.”

“How many young widows have you asked about how they feel and what they think about this, with the assurance of confidentiality and secrecy?”

“I don’t need to ask anyone,” she was riled and het up. “This is our ‘rivaaz’. Our culture. And our society will follow it.”

“And are women in this ‘rivaaz’ consulted? Are they even represented when rules are made and imposed on them by ‘society’?

“It is a male dominated society. The women will never be consulted.”

“Not for long. Take my word. Change is coming. The winds are changing direction. But I’m keen to know, will you accept and support the change when it comes? You yourself have broken the boundaries of your social culture, you went against all that your society deemed wrong. Didn’t you? You are living your life on your terms. Will you be brow beaten if, god forbid, diktats such as these are imposed on you?”

She preferred to let silence speak for her. And the silence spoke louder than her words.

The Original Blue Print – Part III

Continuing from The Original Blue Print Part I The Original Blueprint – Part -1 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com) and Part II The Original Blueprint – Part 11 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

Our drive from Santiago to Viña del Mar was beautiful. Stunning would be the apt word to describe its scenic splendor. And en route when we stopped at a vineyard named House of Morande, now just known as House, I got my first experience of visiting a vineyard cum restaurant. I tasted wines. Had a sumptuous Chilean meal.

It was heady. Just off a long flight, the tiredness of the journey hadn’t worn out yet. The first experience of being in a country that sits on a “ring of fire” and is no stranger to earthquakes and temblors! The contrast between the previous day’s and night experience to this serene and spectacular scenery that unfolded before me as we drove down the highway, and finally at House, was what the doctor ordered.

As I strolled through rows of white roses and walked in the shade of the trees and over the green grass, I forgot the anxiety and fear of earthquakes. They didn’t exist in this serenity and peace and calm.

I breathed deep and for the first time saw Chile through eyes that only saw it as it was sans the quakes – beautiful! The food helped to buffer that thought. Delicious cuisine was served and I enjoyed whatever I had ordered. They made it to my specifications without compromising the basic recipe and flavors too much.

I left House in a different frame of mind. One that was willing to stay and face the challenges if only to get to know this beautiful place a little more.

My eyes were pinned to the spectacular landscapes that whizzed past us. At times so splendid that caused a sharp intake of breath. Maybe, I was reacting more strongly appreciative because I had not envisioned so much of scenic splendor. I had allowed my mind to focus on one thing and the fear it brought thus tagging the country as awful, scary, not where I want to visit.

And then my son said, “That’s nothing. You’re going to see something even better. Your first glimpse of Viña del Mar and the majestic Pacific.”

I was quiet. My eyes staring straight ahead as we crested an incline… my jaw dropped at the sight.

The photos I’ve clicked were in a hurry as we were moving fast, and my phone wasn’t a very sophisticated one. They are not doing a mite of justice to the scene that unfolded before me.

My jaw dropped, my eyes opened wide, and all I could say was, “OMGod!”

“The city is a bit further ahead, you’ll glimpse it soon.”

So here I was in the city I would be living in for an unknown period of time, and with the information that Chile sits on a thousand volcanos! Exaggeration? Perhaps.

That’s how I entered a place where I was destined to experience the scariest and most fascinating experiences. Where I would meet some of the most lovely people I’ve had the good fortune to meet. From where I would eventually take off to India in three months only to return three years later. I lived there for four years and have indelible memories. Most of which are among the best ones of my life.

But my world was going to rumble and shake in a few days! Seven days into my ‘discovery’ of Viña del Mar, I had the horrific experience of getting to know the real deal – the TERREMOTO! The big one, a terribly strong quake was waiting to happen. Read about it here: Chile Diary – 5 – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

The 2010 Chile earthquake (SpanishTerremoto del 27F[5]) occurred off the coast of central Chile on Saturday, 27 February at 03:34 local time (06:34 UTC), having a magnitude of 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale, with intense shaking lasting for about three minutes.

The fallout of this acquaintance with el gran terremoto was that my condition deteriorated with all the anxiety and tension I carried with me 24×7. My pain increased. I couldn’t walk even the short distances that I could earlier. And worse, I felt I was an added burden on my son at this time because of the increased difficulty in walking, sitting, standing for long or bending. I couldn’t stay in the apartment as it was on the sixth floor and running down six flights of stairs during a strong aftershock or worse another quake was not recommended in my condition. Besides, there were small cracks in my bathroom walls and the door frame of my bedroom door had been damaged and was lopsided, the door wouldn’t close. Just looking at it and the cracks in the wall set my mind racing and conjuring up images of it collapsing with me stuck inside.

So it was a gypsy life for me. I was shifting from place to place. First to a hotel room on the ground floor, then to the Company Guesthouse, then a house in another town. You can read the interesting details in my Chile Diaries.

Long story short, When things quietened down, I asked to return to home country. And soon I was back in India vowing never to return to this country. And since Canada was never on my radar even then that’s how I saw my future. This was 2010. I accepted that I would live alone, safe or unsafe, in this booming, modern city that was growing and developing fast in the NCR – a place not so far from Delhi.

Once again I settled into my former life, but this time I took up a job as a checker for exam papers for ESL exams. Life took shape with routine. My treatment, a new one, was beginning to show results slowly. I thought I had done right in coming back and now the kids would realize why it was better for me to stay put.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29: 11-12 (NIV)

And once again, I was wrong! Three years later, I was on a plane to Chile!

My DIL’s brother who lived in Canada was getting married. Their parents lived in the same city I lived in, so the wedding would be held there. She was coming to India. The plan was that they’d kill two birds with one stone. I had to dispose of things that could be sold or then given away. She would help me with the last bit of packing and accompany me back to Chile. It wasn’t the long circuitous route, this time, and with a companion the journey would be more comfortable for me. Which it was.

I lived in Viña for four years. I wouldn’t say I got “used to the EQs”, but I could handle myself better than before. I lived a good life – made friends, learned a smattering of Spanish so I could go out on my own, and I made some lovely memories which I still cherish. At one point, I expected to be here longer or even permanently. My son and DIL were planning to buy a house there. That would mean ‘settling’ in Chile.

But the original plan was already in motion. My DIL’s only brother was settled in Canada. And my son’s only sibling was settled in Canada too! I guess you’ve got the drift of this information.

There were many pros and cons discussed about settling in Chile. And there was one con that dwarfed all the rest. DISTANCE. This country was so far away from India where our families lived. It would be difficult for either side to visit, add to that the financial considerations of the journey. It was expensive.

The two of them decided to move to Canada. By default, I would be a part of this shift to Canada if at all it happened. Things were still not decided. In the meantime, I wanted to visit my son in Canada and meet my three grandkids, especially the new baby and the second one who I hadn’t seen. My ticket was booked for the summer that was some months away.

Then my son filled in the forms for their move and submitted them. It would take time for all the processes etc., and even then one couldn’t be sure of the outcome, so I was to return to Chile in six months.

When I flew out and landed in Toronto, little did I know that my fate was sealed… the original plan of my life had come full circle decades later. I never got to go back. They were to come here early the next year.

I have many questions in my mind. I often wonder:

-if I had changed my decision on that day and said “yes” to my adoption would it have changed the entire course of my life? Or would my life been ditto with just a change in my nationality, and the addition of foster parents?

-Would I have three college/university degrees? Two Bachelor degrees (one in Education), and a Master’s degree? Considering the high cost of a college/university education abroad, I doubt it.

-Would I have opted for a teaching profession? Most certainly not.

-Would I have become a widow so young? I will never know. It could have been in the original blueprint or it could have been the result of my own choice.

Here’s where the possible scenarios end.

The only thing that made my life so difficult with challenges and obstacles, popping up every now and then, was the tragedy of losing my husband so early.

If I dare to draw parallels with the assumption that I would be widowed early no matter who I married, even if I had come to Canada earlier, there’s one thing I’m certain about… my financial difficulties wouldn’t be as humongous as they were in India. The system here is so good with allowances the government gives for children, free school education etc.

As for family support, I am a hundred percent positive Lily and John would have been there all the way. They had loved me even before I or my parents had been aware of it. They had already envisioned me as a part of their family. Their love and parental support, although that of foster parents, would not have failed me. If anything, it would have grown.

So in truth, though I do not know how my life would have turned out as a “Walker,” I know this, it would have been a better journey. Especially my schooling years. Read about these terribly difficult years here: And I Call Them My Angels in Disguise-Part I – It’s In The Tale (wordpress.com)

I also know whether I got three degrees or not, I would have qualified in some professional field. Who knows, I might have even taken up one of the top three options I had presented to my parents who were horrified and promptly shot them down. So what were those choices?

In chronological order of preference:

  1. Air Hostess
  2. International Tourism – Organizer cum Guide
  3. Theatre Artiste

I don’t think the Walkers would have objected to all of these for the reasons my father did! There was a world of difference at that time between Indian parents and western ones.

However, I do feel if I had to land up here eventually, it would have certainly been much better earlier than it is for me now as a senior citizen. A new place, new experiences are best experienced when one is a bit younger than I am and in better health. Without a social circle life becomes monotonous. Time hangs heavy. Making new connections socially isn’t so easy in a new country. Not working in a place doesn’t help either. One doesn’t meet many people and getting to meet like-minded people is left to chance. That I am an introverted extrovert doesn’t help. The introvert has strong likes and dislikes and the extrovert doesn’t get the better of a clash sometimes.

To sum up, the original blueprint gave me a taste of foreign travel that I wanted to experience as a tourist guide and organizer of trips. And also the first-hand experience of the flipside of international travel, especially long flights with more than two layovers. It also gave me a closer look at an air hostess’s job on long International flights. Different people with different cultures and mindsets, with various needs… all have to be served with patience and a pleasant disposition if not a smile!

It made me realize that I wasn’t cut out for these professions. The third option was third for a reason. I liked drama only as a hobby… something on the side that I could dabble in on and off.

So somewhere, the life map I created by my choices and the original plan for my life gave me, in the right proportions, what I desired as an experience, as an adventure, but not as a mainstay; as a profession or career. And it led me to be a teacher. A profession I never ever WANTED to enter. But it was exactly what I NEEDED.

This was the profession that helped me and my sons. I worked in private schools that were among the best in whichever city we lived in. I had no problems with admission for my sons nor difficulty in paying the fees. In retrospect, I can say that my life went off course from the original plan in many ways, and it brought hardships in its wake until I, without knowing it, veered back to the original blueprint.

What lies ahead I do not know. I pray for guidance and wisdom in making the right choices. But this I know, He keeps me in the palm of his hand. He’ll bring me on course if I veer off.

To My Father…

They say that daughters are always daddy’s darlings. It wouldn’t be right to make such a broad generalization, though, because we know that, that isn’t always the way it is. Not to go off on a tangent pursuing that subject, I’ll just say, I was definitely Daddy’s pet. It’s been a hundred years since he died…allow me the hyperbole…I’m really missing him as I always do but especially on Father’s Day.

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In our day, way back in the 60s – 80’s, in my country, we never observed ‘Father’s Day’ or any of these now popularized and commercialized “Days.” So there was only his Birthday which was, in a way, Father’s Day for us. Now Daddy never made much of his birthday, he wouldn’t invite friends over or want much of a fuss. He wasn’t given to showing emotions. He was the stiff upper lip kind of man for most of his life. I only saw a chink in his armor a year or so before he died.

No, no, I’m not going to say he began hugging his kids or gave in to tears or anything like that. He just allowed himself to speak with more emotion; show regret, sadness, longing not only in his voice but in his eyes as well. These were the emotions he never permitted himself to show earlier…for the greater part of his life.

He had a commanding personality. “Tall, dark, and handsome” in his youth, he retained his handsomeness even with his shock of thick, white, wavy hair through to his early ’80s, when he passed away.

As a boy and through his youth, he had a fiery temper which could become volatile, depending on who did what or what was said or done or not said and not done, but that had simmered down to resignation with the growing years.

He was a man of contrasts.

He also had a happy disposition. He enjoyed a good joke and was a great storyteller. He could add humor to his tales without effort or addition, solely by altering his tone and bringing in nuances that made it funny. He loved to recite poetry, write couplets (in Farsi/Urdu).

He had a good singing voice but rarely sang. He used to play the harmonium and sing when the mood took over. He loved to play the ‘tabla’ on the table or any surface that provided a firm base when he heard some good songs or music.

He loved taking us on picnics. His picnics could also mean driving miles out of our city to some picturesque spot in another town or city. We’ve been on some ‘picnics’ to Agra from Delhi. Our picnic spot: in the gardens of the Taj! And at that time in the 60s, the roads weren’t as they might be today! It was a whole day program. We’d get back at night! Otherwise, we’d be picnicking at the numerous spots in Delhi. In later years, we’d be joining him on fishing-picnics! He and my brother would be fishing and we’d have a great time with our picnic by a river.

He was passionate about learning, teaching, preaching the Bible. He was an excellent orator and it was a pleasure to hear him preach at conventions or in the church. 

He had a flamboyant disregard for conventional things; social courtesies, customs, and such. But he was strict about table manners. It goes without saying, I, the youngest would invariably be checked for reaching across the next person’s plate for a dish or something.

“Ask for the dish to be given to you or ask Mummy to serve you.”  I’d quickly comply.

But then, I’d go again with – “Give me the dish of (whatever).” There’d be a super quick, gentle reprimand.

Please, pass me the dish of (whatever).”

I’d do as told. Take the dish, happy to finally be able to get food on my plate. But that joy and hunger would be put on hold for another minute!

“Thank you!”

“Oh, I forgot!” I’d say a quick ‘thank you’ and finally dig in. 

But that wasn’t my only ‘bad table manners’. It constituted much more… ‘don’t put your elbows on the table,’ ‘don’t talk with your mouth full,’ ‘don’t battle with your fork and spoon (or knife). Cut down the clatter!’ ‘don’t swing your legs under the table’ (this one was really bad because I’d be totally oblivious that I was either kicking someone’s knees on the other side or at the least, brushing them with my feet.

That paragraph may sound as if I had a bad time at the table… on the contrary, I had a great time at family meals. These corrections were taken well. I knew I was overlooking the rules. But I was so focussed on enjoying my food and sitting and talking, around the table, with the family, (sobremesa), I hopped-skipped-and-jumped over all the etiquette that was expected at the table.

Even today, when I look back, I love the memories. I also am glad someone took the pains to teach me. Day after day, very patiently, Daddy would check me gently about something I said or something I did that could have been done differently and properly. Most of these would be on how to respond to Mummy’s disciplinary actions! He’d repeat the same things, kindly and softly, to remind me. He knew me very well and he understood that I wasn’t flouting the rules in defiance or rebellion. He also knew that his gentle correction would imprint on my young mind lessons for life. He remained my guide, mentor, and confidante, even when I was a mom myself.

He wasn’t known to write letters to anyone unless necessary. But, I received his letters quite often when I married and moved to another state. I would be thrilled to see his almost illegible (but neat) handwriting on the familiar inland letter he used when he wrote letters. Mummy would use letter paper and envelopes!

There’s so much I’ve profited by having such a father. I would have failed miserably in the biggest test of strength and courage I faced in my life if I didn’t have his teaching to fall back on. I fell many times, but each time his words, lessons would pick me up, give me strength, build up my flagging faith in God, and set me on my way. His counsel to “trust in the Lord, and don’t despair, he is a Friend so true, no matter what your troubles are Jesus will see you through,” has brought me thus far safe and sound. I am blessed to have had him as my ‘Daddy!’

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On this Father’s Day, I celebrate my guide, my mentor, my strength… Daddy, you were the best dad, and I thank God you were mine!

 

 

I Got Mail – Jacqueline Kennedy Replies

During my big moves from one country to another, thrice, I gave away, sold quite a lot of my personal belongings, and also lost quite a bit. No, not because of lost baggage, that’s not happened yet, thankfully. It was through leaving behind, in safekeeping, some of the stuff that I cherished and valued. All that just disappeared. When I asked for it, they said they didn’t know where it was! Without going into too many details, let’s just say I resigned myself to the loss, and after a few more queries off and on, I accepted the fact that I had lost my precious things. The most precious among those were all my photographs! Heaps of loose ones and many in the albums. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not a pity party, I just wanted to show how thrilled I was to discover two very old envelops among some of my original documents. They happened to be two replies from Jacqueline Kennedy (on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy!) to two of my letters sent to her. Why did I write to her?

Honestly, it was only because I was moved by the assassination of JFK and the pictures I saw of a bereaved Jackie and the two little children. I couldn’t care less that he was the President or what the implication and situation of this unforeseen incident would be. I was just 8 years old when I wrote that first letter of condolence!

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This was the first reply that arrived almost 4 months later. 

The memory of that morning, when the news flashed across the world, is tinged with humor because of my reaction. I can clearly recall how Daddy read the headlines and exclaimed, “Oh no! They shot him!”

I dashed to the room in consternation and dread not knowing who had been shot. The memory of my uncle getting shot in a hunting accident popped into my mind.

“Who? Who Daddy? Who got shot?” 

“Kennedy. John Kennedy. They assassinated him,” he said crestfallen and obviously emotional. That was something we never saw. He wasn’t a man who showed his softer emotions. 

I thought John Kennedy was a fellow officer in the Navy, or then one of our neighbors in the Defence Officers residences.

“How do you know? Did you see it?”

“Everyone’s shocked,” said Mummy, “you can see people outside talking about it.”

“Did you see him, Mummy?”

“Yes,” she said and went off to see to whatever it was she was doing. 

I dashed to the balcony behind and leaned over to see… but I saw nothing that I thought I would see. I had expected to see a body and… well, you see, I was an over-imaginative little girl, all excited about a shooting, and I had these pictures in my mind of one of those cowboy movie scenes. I guess I expected to see Kennedy sprawled on the street with a bullet hole in his head, dead center!

“Where’s Kennedy? There’s no one outside except Major K and Squadron Leader G and some others I don’t know,” I was disappointed. “You said you saw Kennedy, Mummy, you said you did.”

She burst out laughing. “I was talking about the pictures in the newspaper. Kennedy is the president of America.”

“I want to see them too.”

I walked away and saw the newspaper photos. I was disappointed! Nothing as dramatic to see as I had imagined.

Later, Daddy called me and sat me down. I heard how he was shot and that his wife was sitting beside him when it happened. He explained who a President of a country is; and how important the President of America is, and he showed me the pics of the children and spoke about how small they were and how sad it was that they should lose their Daddy so early. Then he showed me Jacqueline’s photograph. JFK’s pics. I fell in love with both of them.

“She’s so pretty. And he’s so handsome.”

And automatically, the drama was created. From cowboys to fairy tales my mind conjured up a tragedy… I felt really sad. I was heartbroken for her and her lovely kids.

I opened my heart and spoke about my feelings and Daddy listened quietly. I have no recollection of what my 8-year-old mind was thinking and expressing, but I do still recall how my heart was aching for them.

Finally, when I was spent, it took a day or two, Daddy asked me if I would like to write Mrs. Kennedy a letter, “Let her know how sorry you are for her and her children’s loss,” he said.

And that’s how I wrote a two-page (notebook pages) letter to her. I introduced myself first and then went on to say how sorry I was to hear about her loss. I showed it to my father, who read it, said it was very nicely written and then, without any editing or corrections, he sent it off. The letter had a long way to travel and in those days, it took anything between 3-4 months to reach an overseas destination.

Expressing my grief in writing was cathartic. I guess that is why my father had suggested I do it. I soon forgot about the letter until one day, they handed me an envelope with Mrs. Kennedy’s name on it. I was ecstatic. Not even in my wildest dreams did I expect anyone from there to respond to an 8-year-old’s scribbled condolences. But, they did. I held the black-rimmed card in my hand unbelieving that it was actually a letter addressed to me on her behalf.

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It didn’t matter to me that it was one of the hundreds that must have been sent out all over the world. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t written it or that she wouldn’t have even read my letter. Yes, Daddy explained that to me. I understood that she couldn’t have done it herself. Besides, “she must be so sad,” I thought.

That letter addressed to ME was satisfying. And that it came in response to mine, was even more gratifying. After all, I was just a little girl who didn’t even know what the president of a country meant. It was just the horror of the assassination and the genuine sadness that I felt and in some way understood. I felt a deep sympathy for them.

The incident was soon forgotten as many other things occupied and hogged the attention of this 8-year-old. We changed residence and I had to make new friends, get used to using the school bus, and also the new class in the new session. Time went by and soon it was nearing Christmas. As I made a list for Santa Claus, I thought about the Kennedy kids. Would they be making lists for Santa? Would they be celebrating Christmas?

In our society, usually, festivals aren’t celebrated if a death occurs in the family during that year. I was sad once again for the Kennedy family! So, I wrote another letter and handed it to Daddy. He read it and nodded his head in approval. “Is it ok to write a letter now? Will they read it?” I wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. I just wanted to share their sorrow. Anyway, my father thought it was the right thing to do and sent this one too on its way.

I forgot about it. The months passed. And once again, I was surprised by a familiar envelope. This time around, I didn’t even harbor a sliver of hope for a response. My letter had been just a letter of love, hope, and caring. Something one would write to a friend or family. Who was I? Just a 9-yr-old girl from faraway India. But, they did reply on behalf of Mrs. Kennedy.

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This time receiving a reply taught me something. Courtesy, formal etiquette, and consideration. My letter could have been ignored or worse not considered worthy of a reply. Another thing I noticed was that each envelope was addressed by hand and the thought of the sheer numbers of envelopes that had to have addresses written on them zapped me. Some effort! This time around, it wasn’t a black-rimmed (mourning) letter paper.  

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I’ve carried these around with me for 55+ years! Every time I look at them, I wonder at the little girl who felt so deeply for the tragic loss of this family and expressed it of her own accord. It surprises me more because I was a shy girl. I wasn’t outgoing nor so open with my emotions with strangers or extended family. I could be open and free only with my immediate family. So, yes, it was a hidden part of me that released itself much, much later in life… some decades later! #oldletters #memorabilia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lockdown Home Schooling

It’s been some time since the lockdown, and homeschooling is on in our home as it is in homes across the globe. With a WFH schedule for the adults, schooling three kids with ages ranging from 10+ to 3+, it’s quite a challenge. Add to that some activities to keep them engaged, entertained, engrossed, and not 24×7 on the iPad or iPhone (10+ girl), or watching TV!

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5-yr-old M did a great job in this fill-in-the-blanks test! She did it in a jiffy too! Now, she’s keen to move on to the table of 3.

Then, of course, there’s the looming threat of a hangry’ outburst. They need food to chew on (perpetually) before they bite off each other’s heads! So I dash to the kitchen, my head in a swirl. Peanut butter sandwich…as I spread the butter I re-run a passage I was working on…editing… “that part needs a rewrite”… “What could be a better word for…” I switch channels and get back to the food one… ok, a ham and marmalade one too…and what did Z want? And these are only the in-betweens, there’s lunch beeping, “what’s for lunch?” in another corner of my head!

Keeping their hunger pangs down with this, that, or the other something light they can snack on between meals, without losing their appetite for a proper meal is a daily challenge. There are days when I’m just a breath away from climbing the walls. I let off steam by deep breathing and muttering mantras (I’m doing good. I’ve got it under control. I can do it. I’m patient…) under my breath so they can’t hear, and I do the best I can. 

We’re all trying to do the best we can! These little ones must find it even harder to adjust to being locked in, away from friends, and school with its activities and community. This thought helps me to rein in the frustration and sail on even keel even in choppy waters. But I have my human frailties and limitations too. So I need to accept and acknowledge my feelings of inadequacy that overcome me, at times, and the fatigue, both mental and physical.

I love having the kids around. I am closer to them and am a part of their life more than ever now. We share so much more… conversations, jokes, games, and camaraderie! And I do love doing their lessons with them and teaching them some new things too.

This brings me to the subject of this post… Math… the bane of my life 🙂

I’ve been getting 5 yr-old M to do single-digit addition sums and made a small step into single-digit subtraction. She’s learned her two tables and can max her revision tests: oral and written. Just the other day, I gave her a written test with blanks and she did very well: All correct answers!

As I watched her excited and loving her numbers; sums, tables, and tests, I thought of a 6-7-yr-old me and how I disliked arithmetic. And how tables tripped me up when I was quizzed in an oral test! As she rattled out her answers in her oral test, I compared it to the picture of me and my orals in the same two-three tables. It was funny and I found myself laughing. It was such a contrast in every way – the teachers (me Vs my mum), the students (me Vs M), and the love of the subject (me Vs M).

A foray into my journals threw up this short entry:

Two times Nine is…..umm…is…er…

I think I should add a few incidents with Mummy. Daddy’s been hogging all the space till now. Not that there’s much that transpired with her and me together…..I was always a Daddy’s girl…a tomboy. Anyway, Mummy was (as all mummies were in their homes) my teacher at home. Very bad really, for me, when it came to Arithmetic because she was short on patience and I was short on memory, especially when it came to multiplication Tables. By the end of an interminably long study hour, I’d manage to finally get through one Table and escape.

Oh yes! Escape it was. For my face, which would be burning with the tight slaps she’d land so precisely on my small cheeks, and the small palms that got whacked with a ruler, or my legs that got thwacked with a ladle or whatever was in her hands. Getting away was the greatest relief of the day.

Poor thing, she must have been relieved too! When I think back to the almost stupid way I’d stare at her, while I stumbled and hemmed and hawed my way through the same old Table day after day, my heart goes out to her…..any one would go crazy. So I had to find a method to remember my Multiplication Tables and avoid being slapped. And what a way I devised!!

I’d generally wait till she was in the kitchen instructing the cook and doing odds and ends. I would stand against the door jamb, in the pantry, and my elder brother would stand behind me hidden from her view. Then I’d very quickly and very loudly say the whole Table and hey, without a mistake! Jasper’s prompting got me a lot of praise and shorter study hours, till the day she decided to quiz me. My prompter failed me. Ah! It was back to the grind and a good slapathon and copious tears.

I couldn’t get why she got so impatient and exasperated. She, I guess, couldn’t understand why her bright daughter, good in all other subjects, cultural activities, sports, and discipline was so daft with numbers.

The slapping didn’t last long, though. I sobbed my heart out sitting on Daddy’s lap and convinced him that I was scared of her punishments and so I couldn’t remember anything. He must have spoken to her. She must have understood or found it a huge relief that she was off the hook if I didn’t fare well in the exam 🙂 Whatever, the punishment went back to a longer study hour or Time Out. Grounded. No playing outside with my friends or even my brother. I didn’t mind that because my brother and I found enough of recreation and fun things to do inside the house too.

My grandkids, four of them from 5-10-year-old, are good with numbers… brilliant, in fact! For some reason, that makes me happy!

PS: I still dislike Math! And I’m totally against slapping!

PPS: Just for the record:

1. Mummy was an awesome teacher in everything else. I’ve learned a lot from her. Her love of writing poems, rhymes instilled a love for words and writing. Her expertise in cooking. Her energy and spirit in tough times. Her resourcefulness. Her talent in singing (she sang alto), sewing, and embroidery. Her jovial nature and the laughter that always hovered behind her lips. Her helpful nature. There was so much I had to take away from her to build up my strengths. Her presence, in the house, meant a lot to me.

2. It was not considered as abuse, in India, in those days, to slap a kid and corporal punishment was allowed in schools too. And many kids, even girls, must have got a slap or two or three or more from their moms. Luckily, things have changed since our days.

 

Money Bags Year 2020

I had met a girl, a long time back, in India. It was the year 2011. She had this ‘spiritual’ group. She said it was about Reiki. I had no idea that Reiki involved prayer groups. They had prayer circles all over the country, according to her, and her group in G’gaon, connected with one in Mumbai.

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These prayer warriors would be online and you could request them to say prayers for you or anyone or any situation you wanted prayers for. I had no idea who they worshipped. According to them, it was all Reiki! And I was left with that vague explanation.

What I learned, after asking around, Reiki wasn’t this. I attended a few of her group meetings but stopped when I found it didn’t mean anything; there was nothing to learn. No knowledge being imparted either. If all one had to do was sit in a circle on the carpet, offload something bothering you by speaking out, write whatever problem or anxiety you were burdened with, and crumple the paper and throw it in the bin placed in the center, and finally hold hands and meditate, I was fine with meditating and praying on my own! I dropped out of the group.

But, I kept up the social connection with her. We didn’t meet often except for visits on festival days. I don’t communicate with her anymore.

Here’s one email she’d sent me in 2011.

The year 2011 – is called as Money bags Year

In the Year 2011 July has

….5 Fridays,
….5 Saturdays
….5 Sundays.
And this happens once every 823 years.

This is called money bags.

This year we’re going to experience four unusual dates.

1/1/11, 1/11/11, 11/1/11, 11/11/11

And that’s not all…

AMAZING ACTIVITY

Take the last two digits of the year in which you were born –
Now add it to the age you will be/are this year…….

The results will be 111 for everyone in the whole world.

This is the year of the Money!!!

Do you see any connection with money? And this was supposed to be sent to 8 people or face bad luck!

I didn’t realize, I had written about this Money Bags Year thingy in my journal! I happened to find it as I was rifling through some of my old notes, journals, and notebooks. I found it so silly that people would actually believe such things! Well, it certainly wasn’t a Money bags year for me that year, or any other year, for that matter! But I guess I can’t complain because I didn’t send it on to anyone else. I’m not an idiot!

So I said different things to different people in the group to see how they’d respond.

To those I said I never sent it to eight people, they would pull down the corners of their mouth, shrug their shoulders and say…

“Well, you should have! How can you say it’s BS if you didn’t send it?”

To those, I said I did, there would be a blank stare and another rejoinder with a shrug…

“I don’t know. Maybe you didn’t believe it!

How convenient 🙂

Anyway, since this was the first time I had got anything like this in the mail, it was a funny thing. And by the way, not even one of those who believed in this had any specific reason to support their belief. It’s funny how someone can believe that a year with a particular number of Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays could become a magnet for money.

The explanation is so much nonsense. And the group that was sharing it, and telling me to believe it, consisted of educated folk working in good positions in big companies. How could they be so silly! 

It’s so easy to verify these things, and yet, there are people blindly believing anything and everything without trying to verify it. 

As for me, I was having an out-of-money experience! That was the only (dis)connection I found to money… I had more pictures in the pockets of my wallet where the money used to be. And trust me, I found it easy to meet expenses, I found them everywhere I went.

Methinks, if they received this message with some mumbo jumbo, they’d have believed it too and sent it to 8 people!: “The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.”

I heard that even now there’s a similar one doing the rounds for May 2020! I’ve attached an excerpt from the article and you can read more about it. The link is below.

The 823 Years Myth

If you have an email or a social media account, chances are that you have come across a viral post that claims an upcoming month has a rare combination of weekdays. Share it, the message states, or beware of some bad luck.

A recent version goes something like this:

May 2020 will have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays. This happens only once every 823 years. The Chinese call it “silver pockets full” or “money bags.”

The email is partially right. May 2020 does have 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays, and so does May 2848. But this is neither special nor unusual. You won’t need to wait for another 823 years to see this weekday combination to occur in the month of May. Just 6 more years, because in 2026, May also has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays.

A calendar month that contains 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays actually occurs nearly every year— October 2021, July 2022, and December 2023 all have the same weekday pattern. https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/823-years.html

And that’s a wrap for the day!

Picnics in the car or in the trunk!

We get rare occasions to drive out with the kids and let them release a lot of pent up energy plus fill up on fresh air, and get some reprieve for ourselves before we burst a blood vessel! So last weekend, we had to pick up some essentials from Sussex that weren’t available in our city. The forthcoming drive coincided with a pleasant, sunny day, so we decided that the family could go along. It would be a long drive through beautiful scenery on either side of the highway. 

It sure was a relaxing drive over wide, uncrowded, and partly undulating roads. We could keep the windows partially open to let in the fresh, cool breeze and no one felt sick. Thankfully. There are two of us who have motion sickness. We were driving too fast for me to take pics along the highway. Neither could we stop en route for me to snap any memories. So I missed that bit. 

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We picked up what we needed and then decided to eat lunch. So we picked up food from the drive-thru at Tims and McDonalds; found ourselves a spot in the parking, and had a picnic in the car. There were these pretty picnic tables and benches right there but using them was out of the question. The three girls were super thrilled with this new spate of picnics in the car. 

And then, it was time to get back.

We settled down. Seat belts checked for the kids. All fine. Let’s go.

The car wouldn’t start. The battery was down. Shoot!

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It was early evening still. A search for help got us a guy who said he’d come down and boost the battery. The three young ones were the only ones thrilled about the stuck situation. They decided to play treasure Hunt (of all things) inside the car. Well, they managed to do a good job of hiding stuff and locating them. My woolen cap, pockets, handbag, nooks and crannies in the car… wherever they could hide an LOL, or a lil troll toy person, they hid it. If we were worried about how to keep them entertained, we needn’t have bothered.

Relief!

The man arrived in thirty minutes, and in less than five got the car going! We were back on the highway with three happy and spent girls. They were quiet (relief again!) and whatever small talk was made was little and low. They hummed and sang a bit with the radio, then the younger two dozed off.

Picnic in the trunk 

Before I started on this one, I wondered what to say – trunk, boot, or dickey. What I would be referring to happens to be called by different names in English in different countries. It would be a ‘trunk’ in North America; a ‘boot’ in England; and a ‘dickey’ in India. North America won the toss, so trunk it is.

The weekend before our Sussex drive, we had a fine evening at the nature trail park. This time, since it was planned, we had packed sandwiches and chips and picked up tea from Tims. Here, in the wide, open spaces, the girls could get out of the car and stretch their legs. They were not expecting a picnic so were very glad we had packed one.

It was cold with a chill breeze blowing. The sunshine was intermittent with large clouds obscuring the sun. Their father laid out some covers in the trunk and the three scrambled in with a lot of excitement. A picnic in the trunk was a new one for them. 

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I sipped my tea leaning against the car and watched the gulls sauntering about totally unafraid and unconcerned with the five unobtrusive humans. Or perhaps they didn’t hover above and around us because we weren’t feeding them! Then, one of them came gliding down, wings outstretched and landed a few feet away. It drew my attention as soon as it touched down.

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It landed on one wheel.. that translates to leg! Oh, dear! Whatever happened to its other leg, I wondered aloud. “They stand on one leg like cranes,” said my son nonchalantly. “No”, they don’t. Or do they? I haven’t seen any standing on one leg!” I was curious. 

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I sipped my tea and kept my eye on the one-legged gull. Just when I was sure it’s leg must have got tangled in something and broken off or worse it must have been bitten off by some predatory creature, it put down its other leg briefly, not quite putting it flat to hold the weight of its body. It swayed a bit. A minute or less and the leg went up again. It didn’t come down for the next fifteen minutes. My watch had provided me with an answer; it was injured. “I hope your leg gets well gull!”

We go out occasionally where we can get fresh air and maintain social distance too. But it’s not the same as before. We are forever alert and careful… no touching anything that’s around… no benches, railings, even tree trunks or leaves, and flowers. Not even the grass. Making sure to keep hands off our faces. Do we succeed all the time? No! Sometimes, by force of habit, unknowingly we touch the eyes, or cheek or… only to jump to alertness and wonder, if our hands had touched something it shouldn’t have before. There are these moments that lead to a small prayer.

It appears that we are slowly but surely getting into the groove of living with restrictions of a different kind. Of fears of a different kind. Of anxieties of a different kind. When will things go back to the normal we knew? Or is this going to be the new normal? To be honest, I am not going bonkers thinking about it. I have settled into a routine, more or less, and the WFH situation is not new for me. If there is one thing that I am concerned about and pray for, it is that we are well and safe. That is my prayer for the world too!

I hope, when this difficult time has passed, I can look back on these memories with joy and thank God for bringing us through it safe and sound.

When Normal Changes

My notes on Good Friday!

A lot has changed since Good Friday 2019 and today.

The kind of change we have never experienced before.

No church services, and it’s been that way for a long time.

No Holy Communion,

no church community gatherings for coffee after the service on Sundays!

A big part of our weekend routine and custom has been changed by a virus.

A virus that has descended on us out of the blue and struck us with fear, anxiety, and dread.

But, it has also opened our eyes to many things and set us thinking.

Introspecting on our past, our deeds, and greed as a human race;

our failings and our disregard for better sense and judgment. 

We turned away from God, and now we return to His mercy seat and beg for His grace and mercy.

My prayer for all – May God’s blessings be upon us and save us.

TTSP (this too shall pass).

May we come out of this wiser, humbler, kinder, more generous, and more considerate of others, and the earth.

Life is a gift. We cannot take it for granted.

The only similarity that day was… snow!

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The only similarity, of sorts, between Good Friday last year and this year:

We were heavily snowed under last year.  And this year, it snowed too, but unlike the previous year, it was a light snowfall. 

Thursday night, I was surprised to see it snowing when I peeked out the window.

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It didn’t appear heavy and I expected it to end before morning.

But it didn’t.

It was snowing in the morning too!

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The feeling of Spring; the grass beginning to turn green again, the weather warming up, has taken a step back.

It looked more like winter than Spring. 

I felt the cold, dark gloom of a Good Friday, ages ago.

The lockdown and social distancing irked more than it does daily and exacerbated the pall of gloom that had descended on me.

But hope springs, ever renewed.

Holy Saturday brought out the sun.

And then…

Easter dawned! Bright and beautiful.

Hallelujah!

The churches are empty, but so is the tomb!

I rest my hopes and prayers on Him,

who defeated death.

Did I lose My Identity?

Many years back, around 1987-88, I realized, I was better known as Viny’s mom, around the neighborhood we had moved to in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Later on, at the school where I taught and in which both my kids studied, I was addressed as “Joy Ma’am” in class but identified as Ranjit and Vineet’s mother. I found it amusing and people often commented on how I had lost my identity to my two little rascals!

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It was all in good humor and taken as such. But, in later years, it ceased to be a humorous comment. Losing one’s identity when one got married etc. etc. became an ego issue and people assertively professed – “I have my own identity.” “I am ME.” 

I didn’t quite get how a humorous quip like that became a serious issue. Even if someone had meant it seriously, it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit. 

Putting this into a simple, everyday situation, I believe each family and home rejoices in the worthy achievements of its children because they do contribute to them in many ways. Yes, I feel blessed, proud, grateful, and honored to be known as R & V’s mom. And I am further blessed to be known as this one’s grandmother or that one’s grandmother; that’s who I am to five lovely children.

So, years later, when someone said that I had now lost my identity to my grandkids, I wasn’t surprised. She went on to lament about how women had to lose their “identity” but men continued to be who they are. I didn’t bother to contradict her and let her be happy in her misery.

I don’t lose my identity if people recognize me as someone’s mother or grandmother or daughter just as a tree doesn’t lose its identity if it doesn’t bear fruit. Good fruit or bad, little fruit or an abundance… It owns its identity even though it may not be recognized by some.

I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me — they, and the love and loyalty I give them form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.~Veronica Roth

A changed surname didn’t rob me of my identity… of who I was. My inherent qualities, values remained. I didn’t become a stranger to myself. I was who I was before the name changed or the kids were born. The changes that came in added new roles and relationships; it taught me new things and helped me develop and grow in practical knowledge and in wisdom. Through it all, I was the same person; I didn’t lose ‘me’.

As a family, we connect to each other with love and bonding. How I conducted my relationship in this fold, in relation to the others, and my own values and beliefs formed my identity. This stretched to form my identity in my extended family; my husband’s family. But I didn’t lose my identity at all.

So, when I got married changing my surname didn’t present any issue at all. I didn’t feel isolated or cut off from my parents and roots, or different in my skin or have personality changes just because I had a new surname. 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

The other, the reverse of losing one’s identity, was gaining an illogical one! At our time, people discredited parents whose kids turned out as rotten apples. One cannot generalize these things. Worthy parents have unworthy children and vice versa. Most of us know someone or the other who are outstanding human beings in every way, but whose kid turns out just the opposite. And the other way round too.

I do not accept that one’s identity or worthiness, for that matter, is established only by the quality of one’s offspring or the other way round. And as for identity, I am someone’s daughter, wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, and grandma. I am all those even as I am my unique self. Each role I play has a unique part of me.

My identity is embellished by such references and it endorses the fact that our tree has grown and branched out, reaching for The Light; the most important and magical thing a tree needs to nurture and enrich its roots and fruit. I am blessed abundantly and may you also be gladdened when you “lose” your identity to your children!