Friday, May 9, 2014

"A Tribute to my Mom"

               I grew up as second of four sisters. In India, in those times, having a son was a mark of heart bursting pride and people were always feeling sympathetic towards us. A typical conversation would start with, “how many brothers and sisters do you have?”, “We are four sisters,”I would reply and the aunty would go “Awwwww no brothers? Your poor mom.”  Yes, that’s how audacious and appalling some aunties could be! However, my mom never considered herself as poor mom, she never bemoaned that this was a misfortune or a shortcoming.  Infact, she told us that she would have been  happy with just two kids and it never mattered to her one bit that she did not have a son, my dad was the one who wanted a boy!

    Sometimes, I envy my mom because she got to marry my dad who I think with his sharply chiselled features, over six feet height and lively demeanor was the most handsome man on this planet. They were total opposites, my mom calm and introverted, my dad social and very dynamic, get a few drinks in him and he would be the life of the party, you would only hear his booming voice recounting tales of his army days and everybody would be listening to him. Unfortunately, my dad passed away when he was only 51  and as much as we missed his loving presence we knew that if in his place our mom had passed away he would not have been as strong, he would be completely shattered and he would not have been able to care for us by himself like my mom did.

                My mom is a strong independent woman who worked as a teacher, drove a fiat confidently in the crazy Indian traffic, looked after her kids and did not take bullshit from anybody. She was and is liberal, unorthodox, honest, patient and hardworking. She raised four teenage girls by herself at a time when single moms were rare, there was no support group of similar moms or any kind of single moms club. She was earning the bacon, shopping for it and cooking it to feed us. I am always amazed at how good she is with money, saving it, investing it, growing it through smart choices so her daughters could have a good education and a good lifestyle. My mother is very straightforward, she will give you her honest opinion, political correctness be damned! She is also very proud and never takes financial help from anybody, not even her kids who would love to help. She likes to give but not to receive.

                Her childhood was pretty amazing. She grew up in the small picturesque town of Haveli Kharagpur in the state of Bihar in India. The town was named after its Rajput ruler from long ago who was called Kharag Singh. He had five daughters who killed themselves by jumping off a mountain into the waterfall and they did this to escape the abuse of the Muslim ruler who overpowered and overthrew their dad, Kharag Singh. The waterfall was called panchkumari (5 sisters) waterfall and it fell into a gorgeous lake which joined into  a river. My mom, along with her six siblings and many cousins spent their childhood climbing these mountains, taking a dip in the hot mineral water springs in the forest and admiring the beauty of nature, picking flowers and chasing goats . She did not go to school as there were no schools for girls (My son Arjun commented- "wow what a good life- no school")but my grandfather and other teachers taught her at home. She took the high school exam, went to college and got her B.ed. and M.ed. and became the  principal of the first girls school in her town called Panchkumari Vidyalaya for girls. I think it is so remarkable that she persevered with her studies as her being financially independent and having a job was so important for our well being later in her life.

               I will always be mad at God for being so unfair and testing her strength again by taking away my older sister Shweta at the age of 25. The death of her beautiful, strong, vibrant  and charismatic daughter broke her down and shook her to her core. She still picked up the pieces and is involved and present in the lives of the rest of her daughters and her beautiful grandchildren. Recently, I enjoyed listening to her singing lullabies to put my four month old nephew to sleep. My mom is a great singer and sometimes feels sad that she could not pursue classical music as a career.She is also a wonderful chef and her chilli chicken is to die for. She always pampers us with our favorite food and I get mad at my husband for liking food which is time-taking to make like bharva karela which she will make for him, she does have the patience to empty out the karela (bittergourd), boil it, make the stuffing, stuff it and then fry it- all for her precious son in law!

             We all love  her very much, she is our source of inspiration, of guidance, she is our hero.She used to say that our dad spoilt his daughters but I think she spoilt us more specially after he was gone so we never felt that we lacked anything.  I would like to end by  quoting the words of a song “yeh to sach hai ki bhagwan hain, hain magar phir bhi anjaan hain, dharti pe roop ma baap ka, us vidhaata ki pehchaan hai” (briefly translated the lyrics mean that god exists on earth in the form of our parents.)  
Happy Mother’s Day mom today and every day.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"Where are the Whales?"

                    On a recent trip to Boston we decided to go on a whale watching cruise. Over the years, we have made numerous trips to Boston as my sister lives there with her family and we have seen almost everything that needs to be seen and done almost everything that needs to be done.  Aquarium, Duck tours, Imax theatre, Prudential Center, Boston Commons, Harvard Square, Quincy Market, Cambridge , we have seen it all. However, the whale watching trip was one thing we had not done together as a family before and this time we agreed to go for it. I had some reservations, I am terribly scared of terribly deep water and all its creatures but my children reminded me that humpback whales do not eat humans. “Well, what if there is an adventurous eater out there who is sick of eating fish and wants to try something new like a human?”, I shuddered, but, I pulled myself together as I knew nobody would fall into the water!

             We boarded a Catamaran (a big three deck ferry) and headed out from Boston harbor. It was ten in the morning , a beautiful, absolutely gorgeous day, the wind was blowing, making our hair rise up and dance, causing my husband to sing to me – kale nagin ke jaisi zulfein teri kali kali…. And I laughed, and we were happy, excited and looking forward to our adventure. Boston’s skyline looked very beautiful in the background and we were pointing out our favorite buildings to the kids. The whale watching area we were heading to is called the National Marine Sanctuary and it is a underwater plateau at the mouth of Massachusetts bay where whales flock to every summer to socialize and to eat their favorite food.

         We were inhaling the fresh, salty ocean breeze, looking up at the serene blue sky and then looking down at the sparkling blue sea, the kids were dancing around on the deck and we were enjoying ourselves. Soon, the kids spotted a little snack and drinks selling enclave and we ate some potato chips and drank some soda and everything was good. We saw some beautiful sights like the lighthouse, some big vessels and beautiful ships passing us by and some seagulls flying around.

         And then, the sea got really rocky. The day got rough, the Catamaran was swaying from side to side, the winds were strong, it was hard to keep your balance but there were no announcements made to tell people to stay in their seats. “Hmmm, why is it that on an airplane at the first sight of the smallest turbulence you are supposed to be on your seats with seatbelts on and your kids cannot even use the restroom but on a ship rocking so hard you are free to wander around and fall?” I thought. We decided to go and sit inside in the covered portion of the Catamaran and watch the sea from the windows.
       We had reached the area for whale watching and everybody had their cameras ready and were on the lookout, scanning each and every part of the vast sea around us inch by inch with the utmost focus and dedication.  Somebody screamed something on the second floor deck and everybody rushed to get there falling on top of each other but there was nothing in the sea.  It was a false alarm for whale viewing and you could hear the murmur of disappointment and people trudging back to their seats! Meanwhile the naturalist on board the ferry was droning on the mike “These Northern Hemisphere whales reach an average length of 50 feet, and weigh about 37 tons! The humpback got its name because of the way its back arches out of the water when getting ready to take a deep dive. "Megaptera" is its true scientific name, which means "large-winged," in reference to its long flippers.” And I am going, “shut up already, we have not seen a single whale and here you are rubbing salt on our wounds”. 

            Some people were getting seasick, Armaan (my 9 year old boy) started feeling very queasy, his stomach was hurting and he was crying, I just put his head in my lap and I was comforting him. I get really upset when any of my kids are in pain, I just do not see joy in anything around me. Arjun, my twelve year old, in an effort to motivate his brother said, “Armaan, you cannot handle this, can you imagine the plight of the people on the Mayflower, they were cramped and wet and sick and they weathered some storms.” I told Arjun to please be quiet and to please leave us alone.
           Now, more and more people and kids were getting sick and vomiting bags were being handed around. This big chested, tall, well-muscled Italian man across from me was not feeling well at all and going red in his face he was throwing up in his bag which his slim, petite, beautiful wife was dutifully taking from him , sealing it and walking over to the trash can to throw it and she did this a few times .I told my husband “people say love is all kinds of beautiful poetic things but I have now realized that true love is when you can collect vomit from your partner in a bag, seal it, throw it in the trash and not say a big yuck or make a bad face and complain about it”

               Long story short, the remainder of the trip still had the ferry rocking like a seasaw, I was getting impatient to get back to land and thankfully Armaan went off to sleep. They made an announcement that since there were no whale sightings we could get a set of free tickets which could be redeemed over the period of one year. Yeah right! I thought, half or more of the people are visitors from other cities and even other countries, I doubt they would come back again within a year!
              We were overjoyed to get back on land, Armaan woke up and was feeling better, Ajay (my husband) wanted to walk around downtown a little bit to stretch our legs but we all said a big no to his idea. It was almost two, we were starving and needed to eat. Arjun, my budding chef and foodie had seen a cooking show on Netflix which said that Maine lobster roll at a place called B and G Oysters was among the top ten sandwiches in the nation and so off we went looking for this place on Tremont Street. We did find it, but we had to go around in a few circles to find parking till one car left and we took its spot. In times like these, when you have to parallel park on a busy road in a small spot between a Ford truck and a minivan I really thank God for my husband who can do it as I sure cannot. God bless my husband , I am so so lucky to have him Amen , now lets go and eat.
              The food was at B and G was great, they heard our story and felt sorry for us and gave us a free appetizer, fried fish with Aaoli along with the fried oysters on a bed of delicious mustard sauce which we had ordered. Arjun ate his Maine lobster roll, was happy with it, I breathed a sigh of relief and all was well in the world. The best part, we were going back to my sister’s house to spend time with her cute four month old baby.

Life lessons for my kids: Do not be depressed if half a day goes badly, rest of the day can still turn out good!
Things do not always go as planned, man proposes, god disposes.

"Don't Act Too Smart"

I have so many memories of growing up in a small town in India with three sisters and a bunch of cousins. We had impromptu picnics at the K...