Dasara (dussera) is a special time at my cousin's place as my cousin and her daughter are very skilled and everything on display is made with their own hands. And some of them cannot be made in advance like the dolls she made with vegetables this year (Pictures - previous post) and are created on the day of the display.This year I took a friend along - she is from the North-east and is visiting Bangalore and I thought she might enjoy this new experience.
Everything went well - we went, we saw, we admired; got our share of sundal and haldi, kumkum and some goodies.On our way back I received a call from my cousin telling me to come back as I had left my spectacles behind. Now without my spectacles I cannot read anything that is less than font size 20 but I keep removing them all the time and leaving them everywhere and about 25% of my day is spent looking for them. And since my cousin lives 25 km away and this takes a 25 minutes drive plus 50 minutes wait through jams,( yes, welcome to Bangalore!) I decided to return and reclaim the glasses.
I planned to get the glasses and start immediately so I left the keys in the car. But in a series of unplanned actions,we found ourselves locked out of the car. It was a Sunday afternoon and a festival day to boot and not any festival but Vijaya Dasami and hence it was daft even trying to look for a garage or a mechanic. We borrowed keys from other Santro owners in the neighbourhood and tried to force it open. No luck. Luckily the duplicate key was in my house and my son was in the house. So we decided to wait until the duplicate arrived. Meantime regretful self-reproach commenced among others: "oh if only I had not..." "No, I should have.." "No, no, it is totally my fault."
And there I was , totally detached from this guilt trip - calm, happy in the thought that we have a solution in sight. And I was telling them: "These things happen. Look at it this way, it could have been worse. I could have carried the duplicate and they could be in the bag inside the car right now. Or Siddhu could have been at work and we would have had no one to get the duplicate." (Husband was already out of town.) And the best part was that I was not doing this out of politeness or just to relieve their guilt. I honestly felt this way and I thought we were actually in the best possible scenario under the circumstances.And I surprised myself.

I do not know when I became like this because a few years ago,I would have been the first person to start fretting in such a situation. I would have thought of everything I should have, could have, ought to have done to prevent this and blamed me for not doing each of those. There would have been anger at myself and a sense of shame. Shame because in our circle all such goofs became legends with your byline by being narrated at every family gathering, in excruciating detail. One was surrounded by people who prided themselves on their perfection and lapses and mistakes were frowned upon with the contempt reserved for the incompetent.
For a while, when I was young it was important for me to be considered competent and infallible. But then one fine morning I woke up and said:"it is alright to make mistakes as long as they do not hurt anyone, are not harmful and can be corrected." I think that was the day I became an adult!

Things can go wrong despite the best intentions and meticulous care. And when they do, what can be worse than to obsess about them and flog yourself? How do you learn if you never make a mistake? I may be wrong but I believe that people who believe that things can go wrong are better at crisis management. Until a few years ago, I have noticed that in India the government owned airline was super efficient at handling delays while the new and naive private airlines staff were clueless if anything went wrong.
Additionally acceptance of what is less than perfect allows you to experiment and try out the untried and untested. As they say, a man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault. The good thing about life is that it in most cases, it offers you second chances and everyday need not be planned or executed with the precision required for a space flight.

I sometimes think that my obsession with lists and memo pads might have its roots in trying to ensure nothing goes wrong or nothing is forgotten or overlooked - basically trying to ensure that there are no mistakes from my side. But things can and do go wrong sometimes like they did on Sunday and it was nobody's fault. In the bargain we got to spend an hour more together chatting as there was nothing to do but wait. And if nobody makes mistakes, why are there duplicate keys?
Nowadays I don't mind being laughed at for my mistakes - if mistakes make my life colourful and enrich my experience, I'd rather choose a more colourful and enriching life than a boring perfect one.
These are pictures of Golu or the display of dolls during Navaratri at my cousin's place.
The theme this year is dress and everything on display has been made by my niece and my cousin.They have amazing talent and patience and above all the enthusiasm to do something totally different each year.


The bird that came out of this EGG (plant)
And that's the healthiest ice cream cone - large doses recommended for dieting!

sLIMEy smileys.

you know what to do if you want to release the prince(of capsicum)from his curse!

Notice something fishy about the aubergine?

alu-chicken and monster alus.

Pasta,rice and dal in a delicious....kolam

And my niece makes the prettiest ponchos and cutest booties and sweater sets for kids. Let me know if you have ideas on how to market them.

You are in the commercial centre of the city for a film and while you are in the vicinity you decide to drop into the bookstore and also squeeze in some long pending shopping. On the way back you are caught in the traffic and finally you are happy to be back in the 'comfort' of your own home after 5 hours of crowd and noise.
And your heart melts when a bouncy dog greets you at the gate and receives you with manic display of affection. Isn't it wonderful to know someone missed you so much? Life seems so beautiful.
Your want to slip your tired feet into the pair of comfortable slippers you use indoors and where are they?
"Munni, chappal?" and the maniac happily bounds off leading you to the back of the house. On the lawn are an assortment of slippers and socks along with your hairbrush and the dupatta you had worn that morning.
And the garden itself looks as if a`wild elephant just passed through it - plants pulled out of the ground and pots, lawn dug up in four places and the garden hose chewed up in several bits.
You try to catch the culprit and she runs all around the garden thinking it is playtime and she is all set to play "catch me if you can."

What about the other inmates of the house? How did she get up to this? what were they doing?
As expected,you find the son at the computer table and the husband behind a pile of newspapers - positions from which they might reluctantly budge if the roof falls on their heads. The acorn didn't fall too far from the tree - well that would have been too much of an effort for those genes.
"Hello, do you know what Munni has been up to?"
"Oh, she has been very quiet all this while. No problem at all."

The battle can wait. A cup of tea first. So you head toward the kitchen or what used to be the kitchen for now it resembles TV pictures of a scene after a natural disaster. The garbage bin has been carelessly left open for Munni to sneak in and play with its contents.And while sweeping the floor you pick up a long piece of black pasta which you would recognise later to be the remnants of your mobile phone charger!

Welcome to a "normal' day in the life of the owner of a thoroughly spoilt dog.

The scene could be straight from that charming tale of Marley, the world's worst dog - Marley & Me. Some of us are blessed with special kind of dogs. They never obey a rule, they never learn a trick and even if they learn, they will make you lose face by ignoring the command when you are proudly trying to show off. These are dogs that are deluded that they are humans and that they are so special that they can get away with their worst.And they usually do because they have the extra ordinary gift of making their home with hopeless dog lovers like me and John Grogon, the author of the book 'Marley & Me'

If you love animals for what they are and not for what they can do, you will love Marley & Me. The book is full of amusing anecdotes involving the huge, dumb, disobedient and yet totally adorable Marley - but every dog owner knows how 'amusing' these must have been at the time they happened. It takes unconditional love and unending supply of patience to put up with some of their childish shenanigans and it is a lot of extra hard work but worth every bit of it if you can draw up the balance sheet and see what they give you in return. As John Grogon says in the book:
"Was it possible for a dog - any dog, but especially a nutty, uncontrollable one like ours - to point humans to the things that really matter in life? I believed it was. Loyalty. Courage. Devotion. Simplicity. Joy. And the things that did not matter, too. A dog has no use for fancy cars or big homes or designer clothes. Status symbols mean nothing to him. A waterlogged stick will do just fine. A dog judges others not by their color or creed or class but by who they are inside.A dog doesn't care if you are rich or poor, educated or illiterate, clever or dull. Give him your heart and he will give you his. It was really quite simple,and yet we humans, so much wiser and more sophisticated, have always had trouble figuring out what really counts and what does not."

He might tear a wall down when left alone in a thunder storm or ruin a handwoven Persian carpet but then he would also follow his master everywhere,climbing stairs not minding the ache in his legs and knees ravaged by arthritis till his last days. That kind of devotion is something you cannot buy for any amount of cash.
For everything else, as we know, there is master card.

Marleys and Munnis - they make us see the essential aspects of life and try to make us better human beings.
I grew up in a family in which the women especially indulged in some blind practices without ever questioning them; they just followed what was handed down to them from their mothers and mothers-in-law. Grandmothers were a powerful force in the families and one saw a docile mother implicitly obeying her - no questions. There could be disagreements at the personality level but when it came to traditions they were hand in glove.
Some of them were pretty elaborate like those relating to birth, marriage and death. Some seemed more like habits of someone with OCD like the way one had to clean one's hands before and after touching several things. The concepts of "Madi" and "Pathu" in a Tambrahm household needed the skills of a rocket scientist to unravel. For the uninitiated, Madi is when you had to be clean and pure to do certain things like cooking and pooja. This involved having a bath, often wetting your hair too and wearing clothes that have not been touched by anyone who is not practising Madi. Pathu is an extreme form of hygiene which meant not mixing cooked things with uncooked things. But it is not all that simple as it seems - the finer intricacies are mind boggling. Suffice it to say I always did something wrong and incurred the wrath of my grandmother whose madi and pathu I polluted.

As a teenager, I used to be fascinated by some of these practices and angry about the discriminatory ones. But whenever I questioned a tradition or a ritual the answer was the same:
"This is the way we have always done it in this family." If I persisted more I was told that I was going to make the Gods angry and they would pierce my eyes.
That was a powerful threat.And when I got married one of the important and repeated advices I received from my aunts and grandmother was:
"Don't be impertinent. Learn the practices in their house and follow them. Else it is your children who will suffer."

The best part was that even though I married another TamBrahm there were so many subtle variations in the practices in their family and deviations were not tolerated. And when I asked my m-i-l for the rationale I got the answer:
"This is how we have always done it in this family." How enlightening!

And that is exactly how traditions and rituals get perpetuated - unquestioning obedience, irrational fear and blind faith. Once the ground is fertile with these nutrients it is easy for those wielding power to use these effectively to reap their benefit. So many practices still thrive around the world on the only excuse:
"We have always done it this way and we do not have to change." Remember the recent cases in Haryana where the Panchayat separated a couple and took away their children for they married within the same gotra? Remember our discussion here on the power of Horoscopes and defects in natal charts?

Female circumcision a.k.a female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been in practice in many African countries for over 2000 years. It is still practiced in over 40 countries.It involves some very crude and dangerous methods done without medical assistance in many villages. This summer 2 girls died in Egypt after they were subjected to the procedure and there was an angry furore over this. The Egyptian health ministry banned the practice but the public reaction was that the ministry had no right to question a cultural tradition:
Osama Mohamed el-Moaseri, imam of a mosque in Basyoun, the city near where the 13-year-old girl lived, and died. “This practice has been passed down generation after generation, so it is natural that every person circumcises his daughter,” he said. “When Ali Gomaa says it is haram, he is criticizing the practice of our fathers and forefathers.”

Most parents fear that no man will marry an uncircumcised girl as it is a symbol of a woman's honour and chastity! You can read what WHO has to say on FGM here.
Such a dangerous and barbaric practice and yet people defend it on the grounds that this is how we have always done it in our community.

How come we abandon all reason, judgement and humanity when it comes to tradition and faith? Why is there a reluctance even to question it and understand it even from people who suffer under the weight of it?
Reminds me of a story a friend forwarded:

A group of scientists placed 5 monkeys in a cage and in the middle, a ladder with bananas on the top.Every time a monkey went up the ladder, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, every time a monkey went up the ladder, the others beat up the one on the ladder.
After some time, no monkey dare to go up the ladder regardless of the temptation.

The scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys. The first thing that this new monkey did was to go up the ladder. Immediately the other monkeys beat him up.
After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though he never knew why.

A second monkey was substituted and the same occurred. the first monkey participated in beating the second. Soon all the monkeys were replaced.What was left was a group of 5 monkeys that even though never received a cold shower, continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.

If it was possible to ask the monkeys why they would beat up all those who attempted to go up the ladder…..
I bet you the answer would be….
“I don’t know – that’s how things are done around here”
Does it sound familiar?

I agree that every culture has its own peculiar traditions but it is necessary for successive generations to evaluate them against external changes and see their relevance and usefulness. While I am all for preserving our culture and best traditions, it is important to throw out those that have outlived their purpose, those that have been proved unscientific and those that are repressive and barbaric. That things have "always" been that way is no excuse. Now is always a good time to throw them out and become a more humanistic society.