During my visit to the U.S. this year, I noticed that my cousin always made sure that she left a generous tip wherever a tip was due, never ate messily or with her fingers publicly and did not do anything that is classified as "desi" behaviour. It is partly that she has been there for nearly 2 decades but I noticed that there was a conscious effort. When I mentioned this to her she said that when someone ridicules desis for these, she feels offended and hence the effort to make sure to avoid behaviour that left a negative impression about Indians as a whole.
Predictably this led to a heated argument between us on why it was bad to be different and why whatever American was better than anything Indian etc. But I do appreciate her desire not to be ridiculed, not to do anything that marked you out as different particularly when you have chosen to live there and make it your home.

We all make these kind of adjustments and consciously avoid certain kind of behaviour the moment we are in public or in the company of outsiders - like not belching or eating noisily. We have been told it is not polite and we do it out of respect for the sensibilities of others. We do it as much for fear of being judged or ridiculed behind our backs. Some of us, particularly the menfolk, shed this politeness at the doorstep along with their shoes when they enter their house and as long as there are no outsiders around they feel fine to let go and belch and fart freely. But there is a general understanding and respect for accepted public behaviour.

So why do some people feel offended when we talk about insufferable behaviour of Indians on flights from Singapore, Malaysia, Srilanka, and the Gulf countries - Pestering the attendants for free stuff, grabbing as much alcohol as possible, stuffing airline cutlery into their baggage and leaving the toilet in a mess? Criticism of their behaviour is considered class snobbery towards the poor labouring masses who want to get the maximum value for the fare they have paid for through their hard earned money.

I agree that the burden of the fare is more on them than the business traveller or holidayer. But why is it snooty to expect them to rise above that kind of behaviour? Is it bad to let them know that the other passengers have spent money on their tickets too and hence it is important to be considerate toward their fellow passengers by not shoving and shouting or by observing better toilet manners? I see that these very same people are capable of better behaviour when there are fines and punishments deterring these. Why is it bad to teach them to use freedom more responsibly and with consideration for fellow humans? I don't agree with this attitude that education and money has to be constantly apologetic and bend over backwards toward those who are uneducated or poorer. I can understand if they advocated patience - in stead they seem to justify that kind of behaviour and even seem to suggest that they have earned the right to it by virtue of having paid for the ticket. Should not the self appointed champions of the masses be happy if they learnt more civilised behaviour rather than being laughed at? And moneyed or non-moneyed, educated or not, class or mass - aren't we all seen as Indians the moment we are in a foreign airliner or foreign land? At least for that, should we not bring them up rather than going down to their level? There are times when we dont have to be like this only.
On one of the Television shows on the lives of celebrities, Cricketer Yuvraj Singh was the guest. Initially I got the impression that here was another rich spoilt kid who had it all tailor made for him until I heard him say that as a child he wanted to be a skater and he even won the National championship. But when he took the medal to his father he threw it out of the window and said he wanted to see his son play cricket and not a girl's game and for good measure he also threated Yuvraj that he would break his leg if he played any sport other than cricket.
And then they played a recorded footage where the father (Punjabi actor and former cricketer Yograj Singh) told his son that he had to play cricket and be the best for no reason except for the sake of his father. Apparently he was pained when his son played other sports without any special interest in Cricket and so one day he told him:
"Son, how do you want me to live in this world with the same face if you don't complete my dream? I want you to play cricket for the country and complete my unfulfilled dream."

And then followed years of rigorous training - six hours on the ground and four hours at home in the nights - and the rest as they say is history.

For those of you who do not know the saga of Yograj Singh, here it is in his words:
Years ago somebody snatched my right to play for the country. I lived this game all my life and then someone who was afraid that I would take his place in the team snatched it from me. These so-called living legends took the life out of my soul. the hurt they have caused will go with me to my grave.

If you are interested, you can read the rest of his words in this interview here where he says he breathes through his son. In fact you can read any interview with Yograj Singh. This is all he says over and over again.

I do not understand this whole business of sons fulfilling fathers' dreams - what about the son's own dreams? Why the hell is he made to live his father's life by proxy? And what kind of a father uses his child to have his revenge on people who were unfair to him? Of course our mythology has examples of this - for example Drupad who observed severe penance to please the Gods so as to have a son who would kill Drona and a daughter who would marry Arjuna through whom Drona caused his disgrace. That is all their purpose in life was to be - tools to help their father avenge the shame he suffered.

In the case of Yuvraj it all ended happily but what if he did not possess the talent or perseverance required? Imagine putting a child through this kind of torture if all he wanted was to skate or to play tennis. It seems like a classic case of child abuse to me. I know a boy who took to drugs in college to escape his sense of failure at not being able to live up to parental expectations - a very bright boy, only he did not enjoy doing what his parents wanted him to pursue. Left to himself, he might have been successful following his own passion.

Speaking of child abuse, I think the same of parents who put the child through similar torture in academics. For every Yuvraj tortured into cricket there are a thousand boys who are kept forcibly away from taking sport as a career. The arguments are too familiar to repeat.

I know some parents who start their day by taking the child to some tuition or other and then feed them breakfast and drop them in the school. In the evening they are waiting outside the school with snacks and a change of clothing after which the child is taken to some coaching class or other. They feel proud of their superior parenting skills. I say "Please let the child be." It is one thing to be supportive and encouraging. This is pushing, stifling, suffocating, imposing parental ego on the child killing his desires and passions. But they tell me that the child will thank them for all this when he gets into IIT or REC or one of the top engineering colleges. The child does not even know what he wants to do with his life. He is not allowed to think - the parents have already done it all for him. And I have heard many parents say that they wanted to be something but could not so they hope that their child would do it and "fulfill their dream."

Time we realised that we have the right to dream only for ourselves . Let the children have their own dreams. Too bad if we did not achieve ours in our lifetime - we have no business to dump it on someone else, even if we gave birth to that someone. Whatever else we can give them is of no use, if we snatch their dreams away from them.
This is a post on thoughts that lost their way and never got converted into blogposts. In the early days of blogging, I was eager to post everyday and kept my antennae up for bloggable ideas and that was a phase when posts rolled out even without many ideas. Over the years, after reading so many good bloggers, a kind of self regulation has developed and I don't rush to post just about every idea that springs in my mind. Sometimes I find other bloggers have developed the idea better and hence no need to repeat the same, sometimes I lose interest in the idea but most often I forget the idea. I would have liked to give the impression that my brilliant ideas have been lost to blog readers because of my forgetfulness and leave it at that but no, Eve had to expose me. She wants to know all these ideas that never got converted into posts. So here are some:

Often, I get ideas for posts from certain interesting comments on some of my posts.
For example Souvik commented on a recent post about the tedium of long marriage ceremonies. He said:
3 hours... & not even a single jhatka song to break the monotony...its worse than a Karan Johar multistarer

I thought of the possibilities if marriages were to be given over to event managers with sponsorships of the various events: kashi yatra sponsored by amity university offering the best options for higher studies
oonjal ceremony sponsored by "Swingers" dealers in best quality traditional oonjals and modern swings
Saptapadi sponsored by some jewellery/ sari shop or better still a foot cream product?

Then there was this comment by Raj on the post on child labour:
I am intrigued by how our collective consciousness suddenly gets raised. 10-15 years back, child labour was accepted, as normal. There was no hue and cry over Sivakasi's child labour. Now, we find it abhorrent, and rightly so.

What are the other practices that we accept as normal today but we will realise as completely wrong, when someone raises the consciousness?

I am sure there are some. Many changes that have taken place in traditional gender role stereotypes are examples of this. Younger woman do not seem to take to the idea of cooking as natural or normal feminine role . And younger men do not seem to expect it either. This is a minor example but I am sure that quite a few other practices will become obsolete when we realise how absurd or wrong they are. I need to give this some thought and do a post. Raj has touched upon the issue here in his post.

I saw the film Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal and came back thinking of our recent obsession with being victims of racism in other countries - how much of it is true and how much of it is just perception and shilpaesque manipulations? Rather than an effort to integrate more with the culture of the country of choice, these experiences seem to be breeding a reverse racism from the immigrant communities towards one another as well as the natural citizens of the country. And how practical it is to expect people from different cultures to understand and accept one another without any value judgements? Who is to make the first move? And is all this possible at all especially in today's context dominated by terrorism on religious, ethnic and ideological grounds?

After a spate of "entertainers" from bollywood and Tamil filmworld, I was wondering about the willingness with which we allow assault on our commonsense and intelligence in the name of entertainment. While sensible entertainers seem to break even , the biggest blockbusters are those that dish out massive amounts of trash amidst expensive settings and spectacular special effects by super heroes . I can understand poorer sections of population being attracted towards these glamorous dreams but what is in these that the educated and informed find so entertaining? And how come they are willing to accept racist, sexist remarks and vulgar double- entendres as entertainment and not be outraged by them?

While on the subject of Indian films I also wanted to do a post on male menopause - you know the kind of symptoms and behaviour displayed by the big Bachchan's roles in films like KANK and Nishabd ?

I visited a friend last week - she is 62 and her husband died last year leaving her with lots of happy memories of their 30 years of life together. She cannot speak three complete sentences without bringing him up - I can see how tough it is for her. The children live abroad. People say that one of the reasons for marrying is to have someone for you in old age. It seems that married or single, we are all ultimately alone in old age. I had so many thoughts on old age and loneliness on the day I returned from her house that I will convert into a post when I have confronted the issues mentally and consolidated them.

I also had an interesting discussion with asha on tolerance being a virtue or a dirty word. her take was:
Mere tolerance is a negative thing - it has such shallow roots and can be destroyed or swayed by any provocation. Its base is so fragile - it is just something we have told ourselves to do to avoid conflict, it is not based on any deep conviction.

When we take the trouble to know and appreciate another religion, to fathom its rich depths, to find out the reasons why they behave differently or have customs we do not approve of, the roots go in deeper.
If we have not done this, perhaps our secularism is based on indifference, and therefore extremely fragile?

My take was that tolerance is not a dirty word because even when we have tried to "understand" differences with another culture, religion, belief and failed in it, we owe it to others to tolerate the differences and live in harmony. For example I do not "understand" homosexuality but I still owe it to someone with such a preference to share any public space with me . This is tolerance because I know he/ she has as much rights as I do. When I can extend this courtesy even when I cannot understand, it is a higher virtue and NOT to be equated with indifference.

I bet there are a few more that I have forgotten. But as you may have seen from the list above, there hasn't been any serious loss to blogsphere. I bet someone else has already written about them and written much better than I could have. (Well, that is your cue to protest and push me to write.)
Lavs, Please take up the tag. I thought you had done the tag on 7 weird things. If you have not, Please take it up too!
Sumana tagged me to say Seven Random and / or Weird Things about Me. I thought I had done this some months ago but for some strange reason I cannot find the post. That may be taken as the first weird thing about me. I have distinct memories of certain events but I cannot for the life of me remember the details. The other day I met a friend from college who was recounting many funny and fun things we did and I had absolutely no recollections of those. It was like certain parts of my memory were dead. :(

2. I have mentioned my love for dusting, cleaning, mopping, washing in this space before. Think Danny Tanner from that television show "full House". He is my idea of a complete man - a man who finds it spiritually elevating to dust and clean has to be all good. Just imagine the possibilities on a romantic date - we could find the cleanest table ina dust free restaurant and discuss our favourite detergents and sprays! Even on trips abroad I love to shop in supermarkets for cleaning products, wipes and polishes. And those I cannot carry home I look at them lovingly and longingly. The day I found Mr Muscle in my supermarket, I grinned so much that my husband thought I had found my favourite perfume in the discount section.If ever I migrate to another country, this may be my top reason - the availability of a variety of cleaning products and equipment!

3. I do not cry at funerals - even of very dear ones. I feel very sad but I cannot cry with people around. But the instant I am alone I break down and cry in private for a long time.

4. I only know the left side of the road when I am driving. So when I come back on the same road I do not recognise it. So you can imagine my plight when roads become one way streets or they change routes. I feel I am in a new city.I keep going around the same streets in circles not knowing how to get out!

5. I enjoy humour, I love jokes but cannot tell a joke. I either laugh too much while narrating or forget the punchline or completely forget the joke midway making a joke of myself. I wrote a post about this handicap a while ago.

6. I have admirable self control in resisting sweets, fried snacks and chips until you force me to taste "just a little bit." And then I cannot stop until the entire exposed supply is finished. Now you know how my weight hit that awful number 70. It is all these loving friends trying to make me take "just a little bit" " for taste".

7. we do not realise some of our weirdness until someone points them out to us. On the last day in Delhi I was very hassled that I did not have an envelope to put the money I wanted to leave as a tip for the guest house caretaker. Somehow it seemed inappropriate to just press the note in his hand. My sister kept insisting that it was the same whether given in an envelope or openly but I was uncomfortable and we kept arguing and she finally said that she would do it. I still cannot understand why I was so fussy about the whole issue. I guess I am weird, that is why.

Now I have another pending tag -Eve's about 5 topics I wanted to blog about but could not/ did not and the why and wherefores of it. Now This one is difficult as I don't remember the beginning of my sentences by the time I reach their end. But I intend to sit down and make this list as it might serve as my to-do list for the future posts. very soon, Eve!

I am against child labour and would never employ someone less that 18 years old. Whenever my domestic help needed leave and sent her daughter to do the day's work, I have sent her back and managed on my own or if it is for a long period, I have borrowed the services of my neighbours' help for the temporary period. And for 6 years I have paid the tuition fee and examination fee for my help's daughter and also paid for extra tuitions when she failed in English and math in the 9th twice. At 18 now, the girl is just a 9th standard pass and is working in two other houses like her mother. She will be married soon and if her husband turns out to be another of those useless guys in their village, she is doomed for a house help's life and misery for the rest of her life.

I used to be appalled at my friend when she had her domestic help's 13 year old daughter staying with her to help her ageing mother. This girl used to help the ageing aunty make chai, cut vegetables, make chappatis, clean the table, dust their furniture etc. She went to school during the day and spent the rest of the time with them. They are Sindhis and she learnt to speak hindi and English fluently. She can lay the table like a lady, serve tea like an English woman, answer phone calls and has grown into an elegant young lady. She tried sending her to college and when she failed her degree course, she tried sending her to computer classes. That did not work either and the girl now works in one of the upmarket stores as a saleswoman and earns a good salary. My friend and her mother put up a fight with the girl's mother when she tried to get her married at 16 when she got into "boy troubles". Now she is 22, independent and confident. And aunty, when she died, has willed her 1 lakh in fixed deposit.

Saravanan is the head of security guards in the institution where husband works. I have seen him when he first came to work in the colony as a 14 year old boy doing odd jobs around the office. he had failed 8th standard, had no interest in studies and ran away to his uncle's house in bangalore to escape his father's wrath after his results. His uncle who worked as a driver in the office got him the temporary odd jobs in the office and gradually he got a job as a temporary security guard and after 12 years he grew to become a permanent security guard and now he is the head. His children go to English medium schools like the other children from the colony.

Sadiq used to drive my scooter like a professional when he was just 14. He was the nephew of my mechanic Basha. One day I went to collect my scooter after service and as I was about to start it there was a rattling noise. Basha flew into a rage and so did his spanner - at Sadiq. He had not fitted the screws of the wheel properly after service. I was angry with basha for treating the little boy like that but I also knew that he treated Sadiq like his son and loved him dearly. he told me "amma, this is how he will learn. Tomorrow when he has his shop he will never make this mistake. In this line we all learn like this. " I asked Sadiq if he would like to go to school. Sadiq grinned and said " I tried studying aunty but I don't have the brains. I like scooters and cars. When I am big I want to have a car repair shop." 15 years later, he now manages his uncle's garage and does good business. His daughter goes to a good school.

I can see for a fact which of us has done better by children - me and the government who talk about how wrong it is to employ children or these three above. I am not so judgemental about people who employ 13 and 14 year olds anymore.
I suppose the constitution makers were aware of the ground realities in this country and that is why they did not completely rule out child employment but made a qualified statement:
Article 24 of the Indian constitution states that "No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment".
Article 39 (e) directs State policy such "that the health and strength of workers . . . and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength"

Of course Children should not be employed in industries demanding hard labour or under hazardous conditions nor should they be exploited. But if they are treated well , fed and paid well and also given educational opportunities if they want them?
I am quite certain that if geeta ( aunty's protégé) had been left in her family she would have been married at 16 and would have had at least two kids by now and been entirely at the mercy of her husband and Saravanan could have turned into anything from an unskilled worker in a factory to a criminal. And Sadiq could not have learnt the intricacies of his profession better in any school.

Would they have had a wider choice had they been in school longer even against their will? Would they have been better human beings? Would they have a better standard of life than what they now have? I can say it is open to debate and they should have stayed in school but in my heart my answer is a definite 'no". I still cannot bring myself to employ anyone less than 18 but I could perhaps try giving someone a chance at a better life by employing one like aunty.
Another area which is not just black and white. What is your take on this?

Just the other day I dedicated one whole post to the resident terrorist in our house. Two evenings ago she broke a nice torch and was in the process of swallowing the contents of the battery when we managed to catch her and make her spit out what was still in the mouth. But obviously she had swallowed some which she spent the next day throwing up.Trouble is that she thinks that if anything can go into her mouth, it should!

We have experience with about 4 dogs now and the only other dog who was equally out of control was also called Munni. In our family, we have the tradition of naming children after people in the family and society who have been a good example, in the hope that these kids will also live up to the name.
After all, there are many people who believe that a child's name is the most important decision affecting her/his personality and future prospects.For example there are these people who say:"A balanced baby name will create intelligent mental qualities such as being expressive, happy, generous, outgoing, giving, responsible, reliable, stable, intellectual, and peaceful - to name just a few." Imagine what I could have achieved if only my parents had the sense to call me Sonia Gandhi or Sunita Williams or Indira Nooyi? It is all their fault that I am a mere Usha sitting and writing useless blogs while I ought to be running countries or corporates or floating in space. hmf..

Applying the same (il)logic, we wondered if a change of name might help. But then there are problems: having got used to her name by now, it is possible that she may not respond to a new name like lolita ( remember the demure, sweet tempered, patient and obedient girl from "parineeta"?) And lalita is the name of my sister and I have no intention of facing her rage. So Siddharth declared that we should call her "Not Munni".This is not new to us as we already have a "not Unni" in our lives.

This is how it happened. Siddhartha was about 5 or 6 then.We knew that appu nair, our friend who lived a street away from us, had a cook whom he referred to in conversations as Unni. Many times we had seen a person emerging from appu nair's house on a bicycle and we had concluded he was Unni. He always smiled at us while passing by our house. on a onam day, appu insisted we join him for lunch. Imagine our shock when he called out for Unni and the guy who emerged from the Kitchen was someone totally different. Not the one we had assumed to be Unni. So who was he, the smiling cyclist? We asked appu and he was not sure so he said "not Unni." So six year old siddhu started calling him "notunni" and we began to enjoy it so much we did not bother to find out his name.For instance he would say "Notunni gave me a ride on the bicycle today", "notunni was riding with a big jackfruit" and it worked just fine and I knew exactly who this man was. This has become such an inside joke that if we know the name of one of the two brothers in a house we promptly name the other NOtX as in Sachin and Notsachin.

And that's how we have a notmunni in the house now but I am not too hopeful that it is going to work in this case. True to being a Munni, she will defy all rules and all I will have is a munni in notmunni's clothing.
I like to keep my gifts simple and practical but I notice that there are too many creative ideas floating around for gifts and sometimes I need a user manual before I can start using them.
For example a cousin gave me this beautiful piece. A cute little thing which looked like a container for kumkum called a Kumkuma Chimizh in Tamil. (I love this word and hence the title of this post!!) In my opinion Ganesha's image is the cutest among the Hindu Pantheon and I loved the six mice around the central Ganesha with images of ganesha emobossed on their back.
Trouble began when I realised that the Ganesha in the middle was not welded and could actually be unscrewed to open the mice top to make this piece into something like this:
This was not an accident - so there was certainly a design idea. As everyone knows the 6th rule of commonsense is that if anything can be unscrewed, there is a purpose behind it. So now I had to find a purpose for what I had assumed to be an innocuous chimizh. So what was it?

Perhaps a portable Puja with a figurine of Ganesha and small sections to hold puja essentials like chandan, kumkum, haldi, flower and may be a little prasad like sugar crystals.I know people who like to carry prayer things while travelling.

And then you could close the box and lock it with the Ganesha and put it back in the luggage. (Might be very useful in case of hijacking - oops I am blaspheming.)

Or perhaps, you could use it as a total Puja Solution in today's context of small flats and if you'd like to keep your faith private. You could just have a niche in your room and have your god, Rangoli and lamp rolled in one in a hole in the wall, i mean, a niche in the wall. Voila, your pooja room personalised and ready for use!

As readers of this space know, I am a simple person and definitely no Sherlock Holmes or Edward de Bono. It looked pretty as a lamp and that is how I decided to use it.
Recently another cousin explained to me what its original intention was supposed to be and I was stunned.

Any guesses on what this artistic piece was used for among the royals of yore? The beautiful exterior was meant to distract attention from something sinister that it contained. If there was a war and if the conquering enemy advanced upto the royal household, they used the contents to die with honour! Yea, this was the equivalent of poison rings and cyanide amulets containing enough dosage for a family of six. ("one family pack please!" they must have said!!)
It is understandable considering the humiliation that awaited them if they were caught alive by the enemy.

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.
Last friday I had the misfortune of driving to the city railway station and then the airport which meant not just braving the usual traffic woes but two additional ones. Namma Metro work had started right in the heart of M.G.Road which meant a wait at the Mayo Hall junction for a good 20 minutes. There was a flight to catch in about an hour's time and we had not factored in this new development. Namma Bengalooreans are not surprised by these any more because this has been the story of our lives for the past 5 years - roads blocked /barricaded/made one way for overbridge constructions/ widening of roads and now for Namma metro.
The second thing that I noticed was the proliferation of Hijras begging - actually they were demanding money - at the various traffic signals. This was never the case in Bangalore - perhaps a stray one occasionally but never so rampant. Where did they come from? Certainly they were from Karnataka as they spoke Kannada.

I am ashamed to say that my initial response was one of revulsion as if it was their fault that they were so. I wondered why they were let loose on the streets in stead of being locked up. But then for what crime? It isn't their fault that they are
physically and psychologically different and cannot have access to a decent job. All applications have a column for saying Male/female. So what do they specify there? I suppose they have been forced into begging and prostitution because society has denied them access to more decent means of livelihood. I have seen some of them act aggressively or indulge in lewd gestures at train stations in Mumbai but I guess that is their rebellion against being treated as non persons. Historically they have enjoyed a modicum of acceptance in Indian society where they were employed as guards to protect the ladies, or royal court dancers and they had some roles to perform during all weddings and child births in the community. It is possible that contempt for them began in the British Raj days when authorities supposedly "attempted to eradicate hijras, which they saw as "a breach of public decency."

Where I grew up, we do not have the tradition of involving Hijras in weddings and child births and so my only knowledge of them came from mythology and history and some grotesque portrayals of eunuchs I had seen in films. So it was a shock when I saw them in flesh and blood for the first time in a Mumbai train when I was 36 years old. He/she came and sat right next to me even though there were other empty seats. I was terrified and so I got down in the next station and took another train to my destination. Fear of someone different? societal conditioning? Ignorance? I do not know which but that was my reaction to a perfectly harmless person whose only fault was being different from what I knew to be normal.

According to the Wiki article they "they face extreme discrimination in health, housing, education, employment, immigration, law, and any bureaucracy that is unable to place them into male or female gender categories". And they are in extreme danger of HIV infection.
It seems to me that they can be integrated into society by absorbing them in jobs which require physical strength which they seem to possess in plenty - traffic constables? Security guards for buildings? construction workers? Apparently some districts in India use them as tax collectors. I am sure there are many areas where they can be employed and taken away from begging and prostitution.

One thing bothers me though. Even though these people do not seem to have a gainful employment or an assured source of income they are always dressed in good saris or salwar suits and wear make up (albeit cheap) and jewellery. Do they make enough to afford all this or do they have the backing of someone else who provides them with all this and makes money out of them?
I don't remember when I first started looking at feet -I think it was during my first year in college while travelling in a "ladies' special" bus to college. As`I climbed the steps my book fell down and as I bent down to retrieve it I saw these feet making their way forward- like two tiny stuffed rabbits -soft,white with a touch of pink around the border,nails painted copper. The feet moved away and lost themselves in the crowded bus before I could look up and check if the feet had a matching face!During the 30 minute journey I kept an eye on all the feet that went through the exit door hoping to find them again. No luck! these feet were obviously travelling farther than my stop.

This was a peak hour bus and commuters on such services were usually regulars - students and office goers who invariably took the same bus day after day.So in the days that followed it became a game for me to look for these feet and eventually I spotted the owner and if you must know, the search was not worth it. She had a very uninteresting face - very fair skin,lifeless eyes, didn't look like she ever smiled and seemed suspicious of everyone. Thereafter the half hour bus journey became more interesting as I would first look at the feet and conjure up a face matching those feet and then look up to check how close I was. Some owners of neglected feet had faces carefully made up, some had very ordinary feet but very pretty faces, some of the most beautiful feet were in the least flattering footwear even though the rest of the costume would be carefully chosen- only very few people were endowed with feet as pretty as their faces and even less number of people cared for their feet as much as their faces. But of course this was 1974 - for the middle class, beauty parlours were places to visit only for bridal make up. Tweezing eye brows was just becoming the fashion and you had to be rich to be able to afford facials and manicures and so pedicures came way down in the list! if you cared about your feet, you applied cream from milk or curd for softening, or soaked feet in warm salted water and then used soap for cleansing, and the rough granite surface of the washing stone was ideal for rubbing feet to get rid of dead skin. And then you slipped these feet into plastic or rubber slippers (leather was too expensive for daily "rough" use!)And we had just a pair of slippers at a point of time while some had an extra pair for occasions.

Even today while waiting at the doctor's clinic or any place where slippers are arranged, I slip back into the habit of making a mental image of the owner - height, weight,age, dress etc. If I am lucky I get to verify my image with the original and I seem to be getting better in my judgement over the years. Except this one time when I saw this lady come out the doctor's consultation room and slipped her feet into an enormous pair of men's slippers. The shock almost killed me!

It is perhaps because of this curious habit of mine that I get very self conscious if anyone looks at my feet - I immediately try to hide them under the sari ( saris are very useful this way) or try something to distract eyeballs away from my feet as I am suspicious that the viewer is trying to judge me from my feet. (what do they say about a thief knowing another thief better!) I do have a friend who shares my fascination with feet but she doesn't stop with looking at them. She photographs them. Read about it here.
Little wonder then that it was she who spotted me wearing Hawaii chappals to the French class and with mismatched straps to boot! I must be really fond of life - anyone else in my place would have jumped out of the window that day!
So that was my punishment for having judged people by their feet and footwear all these years!So have I stopped it now?? No, I am hooked and now it is impossible - My eyes and mind get totally out of control when they see slippers and feet.
Foot gazers anonymous, anyone?
You are in the supermarket pushing a trolley full of grocery and you meet this acquaintance from your colony who greets you with "Came for purchase huh?" What would you say? I have this strong urge to say: "Not at all, I do this for my afternoon exercise. Keeps my arms in shape and saves on the gym fees!" But I always smile and ask "how re you?" in return. See,I am a nice gentle soul with a mind that gets out of control when exposed to such questions.

And I seem to attract these questions like the proverbial pot of honey that attracts flies.We had a general body meeting of our colony's association on Sunday. One of the office bearers greeted me and asked me "How was your trip to the U.S? You have come back no?"
Whaaat? of course I have come back. wasn't I standing in front of him or did I look like a webcam image? Then it occurred to me that he was asking me if I have already gone and come back or was I yet to go.

I used to work in this office that occupied the top floor of the building and while waiting for the lift, I was always accosted with a very perceptive "going down?". Where else was there to go? Of course I was going down. Unless they thought I was lingering near the elevator to have a smoke.
Almost every other day when I am out walking the dog someone asks me "Taking dog for walk?" I Could tell them "It is our mealtime and we are out food hunting" Or I could say that we are marching for cruelty against dog owners but I am not sure the message will get across so I assure them that we are taking a walk.

Perhaps these people have a career cut out for them - television journalism. Have you seen the way the TV journalists shove the mike in front of Rahul Dravid after winning the series and ask him "do you feel happy with the result?" or ask Priya Dutt after her brother Sanjay's sentence "are you shocked?" or when they asked Amitabh Bachchan (with rings on all his fingers with stones, some to ward off bad luck and some to bring luck) "Are you superstitious?" or when they asked Abhishek Bachchan "Do you miss bachelorhood?"
Well, as the saying goes, there are no stupid questions.It is perhaps your thinking that makes it so.

A 22 year old woman suffered severe burns when her husband forced her to drink acid and when she refused, he disrobed her and threw acid on her.
He had been harrassing her with dowry demands for several years now. Earlier when his demand for motorcycle was not met, he tonsured her head and paraded her in the neighbourhood.
The report here says that the “police said Fairoz, a scooter mechanic, married Fathima about nine years ago and the couple have four children, two male and two female”.
Married at 13,the poor girl has seen all there is to see in one lifetime of misery. And from what the doctors say, she may never see again with her eyes.

The family who iron our clothes was missing for a week and finally the lady came today to collect my clothes. I asked her where she had been. The family had been away to her village where her husband’s niece had died. They had got her married three months ago and by the month of ashada (aadi in Tamil) an instalment of dowry was due. The parents could not meet it and so the in-laws and husband drove her to suicide by hanging.
I asked her if they had lodged a police complaint. There were 2 reasons why they could not.
1. The girl was just 17 and should not have been legally married.
2.The in-laws had powerful connections and had got the death certified as natural.

Here is an excerpt from this report in Businessweek:

“Last year, Singh's grandson Abhijeet married Priyanka Singh, the daughter of a businessman in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. But within months the couple split and Priyanka returned to her parents home, alleging that she had been physically abused.”
"My daughter was tortured and beaten up black and blue by her husband and in-laws who used her to demand more dowry. They were asking for a Mercedes Benz car and a flat in New Delhi," Madhvendra Singh, the bride's father, told The Associated Press from Moradabad, 185 miles southwest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

All in a matter of 10 days, cutting across caste, religion, social and linguistic barriers.
Why are 13 year olds and 17 year olds getting married and bearing children when they rightfully belong in schools?
How much perception is needed to see that a guy who expects his prospective bride to bring cash and a scooter for him can be good for nothing?
Where can the poor girls go when even their own parents treat them as a burden to be offloaded to someone as soon as the opportunity arises?
If daughters cannot rely on their parents to do what is best for them, where can children go?
If parents cannot take care of their children, why do they have them?
What is the use of having laws if there is no effective implementation?
How many more women must die before these people become human?
One advantage I had with my French teachers was that many of them were closer to my age and we developed a bond as friends outside the teacher -student equation. One of my teachers used to come from a residential school outside the city and I used to pick her up halfway and the drive to and from the Alliance Francaise used to give us a lot of time to discuss issues as parents and she also brought in her perspective as a teacher.
Once we were discussing child abuse and I spoke about it as if it was a western problem and we in India, of course had no such problems. Then she told me how rampant it is in India and even in rural India. She told me of an instance where one of her students, an eighth grader, used to be very happy in school and reluctant to go back home on vacations. And whenever she came back from vacation she was always moody, quiet and upset. So once C, my teacher decided to talk to her and after much coaxing the girl revealed that she was being sexually abused by her father's brother and she was scared to talk about it to anyone in her family as he was respected by everyone in the family. C was furious and she summoned the parents and told them what the girl had revealed to her.
Now here comes the part that makes my blood boil. The parents refused to believe it and called the girl a liar and attention seeker. They labelled the girl difficult and were furious that she would come up with something so perverse about someone who was like a father to her! And they were angry that the girl was ruining the family's reputation. This is what happened when you sent girls to such fancy schools, they said!
The girl went back home at the end of term and never returned to school. They took her out of the school.

I wonder how many young girls are being assaulted with the connivance of the family and the fact suppressed in the name of family honour. I hope not many but when have hopes been true in such matters! And this is the country where parents do not want sex education in schools as they feel the child's innocence will be lost.Perhaps they feel it is better for their girls and boys to learn it in this way from perverse uncles and servants and god knows who else.

And the statistics are scary. As The Rational Fool says in his comment:
Usha, I thought that you and the readers would be familar with the study on Child Abuse INDIA 2007, sponsored by the Ministry of Women and Child Development Government of India. Here I quote some relevant findings on sexual abuse from a survey of 13 states with a sample size of 12447 children, 2324 young adults and 2449 stakeholders:

1. 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse.
2. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest percentage of sexual abuse among both boys and girls.
3. 21.90% child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76% other forms of sexual abuse.
4. Out of the child respondents, 5.69% reported being sexually assaulted.
5. Children in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Delhi reported the highest incidence of sexual assault.
6. Children on street, children at work and children in institutional care reported the highest incidence of sexual assault.
7. 50% abuses are persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility.
8. Most children did not report the matter to anyone.

And those of you who are parents, teach them about "good touch" and Bad touch". Answer their questions scientifically and truthfully. please give your child the benefit of doubt, whoever it is that he/she is accusing. There is no family "honour" at the expense of of the crushing of a child's soul and having her scarred for life.
Speak up - against these wherever you find them!


On a related note, it takes tremendous courage and a lot of support for the victim to stand up and make the issue public and seek redressal. It need not always be physical - it could be innuendos, sexist remarks or anything that offends one's dignity as a woman. There is nothing that needs to be treated as a a joke and tolerated. if you find it offensive and uncomfortable you do not have to put up with it. I do not know how many working women are suffering in silence as they do not know where to turn for justice. I am proud to direct you to a fellow blogger who has set an example herself and also gives you information on your rights at the workplace and what you can do against gender discrimination and abuse at work place.
Please stand up for your rights and your dignity - if you don't you are not only suffering in silence but you are colluding in a perverse crime and perpetuating it. This is your duty to yourself and other women.
Speak up!
In the past week many of us wrote about the kind of things we are judgemental about which also included what we cannot stand, what makes us avoid people,what grosses us out, what we positively detest in people. It is funny how a lot of us cannot stand something and yet there is a large chunk of humanity that continues to do that very thing blissfully unaware or insensitively insistent.Not much one can do- especially if one is married to a card carrying member of the opposite camp.Well, you can blog about it and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone if anyone bothers to leave a comment agreeing with your peeve. There is nothing more comforting to the human heart than the fact that you are not alone in your misery and someone else is equally or more miserable. Life seems so fair.You might even look upon the perpetrator of the misery with a little understanding next time.
Anyway that was not the purpose of this post.

While I was reading the long lists of what we cannot stand, some totally irrational, I realised that we humans have a tendency for the exact opposite too - to be fascinated by some habits/ attributes/ mannerisms/ types of behaviour. Not heroic virtues but simple habits which you are attracted to for no reason.
For example I am extremely fascinated by fastidious eaters - you know the type who completely ignore the elaborate description on the menu card and tell the maitre d' how they want their salad? the ingredients, the dressing and the way they want it arranged in the bowl/plate? or how they want their ice cream with hot chocolate sauce around not on top and nuts on top not around etc?
Like the scene in the film "When Harry met Sally - remember this conversation?

Waitress: Hi, what can I get ya?

Harry: I'll have a number three.

Sally: I'd like the chef salad please with the oil and vinegar on the side and
the apple pie a la mode.

Waitress: Chef and apple a la mode.

Sally: But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top I
want it on the side and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it
if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real if it's out
of a can then nothing.

Waitress: Not even the pie?

Sally: No, just the pie, but then not heated.

Waitress: Uh huh.

Well I am the type who, like Harry, says "I'll have a number three" and eat it with a smile and leave a 20% tip and leave with contentment. So I am extremely fascinated by those sallies who can be so clear about what they want and how they want it.

And I get fascinated by watching people who handle their food like it is a piece of art. Once I went to a restaurant with this friend from Portugal and he ordered some fish steamed "just so" and then topped with butter. Then he ate it so beautifully that anytime you looked at his plate it seemed lovely - you know the way work in process pieces of art sometimes have a way of looking lovely all the way to their finish? It was like that - only in reverse! You could have taken it and served it to someone else! When he was done there was just the beautiful unbroken skeleton of the fish on the clean plate, still looking lovely. As i write this I can relive how delicious it felt just looking at that plate although I have no clue how that fish tasted.

This is why I love watching meal scenes in films - remember America's sweethearts where Julia Roberts decides to indulge her depression by hogging pancakes and butter in the restaurant? ummmmmmmm, made me drool so much that I went and made a couple of pancakes,slathered butter on top, drowned it in maple syrup and ate it at 10:30 in the night while watching the film! I am crazy that way!!
But remember,NOT any meal scene. It must be eaten beautifully, just the right amount shovelled into the mouth and eaten with mouth closed and no talking with food in the mouth and the right expression indicating bliss. Not the way Joey attacks food in Friends. Food must be treated like a piece of art -not like food, for me to want it!! Didn't I tell you I am crazy?

I am also fascinated by some friends who come to parties and eat parathas and oily gravy with their fingers without even staining the tip of their nails and their lipsticks remain intact throughout. And here I cannot drink a glass of water without wiping my lipstick clean!!I sometimes have a suspicion that they don't eat but just hold their plate as they are worried about their lipstick and fingers. Perhaps they go home and mix a large bowl of rice and sambar and attack it with abandon and then lick their palm and fingers clean for a good measure. Must be such a release!

These "fine" dining habits may actually say nothing at all of the other person - outside of this one fascinating habit, the person could be a total Bush or Osama Bin Laden which you might realise later. But then I always remember them with a little lenience because of this. Totally unreasonable, wouldn't you say? But hey, no one is perfect!
10,000,000 female infants killed in the past 20 years in India.
There are states like Haryana where there are just 760 females for every 1000 males.
Causes: sex selective abortion, female infanticide.

Why is there a preference for a male child?

1. You need a son to carry your family name , to ensure continuity of your family line.
What family name and lineage are we talking about when one is struggling to provide two square meals for everyone in the family? The only things that are being continued are more misery, poverty and perhaps some genetic disorders.

2. The belief that you need a son to perform your last rites so your soul will attain peace.
If they really believe in the above, do these people think of what punishment there may be for killing a child? or do their scripts give them a justification for that too? ( I do not believe in heaven and hell but I do hope they rot in something close to hell. I would like to invent a Hell for them right here as a deterrent for others.)

3.A girl means expense as you have to pay dowry and get her married.
Educate the girl please and she would take care of herself without necessarily needing a man to support her. Or she will find a man who is willing to marry her for what she is and not for what she brings.And how many years is it since dowry became a punishable offence? Please make the punishments more stringent.

4.You need a son to take care of you in old age while a daughter goes away to another's house after marriage.
Well there are good for nothing sons who have no means to take care of their parents. There are drunkards who are a constant source of trouble. There are those that leave their parents in old age home as the parents and wives do not get along.
So how can you be so sure that your son will? Make sure to stand on your two feet at any age.

5.I already have a few daughters. So I want a son so the family is complete.
Father, mother, daughter and son - looks like a perfect picture in photos but life is never perfect. Daughter or son they are your children. How many abortions will your wife go through? How many girl children will you kill? If you still feel that you need a boy, adopt one.That is a certain way of making sure of the gender of the child.

Half a million girl children killed every year and yet there are people who object to banning of gender detection tests. Why?
"I want to get my blues or pinks correct." "I want to start relating to my child from the time he/ she is in my womb. It would help if I knew if it was a boy or a girl." (why would you communicate differently depending on the gender of the child? is there something called bluetalk and pinktalk!?)
Anyway these are "nice-to-have" desires that need to take a back seat in the context of the larger issue which merits the banning of such tests.
And some argue that it is a "right" you cannot take away from the parents.
What about the "right" of that female child to live?

And this is a country where women are supposed to be seen as images of Goddess Durga and Lakshmi. What a country of hypocrites we are? We invoke our scripts and religion when it suits us and do what is convenient for us when it suits us.
With so many years of foeticide, Haryana already faces a situation when there are not enough brides for all the men. So men are buying brides from other States for as little as Rs. 5,000 - a state where buffalos cost more Rs. 40,000. These women are available to all the men in the family. A slave wife for the entire family - can their be a worse degradation for a woman?

I know it is futile to write about it in this forum as no one who reads this needs to be told all these facts. I am just steaming off - trying to see in what way we can stop this crime and injustice. We can inform our maids, perhaps sponsor the education of their girl child. We can make sure never to make gender discriminatory statements and counter them whenever someone says it even in jest.We can treat our sons and daughters equally. We can boycott films and TV programs that have gender discriminatory themes or dialogues. (protest loudly even when it is a "superstar" who says:"after all a woman!") We can be examples of what a woman can be and can do.We can help change the mindset.

we can simply ignore the statistic that half a million girl babies are killed every year and read the supplement on woman power that came with India Today.

P.S. For some more on the same topic here is a poignant and better researched post by The Rational Fool.
I get very worked up when someone makes a comment like "just the kind of thing THESE PEOPLE do". "These people?" What do you mean?How many of "those people" do you actually know who are like THAT? and what about the kind of things YOU PEOPLE do? I argue endlessly and I pride myself on my acceptance of people as they are for what they are. I consider myself non judgemental and as someone who defends the right of everyone to be the way they want to live their lives.And then The Madmomma decides to expose me by asking me to list what I am judgemental about.Me? judgemetal?? How dare you madmomma?? or wait a minute... may be one or two tiny little things. Let me think...

Ok, here's one. I judge my NRI cousins who come back on their 4 week vacation and grumble about all that is wrong with India.How they miss the old world charm of India and why must we have baristas and malls and all that. It is no different from being in the U.S.
(Excuse me, this is not a museum of 16th century life. We live here day after day and would appreciate some of these too in stead of having to fly over to NewYork for our shopping.)

2. I judge my cousins again when they say how much they miss "home" but "what to do?"they "have to" live in the U.S where the quality of life is so much superior and it is all a sacrifice they have to do so their kids can have the best.
(Do you know 1 billion people actually live here ? ya, children too and our mortality rates are declining! Guess what, we have hospitals and doctors and some top class educational institutions. internet? ya that too!)

3.I judge people who hit their kids. I think violence is an expression of their impotence.

4. I judge people who don't love animals.

5. I judge people who are too lazy to give their dogs a nice name and call them Jimmy or Rosy. I judge them when they use them as workers and do not spend a few minutes talking to them or playing with them.

6.I judge people who are in too many casual relationships as in sleeping around. I think they are either too insecure or too depraved.

7.I judge people like Aishwarya Rai whose smile doesn't seem genuine - you know a smile has got to be in their eyes ,from their soul and all that?

8.I judge people with an accent - not a tamil or telugu or malayalam or punjabi one but those who have lived in India all their lives and put on an american accent!Worse when they speak their mothertongue with an accent.( Enku Tahmeel saryA varAdu)

9.I judge people with flamboyant CVs.

10.I judge people who use too many buzz words in ordinary conversations.

Oh my god, I am a bigot. I am totally prejudiced. I am too judgemental... I need help!

Now all of you who come here who haven't done this already, tell me what you are judgemental about. Come on be a sport! I won't judge you. As you know I never judge...
I am looked upon like a bit of a stranger when I visit my relatives and it is coffee time. While their tastebuds are getting ready for a treat alerted by the smell of fresh decoction dripping down the filter and the smell of milk put to boil, I ruin the atmosphere by declaring that I want tea.The shock on some of the faces might make you think that I just announced that I was converting to another religion. People who know that I am a fairly reasonable person try to see the reason behind such a stupid choice. They gently ask me if there is a health reason.They feel let down when I say "No, I love tea." Silence follows as their thoughts trail along their stunned expressions in invisible subtitles: "how could you?" "You, traitor" "Et tu Usha?!" "Are you OK?"

Waking up to the aroma of true brew (NOT BRU!) South Indian Filter coffee is my earliest memory - perhaps this was a time I was still in my mother's womb. And this was a tradition I proudly carried on after marriage. One of the beliefs in our tribe is that a girl's culinary skills need no further proof than her ability to brew a good cup of filter coffee and a potful of Rasam. I passed with flying colours on both counts.Each time fresh milk would be boiled and fresh aromatic decoction brewed, I'd "warm the cockles of their heart". You should have heard the proud and smug look on my mother in law's face when visitor's would come to see the new bride and she would tell me to make coffee for them. I was their star daughter in law , a jewel in their crown.

And then fate intervened when i was posted to new Delhi for my first job. The first day at work and it was 10:30. The canteen boy placed a cup of coffee on my table and I hungrily took one sip of it and nearly threw up. What was That? It tasted like poison for sure! A spoon of instant coffee in a cup of thick milk and three spoons of sugar!I spent the rest of the morning fighting a head ache and contemplating the wording of my resignation letter. In the evening I discussed this with a close friend and she said ,"Try tea. It is difficult to spoil a cup of tea unlike coffee." So I cheated for the first time just to save my job.What started out of necessity became a passionate affair in the years to come and soon I could not stand the smell of coffee!

Now Tea, for me, is not a beverage. It is a mood, it is a spiritual thing. I drink it not to shake off lethargy or kickstart my brains. It is not a ritual but a rite and I drink it to celebrate, to savour the moment, to relax, to pamper myself. Tea moments are special when the world around me ceases to exist. Those are moments when I am there and tea is there and the moment exists. Nothing else.

As the japanese say "Zencha ichimi," - Tea is Zen.

One of the contemporary Tamil poets, Vairamuthu,my favourite, has written a whole ode to Tea. Please read it; it is called: Alukoru kOpai.

I have tried a rough translation below but it is tough to capture the essence of Tea or the beauty of Vairamuthu's words in a translation:

Ode to Tea
(Alukoru kOppai by Vairamuthu)

Tea times are flash festivals.
Teacup is a compact shrine
Tea is an accessible God,on call to grant your desires.

Firing up the lips and caressing the tongue with warmth
stroking each bud to wake up to its taste
Sweet and faintly bitter
as it descends down the throat
the blood vessels flare up like blooming buds;
brushing past the heart
like a romantic brush against
the fringe of a lover’s sari.

Arriving in the intestines, it ignites the switches in the brain
and the soul is near salvation.

Tea embodies the five elements.
Earth that has seeped all over the leaf through the roots
Water that has lost itself in the essence of the leaf
Fire that made the sweet brew
A waft of air announcing the aroma of the tender leaf
Sky that had washed the leaf in tiny droplets of rain
The five elements locked up in a cup that bubbles with Tea.

But folks
you do not know how to drink Tea.

You stare elsewhere without looking at its golden hue
You chatter empty words without listening to its bubbles

Drinking tea is not a ritual like kissing a wife of years.
Every sip is a hungry kiss of new love;
Should you not,then,close your eyes
and kiss your tea?

Locking lips with the loved cup
as you take a noisy sip
you must lose yourself and transcend the present
in a momentary death
and rise to the region between
the sky and earth and wander among clouds
and then...
fall back with a thud
again on this earth

You, who do not grasp the essence of tea
how will you understand
my poem
that waits last in your line
palm against its cheek?