Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Change...the only constant thing in life...

I have already talked about my struggles to get back to work and all my false starts before I finally got to this point. I have been working for exactly 1 year and 2 months now. And there is one single reason for this - my trustworthy maid/nanny/helper/mentee..the girl who wears many, many hats - Asha.

I have briefly mentioned her in one of my posts before. Asha came to me at a time when I had already quit 2 jobs because I couldn't get my son into a daycare without him crying as if his heart would break. I had all but given up hopes of ever holding down a job for more than 3 months and was at my wits' end. Then, one day, one of the other cleaners in my apartment brought her.

When she came, she could'nt speak Tamil or Hindi, leave alone English and I could'nt speak Kannada. 'She'll learn..she already understands a lil bit', her aunt marketed to me. Kuttan was not yet 2. 'Let me give her a try', I told her aunt. 'If I dont like her after a week, she'll have to go.' It was agreed that she'd come to my house at 8 in the morning and leave at 6 in the evening and will take care of kuttan and also help me in cleaning the house.

Within a week, I was ready to kick her out. 'She is dumb!!' , I seethed to the husband. She doesnt understand anything I tell her. And kuttan would'nt even allow her to come near him. Bathing, cleaning, feeding , even playing, I needed to be there for everything. What's the point in having her and giving her money for no reason, I asked my husband.

Then, on the last day of her first week, I got an interview call. In the afternoon. I can't go, I decided. Then she told me, 'Akka, you go. I'll play with him.' I decided to give her one last chance and went. I called every five minutes and made sure he was ok. I had left my number with 4 different people in the same apartment so that they could call me in case of an emergency. I came back tearing from an interview to a job I did not find my son playing with great joy and having the time of his life with all other kids in the apartment..and his akka.

From then, Asha has improved great leaps and bounds. From not knowing how to speak a single word in Tamil, she can now fluently communicate and teach kuttan a thing or two in the language. From not knowing how to speak into a telephone, she now carries her own mobile. She has become a great favorite among the children in apartment. She has become an expert in our way of cooking food. From Sambhar to the elusive molgoottal to kuttan's favorite pulav and hubby's favorite bonda, she has mastered it all.

She has slowly risen in status in our household from being a mere help to a nanny to a cook and finally, housekeeper. She has been living with us full time now for over 6 months. She has taken the fact that kuttan is smaller and thinner than the other kids as a personal affront and has spared no efforts in fattening him up, sometimes to the extent that even I get chided for not trying hard enough to feed him.

Everytime she left for her hometown she has driven me up the wall with worry that she will not turn up. Too many times, she has proved my worries to be grounded in fact by not showing up for a day or two. I have screamed and raged at her at different times for not doing things right. She has irritated hubby and me no end by staying back to watch the Friday night movie with us, a ritual for the two of us where no one, not even our parents, are allowed to intrude on. But we took it all in our stride. It seemed a small price to pay in return for the amazing care she gave kuttan. The fact that kuttan, on many days, seeked her out for comfort when I scolded him was proof of the love between the two.

And yesterday, after all the battles and struggles and the triumphs, Asha handed me her notice. 'I am leaving akka', she announced. She is going home, to get married. Hubby, who had already been informed by her earlier in the day, and Asha together did their best to cheer me up. 'We'll manage', hubby told me bracingly. 'Imagine, no more friday night intrusions. Kuttan can finally get used to that lovely school and daycare which moms in our apartment have been oohing and aahing over for a while. And, the best part, no more Monday morning madness waiting for Asha to arrive!!'

Yes, I told him perkily. We'll manage just fine. 16 months back, kuttan could'nt even talk. Now the situation is totally different and daycare is right for him, I agreed. Everything will work out just fine.

And then, in the night, when everyone around me had fallen asleep, I shed silent tears into my pillow. I was not just crying because kuttan will have to let go of a way of life. The age of innocence where he stays home and runs behind Asha is over. Now he will stay outside the home all day and come home with us in the evening...all grown up like. He will talk about his day and we will have no part in it. He will be in surroundings which will, with time, grow familiar to him, but ones which I will have no idea about. The people at the daycare centre told me they teach kids to feed themselves. But all I can see is the countless times Asha runs behind him, plate in hand, coaxing him to eat 'one more vaai'. He will go and sit with the other children and hold his spoon and eat. And somehow, the image makes my heart break.

Yes. I know that a daycare is better for him and I know that it will help him in a lot of ways. And I definitely know that babies who are less than half of kuttan's age do go to daycare centres. But I guess I just need to cling on to that one moment, a moment which slips by all too quickly, before he passes from babydom to boyhood.

Goodbye Asha...You were very much loved and wanted. And you will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Happy Mother Tongue Day!!

Today is being celebrated as Mother Tongue day. I have been reading about it in the papers for the last couple of days and it set me thinking. A lot has been said about how important it is for a child to use its own mother tongue. About how all indigenous languages, dialects, accents and flavors are in danger of being wiped out /overshadowed by the more commonly accepted and universal language - English. Some experts agreed and others did'nt. And I was thinking that there is a bit of hypocrisy about the whole thing.

True, educationists the world over have said that the better a child's grasp over his own mother tongue is, the more mastery they will have in learning other languages not their own. And still, despite all this, I find that schools in India stubbornly cling on to English. Hubby and I are both Tamilians and at home, we both speak to kuttan in Tamil. When I put kuttan in school at the age of 2 and a half, he could barely speak 2-3 word sentences. All in Tamil. But he could understand English and I was not too worried. I knew he'd pick up the language soon enough.

During his first PTA, his teacher told me he is a good kid. Bright, cheerful, friendly. But he has to improve his language skills, she said. When I asked her what she meant, she went on to elaborate. He is very comfortable in Tamil. But you should speak to him in English at home so that he can pick up English well too. Why? That's what I send him to school for.

Neither of my parents spoke English at home. In fact, my mom never does and appa, strictly in the deepest official tones. In spite of that, I did quite fine for myself, thank you. Considering that I grew up in Tamilnadu, I had plenty of opportunites to speak and constantly hone my Tamil skills outside my home. But, if I do not speak to my son in Tamil, how will he ever learn the language?

When I was in school, we had a choice of Hindi/Tamil for second language. Considering that my father worked in a bank and would get transferred every 3 years or so, Hindi was a more prudent choice. However amma made sure that I, at least, learnt to read and write Tamil. The basic, elementary education was polished over the years by reading magazines like Ananda Vikatan and Kalki.

When I was growing up, I always thought it was a little uncool to speak in Tamil. I never paid too much attention. Like an object of comfort that you rarely miss till it is gone, it was always there. Only well into my adulthood did I realise how much I had missed.

The rich literature, the poetry, the sheer beauty. The musical cadence of Sundara kandam. The sheer brilliance of Kalki's works. The wondrous works of Kannadasan. The fiery passion of the dravidian writers. The intellect shining through Sujatha's works and how he manages to bring the most difficult and profound scientific concepts to a layman's level. I had missed them all. Tamil is not an easy language to master. I tried reading Kalki's 'Ponniyin Selvan' but have still not managed to complete it. But I did read his compilation of short stories and marvelled over his way with words. A mastery no less, no profound than a Somerset Maugham or an O.Henry.

I despair the fact that I am passing on even less of this great language to my son. True, we have moved to Bangalore and want to integrate. True that I want him to learn Kannada. But is it too much to dream that one day, together, we will be able to explore the richness and beauty of this age-old language, which, after all, is his mother tongue?? Is it too much to expect this child to take on the additional burden of learning one more language which is not a part of his 'syllabus' and which will not affect his marks?

Today, I remember the immortal and hauntingly sweet lines by Kannadasan.

தமிழுக்கும் அமுதென்று பெயர்
இன்பதமிழ் அந்த தமிழ் எங்கள் உயிருக்கும் மேல்...உயிருக்கும் மேல்...

Happy Mother Tongue's day to all of you...

Monday, February 18, 2008

A tale of dreams and desires....and the birth of this blog

I was quite shy as a young girl. I am an only child but was a part of a much bigger extended family consisting of aunts and uncles and numerous cousins, this shyness used to embarrass my mother on countless occasions. All the while my cousin used to dazzle and charm the guests who used to visit, I would try to fade away inconspicously into the background.

The guests were all suitably impressed with my U.S-return cuz and would gaze at him adoringly and praise him to the skies while Amma would push me to the front, almost forcing them to notice and acknowledge me.

This state of affairs continued for many years with my cousin dearest(called DC henceforth) managing to outperform and outshine me in almost all areas almost all the time. This despite the fact that I always performed well academically and in most other areas, except sports.

All that changed when I was in the 9th standard when a woman(well, a girl actually) called Claire came to the school where both DC and I studied. This English girl was doing her graduation in Literature from Oxford University and had come to India on a student exchange program. For some reason, this girl was spending time with the kids in our school and helping them with grammer, introducing them to literature, stuff like that.

I still vividly remember the day she called all of us and said we're going to have a contest. She gave us 4 words (I do not remember them now) and asked us to write a poem of 4 lines using them. Most of the kids did not have the slightest clue what the words meant and wrote rubbish and gave in those little chits of paper with their names and their 'poem' on them. DC, as usual, swaggered away after giving his, secure in the knowledge that he would, as usual, win. I quietly slipped in mine.

Claire came back in an hour and read the results. Imagine my surprise when DC did'nt figure in the top 3. I did'nt make it, but, hey, neither did he!! I would'nt have to hear endless tales of heroism and praises heaped on his already swollen head at dinner table that night!! Yay, I was happpy!!

And then, after announcing the first 3 prizes, Claire said she has a special prize to give. Because the given words had been used to evoke a haunting quality to the poem. And she called out my name!! She gifted me a sketch pen set which was jealously eyed by the 40 kids sitting around...but best of all was the look on DC's face!! Priceless!!

But for the first time, I realised that I had a talent that was uniquely my own. Where I did'nt have to claw my way to be noticed. Where words would pour out painting whatever image I wanted to paint for the reader...happy, sad, melancholic...

I had decided I would take literature and become a writer. (I thought I NEEDED a degree in literature before I would be allowed to write.) The dream stayed on till my 12th standard when scathing peers and sarcastic parents told me to get my head out of the clouds and get myself into a professional college.

The dream was reborn in college under the encouragement of a boy, a boy who would later go on to become my friend, lover and husband, to whom I first expressed my love the only way I knew how, through words. You write beautifully, he told me. You should try and get published. I wrote some more and some even got published in college and local magazines.

When I came to Bangalore and started working as a software engineer, those dreams were again shelved. When kuttan was born and I sat at home, hubby gently prodded me, in his words "to get off my ass and do what I never can do....write!!"

I wrote a couple of times desultorily and tried to get a few things published but nothing much happened. This was the time I got in touch with C.K.Meena. C.K.Meena is an author and has her own column in Hindu. I have always enjoyed her writing and her straight-from-the-heart, no-nonsense attitude that used to shine through it. I briefly corresponded with her and she was very encouraging and gave me a lot of tips on who to contact and publishers names etc...

In the meantime, life intruded again and I came back to work. However, the dream continued. Someday, I told myself. Someday I will leave this all and will have enough time and will power and the energy it takes to belt out article after article unfazed by rejections. In the meantime, how do I hone my skills? And that's how this blog was born.

Recently, I happened to find Meena on Google chat and, on an impulse, said hello. It had been over a year since we corresponded and I did not expect her to remember this wannabe writer who wanted to get her articles published. To my surprise, she not only remembered me, she also asked me if she could read my blog when I told her what I was doing. I want a month of Sundays? Of course I did. This was my favorite columnist and a respected author and journalist who was offering her time and advice. I had only one thing to say to her..'Please dont be kind Meena and give it to me straight..'. In less that 15 minutes, I get an email from her. Excerpts from the email below:

I find it just what a blog site should be. It is heartfelt, honest, chatty, confessional, and descriptive. I found the blog on the rabbit race quite funny! I like the way you are self-deprecating and are fully aware of your obsessiveness and don't take it too seriously (it would be dangerous to do so).
When it comes to dare-I-say Real writing (the kind that gets published as middles, columns, short stories and so on), what one does is to be more conscious of the words one uses, to avoid repetition, to edit and prune, to craft sentences for the best effect, and so on. But I am sure you are aware of it, because the piece you sent me earlier on the dilemma of working or staying at home showed that some care had gone into the writing.
Regards, and all the best.

Well Thank You Meena!! The dream lives on. And it is like Claire has given me her coveted sketch pens all over again!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My First Tag!!!

Yay!!! I celebrate my first tag with his post. Thanks Swati for tagging me inspite of me being new to the blogging world and the length of time that elapses between my posts. :)

The rules of the tag are- 'Link 5 different posts of yours. Tag 5 other people to do it. The 5 posts should be about Family, Friends, Yourself, your love and anything you like!!

Well, for a seasoned person who is very religious about blogging this may seem like a piece of cake. But for a blogger like me whose posts are few and far between, well...let's see what we can do now....

Family- I am a married woman with a 3 year old son. And yet, when someone asks me where my family is, I automatically say - 'Coimbatore' where my parents live. Here is where I write about my parents and how hopelessly dependant I am on them even today.

Friends - Hmmm...nothing on friends yet. Gives me an idea to do one though :)

Me - What could be more self loving than starting a blog and forcing any unsuspecting soul on cyberspace to unwittingly read it. I have written plent about myself. One that I like the most is here.

Love - Ah...the feeling that makes the world go around....and makes a normally violent-when-woken-from-deep-sleep you just glare and quietly go back to sleep when hubby gets calls at 12.30 in the night. I have not written about how we met or too many things about hubby except in passing. But I have written one post where I have tried to tell him everything that he means to me.

Anything you like - Well...this one definitely ought to be it!! I love the way I have written it...hee hee...some one did say this tag was narcissistic...

I tag Moppet's mom, Kodi's mom, Artful dodger and because I have just started reading their blogs and discovered I would like to read more and two because everyone else in the blogging world has already done this tag. :)