Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Confessions of an ex-MLM agent - The Inside story!!

Ok, I can see people shaking in dread and preparing to navigate away, before they notice the 'ex' tag and settle down warily to read what this is all about.

Warning: This is a long post!

How we got In

The year was 2000. The husband who was not yet the husband then, was working in Bangalore, one of the thousands of young software professionals who start their careers in the big, faceless corporates every year. He was staying with college friends all of who left one after other for on-site assignments, job change or because they got married. The man was young and bored. And lonely.

Then, one day he gets introduced to a guy, a successful s/w professional who lives in the US with his wife, also a s/w professional by a friend. I have come to expand my business, the man says. I am looking for sharp, young people to diversify with. Come over and we will discuss. The husband, who is tired of frequenting the pubs and the bars of Bangalore and is just craving to meet some nice people, goes willingly.

He is enchanted. He finds a room full of people, young and energetic. People who are very, very succesful in their respective professions. The whole place is filled with fun and laughter and energy. People are extremely warm and welcoming. When the time for the meeting comes, people move into a room while the host shows them 'the plan'. The name of the company comes right in the end..and even then does not mean much to the husband as it is fairly new in India and not many people have heard of it.

He finds the products expensive - ridiculously so...a bottle of detergent costs close to 400 bucks. But even before the thought has fully formed in his mind, it is scorched away by the host. All the products are concentrated and will work out cheaper than the market products if you use them the way they are meant to be. And they are such WONDERFUL products, he says. And thus, the first bit of mental programming happens. This is what the husband would repeat, over and over again, during the course of the next 5 years when confronted with the high-price accusation.

The middle years

The year 2002. Marriage. Enter yours truly. Moved to Bangalore with stars in her eyes and dreams of a new life in her heart. And, to give credit to the man, he has not disappointed.:D. But I digress. My first introduction to the 'business' as this travesty is called was at a 'seminar'. A rally is a place where a highly 'succesful' person in the business will come and share his story with the more unfortunate individuals who were not yet succesful in the business and still struggling.

I found the whole setting larger-than-life. Men wearing dapper suits. Women in glitzy jewelry and lovely clothes. The 'achievers' walked on stage to the music of 'Rocky', waving their hands and feeling no less than movie stars. I was a young bride. Straight out of college and eager to please. Over-protected and from a small town. I took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

And so I sat at home for the first 6 months after marriage trying to do 'business'. 'You'll never have to work', my uplines(people who introduced us into the business), told me. 'You'll be a millionaire and will travel around the world and be treated like a queen'. 'Yes, yes', I told myself as I tried desperately to sell products to anyone remotely human that I came across.

But right from the word go, things did not work out between me and the upline lady. I remember the first ever time we went to their house and she told me, 'You have to be more submissive'!! What the fuck?? I was contributing to her business by buying 4k worth of useless products and I had to be submissive to her? That was the first time I had a fight with the husband.

Soon, the fights became regular features. I started working and suddenly time was at a premium. I would be expected to put in a hard day at work, go to the uplines' house at 7 pm for a meeting every week and stay on till 11. Or 11.30. Or 12.00. And then be accused that I am not spending enough time with the 'team'. Every friday night would end in tears and a fight.

The beginning of disillusionment

Looking back at it today, there are so many, so many things about the business that I positively abhorred. The total lack of freedom in your personal life. Whether it was buying a car or having a baby, we had to get 'permission' from the uplines for EVERYTHING. The total lack of personal time. We would have 3 meetings every week. And then we would be asked to go forth and spread the word of the business lord during all the remaining days. The expense. Whether we liked it or not, wanted to or not, we had to buy products worth 4k every month. The lack of personal choice. I could not buy my favorite toothpaste or my favorite cream from the local store. All products HAD to be from the business. We were even encouraged not to watch television and, in fact, did not have TV at home for the first 3 years of marriage. Now I am totally against TV anyways, but I am so totally pro-choice today that I am appalled I ever went with that.

The fights increased. In intensity and volume. I was horrified that this gentle, totally rational man I was married to, was, for the first time, refusing to see reason. He was refusing to quit. I did not know it then, but he was exhibiting all the classic signs of a person in a cult. Even though he was doing well at work, he had begun to identify himself in this business so much, that a life in the 'outside world' with 'negative people' must have sounded terrifying to him. Our parents were both foaming at the mouths at the 'devil' that had gotten into us. My career was in tatters.

The redemption

The redemption came in 2004 when I decided enough was enough and we needed to have a baby, pronto. By that time, our success was too little and too far between and, I think, the hubby had realised that it will not work out. But even then, he was reluctant to shed the last vestiges of bondage and walk toward freedom till Kuttan's birth. Kuttan brought with him not only laughter and joy for us, but also freedom, in a way. It has been 3 years since we quit. And I thank the Lord every day. For kuttan and for the wisdom that made us do it.

If someone asked me what I regret the most about my MLM years I would say, the lost opportunity. I got married as soon as I finished college. The husband was barely out of college himself. We had 3 golden years between our marriage and the time kuttan was born, that we could have used to spread our wings and soar in the sky. Careless and fearless. There was a wealth of opportunity that we could have explored and did not. We could have travelled. We could have studied. We could have made real friends. We could have spent long hours at work and advanced our careers. Instead, we let our wings be clipped and closed our hearts to the worTld. And that is why I will never, ever be able to forgive 'the business'. And why, to some extent, I resent the husband to this day.

Well, as they say, all's well that ends well. Our 'uplines' zealously followed up with us for a few days and tried to get us to come back into the fold. When it didnt work out, they gave up and moved to greener pastures. And yes, it's a little late in the day but today we are doing things that we should have, would have, had it not been for the business. So we do it a little slowly, dragging around kuttan everywhere with us. But we will still get there. And be happy while we do. The nightmare is finally over.

Disclaimer: This has been a cathartic post for me. It has not been easy to write it but I have, nonetheless, because, well, if it helps someone, why not. It is all about MY experience and perception alone and probably someone else may have a very different take on it. If I have hurt someone's feelings, I did not mean to. Each to his own.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jab We Met...

...it rained conversation!!

What started as an idea in someone's mind just gained momentum till 8 bloggers from Bangalore and one from Mumbai who happened to be in town decided to meet on 16th. The venue was decided as Aargees home. Most of us decided to take the afternoon off.

I felt like a schoolkid being let out of school as I joined JLT outside her office and drove carefully behind her car as she led the way to Aargee's place. Had a brief stopover and picked up Abha and we were off.

We landed at Aargee's place and Poppins, COS, Swati and Compulsive Dreamer were already there. I was totally bowled over by what a gracious hostess Aargee was and how beautifully she managed to maintain her home inspite of having a toddler at home, full time.

As soon as we met, it was excited chatter and conversation flying all over the place with much laughter. Little Kiddo(Aargee's son) seemed to have a lot of fun with so many people around and made sure he broke all rules which he will not be allowed to break otherwise. :D. The gorgeous and very glamorous Kiran arrived later, after having been taken on a city tour by a kind taxi-driver and having been charged thrice the regular price for it!!

I will let you read about the individual impressions of the bloggers here, as beautifully summarised by Poppins.

What struck me was how a group of women of all shapes and sizes (well, all of them were gorgeous! I just added the extra dimension!), different professions and backgrounds all came together so beautifully and had such a riot!!

There was not even a moment of awakward silence as we went yapping away to glory. Every topic from work to relationships to child-rearing to labour was discussed thread-bare and without fear of offending or treading on the other's toes. I only hope we have not put off the only non-mommy blogger Compulsive Dreamer from mommyhood, with all our talk of labor and C-Sections and what not. But she seemed to take it in her stride rather well...

When we finally left at 4, I went back all the way home with a beatific smile on my face which left the husband mightily puzzled!!

It's been 6 years since I finished college and for the first time in that many years, I had the same, carefree, girlie-chatter fun that I used to have so long ago!!

Here's to more blogger meets!!

I can't wait for the next time!!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Introducing GOD

We had a houseful of guests last week comprising of the Sister-in-law, her husband and two children. The SIL's husband is a deeply religious, devout man who places a lot of importance on the rituals. And so we had him doing sandhyavandhanam thrice a day and it seemed to me that that is all he was doing while he was here.

He was doing it when I left for work, I caught him doing the madhyayanam (or whatever they call it) when I went home in the afternoon for lunch and he was at it again when I went back home in the evening.

You might say Kuttan is brought up in a pretty neutral atmosphere and was highly amused and kept going and asking him, 'athimber, what are you doing?'. And giggling away like it was nobody's business.

All this made me wonder how I had come to form my own religious and spiritual principles in life. I remember learning from Amma very early on that God could punish you if you did something wrong. If you dont eat, swami will poke your eyes at night, she'd say...as though God has nothing better to do than going around poking eyes.

Amma is a deeply religious woman who places much importance on the symbols and the way of life that come with being a brahmin. This has meant that she has'nt missed a single Karadaiyan Nombu, a single Thiruvadirai and a Karthigai. Appa is not very religious and I have seen him remove his poonal on occasions when it got too dirty and then forgetting to wear it again. But, I have seen both amma and appa unfailingly and devotedly follow one tradition for that last 3 decades.

Every morning amma would wake up, brush her teeth, go to the Puja room and light the lamp and do a namaskaram. Appa would not come near the puja room then but later, would take a shower and come and stand in front of the Puja room and smear Vibuthi on his forehead before walking off.

Amma and appa have never had philosophical or religious discussions with me. If they did, I certainly do not remember it. All the stories I know about Rama, Krishna etc. have come from Amar Chithra Katha. And there used to be grandpa who used to spend long hours telling me how great and massive and bottomless our upanishads and vedas really are.

Hubby on the other hand was brought up in a much more orthodox atmosphere. My MIL has a HUGE database of purana stories in her repertoire and she is a very, very good story teller. Children of all ages and sizes and shapes congregate in the IL household to listen to her stories. The FIL is very closely involved in the board of committee of a local temple and is constantly going there. My hubby can rattle of each plot and sub plot of Mahabharatha in his sleep.

And still, despite all this, what amazes me is that neither of us are particularly religious people. He claims he knows the slokams for Sandhyavandhanam and I have seen him chanting the Vishnu Sahasranamam on cue when the tape is on. But for all the 11 years I have known him and 6 years I have been married to him, I have seen him to be the kind of man who rummages frantically in the cupboard for the 'poonal' or Sacred Thread and wearing it only when his parents are around.

We are both deeply spiritual people and strongly believe in the existence of a Higher Being and His plans for us. Still, we did not have a religious routine, if you can call it, at home. I light the lamps on most days but if I reach home late, I let it go. And if we go out in the evening, I dont do it at all. I forgot the Karadayan Nombu thing this year and compromised with a Naivedhyam of bananas instead of the adai and lied to amma and MIL that I had done it. (I also lied to my MIL and told her I had worn the nine yards saree and fallen at my husband's feet and gotten his blessings, but that's a story for another post..)

Hubby and I believe that the only thing that matters is doing good where you can and never, ever intentionally harming others is the closest you can come to God in this day and age. However, like I'm fond of saying, having a child changes everything. I am now increasingly beginning to understand that our spiritual maturity did not come overnight. I believe that our parents took us through a system of stories and religious functions and rituals to lead us and teach us these very values.In doing so, they have hammered into us values so strong that the rituals cease to matter and you still go on living by the values.

And that is why I believe that it is important that we establish some kind of spiritual routine in kuttan's life. Like getting up in the morning and doing a namaskaram.

What started off as a daily ritual has now become a personal relationship. So the other day I found him sitting in the puja room and talking to God. And he ended his conversation with, 'I'm going now. Will be back later, ok?'. And I was glad he had found a friend for life. A friend who, no matter where he is and what he's doing, is always watching out for him.

Flawed Idols?

A lot has been said in the print and TV media about the face off between Amitabh Bachan and the Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss.

Amitabh Bachan apparently lashed out at the minister for asking actors to not act in scenes portraying actors drinking or smoking. 'Ask your goverment servants to stop drinking before you ask us'. he is supposed to have told the minister.

Now let me make it very clear at the outset that I do not have a lot of respect for politicians. However, on this instance, I beg to differ with Mr.Bachan, however sacrilegious the rest of the nation might think it. Alcohol and smoking are bad for everyone, period. It does not matter whether one is a government servant or a matinee idol. However, what one has to take in mind is the effect that a 'star' drinking on the scene will have versus some pot-bellied government servant drinking away in the privacy of his own home.

If the said government servant is a certified alcoholic, will his family suffer? Of course it will. But what happens when millions of impressionable young minds when they see their demi gods drinking on screen and making it look as though its the coolest thing to do and not drinking is only for frumps?

There has been a report that the average drinking age has come down from 29 to 19 in the last decade. And it further hints that it may drop to as young as 15. The idea horrifies me.

Now some people may be wondering why suddenly a harmless mommy blog has morphed into this preachy, issue-discussing kind of place. Well, I will be the first one to admit that mine is a small world. I do not hob-nob with the biggies and the decisions I take impact no further than my front door. However, my concern for this issue started because I read this and wondered if our idols have even an inkling of the kind of impact that they have on people and the responsibility that should come with it.

I wish that I need'nt allow my world to be infringed by film stars but I cannot help it. The hubby and I both enjoy watching movies though we hardly watch television. Kuttan has obviously inherited the love of movies from us. It is very difficult for me to explain to a 3 year old what 'juice' uncle is drinking. My dad smokes and it hardly causes a ripple in my son's mind. However, if Shahrukh does it, it is watched with rapt attention and stored away somewhere in the depths of his young, impressionable mind.

All I ask for is a little social responsibility from the 'superstars'.After all, there are'nt too many movies they can make in a cancer-stricken nation now, can they?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are we nuts??

Two full-time jobs. A very active pre-schooler. A home. Sounds like a full life? Well, obviously the husband did'nt think so and has gone and enrolled himself for a part-time MBA in one of the most, hallowed management institutes in the country.

For the next two and a half years of our lives, bye- bye vacations. No Friday late-night movies. No Saturday morning lie-ins. No lazy brunches on Saturdays. No sending away the father-son duo on a purported bonding session(wink, wink) while I slouch around looking bleary-eyed and dumb. God help me...pray for me people!!

As for you, dear husband, congratulations!! Kuttan and I are very proud of you. I know you will handle this with the same cheerful irreverence and ease that you have handled every other challenge you met with..calm and composed on the outside, with a razor-sharp focus that I would kill to have and fools most people into thinking you're not serious on the inside.

Classes begin in June....Here's to new beginnings..

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A letter to mom

Dear amma

You have been living with me in Bangalore for the last month. A month filled with the warm, fuzzy, comfortable and secure feeling that I always get when you are around. For me it has been a month where I have conveniently been able to forget everything I learnt about cooking from your able self. It has meant forgetting the way to the kitchen, except to come to chat with you, perched next to the stove while you cooked one dish after the other for kuttan, hubby and myself. I thank you for that.

It has also meant that I have had some worry free and mainly guilt-free hours at work while I knew that kuttan was basking in all the attention and food showered on him by you and dad. It has meant some gossip sessions lying next to you in the bed while you were reading, talking to you endlessly about people in the family and getting to know, all over again, how witty, wise and accurate your perceptions are. It has meant that, for a month, I have been given the luxury of being something I am not...of knowing the carefree feeling of a child again, a feeling that I get only when you are around. I thank you for all that.

But, amma, for a person who judges and understands human beings so accurately, I do believe that your peceptions are skewed many times. I also know that you will never, ever admit it. But what really bothers me is that you apply the same skewed perception to me, your own daughter!

I know you belong to the old school of thought. I know you still think that the way to a man's heart is thorugh his stomach. I know you think small children should stay home with their mothers and learn the ways of the world through their mother's words. I know all this amma, because this is the way your brought me up. Because I have seen you waking up at 5 in the morning to pack breakfast for me, as I left for an early morning tution, even though there was a perfectly good canteen I could and would have loved to eat from.

Because, you have unfailingly made appa's favorite snacks for him day after day, year after year for the last 33 years. And still continue to make an extra chutney for him, unfailingly devoted. Even if you are sick and tired. Even if you really dont feel like it. I know you did all this amma because this is your way of showing us how much you love us. And believe me, I do know. And I do appreciate.

But what you dont understand is that your way is not necessarily mine. May not even necessarily be what my husband and son need or expect from me. I, for one, do not believe in making 10 different dishes in a day. I do not believe I need to feed kuttan his breakfast and then rush to get hubby his breakfast and stand over him dutifully while he eats it. I believe he is a grown man perfectly capable of getting his own cereal and pouring milk over it and eating it without my help.

I do not believe that the world will end if kuttan does not eat dinner AND two different servings of fruit EVERY single day. There are days when I dont even HAVE time to buy fruits. My house does not run with the same military discipline that yours does. I do not know when the maid took the last detergent from the store and I dont keep count. But we're ok with it.

Whatever may be said and done amma, I am your daughter and I did learn my values from you. Together, hubby and I have created a life of our own and we are happy with it. Our life is filled with joy, color and conversation. And love. I know I forget to give kuttan his oil massage sometimes but I never, ever forget to read his stories at night. I know I give hubby the same brekfast two days in a row sometimes but I never, ever forget to tell him how much I love him and how perfect I think he is. And they are happy.

The problem lies with me, amma. Even today, as a grown woman who will turn 30 in a year's time, I still hanker after your approval. I still come running to you, the way kuttan does, after making a particularly clever arrangement with his blocks, and I still look up at you with the same adoration hoping you will say something nice.

Something nice about the way I am managing a child, home and a career. Something nice about how well I am doing at work, about all the appreciation and awards that I get from my workplace. About the determined way in which I clawed my way back into a job and a career after staying home for 2 years inspite of the countless difficulties on the way. About my very big dreams and ambitions for myself and my family. But, somehow, I come to you with childish excitement amma and I always sense your disapproval.

'How long can a woman work after all? Why do you want to do an MBA?', you ask. 'No matter how well you do outside, cooking and keeping a clean home is what will make a man really happy..y do u think B is so unhappy with S even though she is so succesful? Its because she doesnt COOK at home..', you tell me disdainfully.

Now the said B is a serious psycho and given to rage attacks and is almost a split personality. And S will not even be alive today if it hadnt been for her career. And you in your infinite wisdom think some appam and kozhukattai will solve all their problems. At times I laugh at your naivete amma, but at times, it makes me want to pull out my hair and scream...

I just wish you would try to understand me a little better amma. Your only child. And that you would'nt want me to be a mould of yourself. But going forward, if I ever find that you were right, I promise you I will not be too egoistic to admit it to you.

Till then, hubby eats his own cereal and my MBA plans are definitely on.

I love you, amma!!

Your loving Daughter