Freedom!

On this independence day, I wish for everyone, but mostly for myself – freedom.

Freedom!

… from the monsters under your bed

… from doubts

… to know you’re limitless

… to be true to yourself

… to do the right thing

… to cut the ties that bind, choke and silence your music

… to walk away from rudeness, meanness and pettiness

… to let go of things without bitterness

… to accept success and failure with sangfroid

… to love with no expectations!

Happy Independence Day!

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Destiny. And A Math Class.

This post is about destiny. In the form of a random math paper that was part of my college curriculum. And the myriad ways my life meandered but eventually, despite my many attempts to stray, guided me to where I was supposed to be. Sometimes it was literally by the scruff of my neck, with me screaming bloody murder.

When I was getting ready to choose my track of higher studies, I chose, by a very scientific process of elimination, a solid and safe Commerce degree—known in India as B. Com.

(This was my process: didn’t like science, so engineering and science degrees were out; an Arts degree was not solid enough for the prestigious bank employment that was the dream of the entire middle class society back then, ergo the commerce track)

I almost ended up in a BA Economics course, since I couldn’t get in my chosen major, in my first college of choice. (And, honestly, my “marks” from higher secondary were damn good! My belonging to the so-called “forward caste” put me in an unfortunate demographic that had a tiny percent of quota in most colleges—a misguided attempt by the caste heavy Indian system to correct an injustice by inflicting more injustice—but then I digress).

Destiny calls: So I went to classes in a different college for 2 weeks until destiny, and my aunt, who knew someone who knew someone in my first college of choice, intervened and got me in the program at the Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Two weeks after classes had started. Two weeks after I had given up all hopes.

Back to my story: This degree had a single mathematics paper. This was important, but I didn’t know it then. I was just happy I had escaped the other, conservative college with a strict dress code and a principal who was the original Miss Trunchbull.

I finished college, in the first ever experimental batch of evening college. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for my laid back style of studying.

My amma says she doesn’t recall me ever studying. “You were always listening to music while doing homework, I don’t know how you passed any exam!” Classes were in the afternoon from 1:30 to 5:30 so I got to sleep in, got to watch all the tv programs offered by the single channel Doordarshan, do my homework leisurely in the mornings listening to Vividh Bharathi, and escape the morning rush.

I started applying to the much sought after bank jobs, the “moksha”—safe, solid, “permanent”—like that meant anything. I also started going to classes for ICWA (Cost Accounting)—always had to have a plan B.

No jobs were working out. And then, this huge opportunity was presented to me (being totally sarcastic here). There was a 3-month period when my aunt’s brother and his girlfriend (who at that point was just a friend, but I figured out something was up between the two—scandal!) who were both fresh out of med school, opened a clinic/hospital in Anna Nagar West, which was way out there compared to Anna Nagar East, where we lived. They needed a receptionist. It wasn’t a difficult job, they said. Boy, were they right!

Off I went every morning, my lunch packed. Some days both of them would be there, and the 3 of us would chat, gossip, play cards, whatever. Some days they would go out to get supplies for the “hospital” leaving me alone in that house/clinic/hospital. There were not many houses nearby, but one was being built across my place of “work”. So on many days, it was just me, my lunch dabba, and the construction workers. I started carrying books to read to while the time away and to keep my active imagination from running away.

My career as a blossoming receptionist at a hospital where the doctors were always out, and no patients ever came, came to an abrupt end when I chanced upon an advertisement by a computer company called CMC.

CMC was inviting applicants all over India to take an entrance exam to qualify for their classroom training/ hire program. By this time, I was practically an expert in taking entrance exams, and said what the heck, I’ll apply. Never seen a computer in my life. Had no idea what the company or the job was about. The only requirement was, get this: all non-science applicants needed to have completed at least one math paper in college. Hey, it was practically begging me to apply!

I got through the entrance exam and was called for an interview. They selected 80 candidates from all over India–40 with science/engineering background, and 40 who were from a non-science background. I got selected, went through the 4 month classroom training, passed another final exam in programming languages (COBOL/Pascal), and got hired in the company as an employee – System Trainee Batch 1!

Destiny calls: I had really, really wanted a bank job or an accounting job. Didn’t get either. But ended up as a computer programmer, at age 21 with little knowledge about computers. Oh to be young and daring!

I did well, apparently—a natural love for problem solving led to a love of programming. Two years later, I was put on the project to implement the application called IMPRESS for the Southern Railways—it stood for Integrated Multitrain Passenger Reservation System. CMC was implementing this all over the country, Delhi (Northern Railways) having been the first.

Destiny calls: my management had slight reservations about putting me on the team since it involved supporting the railways 24 hours/365 days, and they were not sure of having a female on the team. And this was one of those “turnkey solutions” that was immensely valuable to the company, its reputation at stake. The railways is like a mini government within India. We were bringing on a whole nation of railroad travelers to computers—folks who stood in long, slow moving lines for hours to book train tickets. A trailblazer project by all accounts! But CMC was the most progressive company I have worked for in my entire career—I won this one, and they put me and another girl on the team.

Now things were in place for the most wonderful thing that happened in my life. The single math that paper got me in to this job, and the job that put me in this project.

Flash forward 2 years: a new guy from Bombay joins the team in Chennai. His name was (is)…yep, Rajagopal. His reputation precedes him—he was apparently a superhero. TDH! (for those unfamiliar with the romance industry it stands for tall, dark and handsome).

This was March of 1989. We were engaged on July 13, 1989, and married by February 5, 1990, having had a whirlwind courtship that mostly involved doing the daily Hindu crossword puzzles, (hey, we were at the Chennai Central station 8 hours a day), combing through the horoscopes of prospective brides his mother received for him which he asked me look through and advise (those girls were doomed), and supporting the Southern Railways, and weekly visits to the famous Parthasarathy temple—(the only reason I went was for the yummy puliyodarai).

I sometimes imagine my possible alternate lives had destiny not intervened at each juncture and shudder. If I had continued with the BA Econ program; if I had gone into the Cost Accounting program after graduation; If I had gotten some boring bank or accountant job. All of these and a few others that I won’t go into, were huge disappointments but there was an invisible force that was steadily directing me to my destiny.

At each turn I had to be dragged kicking and screaming; shouting at the man above. I fought every move. I now understand what patience it must have taken for that power above to love me enough to not give me what I wanted at each turn, because something much better was in the works. Every now and then, I stop and thank him/her for rescuing me from myself!

There was a plan. There’s always a plan. All it takes is faith. And lots of patience, especially for someone like me. I read somewhere that we decide our lives before we are born. I just wish we would also remember it after we’re born.

You always get what you deserve, what is meant to be yours. I think, no, I know, I got the better end of this deal.

To my love, my life.

The yin to my yang.

The calm to my storm.

The rock to my crashing waves.

Happy anniversary!

 

 

 

Bows And Arrows

Blessings to my baby, my sunshine as you embark on the next phase of your life. May you go swift and far and shine wherever you go.

Love, 

Amma & Appa

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

 

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

 

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

 

 

 

From Amma, With Love…

Dear Chinna,

As you go through life as an adult, I want you to remember the basics. Everything you need to know about life, you pretty much learned during the first years of life!

Have a productive, meaningful and filled-with-love life!

Love,

Amma

Always be curious.IMG_4013

Have a seat at the table for all kinds of folks.IMG_4015

Be goofy with your loved ones.IMG_4014

Don’t ever stop playing.IMG_4019

Sisters are the best!1422483_3691002970128_1226104493_n

Always listen to amma 😉IMG_4016

Travel as much as possible.IMG_4012

Be adventurous and take risks (check with amma first).IMG_4018

Get out of your comfort zone every once in a while and challenge yourself to face things totally unexpected.IMG_4020

Clean up your messes. Always. Never hesitate to apologize to anyone, and unconditionally if you make a mistake.IMG_4021

Have music in your life. Always.IMG_4017

Remember appa is always there to guide you.10404526_4311216035067_5037209842270875144_n copy 

You will have the whole world in your hands!IMG_4011

I want my house back!

It’s me again. The teary-eyed, emotional mom who had sent off her youngest to college and wrote about being an empty-nester here.

A strange thing happened as I adjusted to this state. To provide some context, I have never been someone who had enjoyed or even had a chance to experience solitude. Having been born into a big family (four sisters), and lived with grandparents, aunts, cousins through adulthood, the first time I was truly alone was when I was pregnant with my daughter within 2 years of my marriage. I had quit my job, moved to Indiana and generally did nothing but be pregnant while Raj went happily off to work every day. Did not know a soul in the new town. Did not have much mobility as Raj took our only car, the old Ford LTD to work, which I couldn’t have driven anyway. It was a bench-seated monstrosity that my 5-foot tall pregnant self found best suited for sleeping in the back. 

Of course that didn’t last long. My daughter came along, and so did my son after 21 months. And then it was a race. Race to feed them, bring down the fever, get them to sleep, to school, piano and violin lessons, baseball and tennis, get myself to work when I stepped back into workforce as programmer and then software Project Manager,…and then college!

When my son, my baby, went to college, I felt justifiably empty, and lost. This time in sunny Florida. Not unlike a mom feels the first time she steps out without a diaper bag.  Doesn’t quite know what to do with her hands.

So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I made a list. I didn’t quite write the next great American novel, but I accomplished several things on my list. Made new friends, started (and stopped) music lessons, exercised fairly regularly, got very involved in the local Tamil community and did a few skits, started volunteering, traveled with Raj, cooked—a lot and, yes, missed my kids.

In addition, Raj traveled a lot these past two years and I was alone a few nights every week. Initially I freaked out—solitude has always scared me, but slowly it grew on me. I went back to my two loves: reading and music. I cooked only if I wanted to. Lunching with my girl friends, exercising regularly, watching the Real Housewives of New Jersey without any child rolling his/her eyes—this became the new norm.

Moreover, my relationship with my children took on a different dimension. For one, my daughter regularly called for advice! I thought that would never happen considering this was the child who, if she had to make a choice between a blue and a red dress, would ask me which one I liked, and then pick the opposite. (This plan went haywire when I caught on to her little scheme, and would say the opposite of what I liked so she would pick what I liked, then she caught on to what I was doing…you get the point. It all got very confusing as we stood in the stores trying to figure out what we should say…no wonder she decided to study psychology!) And then, she called to get recipes! She who was as lost in the kitchen as I am on any parking lot. And actually ended up making some of them!

 I started to have very mature conversations with my son, who works for the diversity office in his college, and pounces if he detects even a whiff of stereotyping in his desi-parents.

Overall, I was starting to enjoy this empty nest thing.

So when my son moved back home this summer (he’s only a sophomore in college), and Raj quit his job with the local company and joined a UK-based company (there goes the daily commute—thank you, Russell!), my feelings were not quite, how to put it, ecstatic! All of a sudden, my house is not my haven.

My son is parked on the family room couch when he is awake, watching reruns of The Office, Community and The Mindy Project for hours on end. Raj is in the den or in the lanai working—to be fair, he doesn’t make many demands of me, and has been tolerating my jokes about having to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, and supplying endless cups of coffee and tea. Meanwhile, my inner diva screams —I want my house back, bitches!

The real point of this story is not to complain about the milling crowd at home (although it would appear so), but to shine a light on the foreseeable future for all those moms who are getting ready to send their children off to college and dreading the empty nest phase. Stay with it, moms. This is your time. Of course you are going to miss them like crazy. Let yourself grieve for the lost sweetness of children under your roof.  Not for long though—for you need to get out those dancing shoes, or the books, or those craft ideas, or polish your resume for your second act! For it truly is your show this time!

Hope, Change and Jalebis

It’s been 2 days since the nail-biting finish to months of campaign watching, wringing of hands over reports of voter suppression, elation/relief at the gaffes by Romney and team that slowly revealed the truth about them, anger over republican ideas on “legitimate rape”…and I can’t stop smiling and feeling relieved it’s over, and it’s gone the way of the people.

The last time, in 2008, which was also the first time I voted as a citizen of this great experiment called America, we had spent watching the election night coverage at my friend’s house. A whole bunch of us were there, excited for the historical night. We had some doubts, but were mostly optimistic. This time, though I was alone at home, since Raj was traveling and I was dreading the prospect of watching it alone – the stress was killing me!

So, the new me called some friends over. To make jalebis! I say the new me because I’m discovering myself all over again since we moved from the corn fields and cold winters of Muncie, Indiana to beachy, marshy Florida. And kind of surprised at what I’m finding in me! I had left behind some longstanding friendships__ some true, some dysfunctional but all comfortable__and started anew, not knowing a single soul in Florida. Just like 22 years ago when I got married, moved to the US, then quit my job, got pregnant and moved to Muncie. The difference was, we were just starting our lives together then__raising 2 children, a job, a career and building our future took care of any anxiety about making friends.

But last year was different. Our kids were both in college. It was going to be a clean slate for me again__ but this time, I had no day to day responsibility of kids or a job to keep me occupied. I had to find things to do to make myself from going crazy.  But, I’ve realized over the past year, that people are people, and most are good, normal people just like us. Once I got over the mental block of extending my arm in friendship first, it got easier and easier.

I am now happy to report a small group of friends that I can call for almost anything__be it an illness,  to go to a music concert or  desi movies with,  to go shopping, or to come make jalebis with me on a week night and watch Mr. O getting reelected! And these girls have full time paying jobs, and kids living at home!

Well, they came, and we made jalebis and jangiris! I had the batter ready, one filled the ziploc bags to pipe the batter into hot oil, we all took turns making crazy swirls in the hot oil, and one dipped them in the sugar syrup. My husband kept calling every few seconds announcing the latest electoral vote count. It was better than a bar! Noisy, smoky and full of laughs. We finished just about the minute when Ohio was called for Obama and Karl Rove started unraveling on air. We all sat around the tv, and took a couple of pictures with my cellphone to mark the moment. And I instinctively picked up the phone and dialed my Muncie friend’s number – at whose home we had watched the last election. Then noticed that she had posted on my facebook wall almost at the same time!

There is change in me – we are, after all, organic, and without change, we might as well lay down and die. There is new confidence about my ability to start over and a renewed faith in people. There is hope that I will build friendships that will last a long time. Like the ones I have going on, long distance. Best of all, there is at least four more years of (what I am predicting to be) a historical presidency!

O eating a jalebi! Coincidence? Don’t think so!

Here’s a video of a professional chef making jangiris that we found on Youtube. While ours aren’t this perfect, (it is only our first time), they are GOOD! We celebrated Obama’s reelection with fresh hot jalebis/jangiris!

New Year’s Ramblings

Here’s wishing a very happy, safe and healthy 2012 and beyond to my 5 ardent readers, 3 of whom are family – take that, Huffington Post!

My mind is right now too cluttered with all kinds of ideas, thoughts, analyses, etc that I need to clear some of it out or will explode into a 1000 pieces like Vikramaditya’s head would have if he knew the answer to Betal’s puzzler and didn’t answer.

A year-end update from our family:

After a brief, but real scare, my daughter seems to be on the mend from her concussion.  She had to take an “Incomplete” on two of her finals as she was not allowed to study until completely free of symptoms.  But, she rocked in her other two classes with high A’s.  Michigan is a tough school to get B’s, let alone A’s!  We’re very proud of her.

My son seems to have adjusted very well to college life.  Brings home huge laundry loads, and unwashed dishes, found some really good friends and mentors, but still misses us when he goes back to school!  That’s all a mother wants for her children right?  Happiness mixed with a healthy dose of homesickness 😉

My husband is probably tired from taking care of all of us during December – and is back to work!

I have finally adjusted, I think, to being a well-balanced emptynester mom.   I felt sad when my daughter left, and didn’t get up from the couch for 4 hours after my son left yesterday, but have bounced back.  I am happy as long as I know they’re happy and safe.  It took me 3 years to get to this point!  Keeping my fingers crossed it sticks and is not a passing phase in my growth spurt.

The holidays were totally relaxed – no real plans and we took it one day at a time.  Played some carrom, watched movies, ate a lot, just hung out.  My son and I watched all 3 Godfather movies.  It’s one of our favorite things to do.  With my daughter, I like to watch classic chick flick (countless times of Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast), paranormal stuff (still can’t watch Paranormal though).  Started playing ‘Words with friends’ with the kids yesterday.

Raj and I were pleasantly surprised at a couple of dinners with our neighbors and friends – the kids totally enjoyed interacting with us on grown-up terms (I was going to say “adult” but I think that term has been permanently tainted for me growing up in Chennai where ‘A’ stands for ‘adult movies’.).  We watched, with wonder,  as they made jokes that were not based on body functions or bathroom humor, talked intelligently about all kinds of topics,  and entertained our friends!  Wow.  When did they grow up?

Had a great new year’s party – only Indians, specifically Tamils, can pull off a NYE party where the dress code was black tie, (but we saw everything from saris, salwars to cocktail attire), the food was Chinese and Thai with Indian appetizers, the drinks were punch and Margaritas, the theme Casino Royale,  and end up with a sensational party!  Great job, organizers!  You worked very hard.  As my friend said the next day, I now feel part of this community – only 3 short months ago, I knew not a person here!

Ah…how can this end without mention of ‘kolaveri’.  Let’s just leave it at that.  Yes, watched it, and a few remixes.  Personally thought the one with Shivaji clips was hands down the BEST.  But, whoever has that kind of time to sync it so perfectly?

Happy new year, all!  Mayan end of world predictions aside,  let’s all have a great year!

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