The scars remain..

My husband had found out the truth about the guy in the first floor portion of the two-storeyed house. He was a terrorist ready to make his  move tonight. All the plans had been laid out and everything was ready for the finale, but things were going to be stopped or so we thought. My husband and his colleagues had formed a boundary around the house.. they were ready to storm. Stealthily, they broke in, he jumped out and ran, they chased him and they had him pinned down. The house-owner was bewildered, he couldn’t believe he had rented his home to a terrorist.

zoooommmm.. fast forward.. my cousins and I are all in a small house. We have mehendi on our hands and are showing if off to the uncles and aunts. It seems like we are getting ready for a wedding. Suddenly someone bangs on the door and we see men in black vests, shooting at us..

zooooommm… fast forward.. my husband drops me off by the side of the road and continues along on the same road. A black car with dark windows slows down by me right after he leaves. They bring down the windows – I see scary men inside, but they take off again. A red weird shaped car stops by me a few seconds later, they brind down the windows and I see more scary men, but dismiss the idea because I expect them to take off like the previous car did, but instead one of them pulls out a gun and shoots me down.

I wake up.. palms sweaty and my heart racing to find I am still alive and in bed, my daughter separating me far enough from my husband to not be able to grasp his hand.

And that my friends has been a recurring theme.. I’ve been plagued by frequent such nightmares since Nov 26 of last year. All the live telecasts from outside the Taj hotel have now made bullet sounds un-alien and nightmares feel so real.

It will soon be a year, but for someone who was not even there, the scars remain…

Election Time!

Happy election day! It’s too bad there is no holiday for Election day, and no special movies on TV (except 16 hours of House which my husband and I and even my daughter have started watching like maniacs).

I have only voted once in a political election – the first one that came by after I turned 18. I was in college, voted for DMK, and I remember my friend wondered how a maami like me had voted for DMK. I have voted in a few other elections as well. I’ve voted for class leader elections, house captain elections, head girl elections – you get the idea?

Class leaders/monitors/Class representatives were responsible for occasionally filling in for the teacher. If the teacher stepped out or was on leave or for some reason the class needed to be “monitored”, the class leader would step forward, chalk in hand, and in a shrill voice, try to drown the noisy class, by such things as “I will write down your name if you talk”, and “Everybody keep quiet”. There were the occasional strict class reps and the occasional “jaane tho yaar” cool class reps, but no matter which kind, teachers’ day would always cause a revolution in the class. There would either be a “move of no-confidence” or a “take responsibility and step-down” act. I was a class rep only once, and I did the latter, because I couldn’t get all the 7th standard girls in my class to agree on whether we should do a dance or a skit for our teachers. Duh!!

My highest held office by election was as house captain for the school when I was in class X. There were four houses, and I still believe the cream of the batch that year was kind of concentrated in one house (not mine). Therefore I got a chance to rise above the radar and get nominated alongwith two other girls – one was a surprise, the other was shocking. Being in class 10, and naive that I was – I thought I would be too immodest if I voted for myself, so I voted for the shocking nominee. I won by a margin of one vote and became house captain. The shocking nominee became my vice-captain. I endured her vice-captaincy for the whole academic year – she was a rowdy and I didn’t want to get beaten up by her “brothers” if I pissed her off. It was kind of fun to be popular and admired by juniors, to select teams, put together plays, plan a drill display, motivate a team, etc. The best part of it was to carry all those trophies and shield we won all the year through. I think it was one of the best years of my life.

Today John McCain or Barack Obama will feel the joy of winning an election that is being termed historic no matter who wins. I did follow the election campaigning pretty closely, and enjoyed every bit of information and misinformation I came across. It’s too bad I cannot vote, but I look forward to hearing the results tonight. CNN will be on full blast at our home today.

So, those of you can vote, go ahead and make a difference – vote for the right guy, at least this time round. Those of you who cannot, you can still vote here.

Happy election day again!

Paatum Naanae Pavamum Naanae

I recently met one of my relatives – a karnatic classical singer who sings for dancers.  Having just spent an evening with her, I could not but help dwell on my music endeavours.

Like most other tambrahm families, I was put in a paatu class at a young age. My introduction to singing I think might have started when my mother was singing lullabies to my brother. I don’t know if she managed to put him to sleep, but I sure picked up a few songs that I would sing along with her. About that time I was 6 or 7 years old, so my mother decided that perhaps I was old enough to learn music. So she contacted a paatu teacher, who came home one day. She interviewed me (made me sing), and she was interviewed by my mother, her tuition charges and timings were discussed, and I was officially a paatu student. She would come home every few days, make me sit down, and started teaching me sarigamapadani. I moved through 3 or 4 teachers after that, every teacher would restart from sarigamapadani, because they were never satisfied with the previous teacher – or may be they were not satisified with their work until they did it from scratch.

Paatu class to me was a boring thing. I never liked to sit in one place for so long, and sing the same songs over and over again. That was until I met M, a childhood friend of mine. She was a professional – she learnt both kuchipudi and karnatic classical and she was good at both too. Around the time we met her and her family, both M and I were at the same stage. So I was instantly accepted as a student of her guru. This guy was not one of the small time paatu teachers I had learnt from all along. He was teaching at a dance & music school. The place would be full of students every evening. He would teach M and me, and because I had company I liked, I was a little more interested in going to the class. Until, one fine day, M found a better teacher, and she decided to join that teacher. Meanwhile, this paatu master started teaching me at his home – I would sit in the gap between the bed and the wall in his modest residential quarters – he would sit on the bed and teach me. My mother ceased to be impressed. Time to follow M to her teacher. This teacher was kind of different. She was a very nice lady, sang very well, her senior students were treated as part of the family, and I was edging towards senior student. However, there were 2 drawbacks – she had a dog (which I loathed), and her home was kind of out of the way. So, I had to take a bus from school to her place, walk a km or so, eat my packed evening tiffin (that amma gave me in the morning). Still worse was the fact that she believed in teaching by memory. She would sing a few lines everyday for a new song, I would memorize it as I sang, and in a week or so, I should’ve memorized the entire song. Except, my memory was really bad (which is why I could’nt learn dance in the first place – I would never know which step was after what). So I was kind of stuck in this place where I was clearly falling behind due to poor memory and lack of practice (which was my problem from day one).

Finally my mother gave up. I was in class IX and studies were getting tougher too. There ended my music class rigmarole. I was happy at the least.

Another big relief was I didn’t have to show off my talent anymore. My pati was the worst at this. Every summer holiday, we’d pack off and go to visit my grandparents. Some maami or pati or aunty would show up – somehow conversation would steer towards music – they would be informed of my music training, and they’d say – “Oh appdiya.. Oru paatu paadu paarpom”. That would make me seethe in anger. I would fuss and fume, and say my throat was bad, and I was tired and I didn’t remember anything without my book. Somehow they would all push me to a corner that would be hard to get out of – my mother would suggest that she remind me of the words if I forgot, my pati would suggest a song which she said I sang well, and so on.

When I stopped learning, I was so relieved that nobody would ask me to sing anymore. I finally got out of the karnatic music league, started listening to more of Nadeem Shravan and A.R.Rehman and sang along all the time. I finally started enjoying my own voice when I got out of my teens, and I repented for not pursuing my music or learning and practicing more. I derived great joy out of singing along with the radio, or cassettes or cds, until one fine day, I realized I was not able to sing those songs anymore. I was pregnant and my voice turned hoarse. My pitch fell flat and I was no longer able to sing along with Chitra or S. Janaki or Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhonsle. All I could sing along with was Bombay Jayshree or Vasundhara Das – not much there. I had this unconscious habit of singing along with any song I knew. Suddenly I found I couldn’t hear myself anymore. I sang deplorably. I lost my voice and I knew then I had wasted it as long as I had it.

Maternal sons & Paternal daughters

I have decided that my only chance at having any shot of support in this house is if I give birth to a son. Lately my daughter and her father have been ganging up on me. My daughter’s constant “my daddy”s are testing my patience. They are always cuddling up on their side of the bed. Any disciplining that I attempt ends up with her complaining to her father about mommy.

So, what is the deal with fathers and daughters and mothers and sons. I have heard that it is considered to be lucky for daughters to take after their dads. That was some consolation, when the minute I saw my daughter I knew she had taken after the other side of the family. Movies boast of sons who go revenge crazy when something happens to their moms. And there are the doting dads who will do anything to stop their daughter from marrying the impoverished hero.

In our family, I pity my father-in-law for getting through 30 something years of being supportless. Clearly both his sons are Amma’s boys and I joke that he is the only one who would support me and I am the only one to support him. On my side, I often joke about how my mom and brother melt for each other, when in fact it is probably just the same between my father and I, less exhibitionist than them because of our relatively stoic natures.

While mothers and fathers are always special in their own right, I have always observed special affections and resemblences or similarities between mothers and their sons and fathers and their daughters. I am no expert at genetics (or even biology), but may be in our genes we are hardwired to be that way. I’ve tried hard to think of why that must be so, and I cannot think of any remotely reasonable explanation for this, except that it is probably almost always true.

Ok, it’s time now for me to go break that partnership across the room at least temporarily, as I let her doze off on my lap for a change.

First memories

Laksh of Musings, tagged me and asked me to recount my earliest memory. Quite interesting, because I never really thought about that in all these years. I’ve been thinking hard for the past couple of days, and I came up with some random early memories, in fact I am not even sure how old I must have been – probably 3 – 5.

I remember my father and I in the living room of our rented portion of a house in Nungambakkam – the house we now call ‘2nd street veedu’. I remember my father holding my hands as I climbed on him as if he were a wall, all the way from his feet up to his tummy – he would then let go of my hands, and just as I experienced free fall backwards for a split second, he would hold me back, and I would giggle happily.

Twenty something years later, it seems so surreal that my father used to play with me and entertain me. Now we talk on the phone about everyday nothings, about career, home, health and others in our family – two mature people carrying on with our lives in different parts of the world, but those memories are the foundation for a relationship between a daughter and the dad of whom she has always been proud to be considered a copy of.

Thanks Laksh, for tagging me – first time as I said. Loved thinking about so many things from all those years, until I thought this was one of the earliest things I remembered.

I am not sure whom to tag, so anyone interested, please go ahead and take it up, or you can go ahead and comment here.

Of “silly mistakes” and “carelessness

On many nights, my roommate and I would be lying on our backs staring up at the ceiling fan, and chatting well into the night about what life would have in store for us. On one of those occasions, a shuddering thought occurred to us. “Nammaku porakardhukku padippae eralaenna…???”, and we instantly recognized it as a problem that would baffle us. For the tamil challenged that would read as – what if our kid is academically challenged? I remembered this all of a sudden after so many years, because the other day, I oversaw my friend’s daughter’s kumon homework and found myself saying two words that I never understood as a kid – “silly mistakes” and “carelessness”.

As in many tambram households, the first 21 years of my life was expected to be solely dedicated to the most important job of studying. “Padi.. padi.. padi”, my mother would constant harp, as I sat with my book in hand but watched the India Pakistan one-day match out of the corner of my eye. “How can you concentrate?”she would say as Nadeem Shravan’s music blared in the background. My father would come to my support and say that he studied quite successfully with AIR crackling in the background.  “How long is your break going to be?” my mother would demand, as a 5 minute break from my exam preparation stretched to a half hour distraction. “What vambu?” my mother would frown as I smoothly became a participant in the backyard gossip exchange conversation. “Have you finished revising everything?” she would repeatedly ask on the day before the exam. If I confidently replied ‘yes amma’, she would say “Bring me your book, and let me see how well you have revised”. Sure enough, I would fumble and frown at every question she asked. “Poi padi” she would shout and off I went, stomping away with book in hand.

If all this was for the preparation, one can well imagine the scene when my brother or I came home with marks. Being a teacher’s child has it’s big minuses. My brother’s marks and mistakes would reach my mother’s ears and eyes even before it reached his. Any attempt on his part, to cushion the effect of poor marks by waiting to present it to appa and amma with some better marks would never work, because amma would be demanding on their ride home “So, heard you got your maths paper today??”. My school was more forgiving, and therefore my teachers never ran to my mother to squeal on me. My maths answer papers would scream silly mistakes and carelessness, because the teacher would have written it red and bold and screaming on the side of the top sheet. My mother would clench her teeth and ask “Won’t you check you check your paper before you hand it back?”, and I would look at the floor. How dare I tell her I was so bored at the end of the 3 hour exam, that all I wanted to do was hand the answer sheet to the teacher and walk out.  Amma would play the “I am too mad at you to sign the report card” game every time. To this day, I don’t know if it was her way of letting me know I should have done better, or her way of passing on at least some responsibility to my father (like let him at least sign the report card, when I waste all my “thondai thanni” getting these kids to study). My father would sometimes play along and pretend that he was never going to sign on a report card that had such lousy marks (they weren’t all that lousy really..). Eventually, the next morning after making some false promises, and “I will next time”s I would walk out triumphantly, signed report card in hand. Appadi.. if studying was hard, writing exams was harder, getting that signature on the report card was truly the toughest ordeal of all.

Then there was the PTA meetings, where parents and teachers could jointly criticize the poor student for behaviour at school and home. My father only came to two parent teacher meetings. My mother stayed out of that – she didn’t want someone telling her “vaadhiyar pillai makku”, you see. The first time my father came along, I was in class 4, and the teacher politely said, she is so talkative in class, she will even make a stone talk if it sits next to her. That was some lesson, because the next time my father was informed of a PTA meeting was 6 years later, when I was in class 10, and I knew that pretty soon, there would be no more PTA meetings in my life. 

So indeed, now that I am parent and I have so much trouble getting my daughter to eat even Rava Kesari, I wonder what I would do, if she did not sit in one place and study like the good girl her mother was.

P.S: Amma and Appa, don’t air my dirty laundry in public pleeezz!

A fortnight of aches

The past fortnight has been an emotional rollercoaster. Many people gave me headaches, some others gave me heartaches. I learnt many important lessons, though I wish it didn’t have to be learnt this way. I learnt there should have been a thick line between friends and colleagues. I learnt that people have different meanings and levels of friendship. I learnt that long-term relationships take a minute to break, and they probably never become normal again. I also learnt to lower my expectations from people. May be next time round I will then have to deal only with headaches.