Life

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

My school is celebrating 130 years and I was asked to write a few lines about my time there. Toughest 3 lines I have ever written. It is not that I hated the place, it’s just that I didn’t love it. I spent an awkward 4 years at the school. I was probably the only girl during my Class 10 graduation who thought ‘Right, let’s get on with this and get it over with’. No tears were shed and I left in Class 10 as indifferent to the place as when I joined in Class 7. As adults we forget that school isn’t just about learning. That’s the easy part. Also something I was good at. It is the stuff outside of accumulation of data that most of us struggle with in school. I was painfully shy and was surrounded by extremely confident, boisterous girls who at the time seemed so worldly and ‘with it’. I always felt different. Starting with my name, everything about me was different. School is hard enough but when it’s an all-girls school, it makes it a bit worse. At home my parents never gave my looks much focus. And rightly so. I was not the nicest looking tween. I was stick thin and looked like a poster child for the World Bank and Unicef. I had the worst possible dress sense and spent ages 12-15 swaddled in clothes 2 sizes too big. The fact that it was by choice made it worse. I’d like to think this is the reason I have personality. I was forced to obtain one to compensate for the lack of physical appeal. Thankfully the phase ended as soon (at least I hope it did) as I hit 16 but I will always have the soul of an uggo.  Growing up I found it much easier to keep myself company than make the effort to acquire friends. Maybe it was because I had no siblings or had no one my age to hang out with. I remember struggling to relate to girls my age. I was and still am an old soul. I couldn’t do the silly or the giggly or the boy talk. I do not remember liking a movie star and I’ve never had posters of a celebrity on a bedroom wall. I can also truthfully say the Josephite/Cottonian lot did nothing for me. As a result throughout school, I felt I did not belong.

The school like most in Bangalore had a few good teachers some of whom I remember fondly to this day. And thankfully they remember me the same way I’m told. But it also had plenty of not so great ones. Teaching should be the way David Chatterjee taught. With passion. Maybe a bit too much passion if one has to ask every Josephite he taught. On second thought Dr. David Chatterjee because so God help anyone who forgets his PhD. He taught me to balance equations at 6. It is because of him that my love affair with the sciences continues. He might have been terrifying to his students but to me he was indulgent and kind. Every time he visited, I’d ask him if he thought I was smart and he’d twinkle at me and say that my IQ was way above the average level. He was a fantastic Chemistry teacher. But he could teach Biology, Physics, History and Literature. He had the finest brain of anyone I’ve known. Unfortunately there was only one Chat and after God made him, he broke the mould. My school did not have its own Chat. And so what I learnt, I forgot once that exam was over. I disliked Hindi as much as I loved Chemistry. Both because of the people teaching it. I do not recall my Hindi teacher’s name and vaguely remember her face but all I remember is that feeling of dread each time we had a Hindi class. I have also exaggerated her evilness in my head- she was sarcastic all of 3 times but with my ego (even as a child), that was 3 times too many. All these years later, I still have not taken a shine to the language although I now realize that it might do me good to view it with less hostility.

Even as a child I could never kiss tushy, not with my teachers and not with anyone. Time has still not taught me that skill. I could never give a teacher flowers or chocolates because I always thought that an extra chocolate should not change my grade-if it did my grade was not worth it. That heady, youthful combination of idealism and stupidity. In retrospect, my indifference might have been viewed as arrogance and maybe it was.  Teachers are meant to convert the data in textbooks into knowledge. Few have that capability. As a child in India, learning by rote is more important than understanding why or how to.  Teaching like medicine and religious orders is not a profession. It is a vocation. It isn’t just an 8-3 job. Teaching cannot be a last resort sort of a job- it is not a plan Z. It cannot and should not be made a career when the alternative is unemployment. Teachers should strive to break down a child’s insecurities and not their spirit. They should build on their strengths instead of highlighting every weakness. Teachers have to realize that they’re shaping young lives, hopefully into adults that they are proud to have taught.

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Life

May these vows and this marriage be blessed

The 31st of May according to my father this morning makes 60 years since he’s ‘known and loved’ my mother. From what my mother tells me, he did not know Math then and he does not know it now.  My father loves to talk about 31/5. She hates it when he does. I’ve heard the story so many times that I feel that I traveled on that bus with him from Bangalore to Mangalore to meet my mother for the first time. They ate French fries and she dressed like a bum. He then asked her if she liked him and she in true form replied ‘What does it look like?’ He never tires of repeating this over and over again. He finishes the story with a “she got angry with herself for falling in love with me”. She hates when he says this because of well, The Ego. She hates that he tells anyone who cares to listen about their first meeting. My mother like me does not like to think of herself as having acted silly. And dislikes it even more if there is a man involved. Us acting giddy-headed over a mere man? Never. 3 months later they were married and 5 years and 3 days later I showed up and my father says that he kissed any/all attention he got goodbye.

My parent’s relationship is the kind that a lot of us aspire to have. They fight like teenagers-he pulls a face and it annoys her, she ignores him and it annoys him. And I have to hear about it. He has taken to ringing me on my mobile from the other room to complain that she ignored him the entire day. She during our regular lunch time phone call will tell me what an unreasonable man he is and it has me wondering when they’d grow up. I wondered when the teenage arguments would give way to the much married bickering where they just get on each other’s nerves all the time but the silly is a staple in their relationship and I do not see the maturity of a seasoned marriage replacing that anytime soon. He follows her around like a puppy, she has fulfilled those vows she took on the 18th of August and then some more.

There are no two people more dissimilar than my parents. She is intense and I know she hates the word but very much the intellectual. He watches WWE all evening and wouldn’t read a book if there was a gun to his head. While she is a maestro with the paint brush, she is also the most unimaginative woman in the world. He can create beauty from scraps of metal. She is not a talker, he hates to listen. She finishes her shopping in under 15 minutes. 15 hours and he still won’t choose a pair of shoes. She doesn’t allow too many second chances, he turns the other cheek. Her temper is controlled, quiet and dignified, his is like a volcano but over in 10 minutes. He has the financial acumen of a drunk, very few people manage finances like she does.

And yet there are no two people more perfectly suited for each other. He feeds into her ego, she lets him think he’s always in control. She’s a feminist’s nightmare because she seeks his permission in everything she does. Maybe because she knows that he stopped using his brain the day they got married so what he wants is really what she wants him to want. Very few women would’ve taken on what my mother took on on the 18th of August. But she did and made a massive success out of it. Very few men can handle a woman as head strong, fiercely independent and unconventional as my mother is. But he could and made a massive success out of it.

As a child I hated that my parents were so fond of each other and spent many unholy minutes or maybe hours or maybe days wondering what would happen if they split up- I’d spend the week with her and the Sunday with him. Best of both the worlds I thought. She’d fuss over me because she wouldn’t be distracted by him and he’d fuss over me because what else did he have to live for? Thankfully that didn’t happen. Growing up I never realized how important a stable home is because I knew no other. I never realized what damage a broken home can do to a child. I always assumed that I had no emotional hang ups because I am me. To this day I get rattled by arguments and anyone with an above normal decibel because I never knew my parents to scream at each other. Sure they snapped at each other occasionally but there was never any name calling or utensil throwing or dirty linen washing in public. Not once have they been disrespectful to each other. She has insinuated that he was an ass but she did it respectfully.

Most marriages only survive because there are children involved. My parent’s marriage continues to thrive in spite of the child that is involved. The nauseating truth is that even if I wasn’t around, they’d have the same marriage but with a whole lot less interference. The good news for me is that she talks of the 21st of August the way he talks of the 31st of May- eyes shining, constantly and fondly. So in your little pug face, Pater.

PS: I have knocked on wood innumerable times as I typed this and intend putting two black spots on the parent’s faces. You know to ward off the evil eye.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

India

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

Nothing gets my goat more than being stereotyped and/or patronized. I wear my nationality with pride and being from Bangalore is one of the best parts of me. It is a city that I love dearly, despite all its misgivings- crumbling infrastructure, horrible traffic and inefficient systems. I’d like to think that Bangalore is fairly cosmopolitan, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. So it often comes as a surprise when colleagues tell me I seem un-Indian, that I seem removed from the rest of India. The Bangalore I know, is filled with people exactly like me. Sure, Bangalore was always a bit more westernized than the rest of the country. Bangalore always had a more “global” feel. Everyone I know grew up listening to VH1 and watching what we thought were regular TV shows. OK, so I grew up watching the Bold and the Beautiful, nothing like a little pre-Game of Thrones incestuous drama to entertain a 10 year old.

Given this background, I do feel like smacking certain people into next week when they tell me that a. I am articulate b. ask about my very Anglicized name c. ask about the cows on the roads. Sure, I can string two words together in English, but so can a million other Indians. Granted, a majority of us massacre the language on a daily basis, some of us up the frequency every time we talk. Some of us aren’t satisfied with just murder but do the Bhangra on every grammar rule there is but give us a break already- most of us grow up learning 4 languages simultaneously and often do this Google translate type function in our head where we translate our “mother tongue” into English, so it is no wonder that we can’t able to speak like the Queen. This may knock every westerner’s socks off, but there are hundreds of thousands of us with names just like theirs. That said, the sole purpose of being given names that are what is loosely referred to as ‘Christian’ is not because our parents had the single minded ambition of our future colleagues getting our names right. The world does not revolve around you and the Paris climate agreement is proof of that. And no, the country will not be receiving awards for cleanliness no matter how much our monogrammed suit wearing, slightly longer than comfortable hug giving PM screams himself hoarse about ‘Swachh Bharat’. But then again try cramming 1.25 billion people anywhere and you will get the mess that we call home. Given our national penchant for spitting and releasing all kinds of bodily fluids in public places, it does not for a sterilized environment make.

Go ahead and take pictures of the cattle on the roads, the open drains, the beggars, and the traffic. But also take pictures of the fancy hotel you stay in, the plush locality that the hotel is located in, the nicely designed offices you have traveled to. Don’t be surprised when some of us are better read than you are or have eclectic tastes in music. By well-read I do not mean our home grown, potential Pulitzer Prize winning Chetan Bhagat with his complete disregard for English and a good story line, nor am I talking about having Justin Bieber on our iPods.

Don’t be surprised when we enjoy something other than a spicy curry and a “Naan bread” or that we are capable of enjoying a movie without ridiculous dance sequences. Not all our weddings involve elaborate costumes, dowry and an ugly groom and evil in-laws. Not all of us work to support our aged parents. Not all of us meet our spouses on the wedding day. Not all Indian women are shy, submissive, face shielding, giggling morons with no brains behind the kohl lined eyes. A lot of women I know could easily add a few more shades to those 50 shades of grey. Not all Indian men are lecherous, uncouth, animals waiting to molest the first thing in a saree. Granted, a good bunch need to be given the Inquisition. And sure, majority of them were not on the receiving end of divine generosity in the looks/personality/IQ department. But still, stop putting us in this mould. Stop with the false sense of entitlement every time you are in the country. You aren’t doing us a favour with your ‘Namaste’. Give the whole Oprah’s “there is order in the chaos” condescension a break. Stop making the entire country a personal ‘Hymn for the Weekend’ vacation. And finally, stop watching ‘Outsourced’ as your official guide to Indian culture. Call centers may not be the cream of the crop where employment opportunities are concerned but last I checked, they don’t have those in the midst of a bustling slum either.