Friday, December 30, 2016

The Ladies seat: Breakfast and a few learnings.

It was one of those Fridays when I woke up and decided – I wanted to have breakfast out. We do this occasionally, where we just go out for breakfast even on a weekday morning. It seemed like a good day to have some masala dosa. We woke the kids up and hurried their milk down with the promise of a fun trip to eat out.
As I got the car out of the parking, I noticed it was complete flat. A few minutes’ delay and Suresh ad the spare tire on. And that was low on air too. To think of the odds of that happening! The Maruthi garage is close to home and so we drove there. About an hour from the time we decided we had to have breakfast out, we were at the garage and told that something was wrong with the axle and it would take at least 2 hours to have it fixed.
As we walked out from the garage with two hyper excited kids (garage trips are always fun for them, since there is so much to see). Suresh pulled out his phone and said ‘Lets book a car and go have breakfast and come back.’
Ziva chimed in ‘Appa let's go by bus’
I remember when I was young I hated going by bus. I think my sister can fairly vouch that I begged, pleaded and nagged her every evening after school to take an autorickshaw home. She being the good child always refused to!
Ziva’s request gave me the giggles – She may look like me but we are poles apart.
We walked about 500 meters and go into the bus! Two excited kids and two adults trying to look like we fit in. I think we looked like those people who have never been on a flight get all excited when the seats recline back.
Isaac and Ziva took a seat all the way in front and Suresh and I found a seat close by. The bus was relatively empty. After a few minutes, Suresh looked around and realized that there were several seats empty around us, but none of the men were sitting on them.
‘I think I am sitting on a ladies seat’, he whispered a little amused and a little embarrassed.
He stood up and moved closer to where all the men were standing and I decided I would move closer to the kids. I picked Ziva and had her sit on my lap.
Both were curious on why Appa was standing when there was a so many places to sit at.
I pointed to the sign above that said ‘ LADIES SEAT’. ‘Its only for ladies to sit on’ I told Isaac.
Isaac looked above his seat and it had the same sign ‘LADIES SEAT’. Noticing his glance I  assured him . ‘ You are small Isaac. You can sit here. Its OK!’
Isaac: ‘ Will I have to get up when I am 8 years old’
Me : ‘ Maybe it will be OK for you to sit here till you are 10 years old’
I wondered why I put that cap of 10 years! What was I expecting him to do at 10 years that he was not doing at 7 years.
Me:  ‘Or maybe if you behave yourself you can still sit here. ‘
I went on to tell him why there were separate ladies seats.  ‘ If men learn to behave themselves, we wont need these separate seats’
When I told Suresh about this explanation he said that the main reason of LADIES SEATS was because women were considered the ‘weaker sex’.
I disagree.  In the Mumbai where there are tons of women working there are just two compartments (maybe 3 reserved for women). Separate compartments – because men don’t know how to behave themselves!
On the way back from breakfast, we got into another bus! As Isaac sat in his spot, he turned up to look if there were was something written over it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Beauty is Skin deep ... But cooking is a must! Marriage - neogitable and non-negotiable!

Being friends with youth of our church and having them be absolutely free as they speak to us has given me a DEJA VU on what it was like to think about a life partner.

At about 23 I wanted to just have a baby - no HUSBAND. Could I adopt a baby?
Today after two children I know the value of my husband. I know his importance in my kids life as a father.
But 15 years ago - It seemed like I could conquer the world and make it mine.
I had my rules - The guy should cook, he should not smoke, not drink. He should not be egoistical and should let me do as I like. He should let me dress the way I want and work where and when I want.
I guess age does make you wiser. As I watch a few young girls making similar statements, my inner being is screaming out! Don't! That's not whats important!

This BIBA ad got me thinking.

I love the ad. Its very beautiful. And I love the lovely lady who tagged me! She's one of my favorite young people along with her friend who jumped in to remind me of all the lovely traits of her friend! Lovely lovely ladies... and they remind me of  ... ME ... 15 years ago.

Would you judge a man/ woman  if they choose a partner based on good looks? Most likely yes.
Because beauty is skin deep!
Would you judge a man if he rejected a lady because she could not cook? Yeaaa
Would you judge a woman if she rejected a man because he did not have a job? Yeaa
Then you must also judge a woman who rejects a man because he cannot cook! Or a man who rejects a woman because she doesnt have a job.

I know  a marriage counselor couple who advise young people - NO EXPECTATIONS
Now that, you would say is idealistic. I mean we all have expectations. But I think in expecting ... we forget that we are not able to meet ALL of the other person's expectations!
Is it possible not to expect? Unlikely.
But here is my advise to young folk ... Free advise hai - lena hai to lelo!

For both boys and girls : Don't expect someone who is drop dead gorgeous ... Even if you are drop dead gorgeous. Chances are you will eventually get fat and ugly. 😉😉😉😉😉😉. Or chances are you may grow ridiculously insecure :)

For girls : Don't expect someone who can cook, clean, do their own laundry ... etc.. etc.
Instead find out if they will stand and chat with you while you cook. Or someone who asks you how your day was while he tries to fold the laundry. Or someone who chops onions because you hate doing it. Or someone who will order food from outside  - because you feel exhausted.

For boys : Please don't ask a girl if she can cook, unless you can cook yourself. It's a big back fire question.

For girls and boys: Will you work after marriage? Do you know if you yourself will work for sure. Life brings about circumstances that make it necessary to choose family versus career or the other way around.

Marriage is not about cooking and taking care of the other person. Marriage is not about the perfect partner with all the perfect traits. Marriage is not all romance and singing around trees.

For me marriage has been about having someone I could hug and cry when I lost my father!
It was about being given the permission to hug my husband when he lost his parents! (I am a big hugger!)

How would you know these qualities? Find out if the person loves their parents... Because if the person loves their parents and you love yours ... chances are the person will love your parents too.

For me marriage was about having someone who watched me study for the longest time. Masters... PhD ... Residency .  And he brought home the bacon.  And then, I watched him do his post doctoral fellowship while I brought home the bacon. Marriage is not about stability in finance or jobs.  You don't know what tomorrow brings. Marriage is hard work and good times. They have to be balanced.

Marriage is not 50%
I help  50 %... my spouse puts in 50 %

I can't expect my husband to endure 50% of labor pains can I? Neither does he expect me to deliver a 7.5 pound baby and walk back to work the next day.

Marriage is 100% - I put in 100% of everything I do! And my partner will put in 100% of everything he can do.
But what if he doesn't?  Well then some things wont get done! Or ... you will fight a little... big deal!

Marriage is not about having a long list of non-negotiable demands ....  Marriage is about being negotiable in all your expectations.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Unemployement and failures - Its a Wonderful Life

I wonder how many have watched the movie 'Its a wonderful Life'. Its a very Christmassy movie and I highly recommend it.

 Just when you think it can't get worse, it becomes a wonderful life. But to enjoy a wonderful life, you need a few downs before you can treasure the up's

I have a similar story to share about our (Suresh and my) life and a certain summer in 2003.
We go through life labeling people for who they are and where they stand and how they handle life, career and family. 
Loser - That's the word associated with failure! It seems so easy to label someone as a loser.
Oh they have failed an exam - What a loser
Oh they have lost a job  - What a loser!

Here is a story in my life of losing/ failing and then rising up again - Because if you don't taste failure -- success is not as sweet!

It was close to the end of the spring semester in 2003. Suresh and I had been married about 6 months odd. We had rented a 1 BHK and were content. It was a good first 6 months considering the stress we went through convincing my folks for the marriage and attempting to stay away from any controversy. The goal was - To get married!
We go through various stages of life thinking, if I can get through this, I am going to be happy! Life will be good!
If I can finish high school, life will be good.
If I can finish engineering, life will be good.
If I can get a scholarship, life will be good.
If I can find a good spouse, life will be good.
If ... If ... If.
We were going through one of those high's when we were hit. Both of us.
In the summer of 2003, the Virginia commonwealth University decided to withdraw scholarship for the engineering PhD students for the summer. Just like that with and email, Suresh had lost his stipend for 3 months. Even though I was getting paid, it was big hit. We could not survive unless both us brought in our stipends!

Just as a very frustrated Suresh started scampering for a summer job, which was very hard considering all the good paying jobs would have been taken up much earlier, I got an email.
We had both given our PhD qualified exams and I had failed my Signal Processing Exam. Just like that, through one email! I did not know what would be the next step.

While I teary eyed called up my advisor and he encouraged me that there would be a second chance and I was not out of the program, Suresh spoke to his advisor and the possibility of a summer job or an internship somewhere. Its a wonderful life huh! If anyone had spoken to me at that time telling me that this was just a small part of a rather complex life, and things would get better, I would not have believed them! If only Suresh could get a job ... If only I could pass this exams.

And yes it did happen, just like in the movie, life turned around and the success was so sweet because we had tasted failure.
Suresh found a job in my lab working for the director as a signal processing programmer. Something he was super duper good at. And he got paid more than he did with his stipend.
I gave my exams a month later and passed - with so much ease!

I guess all is well that ends well? Now its easy to say that! But what does tomorrow bring, an up or a down. 

I was recently talking to a young person who was going through the 'if' statement
X: I thought once I finished college I would be get a job and be independent and all would be good.

My take on independence -
Employment and financial stability does not indicate independence. Independence is the determination to survive despite unemployment... despite failure.

Friday, September 23, 2016

It takes a village to raise a child #Proverb

There is the famous African proverb - 'It takes a village to raise a child.'

Now I never really understood this one! Well till I had kids of my own.
And even then I always thought of this as something to do with 'taking care of' and 'discipline'. I thought it meant being there for someone else when they were not in the same room for their kids. I even wondered why did I need an entire village, I mean just grandpa, grandma and uncles and aunts would be enough.  How could the 'village' help me raise my child?
But I recently got a completely different perspective of this 'Proverb'.

I thought - big misconception - I could somehow provide for all the needs of my child. If I was not good at something, I could take my child somewhere to learn it. The key word being - 'I'. And so along comes Isaac and Ziva, two different personalities with completely unique interests.

As I watched the rapidly growing Isaac, I realized his immense love for animals. Now I am not a great animal lover. I am all for animal kindness and no cruelty etc. But Isaac is in love with all animals. I mean he dreams of being a Zoo keeper or a Forest Ranger when he grows up. He spent a lot of time these past couple of months with one of his school books that dig deep into the animals from different parts of the world! I would find him often just dwelling on a few pages here and there.

I could deal with this interest. I mean all I had to do was read the book. And we did. It is how we began each day. 'Usborne - World of Animals'! First thing in the morning. It was how I got him to do other school work. Bribe - I will read Usborne - WOA if you finish Math, Kannada, writing.

And then Isaac shifted gears.
Isaac : 'Amma can you draw a giraffe for me.'
Amma: Silence - 'No. Appa can'
And so evening after evening Appa was dragged into drawing an animal and Isaac would color it. For some reason Isaac barely attempted to draw on his own. Probably because Appa's rhino's and hippos were way too artistic.

Then two weeks ago - one Friday Bandh - we had a a few visitors. One was the talented and patient 'Karan Uncle'
I am not sure how they sat down together because Isaac rarely warms up to any folk outside of the family. Maybe it had something to do with some drawing. Finally 'Karan uncle' spent most of his Friday/Saturday drawing Zebras and Hippos.

I dont know what clicked after that - but Isaac kept trying to draw the animals on his own. I even caught him following Karan uncle at lunch, post Sunday service. I really have never seen him follow anyone other than me - Yes I was an incy bit jealous. :)
I try to reason why Isaac didn't get inspired by Suresh's drawing and I came up with theory. Appa and Amma could do everything so he didn't attempt imitating.  But Karan uncle was more of a buddy and if Karan uncle could draw - maybe he should try too.

My son had found inspiration in the 'village'! 

Currently there is constant drawing and redrawing of animals. Practice ! Practice! Practice!

A few weeks ago, at the church retreat, the children were dancing to a song they had learned. As the kids kept going, there was a sudden roar of cheer from the youth! You could see all the children get really encouraged. As parents one of our primary role is to encourage our kids and we can see them grow into balanced individuals. But when the  'VILLAGE' encourages a child - we get a benevolent society!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The BUTTON and the LEAKY TAP - A story on equality

A few months ago, one Sunday evening we were hanging out at home. It was unusual, since we are almost never at home on Sunday evenings. We had the company of one of our youth from church and this little controversy started through a rather simple request from Suresh

Suresh: ' Hi Rohini - can you stitch my shirt button?'
Before I could reply, the young girl jumped in.
Girl: ' Why can't you stitch your own button?'
Suresh was taken aback and we realized that we had a budding feminist in our presence. I think he responded something to the effect of  'I dont know how to stitch a button' - which led to further horn locking and comments on why men could not do everything.

We live in an age that is completely confused. We don't have separate roles anymore for men and women and we believe everyone must do everything or at least know to do everything. The term here is equality.
A common argument I hear is how the woman's role is changing in our times. I.e. women are leaving the home to go to work and so men should help out more at home. But are they helping out more at home?
The button request conversation made me realize that there were things that my husband could not do on his own. And .... it made me happy.
Marriage is not about equality. If we were two equal individuals, who could do everything on our own, we would not need each other. The word 'need' is very important in marriage. If we do  not 'need' each other then it would be like roommates with kids :)
As I thought further into the 'button'  conversation, I realized there were many things I could not do on my own! Like fix a LEAKY TAP! Or even simpler things like unscrew a bottle lid. I could get someone to fix it like a plumber - and Suresh could get someone to stitch his button.
But just the fact that I had a person who asked me for help and I could go to the person for help, made me realize the joy of inequality.
We frequently talk about men having brute strength and women having emotional strength. That is the beauty of inequality in marriage.
We recently attended a marriage seminar and were asked to describe our marriage. Suresh described ours as a three-legged race. Clumsy, but holding on to each other!

Marriage is not about equally dividing responsibility. Marriage is about sharing responsibility.
Marriage is not about who makes the Tea. Marriage is about making Tea for someone and having someone you can ask to make Tea for you.
Marriage is not about about who brings home the pay check. Marriage is about taking the decisions together on how that money is spent.
Marriage is not about who stitches the button - but also who is willing to ask for the the button to be stitched and who is willing to stitch the button :)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Buying my First car!

I could say, I was born with a silver spoon. But it seemed that sometime around the age of 22, I spat out the spoon and decided to try my foot with the regular steel spoon in the real world.

One interesting journey I had was the buying of a car.
As someone born with a silver spoon, you would think I had a car or a bike or some mode of transportation of my own in Amchi Mumbai. Oh No! Amchi Mumbai is famous for its excellent public transportation and phenomenal connectivity. I also had a dad who had not grown with a silver spoon and at least to some extent chose not to spoil his two daughters with his riches. And so when we were taken out of the school bus system, which was around 11 years of age for me, we had to travel by the Bus no # 214 of the famous Bombay Muncipal Corportation.

I remember during the Bandra fair, which happened close to our place, the #214 never came close to our house and so after a long day at school we would have to walk the last 1 km! Of course we didn't dare complain as both dad and mom would pop out the story on how they had to walk all the way and sometimes had to walk 2-3 hrs to get to school. Now that I think of it, I don't think their bags were heavy - but I still dare not argue.

When we started going to college which was further away from home, it was bus -rail - walk.
Even after I learned to drive at 18, I was rarely given the car. I was allowed to drive only if dad or mom were in the car. I remember once, nervously, asking dad for the car to go for tuition. But that was the max I would dare. There was no way that I could even think about asking for the car to go for a movie with friends or even to a friends house. All those 'extra-curricular' activities had to be done on bus-rail-walk mode.

When I landed in the US, a car was the least of my interest as I struggled with the cold weather and poor academic understanding. But right after the end of our first term, a friend of ours offered to sell his car as he was buying another one. Suresh and I were friends at this point and decided we had just about enough money to buy a car and we would pool in the cost of the car, fuel and insurance. It seemed like a good deal till we crashed the car - A whole another blog on the crash - COMING SOON.

Once we had got our confidence back and I had made a few extra bucks at the summer job volunteering at the Greek festival, we got back into the task of car hunting again. Our budget was ~$2000. That was it! And that was all we could afford. We spent days looking for a car. Something that actually worked! It was hard but we finally found this perfectly cute Red Honda Civic! Cost $2000.

Perfect it fitted in out budget. The man who was selling it to us, was a good talker. And we were newbies! He told us the car was perfect and that he would take us to a mechanic.
Never for a moment did we think anyone would cheat us! I mean why would they cheat us! We were nice people! So they had got to be nice people! NAIVE!
The car seller did all the ground work for us. He took us to a mechanic who he knew! ALERT! ALERT! Then once this ' good' mechanic approved the car, he took us to the DMV and got all the paper transferred to our name, took the cheque for $2000 and that was it!
We probably drove the car about 10 miles, maybe less than it  and it stopped. Our very first day on our wonderful car, bought with our hard earned money and we were pushing it to a parking spot just so we would not get a parking ticket!
We drove around the car for about 4-6 months. If you dont believe that an inanimate object can harass you, try buying a car that does not work too well! The car harassed us each and every day! It stopped at random places. It refused to start in the middle of the interstate. It cost us a lot of money in repairs.

Finally we sold it off for about $200 - just happy to get rid of it. The 'nice' mechanic who bought it also made a ton of money off us in repairs before he 'advised' us to sell the car.
The scar of this car buying was very deep. So deep that for the next 3 years we did not look at another car. Even when we had a little savings in the bank, we chose to stick with using public transportation and doing groceries on the cycle and carrying them in a haversack back home.

Finally in 2004, after I had returned from an internship and Suresh had a part time internship still going, we ventured into car buying again!
Just as we finished paying for the car in installments, we happened to take a course on Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey.
This was about the time I was almost 9 months pregnant! I think Isaac and Ziva will have Dave Ramsey and our own personal experience with car buying to thank when they get their license and are refused their own vehicle.

For those of you who had your parents buy you your first vehicle, be thankful! For those parents contemplating on buying your kids a vehicle! STOP - It wont kill them to ride public transport! They may even learn a few lessons on money management.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Greek Salad and Feta Cheese - A Valuable lesson on dignity of labor

All I remember - my feet were killing me. As I crashed into my bed without even taking a shower, I thought 'Man! I will never do that again'.

It was the summer of 2001 and as graduate students in Virginia we had a few extra hours to do extra work. One of Suresh's roommate brought home a flyer that called for 'Volunteers' for the Greek festival. Me and my roomies decided that it would a good way to make a little extra money. We had no idea what we were signing up for! But I remember that it was the best lesson of my life.

We left early morning to the help at the Greek festival. I think the pay was minimum wages i.e. $5.15. We each had different uses for the money. I was planning to pool it toward money for buying a second hand car. I think one of my roommates wanted to buy a ticket to visit her brother in California and she didn't want her brother to pay for it. I cant remember the other reasons. But the primary reason was - it was summer and most everyone worked 40 hours.
So we reached the Greek orthodox church  and were shown to a dark room that was used for salad preparation! Salad preparation!!!! That had got to be the easiest thing ever. What started out as fun and laughter turned out to be a long dragged day. We stood there for several hours. I cannot remember how long! Boring work - as we dumped lettuce leaves, tomatoes and feta cheese into small plastic boxes. I had seen it been done in videos, I had heard about it and in my life I never thought I would be standing in an assembly line of people putting together a salad. We had to make sure each box had just the right amount of ingredients. As the day went by, maybe we got a little clumsier and feta cheese and lettuce leaves fell on our shoes. At the end of the day our only pair of sport shoes (not the fancy kind - just the simple ones) stunk of feta cheese.

About mid day we were each given a coupon to buy something at the stalls set up for the Greek festival. But the coupons could not be used for some of the special stuff like calamari (squid). Options included more Greek salad (!!!) Souvalaki, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Gyro, Triopita, Baklava, and other things that sounded very interesting to the aching feet. We really didn't want to eat as much as we wanted to sit down.

                                                              Taking a Break at the Greek Festival!

That day when we reached home, none of really had the energy for anything. I remember I didn't even want to take a bath. Just the bed and sleep!
The next day and the day after that we made more Greek Salad! I don't know why I didn't just quit it. After all it was extra money and that to not so much. But by this point we had realized the value of this labor and we had promised to work a certain number of hours to the organizer. Not like they would have cared if we left as they had plenty of other graduate student volunteers who wanted the extra money.  I am glad I didn't quit because I value the lesson in dignity of labor and now I get to brag about it. Yes brag!

One day during the festival we were asked to serve lemonade at the lemonade counter. That day we had sticky shoes and sticky hands and the smell of lemonade stuck so deep in our senses, we would never want to drink lemonade again. You would think! In the heat of the summer, the lemonade came as a welcome break to again sit down and relax.

Then on one day we had to work at the 'drive-thru' stall at the festival. We each were given a sheet of paper and had to run to cars, get the order and then run back and call it out, then run back and deliver the food and collect the money. Essentially an on the run 'waitress'. This was one of the biggest Greek festivals in the East coast I think, because the both the walk-in's and the drive-thru lines were very long. But working at the drive-thru was the most fun because I did not have to stand in a dingy room and smell feta cheese or stand in a humid stall and fill glasses of lemonade.

I think I worked at the Greek festival two years and then went back a year later because I actually missed the food and wanted to eat it. When I worked at these Greek salads, I was already into my Ph.D. Or at least I had made my decision to do one. I cannot remember the thought process for taking up this part time job. But it taught me that no job in the world was too small to do. It also funded my air-tickets to India when I had to come home two years back to back (2002 December to get married)

I now see young people around me who are so picky about their jobs. I wonder if any of them would be willing to work like this for the itty-bitty money! I see young folk who complain about their timing and how tiring and boring things at work can get or how mean their bosses are and I think of the mildly evil looking lady who taught us to make the Greek salad and spoke minimal English and so everything sounded scary.

Here are some of the summer jobs Suresh and I took up
1. Greek festival Volunteer
2. University Gymnasium identity card swipe: This is where I realized I was a morning person. I took up the 5:30 am shift. Suresh took up the 9:30 am shift. Job responsibilities included: swiping id card of everyone who walked in, putting dirty and sweaty towels for wash in the washing machine and when they were dry, folding them and stacking them up. In addition, we would have to take rounds about and make sure things were in order.
3. Dog sitter: This was more of Suresh than me! He got to hang out and walk dogs while he made some extra money.
4. Call center person: I would have to call the university Alumini and ask them for money! It was really embarrassing when I called an Alumini who was pissed about not getting a job after graduation.

Last week as we were driving through HSR BDA, I saw a sign at the McDonalds for a part/ full time job. I wondered – If I needed – would I work there. I wondered if I would see any of the young folks I know, work there. I wondered if I would be OK with letting Isaac or Ziva work there. I wonder if Isaac or Ziva would be willing to give any job the DIGNITY DESERVED!