Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Being neighbourly

I've been quite lucky (touchwood) in the people living around me. People working around me is another thing entirely. Duh!
I got along like a house on fire with my hostelmates at both Cochin and Bangalore. and that luck carried on with all my landlords too. The run of good neighbours continued in my own apartment of course, and it continues with my current rented one.

One of them, (the neighbour I get along with the best) is moving on...
Her black labrador used to remind me soooo MUCH of my own brown one back home in Kerala. She and I used to get on famously, exchanging dog and cat stories, and books among other things. They didn't have kids then, and Sonny boy used to like it there too, as he'd be made much over.
When I finally brought Trinity, our golden brown lab home, she was so excited for us. Our relationship grew stronger for the fact that they were one of the few people who loved having a dog jump up all over them. I would have loved for Leo and Trinity to make puppies together. Sigh. But that was not to be.

And then, after 11 years, they had a baby of their own.

And now, they're moving back to Kolkata. A, the husband has gotten a job there in their native place. This will help her heaps with the baby as their folks are in Kolkata. And I'm happy for her. But I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed that I was going to be one nice neighbour short.

And then- Abha said that she was looking out for a house in our neighbourhood as Cubby's school was close by. One thing lead to another, and Abha decided to see the house.
We met outside the apartment complex when she came, and that was when Sonny boy got to know that C (our current neighbour) was leaving sometime soon.
After the initial pleasure at meeting up with old friends, when we were on our way again, he asked me in a not-so-happy tone,

"C aunty is leaving?"
"Yeah, sonny boy, she is", I looked back at him in empathy.
"But why is she leaving?"
"Because A uncle found a better job in Kolkata."
"So Leo will also leave?"

That's their lovely black lab.
Someone who's less mad-dog than Trinity, and who therefore, Sonny boy gets along better with. He's also superbly trained, and can play fetch with Sonny. The two of them together can throw and fetch bones and balls for ages! Trinity, if you throw a bone/ball for her, will take it and disappear under the dining table and expect to be coaxed out of it physically!
Also, with Leo, there's no rivalry for Amma's attention.

"Yeah, Sonny boy, Leo will also leave."
"But then, I won't be able to play with Leo," he said sadly.

I looked at him, knowing that I too would miss Leo lots. Would miss his friendly pattering to the door on the ringing of the bell, and the rush to get his bone on seeing it was us.

"But then, Sonny boy, if Abha aunty comes, you will be able to play with Kabir."
"Kabir is coming HERE?"
"Yeah. that's why they've come here... to see C aunty's house"

He sat back in his seat, mulling over the fact that was losing and gaining a friend in one go.

"Can Kabir play cricket with me?"
"of course he can, Sonny boy. M uncle can also join in, with Acha."
A happy smile spread across his face.

Ah. to be a child and have these transient sorrows and big joys!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month- April 2011.

April has been chosen as the month to drive an initiative on Child Sexual Abuse Awareness, by some of us in the blogosphere. Several of us bloggers will be posting on various aspects of Child Sexual Abuse, some of us as victims, some of us as concerned parents, all of us as people determined to bring Child Sexual Abuse into the open, as an omnipresent threat to the safety of our children. Non bloggers are welcome to contribute as well.

If you would like to add to the discussion or know somebody else who would, please note that we welcome entries

a. mailed to csa.awareness.april@gmail.com OR

b. posted as FB notes and linked to Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month Page OR

c. posted on your own blog with the badge and linked to the main blog OR

d. linked or posted on Twitter tagged twitter.com/CSAAwareness OR

e. sent via some/all of the above methods

The list of topics is available here. Anonymous contributions are accepted and requests for anonymity will of course be honoured. I will probably be hosting at least one guest post and encourage you to do the same for non-blogging friends.

Please remember to send in a mail with all necessary links or just your input to csa.awareness.april@gmail.com so that we can track your contribution and make sure that it is not inadvertently lost or something.

U can also support it simply by adding the logo of our initiative in your blog's sidebar. Grab the below code to do so

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Undervalued gem

Her name was Ratnamma.

Dark and plump, with a perpetual smile that revealed paan stained teeth, she came to my house almost two years back, in response to my SOS for someone to take care of Sonny boy (and do housework) while I was away at work. The apartment housekeeping lady who brought her assured me that she would do nicely for me. Ratnamma’s answering wide smile was meant to reassure, but fell far short of its mark. The paan stains made me wonder about the cleanliness of someone who had to give my son his food. Plus she only knew Telugu and Kannada, while I knew zilch Telugu and my Kannada was only passable. But beggars cannot be choosers.

The only condition she had was that she shouldn’t be made to cook. Which was fine with me. She started work at my house. While she was ok in the housework department ( I am no great housekeeper myself) she was far from Sonny boy’s expectations of a companion.
Amma, Ratnamma SMELLS.. I don’t want her to come near me!
True, she had bad breath and body odour. But how was one to make her understand this in a non-hurtful manner? We had told her that she had to change her clothes every day.. and she dutifully did that. But God only knows when she ever had a bath. To cut a long story short, after a month, I sent her away, saying language was posing a problem. Which it was, but I explained the tru nature of the problem to the housekeeping lady who’d referred her.

Two months later, I was back to begging on my knees for a maid. And then the housekeeping lady materialized again and told me that Ratnamma was a good woman and that she was heartbroken that I’d sent her off.. that she’d explained matters to her and if she could be given a second chance… I relented and a delighted Ratnamma came back.. The paan stains were there, but the BO and bad breath were not too much in evidence. Sonny boy was far from pleased, but all of us strived and gradually, she came to be accepted.

There were the odd dissatisfactions, but by and large, she was ok. And she was a responsible motherly woman, who took Sonny boy ‘Chinnu’s’ well being much to heart and even took it on herself to berate me when I gave Sonny boy the dressing down that was a pretty regular feature at our house. For her placing Sonny boy’s well being above everything else, I forgave her most else. She told me that she hadn’t told her family that she also did housework, that as far as they knew, she was babysitting… She reported to work by 7.30 and stayed on till about 7pm by which time either the Acha or I came back from work. When I asked her who’d do the housework at her house, she said that her sister and daughter would… I enquired who all were at home, and she said- husband, sister, 2 sons and a daughter. I thanked my stars that she had a sister who stayed with them and who took care of their house so Ratnamma could take care of mine.

The months passed and we became more at ease with each other. Once during a phase of spring cleaning, when we’d been closeted for a whole morning together and were taking a welcome break from the chores, she confided in me…

The ‘sister’ was not her sister. She was her husband’s second wife.

Ratnamma had had a job in Infosys in the housekeeping section. She and her husband had been married for some years but when no offspring was forthcoming, people started talking.. She was under severe stress….and developed some psychological problems. Relatives labeled her as mentally disturbed and took her to a temple for some treatment. And in the meantime, the husband married again.

Shortly after, Ratnamma gave birth to a son. And then a daughter. And the ‘sister ‘ gave birth to a son too! The ‘mental problems’ lost her her job with Infosys. Her husband would not do any work. Apparently the man ‘could not’ as he was a diabetic. (I’ve attended her daughter’s wedding and he appeared to me to be a perfectly healthy man, preening under the attentions of his two wives!)

And so Ratnamma who was bothered about getting her daughter married off, started looking for work, and that was how she came to me. The second wife would do all the housework, while Ratnamma was expected to bring home the money. All her hard earned money went to her lazy good-for-nothing-husband. All she got for her pains, was money to buy paan, which was a habit she developed during her ‘mental problems’.

The fortitude with which she bore having the second wife under the same roof amazed and touched me. I asked her how she could bear it. And she said – what else can I do, madam? Namma yajamanaru nimma yajamanaru thara alla.. and her eyes watered and she gave a shaky smile. I came close to giving her a hug then, bad breath and paan stained teeth and all…
I patted her on her arm and said, Parvaakila Ratnamma. God grant that your daughter gets married into a nice family.

About a year back, her daughter got engaged. After the engagement was formalized, the second wife kicked up a fuss. She wanted her son - a wastrel- to marry the daughter. The wastrel threatened that he’d not allow the marriage to take place. The daughter said that she’d rather die than marry him. That was the only time I saw Ratnamma in tears. She wrung her hands to me in distress….. the second wife only wanted this with an eye to all the dowry that would be given apparently... They were selling off some land on her mother's side to arrange for the dowry. I told Ratnamma to go ahead with the marriage and give a police complaint. But they were afraid of going to the police. Luckily, the father had a soft corner for his daughter and said that she could marry whomever she liked. And Ratnamma's own son too, who was a carpenter, arranged some friends to keep order during the wedding.

We went for the wedding, where we met the second wife. She clearly lorded it over Ratnamma and bossed over the husband. She was the important lady of the house, even though it was Ratnamma’s daughter’s wedding. We came away after passing our good wishes to the newly married couple and saying goodbye to Ratnamma.

Everytime the Acha and I have our fights over silly issues, and if its while Ratnamma is within hearing, I always feel ashamed later. My marital disagreements and dislikes seem so petty compared with what she has been through. She’s lost her well paying job, lost her husband to another woman, and even more galling, her hard-earned money goes for the upkeep of the second wife and stepson too.. She has to put up with unkind behaviour at home ( I only realized later why she seemed so unwilling to go home, even if she finished her work early on weekends)

She seemed to me the epitome of the undying spirit of a woman. Who carries on with her life, with head held high and a big heart. Inspite of everything, so her family can thrive.

This is my submission towards Women's Web's initiative for International Women's Day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sonny mornings

6.30- 6.45 am :
At 6.30 Amma gets up with a call to Acha and son to rise and shine. And she and Ms. Doggy go down to get the kitches fires burning.
Acha alternately snoozes and jogs Sonny boy, and after much playful cajoling, at 6.45, carries a sleepy eyed Sonny boy downstairs.

by 7Am:
Sonny boy does an amazing job of brushing his teeth, and washing his face, managing to keep the sleepiness in his eyes perfectly intact!

by 7.15 am:
The milk gets down Sonny boy’s gullet with first encouragement, and then dire threats from Acha and Amma.
Ms. Doggy looks up grinningly, and thumps her tail on the ground near Sonny boy’s feet as if to say that if it was left to her, the milk would be getting digested in her stomach by now.

7.15- 7.25 am:
Sonny boy day dreams on top of the toilet seat.
When irate Amma pops her head in at 7.20, he relates that potty 1 ,2 and 3 have come, but kutty potty 4 is in his stomach, and had not been wanting to come out, but that he’s making it come out NOWW.
Amma screams at him that he better be up and pouring water over him NOWWWWW.

7.30- 7.35:
A prancing Sonny boy is brought out after a bath in relatively cold water. His scrawny limbs are anointed with moisturiser by Amma, while, simultaneously, the Acha shovels food into his mouth.
Ms. Doggy is once again nearby with wagging tail and quivering nose and eyes that devotedly follow every movement of the spoon- from plate through the air, to sonny boy’s mouth. There are many fallen morsels between plate and spoon and mouth and Ms. Doggy delightedly awaits these morsels.
In between screaming at the son to eat and at the dog to get out of the way, Sonny boy gets dressed.

735- 7.40:
Sonny boy makes his little prayers to God. Depending on the day and the mood this varies between a quick Hi and Bye, and an intense mumbling session for whatever little graces he wants for the day.
By now, the Acha is shouting that the bus has come, that neighbouring 9 yr old is leaving, that neighbouring 14 yr old is also leaving, what on EARTH is he doing still in the house??
Sonny boy still has his mouth full of breakfast that he’s trying to finish. Ms. Doggy has a sharp eye out for handouts and Amma has a sharper eye (and hand) out for selfsame handouts.
Finally he’s out of the house!

Amma, Ammamma and L Ammamma stand on the balcony to wave to Sonny boy who is being taken down in the lift by the Acha. And there comes a shout- Handkerchief!!!!! Amma runs back for the hanky which can NEVER be found when in need and finally after much huffing and puffing throws it down to the Acha and son. Acha deftly catches the deftly thrown hanky and gives it to Sonny boy. Hanky in pocket, Sonny boy goes off jauntily to school.

All adults retire for a few minutes of well-earned rest.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

feeling unsettled..

For quite some days now .. or is it months.. its not years for sure- have been feeling very unsettled. As I'm waiting for something to happen.. dunno what and when..
Unable to give my full attention to anything, be it Sonny boy or office or home or blog or... Even Ms. Doggy is unable to make me fully concentrate on rubbing her belly. And that is saying something!

Everything I do is half hearted. A sense of discontent, a sense of unease, a sense of hanging in limbo waiting for God knows what...
Life seems to be passing by in a wild kaleidoscope, but nothing seems to make any sense. Days merge into weeks, into months...and I'm left waiting for Someone to show me sense. To make something of my life..

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mountain air

Sonny boy’s imagination can make me smile even at the most harried times.

This morning, the heater was not working in the downstairs bathroom, and so, shooed him to the upstairs bathroom. Now the heater there has a leak (yeah, our heaters are like that only) and so the inlet or outlet or whateverlet tap above the false ceiling is kept closed until time of use. The time of use was at hand, but us less-than-6ft-tall people cannot reach the danged thing so I had to holler for the husband to come and open up the tap so the hot water would flow…

After all that unusual activity we were running late for school and as usual something had to be missing. This time, it was the bottle of Vaseline. The blessed bottle was nowhere to be found. (Later, much later, I found it in the downstairs bathroom!) So I took the Himalaya moisturizer that I am currently using and started to apply.

"Mmmmmmm…." Sonny boy sniffed appreciatively. "Nice smell, no Amma? It smells of ..of.. hills and mountains and all that, no?"

I looked at him squarely and continued my applying. And then the penny dropped. Himalaya.
Sonny boy bent down to where I was applying cream on his toes, to get a better look at my face and see if I appreciated the mountain air as well. So I was smiled back at him

He continued.. "how do they get the mountain air into the bottle, Amma? Its a wonder, no? All that leaves and flowers and…animals... and "
So something from all those drives through Nagarhole has indeed percolated into the young man's consciousness..
Indeed it would be wonderful if they could bottle all that, Sonny boy.

Monday, March 7, 2011


The home was teeming with people the last 2 weeks.

From Sonny boy's viewpoint, 4 grandmothers, 1 grandfather, 2 aunts, and 1 cousin.
With of course the Acha, Amma and Sonny boy and eternally adolescent dog.
I hated coming away to office and Sonny boy would linger over goodbyes while leaving for school. All of them save one, being ladies and relatives from my side of the family, I think the Acha might have been a tad relieved to get out of the house for a while.

The happiest persons were of course Sonny boy and the dog. The dog was ensured of feet anywhere he chose to lie down and Sonny boy would get at least one person at any time of his waking hours to play with him. Given that his B'day had just gotten over, there were heaps of games.
But what we enjoyed the most was carroms. The oldies enjoyed renewing their carrom skills and handled Sonny boy's whines at not winning quite affably.
Day one saw Sonny boy in mutinous mood, hands akimbo and face turned into the sofa.
Day two saw him tentatively flexing his fingers at the game, never mind that he got the striker into the pocket more often than he had the coins.
Day three saw him getting better at winning and losing.

They left in pairs.
The aunt and cousin first.
Then 1 grandie and another aunt.
Then 2 more grandies.
Now 2 are left.

And I'm trying to make them stay for as long as possible....