Tag Archives: personal essay

Today is one of the best days of my life

I have at least 3 poems to describe what I felt when my welcomed my little ones to the world….in all poems I say , in essence, that it was the best day of my life.

I add those birthdays to ‘the best days of my life’ list where I already have several other days…engagements, wedding day, first job etc. Life has been good and I know I will have many more such ‘best days of my life’.

And then there are some days that were like a slap to my face and I ask….What if you can pinpoint the exact date and time you realized that you were stupid/ignorant….Would you add that to your ‘best days of your life’ list?

I had such a day in my life…this exact day in fact. It was an extremely painful day but looking back I realize without that moment I wouldn’t be where I am today emotionally: resilient and free…because it’s the truth, gained through knowledge,  that sets you free.

Since it turned out to be a defining moment of my life and transformed me to a better person, I’m going to add it to the list.

It’s still not in the same league as kissing a slimy ,mewling baby for the first time….but it made the list and will remain there as a reminder of  the limits of my knowledge and my limitless self.

The biggest con of my life

“There were about 10 percentage problems Aunty. I got everything right Aunty. I think I will get 100% Aunty”, Manju was telling my mother about how she did in our third grade Annual math exam, her pigtails bouncing as she spoke with enthusiasm. My mother looked at me with a mixture of disappointment and anger after she left,  “Look at Manju, How perfectly she speaks. She’s going to get A+ in all subjects”.

In a month , I got my exam results with an official promotion letter to 4th grade. My math score in the high 90s. That year Manju failed math. She was not promoted to 4th grade.  Schools don’t hold back a child to repeat a grade for trivial reasons…. they do that only if the quarterly report cards and annual exams together paint a very bad picture.

All year Manju had been painting herself a wonderful child in all respects and my mother had been singing the “Look at Manju…Be Like Manju” song.  “What? She told me she is going to be 100%. She failed?” mother exclaimed with surprise.

Boasting didn’t run in my family. My parents didn’t boast. My grandparents didn’t boast. So when we heard others indulge in self-praise, we believed it without question thinking that they did have something we didn’t….. Often basing our self-worth relative to what others projected.

The experience with Manju was an extreme example .. still didn’t learn from  that until much later. Over the years we have let others determine our self-worth.  Let’s call them “under-miners”. These under-miners impacted our self-worth is these ways:

1) Self-praise ,with an implicit comparison ,with an intent to invoke jealousy  E.g My son earns $$$ knowing fully well that the other person’s son makes way less.

2) Veiled insults

3) Offering unsolicited suggestions to improvement, for real or imagined issues, with an intent to prompt feelings of inadequacy. E.g. “If you are so thin how will you manage childbirth…put on some weight”

4) Openly pointing out your problem areas (usually speaking out of context)- The classic “You have a pimple in your chin”…”You have gray hair”..(really!?! We have mirrors people!)

I do not know all of the motivations of these under-miners..but some are:

1) Extreme love and pride for themselves/children/loved ones

2) Jealousy

3) Low self-esteem and low integrity

More often I have found that these people are  motivated by jealousy like Manju’s mom who cut 6 inches off my hair without my permission.

I can still remember her telling me while I stood in her kitchen drinking a glass of water (after playing with Manju), “Your hair is tapering at the end. It looks like a rat’s tail” . Without any preamble she took a scissors and cut off the end of my pigtails. My mother was furious when I came home with only half the hair that she sent me out with. ‘How dare she cut your hair’ she seethed.

But there were several other incidents that mother has been manipulated into figuratively ‘cutting my hair’. Like my weight “‘problem'”. For all my teenage and early 20s , the constant barrage of comments were on how thin I was. I was always made to feel inadequate about my body. My mother fed me all fatty foods  my teenage years and still I gained no weight and hovered around the low 40 kgs. My husband gave me an order(years before our marriage) : “I atleast want 55 kgs”

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(The above are excerpts from two letters to me – Proof of weight gain request)

Then I moved to the USA , got married, gave birth twice and over the two decades went from 45 kgs to 60 kgs. I reached the goal of ‘atleast 55 kgs’ and even exceeded it by a good 5kg! ( Overachiever !)  Now I am too fat according to these same people who criticized my thinness years ago.  My epiphany came when I looked at one person’s eyes and saw joy when she pointed out my “excess” flesh with glee and snide remarks. I realized that I was conned into self-sabotage.

Nowadays no one addresses me directly on my weight….maybe because they  feel the “duck off” vibe emanating from all my pores …they address my mother instead, “She (your daughter) has put on some weight”. My mother visibly humbled , slightly ashamed goes, ” Yes, she has”. I wished she said, “She’s fine the way she is” both now and 20 years ago.

wii

(above pic taken Mar 2015,where Wii Fit tells : I am perfect at 60kgs too!). Yes, my ‘center of balance’ is slightly off but my mental balance has never been perfect ….ever since I disallowed others to impact my self-worth.

Here’s my formula to preserve/guard your self-worth and those of your children/loved ones.

1) List all your (or your child’s) strengths – Intelligence Quotient, Emotional Quotient, and Physical attributes, achievements, the acts of kindness you have performed , skills, special talents, friends, family support etc.

Feel proud about it!

Most importantly be grateful.

2) List all your (or your child’s) weakness

Identify areas that can be improved – Chart a plan to improve

Identify areas that you cannot change – e.g Height , Skin color, singing skills- Accept it

Identify mistakes in the past that contributed to the weakness – e.g Missing an opportunity to go to college and study-  Forgive yourself and move on.

When the under-miners attack:

Type 1: Self-praise – Control feelings of envy. Recall your strengths. Do not get into a competition with the under-miner. Be gracious in your praise of them. Remember to be grateful for all you have.

Type 2: Veiled insult – Depending on the nature of the relationship with the under-miner, the location, the witnesses around etc. the tone of the response can vary. The underlying message should be “Duck off”.

Type 3: Unsolicited advice for a real or imagined problem –  Assess if there is a real problem. Are they your well wishers? Do they really care about you ? If yes, then accept that advice. Thank them. Ask them how they can help you. E.g. Ask them for money to buy an exercise machine if they tell you that you should exercise.

If the problem is imagined (or your perspective on the matter is different) – Firmly tell them what’s on your mind- Or ignore.

Type 4: Pointing out your problem areas – Tell them you are aware of the issue and ask them if they want you to return the favour and point out some issues in them. Either now and in another time that its inconvenient to them.

The biggest challenge is to determine who is self-praising or giving out unsolicited advice without an intent to undermine you. It’s a trail and error method ..so for the first time you encounter this situation  give the “maybe-under-miner” benefit of doubt , while remaining on guard.

Euripides, a tragedian of classical Athens, wrote (translated to English):

If speech were got by purchase, there is none

Would care to lay out money on self-praise.

But since the bounteous air provides it free

There’s none but dwells with pleasure on his merits

Real or fancied, for it cost him nothing.

So please remember, It costs these under-miners nothing to self-praise , to get you jealous, to make you feel inadequate, but if you let it affect you it will cost you a lot.

Please share any insights , or the tactics you use to deal with annoying under-miners.

Are Mothers overrated?

Are mothers overrated ? Are we attributing too much credit to the mother’s upbringing for an individual’s success?

I hear responses like: “What kind of stupid question is that?” , “yes , a mother is responsible for her child’s success and character”

My husband used to be ( maybe secretly is)a  firm believer in this theory of full Maternal accountability.

“I owe who  I have become to my mother”, he say proudly gently urging  me to  compete with his mother to “fix” my sons ….I mean our sons.

“If the child behaves badly then it’s the mother’s fault” he continued, to make me understand my full maternal accountability and responsibility.

“So, that negative quality of yours is due to your mother”, I asked innocently naming one trait. (He’s nearly perfect ….nearly …)

“No. That’s just me . Not listening to my mother  . She was still patient and consistently tried to correct me.  I didn’t listen ” he explains very logically.

“So a mother can only do so much and the child is ultimately accountable for their choices . Then why should the mother be blamed when a child does something wrong?” I ask equally logically.

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to argue for the sake of arguing?”, he asked.

“she did. That’s just me. Not listening to her “, I say….logically or illogically depending on your perspective . (It’s not easy living with me when I’m logical …Can u imagine how it will be when I’m illogical? Poor man…)

The prevalent logic apparently is that your mother is faultless and everyone else’s mothers is responsible.

You can get put on a pedestal as a mother but it’s a long perilous climb that you need to go alone and be ready to take the fall if something beyond your control happens …like a small gust of wind.

A mother does not raise a child in a vacuum . She had no control of the genes that she passed down. Or the genes she picked to partner with. She has no control on the environment, the  supporting infrastructure of teachers , the kids in her child’s class and the list goes on.so many factors went into who you are today and the mothers role is everything and nothing at the same time.

She can be the framework of unconditional love . A role model. A friend . A coach . But we all needed more than that to be who we are.  Much of it was our choice on how to use that framework and draw strength from it or not to.

This mother’s Day ,I want to say “don’t overrate the mother and blame her if things don’t go the way you wanted “.

Take responsibility for your choices and go celebrate that unconditional love of a mother who carried you in her womb, went through agonizing pain to give birth to you, lost sleep trying to feed and raise you and …..who takes blame for all your failings . Don’t fail her!

Have a very Happy Mother’s Day !

My secret Heroine

Note: I’m exorcising a very deep anger here in an effort to find healing and to move on. An anger many women can relate to. The story, situations and character descriptions may change but the underlying theme has been male aggression and their privilege to exercise that aggression.  If you don’t want to read about the need for Feminism, please stop reading here and save yourself some time.

We had a pet dog called Jimmy. She was such a intelligent, kind and friendly dog. Everyone in our neighbourhood treated her as they would a family member. She was loved and respected in society.

One day a little kitten , barely a week or so old strayed into our compound. Now this kitten had just learned to walk and was probably not yet weaned off her mother’s milk. An innocent baby in every sense. Let’s call her Kitty.

What happened when the Intelligent and kind-hearted older dog , a mother of two litters, well fed dog, beacon dog of society, met Kitty? Ofcourse, the deep bias inherent in dogs against cats came out. She started to bark and attack Kitty. I watched Kitty go towards Jimmy still friendly, curious and playful thinking Jimmy’s aggression was a game. Kitty was too young to even understand aggression. She must have only seen in her brief life  the loving care of the mother and she must have projected that image of loving , playful benevolence on Jimmy. The image of that  innocent moment is still etched in my mind.

When Kitty playfully approached Jimmy , she got even more aggressive and went to attack Kitty. Kitty realizing half instinctively that something was wrong , ran to a corner of the compound into an outdoor toilet. She was cornered by Jimmy  who was blocking the entrance. I tried to go near Jimmy to pull her back. But she was so aggressive and snarling, ready to even bite me that I couldn’t do anything. Now cornered Kitty was still confused on what was happening and reached out gently with her paw, mewing softly. I don’t know cat language but I swear it was a peace gesture. Jimmy was still snarling, growling and aggressive.  Jimmy jaws descended towards Kitty. At that very moment Kitty’s instinct fully kicked in and she grew up in that one second. She realized that she was in grave danger and then lashed out to save herself, scratching Jimmy in the face. In the final moments of Kitty’s life, cornered, her playful and loving gestures rewarded with a fatal bite, her eyes showed a flash of ferociousness that also remains etched in my mind.

In many ways this Kitty , her short life cut short by the much adored and loved and lauded Jimmy ,is my secret heroine. No, she didn’t win that battle but that last moment of ferociousness inspires me to this day to fight for myself irrespective of whatever corner the “Jimmys “of my life push me into and however the bleak the prospects of survival may seem.

Yes, I have had a fair share of such “Jimmy’s” in my life. My girl friends too. These “Jimmys” have attacked us with preconceived notions, gender bias, stereotyping  and misunderstanding pure innocence. They have snarled like dogs. Put us in corners. Most of these ‘gentlemen’ walk around in society with their heads held high , lauded and congratulated. Loved. Successful. They go unpunished ,without a scratch. When I see that my blood boils on the injustice because no one knows what they did or even if they knew no one cares that much. Being aggressive or mean to a girl/woman and triggering fight or flight responses is not a crime unless a punch was thrown or there was actual physical contact . Even then we see women struggle to get the justice in court for those offences.

This male aggression towards women, that falls just short of the legal definition of abuse…  is so insidious.  So difficult to fight. So difficult to forget. So difficult to forgive. It has been years since some of  those incidents happened but the wounds open up every time I encounter that abuser’s apparently successful life.

Like, when I see my college ex-principal being lauded for something, I want to fling rotten eggs at him to demonstrate his rotten mind. This man had retired from the Indian Air-force as a high ranking official.  He joined our college as a Head of the computer science department in our second year. Became the vice principal in our third year and Principal in our fourth year. In each year, a bunch of girl friends and me ended up in at least one situation where he was yelling at us for literally nothing. For a couple of girls smiling at each other in class. You may think I exaggerate. Everything  I have written here is exactly as it happened. I have enough male witnesses, who saw yet didn’t  care.
 

The following year, when he called a bunch of us girls into his office to scream at us when a male lecturer complained to him that we were  talking loudly in a hallway, he showed his true colours. He said, ” I know about the characters of you girls (as in bad character). Your seniors have told stories about you”.  Now these same seniors vandalized the girls bathroom with lewd drawings and etched our names in desks with slurs. Why was this refined, older gentleman , a father of a daughter, ex-guardian of the nations skies,  listening to adolescent boys carrying erotic made-up tales about teenage girls? Didn’t he have any common sense to know what is true and what is false? Does he know that talking normally  in an almost empty hallway/building , when there was no electricity, would be loud without the hum of the 100s of electronic equipment? Does it need a telling-off?  Was it even appropriate to scream at girls about their character based on a rumour and how is it related to talking in a hallway? Now, we needed to get out of the college with a ‘Good Conduct certificate’ signed by that man to graduate . So yes, we were kind of cornered, so we endured it. He would have continued his angry rant if I had not started crying after about 10 minutes of that rant. Oh! how I hate myself for crying.  I was crying out of uncontrollable anger on the injustice and and helplessness that I couldn’t scratch his face off.

And then there was this other man a few years later who said that he will destroy me, crush me , ruin my life if he so chooses. It was just a matter of his choice he said when no one was around.  I did nothing to deserve that aggressive threat. “Really, you did nothing?” I can hear someone asking. I can also hear some women say that they believe me. I did nothing more than what Kitty did when she accidentally crossed paths with a species way different from her own. I walked away from him , without even uttering a word, with the grace of a grown up cat on a high compound wall, above reach from the snarling dog below. However coolly I walked away, it was like walking on a high-razor-wire . One misstep is all it can take to plunge to ruin. By this time, I had learned not to cry…to control that anger, channel it, trap it like molten lava in the Earth’s belly.

We continued to love and care for Jimmy after she murdered Kitty. “It’s her nature”, my dad said: “She’s just a dog. What can you expect”. But it was our fault, we never put Jimmy on a leash. No negative feedback loop to discourage unwarranted aggression. So if you can’t help but  love one of these human ‘Jimmys” in spite of fully knowing their ‘nature’, I empathize with you. I understand that a man is more than his gender bias or moments of stupidity. But the lowest moments are how people are judged. Like Bill Clinton. Did I hear someone snicker ? So for all of your sakes you need to  put a leash on him and do something to prevent such aggression. Else you are equally guilty.

I’m  attempting to convert this smouldering anger into a constructive force hoping that by writing about this, at least one person who reads this recognizes and stops their negative behaviour /gender bias or if you witness such incidents to “pick up a leash”. Or if you are cornered like Kitty, know that you need to act ferociously. The incidents I have mentioned are just two of a longer list. The reason I picked these two is because both were senior citizens with a solid standing in society with enough life experience, and had  raised a daughter of their own.  Pillars of society. Yet, they showed bias and aggression towards another man’s daughter with little to no provocation.

I want to say this to all those men, who thought they had me cornered: Just because you are roaming around in society freely, respected, loved, just like my dog Jimmy, doesn’t mean I was afraid or will ever be afraid of you. I would continue to be cautious around you for sure…as I would be with any rabid dog on the street.

Home

Day Eleven Prompt: Where did you live when you were 12 years old. Use short, medium and long sentences.

When I was 12, I lived at Home.

Home was a single storey brick home with just three rooms. Inside a green mosaic floor with specks of brown and black. The in-built cement shelf on one wall of the living room , called as “the Hall” ,doubled as storage and a TV stand for the small black and white TV.  With family photos displayed on the top shelf along with some memorabilia. Just a handful of them,for at that time there was none of the ‘made in china’ junk of today. A three-seater leather sofa and a single seat matching chair. A blue laminated dining table placed flush against the corner wall and one side of the single sofa chair with only one side of the rectangular table available to access. These three pieces of furniture waltzing now and then , to my mother’s tune, to regroup in different permutations and combinations with the walls and the two windows and two exterior doors and two interior doors .And in all the possible combinations that dining table never got to use all its sides at once.  A picture of a green cliffy coast with the sea with no sign of human life or litter, framed and hung above the living room window. The provenance of the photo a mystery.

The late comer, the refrigerator, relegated to the bedroom already packed with two long single metal beds with a cotton silk mattress. The beds always together , wedged between a desk and a steel ‘almirah’.  A wooden antique cupboard with mirror.

The terrace that had no stairs but which could be easily scaled by climbing on the compound wall, from there climbing on the window cement awning and from there reaching out to the edge of the terrace wall standing on the toes and pulling up your body while lifting your leg to get a foot hold and clamber over. It’s easy. Was easy for a pre-teen. Terrace – A place girls were discouraged to climb.

The little garden on clay soil. Guava trees with plenty of fruit and a squash creeper that grew so fast attaching itself to the outer walls with tendrils so strong that belied its fragile appearance, that spread to the terrace where for a year the bounty was huge. Sopoata and lemon shrubs that decided not to grow much or flower much. Seasonal flowers , Ginnia and mums, that came and went. Seasonal vegetables and an attempt at a grassy lawn.

The layers of sounds in the morning, changing as per season ,with the local temple blaring “mariamma….”  mingling with the 5 times a day “Allah …” from the mosque and the girl next door reading out loudly , history, geography and physics, her method to memorize (‘mugging’ as it’s affectionately called ) at 5 freaking am in the morning. The girl ,the first rank holder who put visionaries  like me to shame. Visionaries like me , who somehow knew it deep in the bones that memorization while be so outdated and that  google and Wikipedia would emerge, and slept in (tried to sleep with a pillow as a ear plug). All these sounds instigating my mother to add to the cacophony of sounds : “Get up and study”. Add to all this the incessant cawing of crows.

More than all these sounds the distinctive sounds of a motorbike engine heard from two streets away in the quiet night .6 days a week.The sound. Or rather music. The squeaky gate the ending note of the symphony ,to welcome the hard working man , returning after a long day, sometimes drenched in the monsoon rain.

The smell of the wet rupee laid out to dry in the blue laminated dining table.

Home. That’s where I lived when I was 12 years old.