The Year That Was

December 31, 2007
In January this year, things were different. I was on hormones that were supposed to help me conceive. We didn’t know then that that was something that would never happen.

We’ve come a long way since then. And that progress has dominated this year for me. The whole process of infertility culminating in adoption was a difficult and unhappy one, but at last it has worked out for us. Now, none of the history matters any more.

Other things have happened in the past year. Most significantly, I quit my job and – most likely – ended my career of over a decade. That was a difficult decision, one that took a very long time to come to fruition, and one that – strangely enough – finally occured independent of the adoption. In view of the adoption, I have no doubt that it turned out to be the right decision, but I don’t know how things would have gone if the adoption hadn’t come through so soon. Would I actually have done the things I wanted to do, or would I have ultimately gone back to a desk job? And what about those other things that I wanted to do – will I ever get around to doing them now?

I traveled. We went to Bangkok, a first for me, and we went back to Ladakh and back to Nimaling, my idea of Paradise on Earth. The weather was perfect, better even than it had been the last time. If it is the last trek I ever do, I have no regrets – I have been twice-blessed.

I finally enrolled in a course on Archaeology! This, after about 15 years of waiting…

Looking back, at the start of the year I wanted to:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Improve at tennis – specially backhand!
  3. Go back to playing the violin
  4. Take the next level of German course
  5. Stop doing dull, boring, meaningless work and get involved in something meaningful – or at least exciting
  6. Make at least one new friend
  7. Read at least a book a month
  8. Watch at least two movies a month (at a movie hall)
  9. Travel
  10. Get a publisher for my travel book
  11. Create a photo book

Of these, I’ve made absolutely no progress on numbers 3, 8, and 10, and only limited progress on number 2 (but not for want of trying).

Next year, I want to:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Improve at tennis – specially backhand!
  3. Go back to playing the violin
  4. Complete another two modules of my online Archaeology course
  5. Work on a compilation of my existing travel articles for a website, book, or series of freelance articles

Will I be able to achieve even these few modest goals? I hope so, but only time will tell.

I Still Prefer Nuclear

December 30, 2007

Man, it’s good to be home.

Having said that, I must add that the eight days of eternity were not that bad… or at least, not as bad as I thought it might have been. Some of the battles were lost, it’s true; some were won; and some were never fought. The “fishes” were not quite as troublesome as I had anticipated; I was very happy to see that nobody fed the kids anything that we said was on the list of banned substances; the twins’ daily schedule was adhered to fairly regularly, with some variations; the language seemed more comprehenisble to me than ever before and I even attempted some genuine communication from time to time; and I managed to get away with only one sari-day.

Amit and I even managed to leave the kids alone and go out for walks together a few times. True, it was mostly when the twins were in bed and fast asleep, but once we left them when they were wide awake in the evening. According to subsequent reports, they were not exactly happy about seeing both parents walk out the door, but they did not cry while we were away. When we returned after about half an hour, though, Tara immediately came to me, took my finger in her hand and promptly burst into a flood of tears! Strange…

Anyway, considering we have never left the kids alone with anyone else till now, it was a landmark of sorts. We aren’t really considering baby-sitter arrangements till they are a bit older and able to talk, so it was good to get even those stolen half-hour walks together.

Being in Calcutta with kids was a different experience for me. It forced me to drop many reservations, just playing with the kids and being my usual goofy self in front of the Family. I didn’t feel the need to get away from people and find some space for myself the way I usually do – I could do much the same thing just by getting engrossed in the kids. Plus, of course, the usual activities in keeping the kids fed, bathed, and rested gave me enough time to do “my own thing”.

I, of course, came in for a certain amount of indirect criticism and a certain amount of indirect praise. Everyone seemed to think that the kids were completely under-dressed and that they ought to have been swaddled in sheathes of warm clothing from head to foot. Since Amit and I were in summer clothes, I completely ignored this advice, even though Tara had a cold and Mrini developed one towards the end. They must think I’m the most callous mother ever, but I simply don’t see why I should shroud my kids in warm clothes simply because everyone else thinks it is cold. And runny noses are a normal part of toddlerhood, to be endured and largely ignored, if you ask me. I refuse to be one of those paranoid, hypochondriac parents, or let my kids become that way.

The praise was for a rather unexpected reason. Apparently, it is highly commendable to quit your job and be a full-time mom without an ayah (maid to look after the kids), as opposed to being a working mom, or even a full-time mom with an ayah. And not just “an” ayah, but one per kid. I’m not sure why, but having opted to bathe, dress, feed, and play with my kids seems to have earned me serious brownie points in the Family.

The kids, for the most part, enjoyed the trip. They didn’t get unduly upset by the flight, the change of location, the presence of so many new people, or the frequent outings and exposure to yet more people. They ate well, slept a lot, and were generally happy – with a couple of notable exceptions.

On the day of the big function, the kids’ feet never touched the ground, they were passed around from person to person like cushions in Pass the Parcel. Of course, they mostly enjoy being picked up, so it shouldn’t have been a bad thing, but they also do need to run around and do their own thing after a while – which they absolutely couldn’t. By late afternoon, they were grumpy… and then there was a photo shoot. These photo shoots are those formal affairs where everyone is made to line up and say cheese. With 40-50 adults and several children to arrange, these tend to be noisy and time-consuming affairs. Naturally, the twins were squirming like snakes and demanding to get away after five minutes.

But then, that was only one day. The bigger problem was that on the other days too, there were simply too many people always picking up the kids. I was frankly surprised to see how people will insist on picking up the kids even when the kids make it quite clear that they don’t want to be picked up right then. And then, of course, they mostly do want to be picked up, which only adds to the problem. In just a few days, Mrini became unbearably clingy and whiny, always wanting to be picked up by anyone, but preferrably by me. Over the last few days, this manifested in her clinging to me like a limpet. She howls even if Amit holds her. Thankfully, though she was whining in the taxi on the way home, when we got home, she and Tara plunged into their toy box in utter delight and proceeded to create chaos and pandemonium in the house in their usual manner – so that was a relief.

Naturally, I can see the benefits of having a large family when you’re handling two small kids. Having lots of people around not only lets us get some time to go out together, but also means there are always people willing to feed, play with, or otherwise look after the kids, leaving only the diaper-changing activities to the hapless parents. But, if the flip side is that the kids are going to become whiny and indisciplined… well, I think I’ll stick with nuclear.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

December 24, 2007

This one is pretty much a classic amongst travelogues and I can see why. Whereas Seven Years in Tibet by whatsisname grew to be rather boring once the author actually reached Lhasa, this one, focused as it is only on the journey, is thrilling. In addition to the landscape, which his words recreate right in front of the reader, the experiences are enough to make to wonder that he ever survived to tell about it. Dervla Murphy’s Where the Indus is Young, which goes to a nearby area, is equally entertaining, though, and perhaps even more hair-raising.

What Have I Let Myself In For?

December 19, 2007

To think that I actually agreed to this! What was I thinking?

I’m talking about the upcoming eight days in Calcutta, of course. As the travel date approaches, the very thought is giving me the heebie-jeebies. I have written before of how I am decidedly NOT a joint-family type of person. But, in those happy days, I reckoned without the twins. Twins add hitherto unconceivable complications to the situation.

There is, first, the usual matter of logistics: where do we sleep, when do we sleep, till when do we sleep, how and with whom do we sleep… and so on down the line, substituting “eat” “bathe” “use the bathroom” etc for “sleep” (try it, you;ll get a better idea of what I mean.) To this, we need only add the various considerations of keeping the twins safe (from staircases, for instance) and keeping the house relatively intact (glass-fronted cabinets, TVs in various rooms at various heights and so on).

Then, there’s the matter of various minor battles. Foremost, is the battle of the fishes. I say fishes, because there are so many of them that simply using “fish” just seems plain insufficient. For me, as for the twins, one small, boneless piece of fish is about the maximum one can stomach. The battle begins at the second piece and lasts all the way up to the fifth piece. Then there’s the matter of the million bones per piece – I will, no doubt, have the pleasure of removing the bones for not just my own benefit, but worse, for the twins. Worse, because for them, every tiny mistake could cause a crisis.

Another battle is of time. My preferred timings for meals is roughly 8 – 1 – 8; for the twins, it is 8 – 11.30 – 4.30 – 7.30. In Calcutta, the default is something like 9.30 – 2.30 – 10.30. Naturally, sleeping and waking hours get pushed out accordingly. This absolutely wrecks my biological clock and now with the twins to cater to, it is going to wreck my central nervous system as well. I hate being so, but the fact remains that I am an extremely time-oriented person and it is quite (inordinately) important for me, where it concerns the twins, to adhere to some sort of schedule in the interests of health (theirs) and sanity (mine).

Horror of horrors, we will also have to face the sweet battle. I, of course, have 32 sweet teeth, so it shouldn’t have been a problem for me – except that 31 of my 32 teeth seem to prefer cakes and ice creams over mishti. Mercifully, my lactose intolerance provides a handy excuse to get me out of the 823 sweet-eating opportunities per day that I would rather avoid. Unfortunately, it also means that the 215 opportunities for yummy sweets like gulab jamun and mishti doi must also be passed up with an expression of stoic regret. The twins, who have not been fed much sweet by us thus far, will also have ~1000 types of sweet thrust down their little gullets. Doubtless, they will love it… and therefore refuse to eat anything that’s not sweet not only for the eight days there, but also for the next two months back home.

Dressing is another battle I am bound to encounter. Of course, the entire immediate family (only about 20 people) knows that I wear jeans about 95% of the time. The extended family (the other ~60 people) have seen me only on formal occasions, when I’m dutifully bound up in a sari. This was just about manageable for special occasions when we didn’t have kids – now, with two, it is almost entirely out of the question. I mean, just imagine diaper-changing with a sari flowing all over the place for the twins to play with… Luckily, there’s to be only one function which involves the entire extended family, and I’m considering giving in and actually wrapping a sari around myself for that day (or half-day, if I have my way); but for the other 7.5 days, I’m hoping to get away with jeans, or at worst, a couple of salwar-kameez. This is sure to ruffle some feathers, as we’re going to have to make a few social calls, which ideally should not be done with the smiling mother wearing jeans… but it really is beyond me to manage two small kids and a sari (all the while conversing fluently in Bengali) – something’s bound to come undone!

The biggest problem, which, as of yesterday evening is causing me seriously sleepless nights, is of the relative-naming convention. I have, of course, faced this problem on many occasions already, and have just about come to grips with who’s who to whom… but that was before the advent of the next generation. Now, everything’s changed – not for me, but for how each uncle, aunt, cousin, grandparent and their sisters, brothers, parents and children should be addressed by the twins. Inevitably, there will be situations when somebody is calling the twins, and I am expected to tell them, “Go on, your such-and-such uncle/auntie/whatever is calling you, go to your uncle/auntie/whatever…”

Yesterday, I spent an hour after dinner quizzing Amit on the manner in which each type of relation would transform into something else for our kids – for example, all older brothers (about 43 of them if you count only first cousins) become jethus and all younger brothers become kakus; except for an older brother-in-law, who becomes a pishimoshai, despite being habitually addressed as brother. You’d think that someone who’s been brought up in this system would have all the answers down pat – it is the same set of transitions for every new generation, after all – but no; Amit actually had to have a 15 minute discourse with his father to clear up some of the finer points. Then, what hope is there for me, who’s not yet got past first base even after ten years of marriage???

The more I think of it, the more the eight days seem to stretch into eternity. Perhaps it would be easier to break a leg and call off the entire trip.

Fair? Unfair!

December 11, 2007

I think I can safely state that Indians in general have a “thing” about fair skin. Perhaps it has to do with the controversial Aryan invasion a few millennia ago? Whatever the cause may be, in general Indians do have a thing with fairness, whether among Indians or in foreigners.

Growing up in North India, I was complimented many times, from early childhood onwards, on my “fairness”. When I first met Amit’s extended family, before our wedding, the first thing they commented upon was my skin colour.

The predilection for fairness is markedly more in the North – where, on average, complexions are lighter – than it is here in the South, if Bangalore can be taken as representative of the South in general.

Unfortunately, I have not myself escaped entirely from a bias towards fairness. When I look at movie stars, models, or other icons, I generally tend to find fair people more good-looking than dark people – but not without exception. From super-models, to friends, to complete strangers, there are lots of dusky-complexioned people I find good-looking. Still, to be completely honest with myself, I know that skin-colour is a factor in my perception of beauty. This is not something I’m happy about, and I wish it weren’t so… but it is.

Up North, there are also a lot of stereotypes attached to dark-skinned people – they are probably poor, are probably dirty, probably hail from a few specific states, are probably of a lower cast, are probably uneducated street people, etc etc etc…The important thing is, though, that, for me, if skin colour is at all a factor, it is only so in the assessment of a person’s looks – not in the assessment of a person. There is no associated judgment on a person’s character, or background, or abilities, or on whether or not I like a person. This is important.

When we thought of adoption, skin colour was one of the issues that we discussed, both within the family and with the adoption agency. They warned us that we were unlikely to find a child of an appropriate complexion. Yet, they also accepted (or expected?) that we might refuse a candidate on the basis of his/her complexion.

For me, this was never an option. Just as I couldn’t imagine holding even a subconscious belief that “dark-skinned people are less nice people than white-skinned people” I couldn’t imagine thinking of a child “you are too dark for me to love you”. True, my conception of an ideal baby, the one I spent years imagining for us, would have been your typical Johnson baby (they never show a dusky or dark baby, do they?) – yet, when it came to adoption, how could I hold the colour of its skin against an innocent child?

Our twins are dark – or at least, they are not fair, as a biological child of ours might have been. Do I love them less for it? Not a bit. Does it trouble me that they are dark? Yes, to be honest, it does, just a little bit. Again, I wish it didn’t.

One of the reasons it troubles me is that it makes it very obvious that these kids are not our biological kids. While I have no intention of hiding this from them or anyone else, it would have been nice not to have to wear it like a label on our foreheads. The other reason, of course, is because it means that our kids don’t look like what I had visualized as our “perfect” baby. But I don’t know – does any real child ever look like the idealized picture that the mother carries around in her heart for months or years before?

What this has made me realize, though, is that I’m very happy we are here in Bangalore, where we attract a lot of admiring looks and only a few adverse comments when we go out in public. Up North, it would have been a LOT of very blatant comments about their colour and few, if any, admiring looks.

We also get a lot of advice – unasked for, of course, as advice generally is – on how to go about lightening their skin colour. This, I blithely ignore. I might have liked them to be fairer, but to set about actually doing anything to make them fairer doesn’t seem like something I want to do. Maybe I don’t want to pander to my own bias.

And maybe that’s good. One day, as I was washing them in the bathroom, in the mirror I caught sight of the stark contrast of my hand against the dark skin of their backs, and I found myself thinking, not how dark they are, or whether their skin will ever lighten, but instead: “I wish my colour was closer to theirs.”

Two of Those Days

December 5, 2007
One of those days I could have handled, but two of those days is enough to drive anyone insane, don’t you think?

Ø The kitchen light went out – had to call the electrician for repairs.

Ø Decided to also call the plumber to stop the kitchen tap from drip-drip-dripping – bad idea.

Ø Electrician came when twins were being bathed and stayed until they were in the middle of lunch. Which meant, getting their lunch done while electrician worked on a tube light above my head – charming.

Ø Plumber came, changed the valve (?) of the tap – without turning off the water mains, resulting in a minor flood in the kitchen.

Ø Since there is a substantial gap between the counter top and the wall, the flood found its way into the kitchen cabinets, which then had to be emptied, dried, and re-filled. All the kitchen utensils were piled on the kitchen counter, and if the twins only caught sight of it, the whole lot would come tumbling down like a pack of cards. So, the emptying out and re-filling had to be done immediately after their lunch, when they were asleep.

Ø Which meant that I was late for my 12.30 online meeting.

Ø And that I didn’t get any lunch until after the meeting ended around 2 p.m.

Ø And that I still hadn’t had time to have a bath and get decently dressed!

Ø My cleaning girl has been suffering from some dreadful psychological/psychiatric disorder which seems to include depression and hallucinations in equal measure; meaning that I get to do her share of the work as well as my own.

Ø Amit, meanwhile, had an official dinner, so he came home only around 10 p.m., leaving me to handle the grocery shopping. I did this on my way back from the park, so the twins got thoroughly bitten by mosquitoes as a result.

Ø Friends dropped in at 7. Though I was not in the mood for friends – more in the mood for murder, or at least lots of beer – it was just as well they did, because at least the kids were spared my ire at dinner time.

That was yesterday.

Ø Today, both kids were cranky, possibly due to hay fever which all three of us seem to be suffering from. It didn’t stop them from getting up to mischief and doing all the things they shouldn’t, though.

Ø Tara got spanked for opening her diaper uninvited.

Ø Mrini got spanked for yanking the washing machine drainage pipe out of the drain.

Ø They both got yelled at for eating the balcony railing.

Ø And for opening the cabinet that houses the UPS and other electronic equipment that they can shock themselves with.

Ø Undaunted, they attacked the kitchen cabinets, which is one of their favourite pastimes. I had finally gotten around to buying one of those child-proof locks for the most-attacked kitchen cabinet, but it wouldn’t work on the other cabinets. Naturally, finding themselves locked out of their favourite play area, they attacked the other cabinets. One of these has sliding trays that they can pull out and bring crashing down on their heads. It also has plastic bags, which they seem to enjoy tearing and eating, which can’t possibly be good for their digestions. The other cabinet has the garbage can, which also they enjoy playing with, for obvious reasons. And a third cabinet has all the metal saucepans, which they love to throw around and make a racket capable of raising the dead – to say nothing of the neighbours.

Ø Then they both fell over each other and they both bawled, causing me to almost pull my hair out and burn the paneer in the process. (This is a new one: so far, I have burnt boiled eggs, burnt boiled veggies, lots of burnt rice, and burnt boiled water to my credit.)

Ø Mrini threw her lunch on the floor and Tara fell asleep while eating.

Ø It’s a lousy cold, cloudy, gloomy day,with rain threatening.

Ø The washing machine isn’t working. And since nothing ever dries anyway, I already have a three-day backlog of dirty laundry.

Ø Amit is going to get home late, again.

Ø My assignment isn’t writing itself… the way this blog is.

Ø And, if my purpose in life is to learn patience, I’m not doing a very good job of it.

And it’s only lunch time yet…

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