The Lucky Ones Land in the Dungeon

April 26, 2008

So my former company (and those of you in the industry – but not in the know – might be able to identify it from what follows) has shut down the small (?) team that I belonged to during my tenure there, and put all the 80-odd people in redeployment.

And we all know what that means.

Except there’s this small sub-group that has not been put in the redeployment pool right away. Lucky buggers, right? Yeah. Those guys, who are apparently working on something too critical to be abandoned right away (and a project which is in deep shit to boot), have been put in the dungeon instead.

Dungeon? What’s that?

That’s what I asked when I heard of this the other day.

The dungeon process has apparently always existed in the said organisation, but I was blissfully unaware of it during my three long, dry years there. (Well, naturally, considering I never worked on anything critical and any projects nearby that had to be abandoned were abandoned without missing a beat. But that’s another story.)

So this dungeon process apparently means that the entire team of, say, 20 engineers, gets to work out of one single conference room all day long – and they work extended hours at that. There are scheduled hours (sorry, minutes) for coffee breaks – and probably for toilet breaks as well. (These would have to be staggered, though, to avoid people wasting time standing in queues, or, heaven forbid, getting carried away and actually chatting in neighbouring urinals! – most of the team members being male.) Anyway, miss your designated break, and you’re screwed. It goes without saying that, with 20 of your colleagues and your boss perpetually within spitting distance (literally I mean, not figuratively), personal calls or some leisurely web browsing is out of the question.

So these lucky guys had apparently already spent 2-3 months in this manner when the larger team was summarily disbanded and placed in other groups, or allowed to leave the company with a substantial parting gift. Meanwhile, these guys continue to slog their way through the dungeon. When their project is satisfactorily concluded, then they will be given the redeployment or golden handshake option. Bonuses and promotions? Rewards and recognitions, at least? Sure: “Great job, everyone, thanks for all the hard work. Now you’re fired.” Yup, that’s a great motivator when you want a team to put in long hours in stressful circumstances where they’re trying to complete some work which presumably is going to make (or save) the company a whole lot of money.

Anyway, as they say, it’s a great place to work.

The Kite Runner

April 20, 2008

Christina gifted me this book and I have to say, Thanks a Lot, Chris!

(If you haven’t read the book, none of what follows is going to make much sense. Also, if you intend to read it, you probably don’t want to know all of this; there are spoilers.)

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I loved the book… but I’m glad I read it. I really enjoyed the beginning, the Kabul parts. I think they created an environment that makes you feel like you’ve been to the place. Being Indian, there were a lot of things one could relate to – servants who stayed in the family for generations and seemed almost like friends, only you didn’t play with them when your social peers were around; kites; kabobs; some of the words and concepts, like Zendagi, khastegari…

I also thought that the whole tragic episode, the subsequent actions of the protagonist, and the deep, convoluted guilt trip were very well done. That reminded me, in a parallel way, of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, which I read about a hundred years ago. There, too, an abiding sense of guilt and even more, of shame, shaped the course of the protagonist’s future life and actions.

What I didn’t like – the whole America episode. It was unnecessarily detailed. All that detail was irrelevant – only Soraya need have been explained – and the whole could have been summarized in one page, or at most two. Unlike the Kabul part, which created such a wonderful atmosphere that I almost fell in love with the city sight unseen, the America part created no atmosphere at all, despite a feeble attempt to at least convey a flea market scene. It fell as flat as though the author had never even been to the US (which is patently untrue), while the Kabul parts rang true as though the author had spent his childhood years growing up there (which, in fact I think he did).

Then, the redemption theme – I thought it went very well… up to a point. For me, the entire adoption bit and the culmination of all the problems with the final kite flying/kite running incident was completely redundant. It seemed to me like a put-on attempt to tie up all the loose ends, to connect everything in the beginning with everything that comes later. I would have been happier if the story had ended with Amir reaching Peshawar or Islamabad safe and sound, and with the visa part working out as it finally did, without any undue complicatioins. A “happily-ever-after” ending, in other words. Or, even better, I’d have been happy with it ending with Amir walking out of that house in Kabul, half-dead, and falling into Farid’s arms. Not quite happily-ever-after, but tending towards it, leaving the details unsaid.

And what I really don’t understand is that, even if Amir had been stupid enough to provoke that suicide attempt, how come he wasn’t later haunted by the guilt of that action? That, too, was due to his own stupidity after all.

So all in all, I would not say that I absolutely loved the book, but I’m glad I read it, and I thought the first part was really, really good. Would I want to read A Thousand Splendid Suns? Probably, but not in a desperate huryy.

I’ve Got to Stop the Food Wars

April 19, 2008

I know I shouldn’t but I still keep doing it: I keep fighting with the twins about food.

The parenting books – by western authors, by the way – all say how you should let the child decide how much of what food they to eat. They won’t starve themselves, and they won’t binge on one item and ignore another – over the long run, they will select a healthy diet. (This, provided you offer them healthy options of course, not an option between veggies on one hand and chips and chocolates on the other.)

I do believe I should do this, and I’m trying very hard to do it. I try not to worry if they opt to skip a meal, or eat only curd at dinner, or only drink milk for breakfast. Yet, it’s a losing battle: despite my best efforts, I all-too-often end up forcing food on them, fighting them to get one more morsel down their gullets, holding their arms, ignoring their wails.

Why do I do this? I feel lousy afterwards. I do believe that having a happy and relaxed meal is going to do them more good than those few extra mouthfuls I force on them. I can even hear a little voice telling me this when I’m force-feeding them – why don’t I listen?

To answer my own question, I think there are several reasons. One is that I’ve got the food ready and it is really frustrating to have it spurned.

Another is that I hate to see food wasted, but, since the kids’ food is full of delicious and fatty things including a generous dollop of butter, Amit and I generally don’t eat it.

And then, there’s ego – stupid, petty, childish, despicable ego: “If I’m telling you to eat this, you’re jolly well going to eat this, or else!”

Yet another is that I don’t want to feel that I gave up feeding them in a hurry (being impatient as I am) and thus deprived them of food at every meal. This is compounded by the pressure I’ve been under from the start to ensure that the kids put on weight, because, from the day we got them, doctors have said that they are way underweight for their age – around the 5th percentile compared to normal Indian kids. So, I’ve had this sort of Job No. 1 task of feeding them well and getting them to gain weight – in order to win doctors’ approval, if nothing else.

Still another is that I am, after all, Indian, and in India it is the done thing to keep stuffing food into your children to make them nice and plump; all good mothers must do this and if you don’t and if your children are not nice and plump, you must be a horrid, callous mother who starves her kids. If you were to be heard in public telling your kids, “eat it if you want it, if you don’t want it, don’t eat,” there would be gasps of horror all around and heads would swivel and eyes accuse you of cruelty that make Genghis Khan pale in comparison.

I don’t buy into this philosophy, of course, but at a subliminal level, it is there.

What earns you approving nods from the extended family in India is one of two feeding strategies. You either force-feed your kids by laying them down in your lap, gripping their hands and legs tightly, and dropping food straight into their throats – if they are howling, that helps because then their maws are wide open; or, you run around behind them distracting them with toys, playmates, music, TV or whatever, and sneaking the food in when they are not paying attention. (These strategies tend to merge as kids grow older, but the general philosophy remains intact – stuff your kids till they are fit to burst, or you’re not a good mother.)

I don’t do either of these, but I do demand that they sit still and focus on the food and cut out any squirming, screaming, playing with the food etc. It is unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly and eat her food with dedication and decorum… but that’s what I aim for. I know, it’s an exercise in futility, it’s doomed from the start. They squirm and scream and giggle and play and I get impatient, irritated, frustrated, and plain mad. That’s when I start cajoling or shouting and simultaneously thrusting food down their gullets, when what I should do is to realize that they’re done with food and ready to go back to playing.

Easier said than done.

It doesn’t help, of course, that I’ve been feeding them the last 30-odd meals on the trot without a single break and am therefore running increasingly short on patience.

But, all the reasons and excuses notwithstanding, I’m resolving, here, publicly, right now, that I’m going to stop doing this once and for all, and am going to let them eat as much or as little as they want and am not going to force, persuade, cajole, plead, entice, encourage, or in any way try to increase their food intake ever again. Unless it’s medicine. Amen.

Caged Tiger Growling

April 18, 2008

Before we got the twins, Amit traveled about once a quarter. Now that we have twins, he travels once a month. I wish it had been the other way round.

Because of our insistence – joint and individual – to raise the kids ourselves, at least in these early days, we tend to lead a “relay-race” existence these days. As soon as one gets home, the other goes out, or, occasionally, is at home but busy with something and not to be disturbed.

The problem is that, when Amit is out of town, I don’t get a break of any kind. Of course, I get on the computer in the afternoons, while the kids sleep or keep themselves busy; and I get a few hours for myself in the evening after they’ve gone to bed; but the point is, being entirely home-bound, there’s only so far you can go with books, TV and computer. After a point, you feel like you’d do anything to just get out of the house for a bit. This time, as before, I’ve developed a serious pain in the neck/back due to too much time spent with the computer, TV and books. I need some exercise, I need to stretch, even to hyperventilate (just a little). I miss tennis, and I miss my evening walks, even if it is often just a quick trip to the neighbourhood shops for groceries and stuff. I do manage to pick up groceries on my way back from the park with the kids – but I need to stretch my legs and relax my mind, and it’s difficult to do that with the kids in tow.

The kids are entertaining enough in their own way, but 24×7 becomes a little monotonous I have to admit. Should I feel guilty about feeling this way? I do, a little, but that doesn’t bother me too much. What bothers me is: What, if anything, can I do to change things?

I obviously can’t get Amit to travel less. I wish he would travel less, but it’s not in my control. Since he is obviously the alternative baby-sitter of choice, I suppose I have to look beyond that and consider other baby-sitters. I’ve known for a while that it’s the only option, but I am still not altogether convinced that it’s what I want to do. If there were only a creche nearby where I could drop off the kids for an hour or two in the evening… 6.30 to 8.00 would do it. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Sometimes I think that getting a job, even a work-from-home job, would solve the problem, but then I realize this is confused thinking. A job might give more focus to the time I spend on the computer or might replace TV and books with work… but it won’t get me out of the house unless I have a babysitter, so it brings me right back to Problem Number One.

I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mom – or at least that’s what I keep saying – but did I really sign-up for 24×7? I thought there were going to be two parents involved here: Isn’t there supposed to be some help from the father in question as well? Or should I bow to the inevitable and leave my children in charge of an ayah for a couple of hours a day?

Good Girl, Bad Girl

April 17, 2008

These are the standard phrases we use to praise or admonish the twins. In doing so, I’m sure we’re no different from millions of parents around the world.

I’ve read in parenting books that rather than saying “bad girl,” one should say “that’s a bad thing to do” to more accurately convey that it is the action that’s bad, not the person. Obviously, the same does not hold true for the “good girl” situations.

Earlier, when I studied Psychology, I read about unconditional love, which, as I understand and recall it, is simply reassuring a child that no matter what you do and how angry I might be, I will always love you. The child should never have to fear or be insecure on that account.

Both things, slightly confusingly related and even slightly contradictory as they are, make sense to me. I have to admit that I don’t always – or even often – practise the former; though I wish I could, it’s just too cumbersome a statement in the heat of the moment. I believe (think) that, though I say “no” and “don’t” about a million times a day, I don’t say “bad girl” all that often and I do say “good girl” just as often or more.

I like to think too, that they somehow know when I scold them, that I’m only scolding them for that particular action and that there’s no threat to my overall affection for them, as well as no sweeping judgement on their general nature. My basis for this assumption is the belief that they are still arriving at an understanding of words based on context and non-verbal communication. Therefore, “bad girl” = “doing that¬† is bad” is not too much of an intuitive leap for them, while it (“bad girl”) is quite distinct from “I don’t love you” or “I won’t love you if you do that”. Likewise, I believe that “mama scolds me but still loves me” is something they understand without the use of those exact words.

But, I’m no child psychologist; I could be wrong.

What shocked me recently, though, was two similar but separate incidents of people asking my daughters, “Are you a good girl or a bad girl?”

One enquirer was herself a child, maybe 6 years old. The other was an unrelated child-minder.

Wow! Do people normally go around making kids make these value judgements about themselves? Obviously the child had been exposed to this question either first- or second-hand, she could hardly have thought up that line of questioning herself, unaided. What’s worse, she proceeded to label Mrini “bad girl” (and Tara “good girl”) just because Mrini wouldn’t go to her (and Tara did). She was just a child, and somebody else’s at that, so I didn’t say anything, but in my mind, that is no kind of basis for praising or admonishing a child. (As it happened, Mrini didn’t care, she smiled and clung to me.)

The child-minder said her ward, when so questioned, always answered, “Bad girl.” She – and the child’s mother – found this amusing. I think it’s terrible! From the tender age of 18 months, that child has an image of herself that is negative, and even if she doesn’t understand the implications of those words yet, she soon will. And meanwhile, her caregivers aren’t even trying to fix that verbal self-perception! I’m sure they love her and hug her and praise her as well, but the fact remains that her predominanat recollection is of the words “bad girl” – and they find this funny!

As of now, the twins don’t even properly respond to the question, “What is your name?” (they both say something approximating Mrini), so naturally they have no answer to the good girl, bad girl question yet. When they do, I hope that in actions, words, and inner belief, the answer will be good.


April 10, 2008

Since the twins love their bath and really enjoy splashing around in their tiny bathtub, I’d been dying to up the stakes and put them in a swimming pool. Amit and I both love to swim, though we haven’t done much of it in recent years. I took to swimming straight after I almost drowned (or thought I did) way back when I was about three. That was in a fantastic L-shaped pool where the deep end was 12 ft deep.

Anyway, we don’t have such luck any more, but we do have a swimming pool nearby which, modest as it is, will do very nicely for the kids for a few years. So last Sunday afternoon, when we at last had a sunny day after two weeks of rain, we took the kids to the pool and dunked them in.

Well, actually, I got in first, then Mrini tentatively followed. Tara resisted for a while, then gradually allowed herself to be persuaded. There were a huge number of other – much older – children around, which usually intimidates the twins a little, but they didn’t seem to mind too much. They took to the idea of being in a pool full of water quite well, actually. After a few minutes, they began splashing in the water, and Tara even put her face down and blew bubbles in the water. She must have swallowed some… and they were in “swim-proof nappies” (“specially designed to prevent accidents in the swimming pool”) but I don’t know what “accidents” other kids may have had… best not to think too much about that.

After a good 20 minutes, they began to feel cold, and by the time I got them both out, they were shivering. I thought they might catch a cold, but, thank goodness, they didn’t.

Overall it was quite a success. We definitely need to repeat the experience sometime soon. The sooner they get used to the swimming pool, the better, if you ask me.

Bengali Discount

April 6, 2008

Since the wireless network at home has been giving me trouble on my not-so-swanky-new computer, I walked into a computer-peripherals shop yesterday and enquired about the price of a network cable. I wanted 20-odd metres of the stuff, so the women at the counter said they’d have it “made-to-order” for me. Only, it would cost Rs 50 per metre. This sounded steep, so I called Headquarters (Amit, of course) to check. In the course of various conversations, they realized I was Bengali, and I realized that they were Bengali. It also turned out that they were mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, which I found interesting. I didn’t know two women in that relationship could successfully run a business together!

When I finished my conversation with Amit, I told them I’d let them know in a couple of days if I wanted it, just in case my engineer husband could fix the wireless. To this, the older woman at the counter said she’d try to organize a discount for me, because I was also a Bengali. Having said which, she quoted Rs 30 per metre for the same cable!

My response: that’s the wrong reason for giving me a discount.

Well, I said it with a smile, because I realized it was a snub, but I really meant it: I don’t think that is a good reason to give a discount, and it is not something I’d want to be party to or to encourage. And if they thought they were flattering me in some way, by giving me this discount for this particular stated reason, I want them to know that far from being flattered I would almost take it as an offence. This very sentiment, after all, is the sentiment behind “Northies” being targeted in Mumbai, Pune, and occasionally in Bangalore as well. If we, the “outsiders” start to build our own exclusive little clubs, then naturally the “locals” will treat us like outsiders. Shouldn’t we stop thinking of along the lines of “Bengali and therefore to be favoured over others”? After all, we are not even people of the same nationality in a foreign country, only people of the same state in a different state of our own country.¬† Why should it even matter to someone running a small business, whether a particular customer is Bengali or something else?

That’s my take on it, but what I wonder is: what, nowadays, would be considered the “proper” thing to do? Perhaps my reply was impolite, but was it also “politically incorrect”? Should I have been gratified to be given a discount just by reason of being of the same community? Is that the reaction that would have been commonly expected? Or was it, as I see it, an indiscreet and tactless thing for the person to have said?

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