Diwali

October 31, 2008

As a child, Diwali was a very festive occasion for us. Diwali, Christmas, birthdays and my parents’ anniversary were the occasions we celebrated, and Diwali was one of the most festive of these occasions. This is strange, because we are technically a Bengali Hindu family, so we should make a big deal of Dusshera, not so much of Diwali, and none at all of Christmas. But where I grew up, Diwali was much more important at a personal, family level than Dusshera, which simply meant gathering in a large open area to see the three effigies go up in a great display of light and sound.

Diwali, on the other hand, was when we all got new clothes. Loads of sweets arrived, along with boxes of dried fruit and some of this was parceled into smaller packets and given away. Much of it was served to guests or consumed in a once-in-a-year sweet-eating frenzy. The dried fruit was usually squirelled away and used in small quantities over the next many months.

On Diwali evening, we usually lit candles in our house quite early, (no puja – we were never that kind of family) and then got dressed up in our new clothes and drove to my maternal grandmother’s house. Two of my mother’s four sisters would be there, along with the four of us, my nani (nana having passed away when I was still quite young), and a whole bunch of faithful family retainers. My nani would have sponsored a modest collection of fire crackers, which the family retainers’ kids would light, giving my sister and me a sparkler or two to hold along the way.

Diwali dinner was a feast. Although my nani and both my aunts didn’t eat non-veg (by choice), there would be a rich, delicious mutton curry for the four of us, with puris fried as fast as you could eat them and the usual veggie accompaniments. There must have been dessert, perhaps more Diwali sweets, but it doesn’t seem to have made a lasting impression on me. What I enjoyed perhaps the most, was the drive back home that night, when we could admire all the houses all lit up. Hardly anyone used electric fairy lights in those days, and I always liked the candle and diya arrangements more. The city, Chandigarh, looked beautiful, sparkling with millions of tiny flames. That, to me, was the essence of the festival of light, much more so than the noisy fire crackers that I never enjoyed much.

Those were the good times.

After getting married and moving away from family (both things that I’m mostly quite happy about) the festive occasions lost their festivity. I discovered that, in a family of two, each of us has to make all the effort to make an occasion special. For Diwali, I always tried. Though I usually couldn’t manage to shop for new clothes by Dusshera, I almost always had something nice to wear for Diwali. We didn’t get boxes of sweets and dried fruits, but I tried to have something “special” ready for dinner. We never did fire crackers, but I always put at least a few candles or diyas on the balconies. Diwali remained a festival for me, while Christmas and the birthdays and anniversaries of my parents and sister became just an occasion for a phone call.

I usually wanted to be in town for Diwali, and at home for at least part of the evening, but we weren’t always. One year, I was away while Amit was at home for Diwali. Another time he was away. Two years ago, we were both in Calcutta.

So this was by no means the first time we were going to be away from home for Diwali. But, this time was perhaps the worst Diwali I’ve ever had. For one thing, there simply wasn’t time enough for me to go shopping for myself, so I wore my newest pair of jeans (only a year old) and some old shirt. For another thing, Diwali in Calcutta is a big thing mainly for the fire crackers and the puja – the two aspects that never meant much to me anyway. The good food, the new clothes, the excessive sweets were not big features of Diwali here, at least not in Amit’s family (where good food and excessive sweet seem to be everyday features).

On Diwali evening, I somehow wasn’t much in the mood to do the diya-lighting in someone else’s house, so I didn’t participate much in that. Then, we fed the kids dinner and that turned into a fiasco with both kids throwing tantrums during the meal. There were about 20 people milling around, distracting them and offering unwanted advice, which didn’t help. Anyway, after their dinner, we took the girls to a quieter part of the house and spent some quality family time in which Amit and I played badminton with a balloon while the girls watched in amazement and occasionally got whacked by the balloon. Then, we decided to go down and join in the fire cracker show, but already my heart wasn’t in it and the girls only clung to us and looked scared. So we brought them in, and soon after we put them to bed.

For some strange reason, both of them have started getting extremely anxious at bedtime and as soon as we turn out the light, or even before that, Mrini starts wailing and becomes hysterical. One day we tried leaving her wailing, but when she showed no signs of abating a couple of minutes later, I gave in and held her. Whatever insecurity is making her be like this, it doesn’t seem to be settling down, in fact it even seems to be getting worse.

So after putting them to bed, I spent half an hour lying with them in the dark, waiting for them to fall asleep. By that time, I had no desire whatsoever to go and join the family outside. I stayed skulking in the room, in the dark, listening to the fireworks, wishing it had been different. I didn’t regret missing the fireworks, but when I crept out of my room to eat the three rotis, cabbage, and fish curry that had been dished up and kept outside the room for me, as I ate alone in the living room, and crept back into the dark room where the twins slept uneasily amidst all the loud bangs, and the screams of merriment from outside, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for myself. I couldn’t help feeling that this was not really what Diwali meant to me.

Oh, well… Maybe next year will be better.

Advertisements

Why can’t I just be me?

October 30, 2008

I’m beginning to understand why forthcoming visits to Calcutta make me so apprehensive, even though past experiences don’t seem to quite merit it. There are at least two main reasons.

The first is my inherent shyness, self-consciousness and awkwardness. Here’s a simple example of how I traumatize myself.

When we arrived in Calcutta after almost 48 hours in transit, we were naturally encumbered with a load of dirty laundry. First, I was too shy to ask how this should be handled, even though I’ve been “part” (albeit a distant part) of this family for ten years. And, even though I distinctly recall the procedure from last time, less than a year ago. Anyway, I told Amit to ask for me, but I never did find out what answer he got. Meanwhile I overheard in the general conversation that some part of the domestic help was playing hookey and surmised that it was the part that would normally take charge of dirty laundry.

It is also pertinent to what follows, that the day we arrived in Calcutta, it rained continuously the whole day and the whole night. So, when we awoke to only mildly dull skies and a watery sun the following day, I was anxious to get the laundry done before the weather deteriorated again. (As an aside, being now a Bangalorean, I have completely forgotten what it’s like to experience rain that goes on for 12 hours at a stretch, stops for an hour or two, and then continues for another 12-hour stretch. I remember it used to carry this on for upto a week at a time in Delhi, but I had forgotten what it was like.)

So anyway, I decided to do the laundry myself, by hand, because that’s what they normally do here, and then dump it in the washing machine for the final rinse and spin cycle.

As I washed the clothes I thought all of the following and some random off-shoots.

    I hope this is the right detergent powder
    I really shouldn’t be using someone else’s detergent powder without asking first
    I hope they don’t think it odd that I’m sitting here and hand-washing these clothes
    On the other hand, though, it’s a household of hard-working people, and at least they won’t think I’m too high-and-mighty to wash my own clothes
    But they might think it odd that I didn’t ask them first about the process
    Is it ok for me to run this machine without asking/telling someone?
    Will they think it selfish of me to hog the whole machine to myself? What if someone else had some clothes to add to this load?
    Should I even be prioritizing washing clothes over sitting around and chatting?

All this and more is what I agonized over after having decided to go ahead and just wash the damn clothes. And I’m sure that, really, nobody noticed and nobody cared about it any which way. But this is how even small decisions trouble me in places that I’m not entirely comfortable in.

The other thing that I find difficult is the strain of not being me. I find myself in this strange place where I feel nobody knows me – the real me – and the real me doesn’t fit in anywhere.

If I claim that nobody knows me, I must also admit that I’ve never made the effort to make myself known. Not that I’m consciously aloof, but just that I seem to have different interests.

Here, the men folk discuss economics, politics, world affairs, sports. The women talk about people and household affairs. I don’t feel I have much to contribute to either sets of conversation.

I don’t feel like the traditional sari-clad bahu who gets involved with the cooking and swaps recipes with enthusiasm; yet it’s a role I find myself assuming to some limited degree every time and every time it itches me. This is not who I am, and I don’t know why I even bother to try, but somehow I do, and in doing so I put myself under a lot of stress. Yet it’s not something I can completely abandon. I can’t even now say: I am what I am and I refuse to try to appear different, far less to actually change myself, just because you think I should. Or perhaps just because I think that maybe you think I should.

And so, instead of being me, warts and all, I keep trying to be what I think they want me to be, when perhaps the truth is that they don’t want anything from me at all. But everytime I make less effort, wear fewer saris, make less effort to follow boring conversations, take more time for myself… Maybe, eventually, I’ll drop the efforts altogether and then I might enjoy and even start looking forward to these trip where I can just be me, warts and all.


A tale of two two-year-olds, two trains, two days

October 28, 2008

The long train journey was not as bad as I thought it would be. Having said that, it was exhausting.

We left home in the midst of an extreme downpour, at almost 3.30 to catch an almost 4.30 train at Central. I was un-worried, until I noticed that Amit was the don’t-talk-to-me-I’m-focussing-all-my-energy-on-just-getting-there kind of tense. Then, I started to worry. He called 139, only to be told that our train was on schedule. By 4 p.m. We were all holding our breaths, as the station was still several traffic jams away and we weren’t even sure which platform to head for. Our taxi driver told us it would be platform 7, entry 2, and we took his word for it. Luckily, he was bang on, and we reached with 10 minutes in hand. The train hadn’t arrived yet, and what should have been a brief 10 minute wait at the platform turned into an hourlong marathon with the kids running around, screaming, lying down prone on the filthy ground and generally getting into every kind of scrape concievable. They provided endless entertainment for the others waiting there, and endless exercise for us, in addition to stretching our mental alacrity and patience to the utmost.

At last, the train came, and the journey got underway. The kids were as good as could be hoped for, given that it was early evening and therefore their peak activity time. Still, I was happy to find ourselves in Executive class, and with the two seats across the aisle from us vacant to boot, so that the kids could wander around a bit and even get seats for themselves. There was another girl just a little older than them nearby, and soon they had a brisk trade and exchange program for picture books. Aside from several trips each to the bathroom, despite being firmly strapped into diapers, the journey was not too strenuous. What was really taxing was a long wait just outside Chennai station, when everybody was at the end of their tether and just waiting to get off and go home. It was then that Tara started up her plaintive “pottykini” cries, which I had to ignore because the aisle was crowded with passengers waiting to get off. When we did finally get in to the station, I rushed past the toilet, thinking it’d be dirty and that I’d rather she used the toilet in the hotel. Or, better still, her diaper. It became very clear very soon that this was a big mistake. She absolutely would not “go in her pants”, diaper notwithstanding, and she cried the whole way with increasing desperation. I felt absolutely terrible about not being able to get her to a toilet any sooner. But in the end she held out until we reached the hotel, which was a very short walk away from the station.

A very short walk is all very well, but it doesn’t seem so very short at 11 at night, when you’re tired and irritable, it’s pitch dark, you don’t know the way, you’re walking on the sleazy and stinky pavement outside the station watching buses roar past you six inches away, holding two small and fidgety kids, encumbered with various pieces of luggage… And struggling with “pottykini” pleas every step of the way. I can’t say I enjoyed that particular short walk, but for the kids it must have been absolutely traumatic. Once we reached the hotel, got a room, and got the kids settled in, it took them a good 30 minutes to fall asleep.

And the next morning, they were up just after 7, none the worse for wear. We all grabbed a quick breakfast and walked back to the station, an easy walk in the daylight and without any added tension. Our train was waiting for us, we didn’t have any trouble finding our seats and we left punctually at 8.45.

On this leg of the trip, we were traveling AC First class, something I’ve only ever done once before in my life. I have to say, it was definitely worth it, just because in the coupe the kids could move around enough to not get bored to tears. They could spread their toys around, jump, climb, sit, lie down, or look out the window and that kept them happy for most of the journey.

Just outside the coupe was a short corridor that led to another two coupes and to the toilets. The rest of the bogey was AC two tier, and they and the other bogeys were separate from this half bogey.

Having two toilets dedicated for the use of ten passengers (though a few of the staff used these toilets too) is an unimaginable luxury and one that I don’t know how I would have managed without. Almost every time that I took the girls to the toilet, the western style toilet was vacant. It was even usually clean and dry! For quite a while, I think the girls were the only ones using the western style toilet. I have to say that it was extremely taxing taking the girls to the toilet, though. After Tara’s performance the previous evening, I had given up trying to put them in diapers: taking off and putting on the diaper after every trip to the bathroom only added an extra degree of complexity to the entire process, and any additional complexity I could do very well without. Besides, do you have any idea how difficult, cumbersome and ultimately ineffective it is to try and put a diaper on a child who’s standing up? No, the AC First bathrooms don’t have a fold-away baby changing station, at least, not one that I could find.

Just to give you some idea, every toilet trip involved the following steps:

    put on my shoes (slip-ons without socks for the occasion)
    put on the kid’s shoes
    grab the kiddy toilet seat and wipes
    head for the toilet opening and closing two doors on the way before even reaching the toilet door
    unhook the toilet door
    place the toilet seat on the toilet
    drag the girl into the toilet and close and latch the door
    pull down her pants and seat her on the toilet
    steps A-Z above in reverse
    repeat the entire process for the second child!

So yeah, that part of the journey was tiring. But apart from that, it was ok. Amit spent a lot of time looking after the kids and keeping them occupied or entertained, so I got some reading done: To Kill a Mocking Bird, which I’ve read before, but eons ago.

The sad part was that the train food was extremely insipid and almost unpalatable… And there are few public vendors in AC First. But we survived.

The train rolled in to Howrah station fairly punctually, maybe 10-15 minutes late. It was raining.


Off We Go

October 23, 2008

We leave for Calcutta tomorrow. Despite everything, the prospect of a long train journey, daunting as it is, is still alluring, and I can’t help looking forward to it. Eating, reading, sleeping, and traveling – what could be better?

(The kids are standing outside the half-gate to the study as I type. They’ve rolled a big bolster up to the gate, and both of them have climbed on top of it and they are jumping vigorously and screaming “daba-daba-daba” as they do so.)

I’ve given up on traveling light. We seem to be carrying practically all our worldly possessions with us, and which of the kids’ toys to leave behind is a great dilemma. We are carrying milk, food, fruit, diapers and a half-dozen changes of clothing for the train journey alone, apart from all the lovely dresses for the stay. That’s just for the twins. Throw in saris, jeans, appropriate footwear and accessories for each… Plus, we have a music system (long story) and, of course, our digital SLR with us. I wonder where we’ll sleep? AC First is excellent accommodation, but it is just a berth on a train after all.

(The girls have retired to the living room, where they’re playing a complicated game involving the orange teddy bear, a giant panda, a bra and one of Amit’s underwears that they’ve lifted from the laundry basket, and the cables of the music system. Yikes!)

I doubt I’ll get to blog on the trip, so to know how (or whether) I’ve survived, check back in November. Happy Diwali!


Wining and Dining Without the Twins

October 22, 2008

Well, we made it. Everything went according to plan, for once.

It started with Amit coming home early from office. I had baked him a cake so we cut that first, with the kids participating enthusiastically. Then I grabbed an hour to go out and actually get him a gift, something I hadn’t been able to accomplish thus far. It can’t be called a ‘surprise’ gift, given that he knew where I was going and why, but it was the closest thing to it that I could manage, and in one hectic hour, at that.

I got back, and we both got all dressed up and got to S&S’s place by 6.45. We gave the girls dinner, which they mostly rejected (as expected) and milk, which they largely spilt (not expected and extremely annoying) and let them play for an hour or so after that. Then we put them to bed. Amit told them that we’d be going out, as the books recommend, which made Mrini look worried but seemed to have no further adverse effects. After waiting ten minutes to ensure they were asleep, we left and were at our table at the hotel a little after 9.

Amit wanted to call S&S right away, but I stopped him. Thereafter, I didn’t worry about the kids too much, and I think he soon forgot to worry too. Of course, the bottle of wine that we went through rather fast contributed to that, no doubt. We had a raw fish salad to start with (this is Vietnamese cuisine) which was absolutely fabulous and I can hardly wait to go back there and have it again. Unfortunately, the place is so ruinously expensive, that it might not happen till next year. The main course was a chicken curry with steamed rice, and by the time we got through it we were both so drunk that we had to take serious steps to sober up before driving home. Amit spent some quality time in the rest room, washing his face and admiring the scenery, while I decided that the wisest thing to do would be to order a dessert. A chocolate and coffee mousse was duly served and consumed, and by then we were verging on sobriety. At some point I gave Amit his gift, which he seemed to be happy with. I think there was some conversation during all of this, but I have to say I don’t remember too much of it. Perhaps ordering the whole bottle of wine was a mistake – a glass each might have been more judicious.

But what the heck – our first outing in over a year as a twosome without the kids, I’d say it was a complete success.


Playschool: Now they love it… and other stuff

October 20, 2008

Day 6, and guess what? Mrini left my finger and entered the school almost before the door was open. Tara was a step behind her! As the door closed behind them, there was the briefest wail of protest from Mrini, and then, silence. The teacher/auntie/coordinator told me afterwards that the girls went into the room where nursery rhymes were being sung (with a gusto, I might add) but lingered at the door, ready to escape if it should close.

In other news, delilone was accorded the highest of honours when she visited the twins for the second time during her short trip to India this year. (To clarify, she has visited them during an earlier trip to India, but they are not likely to remember that now.) The honours? When they wanted to use the toilet, they completely spurned my help and yowled for delilone. Mama and Baba were rejected out of hand, only Auntie would serve for this all-important activity. (Naturally, I was quite happy – less work for me!) I have to say delilone handled it like a pro.

I’m currently recovering from what has been an extraordinarily pleasant weekend. I “persuaded” Amit to take Friday off (he said he would work from home, but I didn’t let him), so it was a long weekend. I worked in a couple of solo outings, and a long, satisfying session of tennis on Saturday. I also gave my bike for servicing on Friday, and I still haven’t gone to pick it up! That says a lot about how lazy (and hectic) the weekend has been.

And tomorrow is Amit’s birthday. Last year, his birthday was a complete fiasco, so this year the plan is to drop the kids with S&S, wait till they’re asleep (the kids, that is, not S&S) and then go for dinner. Let’s see how that works out. Needless to say, I haven’t bought him anything, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to either. But, after the kinds of gifts we got each other last year, I think sometimes gifting nothing is the better option.


First Days at School

October 16, 2008

On Monday, I took the twins to school. Pre-school/playschool, hereafter called school. We reached at around 11.35, and I sat inside till about 12.05. The girls wandered around, and some of the other kids came up and thrust things into their hands or took things away from them. They didn’t seem to mind either way. At 12.05, when most of the kids had left, at the “teacher”‘s suggestion, I went out. The twins, by then, had found their way into the inner room where the toys are kept and were busy tidying up. I was out of sight for 15-20 minutes, but they were fine.

On Tuesday, I left them at the door and waited outside for about half an hour. They didn’t cry, but when they saw me at 12.00, Mrini took my hand and shed a few tears. Not too many. Tara didn’t shed any and wasn’t in any particular hurry to come to me either.

On Wednesday, as I left them at the door, Mrini clung to me and wailed. From outside, I could hear her wailing for the next ten minutes, so I went to the door and asked to be let in. I sat inside for 10-15 minutes, and Mrini clung to me, but stopped crying. Tara spent a few minutes with me, then wandered around on her own. The other kids were all in one room, reciting nursery rhymes. The door was open on Monday, and some kids were out mixing with the twins, but on Wednesday, the door was closed and almost all the kids were inside. When I decided that Mrini had settled down enough, I went out again, and she wailed continuously for the next 20 minutes, till school ended for the day. That was tough, sitting outside, hearing her wailing, knowing that all she wanted was to be with me.

So today, it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I hauled them off to school for the fourth day. Of course, I tried not to let it show. I kept telling them what a great place school was and how much fun they were having and how they had so many friends over there and how they were so lucky that they got to go there again today. What a con! Anyway, I half expected Mrini to start kicking and fighting as we got close, but she was ok right until we got to the door. Then she held on to my finger and didn’t want to go inside. Tara, on the other hand, went in quite willingly. Mrini went in wailing, but to my immense relief, she stopped wailing in two minutes and didn’t resume for the rest of the day. Even when they were let out and she saw me waiting there and came to me, she sort of gave a half sob, then thought the better of it and started smiling! I couldn’t have asked for anything better, after yesterday’s performance.

Please, someone, tell me it’s not going to come back twice as bad tomorrow.

I’m really hoping they settle down and start enjoying school next week, so that when we return from Calcutta, they don’t dread it but are quite happy to go there again. I suppose it can’t be that simple.


%d bloggers like this: